Thursday, December 31, 2009

How you can help us

Conflict of Interest theater company is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Conflict of Interest theater company may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Go here to donate.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marlene Clary

Sadly, we have to report that founding board member and spiritual guide to the company Marlene Clary passed away this morning after a long illness. Marlene was a teacher, director, actor, choirmistress, wife, mother, and lover of art and theater.

It's not easy to distill into a single post what she meant to this company, and to its members, so I wont insult her memory and even try, not just yet. She will be missed.

A wake will be held on Saturday, December 26 at Duffy's funeral home (9th Street, just east of 4th Avenue in Park Slope) from 12pm to 3pm and from 5pm to 7pm. A funeral service will be held on Monday, December 28 at 4pm at Old First Church (7th Avenue and President Street in Park Slope), followed by a reception at the church.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

it's all about perspective...

...and keeping a safe distance until they use the airport showers.

From the NYTimes City Room blog:
Two German tourists, Steffen Bromberger, 31 and Simone Ziebell, 29, were among the passengers who had been camped out at Kennedy Airport since Sunday night, when their return flight to Germany was abruptly canceled. Their luggage, however, did make it to Frankfurt — leaving them without provisions –- and the airline did not provide food or lodging. “In five years, we’ll be laughing about this,” Mr. Bromberger said. “But I do think it’s important to get home and get new underwear.”

another cherished memory takes a bruising

Oh, Olivia. You will be missed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

thought food

The Economist examines the phenomenon of, er, pop culture phenomena:
In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.
So we can take solace in the fact that the six people who came to see Wrestling the Alligator this summer were aficionados. (But since The Third Seat sold out, those people were all idiots.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

new podcast episode

There's a new episode of the COI podcast available for streaming and download! Giverny Petitmermet returns to present two original works: Computer and Cleopatra. There are three ways to listen:

(1) Stream the episode below
(2) Visit our podcast page and listen online:
(3) iTunes users can click this link

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bresson week part 5

The distance Racine demands is the impassable distance which separates the stage from the audience. Distance of the play from reality, and not the distance of the writer from his model(s).
[Robert Bresson]

*(In his journals, "models" = actors.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bresson week part 4

Not to shoot a film in order to illustrate a thesis, or to display men and women confined to their external aspect, but to discover the matter they are made of. To attain that “heart of the heart” which does not let itself be caught either by poetry, or by philosophy, or by drama.
[Robert Bresson]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bresson week part 3

In a mixture of true and false, the true brings out the false, the false hinders the belief in the true. An actor simulating fear of shipwreck on the deck of a real ship battered by a real storm – we believe neither in the actor, nor in the ship nor in the storm.
[Robert Bresson]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bresson week part 2

CINEMA films are historical documents whose place is in the archives: how a play was acted in 19… by Mr. X, Ms. Y.
An actor in cinematography might as well be in a foreign country. He does not speak its language.
To think it more natural for a movement to be made or a phrase to be said like this than like that is absurd, is meaningless in cinematography.
No marriage of theatre and cinematography without both being exterminated.

[Robert Bresson]

Monday, December 7, 2009

random french art quotes

It's French cinematography week here at conflicted, and we'll be featuring the thoughts of Robert Bresson. Here's your thought of the day:
A film cannot be a stage show, because a stage show requires flesh-and-blood presence. But it can be, as photographed theatre or CINEMA is, the photographic reproduction of a stage show. The photographic reproduction of a stage show is comparable to the photographic reproduction of a painting or a sculpture. But a photographic reproduction of Donatello’s Saint John the Baptist or of Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Necklace has not the power, the value or the price of that sculpture or that painting. It does not create it. Does not create anything.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the coi podcast -- new episode available now

The latest episode of the COI podcast, available today, features Ben Sampson's short story "Liquid Paper Love Crush."

Listen right above, or you can download the episode (and subscribe) here. If you have iTunes, click here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

how to help us

Conflict of Interest theater company is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Conflict of Interest theater company may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Go here to donate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

when your worst suspicions are confirmed

For those of us who grew up in the City, UHO "volunteers" have been a ubiquitous part of subway riding since the '90s. Now, it turns out it was all a fraud:
an investigation by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo appears to have confirmed what many New Yorkers secretly (if somewhat guiltily) suspected all along: The United Homeless Organization, supposedly a nonprofit group set up to help feed and house the homeless, was actually an elaborate fraud.

According to a complained filed by Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday morning, U.H.O. does not operate a single shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry. It does not provide food or clothing to the homeless. It does not even donate money to other charities that do.

Most of those coins and bills, Mr. Cuomo contended, end up in the pockets of the group’s founder and president, Stephen Riley, and its director, Myra Walker. The rest was kept by those working the donation tables, who paid a daily fee to Mr. Riley and Ms. Walker for the right to use the U.H.O. tables, jugs and aprons.

Those papers that U.H.O.’s workers display on their card tables? Nothing more than copies of the group’s certification of incorporation, according to Mr. Cuomo, used to mislead the public into believing they are permits.

“U.H.O. exploits the good intentions of people who thought that their charitable donations were helping to fund services for the homeless,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Instead, their donations go directly to U.H.O.’s principals and workers, who abused the organization’s tax-exempt status to line their own pockets.”

No pithy note to end with here. Just a confirmation that for the most part, human beings are avaricious, exploitative walking piles of dung.

hey, guess what?

If you have iTunes, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

biting your own ass

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is a masterwork. It draws taut lines between the middle of the last century century and the topography of the political landscape today; it explains how we got into this partisan madness, and -- I believe -- it just might predict the future. Perlstein recounts the shocked aftermath of liberals in the wake of Nixon's Checkers speech, in which Nixon managed to cast himself as a man of the hardworking people, and the Democrats of the party of the elite:
Liberal intellectuals [...] saw themselves as tribunes of the people, Republicans as the people's traducers. Liberals had written the New Deal social and labor legislation that let ordinary Americans win back a measure of economic security. Then liberals helped lead a war against fascism, a war conservatives opposed, and then worked to create, in the postwar reconversion, the consumer economy that built the middle class, a prosperity for ordinary laborers unprecedented in the history of the world. Liberalism had done that. Now history had caught them in a bind: with the boom they had helped build, ordinary laborers were becoming ever less reliably downtrodden, vulnerable to appeal from the Republicans.
Now consider this nugget from Saturday's New York Times:
...with roughly a quarter of the stimulus money out the door after nine months, the accumulation of hard data and real-life experience has allowed more dispassionate analysts to reach a consensus that the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working.

The legislation, a variety of economists say, is helping an economy in free fall a year ago to grow again and shed fewer jobs than it otherwise would. Mr. Obama’s promise to “save or create” about 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 is roughly on track, though far more jobs are being saved than created, especially among states and cities using their money to avoid cutting teachers, police officers and other workers.

“It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,” said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”
Granted, it's not quite the triumphalist America of 1952, but with many politicians calling this President Obama's recession, you can bet that should a recovery begin the economy's slow ascent to prosperity, it will be very hard for the White House to claim credit where credit is due.

