Thursday, November 27, 2008

Kicking a Dead Horse

Do you remember your first Sam Shepard experience? Does it have a place in your heart similar to other moments like your first beer or your first time driving across state border lines? I know a whole lot of cynics out there who are desperate to convince others that they have outgrown Sam Shepard, people who are afraid that they can't be taken seriously unless they find him jejune or incapable of rising out of the mire adolescent muscular stereotype. For them Sam Shepard is less of a playwright and more likely a posture, less iconoclast and more iconography like the Marlboro Man - undeniable American, masculine, bad for your internal organs. I am not one of those people. I still love Sam Shepard. I can admit that he is well from another time, but the man still casts a huge shadow, so huge that it still provides relevant shade even from way back (wink) in the previous century.

If theatre truly is a boys club, then every wunderkind who pens something profane is held up in comparison to Sam.

I remember my first Sam Shepard play. It was a production of True West done in a black box space at the Brevard Community College. The resident director at the Cocoa Beach Community Theatre named Seaside Community Theatre wanted to do this play which his board would not back. It was too dark for them. So, he produced it himself at the local community college. That production... who knows if the production would hold up in my now jaded eyes... the performance I believe would, those guys Michael Thompson and Terry Girard were excellent at playing the brothers... but the director rewrote the last page of the script to make the piece more charged, more noir... and well thinking back on that I begin to question the memories I have of his other decisions.

I am sure that there are folks out there who have read or seen Kicking a Dead Horse, and their response was a sort of 'meh' a shoulder shrug. I can see all those well read shoulders rising and falling in slow motion silhouette. I can almost see with certainty the eyes rolling in the heads of a thousand graduate level theatre students.

Why is it that I feel I have to write this big damn long justification for enjoying a playwright like Sam Shepard. Come on... to hell with it! I'm a fan. Sue me or not. I don't care... or at the very least I shouldn't care and so... (dismissive hand gesture).

But, damn it ... this piece is I think a damn good one act play. Simple, spartan almost, and fucking honest. There is only one moment that scares me (if I were to direct it) as possibly too romantic... but the rest of it is for me spot on.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trying to answer Dan with no hope of anyone reading this thanks to Thanksgiving

Dan asks

So what is Storefront Theatre? What are its essential qualities? What -if anything - makes it more than just "commercial theatre on a budget" or "regional theatre on a budget"?

The specificity of this question could sum up if not the entirety of chicago based theatrospherism, at the very least 2 out 3 posts we pick away at our keyboards.
I would not deem to know the answer to this question, but in the hopes of continuing the conversation I offer some potential hypotheticals...

Storefront Theatre is a theatre that has always attempt to exist despite or in direct contradiction to the effect of the market. Even the small little operations that make big bucks for one or two shows a year, still are constantly putting out productions that are either economic risks or appear to be so. The reason behind the risk could be anything from the profane to something marketed as 'cutting edge' (a euphemism that has lose its teeth long long ago).
It is possible that once storefront theatre no longer trucks the majority of its wares in the realm of that which is risky due to effects of the market... that at this point it becomes something else... something that eventually will become either commercial or regional or eventually dissipate.

Although equity companies often concede to slum it up in storefronts or warehouses, I think that storefront theatre has a huge traditional of being non-equity or sweat equity. Equity companies eventually want to be in equity houses. Companies that are non-equity love the idea of more numerous and comfortable seating, but for the most part have not as much use for seating over 50 unless a rave review makes its way into the big papers.

But even as I write this down, I am doubtful that many will agree with this assessment of what storefront theatre is. Something that maybe more folks could agree with? storefront theater that happens in a storefront as opposed to a traditional proscenium space. A storefront often has little lobby or sometimes none. A storefront often has folding chairs instead of comforting fabric seats. A storefront might give its audience some sort of thrill at achieving cultural cache, but rarely a class based societal cache that translated to season tickets at the Step or the Goodman. Storefront has no monopoly on quality, but from objective panoramic view surrenders none to other types of theatre either.

