Thursday, December 1, 2011

IT'S COLD, IT'S DARK, IT'S AWESOME


December 1st, and here in Denver, the high temperature- according to the weather folk- has already occurred sometime in the early morning, a whopping 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  Yummy. Add to that, it is staying dark later, and getting dark earlier, and it can only mean one thing.  The Holidays are here!  I know, for lots of you the holidays are a pain in the ass- longer lines at the stores, sappy music on the radio, cheesy commercials exploiting tradition and sentiment, trying to get you to buy crap you don't need with money you don't have.  Endless showings of It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story.  I get that.  I really do.

But I still love this time of year.  I love Christmas trees in people's windows, lights on houses and storefronts, giant menorahs, huge snowmen, and sweater after horrible sweater depicting strange, semi-fantastical scenes.  What's not to love?  This is the time, since way before Santa and Silent Night and Scrooge, when people get together in the cold and dark and say "we're gonna make it, after all- the days will soon grow longer, the spring will come, and by the way, I love you all very much".   It's a seasonal thing, that crosses cultural and religious lines.  Sure, some folks add their beliefs about God or whomever to the mix- but we all feel the cold, we all experience the darkness, and we all need to remind ourselves of the better part of being a human being, the better part of each other.



Not that there aren't some parts of the holidays that are a drag.  More than once, I've woken up in a panic, thinking to myself "Holy shit!  I forgot to get Mom a present".  And this panic usually lasts several minutes.  Then I remember she's gone, and the night seems colder still, the world a little more lonely.  But then I think of her talking to me about Santa after I had figured what was what, as far as Mr. Kringle goes.  I remember she looked a little sad, and I think in retrospect it was that weird happy sadness you feel when you see kids growing up- happy that they've taken that next step, sad at the passing of another phase of life.  When I asked her, point blank, if there was a Santa, she said yes, in a way, there was.  She told me how what was really important wasn't some old guy handing out presents, but the spirit of love and hope, of wanting to make other people happy.

As Mr. Dickens says, "I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round - apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that - as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." 


Yeah, dude.

So yeah, I dig the holidays.  I'll still watch A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life, and most likely will cry pretty much the whole way through.



PS- My first film- the short Strong Tea, has been fully funded through Kickstarter- and I feel like George Bailey at the end of the movie.  We shoot in the next month.  If you'd like to kick in, there are still a few days left, and every dollar helps.  God Bless us, everyone.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/169962067/strong-tea

Friday, November 18, 2011

DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?

I do.  I hear them all the freaking time.  Of course, most of it is in my head, a sort of movie soundtrack/music video to go along with all the images passing before me at the speed of life, but what can I say?  I've always been a sort of geek, musical theatre speaking- and there are often moments when I will see something, experience a feeling or observe people, and some song from one play or another pops into my head, and boom, the soundtrack/playlist continues.  When I was first seeing my wife, we would often take walks in the park early in the morning, and it felt to me like there was a bright, golden haze on the meadow, and the sounds of the world were like music, so I'd sing, loudly and probably not so much on key, Oh What a Beautiful Morning.  How could I not.  It's a great song.  Just ask Wolverine.





It made total sense to me.  And Lisa, my wife, smiled.

But I don't just hear and/or sing happy songs.  This very morning, I got news that the mother of an old friend passed away, and in my mind I Kristin Chenoweth singing to a green Idina Menzel:

"I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you."




Geeky and lame, I know, but what can I say?  That's how it goes with me.  

And of late, the musical that keeps playing in my mind the most is Les Miserables, the mega hit show from the '80's that has been parodied, reviled, and beloved by people since it first opened.  What makes me think of Les Mis?  Occupy Wall Street.  

In Les Mis, the world is unfair, and the powerful don't really take care of the less fortunate- the ones who work in their factories and fields.  The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer.  The lower ranks, the 99% of pre-revolutionary France, sing "at the end of the day your another day older, and that's all you can say for the life of the poor... and the righteous hurry past, they don't hear the little ones crying".  Eventually, a large group of mostly students get pissed off and start camping out in the biggest city in the land, demanding equality and justice and a new way of doing things.  The voice of the law, a dude named Javert, thinks the lord is on his side, and that somehow Jesus wants the wealthy to stay wealthy and the poor to stay poor.  Can you imagine that?  Anyway, the students build a bunch of barricades, and sing "do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men?  It is the music of a people who will not be slavess again.  When the beating of your heart, echoes the beating of the drums, their is a life about to start when tomorrow comes".  

Why don't the rich and powerful ever pay attention to history and/or musical theatre?  Don't they get it?  People are angry, and if they don't change their nasty, greedy way, things are going to get ugly and uglier.  



Here's a suggestion for you, wherever you are.  Get a copy of Les Mis, listen to it, and then go to your local Occupy movement (seems there's one in every town now) and see if it doesn't provide the perfect soundtrack for what's going on.

That's about all I have today- please remember, if you're in NYC, I have a reading of my latest play RIDDLE LOST  Saturday Nov. 19 at 5pm at ART/NY.  For more info, go here:

Also, we're about 75% of the way to our goal for the short film STRONG TEA.  For more info on that, go here:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/169962067/strong-teahttp://www.kickstarter.com/projects/169962067/strong-tea



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I AM THE MOST OFFENDING SOUL ALIVE

So, as most of you know, I've been working on several projects of late.  A short film , a screenplay reading, and a new play called Riddle Lost.  As such, I've been busting my ass promoting, begging, borrowing, and stealing.  And there have been times when I've just felt tired and alone and confused.  I think most of us have moments like that in life- you know, those times when you think your only true supporter is your dog, and you're starting to suspect that his so-called unconditional love has more to do with you feeding him every day than with your inherent worth as a living being in this universe.  Those days when you keep checking your inbox- hoping that at least a couple of folks from the dozens you have emailed about whatever it is you're doing will write back telling you to be strong, fight the good fight, and to believe in yourself because they always have and always will.  It's pathetic, really.  I am one of the luckiest people I know.  To have something to strive towards, to have several projects ongoing in which I get to create theatre and film- my God, it's what I've always wanted.  Still, despair tries to get a toe hold.