It's a tight historical cycle in the United States: when people need help -- not mild assistance, but wet-your-pants-end-of-the-world help, they run to the political left, only to flee back to the right and decry freeloaders once the worst has passed. The 44th President could be in danger of getting the Churchill treatment: thanks for saving the world, now take a hike.

Thankfully, it is obvious by now that the President is no fool. Anticipating the inevitable whiplash-inducing about-face, there are reports that beginning next year, the White House will anticipate the curve and transform from a New Deal outfit to a Reaganesque budget hawk's nest (except that Reagan really wasn't, but whatever).

The President's parenting skills are more necessary to his job than we ever imagined: what more does the American electorate resemble than a impulse-driven toddler?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

slicing the squid

Here's some Thursday wonk:

While performers and writers are bogged down in arcane details of web distribution, a change is on the horizon with far larger implications than the how-many-cents-per-download argument. Quoth the Economist:
Comcast, a big American cable operator [...] was close to a deal to acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal, a television and film outfit. The combination would rival Disney as the world’s biggest media firm.
The implications for creators of content -- and their consumers -- are huge.

Since the shift from solid distribution (i.e., paper books and plastic CDs/DVDs) to digital downloads, medial conglomerates have become obsessed -- Howard Hughes-style -- in ways to maintain their insanely high profit margins on a product that was cheap to reproduce and realtively easy control. With digital media, their stranglehold on distribution networks has collapsed. In a panic, they have actually cut their resources in what would arguably be their business' strongest selling point, i.e., production, while doing everything they can to antagonize performers and writers.

The WGA strike laid bare the conglomerates' position: the internet was exactly like old media, and just as media companies had gotten a sweetheart deal with writers and actors after the advent of the VCR, they expected the exact same treatment with the internet.

The difference, of course, was that videocassettes and DVDs still require an output of capital from consumers to obtain. Digital reproduction doesn't.

The last remaining advantage (for everyone who wasn't Viacom) was that the companies that finance the creation of content and the companies that distribute it (movie theaters, cable companies, et al) were distinct entities. Take a look at the ongoing wrangles between Apple Computer and the record industry if you need any evidence of how crucial that division of labor is: if EMI owned iTunes, we would all be paying a lot more than 99 cents for a download.

Comcast's proposed stitch up with NBC Universal would be catastrophic, as the company that finances the content and the company that delivers it would become one and the same. Since cable companies already hold monopolistic strangleholds on residential networks, there would be no need for them to negotiate prices favorably for consumers, or performer contracts, being the only game in town.

For evidence of the dangers, look at how regulators reacted a decade ago when Barnes and Noble tried to swallow up Ingraham, a major book distributor. There also the aim was to turn two links in the supply chain into one.

The Economist perhaps lays bare the true impetus behind this move: having lost the battle against technological progress, they're shooting for the next best thing -- gumming up the works:
There is, however, one extremely good reason for Comcast to do a deal. The big strategic problem facing media companies these days is how to move their products online while preserving margins—without swapping analogue dollars for digital pennies, as Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s boss, once put it. As one of the architects of Hulu, an online video service, NBC Universal has been deeply involved in these experiments. For their part, cable companies fear that people will become so accustomed to getting television and films online that they will drop their video subscriptions. A combined Comcast-NBC Universal would be able to exert a good deal of control over old media’s internet dreams, to say the least.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

Yesterday the Times recounted how the white and black citizens of Henry County, Georgia have come together in hard times:
During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.
Skip to next paragraph

But the recession has begun to erase those differences.

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
It is a compelling counter-narrative to the received wisdom that economic hardship exacerbates ethnic tensions:
At the Division of Family and Children Services, Keasha Taylor, 36 and black, helped explain the system recently to a white mother. Ms. Taylor, who was there because her family had been evicted, told the mother, who was in line for food stamps, that a child with acute asthma might be eligible for Social Security.

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”
The key to why this doesn't work as an allegory for the larger racial picture of the United States, though, is in this paragraph:
One reason blacks have not gained more political power is that they are not heavily concentrated in any single area in the county — the cul-de-sacs carved out of farmland and pastures in the last decade became racially mixed enclaves for the upwardly mobile.
The trick is that "upwardly mobile" part. Just as we recounted during the Skip Gates imbroglio -- the issue here isn't race, it's class. The common language between the whites and blacks of Henry County is of the upwardly-mobile middle. The discovery that they have more in common than they thought is a significant one -- but the flip side of that coin is that each camp shares more characteristics with each other than the disadvantaged members of their own races.

That discovery, of course, goes unmade, since it doesn't quite fit with our country's larger racial narrative...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

This is one of those moments where the will to power conflicts with the will for ideological (or racial) purity. From a few weeks back on my old obsession, the British National Party:
BNP leader Nick Griffin has agreed to ask his party to amend its constitution so it does not discriminate on grounds of race or religion, a court heard.

The UK's equalities watchdog had argued the BNP broke the Race Relations Act by restricting members to "indigenous Caucasian" people.

The court heard Mr Griffin had agreed to use "all reasonable endeavours" to revise its constitution.

Nick Griffin is in a tough spot -- his party has a shot as mainstream respectability not seen in Western Europe (at least since Le Pen's National Front showing in France in 2002) as much a result of the Tories moving towards the right (since Blair's New Labour stole most of the Conservative economic program). In the bright glare of public review, Griffin tries to turn ethnic chauvinism into a coherent political program, a weight it simply cannot bear.

Just as segregationists the the American South only work ideologically when they're on the losing side -- protectors of a bygone era -- the BNP only works if they're being ignored by most of society. You can blame problems that trouble every major civilization (crime, unemployment, poverty) on immigration and "the other" only as long as you're not called upon to provide policy solutions. Blaming the foreigner doesn't come close to framing the issue.

Speaking of which -- we can't wait for Lou Dobbs' first policy paper. And his Hispanic media spokesman.

Monday, November 16, 2009

it's the journey that matters

Last night I caught AMC's remake of The Prisoner, and watching it dovetailed nicely with thoughts on some of the prep work we're laying down for a couple of projects that COI is working on. While the new show starring Gandalf and Jesus was very good, it made me think on Patrick McGoohan's original, which was (in)famous for its lack of resolution.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a cheap television whore, and especially a sci-fi whore. I love conceits, but rarely stick around for the whole story. I will tune in for the beginning of apocalypse movies -- I like to see how people say the world is going to end -- but I really could give a rat's ass about how the hero perseveres against the odds.

Accordingly, I never had much time for The Prisoner growing up (I was a Star Trek fan -- I wanted me resolution in an hour or less). Open-ended plots left me feeling cheated. (I'm hesitant to say this is a matter of maturity, because I'm also a huge Battlestar Galactica fan, and show was nothing if not one big whopping a-ha of a conceit.)

But watching the show last night I started to understand the joys of setting up parameters in order to let characters play, without too much of a concern for The Big Picture.

I think a lot of that has to do with the two projects we're working on for COI. Both projects -- one if a film project under the guidance of Sara Wolkowitz, the other a play directed by Leah Bonvissuto -- entail a 13-month process whereby a small group works in depth and at length on a project, the performative aspect of which is very hazy. Instead, the entire point of the endeavor is to delve deeper into character development and the creative process.

