Thoughtful and candid discussion and commentary on the performing arts by "those who do." This is a forum meant to reflect what's currently on the minds of working actors, directors, designers, producers and writers.
This is not a review of the documentary The Wolfpack. But I will say it’s excellent and you should see it. Seriously, go see it. But no, instead of reviewing it I’d like to pose a question inspired by the film.
The news this week of the death of Christine Robinson, brought tears to my eyes. And yet, truth be told, I hardly knew her. So, why then, would the death of this eccentric English teacher at a prestigious East Coast prep school have left me spinning in a kind of hazy grief?
Close friends of mine may not recall her name but they'd certainly recognize her anecdote for hers is one of the most colorful in my bag.
I had the privilege of having her as my 11th grade English teacher, fall semester. I may have started that sentence differently, swapping out "pleasure" for "privilege" but the truth is, sitting through an 8AM class with Miss Robinson (as she was then called) who was decidedly not a morning person was anything but pleasurable.
Most mornings she'd skulk into the classroom, find a place at the Harkness table and immediately rest her weary head on the wood surface until she was absolutely certain that all 12 of us had taken our seats and any remaining excuse for delay had evaporated.
Then, slowly, she'd lift her head, glance around and begin with a question about the reading. I remember little of what we read that semester. But I do remember this.
Good afternoon, peeps- happy Saturday to you all. Hope that whereever you are, you're doing something more interesting than waiting for PC Richards and Son to deliver your new flat screen TV. Yes, as a worker bee in corporate America, I'm participating in the recovery of the economy.
It's even a "smart TV", whatever the fuck that is. I made sure with the sales person that there was some sort of paper manual that comes with it, because as you know, you can't get that with phones any more, it's all supposed to be downloaded (and who has time for that, plus who can read that on your phone??).
The sales person shook my hand and said "welcome to the 21st century" which I was mildly offended by - I did buy my 'soon to be-out-the-door" tube TV in 2003 which is squarely in the 21st Century. OK so I was probably the last person in America to actually buy a tube TV but at the time, it was very affordable (and there was a reason for that).
Anyway, this past week was my last watching "commercial" television because I'm also giving up my cable service which jacked up its rate a few weeks ago to a point where I decided it felt like extortion. Maybe I'm cutting off my hand and falling into the abyss of Cloud City, but Darth Warner will not get any more of my money until they adjust their attitude - or I become desperate for sports, live news, repeats of the same episode of The Big Bang Theory, whichever comes first (I'm betting on "desperation" kicking in around mid July, but then I could surprise myself). And yup, I held off on making the switch until after the Revenge/MadMen/Letterman finales because that's how I roll. I figure if I'm living in the post Letterman era, I might as well jump into the Millennial era with both feet.
In 1980, I was working as a temp in the offices of NBC. A TV screen hovered above my desk, playing the daytime shows. David Letterman was (briefly) on daytime then, until he landed his first late night gig two years later. His acerbic and witty brand of humor was clearly not meant for daytime. We are used to him now, and his style of humor, but he was an original. The thought of Larry "Bud" Melman still makes me laugh. He and his staff invented the Top 10 List. "Dave" has been part of my entire adult life, from age 22, just as Johnny Carson was part of my entire childhood. We aren't friends. We have never met. I have rarely even watched his show in recent years. But 34 years is a long time to remain a familiar presence, glowing pixels through the TV screen or emanating light from the laptop, 5 nights a week - a bastion of comfort in this fast-paced ever-changing world. So I will watch Dave's final show tomorrow night. And It will bring back a flood of memories from the past 34 years. And I will miss him.
My friend, the prolific artist and wonderful musician Guy Kettelhack occasionally posts a video of himself playing or singing a tune he loves on YouTube. I love these little videos because, for one thing, they show Guy's pure wonderful love of music. Also, Guy is such a sensitive musician, I feel he has a way of playing a tune that almost implies the harmony underneath. It reminds me a bit of how Elizabeth Soychak sings.
Anyway, enough verbiage. Let's just give a listen to this. This is the theme from Ric Burns' NYC Documentary. Haunting and lovely, I think. Enjoy!
Recently I attended a Passover Seder where I read that the sages tell us life is a gift. In the Jewish faith, it is a sin to feel melancholic or dissatisfied with life. We are to embrace and appreciate every moment, to see this life as a miracle. I’ve been working on that, especially as I head towards tonight, opening night of my play, The Richard Nixon Sex Tapes.
Mostly the fact that the play is opening at all has me buzzing with appreciation. But here’s the thing:
According to the 2015 census, Los Angeles has a population of 3.82 million. Of those 3.82 million, precisely 21 have purchased tickets to opening night. At $20 a pop, that’s $420 in the bank, and that’s a minor miracle.