Too bad for despair.  My dog does indeed love me- I mean, look at him.


On top of my dog Padfoot, I have an amazing group of friends and family who have supported me time and time again.  I mean, I always cry at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life", when all the people of Bedford Falls come to George's aid in his hour of need, because I can relate- I know what it is to have friends and family like that- and it's beautiful.

The three projects I'm working on now are huge- daunting, really.  Let's face it, success in the arts, at least on the superficial but important level of finance, is tough.  And I have run into the occasional old friend or colleague who has doubted my chances.  Which can be a drag.

But then, I think of what good old Will Shakespeare said in Henry V, and I feel better.   In particular, I think of the St. Crispians Day speech, which in part goes like this:


I get that.  Who cares about money?  I want glory- to kick it in the ass and know I did something special and unique and real.  And if you don't want to get on board with me, then I proclaim:


I had the great fortune of playing Henry a while back in the fabled early days  of Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot.  It was glorious and fun and one of the experiences that has served me well these many years.  We were a rag tag group of lunatics and artists, with little to no resources.  And we shook the Lower East Side of New York.  

What I'm saying is this- to all who doubt- God bless you, and good luck.  

To those who believe, and you know who you are:


Last night, my screenplay Burning Man was presented in a reading put on by Harvardwood in NYC.  It was well received, and we shall see what comes of it.  This Saturday, Riddle Lost will be given a reading at ART/NY at 5pm.  I just did a mini-interview about it that you can read here.  Strong Tea, the short film I'm making, has a Kickstarter campaign that so far is doing great- to check that out, go click here.  



I have gathered my forces, and the sun is rising on Agincourt.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

MAKING MOVIES, ON LOCATION, DON'T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS

Of late, I'm working on movies.  Two to be exact:  Strong Tea and Burning Man.



Strong Tea is a short about Thanksgiving, family, and murder.  And what is really weird is that when I tell people the basic plot, they all say "oh, that sounds like my family on Turkey Day!"  Weird in that, in the movie, people get killed so that other people in the family can move from the kids table to the adults table.  Apparently, most families have the dreaded two table system at Thanksgiving- the nice table for the adults, and the not so nice table for the kids.  In my family, the kids table was usually a card table, or on one infamous night, a ping-pong table in the garage.  It's one of those things that we laugh about now, but at the time was a source of tension.

And fodder for drama.

About a year ago, I needed to write a new one act for the Humana Festival.  My play Hela and Troy was just a finalist for the Heideman award there, and I wanted to enter something new.   It was around November, and the kids table came to mind, and in about a day, I wrote the play version of Strong Tea.  People liked it, one thing lead to another, and I decided to make  a short film of it.  And it's been really fun, so far.  We shoot in about a month.



Burning Man is the screen adaptation of my most successful play to date, Burning the Old Man.  This too is one of my stories that people say they can relate to- and that's weird, because this one is about some really messed up brothers stuck in the middle of the Nevada desert shortly after their father commits suicide.  The brothers fight, hate and love each other in equal measure, and can't seem to get where they want to go.   First produced by Boomerang Theatre Comapany, it won the 2005 NYIT award for Outstanding Full Length Script, went on to a production in Prague at Divadlo na Zabradi, and has been published in Plays and Playwrights 2006, several scene and monologue books, and is now available online via Indie Theater Now.

And on top of that, this Monday, Nov. 14 at 6pm at Solas, Harvardwood is presenting a reading of it.  If you're in NYC, I hope you come see it.

I don't know what any of this means, other than than when I write about sad, strange, lost people- the public seems to respond.  And that I think the movie gods are trying to tell me something about where I am going and what I should be doing.


Friday, November 4, 2011

BURNING MAN AT SOLAS


The Harvardwood Actors' Program, in association with the American Repertory Theatre / Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University Alumni Association will present a reading of Kelly McAllister's screenplay Burning Man.
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Photograph ©GretjenHelene.com
Burning Man photography provided by Gretjen Helene <www.gretjenhelene.com/burningman>
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Photograph ©GretjenHelene.com
Burning Man photography provided by Gretjen Helene <www.gretjenhelene.com/burningman>

Monday November 14th
6:00 PM (reading will start promptly at 6:00 - please arrive a little early to grab a drink and find a seat)

Solas Bar
2nd floor seating area - no elevator access
232 E 9th St

Free admission
No reservations needed, seating is first come first serve on the upper level.
Trying to fulfill their father’s dying wish of having his ashes scattered at the Burning Man festival, two brothers who can’t stand each other find themselves stranded in the middle of the Nevada Desert.  They have no money, no car, and only 24 hours before the festival ends. An epic story about two not-so-epic lives

*Christian Grunnah - MARTY
*Paul Murillo - BOBBY
*Rebecca West - JO
*Anna Rahn - CANDY
*Jason Beaubien - EARTH
*Tim Eliot - EDDY / THE OLD MAN
*Doug Chapman - LIQUOR STORE CLERK, GAS STATION ATTENDANT & BIKER DUDE
*Chudney Sykes - LADY BARFLY, Stage Directions
All actors are alumni from the American Repertory Theatre / Moscow Art Theatre Institute at Harvard MFA program.