We'll announce each of these projects in more detail in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime I was struck by how much my tastes have shifted in what I consider a payoff. Not two years ago it was gratifying enough to mount a show for a few weeks, sell some tickets, and feel like I'd accomplished something. By the time we got to this summer, I couldn't care less if we had an audience or not: I needed the process itself to be something transcendent, regardless of who was watching.

It was after the whirlwind that was doing Wrestling the Alligator and The Third Seat back to back that I realized I wanted something more out of this group. I was just lucky to have my ears open when both Leah and Sara, unbeknownst to each other, proposed very similar endeavors. Two year-long collaborations with no performance in sight are about as far from the Equity showcase code as you can get. And the absurdity of that process was how this company got its name in the first place.

We'll be talking about these things more in the weeks to come, but it's interesting how sometimes projects fit a larger pattern, a pattern that defies even our most outlandish goals.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

audience amnesty

It's a common confession -- many theater people don't actually see a lot of theater. I'm certainly guilty of it. And some of the people who I think are the best at what we do have also confessed in the past few months that they tend not to see shows, either -- to a truly shocking degree.

It takes a lot of psychic energy to attend a play. It has never been hard wired into American culture, and with instant delivery of entertainment, entire generations have come of age without any inkling to see a live play. Youth theater companies talk about "cultivating an audience" and then couch their terms in education-speak: learning the language of Shakespeare, etc etc etc -- it's not that at all. They're trying to teach kids how to sit still in the dark for an hour.

So I try not to be a jerk about friends and family coming to our shows -- I certainly understand that it takes a lot of effort to go. And that's why the fact that our last show, Third Seat, was in bar was so much fun for the cast as well as the audience.

If I could, I would do every show in a bar. I just might.

But just in case that doesn't pan out, maybe we should always be sure to have a sidebar in the lobby of whatever theater we go to next with booze and pub food. Would that get the people in? And a 310-pound gentle gorilla named Elsie will come to your house and carry you TO the theater like a baby. After she carries the cast in for half hour.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the death of tribalism

The mayoral election here in New York City was far closer than anyone predicted, and with the mayor achieving re-election, having outspent his opponent 16 to 1, it's rather pathetic that the margin of victory was about four points.

On the other side, many in the Democratic Party are wondering what might have been -- with a candidate that so many left for dead months ago (one who, it must be admitted, played possum perhaps a bit too well), it seems like not much effort in getting higher voter turnout or finding funds for a slightly more robust advertising campaign just might have made the difference.
Check Spelling
The Times' postmortem strikes an odd oblivious note
, wondering how it could be that the Democratic Party suffers at the ballot box, despite overwhelming advantages on paper.
The mystery of Democrats’ mayoral failures is considerable, not the least to Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about five to one in New York City, and unemployment is in the double digits, with joblessness among black males near 50 percent.

“This was a winnable race, no two ways about it,” said Bill de Blasio, who was elected public advocate. “The first and most dominant factor was Bloomberg’s spending. But the spending was a double-edged sword, as it thoroughly alienated people.”

Mr. Thompson, too, had the advantage of a considerable racial and ethnic base, which has been gold to city candidates for close to two centuries. And the city’s economy was listing toward the water line. “The conditions were there all along for a formidable challenge to the mayor,” said Andrew Breslau, an observer of city politics and the executive director of City Futures, a nonpartisan urban policy group. “There was class resentment in this economically fraught time.”

And yet, once again, Democrats struggled to run an effective mayoral campaign.
The article is quick to list the reasons, which include a broken political machine, and high-level defectors seduced by the incumbent's effectiveness, which trumped party loyalty. But in all it sounds a bit like someone wondering why newspapers aren't flourishing, now that paper is so cheap.

The problem isn't this particular match up, it's the larger dynamic shifts in the electorate -- such as it is (turnout, as always, was in the toilet).

What we are witnessing is the logical outcome of a fractured polis and the ascendancy of niche identities. The repeated refrain from Virginia and elsewhere was that without the President's name on the ballot, younger voters simply weren't interested.

But what about the fact that perhaps the President appealed to a movement that has been sorely lacking on the political stage: the appeal to a common cause. So often now we look for candidates that are demonstrably "one of ours"; voters are unwilling to reach across racial, ethnic, regional, or class divides to back a candidate because it's so much simpler to find the candidate that looks and sounds just like you.

No wonder the parties can't mobilize a credible "get out the vote" effort: how can you galvanize 20- or 30-year-olds to join a machine when every other element of their consumer culture is carefully calibrated to appear to be customized?

This isn't some misguided appeal to Cold War conformity; but just as forty years or more have been expended in attempting to add imagination into the public sphere -- allowing for a portrayal of American identity that is diverse -- we now have to shift that imagination within ourselves, and strike allegiances outside of our comfort zones. Can we get the majority of fellow citizens to commit to political action (as simple as casting a ballot) for a larger ideal: not necessarily the enactment of the agenda we want, point for point, but the enactment of an agenda on the part of a representative government that reflects the participation of a majority of its citizens?

That is the only future we have if we're to reject narrow tribalism that lurks in the shadows.

Monday, November 9, 2009

in need of a new map

The incredible events of this weekend, which saw the first steps toward meaningful health care reform (a vital issue not only for this blog in its political leanings but also for all underemployed American artists) laid bare the need for a drastic realignment of political allegiances in Washington.

For too long both major parties have cobbled together a shaky allegiance between issues of money and morality, and it nearly derailed the Democratic agenda, especially when it comes to abortion;
It was late Friday night and lawmakers were stalling for time. In a committee room, they yammered away, delaying a procedural vote on the historic health care legislation. Down one floor, in her office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi desperately tried to deal with an issue that has bedeviled Democrats for more than a generation — abortion.

After hours of heated talks, the people she was trying to convince — some of her closest allies — burst angrily out of her office.


To save the health care bill she had to give in to abortion opponents in her party and allow them to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.
When Democrats -- who ostensibly believe in state intervention to check human greed -- and Republicans (who ostensibly believe in vigilance to check an over-reaching state picking the pockets of its citizens) both twist their fundamental philosophies to cater to a third group -- men and women who could care less about money and care about matters of religion and legislated morality -- we have farcical dances like the debate over Stupak Amendment, where members of the House argue against a bill because they're for it.

Let former Democrats and former Republicans who believe in the magic of the free market band together, while moderates who see a need for government intervention on matters foreign and domestic make common cause.

Then, those who care only about the hereafter can chirp up when they feel so moved, and we don't need each national party making a mess of their agenda trying to reconcile mutually exclusive principles.

But it's not about principle. It's about maintaining power. Oh, if only someone had warned us of this danger. Oh, wait -- someone did.

Friday, November 6, 2009

hear the bill is up and running (and has been), the group I volunteer for, has an announcement. They do great work, and I'm proud to be a part of it:

On the eve of historic vote in U.S. House...
Voice Actors Get Audio of Health Care Bill to the Public

Legislation Now Online at

Those who can't or don't want to read the House healthcare reform bill now have another option: the bill, all 1,990 pages of it is available as audio files online - read by a team of volunteer voice actors who want to make sure that as many people in America as possible can find out exactly what's in the legislation. was created by voice actors Kathleen Keesling of Colorado and Diane Havens of New Jersey as a public service for the visually impaired and those who prefer audio to text, such as the millions of people who listen to audio books.

