Well…all right then….

…that clears that up. Waiter…a bib please….



Agence France-Presse

THE HAGUE — Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor on Monday denied that he had ever eaten human flesh or ordered his fighters to do so as he answered allegations of cannibalism at his war crimes trial.

“It is sickening. You must be sick to believe it,” the one-time warlord testified in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in The Hague.

“It makes you feel like throwing up.”

Taylor, 61, said he could not dispute that there were cannibals in certain parts of Liberia, but claims that he was among them were “total nonsense”.

A witness had testified at the trial that he ate human flesh with Taylor at a gathering of a secret society, Poro.

“It never happened,” the ex-president retorted, adding: “I never ordered any combatant to eat anyone.”

This Writing Thing

This may seem weird, but when I think of my sometimes complicated relationship with playwriting and theatre…and believe me, it’s complicated…these lyrics from The Band sum up my feelings nicely. All the times I’ve quit, sworn it off, said goddamn it…walk away. Then picked up the pen again. And quietly thought: Smart people believe in you…maybe this time, you’ll get it right.

Out of the Blue

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

Sometimes I don’t know you
You’re like someone else
But that’s all right
I’m a stranger here myself

She don’t shed a tear
When I walk out that door
She knows, she knows
I’ll be coming back for more

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

It’s in the cards
It’s written in the stars
It’s in the wee-wee hours
In some lonely bar

She don’t stay up all night
And walk the floor
She knows damn well
I’ll be coming back for more

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

Airing the Laundry

Fascinating post from the Parabasis blog. My first read of it left me cross-eyed and despairing (especially since I’m trained as a journalist), but another part of me feels defiant: fuck that shit. Let ’em get their MFAs…I got plays to write.

Life is short, baby.


The Delusion Driving Much of American Theater

The Artful Manager has athought-provoking post up about The Amateur Vs. Professional divide in the arts in the age of the internet. He also quotes Clay Shriky’s Here Comes Everybody, which I happen to be reading right now (and really, if you care about blogging or want to understand the internet’s impact on society, is a must read). He ends it by asking this question:

what is the role of the expert and the excellent in a distributed world? How do we preserve space and return value to those who are extraordinary (by whatever measure you pick)?

I don’t think that’s a professional/amateur question — although that’s the frame we tend to use. In fact, I think the professional/amateur debate in the arts is clouding the deeper conversation.

This is worth thinking about in theatre, because our current system largely rewards club-house membership, not excellence, and it’s because we have increasingly established and codified paths to being deemed a professional that have to do with attendance of the correct schools, interning at the correct summer festivals, (and having the money to be able to do so) etc. and only somewhat to do with doing good work. This is only growing more problematic as many cities have LORT “professional” theaters that are outnumbered by “pro-am” theater companies (and by Pro-Am I mean theaters and artists doing professional quality work for amateur wages and largely in an amateur environment). Portland, Oregon has two LORT theaters and over a hundred Pro-Am companies. LA’s theatre scene is almost entirely ProO-Am, as is San Francisco’s. A large percentage of DC theatre is Pro-Am, as is Chicago’s and New York’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure in terms of number of productions, the majority (or at least plurality) of theatre produced in this country is probably Pro-Am (and i use this term to distinguish it from truly amateur productions such as community theatre).

And here’s the thing: most of the artists working in the Pro-Am circuit have very very little chance of crossing over. They are, essentially, pursuing a delusion as a result of a category erorr, namely that the Pro-Am circuit and the LORT/Institutional circuit are part of the same system. They are not, or at least, it’s more helpful to think of them as two sepearate systems. The path to working at LORT/Institutional theaters lies not in the Pro-Am circuit. it lies (largely, i know there are exceptions) in the institutional circuit, in interning at Humana, Apprenticing at Williamstown and going to UCSD or Yale (there are other paths out there, but this one is the clearest). Why is this? Because as theater has professionalized over the last fifty years, it has also adopted a Shadow Professional Certification System. It’s a shadow system because it’s largely social in nature; you don’t have to pass a writing bar exam to be a playwright, but if you want to make a living doing it, you probably need to have gone to one of seven graduate programs. And I’m not going to say there’s no relationship between Shadow Certification and Quality… there is, it’s just not 1:1. There’s plenty of terrible artists out there with MFAs from Yale (and awesome ones too, don’t get me wrong).