Kelly McAllister- Plays include: Burning the Old Man, which won the 2005 NYIT award for Outstanding Full Length Script and is featured in One on One- Best Men’s
Monologues for the 21st Century and Duo! The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century (Applause Books), Best Men’s Monologue’s 2005 (Smith & Kraus), and Plays and Playwrights 2006 (NYTE); Hela and Troy, finalist 2011 Humana Festival at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, published by Playscripts, inc.; Last Call, 2002 FringeNYC Excellence in Playwriting award, featured in Best Stage Scenes 2002 (Smith & Kraus) and the anthology Plays and Playwrights 2003 (NYTE); Muse of Fire; The Morons, winner 2005 Ten by Ten one act contest at Triangle Theatre Company, NC; Some Unfortunate Hour; The Rembrandt section of The Heist Project, in collaboration with Art House Productions; and Fenway: Last of the Bohemians. He had his first international production in May 2009, when Divadlo na Zabradli of Prague opened Cesta Horiciho Muze, the Czech translation of Burning the Old Man- where it is still performing to sold out houses. He is currently working on his first film, a short called Strong Tea. His plays have been produced and/or workshopped by many fine theatres, including Boomerang Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, hope theatre, inc., Impetuous Theatre Group, Gravity and Glass Productions, the Playwrights Collective of Seattle, Children’s Theatre Workshop, and The Other Theatre of Denver. In 2003, San Jose State University named him Graduate of the Last Decade for the School of Humanities. He was also a senior reviewer for nytheatre.com for 2003-2005. You can read his blog at rkmcallister.blogspot.com. He is represented by Scott Edwards of Harden-Curtis NYC, 
212-977-8502.

PAST projects of the Harvardwood group include The Pilot Season Survival Guide, a reading of Marc Sulley's Last of the Navesink River Divers, Beth McGee's The Possessions of Mary Todd Lincoln, Kate Mulley's screenplay Zandy, and Elana Zucker's screenplay The Weathergirl.

For more information email Adam Kern at hapnyc@gmail.com

Monday, October 31, 2011

BOO


Twenty-one years ago today, I went to New York City for the first time in my life.  I had just finished a cross country trip with a friend I had made that summer doing summer stock at the Barn Theatre in Michigan.  He was from a little town in Jersey called Peapack.  We spent about a week traversing the country, and had gone to places like Ashland, Oregon to see the Shakespeare festival, and Twin Falls, Idaho to see where Evel Kneivel tried to jump the Snake River with his rocket/motorcycle thing.  I even saw my first moose when we drove through Yellowstone days before it closed for the winter.  Somewhere, there is an old box full of old photos of that trip- I don't know where, exactly, and hope to come across it before I kick- but until then, I have to rely on my mind's eye.  Anyway, we ended up in Peapack on October 30, and on the next day we took the train into NYC, crossing under the Hudson River and emerging from Penn station like ants crawling out of their colony.  I remember thinking of the Hopi, and their belief that when they were created, they came into this world from an older one via a hole in the ground.  Here I was, a neo-Hopi, coming out of a hole in the ground from my old world and into a new one.  It was exciting, strange, and a little scary.  We walked all over town, first going up to Hell's Kitchen, then down to the Village, ending up near Union Square where a my buddies girl friend from the summer- a drama major at NYU- lived.   We watched the Halloween parade, which to me looked like a cross between Mardi-gras and a zombie apocalypse.  It was glorious.  From there, we proceeded to Rock Around the Clock, and bistro near St. Mark's Place, and drank a lot of raspberry kamikazes.  A lot.  At one point in the evening, after things had become fuzzy, my buddy's girl made a pass at me- which was shocking and flattering and uncomfortable.  The three of us staggered back to her place, and crashed.  Well, I crashed- they got into an argument.   I was awoken at dawn by my friend, who informed me that he and his lady friend were breaking up, and it was time to go.  I was exhausted, somewhere between hung over and still drunk, and not in the mood to go anywhere.  But he was insistent.  So off we trudged, through now mostly empty streets, which were full of the remnants of the nights revelries.

That's NYC to me- dramatic, strange, and intriguing.  She's been very good to me over the years.  I've had the great fortune of having most of my plays produced there, and for several years wrote reviews for nytheatre.com - one of the best sites for theatre in the country.  I can't think of another city in the world where you can go to a show every day of the year, and never repeat yourself.  

And this November, Gotham is treating me kindly again, with two readings.  First, on November 14, Harvardwood NYC is presenting a reading of Burning Man, a screenplay based on my play Burning the Old Man, at 6pm at Solas 232 E. 9th St.  And then on November 19, Boomerang Theatre Co. is presenting a reading of my latest play, Riddle Lost, at 5pm at ART/NY 520 8th Ave. 3rd floor.  If you are around NYC, I really hope you can make it.  I don't know if it'll be as amazing for you as that first day in Manhattan was for me, but it just might be.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

It was opening night.  I was all of twenty years old, and just getting seriously involved in theatre.  I was an undeclared major at San Jose State University, and working on tons of shows- student productions, main stage productions for the theatre department, even some shows outside of school (most notably, a very "experimental" show called A Marowitz Hamlet at City Lights).  I was having the time of my life.

