Monday, December 29, 2008

Value of Theater

The true value of theater is in that it makes you feel alive. There are tangental benefits, aims, etc. But, theater must magnify the sensation of living.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who's Crying Now?

This weekend was the closing of WNEP's Christmas Dada Show. Everybody donned the white face one last time before the holiday season (pun sorta intended). I wasn't formally a part of this gig. I was always balancing precariously on the fringes of the event. I attended the swing dada rehearsals, but not in an official capacity. Some of the swing dadas didn't even know my name until we got to tech week and Don turned to me in front of them and asked for comment. I didn't have to carry the same weight I did for the previous show (by design I think... Don appointed Paul to assistant director duties this time). For Don it worked out because he got to pull another compatriot officially into the fold (Paul as born for this sort of performance). For Paul it worked cause he got to both perform as well as get some experience guiding certain scenes. For me it worked because I knew that when I showed, Don would welcome my notes knowing I had enough appreciation and respect to know when to share and to whom.

I got to do this without the burden of actually assuming any responsibility. My connection to the piece as well as to the company was unspoken but still understood by most. I got to wander in and out at will like Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman. In the end, I think I became the gang's most ardent fan. I was not directly responsible for any of the brilliance on stage, but I did get an occasion once or twice to dither my butterfly wing into Don's ear and see a tornado on stage a day or two later.

In the end, I was welcomed by all to be a part of it... or at the very least feel a part of it. I am saddened by the closing of the show. I found my ocular organs leaking just a little bit near the end. I was left wanting more (any good show should leave you feeling that way.)

When will the next incarnation of WNEP dada appear? Who will be in it and who won't? None of us really know the answers to these questions.

What we have now is uncertainty
accompanied by appreciation
accompanied by nostalgia
accompanied by exhaustion
accompanied by the occasionally hunger pang strong enough to sense but not yet strong enough to get up off the couch and get into the kitchen
accompanied by a sense of fellowship to those who
stood next to us,
cringed with us,
smiled with us,
waited in anticipation for the audience's reaction with us...

Dada is what ever Dada needs to be, but those of us who become dadaists for brief periods still are permitted our humanity beneath the face paint. It is a paradox to infuriate perfectionists and dictatorialists, but despite its contradition... it exists.

I am so very proud of all the dadas this holiday season. I learned so much from watching you all and getting to share with you. More than I can type out right now.

Being there with you made me feel more alive than most any other time as of late. I yearn for that and I thank you for that. Thank you for making me feel alive.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Humanity - Literacy?

Is there any other specie capable of literacy? Would it be true or false to suggest that one of the keys tenets to humanity is literacy?

I don't know, but I've been juggling this around in the old noodle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stuff to see and do this week!

Wildclaw's Dreams in the Witch House ... Just fun stuff! Slow start, but lots of fun Grand Guinol

Also, closing weekend for the Dada Show... This is the one to see folks trust me. I took a bunch of my co-workers, and they loved it.

And, buy some music from David Lykins. I got to listen to his CD Blurry White Guy and there are some track I really love. You might recognize the artist as Manny Angelo in the Meatlocker concept art I've been posting.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

David Lykins as Manny Angelo

We've had three photoshoots thus far for the MEATLOCKER graphic novel. That will be it for the remainder of the calendar year. We've gotten a lot of great shots, and now the next step is for me to see what we have thus far in comparison to the storyboards.

I've scanned in original storyboards into the computer. Then I create a word document with the storyboard and prospective photos I think could be used for each frame of the graphic novel. Once that is done, I'll begin the process of actually photoshopping the images and creating each page, taking note of any pick up shots I may need to finish the story.

Originally we were doing longer sessions up to five hours. But, I got to tell you that started to really wear everybody out. I think no more than 3 hours now.

I plan to pepper this site with concept art from the Graphic Novel, but I'm going to wait to start posting the actual story until the whole graphic novel is complete and available at or comparable self publishing site.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Mammals are holding general auditions for multiple projects during our 2009 season. We are looking for bold, energetic performers who are excited at the idea of creating new pieces to be premiered in 2009.

Where: 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave

( Ravenswood and Irving Park - East Side of the Metra Tracks) Suite 405
When: Sunday January 11th 12pm-5pm

To schedule a time call the Mammals at 866-593-4614 or email us at

What you'll need to bring -

2 Prepared Contrasting Monologues,
Original Created Piece

Regarding your original created piece. The Mammals are excited about working with passionate individuals who consider themselves creative artists. We want to see what you like to create. This can be anything from a monologue you have written to design portfolio/ puppetry/ mask/ sculpture/ music /dance/ movement. We only ask that it be something you have worked on before arriving at the rehearsal. Feel free to share with us pieces you've created at improvisational workshops previously, but we prefer you not attempt to improvise an entirely new piece in front us.

