David Cote has a wikipedia entry. Charles Isherwood does not.
will.i.am has done another Obama song, this one around the "We are the ones we've been waiting for" dealio. It's called "We Are The Ones".
I gotta say, I much prefer the song "We are the Ones" by The Coup, which features rapping about drug dealing and revolution and hip-hop albums by a band of far-left loonies speaking in preposterously fake British accents. Also, I think Bootsie Collins did the music (but I'm not sure). My personal favorite lyric? "Now philosophically you'd be opposed to one inhaling coke via mouth or the nose / but economically i must propose that you go eat a dick 'cause employment had froze"
Here's the Obama one.
Here's the totally awesome Coup one (not safe for work):
One last Allinsky point, to get us to our question of the day.
A major of part of Allinsky organizing, which he talks about briefly in Rules for Radicals is about choosing ones battles. He makes a number of points about this (don't organize to accomplish only one thing, you want to be fighting multiple battles and you need new ones to keep your organization going etc.) but here's the one I want to focus on:
Choose a series of escalating battles that you can win. Or, in other words, start small and grow.
The example he uses is from when he was organizing the Back of the Yards in Chicago. He researched the various things the community wanted to improve its lot. He found out that one of them (getting family medical services back into the neighborhood to lower the infant mortality rate) was in fact fairly simple to accomplish. So they set out to do that and once they got that done, used the momentum and the power generated from that to go after the next incrementally larger target.
The friend of mine who introduced me to Allinsky's writing calls this "fixing a stoplight". There are small things one can do to improve the community that can be built on. Power flows from power, afterall.
So here's how we get to theatre... there's a lot wrong with systems of doing business. Most of us agree on that. Many of these problems are very very large and fixing them will take a lot organizing muscle, innovation, grit etc. Think Showcase Code reform (There's a biggee) or dealing with the terrible real estate situation in New York.
But there's also problems that are stoplights that need to be fixed. Smaller things that a group of people could change for the better on the way towards fixing those larger things.
So... here's the question of the day, readers (and my fellow theatre bloggers, if they'd like to take a crack at it). What's one small thing that could be changed for the better through an organized effort in your theatrical community?
Leave answers in comments, on your blog, or e-mail me at parabasisnyc at yahoo dot com.
UPDATE: just in case it wasn't clear, I don't mean the question to be NYC-centric. If you're not based in New York, I'd love to hear one stoplight in your community that you could potentially fix if you had some organization.
Cable Local network fakes technical difficulties to avoid showing portion of 60 Minutes. Smooth, guys.
UPDATE read the comment from Laura to this post for some on-the-ground reporting that calls into question Crooks and Liars' description of events. Yay blogosphere!
If we are performing all the time, because we are always in relationships , whether social, institutional, or both, at the end of the day there is no "true self". There are, I'd argue, "authentic" and "inauthentic" performances, but no real true self. (A clear example I can think of of an inauthentic performance would be being in the closet, or in some way compromising your core beliefs for x reason).
Getting back to acting again, most acting methods center around finding some kind of true self of the character. But if what you've got instead in a series of performances, some authentic, some inauthentic (or in Iago's case, entirely inauthentic at all times-- thanks Patrick!) maybe there are some different possibilities that emerge?
I guess what some of this derives from is that most of our approaches to acting are based in understandings of the self and human identity and psychology that are largely from the 19th century. For many of us, there are plenty of different understandings that have come about since then that are useful, revelatory, appealing etc. For example: and many of the older ideas (particularly those that flow from Freud) are based largely on the "self" as a primary unit instead of on relationships as the primary unit. And it's so ingrained that frequently when looking at character and performance, we look to the self and then the other, instead of the relations and then the individuals etc.
Like any good postmodernist I've spent a lot of time learning about how identity is a performance, how we perform all the time, and how Judith Butler is God (even if her writing is... shall we say... opaque). I've found over the years that blogging makes this rather obvious. We choose before we write what we are going to say and how we are going to say it. For example, I try to keep snark about theatre to a minimum on here. Which isn't to say I don't do it (I do) but I try not to do it too much. Although I do get snarky in private, over e-mail or with my friends, because sometimes you need to just let it out. Similarly, I try to perform on the blog in a way that is more likely to engender some kind of discussion in the comments. Clearly, I haven't learned how to do this all the time, as the comments section is not exactly a rollicking free ride of constant debate and analysis for every post. But still, it's something I think about when I sit down to write.