The show that was opening was Tennessee William's Night of the Iguana.  I had a small role as one of the German tourists.  My older brother Jerry was playing the bus driver.  I had dyed my hair platinum blond to look more Teutonic.  The play itself was beautiful, this really sad tale of a defrocked, drunken priest named Shannon trying to come to terms with reality while leading tours for little old ladies and their daughters and grand-daughters around Central America.  The action of the play takes place while Shannon and his latest group of touristas are staying at a cheap little hotel in Mexico run by a randy woman named Maxine.  At the start of the play, Shannon has just been accused of sleeping with one of the tourists, a 16 year old named Charlotte.  This makes the rest of the group rather angry.  Also staying at the hotel is a spinster named Hannah and her poet father, Nonno- who is very old and clearly about to shuffle off this mortal coil but hoping to finish one last poem before he goes.  It's a really beautiful play, and the production was fantastic.   I was very proud to be a part of it, albeit in a very small part.

Anyway, on opening night, I was extremely excited- running around backstage, watching as much of the show from the wings as I could, savoring every reaction from the audience.  Jerry was strangely quiet.  I found him in the wings, watching the show quietly, with this funny look on his face.  I told him I thought the show was going great.  He noticed me, put on this big smile, and said "Yeah, it is!  You're doing great."  Then he turned back to watch the action.  There is something really magic about watching a show from the wings of a theatre- something sacred and rare that makes you feel like a god, or someone possessed of magic.  At the end of the play, Nonno finally finishes his poem, and recites it. Jerry and I watched the scene from back stage right, if I remember right.  Here's the poem.


How calmly does the orange branch 
observe the sky begin to blanch 
Without a cry, without a prayer, 
with no expression of despair! 
Sometime while night obscures the tree 
the zenith of her life will be 
Gone past forever, and from thence 
a second history will commence, 
A chronicle no longer gold, 
a bargaining with mist and mold, 
And finally the broken stem, 
the plummeting to earth, and then 
An intercourse not well-designed 
for creatures of the golden kind 
Whose native green mists arch above 
the earth’s obscure, corrupting love 
And still the lemon on the branch 
observes the sky begin to blanch 
Without a cry, without a prayer, 
with no expression of despair. 
O courage will you not as well 
select a second place to dwell, 
Not only in the orange  tree 
but in the frightened heart of me?

Nonno finishes the poem, and dies on stage.  


After the show and the curtain call and the running around hugging everyone, I ran to Jerry's dressing room.  He was sitting in front of his mirror.  I started babbling about the show, the audience, the impending cast party which was going to be amazing.  Jerry said he wasn't going to the party.  I asked him why.  He said "Brock went to sleep today".  Brock was his room mate, a really cool guy who went to high school with Jerry and my sister Heather.  He was Heather's first boyfriend, actually- and always very tolerant of me, the annoying younger brother who always begged to be taken to whatever thing he and Heather were doing- movies, the beach, whatever.  He had joined the army after high school- but after carrying some hazardous waste for the good old USA, he developed cancer in his hip.  He came home, went through a lot of treatment, and lived with my brother.  He never complained about it.  Ever.  He would come to parties, tell stories, and be the cool guy he always was.  I remember one party where he introduced me to the music of Tom Waits.  He played me and some of my buddies the song "Tom Traubert's Blues", and I thought it was the coolest song in the history of the world.

"Brock went to sleep, and he didn't wake up." Jerry said this, and I had no idea what he was talking about.  Brock took a nap?  Great, he's so tired these days.

Jerry looked at me funny.  And I got it.  Oh.  That sleep.  The one you don't wake up from.  I walked out of the dressing room, and got about fifty feet down the hall before I started to cry.  I don't remember how, but I did end up getting to the opening night party at Dr. Todd's place.  Hal J. Todd directed the show, and had this amazing house up in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.  Jon Selover, who played Shannon, talked with me for a long time- letting me cry and rage and freak out.  I remember screaming "It's not fair."  Jon looked me in the eyes, and said "No, it's not."  Harsh, but true.   There are moments in time when someone becomes a friend for life.

For the rest of the run, I'd watch the poem scene from backstage.

And for years, at parties or out with friends, if I had enough drinks in me, I'd put Tom Waits on the juke box or stereo, and weep.



So.



Friday, October 14, 2011

THE RUG THEY CAN'T PULL OUT

Long ago, the late great Tom Humphrey, (long time Artistic Director of The Western Stage and known lunatic) said something really smart.  He was doing a seminar for the American College Theatre Festival about starting you own company, producing your own show- taking control of your career.   What he said was that, if you make your own rug, nobody can pull it out from under you.  Why let other people determine your success or failure?  Why empower a bunch of people you've never met, who may or may not be even qualified for the position of power they have?  It made sense to me then, and it makes sense to me now.  Of course, like most great advice, I have forgotten it and remembered it many times over in my life- and no doubt will do so many more times before I kick that final kick.


One of the first times I took that advice to heart was a few years later, when I was working as an actor at Western Stage- yes, the very same theatre company run by Tom Humphrey.  I was feeling a little pent up, creatively, and wanted to do something to express myself.  This was before I went full bore for the whole writing thing, and as such, I had a lot of thoughts in my head looking for a home.  So I decided to write a series of anonymous memos, called "Memos from the Underground", using the pen name Tip the Pooka, a nod to characters from both Harvey and The Land of Oz and Dostoevsky.  Yes, even then I made allusion after allusion, hoping someone would get the reference.  Lame, but it's what I do.  Anyway, it turned out the advice about the rug was true.  I felt great- empowered- brilliant.  And no one  could take it away from me.