Our 2009 season

Devils Don't Forget - April 2009
The Second Play in Bob Fisher's Noir Triptych

What would you do if you finally were able to forget all the sins of your past, but someone or something you can't quite identify is chasing you down trying to force you to remember? Devils Dont Forget takes all the genre elements of Noir and melds them with Lovecraftian villainy. Previously performed under the title "Save Me From Myself", the Chicago Reader said this play was "like Dario Argento putting flowers on the grave of Raymond Chandler."

Seven Snakes Workshop - Spring/Summer 2009

Described as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets Romeo and Juliet, a story about a mysterious masked bandit who stumbles through a post apocalyptic desert into a abandoned veterans' hospital where the forsaken patients are certain he is their mortal enemy. The only remaining caretaker for the octogenarian military men is a girl raised at the hospital by her recently deceased mother, the last registered nurse assigned to this facility. The young girl must protect the mysterious masked man from the veterans' wrath, and in doing so falls in love. However, the old veterans aren't wholly wrong about the intent of this young enigmatic male. This workshop will be a collaborative approach to staging this Science Fiction Narrative over a number of weeks culminating in a private performance for friends and fellow artists.

The Meatlocker - Fall/Winter 2009

The Third Play in the Noir Triptych, this is the tale of a boxer haunted by demons from his past warning that if he goes down for the full ten count, even if it's a dive, he wont ever get back up. Every time the boxer steps on the mat, he is fighting for his life. The real trouble occurs when the boxer meets a bookie who wont take no for an answer to fix a fight. This story will be told by the Mammals in both graphic novel form as well as a stage production.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Does Chicago Blow?

Re: Artists and Critics and Proximity

In the comments over at Don's digs, Alison Croggon suggests that there is better way to do things. I respond with some ribald doubt, but maybe she is right? (despite the ribald doubt, I do respect her blog.)

She speaks to the descriptions that many of us c-town bloggers have written about. So, is Chicago somehow more hierarchical than other theatre towns? Is there really something to this regionalist perspective that has been suggested now by critics in two different theatre towns across the globe? Or is this in the end...much ado about nothing? Will there always be a tenuous relationship between artist and critic?

Or if things really are so much better between the artist and critic in other towns, can someone from there share reasons why? Rather than merely dismissals of the Second City?

Critics and Artists of Chicago... I think we are both being sullied here. Am I wrong?

Mac Wellman's Original Mister Bugg,
"What is appropriate for the stage versus the page?"

I’ve been revisiting some of my old favorites. There was a time when I thought Mac Wellman could do no wrong. I dog eared and dirtied up the pages of my copy of Bad Infinity back in the mid nineties. And, even though I haven’t taken the leap to by the Cellophane collection, I have been pouring over the library’s copy of it.

It is fun to read some of these plays which I saw in production back when I was a NYC, Girl Gone and Fnu Lnu particularly.

One of the shorter pieces, Mister Original Bugg, has been cooking in my brain since I read it. The premise is a short play about the action of naming things. We see a series of introductions, wildly named people file past are view. The piece concludes with a meditation on how naming actually affects perception and reality.

This is a Drama about the power of words rather than the appeal of action. On the page it is, I feel, delightful and maybe even a little sublime. But what happens if it is no longer on the page but now on the stage. At the time of publication, the play had not yet been produced (I think that has changed). There is nothing inherently Aristotelian in the play. That classic paradigm of course could be pushed upon the piece, but whatever narrative arises from the construction is something other than Scribe’s ‘well made’ play.

I’d love to see a production of this play. Who knows maybe even direct a production of it. The piece reminds me that the mere joy of vocabulary can, in the proper dosage, be reason enough unto itself to fiddle in front of those willing.

Anyone else read Mister Original Bugg? Or can you speak about similar such reading/viewing experiences?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is leaving at intermission really the problem?

Just how does this interaction between critics and artists work?

Don brought up the whole Westin thing, which in itself is pretty much easy to assess. However, some of the comments from individuals who identify themselves as critics had me pondering. None of critics were defending Ms. Westin's actions, but there still seemed to be a theme that the tonal or maybe even the act of calling her out had ramifications within the community. Perceived slights were suggested... even the suggestion that Chicagoans specifically were incapable of anything other than unchecked undeserved hostility when interacting with a less that adoring reverant press.

Whenever an artistic community has a misfortunate event where journalistic ethics are suddenly suspect, a hodgepodge of thoughts and preconceptions are thrust to the forefront of our constantly accumulating cultural conversation. How this conversation unfolds in the public arena has changed permanently due to the blogosphere.

Rather than remain focused on justifications, rebuttals, rebukes, and partial apologies, I’d like to turn the situation into an opportunity to question how the relationship between critic and artist is changing in the realm of theater criticism.