"As this important legislation is going to a vote, we are providing another way, a more accessible way, for people who care about this issue to find out what is in the bill," said Keesling.

Over 100 actors have volunteered to accomplish this, each of whom took on a portion, reading from an average of twenty to as many as hundreds of pages, recording many hours of audio. They are a diverse group from around the country -- and the world -- with backgrounds in all different aspects of voice over and radio. Some have done theater, film and on-camera work. None of them have ever recorded legislation before.

The nonpartisan site is fast approaching one million hits since its launch in September with the audio version of HR3200, the House bill proposed in July. HR3962 is available free, fully downloadable, and indexed by title headings, so that users can locate specific sections of interest more easily.

"It has been tremendously gratifying that so many of our colleagues realize the historic importance of this legislation and what it means to all of us and our families," said Havens. "We receive emails every day from our listeners who thank us for our efforts, and that's a great feeling."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

update on those magnificent racists

We've already chronicled the wonderful justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to marry interracial couples. Here's an update, via the Associated Press, via the New York Times (via my mother):
A Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to marry a couple because the bride was white and groom was black resigned Tuesday, after weeks of refusing to step down despite calls for his ouster from officials including the governor.

Keith Bardwell quit with a one-sentence statement to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and no explanation of his decision: "I do hereby resign the office of Justice of the Peace for the Eighth Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, effective November 3, 2009."
You can imagine Justice Bardwell's rage. This world is a world gone upside down, with chaos, socialized medicine, and uppity Negroes forgetting their place. In some sick way, I sympathize. It's hard to stand against the tide of history and know, irrefutably, that you are going to lose. It feels horrible to be obsolete. It's unfair. But, in keeping with Bardwell's clipped eloquence, I will keep my assessment brief:

Good fucking riddance.

whispers in the dark (for the elite)

From Patrick Healy and the If Only This Was Our Problem Department (via the New York Times):

Ticket holders at this week’s first previews of Matthew Broderick’s new Off Broadway play have been privy to a second drama: watching the veteran theater actor try to learn his lines, with help from a prompter sitting in the front row.


While opera companies have long had hidden prompters at the rim of the stage, many theater actors shudder at the idea of needing help with lines during performances. For them, mastery of a script is a benchmark of professionalism. Still, acting fallbacks have a long but largely unnoticed history in the theater. During the national tour of “Legends” in the 1980s, Mary Martin, who was in her 70s at the time, used an earpiece that also picked up taxi signals, according to published accounts.

While the image of Mary Martin randomly shouting out street intersections in the middle of a performance is a tempting one, the bigger issue is watching a production assistant with a script in the front row of a show you've paid hundreds of dollars to see.

There are a couple directions we could go with this:

(1) Righteous indignation: Movie stars aren't up for the rigors of treading the boards and this whole episode (along with Sushi-gate) lays bare just how craven a move it is when Broadway producers to use movie stars, regardless of talent or work ethic, to sell tickets.

(2) Overwrought sentimentality: Picking up cues, even with the aid of a prompter, is a lost art -- an old pro would know a way to get their lines without needing someone sitting in the audience to give them.

or we can just go with

(3) Naked honesty: if I could charge people to come to a show before an actor had their lines down but needed to have someone whispering lines from the house, I absolutely would.

But, see, we're poor; we don't get to fudge our opening night, extend previews, and say just kidding, we're still in process. Now, will that be cash or credit? Every show opens with a closing date. If we could get away with it, believe me, we would.

There's another issue about this, which Healy treats with some delicacy, calling it "the benchmark of professionalism" to be off-book on time. Others have another term: it's called not being a dick.
But now the use of prompts has become a matter of inquiry for the Actors’ Equity union, which is investigating a recent dismissal by the Hartford Stage theater of an actor who peeked at bits of dialogue that he had taped inside his character’s hat for a difficult scene.


In the Hartford Stage incident, the fired actor, Matt Mulhern, 49, was appearing in Horton Foote’s “Orphans’ Home Cycle,” a series of three plays over nine hours. Mr. Mulhern said he never received any warning from Hartford Stage that his job might be in jeopardy; “Orphans” is a co-production with Signature Theater Company in New York, where it is transferring next month.

In an interview, Mr. Mulhern described the prompt in his hat as a “crutch” that he relied on because of script changes during rehearsals. He said he had been “emotionally devastated” by his Sept. 22 dismissal, the first of his 27-year career. He also acknowledged he had “ruffled feathers” among colleagues for a variety of other reasons after rehearsals began in July.

In other words, he admits that he was pretty much being a dick, and by the time he didn't know his lines for performances, no one was ready to help out.

I have nightmares, even when I'm not actively in a production, about going up while on stage. It's terrifying to be there without a net -- and having one would actually make me a worse performer, because it would take away all incentive to mitigate risk and do my homework (cf. Google search: "banks too big to fail").

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

contesting history

Ian Urbina brings us this horrific story from Cleveland, where a man that stands accused of multiple accounts of rape and murder could have been stopped much earlier, had police followed up on disparate police reports of assault filed over the course of many months.
The police in Cleveland were notified repeatedly about violence in the house of a convicted rapist where the decomposed bodies of six women were found last week, a neighbor said Monday.

The neighbor of the man, who was arrested Saturday night after the bodies were found, said the police had done little, despite the calls.
It brought to mind the bad old days of New York City, before Compstat. Under the current policing regime in New York City, so the story goes, these threads would have been woven together to create a picture of this monster, and he would have been stopped.

In this post-2001 world where everything scares the living daylights out of us, most New Yorkers take it as a given that elevated policing makes for more livable cities. Here in New York, the candidates for mayor and their surrogates argue over who gets the credit for the City's descent into a police state. Michael Powell in the New York Times:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, as he had done before, indelicately broached this rhetorical question while campaigning a week ago for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. If you elect the Democratic mayoral candidate, Mr. Giuliani, the former Republican mayor, warned a mostly Orthodox Jewish audience in Brooklyn, New York could well return to a time when a feckless liberal Democrat let services decay and crime and homelessness run rampant.
On the other hand, there are many who feel that Giuliani is, in fact, stealing credit from Dinkins:
“Dinkins faced a very sharp economic downturn, and he was in the very difficult position of coming in with high expectations from many constituencies,” said John H. Mollenkopf, a political science professor at the City University Graduate Center. “Yet he expanded the police force and rebuilt neighborhoods; he deserves more credit than he gets for managing that time.”

Mr. Dinkins’s most lasting achievement might have been in the very area where he now fares worst in popular memory. He obtained the State Legislature’s permission to dedicate a tax to hire thousands of police officers, and he fought to preserve a portion of that anticrime money to keep schools open into the evening, an award-winning initiative that kept tens of thousands of teenagers off the street. Later he hired Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and in the mayor’s final years in office, homicide began its now record-breaking decline.
Alex Pareene, over at Gawker, makes my favorite rhetorical shift when he points out we're arguing about the wrong thing:
Let's talk about the cops, for a second: they are still operating under Giuliani levels of complete disregard for the law. They are getting drunk and running people over and shooting unarmed black people and sodomizing people in subway stations. The Civilian Complaint Review Board has become a joke, unless your case gets a lot of publicity. There's obviously no accountability, whatsoever, and no attempt to recruit and train more cops from the communities they actually police. The NYPD remains, primarily, the home of roided-out white people from outside the city with a great deal of contempt for civil liberties. The Mayor always sounds properly upset when some of them rape someone, but he's never done a damn thing to rein them in or change the culture.