Years later, I took that advice to heart again when forming hope theatre, inc. with my sister Heather and brother Jerry.  We had all three been in NYC for years, living the life of the starving artist- waiting hours for an audition so that some casting director's assistant could watch a one minute monologue, doing free theatre in store front theatres run by people who might have been crazy- it was fun, exciting, and romantic.  But time to do something for ourselves, with us in the driver's seat.  We decided, based on an idea of Heather's, to form our own group, and call it hope theatre.  Again, it was empowering, and better yet, successful.  For out first show, we produced the American premiere of Shakespeare's Edward III, once part of the Apocrypha and still debated by scholars, but generally thought to be at least partially written by the Bard.  I came across it while browsing a bookstore in Greenwich Village one day.  Somehow, no one had ever done it in the USA.  I thought that might be a good show to get a lot of free publicity.  And I was right.  We got the NY Times, the New Yorker, and tons of other folks to come to the show.  And it was our own gig.  And it was groovy.

And now, I'm making a movie.  That's right, me, goon among goons.  On the sage advice of old friend and rising film producer Siobhan Mahoney, I've taken my short play Strong Tea and adapted it for the screen.  And I feel freakin' awesome.  All the pieces are falling into place perfectly. I have a crew, most of the cast, and am ironing out some last minute stuff.  It's happening, and feels like this is what I a m supposed to be doing with my life.   Suddenly, there seems to be even less time in the day, because I am answering this call, taking care of that problem, yadda yadda yadda.  And I dig it, baby.

What I'm basically saying is this- too often, we put too much power in the hands of others.  Screw that. As Obama says, we are the people we've been waiting for.

PS- Coming to NYC in November, readings of my screenplay Burning Man by Harvardwood NYC and my play Riddle Lost by Boomerang Theatre.  Stay tuned for more info!~

Monday, October 10, 2011

ANOTHER NATIONAL ANTHEM, AND IT ROCKS


No, I'm not talking about Thunder Road by The Boss- although I'd love to hear that sung before baseball games and all that.  I'm referring to one of the many thrilling, catchy, funny, smart songs featured in Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman's Assassins- currently having a stellar production at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs.

I have wanted to see this show since it's first inception at Playwrights Horizons many moons ago.   I was living in NYC back then, and tried several times to get in, but it was always sold out.  I remember one night standing outside in the snow, watching the people in the lobby getting ready to go in.  One of those memories that sticks for some reason.  That was over twenty years ago.  Both the show and I have grown older and changed- and both, I think, for the better.



The show is a sort of Twilight Zone/Pirandello like piece about a group of Americans from different parts of history who are either outcast, delusional, or just plain crazy. (for more info and a plot summary, go here)  Some are known to all of us, like Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Boothe.  Others are minor foot notes of history, like Charles Guiteau or Giuseppe Zangara.    As portrayed in this production, they are all human beings worth observing.  Their story is at times amusing, at times tragic, and throughout the show, thanks to the direction of Scott Levy and a uniformly talented cast, spell-binding.

The American Dream, it turns out, doesn't really work for everyone.   These days, it seems like 99% of us are either working at jobs we don't like all that much for people we either don't know or don't like, or aren't working at all.  The land with streets of gold where anyone with enough pluck can pull themselves up by their bootstraps seems to have gone the way of the Dodo.  What to do?  Well, some unfortunates, the Willy Loman's of the world, famously took matters into their own hands.  And thereby hangs a tale.

I don't really want to say more about what happens in the show, because I want you to go see it.  That's right- you.  If you are anywhere near Colorado- get off of your couch, get in your car, and head to the Springs.  You won't be sorry.  It's a beautiful drive.  The theatre is gorgeous, and has it's own restaurant that's swanky and Art Deco and cool.  And the show is a thought provoking, funny, toe tapping phantasmagoria guaranteed to cure what ails you.   The cast includes Tom Auclair as Samuel Byck, and he is at once hilarious and pathetic as a guy who makes tapes recordings for various famous people while plotting to kill Dick Nixon.  Miriam Roth Ballard as Sara Jane Moore and Cailin Doran as Squeaky Fromme show us two sides of the feminine mystique that are sweetly insane and frighteningly familiar.  Ken Robinson, as Giuseppe Zangara, has a voice that's unreal it's so pretty.   And there's an image of him strapped in the electric chair that will stay with you long after the final bow.  Jordan Leigh, as Charles Guiteau, is a freak of nature- hilarious, scary, bursting with energy.  He takes the part and runs with it. "The Ballad of Guiteau", his big number in act two, is easily the best piece of musical theatre I have seen in years.  As directed by Levy and perfectly executed by Leigh and Marco Robinson, who plays the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald, it freaked me out.  In the good way.  Like I forgot where I was and who I was and just floated along with what was happening on stage.  Ben Bashinski makes a sort of working class hero out of Czolgosz, and Brantely Scott Haines really comes across like a whacko as John Hinkley.  Jason Lythgoe is excellent as the ridiculously egotistical John Wilkes Boothe, and the afore mentioned Marco Robinson rocks the house whenever he's on stage.  The ensemble- Jonathan Eberhardt, Vania Falen, Max Ferguson, Matthew Newton, and Halee Towne, are uniformly excellent, and their number "Something Just Broke", which was added to the play after it's initial run in NYC, is one of the highlights of the show.  The orchestra, led by Roberta Jacyshyn, is freakin' amazing, and the design team of Christopher L. Sheley doing the scenery, Janson Fangio doing the costumes, and Jonathan Spencer, is superb.