If we want to understand what’s going on in theatre in this country, we have to start looking at the Pro-Am circuit as its own beast that interrelates but is separate from the LORT-Institutional system. For one thing, we need to start studying it. There are very few studies out there of this world. The NYTIF is doing yeoman’s (or, I suppose yeowoman’s) work in documenting the scene here in New York, and I know David Dower will be presenting findings on this at the NEA NPDBlog over at Areana’s website.

I also think (and I’m trying to develop this into a larger and longer piece to be published elsewhere) it’s in the LORT systems’ best interests to try to find ways to learn about, be more involved with and collaborate with the Pro-Am system and start to break down the walls a bit. Why? Because, well… we have the audiences they want, the creative energy they need and the next generation of artsits likes working with us. I don’t recall The Vampire Cowboys ever complaining about their audiences being too old, or too white, or not passionate about the work they do. And Youngblood doesn’t have any problem getting people of all ages and races to come watch ten minute play festivals on Sunday mornings in the middle of winter and their space is a brutal, windy walk from the C/E train and roughly an hour away from where most of their spectators lives. In discussions with playwrights, they indicated a strong preference for working with theatre companies like Crowded Fire in San Francisco, who perform their shows in a space with less than fifty seats for fewer than twenty performances.

… adding I should also say that on some subconscious level artists working in ProAm know this already. When you talk to your friends in New York who want to quit New York and move to a smaller city, it is generally NOT to work at a LORT theatre there but rather to found their own theatre in the hopes that it will become a sustainable endeavor someday.

Don’t Know, Don’t Care

I got people asking me: Sarah Palin, she just up and quit? Why, why?

Well, I’ve thought about it for a couple days, and there are a range of possibilities.

One, another five-inch heel is about to drop, and she split before she had to quit.

Two, somehow she thinks this will help her in running for president in 2012, given that she can start making speeches and raising money and hanging out in Iowa now. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You go, girl! (Shithead.)

Three, she’s pregnant again, this time with the Weekly World News’s alien baby.

Four, some enchanted evening, hers and Mark Sanford’s eyes met across a crowded room at some Rotarian rubber chicken dinner.

Five, she’s in deep mourning for Michael Jackson and just can’t go on, man!

But the one I’m leaning towards is six, she’s just plain batshit crazy, and boy are we lucky she never became vice-president. To wit: WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING JOHN MCCAIN? WAS THIS THE ULTIMATE END RESULT OF SOME FIENDISHLY CLEVER MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE INDOCTRINATION IN A NORTH VIETNAMESE PRISON CAMP?

Whatever. Bye, Sarah. Don’t let the door hit ya where the….

*sound of door slamming*


The Best of Old, Weird America

William S. Burroughs once wrote that America is not a new land, but rather is old, cursed, and strange, which resonates with me, given my taste for the old, cursed, and strange. In college, I well remember a lecture by Professor Barbara Mossberg which lodged in my head like a barbed arrow: she put forth that an intrinsic part of the country’s nature is that we’re both blessed and damned: blessed with what we’ve been given (or, in the case of the European Boat People, taken) and what we’ve done with it. That the rich, verdant woods of New England offered game, birds, and new plant foods, but also harbored dark spirits and demons ready to draw us astray: the kind of demons that can, say, lure a Bible-thumping, holier-than-thou Southern politician and suddenly immerse him in a train-wrecking affair with a lonely Argentinian and a public fall from grace so spectacular that it boggles our already over-boggled minds.