Most other bloggers I can think of have pretty easily defined personae. Of those I've met, sometimes they match the person's "in the flesh" persona, sometimes they don't.... which can be... well... odd.
Blogging is just a particularly obvious form of the kinds of performances we give every day. We don't act at work the way we do on a date, for another obvious example. And directors, in particular, have to learn how to shape their performance in the rehearsal room. I've learned that both from failures and successes in doing so.
But if we are performing in every situation... how does this impact acting? I ask this because most plays (not all, but most) I read I think initially that the characters in them are somehow... clearer, more exact, more transparent (I'm trying deliberately to not use the word "honest") than actual people. Which is fine. It's art. It's not real life. There's a certain distillation that goes on there.
What I think this means for actors is that sometimes your character herself is performing and sometimes she's not, depending on the writer. But I wonder what layers there are available for the actor in consciously looking at a character as a series of contextual performances depending on who the other character (the "audience") is...even when that's not overtly the case... And would this kind of approach to a character befuddle an audience trained to look for consistency?
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So. Regardless of how one views his tactics (which, it's important to note, were consistently successful) let's look at two quick points Allinsky makes:
1) People can only be counted on to act out of self-interest.
2) Organization is about communication and you have to communicate within the listener's experience.
Following from number 1... what is in the potential audience's interest about seeing your work? You are asking someone to enter into an exchange in which they give you money and you give them.... what? Often I find that arguments about seeing theatre are couched in a kind of duty framework. It is someone's duty to see theatre, or seeing theatre will make someone feel good about themselves. But this breeds a very specific kind of audience-- like the gentlemen who sat next to me at Year of Magical Thinking and fell asleep as soon as Vanessa Redgrave opened her mouth. So... what are we offering them that they can't get elsewhere?
Following on from 2... how do we use where potential audiences are coming from as a way to organize them? What are the instances where we're talking outside of their realm of experience and how do we avoid that?
Just some questions, some thoughts that come to mind....
1) Supermoney by "Adam Smith". "Adam Smith" (the pseudonym for investor and author George Goodman) was famous in the 1960s and 70s for his books on the stock market. Witty, accessible, personal and narratively driven, Goodman's books are considered classics in the field of finance. My dad sent me Supermoney in the mail because he and I were talking about the Subprime crisis, and I realized I didn't understand a lot of it. He said to his mind, the best book he had read on the market was Supermoney and that it pretty much held up today, over thirty years after it was written. Having not read a lot of books on finance, I'm not sure whether that's true or not, but the book is a frequently laugh-out-loud funny primer on the stock market and how it works, and includes amongst other things a profile of the then-obscure Warren Buffett and a lengthy story about how a bank Goodman owned a piece of lost $30mil by buying half of the cocoa in the world. It was an odd experience reading Supermoney and Rules for Radicals in the same week. They both came out in 1972; the latter is about how to take away power from the haves while the former is about how one could possibly join their ranks, or move up their ladders. The only part of the book that feels dated is its last section, detailing Goodman's theories on what workers and investors are like "these days".
2) As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem. I read this book in a day, the first time I've done that in years (The last time was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) and that is a testament to how addictive, breezy, smart and enjoyable this book is. Philip Engstrand-- a professor of "interdisciplinary studies"-- teaches at a Northern California University and lives with his girlfriend, physics professor Alice Coombs. One day the physics department creates nothing. But not just any nothing... and actual Nothing that they dub Lack. The problems start when Alice, theorizing that Lack in fact has a personality begins leaving Philip for the Nothing she's created. It combines and synthesizes many of Lethem's influences (Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and Don DeLillo particularly) and moves briskly from satire of academia to darkly comic tale of obsessive love. Oh, and did I mention the horny therapist or the two blind men who can't stop bickering about what time it is? Fans of Being John Malkovich should totally check this book out. There's one scene in particular from the the film that is almost certainly lifted from this book.