Did I mention I really liked the show?  A lot?  Good.  Now go see the show.  It's important theatre about big ideas, and might make you think twice next time you pass a member of the Tea Party dressed up like Paul Revere or someone from the Occupy Wall Street movement playing hackey sack, about the American Dream, where it's gone, and how people react when they think something ain't right.

For info on tickets, how to get there, and all that, go here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

HAPPY ACCIDENTS

I think the Occupy Wall Street movement is amazing, and exciting, and historical.  And on top of that, it has a shining example of how Necessity is the Mother of Invention- something which I hope every theatre artists recognizes as fact.



I'm talking about the whole method of the group acting as a chorus, repeating what each speaker says, as a way to work around not being allowed to use bullhorns or amplification by the NYPD.  As I understand it, they have what is being called a General Assembly everyday, where people are given two minutes to speak.  Whomever is speaking will say a sentence or two, then the crowd nearest the speaker repeats what  was said in unison- sort of like a Greek chorus or something.  I've seen several snippets of them doing this on different news shows, and it's fascinating.  And by the look on the people's faces, it seems to be unifying them in their cause- which is probably not what the NYPD had in mind when they said no to any sort of electrical amplification.  It also makes what is being said more important than any individual speaker.

I have seen, in my experience in the theatre, so many examples of brilliance coming out of necessity- times when "happy accidents" occur which necessitate some quick thinking resulting in  better work.

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I once worked on a screenplay for Zeuss' Thigh Films written by a group of writers called "Places".  It was a sort of Rashomon like story about the final week of rehearsal of an indie theatre production in New York City, told from various viewpoints (Mick the actor,  Kate the actress, Jason the writer, Whitey the director, and Damiana the director).  Each writer was in charge of one of the viewpoints, and as such had final say in what their character did in all sections.   I had the section dealing with Mick, and in my first draft, I had Mick get yelled at by Damiana during rehearsals.  And Damiana, in that first draft, swore.  A lot.  Now, this bad case of potty mouth did not fit with Katharine Clark Gray's vision of Damiana, and as that was her main character,  I was told I'd have to change it as per the rules of this writing experiment.  What to do?  At first, as sort of a joke, I went through my draft and replaced all Damiana's bad words with the word "golly".  And it seemed kind of funny.  What if a person in this day and age, and in the vulgar land of indie theatre, used words like golly as opposed to words like fuck?  I kept the golly, and it was funny, and cool, and one hundred percent the product of dealing with an obstacle.

Here's some of the script:


Damiana goes through her notes, while the cast listens, jotting notes down in their script, nodding in agreement, looking at each other.  She looks at her notes, which are a jumble of hieroglyphic sketches.  Her eyes comes to a large skull, with the words “ WE’RE DOOMED!” written underneath.

DAMIANA
Ah, yes. Listen up, people.

Damiana looks out at the cast.  Mick, late twenties, looks up from his notebook.  

DAMIANA (CONT’D)
I think we have something pretty special here. Know that this is going to be a great show.  Own it.

Mick writes in his notebook “worst show ever”.  He looks over to Kate, mid-twenties, and when he catches her eyes, makes a face, which makes her laugh.

DAMIANA (CONT’D)
Feel free to listen up, people.  Mick, what happened in the skeleton monologue?

There is a sudden hush in the room.  Everyone looks at Mick.  He feels the pressure.

MICK
Uh, I’m not sure.  I just wasn’t feeling it.

Damiana stares at Mick for a moment as if he were an idiot.

DAMIANA
Golly!  That makes me angry!  Golly, Golly, Golly!  Feel it!  Feel it, for Pete’s sake!  How can you say you didn’t feel it?

The cast and crew laugh.  Kate draws a picture of a witch in her notebook screaming “FEEL IT, MUTHA FUCKAH!”.


DAMIANA (CONT’D)
This isn’t a joke, people.  It’s serious business.  Mick- no more excuses.  Find you’re feelings.




By the way, the other writer's on Places were Mike Folie, Steven Gridley, and Francis Kuzler.  These are all outstanding writers, and I encourage you to look up their stuff, see it on stage or screen whenever possible, and write them long, full of compliments, fan letters.  Yeah, and hand write them, so that the Post Office can get some work.



Also, looks like the date for the reading of Riddle Lost in NYC by Boomerang Theatre Company is going to be Saturday November 19.   I'll post more info when I have it.  I have to keep this short, as I am heading down to the Denver capital to witness Occupy Denver firsthand.





Monday, October 3, 2011

EAT A BAG OF WHAT?

So I had just finished directing Muse of Fire, my second full length play, for hope theatre, inc. as part of the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival, and feeling really good about all things theatre.   The play had gotten a rave review from Martin Denton, sold out most its performances, and everyone involved in the show had kicked ass.  On top of that, I had just gotten cast as Boxer the Horse in a puppet version of Animal Farm being produced by Synapse Productions and directed by David Travis- and it was a really shaping up to be a cool, cutting edge, brilliant show.  And on top of that awesomeness, Tim Errickson, old friend and the Artistic Director of Boomerang Theatre Company, asked me if I wanted to write a play for the Boomerangs.


I said yes before he had finished his sentence.