What he has done is Keep Us Safe by never once giving a shit about Civil Liberties. The cops stop and frisk thousands more people every year, your 4th Amendment rights do not apply in the Subway system, and expensive and completely ineffective new rings of cameras are going up across Manhattan.

Bloomberg deserves to be run out of town on an inadequately funded public rail line for the 2004 GOP convention alone. Remember that ridiculous farce? No, of course not, no one does, besides the thousands of people improperly spied on, arrested, harassed, and detained by the NYPD. All of this was completely illegal. No heads rolled.

One more special bonus factoid: New York leads the world in marijuana arrests! Specifically, marijuana arrests of black people!
But no one cares about that. Instead, we read about places like Cleveland, cluck our tongues, shake our heads, and scold: that wouldn't happen here. Because we're different. We have a system based on law, order, and statistics. It's an attitude more fitting with the suburbs.

In fact, we should be taking better note and better care of our neighbors. That's how crime stays down -- not by voting for more surveillance cameras and inspection tables at the subway turnstiles.

Friday, October 30, 2009

how to help us

Conflict of Interest theater company is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Conflict of Interest theater company may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Go here to donate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

no surprises

Michael Bloomberg and William Thompson will go head-to-head for the Mayor's office here in New York on Tuesday. It will be a contest decided by thin sliver of New Yorkers, as many of us do not bother to vote in off-year elections. Not at all shockingly, the primary runoffs here in New York City were not well attended, either:

According to preliminary returns, in fact, no votes were recorded in scores of the city’s 6,100 election districts. In hundreds more, where the number of enrolled Democrats ranged from 1 to nearly 1,100, fewer than 10 voters turned out to choose the city’s official watchdog and its chief fiscal steward.

For a week, New Yorkers have known that the runoff was a feeble exercise in participatory democracy of historic proportions. Fewer than 8 percent of the city’s roughly three million enrolled Democrats voted in an election that cost the city $15 million and the four candidates millions more.

It is the ultimate sign of cynicism and contempt when citizens don't bother. The lines in last November's presidential election ran around the block at many election sites, and people have since become enraged that change did not rain down instantaneously from the heavens.

Well, folks, that's because there happen to be other elective offices below the President, and an active engagement on the part of the citizenry is essential. Democracy is a long boring slog, and every election matters. What if you paid your mortgage only once a year, and ignored the other eleven notices? Would it be outrageous when your house got foreclosed?

Why do people cherry pick elections, only engaging with the ones they don't find uninteresting, and then get cynical when they discover that the other 95% of the process (which they've ignored) is broken?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

not sure I'm a fan

Sailing en route to New York City right now for commissioning next month is the USS New York, a Navy warship made with parts of the World Trade Center:
The amphibious assault vessel was built with 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The ship, which can carry up to 800 Marines, is on its way to New York where it will be formally commissioned in early November.
The article in the CS Monitor finds opinions ranging from the poignant to the profane. I'm not sure myself how I feel about turning plowshares into swords.

It seems in many ways a continuation of the idea promulgated in the days and months following September 2001 that the nation was on a permanent war footing. That's never been part of our character (even in our genocidal, slaveholding heyday). We're the land of rebirth and plenty, not Mother Courage's scorched earth:
They say the war will stop soon. How would it? I ask. And no one can answer me. The King and the Pope are mortal enemies, their Faith is different. They must go for each other till one of them drops dead, neither of them can relax till then. Even so they can't get on with it. Why not? The Emperor is in the way, and they both have something against him. They're not going to fight each other till they're half dead so he can fall on both of 'em! No, they're banding together against the Emperor so he'll drop dead first and they can go for each other. Someone once offered me five hundred guilders for the wagon. I didn't take it. My Eilif, wherever he may be, thought I had taken it and cried all night.
Mother Courage's only question about the WTC steel being hammered into the ship might be what price did it go for?

Monday, October 26, 2009

the argument for openness

As a dirty non-white foreigner fascinated by Britain I'm inordinately interested in what the ethnocentric British National Party has to say about dirty non-white foreigners fascinated by Britain.

With their election to the European Parliament this summer, much of the political class has become distraught with the elevation of what many deem a fascist party in Western Europe.

BNP leader nick Griffin's appearance as a panelist on the BBC's Question Time program(me) became the sensation of last week, with protests and hand-wringing among the chattering classes, all over a rather dignified debate (this ain't Geraldo, here).

In America, I don't think we're quite sure what the hoopla is all about; after all Lou Dobbs has a show all to himself five nights a week.

Which is the point. People who argue that Lou Dobbs (and Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly -- although "Papa Bear" [pace Colbert] looks positively sane by comparison) should be dropped from their respective networks miss the point. They absolutely should not be dropped simply because their views are repugnant (or incoherent, since television is not the realm of coherence).

They should, instead, be forced to engage in real political debate, and not the repeated erection of straw men in the safety of their studios or hour-long monologues (also looking at you, Olbermann).

They should be required to let their views see the light of day and the fresh air of discussion. Why? Simply this:
The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, found himself the victim of an extraordinary attack from his own supporters last night following his controversial appearance on the BBC's Question Time.

As a public postmortem into one of the most divisive broadcasts in the corporation's history attempted to gauge its impact on the party's fortunes, Lee Barnes, the BNP's legal officer, accused Griffin of "failing to press the attack" during the televised debate, which was watched by a record 8 million people. Others sympathetic to the BNP's views expressed dismay at Griffin's flustered attempts to appeal to the mainstream.
The logic of the lunatic fringe only works so long as they stay on the fringe. When they try to appear reasonable, when they try to appeal to the vast majority that live somewhere in the middle, they look ridiculous, and they know it.

Now, BNP members sound like Rambo decrying our loss in Vietnam as a loss of will -- that Griffin somehow didn't press the fight enough; as though burning a few more peasant villages or offending some more Southeast Asians would have done the trick.

Keep Dobbs talking; just make sure he has to look his targets in the eye while he does it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Latest Film Work (Part II), 11/8

So if you're ready to have a love-fest with my work right after seeing my short play "Missed" at the Bleecker Street Theater on 11/7, come on out to see me in socially awkward porn.

Yeah ... it's exactly what it sounds like.


Indecent Exposure Productions presents

A Shlong Awkward Pause

Millenium Film Theater
Sunday November 8th, 2009
3:30pm -4:30pm
66 e. 4th Street
Suggestion Donation - $10

30 minutes of Sex Farces...what more could you want?


For $10? Yeah, 30 minutes sounds about right.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Latest Film Work (Part I), 10/31 and 11/1

Missed me as the Devil in Timor Mortis this past February? You're in luck -- I play a devilish character again in Jessica McVea's THE PROCEDURE, screening as part of the SINISTER SIX MUST BE DESTROYED film series on October 31 and November 1. It's on, y'all. Details below.