Storefront theatre often requires sacrifice on behalf of all involved. The actors and crew who give up time with their families for little of no money... The audience who give up the comfort/convenience of going somewhere where the parking is hard and maybe the seats are hard and maybe the theatre has no heat or no a/c or maybe the bus runs there only until 9ish meaning that anyone who sees a 2 act there has to walk a mile to get to a busstop and wait 30 minutes for a nite owl route.

Why does the artists and audience commit to this? Because they think that they are in for a possible experience that they either can not get or get with less frequency from other media and other non-storefront performance.

Tonight, I think that is what makes storefront theatre different from commercial or regional theatre.

If storefront theatre is a destination for the artist/audience rather than a stop on the way to commercial/regional theatre then...

The storefront is a temporary site/haven/space where a performance occurs that the economic market deems too risky to happen anywhere else.



So I have been taking a little break from the Clay Continent Graphic Novel
Project. Here's why (one of the reasons why). After closing the show in
April, we took a number of photos for publicity sake, but none of these
were shot with the intent of using the images specifically for a graphic
novelization. At first, I was invigorated at the challenge of having
roughly 300 photos of the actors in make-up and using that as elements of
composition for the comic. But, that notion has over the past 6 months
sort of cooled for me.

During this same period of time, I have been working hard on storyboards for the MEATLOCKER graphic novel (which we start shooting in December). Getting to conceptualize how I want the images to layout has been a real jolt to my system when it comes to how to tell a specific story in multiple mediums in tandem. Having spent alot of time figuring how to tell the story on the page in script form, was
significantly different from the journey I am still in the midst of when
it comes to figuring out how to tell the story in image form on the page.
So while I have been wrestling with that, it has been increasingly
difficult to bring myself to a pile of promotional photos and try yet once
again to figure out a new way to lay out the images of Jekyll, Hyde, and
Utterson while keeping everything fresh for me and the audience. Let's be
real here, I want you all to like it, but in the is sort of for
me...I don't mind sharing it. In fact sharing it is one of the primary
ways in which I interface with the world.

So how to move forward? Well, I think I am going to take a break from
forcing the Clay Continent narrative onto the images and instead sort of
go back to working the images into poster form and see how that feeds my
imagination. After some time with that, I'll storyboard Clay Continent and
then I am going to get the actors together again and actually shoot them
for the purposes of the graphic novelization.

I am very excited to finally be shooting for the MEATLOCKER graphic novel.
When I got back from my trip to Seattle, wanted to make sure that I would
be able to hit the ground running after the Thanksgiving holiday. And, I
think that the Mammals are going to be able to do that. Photoshoots in
December with more in January... Auditions in January for a whole host of
new projects in 2009. I feel like I am almost about to recover the
artistic ground I lost when I retreated from the Chicago Theatre Scene in

Among the projects that I will be involved in (or hope to be involved) are

THE MEATLOCKER - Graphic Novelization and Stage Production TBA Fall/Winter 2009

SEVEN SNAKES - A workshop production of a new play based upon my 2005 NaNoWriMo writings

DREAM JOURNAL OF DR JEKYLL - Unable to shelve my obsession with the Jekyll and Hyde story, the Mammals are fashioning a new piece around the conceitthat a "collector" has purchased from a corrupt cop a journal found at the site of Jekyll's supposed murder

DEVILS DON'T FORGET - The second play in my Noir Triptych (THE MEATLOCKER and BREED WITH ME are the accompanying pieces of the Triptych)

HOPPER PROJECT - WNEP will hopefully soon make some sort of announcement when this performance will happen. (Prediction BTW- It will be one of the best things ever)

RAW - more WNEP Write Club Goodness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2009 excerpt

I thought that last month was going to be my last month. You follow? My last month on earth that is, or at the least above the dirt.