So, now I had to find a play.  At this point in my writing, I wanted to set all my plays in California.  I'm not sure if it was a sense of loyalty of where I came from, a severe belief in the dictum "write what you know", or just something that struck my fancy.  In any event, the new play would be set in California.  So I started thinking about the Golden State, and what would make a good play.   And I came across an article in the SF Gate, the online version of the old newspaper The Chronicle, about Burning Man.  It was a brief history of the festival- how it had started on a Baker Beach in San Francisco one summer solstice night in 1986, and had grown into this huge festival held every summer in the desert outside of Reno, Nevada that culminated with a bonfire where a huge figure would be burnt in effigy.  According to the article, people are supposed to bring things to the festival that want to be rid of- bad feelings, old wounds, etc.- and symbolically toss them in the fire and move on with their lives.

This sounded like a good thing to have in a play.  And Reno is very close to the California border- in fact, I spent a fair amount of time near there when I was a kid, as my Uncle Donald had a ranch near there.  So cool, Burning Man would be part of the story.  And I thought, what is someone was trying to get to Burning Man to toss some past wound into the fire, but got stuck on the way?  That would be a good obstacle for someone to try and overcome.  And while trying to get there, lots of juicy stuff could come out.



Now, my father had recently died- and it really sucked ass.  And I had been thinking a lot about how when people die, you are left with a lot of unresolved issues- unspoken grievances, unanswered questions, un-cried tears.  So I would have someone trying to get over a death.  No- why not have two people?  Brothers, who are opposite in almost every way, bound together by blood, constantly at each other's throats?  Yeah, that sounded good to me.  I often have two opposites stuck together in my plays- yins and yangs, order and chaos...and Bobby and Marty.  That would be their names- and they would sort of represent two aspects of me.  The slacker and the worrier.   Of course, once I started writing, they took a life of their own, and did what they wanted.  Which is how it usually goes with me- I'll come up with some idea for a story, and start writing, and all of a sudden the characters take on a life of their own, and do and say what they want, and I just write down whatever it is I see and hear then doing.  Which might make me a little crazy, but I think it was Zorba who said a man needs a little craziness in his life.

Now, I would be lying to say that there is not a lot of me in this show, a lot of my issues with death, and my father, as well as my mom and my step-dad.  I grew up in a rather dramatic household- a world of fathers who had left long ago, alcoholism, and denial.  And a lot of that is in Burning the Old Man.  But I'd also be lying if I said this is an autobiographical play.  It is a story, told by me, about people who are sort of crazy.

Anyhow.  I let all these ideas run around in my head for a day or two, and then sat down, and started writing...and it came out in a torrent.  I mean the whole thing.  I couldn't type fast enough.  I'd write until two or three in the morning, fall asleep, then wake up an hour later with a new bit of dialogue that demanded attention.  It was pretty freaky, and liberating, and exciting.

The play starts with Marty and Bobby on their way to Burning Man.   They are taking their late father's ashes, with the intent of throwing them on the fire at the end of the festival.  This is per their late father's dying wishes.  To up the stakes, I make it the day before the bonfire.  They're running late.  And then, their car explodes.  Well, first it catches fire, they pull into a run down motel in the middle of nowhere, and then it blows up.  And there's no cell phone reception.  And the explosion has taken down the phone line.  And the only person at the motel is Jo, a sort of Stepford Wife wannabe who has no car and whose husband works far away and won't be home until very late.   And figuring all that out took about as long as it did to type this paragraph.

It just poured out, pre-formed and beautiful.  I named the motel The Delphi, after the famous oracle of Greek mythology who people went to for wisdom and guidance.  In the opening scene, Jo is at the counter in the lobby, singing show tunes to herself, when Bobby runs in, screaming at his brother "Eat a bag of dicks, fuckhole!", a phrase I had once heard Brett Christensen say.  In my mind, Brett was Bobby, and indeed ended up playing him in the first production, so I figured what the hell?

I wrote the first draft in less than a month, and Boomerang did a reading of it as part of their First Flight series, directed by Tim Errickson.  The cast included Tim McCracken as Marty, Brett Christensen as Bobby, Siobhan Mahoney as Candy, Philip Emeott as Earth, Mac Brydon as Eddy, and Sara Thigpen as Jo.

And with that reading, we were off to the races.

To Be Continued...

Burning the Old Man is currently available in the anthology "Plays and Playwrights 2006", available here:
http://www.nytesmallpress.com/pp06.php

It also won the 2005 NYIT Award for Outstanding Full Length Script.   For more info, go here:
http://www.nyitawards.com/

It also went on to a long run at Divadlo na Zabradli of Prauge.  For more info, go here:
http://www.nazabradli.cz/repertoar/repertoar/kelly-mcallister-cesta-horiciho-muze/

And next month, it opens at another there in the Czech Republic, Divadlo Exil.  For more info, go here:
http://www.divadloexil.cz/?page_id=12



Thursday, September 29, 2011

WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK?

So my latest opus is going to have a staged reading this November as part of Boomerang Theatre Company's First Flight series, and I thought I'd tell you a little about it.  It's called Riddle Lost.  The reading is going to be directed by Philip Emeott- who originated the role of Earth in Burning the Old Man.



About ten years ago, I read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.  It's basically a history of what happened to all the native people here in North America after the Europeans arrived and said "Hey, this is our land, provided by God, and you all have to go away".  It's brilliant, depressing, and should be required reading for every citizen.  Let's face it, we stole this country from other people- and were pretty nasty about it.  I have always been fascinated, saddened and inspired by native American culture- not that I am by any stretch of the imagination a specialist on it.   I just think they were and are a group of people who got the short end of a very large, dangerous stick.  And that's putting it nicely.