3) Daredevil Vol. 4 and 5 (Marvel Knights Series). On the recommendation of Doug Wolk's Reading Comics I've started reading this early 2000 run of Daredevil, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Alex Maleev. And whoo boy, are they amazing! In Daredevil vol. 4, duo assassination attempts on the Kingpin and Matthew Murdoch (Daredevil's alter ego) go horribly awry, the end result as chronicled in Vol. 5 is that Daredevil's secret identity is "outed" in the front pages of the New York Globe (the Daily News to the Bugle's NY Post). Murdoch/Daredevil decide to fight back, Murdoch sues the Globe for defamation while Daredevil begins to track down how his name came to be revealed. The series also includes cameos from Spiderman, Reed Richards, Heroes for Hire, Dr. Strange and more. Bendis' plotting is superb and his writer is razor sharp, and I almost can't say enough good things about Maleev's art. It is breathtakingly beautiful and actually innovatory. Most mainstream comics art ranges from mediocre to awful, but Maleev manages to create a whole visual world in a distinctive manner. I've never been a huge Daredevil fan, but I can't wait to read the rest of the series.
Vintage published Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals shortly before his death. In it, Alinsky tries to set down a bit of what he's learned over his decades of organizing various communities all over America (for a bio of Alinsky, might I recommend the good people of wikipedia?). Alinsky is a colorful (and mildly self-obsessed) writer, and prose elegance is not his priority, but the book is still definitely worth picking up.
I couldn't help but think while reading it... how do I apply this to theatre? (honestly, one of the great joys for me these days of reading is asking that question no matter the material)
Alinsky says at the very top "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away." Hot. So naturally I thought about all the conversations we've had on various blogs about various power dynamics. Scott Walters, for example, talking about wanting to decentralize funding/attention/everything away from NYC and large regional theaters. Or myself talking about The New York Times and the power they hold (even though it is waning). Or various bloggers talking about the NPD system and the power dynamics therein. Okay, cool, those are some candidates. And I could imagine adapting Alinsky's political tactics, rules and ideas to those battles.
I'm not sure, however, that I would want to completely drink the kool aid, to tell you the truth. For embracing the Alinsky school means doing one thing in those above battles that I'm not totally comfortable with: treating those who disagree with you as your enemies. When you're dealing with a corporation that is refusing to hire black people, I have no issue whatsoever with, for example, personalizing the problem by making it about specific people rather than the corporation as a whole, or whatever. But I'm not entirely comfortable with doing that with my fellow theatre artists, or theatre administrators.
Anyway... at the same time... there is all sorts of useful stuff in there for anyone who wants to be an organizer. And that includes those (including myself) who want to organize to make theatre better and create better environments for theatre to flourish. But I also got to thinking... what is someone who produces or directs theatre but an organizer of sorts?
So then, especially since I have a project I am currently working on, I got to thinking... well.. what if we treated finding an audience for one's work as a kind of community organizing project? Only instead of organizing a current community (like an inner city neighborhood or a church) you are organizing a group of people into forming a new community, that of "audience".
I'll have more on this soon as I try to puzzle out my thoughts on it. Stay tuned...
Okay... so there's been a lot of ugly activity in campaign mailers over the weekend. Now, I'm an Obama supporter, as you all probably know, but here's how i feel about it.
The Obama Campaign's "Harry and Louise" mailing is dishonest and inaccurate. The Obama Campaign's NAFTA mailing is hardball, but it gets at the core contradiction of Clinton's campaign-- she wants everything one likes about Bill Clinton's Presidency to count towards her "experience" but everything you don't like to not count. So i rule that one as distasteful but not beyond the pale or anything.
This (via Ezra Klein) on the other hand clearly crosses a line, and makes me proud not to be a Clinton supporter. Now... it appears on Drudge, so let's take it with a grain of Drudge salt but still... We can bark all we want that Obama's arguments might hurt the cause of Universal Health Care or whatever, but to me that doesn't compare to trying to stir up anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-muslim hatred to win an election.UPDATE: After really not denying it earlier today, the Clinton camp now denies they sent it out.
John Clancy writes about the horrible things that Steppenwolf's children do...