SINISTER SIX MUST BE DESTROYED is the fourth and final installment in the annual horror anthology film series, THE SINISTER SIX, created and curated by Bryan Enk of Third Lows Productions. In celebration of the final year of the series, SINISTER SIX MUST BE DESTROYED pulls out all the stops as a "double-feature" horror anthology film, featuring TWELVE short horror films by TWELVE directors! Come celebrate Halloween with The Sinister Six... times two!

Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 8:15PM
Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 5:15PM

Millennium Film Workshop
66 E. 4th St.
New York, NY 10003
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours

WARNING: Films contain strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images, graphic sexual content, nudity and strong language.


When Egyptologists Max and Lily reunite to uncover the secrets of the ancient Book of Thoth, it could lead to ultimate power. Or possibly death.

MONDAY | Danny Bowes
A young woman is pursued by a vicious killer... from inside her own mind.

HOUSE GUESTS | Rebecca Comtois
Four friends take advantage of a cousin's summer house. They better remember to lock the front door.

CONTACT | Jeremiah Kipp
If there is doubt, then there is no love - and Koreen tests her fear of love's deep scars.

ARACATTACK! | Douglas MacKrell
Ace exterminator Deuce Johnson has been hired to take care of a spider infestation at a residential laboratory, only to discover a deadly truth so terrifying, only screams can describe it! Presented in EMERGE-O-VISION!

When an innocent girl signs up for a clinical trial sponsored by the sinister Lucigenics Pharmaceuticals Corporation, can she escape the horrific effects that befall her fellow participants?

AVENUE A | Mateo Moreno
"Join us tonight as we take you inside the East Village bar that was the site of the grisly 'Avenue A Murders.' And for the first time, see the footage that was found there, documenting the entire event..."

LEVITICUS 26 | Roger Nasser
Leviticus Daniels was a good boy... until his mother Ruth showed him the path to Righteousness.

evermore | Patrick Shearer
How much is too much?

BLUEBERRY | Art Wallace
The director of "The Haunted Ghost" and "When Darkness Comes" returns with another tale of existential dread as a psychotic birthday party goes bad, very bad...

And some sinister surprises!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reading of My New Short Play 11/7/09

Newground Theater Collective will be presenting my short play "Missed" as part of their CORNERSTONES series at the Off-Broadway Bleecker Street Theater (45 Bleecker Street, right? their mass email didn't say). So, if you're inclined, info below...

TWO DAYS, NINE PLAYS, TEN BUCKS. **Industry Comped**

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7th, 1:00 -3:00 PM
Missed by Sergei Burbank
Gangster of Love, by Nandita Shanoy
Lipstick and Wrenches, by Gus Schulenberg
Directed by Erin Smiley
Lying Naked, by Alex Goldberg
Directed by Amber Gallery

And definitely don't miss our brother-in-arms Felipe Ossa's work presenting in the same series the next day:

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8th, 3pm-5pm
Dark Night of The Russet Rascal, by Duncan Pflaster
Love's First Sight, by Andrew Rothkin
Directed by Rosebud Baker
Don't Hold The Doors While the Train Is In The Station, by Bronwyn Clark
Directed by Amber Gallery
UFO Weather, by Jonathan Wallace
Liberal White Female, by Felipe Ossa
Directed by Rachel Klein

A propos
of nothing (but as a reward for reading down this far), here's a behind-the-scenes look at where some of the podcasts will be recorded:

Related: I will see a ghost child in that small cabinet before the season is through.

Friday, October 16, 2009

truly magnificent racism

Dave Chappelle has the line about confronting racism that is of a gourmand's level; truly finger-kissing good -- at such a higher level that you can only find it truly delectable.

Now, as a multi-racial person, I usually have to cast my lot with other brown-skinned groups that roughly approximate my experience, even though it's like wearing a pair of shoes a couple sizes off: I can read deeply into African-American studies all I want, but after a few rhetorical paces I end up tripping over myself. Well, I can slip into something a bit more comfortable for the weekend. Finally -- oppression for my people!

A Justice of the Peace refuses to marry interracial couples in Louisiana because they create traumatized children. Oooh ooh ooh! Wait, let me get some popcorn before you start talking, time-traveler-from-the-fifties-Man:
[Keith] Bardwell [of Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana] who has worked in the role for 34 years, said that in his experience most interracial marriages did not last very long and estimated that he had refused applications to four couples in the past two-and-a-half years.

He said he had "piles and piles of black friends" but just did not believe in "mixing the races".
Okay, one demerit for the I have black friends gambit, (but he MORE than makes up for it later). And he does have a point: the divorce rate is roughly 50% -- so most marriages don't last that long.

But wait, I'm pretty convinced you're just a run-of-the-mill segregationist. What sets you apart?
"They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else," he said.
That's ... that's some good racism. [That's his trump card? Really?! It's kind of, well, sad. And gross. Mostly gross.]

But there you have it, America! Times have changed. Some of my best shitters are black.

I stand corrected. You, sir, are the paragon of equanimity. Apparently it matters not that what issues from the anuses of Negroes and Whites commingles in the septic tanks of Tangipahoa Parish (where is Faulkner when you need him?) -- but the wombs -- what about the wombs?
"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," he said "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."
Now I can't deny he's right about the lack of acceptance part. Buuuuuut...I'm not sure that a lack of a wedding ring works as an effective form of birth control there, champ. That couple'll probably end up with a mocha baby anyway. And as a a mocha bastard, I can tell you, it's SO MUCH BETTER being born out of wedlock AND being rejected by both racial camps. A sub-nation of illegitimate racial nonentities rise in gratitude.

What a turd. Why is he so obsessed with black people shitting, anyway? (The really beautiful thing, of course, is that this is being reported on the BBC's site. Not here in the states. Because there is no living in between the races, as far as Americans are concerned. Sigh...)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

what if there's no one left in the pen?

A Banyan column in The Economist from a couple weeks ago mourned the demise of the Far East Economic Review. Banyan argued that FEER's cause of death was the simultaneous disappearance of its subject and audience.

Rather than being able to sell advertising space to some nebulous elite pan-Asian consumer, the market fragmented with the ascendancy of the middle class across the region, whose tastes were far more varied than the top five percent who merely tried to ape the West. Advertisers looked for more efficient niche markets beyond (below?) FEER's reach.
Now advertisers—Western and home-grown—want to take aim at buyers more carefully, shaping campaigns for individual markets. For that, they seek out publications in the national (and sometimes regional) markets of China, Malaysia, Indonesia or Japan. Local publications are the beneficiaries, and financial success has helped some develop strong reporting instincts, even taking up the crusading role the Review once had. The Review is a victim because, from an advertiser’s point of view, Asia has ceased to exist.
And that's the larger point: the concept itself ("East" of what, after all?) was steeped in a reductive, outdated (read: colonial), centralized view of "Asia" which didn't bear much scrutiny when viewed against reality.
What if Asia as an idea no longer exists not just for advertisers but for most of those who live within its supposed boundaries? It is a nagging thought that occasionally wakes this correspondent in the early hours, for it could do him out of a job. Certainly, with hindsight there is hubris in the Review’s full title. Its purview is only “Far Eastern” from the perspective of somebody from outside, and even then seems to ignore the indisputably Asian Indian subcontinent. The term, too, was a colonial enterprise. As for Asia, a broader region beyond China’s shadow that the Review more and more came to report on, nobody there can agree on what it is, other than that it is not the West.
There's a blip of an argument making the rounds of far better-traveled blogs about the state of "black theater." It reflects the Far East Economic Review's crisis in the two huge questions it puts on the table: what are you writing, and for whom are you writing it?