Anyway, one of the chapters in Bury My Heart is about the Modoc War of 1872, which took place in Northern California.  The central figure in that war was a man called Captain Jack by the settlers, Kintpuash by his own people.  And the story is amazing- Shakespearean in scope, full of characters and situations that don't seem quite real but which, according to the history books, were.  Aside from being history, it's a story of one person sticking to what they believe to be right, when everyone around them, on all sides, do bad things.  Like really bad, killing babies, betraying your people, murder under a flag a truce bad.

I started researching online.  Found a book, The Indian History of the Modoc War, written by a guy who was half Modoc, half Honkey.  The author had lived through the war.  He was a Riddle, and not just in the figurative way.  I mean his name was Jefferson C. Davis Riddle, which seems perfect.   Actually, when he was a boy his name was Charka.  But his parents, a Modoc woman named Winema and a white settler named Frank Riddle,  changed it after the war.

I thought I'd write a sort of historical play, an American Henry V or something.  But that's not what came out.  Often, when I write, I set out to do one thing, and something entirely different comes out.  I've learned to just go with it, not try to force my original vision on what comes out when I'm at the keyboard.  I think my subconscious is a better writer.  Either that, or I'm hearing voices, spirit guides who tell me what to write and I don't really have a say in my work.  In any event, when I finally found that first scene which let me into the world of the play, it was nothing like the historical tale I originally envisioned.  No, it was a metaphysical hodge-podge set somewhere in Limbo, and populated with characters like the Hel, Norse Goddess of Death;  the trickster Raven; an animated cigar store Indian named Ziggy;  and the decapitated head of Mimir, another figure from Norse mythology.  Basically, the play is populated with historical and mythological figures from both Europe and North American, all hanging out in a side show tent run by Hel.  Into the tent walks Riddle, who has just died, and the story begins.  It's big and weird and totally different from anything I've done, and exactly like everything I've done.  I used the Goddess Hel once before- but that was when she went by the name Hela- in a one act called Hela and Troy, available from Playscripts, inc.  I liked her in that show, and I think she wanted to stick around for awhile.



If you are in the New York City area in November, I really hope you come to the reading- I promise it won't suck.   And not only will you hear a new play, you might just learn the answer to the age old riddle, why is a Raven like a writing desk.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BACKWARDS AND WRONG

Love is evil, spelled backwards and wrong.

So says Earth, neo-hippie and seeker of truth in my third play, BURNING THE OLD MAN.  It's a great line.  People quote it often, and I've seen it used by others on blogs, aritcles, etc.

I stole it.




There's a saying that I first heard from Richard Parks, one of my teachers at San Jose State University.  Richard was a mad man, a genius, and one of the most memorable people I ever met- one of those teachers who would say something in such a way as to make it funny, revelatory, and pertinent all at the same time.  He also had a wicked temper, which would show up now and then, usually during rehearsal for something he was directing and which wasn't going well.  One memorable night during dress rehearsal for Lysistrata he shouted out "Change your majors!" and marched out of the building.  At the time, it was both hilarious and embarrassing.  But he also was brilliant, and knew how to get the best out of us.    Once, I think it was during rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream,  somebody mentioned how Shakespeare had taken a lot of his plot lines from other sources, and somebody else opined that that meant Shakespeare was just a copy cat.  Doctor Parks raised he eyebrows dramatically, and pronounced to us all that "great artists don't copy, they steal", meaning that if you aren't that good at what you do, then you will often imitate other peoples work- but if you're a true artist, you can take that idea and make it your own- improved, or at least different, and unique.

And that's why I feel okay about stealing Earth's line, and indeed, the character of Earth himself.

Let me explain.  Long ago, and far away, my brother Jerry and I worked for a children's theatre company in Pleasanton, California.  The money was good, and that job was fun- but we had a lot of extra time on our hands, and needed an extra outlet for ourselves.  Somehow, we convinced the local cable company to give us a cable access show- and not only that, but to provide us with cameras and editing room time- all for free.   We named the show Pleasantonland, and basically just shot hours and hours of ourselves goofing around, drinking beer, and talking with other theatre people about life, art, and whatever else came to mind.   It was self-indulgent in the extreme- and we had a blast.  During one of our shoots, we decided that the show should have a guest poet- a sort of fake, over the top, new age gone bad kind of poet- and my buddy Brian Faraone volunteered for the job.  But he didn't want to be called Brian- he wanted to be called Earth.  We thought that sounded perfect- so, while filming, I looked at the camera "And now it's time for a poem from our guest today, Earth!"  Brian walked up, wearing a beret and lots of attitude, looked at the camera and said in perfect deadpan, "Love is evil, spelled backwards, and wrong", and walked off.  It was friggin' brilliant.  We laughed our asses off.



Cut to ten years later.  I'm writing a play for Boomerang Theatre Company about two brothers on their way to the Burning Man festival who get stuck in the desert and run into, among other things, a couple of neo-hippies.  Somewhere in my brain, I remember Brian as Earth, and write him into the show- and it's a perfect fit.  

And that's how I stole Earth from Brian for my show.  Not that I feel too bad- Brian had stolen the idea of Earth from an actual neo-hippie he met in Santa Cruz who would say ridiculous things like "I don't wear shoes- they're a rule of society I find silly".  So fair's fair.

To Be Continued...

Burning the Old Man is available in print in the anthology Plays and Playwrights 2006 and will soon be featured on Indie Theater Now.
http://www.nytesmallpress.com/pp06.php
www.indietheaternow.com

A WALK IN THE STARS

We got away for a few days. Away from the news, from the Mask Wars, from Memes and Madness and My God Where Are We Going, and it was numinou...