31 December 2007

Going Out with a Bang

I usually prefer a quiet celebration of the New Year. You know: a few friends, some laughs, feeling self-righteous about not subjecting ourselves to the cold and hassle of watching the ball drop in person. That's just how I was raised, really. In NoVa, that seemed like all there was to do on such a holiday. Stay in. Maybe go over to a friend's so you can feel sociable. Drink that really cheap champagne that makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to drink champagne on a regular basis. Count down with everyone until you get to pretend the words of Auld Lang Syne actually mean something to you. Then you wait a bit--because of course no one else out reveling will think of waiting a bit--before driving home.

This year, I will usher in the new at the Hammerstein Ballroom, enjoying the dulcet tones of Velvet Revolver. For those of you unacquainted with this hybrid band, I understand it to be comprised mainly of the members of Guns n' Roses (plus one guy from Suicidal Tendencies), but with Scott Weiland--of Stone Temple Pilots fame--fronting instead of Axl Rose. They are, in short, a rock band. And in a matter of ten hours or so I will be hearing them live for the first time through newly purchased earplugs.

There's no shortage of contradictions in life. Paradoxes abound. Every time I find myself at a concert that requires earplugs, I also find myself wondering, sometimes even aloud, "Why the hell am I here?" The absurdity of the situation is inherent. Some argue that they want the music to be loud enough to feel the bass in their chest cavity, and I can appreciate that, but I'm also aware that all that really requires is a decent subwoofer placed on the floor. It does not necessitate creating the decibel equivalent of a breaking subway car. But that's rock and roll for you. No one said it ought to make sense.

In many ways, this is an increasingly appropriate way of spending my New Year's. Maybe it was just turning thirty this year, but a lot of the good parts of it have been spent in reclamation of things of my past, trying to make good on promises to myself and reconsider what's truly important to me. I came into the year as uncertain and detached from myself as I've possibly ever been and I leave it with, if not certainty, a very surprising yet somehow familiar intimacy with myself. Reclaiming one's life involves a lot of confrontation: confronting perception, confronting contentment and, perhaps most strange, confronting assumption. There are many ways in which I did this, quite subconsciously, this year. I attended Camp Nerdly (see 5/7/07), which I never would have thought I'd find myself doing, right up to my arrival there, I returned to Italy (see 6/12/07), which was a touch-and-go promise right up to the flight, and I managed to push myself to a fairly new physical dimension for As Far As We Know (see 7/12/07), an objective I'd long held and never before dared to commit to.

But the most satisfying illustration for me of reclaiming some of my favorite parts of life, chewing over where I am and where I want to be now, comes from music. You can see over on my Library Thing widget that I recently read a book that had a lot to do with mix tapes. This inspired me to try and make one again for Christmas. For a few years now I've been mailing out what I call "MiX-mas" CDs to close friends, which are compilations of new (to me) music I have on my computer that has meant a lot to me over the course of the year. Processing my music through the computer has had an interesting effect on how I listen to it. It and my iPod urge me toward new music all the time, and I come to appreciate songs over whole albums. I love the access and maneuverability of the format, and it quickly usurped my CDs as the source of my musical accompaniment. When I first became capable of MP3 audio, after importing maybe a third of my CDs, out of a concern for space I stopped. It has, ever since, been an intended "when I have the time" project of mine to crack open the CD binders again and import more music. Just the good stuff. Some day.

In deciding to make a mix tape, I had a lot to do. I actually had to purchase a CD player with a tape deck. I have been using computerized music for so long, I had found my boombox fairly neglected a while ago. If I wanted to listen specifically to a CD, it was usually a mix someone made for me and I'd simply play it over my DVD player or alarm clock. So I bought the cheapest boombox (more a toot-orb) I could find, and felt a certain sense of relief upon finding that, yes, people still sell blank audio cassettes. Then I cracked open the CDs and sort of just gave a listen to anything that I hadn't heard in a while.

I remembered some simple things, like using the "pause" button between changing CDs and keeping an eye on the amount of tape left on the left-hand reel. This is why I was so surprised to be reminded of some other aspects of mix-tapery. I mean, I had been making mix tapes for over a decade before switching to the seductions of laser-guided lyric lathing. Yet it took turning the pages of forgotten albums and the engaging mechanics of an actual tape player to bring back certain things. The main thing was how differently I listened to the music when it was relying on me to cue it. A lot has been acknowledged about the flirtation involved in passing on a mix, but few (to my knowledge) have exposed the complex back-and-forth between music and a mix maker when it comes to real-time recording. For example, does music these days tend to use a fade-out less? Or is that only my perception after making this tape of predominantly 90s music, as I would perk up at any diminution in tone or volume on the songs I was laboriously copying to cassette? I forgot how I would turn the volume all the way up at the end of song to be sure I captured the end of the diminution, and the rush to depress the button before the next song leapt into the speakers. And remember that? "Song"? Not "track," but "song"?

Anyway, I'm not calling for a return to tape format, or anything like that. What I am calling out is myself, as someone who too often takes progress for granted. I do it in two ways: assuming that as it happens, it ought to happen, and I take it for granted in the sense that progress is a given. Time proceeds, progress is made. It isn't so, but it's very easy to fall into that thinking. I had an amazing time making my first mix tape in some five years. It made me remember good music, which was difficult to take for granted in that context, and it slowed me down. I had somehow forgotten how fulfilling it could be to surrender to a song, rather than treat it as a score to my life. I had forgotten just how long 90 minutes, one song at a time, is. You can fit a lifetime of experience in there! Most of all, I was reminded of how it feels to meditate on the moment. It feels wonderful.

I'm glad I didn't know, during the 90s, how much I would miss the music in the years to come. A sense of nostalgia-to-come is akin to a sense of impending doom, and the gift of this year for me has been the opportunity to reflect on old times without nostalgia; rather to approach them as songs I still sing. Back in the day, I favored Metallica over Guns n' Roses, Pearl Jam over Stone Temple Pilots. The beauty of age, I suppose, is in being able to appreciate all of it in some way. It seemed contradictory before. Now it just seems full, and well-realized. And, after all, should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

21 December 2007

Brass Monkey

Pursuant to Friend Dave's recommendation, I caught an $11.75 matinee of The Golden Compass yesterday. To be honest, this was also pursuant to not working, having a cold and being pretty certain that I'd do myself worse financial disadvantage if I had two hours more out amongst the Christmas fairs of New York. But I digress (shamelessly [and at great length {mostly as an excuse to ((ab))use proper parenthetical structure}]), and the title of this entry has not merely to do with ripping off Friend Davey's 'blog conceit.

The Golden Compass, in my opinion, has two highly effective devices on which most of the success of the movie rides. The first has to do with the first half of the movie. Everyone's soul, you see, in this imagined world, exists outside of themselves as a sort of animal familiar that never leaves their side. Nicole Kidman's familiar (or daemon) is a monkey, with oddly metallic fur. Upon her introduction to the plot, the metastructure of the story goes a little something like this: Hey, look at how pretty our film is, how fantastical, isn't it all so calming and utopian and OH MY GOD WHERE'D THAT SCREAMING MONKEY COME FROM!? I am not kidding. There was this one time when, I swear to you, the monkey popped up from the bottom of the screen from out of nowhere. I mean, he didn't even have something he could realistically be standing on in the environment, and there he was again, screaming. If I had been one of the animators on this, I would have saved the file, program, whatever, of the monkey, for use in startling my coworkers for years to come. Just imagine sweating through your 2007 TurboTax when, from out of absolutely nowhere, a screaming golden monkey juts his head into your screen. In all fairness, the movie should have at least been subtitled The (Screaming) Golden Monkey.

Oh yeah. The other highly effective device can be summed up in two words: Bear and Fight. Bear fights. Fo' reals. Keep your eyes peeled. This could be a whole new sub-genre of action film. And if so, I am there, I am wearing the t-shirt, I am learning the terminology (ah, the classic Rips-Lower-Jaw-from-Body technique...) and I am enrolled in the Bear Fighting fantasy camp. Stick some giant foam paws on me. I am ready to rumble.

When the fur settles, and the dust as well, this is pretty much a good-time, only-enough-pathos-to-justify-some-violence Christmas movie. Lots of snow. Talking animals. Cute kids. And two of the most gorgeous adult actors on the screen these days, for mom and dad. (In fact: Hey: I know that movie casts often repeat themselves, but weren't these two just in that Body Snatchers reremake? This reminds me of the Batman Begins/The Prestige and The Matrix/Memento phenomenon. Not to mention the unholy trinity of Willis/Jackson/Travolta. Spread some of the love around, Hollywood.) They even clipped off the ending of the first book in order to make the film conclude a bit happier, which actually upsets me more than sucking the supposed Atheism out of it.

As to that (the Atheism)--I'm sorry, but I just can't stay off this topic (see 12/7/07). Friend Younce posits in his Comments section that if the ultimate plot of this trilogy involves "killing God," it indicates not only a belief in God, but an actual finger, pointing to God, saying (yes, they'd probably have talking fingers in this sort of trilogy), "Hey look: It's God. I found him/her/it. He/she/it exists." I'm afraid I disagree, to a certain extent. The author, as any fantasy author may be accused, is clearly working in allegory. To "kill God" is in his allegory to eradicate the supposedly irrational belief in God from within ourselves. In fact, what will be really interesting as far as these movies go will be to see how they handle that little feat in the third film. The characters' "daemons" represent individualism, or Humanism, after a fashion.

I have a curious history with the books this franchise is sprung from. I have only read the first two, and those quite by necessity. It was toward the end of my first trip to Italy, in 2006, and I came down with a serious bug that laid me up with a high fever for almost a week. With nothing to do but lie in bed and either read, or try to learn Italian from their daytime television, I quickly tore through the novel I had brought: The Mask of Apollo. (A birthday gift from Friend Patrick, and the first Mary Renault book I ever undertook.) Friend Heather loaned me the first two books of His Dark Materials and I drank them up in lieu of the excellent white wines of Orvieto. I write about it now, similarly afflicted (though no high fever, thank...whatever providence may be), and acknowledge that my knowledge of the books is partial and drenched with fever-sweat.

I reiterate: Go Atheists. I've got nothing against them, just like I've got nothing against Christians or Muslims. Those for whom I do have something against (that made sense grammatically, I swear), is them what (that bit didn't, though) exercise their beliefs--any beliefs--by way of disparaging others'. Up with that I shall not put. It may seem only fair; the Atheists have had to deal with eons of persecution, I realize, but here's another thing I'd do away with: the symbol for justice being a beam-balance scale. Balance is good, but dichotomy is simply a deceptive paradigm for identifying anything. I'm all for clarity, but I aspire to understand all things beyond a simple yes, or no. All things are a part of a whole, in my humble opinion. Balance, in the theological, philosophical sense, cannot be expressed on a simple beam. I come around, by tender footfalls, to my point.

In my post of December 7th of this year, I mentioned in passing that the notion of "fate" is inescapable to me because it permeates every story we tell on some level. (Pullman, the author of the books in question, by the way, values stories above all else. Reminds me of Gaiman in that way.) Especially in theatre, fate, or some analogue of it, sort of makes the motor run. This goes for both tragedy and comedy. Similarly, I'm not sure one can tell a story without God entering into it. If we could, I'm not sure we'd want to. The storyteller is, after a fashion, God of the story. What gives the majority of humans meaning in their lives? God. Who determines meaning in a story? The storyteller. This paradigm (or matrix, if you will) manifests in our novels, movies and plays on conscious and subconscious levels. It's tough for me to point toward it in His Dark Materials before having read the third installment but, for those who know the series, might not the presence of "dust" (magical stuff from the universe that connects people to their souls, and their souls to the source of "dust") be a manifestation of a, albeit rather Universalist, concept of divinity?

Perhaps I am simply too influenced by what little classical education I have absorbed. All the Greek plays have a theme that can be summed up as, "Hey, you can mess with the Gods all you want, but after a few hours, they get the last word, machina or no." I agree with the Atheists when they tell us (calmly, without insult) to take responsibility for the here and now, and love humanity for being human. I'm just not sure that it's possible to kill God off entirely, in spite of Nietzsche and Pullman and the rest. Please, contest my claim; I'd love to hear theories, especially as relates to storytelling. Interestingly enough, Friend Dave is also a big proponent of role-playing games for which there is not necessarily a storyteller. In these, instead of a typical structure of a game-master, who tells everyone what's going on, the players themselves contribute to the narrative in different ways. Perhaps therein lies a way of retiring God. Perhaps, instead, it creates a pantheon of Gods.

Part of my holiday travel plans include venturing south to Friends Davey, Dave and Mark, to play this sort of game all together. It's an appointment a long time in the making, and I'm looking forward to it. These friends of mine are some of the best storytellers I know. I'll let you know what stories we create together.

You can bet a screaming monkey will enter into it, somewhere.

18 December 2007

Happy Anniversary

My parents have a song for anniversaries; sort of like the "Happy Birthday" song. I have no idea if this gag originates with them or not, but I've never heard it anywhere else. The tune consists of them signing "happy anniversary" over and over again to the tune of the William Tell Overture. This may sound dumb, and it is, but it can also be highly entertaining when you hear someone try to articulate the quicker changes in the song, especially when you have to abandon the word "anniversary" for a couple of measures:

"Happy happy happy happy happy anniversary,
happy happy happy happy happy anniversary!"

Not just classy, but classic. I sing this song unto you, Aviary, on this, your day of inception.

In a year's time, Odin's Aviary has accomplished its modest part. I'm afraid I learned the ways of tracking visitor-ship somewhat late into its life, so can't be certain how those initial stages of growth fared in the world. Bearing this in mind, that the first few months don't even enter into it--some statistics (and mad gratitude to the gang over at statcounter.org):
  • For roughly the year 2007, we've had 6,909 unique visitors, 4,476 of those being "first-timers," and the remainder returning visitors (variable results, determined by a cookie).

  • April through June was the period of greatest popularity, but May has August as a neck-and-neck competitor for most page loads (most likely because I left town [and day-job desk] for Prohibitive Standards in August, vanishing from the 'blogosphere for a bit, and everyone went, "oh crap did he die?").

  • We've had 9,810 page loads as of 10:41 AM today, since loading the Aviary onto Statcounter. This means we've probably technically already surpassed 10,000 loads, but come on people now! Smile on each other! Just keep refreshing the page 200 times before the 31st!

  • Some of the more distant and exotic places that have dipped in to this here 'blog:
    Hungary (friend of mine, I'm sure)
    United Kingdom
    Australia (circus folk?)
    Finland (no earthly clue)
    United Arab Emirates
    New Zealand (more circus riff-raf?)
    Ireland (friends of Patrick, I'm sure)
    Slovakia (0.22 must be the smallest figure Statcounter gets to)

  • I'm bigger in Ontario than I am in Virginia. NoVa boys, what up? 703- represent!

  • By a landslide (of tracking cookies, of course), the most popular entries were May 22, 2007, and July 10, 2007. However, judging simply by comments, the most popular (or controversial) entry, with a whopping 23 comments, was August 14, 2007, the famed Batman v. Wolverine entry. And they say art is dead . . .

  • Some things people searched for on the interwebz that landed them (to their great dismay, I'm sure) in the Aviary:
    "When there's nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire..." (holy crap: so many search variations on these words--guess I wasn't the only one who was curious about their source)
    "When you can snatch the pebble from my hand..."
    busking workshops
    who the hell is brian dennehy
    travel italy gypsies
    improv soup uncommon theatre
    rilke on love and other difficulties
    'swonderful 'swonderful chips chips
    hits of the 90s

  • The vast majority of visitors stay for under 5 seconds. Wow. I feel so violated.

It's been quite a year for yours (truly), and hardly a tenth of it has made it onto the log of this 'blog, I'm sure. Odin's Aviary is aligned to a purpose, or two, so I make a point of not getting into too much personal information on it. You can probably count the references to my family on one hand, and I knew, probably before I even knew what the 'blog would be about, that my love life would never ever enter into it. No, my mission statement, to journal the exploits of just one dude living what I termed The Third Life(TM), didn't justify that kind of public disclosure, and though the purposes have evolved through the year, I still would rather write about theatre, acting, comedy, anxiety and improvisation (apparently in that order). Maybe this journal isn't so much focused on The Third Life per se these days, but it can't help but be involved in it, as I am, every day. So even when I'm writing about Batman clearly being victorious over Wolverine in a fight, something of that has to do with the unique nature of a life lived for challenge and artistic expression.

Of course, too, one can't help but share a lot personally over a 'blog. Particularly when one's profession is as intricately personal as acting usually is. I've learned a lot about the pratfalls of sharing just a wee bit too much (pratfalls which are funny only in retrospect) in this format, as well as about how cumulative angst can overwhelm a reader when received all at once. Some people have been hurt that they weren't mentioned here. Others quite upset that they were, or just that I used their real names. It's been worth all the slip-ups, to me, at least. I feel like I've learned a lot through working in this medium. It's a little like therapy, or meditation, and like those venues, it can be overdone.

A few weeks ago I contemplated the decision to close the Aviary. This decision is tied in to the possible decision of switching my focus from trying to be a really, really, extraordinarily successful actor, to some other satisfying pursuit. That's not such a profound or unique thing as it may at first sound; like religion, I feel my career is only true to me if I choose it every day. Questioning keeps me in touch, keeps me fresh to the thing I'm questioning. It's a bitch most of the time, actually, but always worth it. In acting, there's a curious little habit of "bad" acting that I'm reminded of. Sometimes an actor will stop asking the questions in his or her lines. Whether it comes of memorizing the script by rote, or the monotony of rehearsal's repetitions, or simply knowing what the other character's answer will be, actors occasionally have to be reminded: Really ask the question. Well, I'm getting some different answers these days to the acting question, when I ask it, and mean it. It could be that change is on the horizon. It usually is.

But the change will not happen today. Or, perhaps it's happening already, but for today Odin's Aviary will live 10,000 visits more, and I will keep treading boards, slapping sticks and donning masks. Thank you, sincerely, for checking in on the progress from time to time. I love a friend-filled audience.

17 December 2007

Transitory Art

Last evening I journeyed out to Greenpoint to complete a little cycle of destiny (see 12/7/07 for my feelings about destiny [actually, I make a fine and utterly personal distinction between "fate" and "destiny," but that's for another time]), braving freezing winds and the G Train under the strong urge to bring closure to an experiment I didn't set in motion. I'll begin from the beginning.

In late October of last year--when this here 'blog weren't even a twinkle in my typing fingers--I was riding home on the subway one night when I looked up and saw something unusual adhered to the wall across the way from me. It looked about the right proportions to be a postcard, which is of itself not unusual. Before I ever knew a soul in New York, I used to use a sort of guerrilla advertising technique for my shows, propping a postcard for said shows up on every train I rode. (As I made friends, they would tell me they had spotted my littering advertisements on different trains, which is when I knew it was time to stop and just give the things to my friends.) I did not originate this notion. People do it all the time, often with business cards purporting to hold the secret to incredible weight loss and/or increased income from the comfort of your own home. This particular "card," however, looked like nothing more (nor less) than an abstract painting in miniature. Intrigued, I approached it for a closer look.

I was spot-on about its essential nature. There, mounted on fibreglass (which, in turn, was mounted by Velcro to the subway wall) was a miniature oil painting in sworls of red and eggshell. Attached to it was a slip of paper that invited me to take it. With a half a moment of hesitation behind me, the Velcro made its tell-tale sound as I pocketed the painting.

The next day at work, I mentioned my find to a coworker who comes in once a week to balance my boss's books. I knew she was a visual artist, and might appreciate this little project. "That's my friend Lori!" she informed me. Indeed, on the back of the painting was a website for one Lori Hayes, artist, and a note encouraging whomever found the painting to visit and tell the story of their discovery. So I did, making certain to include the strange coincidence of working in the same office as a friend of this artist. Lori got back to me, thanking me and marvelling at the synchronicity. She also informed me that she was hoping to, one day, have a showing of all the found pieces, and would be in touch to ask me if I could loan out #90 (of 100), "River," for that event. I told her that I would of course be thrilled.

I love this kind of interactive creation. Maybe it's just the actor in me, but this kind of project feels to me like the kind of gentle, subtle performance art that builds community. Friend Patrick did something similar not too long ago with his Traveling Muse project. He constructed three masks, paired them with a journal and access to a 'blog and distributed them to myself and Friends Melissa and Kate, with instructions to keep the mask for a month and then pass it along. The idea is (and Patrick will I'm sure correct me if I'm inaccurate) to create something and send it on a journey of influence over different people, with the chance to even track some of that influence, or inspiration. (Oddly enough, Patrick began his project on the Autumnal Equinox, and Lori's spanned from the Summer Solstice to the Winter.) The elements of chance and personal interaction are great inclusions in any work of art. I still occasionally make a paper frog out of whatever postcard I've been handed and leave it conspicuous on a subway seat, just out of that urge to start something with a stranger. Rainer Maria Rilke offered an interesting observation on artistic satisfaction. He said the mother is the only completely fulfilled artist, accomplishing exactly what every artist dreams of: she creates something out of her own being, which goes on to exist in the world completely apart from her.

Last night, approximately a year from the end of Lori's cycle of placing sections of one giant painting on subway cars, she gathered what pieces she may and had a showing of them, as well as the original canvas from which they'd been cut, xeroxed copies of her journal and emails from various recipients, and photographs of each piece in its subway setting before it was taken. Out of one hundred, only four pieces returned to their maker for the night, and of those, only one had its new owner accompany it. I felt pretty conspicuous there, essentially a stranger, but one everyone there suddenly knew as having been a part of the experiment.

In spite of any self-consciousness (suddenly that term doesn't sound negative to me) there were also profound feelings of completion, inclusion and awareness. It reminded me of playing some street games a little over a year ago, the way they made me look at everything without taking any of it for granted. Those can be rare feelings in life in general, in this city in particular. I take great hope from the fact that Art is one of the things that can evoke them.

09 December 2007

James Thierrée

Don't get your fingers in a cramp from Googling and Wikipediating the name. He is Charlie Chaplin's grandson. He deserves to be regarded in his own right. He has been performing in circus since he was four years old. I have finally seen him perform with his company, in their show Au Revoir Parapluie (Goodbye Umbrella). The company performed at BAM's Harvey Theatre. The last time I was in this theatre was a few years ago, close to when it had just opened. I was stilting in the lobby with Cirque Boom as a sort of warm-up to their contribution to The Lysistrata Project, which was a national initiative begun to protest the war in Iraq. As I took my seat for Au Revoir Parapluie, along with Friends Kate, Patrick, Dave & Zoe, I considered how long it had been since I worked with them all, how long it had been since I performed in a circus show.

Then I watched the show, which made my lungs laugh, my heart burst and my spleen evaporate. Plus it tickled.

Oh guys, guys guys: I can't spend the whole entry raving, but I could. There was so much about the show that I found personally appealing that I actually didn't notice the lack of concrete narrative, which usually irritates me when I attend circus/theatre. It reminded me of good classical music, the way it transports me so that my free association and emotions provide me with my own story. Circus performed with seeming ease, pathos and humor allows one to relax in that just-right way, a way that makes an audience receivers more than interpreters. The older one gets, the more their critical faculty takes over their personality, because they have more and more comparisons available. Great art, in any medium, allows us to happily (gratefully) release that faculty.

So this isn't a critique of the show. I was too inspired by it to be objective, and anyway it's sold out this time around (as opposed to closed, which is what most shows are by the time I get around to my opinion of them). No, all I'm saying, party peoples, is that capital-a Art still exists, and the French probably have more of it than we do. (Stupid French [it's a joke, Sara].) Plus (see, you knew that wasn't all I was saying), I am very inspired to make my own pale, incomparable imitation-of-style piece based on the show.

There was just so much to it that I want to be doing in my own work, yet am not. I've always been a fan of direct-address that breaks the fourth wall in one way or another (though I remain ambivalent about the Brechtian convention of "breaking character" to speak with the audeince, when in fact you're still speaking lines someone else wrote). Au Revoir Parapluie did this with action and clown, but no actor-spoken dialogue. It was completely sincere, yet transported the audience with music and surreal imagery. The performers were all capable of circus feats, yet also strong clowns and actors, sensitive and expressive and subtle. There was nothing pretentious to the show, even when I was amazed by it. Joy without guilt, catharsis without lingering sorrow.

When I was a young man, fresh out of my first professional theatre experience, I was driving around the southern states with my girlfriend of the time (Friend Rachel this was, for those of you keeping score at home) and whilst we mused on our performance futures I fantasized about a company of actors trained in dance, and vice versa, who would create brilliantly sincere and physical debut shows. I was going to call it Sugarsweet Willpower, which proves, as though nothing else ever did, that there's a good reason a lot of our youthful ambitions never come to fruition. This was prior to my even contemplating the worlds of circus or commedia dell'arte, and obviously I wasn't well-versed in theatre companies already at work on similar goals. No, I felt this idea was unique and timely, as well as of course feeling fully qualified to found just such an institution.

Ah, me.

It may be a bit gauche at this point, starting my own theatre group. It's kind of what all my comrades do. "Oh, Jeff started a company now? Yeah. Neat. So . . . how 'bout them Mets?" It's not something I'm interested in doing, at least not from a practical standpoint. I've seen too much of the "Artistic Director" process to be fooled by the name, and anyway, where would I find a Producing Director I could work with? (Who are these people? What makes them sign up for all the sucky parts? It ain't the pay, I'll tell you that much.) No, no company-birthing for this persnickity mother. What I might do, given the right circumstances, is make a show.

I say "might," because of these three entries, from which not much has yet arisen. I'm chomping at the bit to express myself, but not tearing up the track, and I feel as though the gate has been open a long time now. I hope this show was the poke in the rump I apparently need. I'm keeping it alive in my mind, replaying moments and recording my own ideas. It's interesting to me that I have so many outlets for creative expression, yet feel somehow that there's something personal, important and specific I have yet to express in my work. I want Zuppa shows to hang from the ceiling. I want Kirkos to craft another comedy. I want UnCommon Cause to improvise in performance (more). The most direct answer to all of these wants is to just do it myself.

Just as soon as the holy daze is over . . .

07 December 2007

Concepts I Don't Believe In But That Still Rule My Life And I Have No Hope For Doing Anything About Because They're Just Too Pervasive In Our Culture

Plus one I do believe in: God.
  • Fate.
    It's not just that I am uncomfortable with the idea that my life is planned out. I find the notion of fate insulting to my intelligence. What is the point of anything, if it all already exists in a plan somewhere? Yet most theatre is based on some idea, or at least feeling, of fate.

  • Omens.
    Self-fulfilling nonsense. And I will never stop seeing them everywhere. Thank God, actually, because these things can get through to me when I'm otherwise completely disconnected from myself.

  • "Everything happens for a reason."
    No, it doesn't. If science isn't enough to convince you of this, at least take a moment to regard that there is no ending to stories (except death), and therefore no basis by which to judge the supposed long-term purpose of incidents. Still, we need hope or faith or both to get through it all, don't we?

  • Angels/Demons.
    They make great symbols, but ultimately they're contradictory even to the theologies that purport their existence.

  • The D/Evil.
    Another great symbol here, and mainly what he's a symbol for is our guilt. Sometimes the guilt we feel over our lack of guilt, for growing up, for self-interest -- Lucifer (named for a mistranslation, by the way) is all these things. Mainly, I don't believe in such a thing as absolute evil. "Evil," as it is commonly perceived, requires self-awareness, and every self-aware creature I've ever met does "evil" things out of sickness, ill-thought. Plain and simple.

  • Cuteness (as a virtue).
    Oh man. Must I endure? I must, because cuteness, either as an expression of "aw" or the more visceral "oh," endures. We want to procreate, to get freaky with cuteness, to create more cuteness. So we'll always want the cute. But it ain't a measure of nothin'. Except that it is.

  • Violence (as a solution).
    It only works on zombies, and even then you've probably got a lot of personal dehumanization to deal with as an after-effect, assuming the movies are at all relevant to the "real" thing.

  • Zombies.
    See above.
  • Organized sports.
    Blame it on my youth: They don't actually matter.

  • Money.
    I eagerly anticipate the Star Trek utopian future, in which capitalism is obliterated somehow. As common systems of exchange go, money blows. I don't have to justify this feeling to anyone

  • Elvis.
    I just don't get what was so great about The King. Maybe someone can explain it to me. In them meantime, alive or dead, he doesn't make my list of believed-in.

What inspired this rant of rejection, especially from one whose history is so steeped in a faith of universal acceptance? I have been noticing and reading a lot lately--or so it seems to me--about Atheism as a movement. I do not oppose this movement. On the contrary, I think Atheists have been rather oppressed in our global culture, and I don't like anyone to be oppressed (REpressed, sometimes...) and so, say "Bully!" to the outspoken Atheists. I worry, however, over the way so many of them with the benefit of the public ear are immediately resorting to the stampeding debate tactics of those further into a life of faith that they so oppose. It's natural, when your beliefs are shaped by what you don't believe, to oppose another view, and nascent societies (such as openly atheistic groups in America) are bound to overstate their claim when they finally get a voice. So maybe I've nothing to worry about. Maybe them thar' Atheists will never become quite as fascist as to start bombing cathedrals and synagogues.

I believe in God, and it's important you know that if you're going to know me. I know there's no empirical evidence for the big G. I know lots of people think they have lots of conclusive evidence that God can't exist. I don't disagree with such people on any particular point, and actually tend to agree with the "facts," as scientists understand them. I even agree with Lennon, "Imagine," and think the world would be a much more peaceful place without religion. So why do I continue to believe in God? Is it just because I'm a minister's son? Is it stubborn wishful thinking, or deep-seeded superstition? Perhaps it's just playing it safe.

It's that I believe in something greater than all we can perceive. This "greater" thing is pervasive, interconnects us and has more meaningful significance than forces like gravity and magnetism (hell: it may be the source of all force[s]). It's not important to me that the greatness, which I'll go ahead and call God from here on out, created us, or nurtures us, or even has any personally conceivable relationship to us. What is important, to my mind and heart, is that the belief in God keep us from turning completely into self-important little gits, hell-bent on destroying one another and our celestial terrarium. I feel most in a spirit of God when I am grateful for life, all of it, and I can do that without seeing God as a man or regarding a book as gooder than most (the gooderest book). So rock on, Atheists. Get heard. I'm all for it. I hope you do some good in the world.

Me, though: I'm a believer.

05 December 2007

Feel the Burn

Work is bad for you. It's science.

I'm on a rather eccentric work schedule these days, as far as my day job goes. It has to do with splitting the job with another capable worker who was training for the position in the hopes that I would suddenly become rich and famous and not need a day job (which by the way, for those of you keeping score at home, hasn't happened yet). This arrangement means I work an average of 20 hours a week, or two-and-a-half days. So I work the first part, she the second, or vice versa. It's been strange. Good, because it's the holidays, and I have a lot to occupy me in my off hours. Bad, because I'm making about half as much money as I'm accustomed to when I'm city-side . . . and I wasn't exactly living large prior to these circumstances.

But here's another good thing: I can make more time for exercise.

And here's another bad thing: When I can't make time--i.e., work days--I am acutely aware of it.

Ooo, but do I know it. When I first started working here the job was much, much easier. I knew less about the work, had less responsibility and my boss was quite frankly coasting a bit on good fortune. Plus, Friend Melissa referred me to the job in the first place, and was around to cavort with. We never did anything unconditionally crazy, but she worked in a tiny office and I in a cubicle, which presented us with marvelous staging opportunities for what Friend Heather refers to as "archway humor."

"Archway humor" is that which is generated by the story one doesn't see. Rather, one sees the effects of incidences that occur "offstage." Your imagination makes up the rest. Melissa and I being both of the circus persuasion (particularly at that time, when we were both rehearsing with Kirkos or Cirque Boom), our archway humor consisted mainly of highly physical choices that exploited her doorway and my puppet-stage-like, low cubicle wall. I'm afraid Melissa engaged me much more than I her; I was still fresh to my job, you see. Every so often, for no particular reason, Mel would walk up to my cube, look me in the eye, and wordlessly execute a cartwheel. The effect was something like, "Hi Melissa. What do you want? Oo, nice sneakers!" When her head resurfaced, she invariably gave me a look that seemed to say, "What on earth just happened to me?" The effect on my mood was stunning.

Melissa don't work here no more, having moved on to greener pastures in The Garden State. It's difficult to say whether it is her leaving, getting ever-so-older (oh, the lessons we learn about the difference between "discomfort" and "pain") or the building stress of my work, but whatever the cause I find myself frequently passing the whole day without considering crouching in my chair, cartwheeling in the hall or doing push-ups against the copier machine. And I used to make a point of that. In a day in which I'm working at the office and going to rehearsal at night, I just fail to squeeze in a good work-out at home. Sometimes I fantasize about working as, of all things, a bike messenger, just to feel a pleasant ache of hard-won work at the end of the day. If it weren't already such a perilous job, just ask some people who know me well what a bad idea this would be. Plus, I'd probably be so ineffective. I would obey traffic laws, use hand signals and spend too much time poking around the offices I delivered to.

So here I am, venting my aerobic angst on the 'blog instead. The irony is, when I'm not working, I worry about how much money I'll make that week. Henceforth, these days shall be known as my "burn days." Feeling the burn of that last set of push-ups, feeling the burn of having to save up for coffee cash. The burn days are good motivation for getting something new doin' with my theatre career. That's the only place I've ever been paid for handstands.

Officially, at any rate.

04 December 2007

A Kung Fu Follow-Up

Hey there. I can't get it out of my head. My last entry sang the praises of kung fu movies, and since then I've been trying to figure out for myself my personal top five list of the flicks. I am by no means an expert--most of my kung fu knowledge lies in the mainstream of the kung fu river. Probably the most off-beat thing I ever rented was The Crippled Masters, which is about as exploitative as it sounds (but those guys can kick A.). Also, for reference, by my definition a "kung fu movie" is any film that incorporates technique-heavy hand-to-hand combat as a central plot element. Here we go, from last to first . . .

  • The Transporter
    Okay, yes, I know: I'm already in trouble with a lot of people. Jason Statham is not a martial artist and, frankly, he's a bit of a toolbox . . . especially in this film, for which he seems to have WAY over-compensated for his receding hairline in the ol' weight room. Just let me speak my peace, and we'll move on. Corey Yuen choreographed the fights in this film, and he's someone we haven't seen a lot of in the west. He's brilliant, and at the top of his form here. Anyone remember what it was like to decide to watch Die Hard for the first time, thinking, "Oh well, I know it'll be real dumb, but I've me time to kill," only to find yourself blown away, literally and figuratively, by the movie? This is what happened to me with Transporter, only in a geeking-out-over-kung-fu way. I expected dumb action with lots of orange fire balls; I got elaborate, creative fight choregraphy patterned after a particular actor's strengths. La la la, bad-ass driver, la la la, lots of guns, la la la, OH MY GOD HE JUST KICKED A GUY IN THE HEAD BACKWARDS!

  • Ong Bak
    Oh my God in heaven. If you are a fan of unbelievable, real physical feats, this is a flick for you. If you dig authenticity in your martial arts, and learning about new ones, this is a flick for you. If you get squeamish over the sound effect of bones breaking, don't . . . uh . . . don't rent this movie. Seriously. You'll yuke. But it rules. Tony Jaa stars in this movie, which principally involves Muay Thai traditional kickboxing (very different from aerobic kickboxing). It also has the best foot-chase sequence I have ever seen.

  • Legend of Drunken Master 2 (US title)
    This would be one of those highly mainstream kung fu movies I was talking about. It's remarkable because it's an incredibly pure martial arts movie from the latter part of Jackie Chan's career (wherein most of his movies are sort of adventure comedies). Jackie actually fired the director for his predilection for wire work, so there are only two or three moments of wire-suspended antics, and those for exaggerating responses to kicks. The movie is perfect for Chan. It centers around Chinese Drunken Boxing, which is a very eccentric style perfectly suited to his creative choreography and incredibly acrobatic movement. Part of what's cool is that the final fight is between Chan and his real-life bodyguard. (Also cool because it points up a weakness of drunken styles [that they generally don't include powerful kicks] by way of Chan's bodyguard being a fierce foot boxer [found paper bag, breathing into it...geeking out...subsiding...].)

  • The Chinese Connection (US title)
    There's so much to say about this movie, it's difficult to know where to begin. It doesn't translate to our times so well, but most of Lee's movies come across as pretty dated these days. Three words should sell it: Nunchaku-Katana fight. It is definitely his most hard-core martial arts flick, and it has a downer ending. Lee was trying to expand his range as an actor (or at least his cast-ability), and he made a movie that was an almost overt expression of his disgust over the racial discrimination he experienced trying to work in America. Now the style is pretty tough to pin down. Lee sort of patented his martial-arts philosophy under the name Jeet Kun Do around 1965, under which philosophy he spurned adherence to traditional forms as limiting to a fighter. He was trained from youth in Wing Chun, however, and The Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury in China) concerns a character who returns to avenge the death of his kung fu teacher, who was presumably a traditional practitioner. Someone who knows more about gung fu needs to throw me a freaking bone here.

  • Fist of Legend
    Now, some will call a foul on me right here, right now. Fist of Legend, you see, is a remake of Fist of Fury. Jet Li stars, Yuen Wo Ping (the first Matrix) choreographs. Un. Be. Lievable. There's plenty of wire work in this one, but it's beautifully incorporated into actual climactic moments in a fight (I know: what a concept [okay, there is one embarrassing "one-arm pull-ups" bit]). The glory of this film is just how coordinated the direction, choreography and Li's movement are. Li was the youth wu-shu champion in China for, like, sixty-two years in a row, or something like that. And wu shu is pretty, if nothing else. They ditch the downer ending, as you might expect, but they have a fight between blind-folded fighters. Literally, blind fighting.

Before everyone starts freaking out and commenting (though I suspect this may end up another comment-less entry) on my lack of Shaw brothers, or my adherence to big-budget glam in this list, kindly note: These are my top five. They don't have to be yours. If you think that's lame, I have but one response.

. . . Boot to the head . . .