Before the blogosphere, print appeared to be authoritative and therefore was. Whether that authority was earned or not, who else were you going to turn to? Those voices who were in print were not merely part of the public record, they were the public record. The only opinions available for mass consumption /distribution were those of print periodicals. To say they were the standard upon which theater criticism was measured would suggest that there were other mass avenues for criticism. Aside from Word of Mouth, there were not.

In this sort of environment, the cause and effect of a good review and a well attended show seemed apparent. This led to a political/civil mode of ethics that some feel should still be the paradigm to emulate. Theater artists concerned with their reception rarely if ever rebutted critical negatives publicly, but touted even the smallest critical praise for obvious marketing reasons. The need to fill seats proved an unnecessary justification for this behavior. Critics had to (and still must for major publications) maintain an appearance of objectivity, fairness, and contextuality. That was how they were able to maintain reputation regardless of anyone else’s individual judgments of their perceptions. In the event that a critic’s words were challenged either with civility of not, those challenges were rarely visible for public scrutiny. Even the affluence of information we now have (searching archives of previous reviews by critic) was harder to come by just a few short years ago. Whether or not there is a perceptible bias or condition to a reviewer’s critical approach, is now retrievable by anyone online, with minimal effort.
Try doing that 5 years ago. It could have been done, but you would have had to be at the physical library and you’d have surrendered an entire afternoon if not more.

After living in a world with digital critical content, the cache of the newspaper print is not as apparent as it once was. It is in constant daily comparison for public consumption, and the question is… aside from there being more opinion available in a difference format of exchange, what has changed and does that affect how press and artist should behave?

In the beginning of digital theatrical coverage, it was still a frontier for only a very few. The papers merely replicated online what they had in the printed pages. The only other voices were those who dared to do something that few did, learn code, actually purchase a domain name, oh and find the time and discipline to write.

This is not the case anymore. Blog templates, RSS feeds… Are the words of other, newer, different individuals in the community suddenly seeming to challenge the perceived weigh or reception of the words by folks that once were not only in print, but due to media landscape one of a half dozen folks who got to weigh in at all?

I want to know peoples' thoughts on this, but lets keep it civil.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Theater Artistic Navel Gazing

Writing about my "first" Sam Shepard experience, got me thinking about a time when everything was fresher for me. Now I'm looking back at where I have been. Maybe to get some ideas about where to go.

There was a time when I thought anything was possible. I was in my mid twenties. I had been planning on moving to Chicago, but was instead heading for New York. My collegiate career was coming to a close. All I had to do was finish that last damn foreign language requirement I had been continuously putting off. This was the summer of 1997. To my own judgement, I had about the best pre-graduate experience anyone could have. I had taken my own sweet time getting to State University since I had immense freedom of expression as well as paid work in theatre at my home town. Finally after 4 years of being a big fish, someone had the good sense to finally kick me out of the local comfort zone and get my ass to state school. Being a few years older than all the other kids didn't hurt when it came to being focused on what I wanted and how to get it. And in a sort of Joseph Campbell like way, there always appeared to be knowledge people along the path who were able to guide or assist me.

We had mainstage shows that the school produced that had to be attended for grades, but we had also a thriving student run season in our small annex space that was most weekends filled to capacity. The productions were diverse. Many were flawed. All of them were free. The community's enthusiasm for work, all kinds of work was intense.

I want to get back to that place where I believe that anything is possible, where every night there was a belief that tonight I am going to either see or do something on stage I've never seen before, where people were more interested in intriguing whoever was in the house rather than counting the number of seats filled.

I want to live in a city with
more risk takers,
more variety,
less big houses,
more storefronts
more basement production
more guerrilla tactics
more dissent
less money
more sweat
more mind blowing
less broadway mentality

I don't want to point fingers at artists who aren't doing what I like. I want to find a network of like minded individuals who can point me instead to those whose work makes something reverberate in me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

David Lykins as Manny Angelo

This weekend we, the Mammals, start shooting for the graphic novel, The Meatlocker. I am pretty excited about finally getting this project off its feet. I am still tinkering with the look of the book, but I am gravitating to the look above. The novel will be black and white. I would like to make the image look a little more as if the image was from a film still. But, I am very satisfied with the intensity of the look.

Yesterday, I met with Sarah Elizabeth who is our costume designer for the Graphic Novel as well as the stage production next fall. Having her on board has been such a positive thing. She has a great eye, and wonderful positive energy. She is also coming up with make-up ideas. Two of our characters are very grotesque, at least that is what we are going for. So, this weekend we will see how much of that will be madeup before the photoshoots and how much I'll need to paint onto the images we shoot.

I've been sort of assistant directing WNEP's Dada show, uncredited, and that has been a blast. But, I am so ready for a new Mammal project. Here's to Sunday. Wish us luck!