Griel Marcus wrote a book on American music that’s steeped in this tradition. Mystery Train, which is ostensibly about The Basement Tapes, a weird and righteous collection of uncategorizable music that Bob Dylan made with The Band in a pink barn in Woodstock when Dylan was recuperating from a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and which simultaneously removed himself from a star-making machinery that was increasingly frenetic, out-of-control, and destined to make Dylan yet another pop culture martyr.

Dylan, one of our most wiley artists, feinted left and cut right, escaping his fate and delving into a deep well of folk/Americana, revamping it with electric instruments and an outlook shaped by what he called “medicine.” (“Drugs are bad for you, but medicine–beer, wine, dope, opium, acid–that’s good for almost everybody.” Subsequently, everybody did get stoned.) Until 1975, the only hints of what happened in Woodstock (which is more or less a sleepy Catskills town, despite its ties to the gigantic Woodstock Festival), emerged in The Band’s magnificent album “Music from Big Pink” and a few stray live Dylan performances where tunes like “Nothing was Delivered” and “Down in the Flood” emerged. There were, however, so many bootleg copies of the music floating around that Columbia Records finally talked Dylan and The Band into releasing “The Basement Tapes,” which still sound pretty damned good on a warm summer night…with a little medicine.

Marcus drew a connection between the strange, antique but forward-looking music that came from that session–which could arguably be seen as the genesis of both country rock and alt rock–and the supremely odd, little known music of Dock Boggs, Charley Patton, and Appalachin murder ballads–a music both blessed and damned.

These themes have stuck with me and, I think, carried through to a number of my plays–“Malaria,” “Farmhouse,” “Bombardment”–but especially to the two “music plays” I’ve written: “Lost Wavelengths” (a piece about outsider musicians done at JAW in 2006 and winner of the Oregon Book Award last year) and “Bluer Than Midnight” (a piece about the Civil Rights Movement, the Blues, and the Afterlife, written last year and yet to have a public reading…I’m waiting to hear back reactions from a number of friends and colleagues who are reading the piece–you know who you are–but an earlier draft was well received in Portland Center Stage’s late, great PlayGroup playwrights workshop). After the JAW reading of “Lost Wavelengths,” a fellow playwright clapped me on the shoulder, laughed, and said, “What are you? An audiophile?” I’ve never thought of myself that way, but I said, “I guess I am now.”

Fast forward to…well, the week before last, when I was browsing at Powell’s on a summery afternoon, and found a neat little book called The Best Music You’ve Never Heard,” which is, pretty much, what the title says: short pieces on terrific bands and musicians who, for a myriad of reasons–from bad business moves, self-destructive tendencies, and abject weirdness–never broke into the mainstream. I was surprised to see some names I was completely familiar with, which either means the book was more inclusive than I would expect or that I’m more of a music nerd than I suspected…probably a bit of both. Nobody, for example, who’s lived in New Orleans considers Professor Longhair obscure. There were, however, a wealth of splendid people I’d never heard of, and the book has been opened a terrific treasure chest of wild sounds.

I haven’t made it though the entire book yet, as a band will catch my attention, and then I track them down on the Internet, but the one band that especially blew my mind was The Handsome Family, a husband-wife duo from New Mexico, who write achingly gorgeous alt.country melodies matched with some of the strangest, most surreal lyrics imaginable, about whispering plants and invisible birds singing on ends of tree limbs. I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of description of their work, and closest I can come up with is “Johnny Cash Sings Edgar Allen Poe’s Greatest Hits.” It’s music that takes you to a strange, head-spinning place and then walks icy fingers up your spine. In a word: sublime.


So naturally, I had to track down The Handsome Family’s Web site, and, lo and behold, their tour schedule shows they’ll be playing Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge on July 21st. If at all possible, I’ll be there. If you want to hear something remarkable, I suggest you are too.

Now, if you ‘scuse me for a minute, I got to play my guitar.