...Their spawn, infected by the Steppenwolf Syndrome. The Stepford Steppenwolfs. The Steppenpuppies. If you’ve worked for any extensive period in the American theater you know them. The actor who looks for any excuse in the script to take off his shirt, knock furniture around or clean his nails with a Bowie knife. The director who casts these actors and encourages everyone to shout, smoke and stalk around. The writer who is openly or secretly re-writing every early Shepard play and constantly robbing profanity of its beauty and power by using it as mere punctuation.
The result of all this misguided energy is a dizzying and ultimately dispiriting accumulation of loud, violent, messy evenings of theater. Every once in a while, like a night in a crowded bar or a walk on the Lower East Side on a Saturday night, these evenings can provide a life-affirming, electric jolt. But all too often you find yourself looking around and thinking, “What the hell is everyone shouting about?” and wishing you were home with friends. The Steppencubs have given us an undergraduate theater, a juvenile theater, a “boys-with-guns-and-women-who-strip-and-cuss” theater.
Those interested in finding out what Alinsky was all about would do well by reading this 1972 long interview with him in Playbill, conducted just months before his death. Check it out. Good reading, food for thoughts, and a good summary of and commentary on the ideas he lays out in Rules for Radicals.
Drawn and Quarterly
An unnamed anthropomorphic black-and-white bird, dressed like an old fashioned news man in a ratty tweed blazer and fedora, has a series of misadventures in an anonymous city populated by other anthropomorphic animals. In one he falls in love. In one he takes a vacation. In one a skeleton comes to live in his house and he gets hit by a meteor and dies. Not one word of dialogue is uttered in these ten stories and they occur outside of a discernable order, temporal or otherwise. And yet, such is the skill and charm of Norwegian comics writer Jason (real name John Arne Sæterøy) that Sshhhh! remains compelling and moving throughout despite eschewing many of the rules of traditional storytelling.
Jason never departs from his signature drawing style throughout Sshhhh!. Each page has six panels with hand-drawn borders. Within these borders, Jason draws in a kind of old-fashioned pastiche style, calling to mind Herge, Herriman and Steamboat Willy. There's a stark minimalism to his style; each black and white drawing contains only the information the reader needs. Since there are no words, each panel must be viewed both as a single moment and in context with the rest of the page in order for the reader to get narrative and meaning. The work involved (such as it is) is both swift and pleasurable, however. Jason’s drawings are almost magically evocative. Halfway through the book, I discovered that I was making up whimsical voice over narration in my head as I read it. The silence of his pages brings to mind the kind of alienated landscapes that artists like Chris Ware or Adrian Tomine traffic in. At the same time, his character's must wear their hearts on their sleeves for us to understand them and thus his drawings become an effort on the part of his characters to express themselves in the midst of that depression.
The stories themselves combine the mundane and the magical to create a new set or urban fables. By using the whimsical potential of comics (if you think it and can draw it than it can happen) Jason takes his unnamed Tweedy Bird on all sorts of misadventures. To give just one example, the most obviously humorous of the collection involves the Bird's girlfriend (also a bird) being stolen by a better looking, more Modern Bird. The frame then zooms in on Tweedy Bird's eyes. What follows are short one-page vignettes, all of which feature bad things happening to the Modern Bird: in one he gets abducted by aliens, in another the stolen girlfriend shouts out Tweedy's name in bed (represented by a picture of Tweedy bird encased in a word balloon). He decides to act on these fantasies and goes to their house with a gun only to discover his heart in a cardboard box on the dining room table. He wakes up drunk and disheveled on the sidewalk, gets his act together, and finds a new girlfriend. Within this one story, Jason elegantly melds together the literal and the symbolic, in an exploration of how jealousy can hold us back and destroy us.
There are limits to Jason's approach, of course. Sshhhh! traffics in and evokes simple responses—delight, joy, melancholy, heartbreak—and those looking for a richer, more nuanced experience will be frustrated. Since the stories are sequenced without discernable order and key details change from story to story and the plot of one story doesn't impact any of the rest, the collection maintains the same kind of unreal quality that suffuses Looney Tunes. There are no consequences to anything outside of the confines of the individual chapters in which they occur. The best way to enjoy this collection therefore is to read no more than one chapter in a sitting and appreciate it as its own story, perhaps independent from the rest, allowing the thematic and symbolic connections to manifest after the book is finished. When appreciated at this pace, Sshhhh! is a delightful examination of love and loneliness in the Big City