Diverse voices are better, and a wider variety of topics is always preferable. But what if the focus of the argument is on the wrong side of the issue? Theater appeals to such a narrow segment of the population to begin with: who cares if the performers and playwrights aren't representative, if the audience isn't? And if you struggle to make sure the performers are diverse while the audience isn't, what's the difference between that and minstrelsy?

The FEER analysis reminded me vividly of our own company's struggles with its discussion of audience segmentation. Off-off-off audiences do not resemble society at large, and while COItc's sample is admittedly small, the crowds (when there are crowds) definitely consist of two mutually exclusive niches: mature and passionate drama hounds and well-meaning but tepid friends, family, and colleagues. Even curious colleagues from the day job tend to drop out of the pool -- I haven't seen mine in two years.

Forget trying to create a single advertiser's profile of that group. And forget for a moment who's experience we're talking about; ask instead who are we talking to, and to what purpose? FEER's dilemma is our own.

(And if you think theater isn't an elitist, neo-colonial institution, well, where have you been?)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

COItc's 2010 season, part 3 of 3

The final piece of our upcoming projects is one that is very close to my heart: our upcoming podcast series.

We've already begun rehearsals and hopefully will start recording soon. Here's the basic idea: we'll be pairing up our performers with short fiction authors to create recorded performances of their work.

The marriage of drama and recorded audio is so old it's new again. And there are people who are tackling this from all sides: making the literary dramatic, recording plays, and whatever the hell kind of performance art this is.

I guess the goal of our series will be the bridge the gap between these forms. I don't think we'll necessarily do it better (I cut my teeth on Prairie Home Companion and Selected Shorts on public radio; their performers are my gods), but I think we can do it differently. We're not authors who believe in the supremacy of language, nor are we performers who believe that the voice is all. The most important thing is the verb, storytelling.

We're a theater company; our work lies in telling stories, and usually these stories begin in script form -- but after weeks (months, years) of rehearsal, the text is gone, the technique is gone, and all you have left is a performer and an audience. All the performer has at their disposal is the ability to tell a tale, and to try to convince that audience to listen. Not necessarily to believe, or to participate, or to take action. Simply to hear.

The act of storytelling is one of the most compelling and intimate acts of performance, because it's performance in its purest form, and as a performer it's a terribly naked, revealing thing -- to be stripped of technology's toys, or the safety of theatrical conventions.

In reciting a written story, a performer must fall back on their most basic ability, to convey a series of actions with their voice, and keep an audience engaged.

As a producer it's been incredibly liberating preparing these scripts, because it means letting go of the thousand and one distractions that a stage play generates -- all the nattering details of programs, tickets, rentals, and fees. All of your concerns and efforts are focused on answering a single question: Is it interesting or not?

I guess you'll be letting us know.

[If you know any authors who would like to have their work read, submit it to]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

COItc's 2010 season, part 2 of 3

The second part of our 2010 magical mystery tour is our upcoming collaboration with playwright Felipe Ossa. Leah will direct and I'm working on the program notes. The production has submitted a proposal to the Brooklyn Arts Council for grants, and hopefully we'll have a few different venues to tell you about once it all comes together.

This is a bit trickier than yesterday's news, since I can't tell you the name, the cast, the plot, the setting, or pretty much anything else. Like All's Fair (Six Western), we're building as we go. What I can tell you is that Felipe and Leah Bonvissuto are a fierce creative pair. They've already teamed up on this past summer's huge hit Monetizing Emma [seriously, take a minute to check out that website] at the Planet Connections Festivity, and they walked away with pretty much every major award afterwards. It ran to packed houses every night, and was a runaway smash. I can say all this because I know it firsthand: I got to do an uncredited voice-over role backstage, and from top to bottom that was one of the most mutually supportive, happy, good-vibe casts I've ever gotten to watch.

Monetizing Emma imagined a time in the not-too-distant future when hedge funds pair high school students with private investors who underwrite the students' education in return for a future investment on their earnings. The play follows on Jane-Austen-obsessed, socially shy teenager as she becomes the belle of the ball ... right up until the clock strikes midnight.

They staged that play in June of 2007. That's right: just as the shit was hitting the fan about derivatives, gold-plated wastebaskets and all the rest of it, they had a play ready to go about the next logical step. That's killer marketing, my friends.

They attract good people and make good work, that Felipe and Leah. So I'm happy to tag along for the ride.

I wish I could tell you more about his next play, but every time we sit down and have a discussion about it, about a thousand different avenues open themselves up. Having read a few, and worked in depth on two, I think I can tell you a bit about his plays: they are painfully funny, sharp, authentic, and timely.

It's really quite remarkable to think, when you consider how long it takes to write, revise, and stage a play, that his topics tend to be spot-on with contemporary issues. There's only one of two ways to read it: he's either really lucky, or really good.

Leah and I can both vouch that it's the latter.

More news as it comes...

Monday, October 12, 2009

COItc's 2010 season, part 1 of 3

We announced to our subscribers some of the projects on tap for the coming season. After a flurry of projects in 2008-2009, the plan so far is to stick with developing just a couple of projects this year, to help focus our energies (and budget dollars).

The first piece of good news is that we'll be developing my new play, All's Fair (Six Western) over the next 13 months, culminating in a five-day workshop in November 2010 out at Centrum in Port Washington, Washington State, thanks in part to a generous space grant.

Some details on Centrum
Located in Port Townsend, Washington, Fort Worden—a turn-of-the-century army base--offers an unmatched combination of natural beauty and historic interest. Acres of saltwater beaches, wooded hills, and open fields are framed by stunning vistas of the Olympic and Cascade ranges and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s a place where the land stops, the sea begins, and the mind keeps going.
And here's a brief synopsis of the play:
Neil Patterson is a journalist being held captive by Islamic militants in Palestine. Prior to the trip during which he was kidnapped, Emily—his wife—learns that he is possibly having an affair with Cherien, his newspaper editor. During his captivity, Emily begins to have dreams of her husband that turn out to be no dreams at all: they are somehow actually communicating. After a folk-singer-turned-prophet camps out in Emily’s living room claiming to know a way to bring Neil home, and Neil himself seems to return out of thin air, she turns to her husband’s girlfriend to help her discern truth from fiction, as her wildest hopes become a nightmare.
What makes the piece a little more interesting is that it is, in fact, two plays. The combined text is divided into four segments, which are intended to be presented over the course of successive weeks.

The ultimate effect is that an audience takes a similar journey similar to that the characters themselves take, rather than an isolated, singular event that passes for commonly accepted theater; we envision creating a shifting terrain of evolving events.

