Monthly Archives: May 2009

Double-Take

I have no intention of seeing “The Hangover”–a new comedy opening soon–but I have to admit that I did a double-take upon seeing the display ad in the New York Times this morning. For the record, I have no children, and my sunglasses are much cooler than ones pictured here.

Even so, I admit I experienced a weird moment of disassociation upon seeing this picture of Mr. Zach Galifianakis…


Doing the Twist

Of late, I’ve found myself taking “genre” forms–such a film noir–and twisting them into…well, something else, as theatre pieces. I don’t know where this has been coming from…maybe I’ve been running out of ideas of my own. Anyway, the last half year, I’ve been laboring on “The Rewrite Man” which takes on the spy genre (kind of a Bond pastiche of a Phil Dick story as written by LeCarre…which bends my mind and I wrote the mother). It’s been fun, but I can’t remember writing a piece in so many fragments; so it’s likely a mess. What the hell…it’s always vaguely satisfying to finish something, even if you know the work’s just started. It was also kind of nice to dedicate the play to my gently dashing father, who worked rewrite for Associated Press in the 1950s…as, coincidentally, does the play’s gently dashing protagonist. I kind of felt like I had him watching over my shoulder, a vaguely bemused smile on his face.

This one’s for you, dad.


The gardening season…

…has begun.


Wherest go the NEA?

Bob Hicks is fostering a spirited discussion about the NEA over on Artscatter: check it out here. Yours truly even said something geeky.

S


By God, this is ART…

…or something. Anyway, enjoy.


The Enigma that is Followspot


Here in Portland, we have a blog/website dedicated to theatre known as followspot

It’s a cool thing. Theatre companies send in their info, get listed, snag a bit of PR, and followspot (or one of the followspot minions) reviews their shows with about 50 words. It’s a great way to both get the word out on a production and keep track of the bewildering number of shows Portland produces. Though we only have two full Equity houses–Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre, and a couple more Equity-waiver theatres, there’s a ton of small companies–theatre troupes, community theatre, weird gypsies that come and go…and despite the economy, there seem to be more every day. I think the last count I heard, through the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, was something like 100+ companies, and, though they’re not all producing at once, it’s not unusual to have a dozen plays open in a single weekend.

Anyway, followspot is interesting and fun. And then…there’s the comments.

That is, unlike, say, this blog (which is run as a benign dictatorship), anyone can post anonymously on followspot. And they do. Boy, do they. At times with amazing vitriol.

Which is funny because the theatre people I’ve had the pleasure to work with in Portland are some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. They really care about the work, and I’ve seen them go so far above and beyond the call of duty that it’s blown me away. A number of them I’ve worked with years and have become my best friends…and the years have a way of adding up. Recently, I was talking with an actor about a show we did in the middle 90s, and I realized it’d been 13 years ago. How the hell did that happen? A couple of them go all the way back to 1991, when I started Third Tuesday Theatre, a monthly new play reading series, and I’m happy to say that I gave early gigs to folks like Lorraine Bahr, David Meyers, Scott Coopwood, Denise Wallace, Rebecca Becker, and Michael Fetters. Obviously, I’ve been lucky.

So I just have to wonder who the heck these anonymous furies are. They usually gang up on Northwest Children’s Theatre or Blue Monkey–both theatre for youth, but they also sometimes kick Lakewood Theatre around, and, of course, delight it slinging stones at PCS and ART, our Goliaths. Once in awhile they make a point, but much of the time they end up making themselves small rather than their targets, which is a drag.

I sometimes wonder if they’re young and full of piss and vinegar (and, like me when I was fresh out of college, absolutely convinced I was right and the world was wrong), but I think that sells short the many fine, dedicated young artists that have made Portland their home, and who often jump show to show, working impossible hours, making new, cratively crazy work because, in addition to having energy, they carry a passion for the art. And I note that the people who do comment on followspot with their actual names tend to be gracious. Which says something.

Who knows? Maybe they’re people I know who, behind the mask of the Internet, reveal the Hyde that lurks behind their Jeckyl. But I doubt it. Because, of course, my friends are all handsome, witty, and brave, and have far too much integrity to cower behind false faces.

Whatever. It makes for lively reading, even if sometimes it’s unnecessarily waspish and cruel. But I still can’t help but wonder if, when I go to the Drammies in a couple weeks (kind of our local Tony awards), I’ll look out on that sea of happy, slightly sloshed faces, and think: could it be…that one?

I know one thing: they probably won’t say it to my face. Which is just as well–I prefer to think of my colleagues as enlightened beings, until they prove otherwise.

S

Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing to do with the followspot Web site, but they did do an extensive interview with me last year, which was very flattering indeed.


Memorial Day, Addendum

A couple of veterans….


Memorial Day


They leave, and they never return. The reasons they do it are as different as each of them, but, for today, let’s say they do it for us.

For those have given everything, both gone forever or back to our pale, dopey civilian life, let us simply say: thank you for your service. Those five words cannot balance the scale, but what they lack in depth, they attempt to compensate for in quiet humility.

We can’t know.

SP


The Writing Life

Long stretches of your work involve doing nothing. This is hard to explain to others, who think you’re goofing off. Sometimes you are, but goofing off is part of the job. It may look like you’re just sipping coffee, listening to music, and staring into the middle distance, but, in actuality, scenes play in your head. Characters speak, laugh, argue, die. Whole worlds appear and disappear. A pen moves across paper. The paper gets crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket. All this in your head. Your family worries about you. You’ve just been sitting there for hours….

A routine helps. You carve out this little chunk of life dedicated to sitting quietly and appearing to do nothing. Often, that’s what gets done. Failure makes up a large component of what you do, but you have to keep trying and keep failing to make anything happen. When things are dead and nothing comes, it’s blindingly frustrating, painfully boring. Your words are colorless, inert. Repulsive. You want to get up, walk away, do anything else. When it’s completely hopeless, that’s about all you can do, but you keep at it anyway. You hate what you’re doing. You curse that you ever got into this thing. You’re never going to have another idea, never going to write a decent word.

Then something happens, a glimmer…and suddenly it’s four hours later, your hand’s cramping, and you feel like you’ve been tripping your brains out as you flip through a dozen pages and wonder where they’ve come from.

The mail carrier is not your friend. Most of the time, he or she brings you envelopes you’ve typed and stamped yourself, and, though their contents may vary in form, language, and tone, they usually more or less say: no. You teach yourself not to care, but you do, and any writer who says they don’t care about rejections is lying to you or themselves. You do learn to keep going; there’s no choice, really. But once in a while, you’ll let your guard down and let yourself hope–really hope. This movie begins to play about how this’ll happen, and then that, and then another thing. How the doors are about to burst open and welcome you in.

Then the rejection comes, and it hurts the hell out of you. You have go sit by yourself, unable to be with people. Sometimes, frankly, you just fucking cry. A tiny part of you wants to die and be done with it all. Sometimes it takes a couple days to get over, sometimes a couple of weeks (occasionally, never…though the intensity lessens with time); and, all the while, you have to deal with the voices that tell you: you’re wasting your time, you suck, it’s pointless, nothing’s ever going to be produced or published again. This is not a condition solely of beginners; your favorite author faces the same thing because there’s always another level to rise to and, usuallly, fall short of.

Other times, the bounce comes, you shrug, move on. There’s no telling how you’ll feel. Sometimes, the big ones have no effect. Sometimes, the little ones snap your bones.

Perversely, you have to hope. When you drop an envelope in the mail or click “send” on an e-mail, there’s one part of you urging “yes, yes, yes…this time” and another going “forget it, no way, never happen.” The “yes” keeps you going; the “no” keeps you armored. The only thing that stops the strobing between poles is more writing, more submissions. Like planting a perennial, submitting a manuscript is an affirmation that there will be a tomorrow. And, like a perennial, those manuscripts have a way of coming back year after year. Submission means you’re in the game; being in the game means, most of the time, you lose.

When it gets really bad, you’ll go the files and take out old reviews, thumb through production photos, wonder if you’re ever going to sit in the audience and see your work again or walk into a bookstore or library and see your name on a book’s spine. When it gets really, really bad, it’s time to take a break, pull weeds, play the guitar, do some art you don’t have to be good at, see a movie, get together with friends and listen to problems refreshingly different from yours…if they are, because artists have a way of flocking together in solidarity. And, yeah, sometimes we pour a glass or flick a lighter or swallow a pill because, for a little while, it turns you into someone else–someone with a window between themselves and their self-inflicted suffering.

You learn humility, and not for show, at the same time you have to carry an ego sufficiently outsized to believe what you’re doing matters and will somehow pay off. That people will actually come to see your play or buy your book, and that, incredibly, they’ll like it…or at least remember it.

When success comes, it’s surreal. You disconnect, not quite believing it’s happening. And, in a strange way, you don’t because you still have to protect yourself, and, when it’s over, you realize you’ve missed part of the experience due to your wariness.

Truth? It’s gets incredibly dark sometimes. Grim. Your own personal cloud follows you, and rains continually while the rest of the world basks in sun. On the other hand, you’re one of the luckiest people in the world, and you can’t imagine what it’s like for everyone else.

In other words, you’re a complete lunatic: a writer.


True cool? Fact-finding mission.

Dig….

This is just a weird little notion rocking around my brain but I was trying to think of who, after experiencing the junkyard cool that is Tom Waits, who is or was the epitome of the coolness, and not some kind of popularity cool or new cool, but…an eternal cool. A cool so blue that it transcends.

Your suggestions are welcome. No answer is right or wrong. Unless you say “Kool and the Gang.” Here’s my Top 10, in ascending order, but 10 could 1 and one could be 10, etc. Naturally, no names are necessary.

10.

9.

8.

7.

6.

5.

4.

3.

2.

1.
(And granted, if you have to ask what’s cool, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, you’ll probably never know.)

Below is a simple comparison and contrast of what is and what is not cool:
cool/not cool