You are not supposed to start off a story by saying anything too confusing, but what else can I do. My life is pretty confusing lately, and it requires a painful amount of pre-planning to get the words out in a way that wont turn off an egg head or a worm riddled brain. I don't know who I am actually putting all of this down onto paper for anyway. But, I think the only way I am going to be able to get it all out, is if I write it the same way I would speak it, and just trust that you'll stay tuned, stay in the moment, or let go and accept the confusion the chaos in the manner I had to. In the manner, that I am still forced to ingest the minutes, the moments, the events that make up my life.

Last month I woke up next to a prostitute. This was not an entirely unique way of starting my day. I often greeted the dawn in the company of a prostitute, a woman who lease for a short period of time parts of her anatomy for temporary occupancy. But this makes one question just when is a woman a prostitute, is she always a pro? Or is she only one during the agreed upon length of the lease? Is she a pro when she is in the company of one with whom she has not reached a lease agreement? Even if said person is occupying a part of the woman say as a guest? Mostly, my mornings were not the result of a business transaction so much as a social transaction. Am I still a John if rather than an agreed upon amount of money, I instead often goods and services. Instead I offer favors. Instead a garner introductions. I act as a sort of matchmaker between various folks who are in desperate need? I know this makes me sound like a pimp. But pimps are better fed than me. I know quite a few pimps. They usually have more style, less worry, and cleaner teeth than me.

So back to the woman I woke up next to and why that morning was different than all the others before and since. You see when I wake up, the woman usually wakes up too. But not this time. This time she didn't wake up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You might be thinking...

Well I already have been fighting the good fight...

Perhaps, but how do you mentor those who want to do more?

Can We...?

Can we make ourselves more available? To whom?

To schools
To civic efforts in our communities
To our fellow artists
To those who crave some sense of mentoring
To each other as sounding boards and shoulders of support

To children who need guidance
To an older generation that we cant afford to let future past by


So, Now What?

I am filled to the brim with hope.

Now what can we do as individuals and as artists to make the most of this opportunity?

How do we in small ways and in big ways enable the better angels of our collective nature?

And just as importantly, In what ways do we guard against base nature that still smothers beneath the ash of an inglorious past?

Ideas, posts, comments, links, suggestions?

Monday, November 03, 2008

FavoriteMan but NotSoFavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek with even some commentary

One of My Heroes!

I just read Edward Rothstein's 'Appraisal' of Studs Terkel, and was sort of left wondering if it had not rather been penned by Bill Kristol. There is especially considering the timing of the article, a barely veiled indictment of Terkel's political stance.

"The difficulty is for readers who presume they are being presented history without perspective, just a series of oral histories."

I find the above quote to be the quintessence of Rothstein's failed effort at the gently damning of Terkel's body of work. Something that I find questionable taste-wise just days after his passing. He takes umbrage with the comparison of Terkel to Sandburg or Whitman.

"Part of Mr. Terkel’s wide appeal was that he seemed to be a scrappy liberal in his choice of causes and concerns, but look more closely and it becomes less clear where his liberalism slips into radicalism. Though Mr. Terkel was not a theorist, nearly every one of the positions approvingly intimated by him seem to fit models shaped by Marxist theory; he even wore something red every day to affirm his attachment to the working class.

Mr. Terkel also provided a blurb for the memoirs of William Ayers, the Weatherman bomber whose connection with Barack Obama has been a point of controversy. “A deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world,” Mr. Terkel wrote. “Ayers provides a tribute to those better angels of ourselves.”

Mr. Terkel presented himself as an avuncular angel with close contact with the salt of the earth, a populist with a humane vision of the world. There are times such gifts are evident, but there are also times when such dreamers should make us wary."

Thumbs down to Rothstein. Not so much for having and sharing his opinion, but for doing so in such a tasteless way at a completely inappropriate time.

Mr. Rothstein... Bad Form! You have not, nor could not contribute half as much value wise to the character of American letters regardless of your political affiliation.


John Casey