Recent news of the criminal prosecution and sentencing to two years in prison of film director Randall Miller in the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on an indie film shoot in Georgia has been stuck in my brain like glue. They were shooting a scene on tracks used by freight trains. They weren't permitted. And the freight train just came up too quickly. It crashed into a truck bed, debris from which flew into the crew, killing Sarah Jones.
See, it wasn't so long ago that I was leading my own skeleton crew through the fields and back roads of Omaha on a 3-day shoot of a scene in We Pedal Uphill, the culmination of which was a 2 min. sequence featuring a parked truck on the railroad tracks, a bottle of champagne and enough dirty doings to keep us all up at night.
Here's what I remember about our shoot. I'm not sure we got a permit. But we did check in with the local film commission and they provided us with details of the freight train schedules for our particular crossing so we knew when the next train was scheduled to come by and planned accordingly. But that scene took more than an hour to shoot, even on our shoestring budget so you can imagine how much time it might eat up on a bigger production. We needed our moment to be the edge of dusk so we really couldn't afford to draw it out much anyway.
But this news of the accident in Georgia has me doing a good deal of soul-searching about just how easy it is to succumb to the temptation to cut corners, especially when working in the low-budget arena. I like to think I didn't put my actors or crew at risk but can I be so sure? We took the precautions we felt were prudent at the time while still managing to squeak out a feature film for thousands, rather than millions. And lucky for us, no one got hurt or killed.
But I am reminded of another film I worked on years before that one where lines of safety were far more blurry.
The first time it happened, I thought nothing of it. The second time, I wondered if I might be a bit of an old curmudgeon. (Silence, you in the Peanut Gallery!) By the third and fourth time, well, I could no longer ignore what clearly is some sort of awful trend. And in my opinion blogpost-worthy.
Here's how it goes.
You get an invite to a new play or musical. The come-on is smart, sexy, innovative. You're impressed with the wit and inventiveness. Maybe the graphics are super cool, too.
So you buy a ticket to this new show which has been branded as super smart, groundbreaking and possibly kind of life-altering. And then...
Every person is creative. I have had friends tell me, “I can’t sing”. And then I coach them a little at my keyboard. Once they learn a bit about breath and muscle relaxation, and they become a little less nervous and insecure, they can sing. They may not sing well, but they can sing.
Everyone can sing. Everyone can act, paint, sculpt, dance, write, compose and photograph. But we don’t all allow ourselves to remove the barriers that have been placed before us through decades of dictums: “You’re not good enough”. “You’re good enough, but not great.” “You’re great, but what’s going to be your real career?”
What happened to the countless finger paintings, mud pies, xylophone clangings, woodblock bangings, backyard pirate battles? What happened to dancing like a dervish in the living room while singing along to your parents’ “Funny Girl” Broadway album? Okay, that one is me. They are actually all me. And they are all you, too. What happens to that little kid when we decide to squelch the creativity that is inside each of us, for the sake of something called “real life”?
I was late to work. My son’s school had invited parents to observe the first half hour of class, and there was no way I was missing that. I hoped to catch a train that would make me tough-time-getting-out-of-bed late rather than missed-a-whole-chunk-of-the-day late. I failed. When I got into the office, I saw that I had missed a big meeting. There was an email from my boss asking me to come to his office.
I darted in there, all apologies, but he shook them off. He told me that I had a meeting in 15 minutes with the head of HR. That stopped me cold. I’d never had a meeting with the head of HR.
“What’s the subject of this meeting?” I asked.
A pained expression crossed his gentle face. I knew the answer before he said it.
Last Saturday I saw what may be the 6th or 7th production of Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS I’ve seen, including various college and highschool productions over the years and Rob Marshall’s gorgeous filmed version, now in theatres. This Fiasco Theater production was presented by Roundabout in their intimate Laura Pels Theatre. Fiasco seems to be a group of recent graduates of Brown University’s MFA Program. And their approach to this piece was bare bones, back to basics, emphasis on audience imagination over costly spectacle.
First of all, I LOVED this production. And at first, I wasn’t sure I would at all because the instrumentation used by Fiasco is so very stripped down that I often found myself missing Sondheim’s full voicing of certain complex harmonies. Especially when songs were accompanied only on guitar, I found myself straining to imagine the full chords underneath. However, within minutes, I forgot all of that and found myself drawn in – quite possibly more deeply than ever before – into the humanity of the show.
But here’s what surprised me and what I’m stuck pondering.
Would you like to contemplate time, continuity, community, creativity, and spirituality while seeing beautiful images of an architectural marvel? If yes, have I got a film for you: Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation, directed by Stefan Haupt.