It is a method that we believe fully embraces the immediacy and potential anarchy of live performance, allowing an audience to foster an ongoing investment in the story, one that develops over the course of multiple performances rather than just one.

I'll begin documenting the entire process in these parts in the coming months, but as we get started on the fund raising and casting efforts, we need ... pretty much everything. There's time before we head west, but in the meantime there are actors to hire, rehearsal studios to reserve, and tickets to book. Fun fun chaos time...

Friday, October 9, 2009


Not that I don't have high opinions of the man, but what is this nonsense?
President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it has awarded the annual prize to the president “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The award cited in particular Mr. Obama’s effort to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal.
That finally answers the question of what you get the man who already has everything.

While this is clearly a repudiation of Bush's eight years, it's also Exhibit A in the case for increased rewards from diminished expectations: the President doesn't drop trou and poop on the planet, and gets an award. That's like rewarding a thug for not committing murder.

I guess the Nobel Committee channeled my late great-uncle: that was for nothing, wait 'til you do something...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

random branding thought

I've been thinking about branding for a project that we'll be announcing shortly, and I was reminded of Michigan J. Frog -- remember him? The mascot for the now-defunct WB Network? Hello my Baby, Hello my Darling...?

I'm wondering why no one saw that for the terrible idea that it was. His primary cartoon (from 1955), One Froggy Evening, depicts a construction worker who finds a frog buried in a box with a special talent for vaudeville dancing and singing. You know the one. This one:

I spent many Saturdays watching this.

Why associate a television network with a frog that was only entertaining when no one watched? All I'm asking. No, actually, I'm also asking this: why set up an entertainment portal whose founding mythology confirms every slimy thing we think about producers?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Granted, for most of the planet, civilian control of the military is not a given; it is a luxury that for Americans the constitutional rule of law is an iron-clad tradition that has (as far as we know), never been threatened with a military takeover.

Now, with that caveat -- with the understanding that for most of the rest of the world this would not even qualify as news -- this is quite remarkable stuff. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates:
“And speaking for the Department of Defense,” Mr. Gates said, “once the commander in chief makes his decisions, we will salute and execute those decisions faithfully and to the best of our ability.”
On the pro side: that's a lifelong Republican, a servant of both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush who, without reservation, swears allegiance to a President of the opposite party. It is the clearest indication yet that perhaps there is a whiff of fresh air, of bi-partisanship and new purpose in our government.

On the con side: why does he even have to say it? Clearly, we have entered a new era of lawlessness: we are seeing a level of personal disloyalty to the office of the presidency not seen in this country since 1861. (Or 1963?)

Monday, October 5, 2009

not getting it

Baseball playoffs start (unofficially) tomorrow, with a 163rd game between the Twins and Tigers.

For the first time in years I don't have to miss them because of a show. (Heck, it's good to find the silver lining in theatrical unemployment, right?)

There are more baseball freaks in theater than it appears, but still, you inevitably run up against someone who makes two mistakes:

(1) they assume that baseball is just another sport;
(2) they think that baseball is boring.

To the first point: is baseball corporate, out of touch with its best qualities, and soulless on its highest and most profitable level? Sure. But so's theater.

To the second...sigh. Just sigh. Baseball is ridiculous. If you know how to watch the game -- if you're not just waiting for the pitch but watching all the players in the field -- it becomes clear that there is something happening every second. Exhibit one, this annotated sequence:

Take the time to watch this five minute clip as Kubel at bat and Mauer on second conspire to manufacture a run.

If you're not looking for it, you see Verlander and his catcher unable to agree on signs, a lot of stepping off, stalling, and an eventual sacrifice fly to center field. But in reality there's a cat-and-mouse game going on between two opposing catchers, a pitcher eager to throw caught between them. And what seems leisurely is suddenly revealed to be unfolding at a frenetic pace.

Still don't believe me? Fine. Whatever. Just lemme alone until after the World Series.

Friday, October 2, 2009

litmus test

This is my current desktop:

I'm not enamored with all that the President has done, but I like pictures of adults acting silly with children. And this President has some really cute pictures with kids.

But that's not the point. The point is that I had to have my laptop worked on today, and every time a window was closed, this picture kept coming back front and center. Now, honestly, what is your reaction to the President of the United States blowing on a toddler's outstretched dandelion? Aw? Shucks? Something, right?

The dude who was working on my computer? Nothing. Nada. Zip. It could only mean one thing: he thought Barack Obama is a soulless tyrant, or the Antichrist, intent on eating that child.

Which makes me think this picture is the perfect litmus test: do you have anyone in your life who falls mysteriously silent when you espouse the benefits of healthcare reform? Or someone who goes lukewarm when you mention what a great family the Obamas seem to be? Who quickly covers up their "I'm With Joe Wilson" t-shirt when you enter the room?

You might have a town hall silent screamer on your hands. Someone who doesn't necessarily attend, but agrees with 9/12 teabaggers; this someone might think people who go on potential martyrdom missions by parading pistols in front to the Secret Service are making rational choices.

But lunacy aside, you'll have someone without a sense of joy. And that's far more disconcerting than whether they advocate the assassination, overthrow, or deportation of the President of the United States.

But if you show them this picture and they don't react, they probably want all of the those things, too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 is a magnificant non-partisan project and I'm proud to be a participant. The latest fruit of our collective labor is now online. I've included the full press release below.


Voice Actors Record Senate Online Version of Health Care Reform

Unique, Non-Partisan Reading of Health Care Bills Brings Critical Issue Directly into American Homes

A group of volunteer voice actors from across the country and around the world has now recorded the Senate version of health care reform legislation making its way through Congress. The recording, available at, follows a successful recording of the House version that is fast approaching a million hits online.

The recordings are keeping pace with changes in Congress, and have now made it possible for voters to hear the Senate bill proposed by U.S. Senator Baucus (D-Montana). All modifications to the bill, including those adopted in the September 22 hearing by the Finance Committee, are updated on the site, as will subsequent changes in both the Senate and House versions.

The audio is free online at the site created last month as a public service for the visually impaired and those who prefer audio to text, such as the tens of millions of people who listen to audio books. Since its launch September 3 with the audio book version of HR3200, the House health care reform bill, the site has had nearly 1 million hits.

“We have made a firm commitment to track any health care reform legislation proposals and get them out there on audio as quickly as possible," said Keesling. "It’s important that as the country debates this issue that everyone – from those who are visually impaired to those who want to learn more while driving in their cars or folding their laundry – have the option to learn what’s in these bills."

The site is a nonpartisan, educational project. The 84 volunteer voice actors come from all across the country, and some from Canada, the UK and Australia. They come with diverse political viewpoints – but also with a commitment not to share those viewpoints on the site.

"There has been a lot of back-and-forth on this issue. While each of the voice actors who have participated have their own opinion, our goal is to provide information so people can make up their own minds based on what’s actually in the legislation,” Havens said. “We want to provide a starting point for a truly informed discourse on one of the most important issues of our time."
We Read...You Listen...We ALL DecideDiane Havens and Kathleen "Kat" Keesling, co-founders
Volunteer Questions? Write to us at: