30 September 2011

Rom Com

Found here, and I heartily recommend.
It might surprise some people to learn that I really like romantic comedies, but I do. I like the genre, and I like a format in which we laugh at what's really a huge concern for most all of us, and then - when it's done well - really feel the emotional tug of the narrative at its climax. As I've said before, high and believable stakes make for the best comedy.

The trouble is, most "romantic comedy" by conventional Hollywood standards misses the mark for me, and there may not be much worse than a bad "romcom" that's neither funny nor emotionally effective. Such misses just end up making us feel trivial, having wasted two hours of our time on something superficial that purports to represent us.

Now, this is not a Harold & Maude argument, or anything like that. I love that movie, but it tends to get plucked as an example of an unconventional genre movie, one that proves its case by being the exception from it. I like far more conventional fare, like My Best Friend's Wedding. Of course, that one defies convention in certain ways, but the mechanics are true to the genre. Others I appreciate include Charade, When Harry Met Sally, and Punch Drunk Love.

I'd like to do a romantic comedy of some kind, possibly even a web series. I think it's a format that's perfect for that kind of story, especially if you're looking to build a longer episodic story. Mine would have two people who really need one another (not just pretty faces that you want to be) with intention, less misunderstanding and more genuine conflict, and it would probably use New York City for its backdrop. (Just to ratchet up the difficulty of filming, I suppose.) I'm going to do some thinking on this.

And you? What would your romcom consist of?

22 September 2011

Everything Under the Sun 3: Favorite Productions

Everything Under the Sun is a short series of posts we'll be doing here at the Aviary, motivated by a potential collaboration on a project that might end up being sort-of/kind-of personal. I have what amount to assignments of exploration of my own interests in particular areas, so I thought I'd put them out there to provoke any responses that you may find irresistible.

Favorite Productions
(With, it must be said, some apologies. Loving certain shows more than others does not decrease my love for said others. I love you both, all, in part and sum, uniquely, whoever you may be. If my choices here enrage you, you may want to evaluate the weight you give to my opinion, rather than my opinion itself.)
Ten Little Indians
As my first show approaching any kind of production value, it's hard not to choose this one. However, I believe it ranks for more than just the thrill of beginning. With all the tumult and confusion of becoming a teenager, I still manage to understand that I found something thrilling and fulfilling about theatre with this show. Maybe the first hints at how a show and a role can be believed, rather than just enacted.

The Dining Room
Great play, to begin with. The production I was in was an abbreviated version and student-directed. I had given up theatre for a couple of years in high school (apart from an almost stunt-trick audition for Midsummer Night's Dream) and this production of Dining Room was something of a return. Because it was student-directed, I could engage in a real dialogue with the director about ideas and process. I remember it as a wonderful experience of how simple effective theatre can be (mar it as I'm sure I did with over-performing).
Illustration cropped from a work by Ted Michalowski.
The Three Musketeers
This was only my second main-stage role in college, and I played d'Artagnon. If you'd asked me at the time, I never would have guessed this would be among my favorites. The production seemed to me to be plagued with indecision, uninspired writing and unbalanced trickery, plus I was naturally insecure about playing someone supposedly dashing and a fencer to boot when I hadn't even touched a foil before. Yet it set a lot in motion for me and introduced me to conventions I love to use to this day: live music, transforming set pieces and 3/4 staging. If it weren't for this production, I might not have ever gotten involved with physical theatre.

The Bacchae
Another student-directed production, this one was a graduate student assignment, and for about a month in our program just about every grad student was directing some undergrads in a Greek tragedy. Fun month, let me tell you. I played Pentheus, and had some good incentive at the time to explore unrepentant rage. The production was a relatively colloquial translation economized into a fluid one-act, and featured the gods Apollo and Dionysus seated on either side of the stage at the start. My destruction at the Bacchanalia was portrayed in a dance in which I was stripped just shy of naked and the women smeared stage blood all over my body. Later, when my mother awakes from her trance to realize she isn't holding a lion's head, but her sons, I walked slowly up behind her, stopping just at the point she sees that she's killed her son. It was an abstract, visceral and I think very effective production.

Hotel Paradiso
And now for something completely different. Hotel Paradiso was something of an adaptation of a translation of a French farce, directed by my favorite acting teacher. I'd previously played a lead role in a contemporary tragedy under his direction, but Hotel Paradiso's Maxime turned out to be a better fit for me. Essentially, I learned from this production that my sense of comedy had roots in traditional farce, and that the physical comedy I started with as a little kid could carry me into a great adult work. I simply had a blast feeling the symphony of a well-coordinated comic play.
Cropped from a photo by Jimmi Kilduff.

The Hatfields and the McCoys
Ridiculous. So ridiculous. Theatre West Virginia was my first professional contract, and it is a classic, outdoor, summer-stock theatre. They produce two standard shows every summer, and one change-up. The historically obligated show is Honey in the Rock, the story of West Virginia's secession from Virginia, and the real crowd-pleaser is The Hatfields and the McCoys. It's violent and sprawling and sad and funny by turns. In addition to running around a huge space, firing guns and wielding knives, I got to play dual roles as a McCoy in act one and a Hatfield in two and make them as physically broad as I liked. It was ridiculous fun.

The Glass Menagerie
For a little while, David Zarko wasn't sure if he hadn't miscast between myself and the actor playing Tom. In fact, I remember the common response I got when I mentioned I'd be appearing in The Glass Menagerie was, "Oh, you're perfect for Tom." It wasn't too long before David realized it was the best way to go, however, and I definitively agree. "The gentleman caller" surprised me with his depth, and his earnest insecurity. This show began my long collaboration with David and Electric Theatre Company (née The Northeast Theatre ["TNT/ETC"]), and was a beautifully simple and sensitive production.

Circus of Vices and Virtues
A raw space in a former bathhouse in Brooklyn. Self-generated work. Allegory and agit-prop. Clown and monsters, and lots of aerial acts. Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the second Bush era in government. I was young and passionately committed to any work, and the dark imagery and new, dance-like world of this most abstract show impressed me so much that I worked on it off and on over a course of two years.

A Vietnam-War-era drama that plays loose with time, I got to play a young man at various stages in his life in Summertree until he ultimately dies, in the war and on stage. I loved the way this play had a clearer emotional through-line and cause-and-effect than a chronological approach, and though I know that ultimately I could've turned in a better performance I'm still proud of where I and the rest of the cast got with the material.

Plus they built a climbable tree with a swinging rope and an actual swing on stage, so you know I had some fun with all that.

One Perfect Rose
Pictured, clockwise: Melissa Riker, Leah
Abel, Bronwyn Sims, Jen Colasuonno &
yours truly.
Ah, One Perfect Rose! This was ostensibly a children's show, created by Kirkos - the circus-theatre troupe of which I was a founding member - and performed at the old Chashama home of The Bindlestiff Family Circus, on 42nd Street. It was a "fractured fairy-tales" story, with a different act/routine for each tale, hung on a somewhat chaotic framework that involved Snow White and Rose Red, Mother Goose and my character, a rather anal fellow named Phineas Grimm. I got to use direct address, do a bit of circus in a severe-yet-clownish sort of way, and even fell in love in the end (an ending I actually wrote myself). Bliss.

Silent Lives
Photo by Sally Wiener Grotta.
Some common themes here: self-generated work in a raw space, highly physical, and more than a little melancholy in-between moments of manic hilarity. This was also undeniably one of the most successful original shows created by my commedia dell'arte troupe, Zuppa del Giorno. The silent-film informed show was performed to live music and entirely without dialogue, and introduced me to two very influential mediums: clown work and the great silent comedy tradition.

Over the River and Through the Woods...
Compared with the rest of these productions, this probably wasn't as formative to my aesthetic, but it couldn't be more dear to me. An crowd-pleaser, we performed it every year for three years at TNT/ETC,  and it was in the third year that I reached the exact age of the character. It got to be hard not to think of  my fellow actors as my grandparents. It's strange to think I almost turned down this role - it had been suggested to the theatre by my Laura from Glass Menagerie for she and I, and they subsequently didn't cast her, plus I initially saw my character as a frustrating exercise in playing the frustrated straight man again. I was, of course, wrong. The show is hilarious, and there are moments I only have to think of playing that bring me to tears. And I'm still considering the final thoughts Nick shares with the audience.

The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo and Juliet
Heather Stuart as
Juliet Capulet.
At some point, actors have to begin letting go of famous roles they didn't get to play before aging, and I had begrudgingly released Romeo before Zuppa del Giorno came up with this concept for tackling Shakespeare. In a world full of commedia-masked and grotesque characters, Romeo and Juliet are two red-nosed clowns who find one another. Somewhat amazingly, our concept worked quite well, I thought. It was a far-from-flawless production, but every piece of it found something profoundly good. And for me, there was something magical about playing young lovers once again with my long-time collaborator Heather Stuart, both of us older with the youthful permission of the clown nose.

The Spectacular Scrantonian Spectacular
Well, gosh. This wasn't even theatre, and I hardly performed in it. Somewhere between cabaret and vaudeville, TSSS was a little second-stage pet project of mine wherein I gathered some of my favorite performers from New York and Scranton to create a weird evening of variety in the same smaller ballroom in which Silent Lives was performed. It was all brought together over about 48 hours from start to finish, and was fun, pretty, and pretty funny.

I feel like I've gotten a lot of clarity about my tastes and influences by going through my resume like this. Please keep in mind both that there are shows I've participated and loved that didn't make it on to this list, and that this list is by no means about which ones have been influential. If either were qualifications, I'd have included shows such as As Far As We Know and Noble Aspirations. No, these are just favorites, and in spite of how much importance we place on that word growing up, it implies some malleability and prejudice. Perspective, in other words.

19 September 2011

Injurious Harm

Found here.
Wife Megan and I have been preparing for a couple of aerial silks performances this weekend at The Gowanus Ballroom (henceforward, "TGB"). TGB is a very cool space - a former factory that now serves double-duty as a metal shop and an art gallery, and it would seem they're eager to have as much aerial performance in it as they can get as well. I've been looking forward to this opportunity in particular, as it would be my first professional aerial gig, and I really love the space itself.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I've hurt myself a little too badly to carry on.

I'm fine. I mean, I'M FINE. I feel a little silly, in fact, since our teacher very recently had a serious injury that's keeping her off the silks. (Hers had almost nothing to do with the inherent dangers we tend to think of for climbing arts - while she was standing on the ground, a rigging hook fell from the ceiling onto her hand, which is miraculously unbroken but very swollen.) By comparison, my ailments are exceedingly minor. I have a strained right shoulder, and a tweaked left. Were I in Cirque du Soleil (henceforth, "CdS") or some such company, these would indubitably be suck-it-up injuries.

Well, I'm not in CdS. ("What?" I know: right?) Giving it twelve hours after the second tweaking, in which time I napped, took some pain medication and got a decent rub-down, I made the decision I have the luxury to make. In my experience, the reason these sorts of things happen in threes is not because of some cosmic predestiny or communique, nor because it's funny (though, Dudes: it totally is). No, they come in threes because some moron decides he doesn't have to listen to the world around him. I'll not be that moron.

Today, anyway.

That's not to say I feel good about the decision. Why write about it if I feel smashing? No; even past the call, I'm struggling with it. I don't question it in any rational sense. Hauling myself up and catching myself down a thirty-foot ribbon is not what the doctor ordered for a couple of twinged shoulders, and a bad or even hesitant performance doesn't add to my fellow conspirators' performances in any way. Our fearless leader even made sure we knew going in that the commitment was negotiable for this kind of concern.

What is difficult about this is the lost work that went into rehearsal. What is difficult about this is that this is the second time in a row that a silks performance of mine was compromised by health concerns (see 5/25/11). What's difficult is taking the long view, and returning to the dual considerations that:  1) I might need to give silks a rest for awhile, find something else in the physical arts to study; and  2) I am older than I once was, and that's all I'll ever be, because that's how life works.

Stupid life.

I try not to think about things this way, that I'm getting too old for anything. It makes far more sense to me to think that as I age, I need to keep improving my approach to physical arts so I can work smarter and be prepared and more attuned to my body. Of course, part of the beauty of physical expression is that it can be so pure and independent from analysis. This sets us up for a classic showdown: Body versus Mind. Will Mind's rationale wither under the indomitable impulse-control-problem of Body, or will Body be left baffled, staring into an empty corner at its own mortal shadow whilst Mind proves irrefutably that it is the very construct of reality?! Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday! Two enter the octagon, only one may leave! Except that, oh, well, they kind of need one another after all so let's all sing kumbaya, ma' lord, oh lord, kumbaya...

Anyway. It's not a complete write-off. When I was last in Scranton I finally retrieved my first pair of stilts, which had taken up residence there for almost two years now. My plan is to perform a sort of metalworker character, a tall guy from a different time dropped into the art space and trying to find his way to Gowanus, unable to recognize that he's already there. It's a theatrically satisfying idea, regardless of how physically simple the act ultimately is.

It's funny. I've been practicing my stilt-walking after work on the odd afternoon since I got the pair back, just taking a walk around the block to reacquaint myself with the sensation. It's difficult to avoid the cliché about bike riding, but there are things I forgot about stilt-walking. Primarily, how taken with it people are. Just carrying the stilts around invites folks to ask questions, and actually walking on them (the stilts; less-so the people) inspires an incredible repetition of jokes and questions. ("How's the weather up there?" has become to me a challenge to make my response as original as possible in contrast.) I engage in this repetition too. My line is, "It's easy. I could teach you in an hour." And it's true. It took me five years to learn to ride a bicycle, and fifty minutes to walk on my own on stilts.

People very rarely take me up on the offer, however. I think I've taught only two folks in nine years. Most people have talked themselves out of it before they've even considered the possibility, which I think is a shame. Sure - you could fall, you could get hurt. Worse, you might even have to give up. The catch is that the best opportunities available are within that risk. It's those painless injuries of never trying that really tear me up.

16 September 2011

The Third Place

Compliments of Friend Davey: check out this slideshow of "third places" (though I like "great, good" places even better). Davey also points out how this ties in to my writings on The Third Life(TM). If I remember correctly, I cribbed the idea for TTL(TM) off of a series of short plays a friend of mine from college produced, all set in a coffee shop, that third place for so many of us. Perhaps she had read Oldenburg's treatise on the subject.

Everything Under the Sun 2: Fictional Figures & Archetypes

Everything Under the Sun is a short series of posts we'll be doing here at the Aviary, motivated by a potential collaboration on a project that might end up being sort-of/kind-of personal. I have what amount to assignments of exploration of my own interests in particular areas, so I thought I'd put them out there to provoke any responses that you may find irresistible.

Fictional Figures of Interest

Batman (Dionysus) & Superman (Apollo)
It should be pretty clear by now that comicbooks experienced a kind of new golden age of interest in the 80s, prompted in no small part by Superman: The Movie's release in 1978. I was Superman for Halloween from a ridiculously low age for a few years. Once I was also Batman, and happened to get my picture in a local paper in that costume. My burgeoning teenage years were ushered in by the nearly-maudlin interpretation of Batman in 1989, and that locked me on a perfect course of obsession for the character. Frankly I think a significant cause of our current superhero movie boom has to do with all those kids like me growing up on them and now being in positions of power - decision-making and simply spending power.

The analogy of these two "World's Finest" and the Greek gods is not perfect. It is, in fact, pretty weak. It's just that there's a personal connection there for me. I played Pentheus in a college production of The Bacchae, which was the introduction to me of the idea that there was an essential opposition between Dionysus' chaos and Apollo's order. Batman is really all about order, but when viewed through a certain lens (e.g., Miller's Dark Knight Returns) he's a rule-breaker as opposed to Kal-El and his strictures of right and wrong. So personally, I see these two characters as representing different sides of me.

Superman is the ideal, an exceedingly humble person who has enormous power that he wields with faith. Not the religious overtones so many interpretations lay on him; rather, faith in goodness and human spirit. (Incidentally: really bugs me when he's portrayed as the Second Coming; seeing as he was created by two Jewish guys, if anything he's the First.) Miller calls him the Big Blue Boyscout, and I don't always see that as an insult. I was a boyscout.

It's only natural that I connected with Batman with such intensity when I was turning 13. The glasses I started wearing in 4th grade - that thrilled me at the time for the Clark Kent parallelism - had contributed to a wealth of factors making me a less-than-desirable layer of the social strata. Real adult problems were just starting to come through the bright-colored camouflage of childhood, so someone who turned adversity to their advantage, who had to grapple with seemingly uncontrollable emotion and impossible odds ... well. He's pretty badass, that Batman.

James Bond
I am no James Bond, nor would I want to be. But: I was raised on the movies by my dad, and they have indubitably influenced me. Plus there's a lot Wayne and Bond have in common.

Winnie the Pooh (NOT. DISNEY.)
This would be among my earliest, if not the earliest, influence on my imagination and understanding. My mother read me these stories with all the voices, just as hers had done, and I still can't help but use the characters as archetypes when analyzing group dynamics. I think something about my mom's reverence for the character of Pooh also influenced my thinking about philosophy. The Tao of Pooh is by now something of a cliché, but I certainly do find a lot of truth in Taoism.

Friend Davey is responsible for introducing me to the fantasy genre back in sixth grade with the Taran series, the Myth series and Narnia. In case it wasn't already growing obvious, I'm a sucker for the hero's journey when it comes to my fiction, and few have told that story as comprehensively as Lloyd Alexander when he takes Taran from young scamp to embattled leader.

I know. I KNOW. He's another one who caught me early but, even now as well-aware as I am of his many foibles, I less-than-three Hamlet. I have an alarming affection for righteous murderers with daddy issues.

John MacClane
Case in point. (Don't try to tell me he doesn't have daddy issues.) Die Hard is another of those movies I affectionately share with my dad. And it's incredibly over-revered, to the point of being another cliché. But I love it so. I can't get enough of a guy as absolute underdog, in a finite space, just getting the job done any which way he can. A hero flawed as hell, and in the end he's rewarded for his suffering with love. I mean: damn.

Perseus/Theseus/King Arthur
Speaking of flawed heroes. They don't all belong together - this is another personal lumping going on. In fact, Arthur really has a different brand of hubris than the other two. But they are each in their own way a crusading hero who meets with tragic just desserts. I like quests. I used to operate from them more, but they still appeal to me a great deal. Life is exciting to me when it's a puzzle, or a maze, or a dance with destiny.

I had the good fortune to play Romeo - albeit a comic one - well past my prime for the role. He's a good archetype for me and the protagonists I've played in my youth. Hopeful to a fault, believers all. So I've always identified with Romeo and his longing. But I've also always wanted to play Mercutio, and always tried to give it up. I'm not born to be the wild one, but I'm drawn to them. A little of the old order/chaos dichotomy at play here. (Though once again it's nuts to associate Romeo with anything approaching "order" on his own.)

Speaking of tragic lovers. The nice thing about the dream king's blighted love life is that it's a consistent background action to his stories, until it isn't anymore and it destroys him (or he allows it to, depending on your view). In high school Friend Dave recruited me to pose as Neil Gaiman's Morpheus for a photo project, and gave me access to the whole run of the Sandman comics to boot. Still enjoy reading through them all to this day. He values duty and responsibility in a darker way than the Big Blue Boyscout. I wouldn't say I identify with Morpheus exactly, but I definitely had a touch of his brooding style in my teendom. I still want a pet raven.

Where are you? You're here! In his aviary! I took that name for the 'blog because of his ravens - Huggin and Muninn, thought and memory - but I like this old God with his one eye. There's something about Norse mythological figures that's satisfying from an iconic perspective, and I like this feeling that Odin has the wisdom of an old father, and a lot of the fallibility you expect from Greek gods. And let's not even get into how many of the characters on this list are Christ analogues at this point. Of course, my view of him is rather colored by how Mr. Gaiman has portrayed him in a couple of different mediums.

Martin Blank
From Grosse Pointe Blank, the John Cusack semi-satire film about a mercenary hitman returning to town for his ten-year high school reunion. This movie really resonated with my sense of humor, with its swift dialogue and plenty of deadpan, and Martin Blank is interesting as someone capable (all too capable in some regards) who's trying really hard to work some things out with very little success.

____________, P.I. (The Noir Protagonist)
If you scramble a lot of these together with a dash of my nostalgia for a time when men wore hats when they were outside, it's not hard to come up with the prototypical anti-hero. He's beaten down, he's got a job to do, he can't help but give you a peek past his gruff exterior to see that he might've really loved that dame ... once. It's not original. Men just love this shtick.

Well, this is quite a little list of heroes and anti-heroes. I could blame the media, but the fact is that from my beginning that's what's connected with me. Interestingly enough:

  1. I haven't played too many outright heroes.
  2. I haven't included here many of the archetypes I commonly portray on stage (reactionary straight man, fish-out-of-water, young idealist, etc.) nor much along the lines of commedia dell'arte archetypes.
I'll let the jury decide the why and wherefore of all that, though.

11 September 2011


Fourteen is a dangerous age for boys. Things get a bit incongruous, just when you start to think you've got a few things figured out about how life and other people work. In my case, I also switched schools and had some new health complications that left me feeling pretty unstable, even hormones aside. So it may not exactly come as a surprise that I soon began spending my unsupervised afternoons after school at a large storm-drain tunnel with friends, learning how to blow things up.

Amateur arson is of interest to most boys, and I and my friend were boy scouts anyway, so we were well acquainted with some of the more expressive properties of fire. Burning plastic action figures was a popular form of this expression. One day while we were messing around with an open flame in his backyard, his brother pitched a small aerosol can onto the fire. We ran for cover, but after some uneventful time, his brother went to investigate. Lucky for him (and us) the bottle was nearly empty of whatever it had once sprayed, because it blew apart with a loud pop but only a small hiccup of flame. Giddy laughter ensued, and so did our afternoon sojourns to the tunnel.

It ran under Burke Center Parkway, and always had a little bit of a stream running through it connecting one of the many creeks that ran through the woods of our hometown. The walls were adorned with hasty graffiti at either end, and you could stand in the center and still have almost a foot from your head to the ceiling. We'd lay out a few wet logs for a baseboard to suspend our fire over the rivulet that ran through the tunnel, then set to burning a few disposable artifacts from my friend's vast collection of forgotten toys. We quickly realized that, though the smell wasn't exactly what you would call rewarding, burning plastic could make a very hot, very long-lasting flame.

I can't recall if it was our first trip there or not, but one day I brought a few spray paint cans harvested from my mother's craft collection in our basement. We set a few of our boyhood toys burning into a significant little inferno, and laid a large, full can of red spray paint in it. Then we ran for cover. I remember in particular that I and another of the hangers-on who were drawn to pyrotechnics ran a little too far to see, so we cautiously marched back a bit to see my friend's brother once again being the first to approach the as-yet uneventful inferno.

The tunnel amplified and directed the sound of the explosion, firing sound waves northeast and southwest and a jolt through our chest cavities. A belch of heat followed. A bright orange ball of flame worthy of Hollywood expanded from the fire, and a host of boys shouted in sudden, unabashed surprise. It would inspire us with its terror, and our experiments in delinquency from there on out would grow more and more bold and irresponsible. We thought we understood what a miraculous bit of grace it was that my friend's brother came away completely unscathed, but we didn't really. I don't think there was a single one of us who could have conceived of the reality of that kind of crisis.

Some ten years later, I returned to rehearsal on the debut of an original comedy entitled The Center of Gravity. It was a broad-strokes comedy with existential underpinnings, set in small-town Texas. Nevertheless, it was obvious to us now that we would need to change several references to "ground zero," a term that had less personal implication to us just a few days prior. What wasn't immediately obvious was how bad the air quality in lower Manhattan - where we were rehearsing in a free, abandoned office space in the West Village - would be. I was the one to call it quits first. We were losing precious days of rehearsal, and there was a certain shared ethic at the time of "getting back to it," but I could feel the particulates in my throat and the smell was everywhere.

After about an hour of watching the news and the Science Channel's series on rebuilding on the World Trade Center site, I stepped out of my apartment building in Queens today to buy a coffee from the Italian bakery down 30th Avenue. It was gray out, but cool and not humid, and I took a moment to look up and down the avenue. I smelled something familiar - synthetic materials burning, definitely some plastic. It seemed to be strongest up the avenue, away from Manhattan, which was both comforting and confusing. The first thing I looked for was panicked people. I have an instinct for this now, whether it's in person or on Twitter, as I did a couple of weeks ago when the office building I work in started swaying with the aftershocks of an earthquake.

A family was out on their stoop, chatting away. A woman in a red t-shirt looked at me as she walked by. No one was panicked. No one was coming out of their buildings to look around like me, no one was crying, holding one another or hunched over the open window of a parked car, listening to the radio. No one was walking determinedly away from somewhere, or even in a daze, wandering as though searching. After a few seconds, I decided that either it was a minor burning somewhere or I had simply imagined it. I'm not normally given to that kind of suggestion, but it wasn't inconceivable. I left my stoop to get my coffee.

Coffee's all done now, and instead of starting the dozen things I intend to do today, I've written this. While writing, my sister called to see if she could spend the night tonight on her way from Cape Cod down to her home in Baltimore. I'm grateful for that. I've missed her since she moved away from the city a couple of years ago, and I think the personal impact of today's anniversary is something I'm having some trouble articulating for myself. Sisters are good for clarity, whether anything ever really gets figured out or not.

I'm seeing a lot of people sharing their thoughts and feelings today, and I'd just as soon have kept mine private. Particularly because I can't really tell you what they are, exactly. I'm very lucky, and very grateful, to have made it this far in life intact, with so many of my friends and family still with me. I think gratitude is a thing we can always use more of, especially in the face of tragedy or inexplicable circumstances. It's a good emotion from which to make decisions and judgments.

Thank you.

07 September 2011

Everything Under the Sun 1: Historical Figures

Everything Under the Sun is a short series of posts we'll be doing here at the Aviary, motivated by a potential collaboration on a project that might end up being sort-of/kind-of personal. I have what amount to assignments of exploration of my own interests in particular areas, so I thought I'd put them out there to provoke any responses that you may find irresistible.

Historical Figures of Interest
I'm a little ashamed to admit that I am more influenced by fictional characters - or even character archetypes - than I am by real human beings. That's not too surprising when you consider that I generally prefer DC Comics to Marvel. I like icons better than actual people.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Discovered Edward Snow's translations of his poetry while in high-teenage mode, full of romance and angst myself. (Snow I found first, and all other translations since seem to me to be lacking something. Hate when they slavishly follow the rhyme scheme.) It was like discovering poetry for the first time. My girlfriend of the time (my first real one; first love, truly) was a sort of inadvertent historian about a few people she was enthusiastic about (Artaud, Nin) and inspired me to poke around and learn more about the man behind the poetry. I learned about his connections to Lou-Andreas Salome and, by extension, Nietzsche, which seemed just a marvelous excuse to continue exploring angsty and existential teenage wonderings. Also learned of his connection to Rodin, which in that teenage way seemed fated, as my next true love introduced me to art museums and The Burgers of Calais facsimile in the sculpture garden in D.C.

Rainer had something of a confusing and tormented childhood, particularly with regards to his sexual identity, and he turned out to be something of a dick husband/father. I was surprised to see how similar our facial features were. I continue to think of him as an example of a great artist who sacrificed all moral considerations for artistic aspirations, which troubles me. I adore his art, and despise his personal life. Maybe I envy it, too, for its potential sense of freedom. Ironically, I wasn't aware of his Letters to a Young Poet – one of the more apt treatises for young, aspiring anythings – until long after discovering his poetry.

Anton Chekhov
A playwright I acted for on a couple of shows was fond of how similar he and I appear when I have my hair short and a goatee (no longer a favorite look of mine). I found this somewhat ironic, as I have never loved his work. At least at the time, I found The Seagull enjoyable, and that was about it. Not too long after I was introduced to his one-act plays by one of my mentors, and found them to be blissfully funny. This, plus the aspect of “required reading,” makes me question my initial reaction to his playwriting, but to date I haven't been able to bring myself to really sit down and tackle Cherry Orchard or Three Sisters again.

Buster Keaton
I'll never feel like I deserve Buster. My commedia dell'arte troupe decided a year in advance that our next show would tackle the theme of silent comedies, and we began research. This would become one of our (if not the) defining creative experiences, and the entire process had a profound impact on me as an individual artist. However, when the idea was hatched the creative forces that were guiding things - for whatever reason – attributed me to Chaplin, and the other male actor to Keaton. So for over half a year I did comprehensive research on Chaplin. It turned out that one of our fellow actors ended up directing the show, and her opinion was that I should be working on portraying Keaton, and the other fellow, Chaplin. So, after we had both done extensive research and developed pretty profound appreciations for one auteur, we switched. The effect of this was compounded for me by how much I respected/envied(loved?) this other actor – switching off at that point seemed...somehow terrible.

It was the right call. He was much better suited to understanding Chaplin's amazing pathos, that stays just the right side of maudlin, to absolutely devastating cathartic effect. As for me, I have a face that lends itself to a certain stoicism but, more importantly, I've spent some time studying acrobatics and am an aspiring thinker who appreciates the mechanics of things. Still and all, I feel blessed to have been “given” Keaton. He was an unequivocal genius, hysterical and inspired (and tormented, in a triumphantly private way) who continues to pretty much hold deity status in my heart.

William Shakespeare
Because: Come on. How about that sentence structure?

Edgar Allean Poe
Some of the first legitimate literature I was exposed to, and he was GOTH as FROCK. Don't forget he write some of the seminal detective fiction.

Nikola Tesla
Freaking lunatic. Also an impressive intellect. I love that we keep wondering if he was right about some of his more, shall we say, eccentric notions.

Leonardo Da Vinci
Similar to Tesla, just an irresponsibly multi-talented genius. I love guys who have the heart of a poet and the intellectual curiosity and capacity of an engineer. So, for that matter, see Buster Keaton too.

I'm sort of ashamed there's no American history figures here. I like Ben Franklin's renaissance spirit and flamboyant sense of humor. Toss Sam Clemens on there, too. Jefferson could write, and was an architectural mechanic, and Adams was an admirably stubborn-yet-romantic S.O.B.

But now we're just getting into common United States idols here. Let's wrap it up!