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:

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, September 29, 2009

forest and trees, part 1

Are we missing a larger point here?

Exhibit A: in its post-mortem on the summer season, the NYT outlined how the top earners have lost their luster at the box office.
A-list movie stars have long been measured by their ability to fill theaters on opening weekend. But never have so many failed to deliver, resulting in some rare soul-searching by motion picture studios about why the old formula isn’t working — and a great deal of anxiety among stars (and agents) about the potential vaporization of their $20 million paychecks.
Exhibit B: A few weeks later, the Times recounted how Hollywood studios are mounting a legal battle against Redbox, a kiosk DVD rental service:
Redbox’s growth — it started with 12 kiosks in 2004 and now processes about 80 transactions a second on Friday nights — has Hollywood’s blood boiling. Furious about a potential cannibalization of DVD sales and a broader price devaluation of their product, three studios (20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal) are refusing to sell DVDs to Redbox until at least 28 days after they arrive in stores.

Redbox is suing them on antitrust grounds. Leery of waging their own battles, two other studios, Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, have signed distribution deals with the vending company. Walt Disney permits third-party distributors to sell to Redbox but has so far shunned a direct relationship.
This confused reaction on part of movie studios -- blaming the old models for not working anymore, and seeking to swash anything new and unknown -- indicate more clearly than ever that they have no idea what to do. Moreover, rather than learn from the still-dying recording industry's mistakes, they're intent to follow in their disastrous footsteps.
“These machines are to the video industry what the Internet was to the music business — disaster,” said Ted Engen, president of the Video Buyers Group, a trade organization for 1,700 local rental stores.
People sitting atop the tottering business models of entertainment distribution still don't get that The Internet Is Not The Enemy: it is merely emblematic of a huge shift in the distribution of information. It is no more or less threatening than the shift from vinyl to tape, or tape to CD.

The task at hand is not to put the business model in stasis, it's a matter of figuring out how to monetize the new technology. But as soon as new profits don't fit into the existing model (or at the existing levels), those with the most to lose from the demise of the outdated model scream that it's the end of civilization as they know it.

Their half-assed compromise is as sad as it is fruitless:
Analysts also see a threat to studios in Redbox’s practice of selling about half of its DVDs into the used market (after renting them about 15 times at an average of $2 a transaction). By signing deals with Redbox, Paramount and Sony got the kiosk operator to agree to destroy their discs rather than resell them.
With no better strategy, studios are paying to burn their crops, which is simply insane -- unless you're a three-year-old, breaking your toy because the other kids won't obey your rules for playing with it.

As always, there is a webcomic that explains it better than I have.

Even though the television and film industries share the same distribution channels (and same technological crisis) as the recording industry, the reaction of the former has been to go all-in with big bets, while shutting down its lower-overhead but lower return "indie" shingles; for their part, the major labels have watched as act after act has let their contracts expire, only to continue to release over the internet, or strike new types of distribution deals with touring companies.

For performers and writers, is there something we're missing? Are we racing for position on the the deck of the Titanic? Perhaps television and movies aren't in quite as dire straits as recording labels --at least not yet; but then again, we just got five hours a week of Jay Leno because it's cheaper than scripted television.

Why haven't we learned anything from indie bands using the internet to build a following? Hell, as painful as it is to write this, why haven't we learned anything from Dane Cook?

Where is the serious outlet for dramatic work online -- outside of yesterdays distribution channels masquerading as something new?

Monday, September 28, 2009

wrestling the fog

[The faculty of using my resources well diminishes when their number grows. --Robert Bresson]

Isaac Butler over at Parabasis had a wide-ranging analysis of the ever-present problems of what he's calling "indie theater." That's thing to define in the first place -- after all, what is "indie"? As he points out along the way, "there is very little institutional memory as there are, essentially, no institutions." Folks aren't going to adhere to a seating chart at the anarchists' convention; nor should we be imposing a collective strategy on no-budget New-York-City-based live theater: it's the chaos that creates its best products.

At the same time, there's no reason why we can't take stock of what's around. The piece can only be appreciated as a whole in its entirety, but some highlights:
Let’s just admit it: Supply vastly outweighs demand. This is why festival glut is a really serious problem. Individual shows have a very difficult time getting attention even when festival season isn’t happening. Now that festivals happen year round, getting visibility is even more difficult. The stereotype of indie theatre is that artists either (a) guilt-trip their non-theatre friends into seeing work they’re not really going to like and subsidizing it with the ticket prices or (b) that theatre artists make up the bulk of the audiences at indie theatre shows. While both stereotypes are based in some kind of reality (people who do theatre care about theatre and want to see theatre etc.), these both arise out of the same supply-demand issue.

Recently, the Collective Arts Think Tank has put some thought into this issue and recommends that we, essentially, cut down on supply. While I agree, the question automatically begged is who is meant to be cutting down on supply? Now, the Collective Arts Think Tank is largely centered around performance companies doing generative work, but it’s still worth asking. Vallejo Gantner is a co-signatory. Is PS122 going to reduce its programming by 50% while still seeking the same level of funding from donors and foundations? My guess is no (nor would I were I he). Who, then, is supposed to take the hit and reduce their supply? Who puts down their gun first in the Mexican Stand-Off of Off-Off Broadway?
This gets to the heart of the matter: Managing Director Leah Bonvissuto and I went to the NYIT awards last week to celebrate Roy Clary's nomination, and time and time again presenters referred to the indie theater "community." Butler's characterization is far more accurate: we're not in an artistic commune: we're direct competitors.
The truth of the matter is that as long as work is largely funded by the artists themselves with a few outside donations and the occasional foundation kicking in some grant money every now and then, there’s no incentive to reduce supply (unless the producers get laid off from the day job funding their theatre company). The market does not in any way influence what gets put on (this is a good and bad thing). What determines it is simply staying power. Who will stick it out the longest, go the extra mile, dump more of their own money into their shows, and who will go with them. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s one of the reasons why supply is so high.
I might be accused of missing the forest for the trees, but I will happily mis-read him because I think it's an important point: one of the contradictions theater practitioners continue to wrestle with is the thin line between competition and collaboration. Performers do this all the time, and so do producers, directors, and the rest. Teams and alliances are fleeting and temporary: we are all independent contractors who use each other only in the short term.
This is related to another issue (Which is interrelated with the next point). Success is poorly defined. A show that sells badly can still be an artistic success. A show that no one liked can still be beloved by its creators. If success is poorly defined, failure is also poorly defined, and thus a company ceasing production is largely based on factors that have little to do with the actual work.
Success is poorly defined because everyone is carrying their own yardstick for success.
it’s very difficult to convince first-time audience members to take a risk on indie theatre (Despite the excellent price point) because of their worries about the quality of what they’re about to see.
I think he misses the boat here entirely, though: you don't need to sell good theater to first-time audiences -- you need to sell the act of viewing theater itself.

There's also the point made in rebuttal to this post over at 99seats:
We work in lightning, in alchemy. You put together a group of passionate, energized people of varying levels of talent, organization and sanity, shake vigorously and sometimes, you get brilliance. Sometimes you get a big, fat turd. And that's the life we've chosen. But because of that, you know what: no one with money is going to give it to us, willy-nilly. Whenever I talk to someone on the "inside" about the crappy funding practices and wack funding priorities, pretty soon we get to the real crux of the problem: no one wants to give money to something that sucks. That's why basically every theatre in town, at every level, is exactly one bad show away from failure. Once you stink, it's hard to get that stench out of the seats. We're all dependent on hand-outs to survive, whether they're handouts from rich people or rich foundations or handouts from the government. And none of them want to piss money away.
So why be in a hurry to chase the money? Bresson was on to something.

Friday, September 25, 2009

friday night theater

I'm curating a reading for the folks at our sibling company Oracle Theatre Inc.; if you're in the mood to hear excerpts of new plays and down a glass of wine or two (and happen to be in New York City), you should check it out:
Oracle Theatre Inc Presents:
Join us for a night of new works, as Oracle Theatre Inc presents scenes by NYC playwrights:

Kathy Curtiss, Timothy Errickson, Felipe Ossa, Jessie Rosen, and Ella Veras.

September 25th at 7:30pm
Penthouse 1
Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street (between 8th and Broadway)
12th Floor & then ask for the Penthouse
Tix at the door are $5. A small reception will follow the performance.

"Truth Be Told" is our longest running program, that promotes collaboration and the development of new projects by a variety of different artists. If you are interested in presenting at a future event, please let us know! Join us and continue to support the arts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

oh my

Sometimes performance art appears in a place you least expect.
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, took the lectern at the United Nations on Wednesday morning for his first address at the General Assembly and delivered a long and rambling diatribe — far exceeding the 15-minute limit on speeches — against the Security Council and a host of other perceived enemies, while urging the world to welcome President Obama, referring to him as “our son.”

In the first third of a speech that lasted more than 90 minutes, Colonel Qaddafi focused on what he called the inherent unfairness of the United Nations, which gives the five permanent members of the Security Council far more authority than the nations only in the General Assembly. This, Mr. Qaddafi said, was dictatorship, not democracy and, as such, “was terrorism itself.”
Ninety freaking minutes?! In a 15-minute slot? (I'm curating a reading on Friday for Oracle Theatre Inc. If a playwright exceeded their time limit by that much, I think there'd be a riot.)

But check out the series of images over at the New York Times. This isn't just the bad behavior of a bully (although he is). Nor is it only the empty posturing of a tyrant (but he is that, too). This is clearly a tour de force performance. With annotated crazy note paper and everything. Makes you wonder if Andy Kaufman didn't die; maybe he just moved to Libya.

This kind of crazy needs to be studied. If someone doesn't post this entire speech in nine parts on YouTube by tomorrow, I don't know what I'll do.

By the way, aren't we glad he renounced nuclear weapons in 2001? Or do we think his "nuclear weapons" program was really just a big ball of tinfoil and rubber bands?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

you said it

Everyone is losing their minds because the President turned his back on photographers on the tarmac in Albany while he shook the Governor of New York's hand. It's essential that they know just what was whispered.

Apparently, the fact that it's been repeatedly reported that the White House political staff was all like don't run, David, you're just awful, and the Governor was all like hells yeah I'm running kiss my grits isn't the actual story here. Because we're in all elementary school.

Now the Governor has had a press conference since the man-hug-that-shook-the-world. He didn't want to, of course: would you want to talk about it if the Big Man on Campus -- the most popular guy in school who always manages to shrug off bigger idiots than you -- publicly declares you over?

I've already said my piece on why this Governor is a tightly coiled pile of fail. The White House doesn't even care about that -- they care that a hypothetical Governor Giuliani could become Republican Presidential Nominee Giuliani (dibs on the "Giuliani for what?" bumper stickers, by the way. Did I already call dibs on that here? I can't remember).

And then Governor Paterson -- trying, mind you, to tamp down all this stepping-aside talk -- says this:
"I have had conversations with the White House,” Mr. Paterson said. “I am concerned about the Democratic Party. But I am also concerned about my ability to govern.”
So are we, David. So are we.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

licking power's boot

In their customary tongue-in-cheek tone, last week's Economist not so much mourned the passing of Soviet/post-Soviet poet Sergei Mikhalkov as tipped their caps to a cynic in the first degree. (Link possibly slams head-first into the Economist's pay wall.)

Born to an aristocratic family pre-October Revolution, Mikhalkov rose to prominence under Stalin and penned the lyrics to the Soviet national anthem, and lived long enough to re-write the words twice: once under the Soviets, eager to distance themselves from Stalin's crimes, and a second time for Putin's post-Communist era. That's what I call ideological flexibility. (His survival also came at the cost of his soul, denouncing Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn.) The obit nevertheless puts his compromises into perspective:
Servility towards power is a ubiquitous phenomenon. An 18th-century English song, “The Vicar of Bray”, tells of a country clergyman who changed his allegiance with the times, Romish under James II, strongly Protestant under the Hanoverians, through every other point of the ecclesiological compass. The chorus runs:
And this is Law I will maintain
Until my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!
Mr Mikhalkov offered a Soviet version of the theme.
While my instinct is offer a smirk about echoes of 30 Rock pitches for Verizon, it's particularly vapid to equate the celebration of the murderous reign of a police state with the crass commercialism of product placement in our present day.

Nevertheless, it's always instructive to note how history is dotted with countless examples of artistic voices that chose not to speak truth to power, but instead to lick its boot.

We are a society that not only celebrates dissent, we fetishize it. Even those who condemned Joe Wilson's verbal diarrhea nevertheless place it within a proud American tradition of defying authority. While Wilson's suitability to keep such company is up to debate, there is a reason why we treasure lunatics who are brave or foolish enough to shout heresy at those much more powerful than they, and that is because it is historically so rare.

We have this idea that artists are by default brave outsiders who use their creative output to defy the status quo. The fact is that most do not. Most seek to get on the inside as rapidly as possible, and damn the (human) cost.

Monday, September 21, 2009

divine intervention

President Obama has sent a request to Gov. David A. Paterson that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race, fearing that Mr. Paterson cannot recover from his dismal political standing, according to two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Sunday NYT article goes on to recount how unprecedented such an intervention is, but how essential -- and precarious -- the Obama White House considers the President's Congressional support. The President's aides fear that Paterson will drag down the Democratic line on Election Day.

The man is toxic.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

calling them as they fall

Andrew Sullivan finds an appetite for McCarthyism at the 9/12 pogrom/parade. This is far more menacing than the gleeful know-nothingism that's rife in Congress with Bachmann, Wilson, et. al.

The glib lionizing of an era ruled by mass hysteria, character assassination, and the settling of political scores -- an era that ruined so many innocent lives in the pursuit of a phony ideological war -- that isn't an indication of a cheapened public debate.

It's burgeoning fascism.

If World War Two was truly fought to eradicate evil, and if we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, we will outshout, outspend, and outwit the voices in this country who would lead us down the path of hatred, genocide, and oppression.

And to begin with, we'll need to call them by their real name.

Friday, September 18, 2009

learning from the nfl

It's the opening of football season, and watching this silly sport has made me think about lessons we could learn from them; after all, if you turn the step back, turn down the volume, and actually watch the game being played, it's not just surprising that it's a ratings and revenue juggernaut -- it's a freaking miracle.

I am an unashamed baseball partisan; as George Carlin pointed out well, the differences between the two couldn't be more pronounced. The biggest thing is quantity of product: while baseball is a summer-long slog, with a season formed over hundreds of games, football is a sprint: there are very few games to begin with, and if any given team's venue isn't sold out, the game is locally blacked out from broadcast. In short, the National Football League puts many hurdles between the product and its potential audience. The result? High ticket prices, high attendance, and the high valuation of football as entertainment -- much higher than its actual worth, I might add.

Producers of live theater who work under the Equity showcase code are restricted to 16 performances and a ticket price cap of $18. Moreover, no videotaping of your show is permitted. In their latest concession to an overwhelming outcry on the part of theater companies for reform, Equity raised the budget cap and increased the limit on rehearsal time, but kept the performance and admission caps. Those of us who work with union actors are restricted to a very narrow window during which we can attempt to attract an audience. And once it's over, it's over.

But looking at football this week, I'm wondering if we're looking at this the wrong way. Yes, there are arbitrary limits on when an audience is allowed to see our work, and once it's over, it's gone forever. But perhaps we need to look to football -- treat performances as a rare commodity that audiences would be privileged to witness rather than a product with which we're desperate to saturate the market, if only we were allowed.

Being allowed to charge hundreds of dollars for a ticket would help, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

devil in the details (producing part two)

The introductory theater course at the small Midwestern college I attended as a smartass undergrad was pejoratively called "Baby Drama." Through the year-long course students (the majority of whom, of course, saw themselves as actors) were required to do units on every facet of theater, from design to technical theater. A unit that is woefully lacking is producing.

Every actor should produce at least once. (My union, Actors' Equity Association, does not agree. More on that below.) As I've noted before, producing -- in my estimation -- is notable by how unnoticeable the producer must become. This is a wonderful exercise for those who love being in the spotlight, as they must keep their hammy instinct in check.

It's right around here that anyone who's worked on COI productions will smirk, since the author of this blog is a repeat offender, simultaneously producing and playing leading roles in productions -- including the last four. Sheesh.

I will say in my own defense that I have always made sure to insulate myself as producer and performer/playwright by placing buffers -- directors and co-producers with veto powers and the freedom to make final decisions -- not to mention a willingness on my part to go along with those calls, even when I disagreed. If our shows haven't sucked it was not because I was in them or wrote them; it was because I made sure the final decisions on a lot things were in the right people's hands (hands that were NOT mine).

The theater company's name, Conflict of Interest, is an homage to the status under which I work as a producing Equity actor. I don't know where my letter went so I can't quote chapter and verse, but I am in violation of AEA's by-laws; I am under perpetual "conflict of interest" status for having being acted as both producer and performer. This is true even on shows I'm not producing. And I got the dunce cap after doing it just once -- a one-strike-and-you're-out rule.

This is because AEA is a labor organization, and views the theater industry as a classic labor model, analogous to, say, a car factory. In a factory, labor and management will never become one: an assembly line worker is not going to build a factory next door.

But of course theater is not at all like manufacturing: theatrical line workers (actors and stage managers) can and do build their own workplaces all the time. Instead of acknowledging the miracle of market flexibility that it is off-Broadway (ooh, sorry, we're calling it Indie theater now), actors lucky enough to make the union who also produce their own works are seen as enemies among performers, rather than potential allies among producers.

This rant is becoming stale in my mouth, since it's been my well-worn soapbox for a few years now. Rules are rules: they piss you off, and you work around them. The end. You can let them stop you, or you can refuse to do so.

Either way, rules don't care -- they just are. And the more you get worked up, the more the people who enforce them get worked up: the AEA point-person who first encountered COItc's name on showcase paperwork did not find the name endearing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

you know what they say...

...if you want to put something ugly behind you, sue. From the New York Post:
SELF-proclaimed sushi sufferer Jeremy Piven has slapped the Public Theater with a "cease and desist" letter over "The Piven Monologues," a comic look at the star's case of mercury poisoning and subsequent pullout from Broadway's "Speed-the-Plow." The show was staged last night and another performance is set for next month. Says Piven attorney Marty Singer, "We didn't say you cannot do the play, we said you can't make defamatory statements about our client." An arbitrator ruled last month that Piven did not break his contract when he bailed. A theater rep declined to comment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

location scouting pictures

Traveled Brooklyn with playwright Felipe Ossa looking for potential non-theater performance venues. Some results:
Casket factory. Should have done Timor Mortis here.

Not doing a show in the back seat of an old Chevy -- we're a family-friendly theater company.

And this could work for that Waterworld musical I've got in the drawer, no?

Monday, September 14, 2009

if you thought product placement was bad already...

With its typical breathless enthusiasm for the potential of any technological advance to advance profits, last week's Economist gave an inadvertent peek at the future when recounting luxury brands' furtive entry into the world of online sales.
Hamilton South, a founding partner of HL Group, a retail consultancy, thinks the future of luxury retail may not be online but on television. He believes that viewers will soon be able to use their remote controls to buy the clothing that appears in the programmes they are watching. Retailers need to stop thinking about making shopping entertaining, he says, and concentrate on making entertainment “shopable” instead.
Devising plotlines around conspicuous consumption will make trashy television even trashier, not that it needed any help on this front. But wailing over yet more product placement and ever-advancing advertising creep is pointless, since that train has long since left the station. Smart writers have been giving us brilliant examples of profiting from product placement, while tweaking the practice at the same time. (Since its inception, television programming has been nothing but a vehicle for advertising anyway.)

The trickle down to live theater was inevitable. That's not to say it would be anything new: performers have always tweaked their offerings to please the purse-holders ("Speak the speech..." anyone?). That's part of the art of theater: adapting for your audience (or your underwriters).

Our last production, The Third Seat, was glorified dinner theater, as waiters sold drinks and food before and after the show. On nights when sales were good, we didn't have to pay for our own.

If we had the opportunity to make another cross-marketing agreement with local businesses, COItc would do it in a heartbeat -- and we can only guarantee dozens of eyeballs. With potentially millions of eyes, the writer/producer who refuses to adapt their projects to accommodate an advertiser isn't principled, he's foolish.

That's not to say you can excuse compromise as artistic or beautiful. It's simply a market-based decision. No matter what level of achievement (or what side of the production table) you work on, the sooner you look at theater as a marketplace, the better off you'll be.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

there's stupid and then there's stupid

Sigh. Not weighty matters of state here, but I just have to talk about this for a second:
I'm not one to begrudge anyone their bubblegum, but not having seen a second of this show, this advertisement has been in the subway for the past few weeks, it just oozes stupid.

First, there's the concept -- forensic investigation is just too boring inside the beltway, let's put in in California with bikinis and because, uh, they have Navy bases there? I think?
The original NCIS (starring Peter Griffin favorite Mark Harmon) is already the idiot's CSI -- which is itself the illiterate man's Sherlock Holmes -- so we've got a derivative product of a derivative product, which, frankly, does not promise great things.

But it's the poster image itself that gets me inexplicably perturbed.

(1) Is this a buddy cop movie or a police procedural?
In the glare of their bronzed perfect skin I'm getting less of a nail the bad guys vibe and much more nail something else a la Porky's XVII (no I've never seen those).

(2) Why is the viewer looking up at them?
Is this a cheap way to add to their stature or something? Looks more like HookerVision, if you ask me -- is this a two-fer? Is that why they look so smug -- a great deal on hummers? (And good luck getting that image out of your heads, kids!)
(3) Why does Robin have a gun on Deacon's shoulder?
I've never worked in law enforcement nor do I have relatives or friends in law enforcement. I've never even fired a gun. But my complete ignorance notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure no one who does those things would ever, ever pose for a picture with a pistol next to someone else's ear. And if that looks stupid to me, I can't imagine how stupid that looks to someone who, you know, has to carry a gun for a living. (I doubt they're the target demo.)
What is the story here, anyway, other than the fact that they're really happy to be in LA? Where they chasing a perp but then stopped to take a picture? Are we the perp, about to go to jail haunted by the memory of their smug, smug faces?

I just ... I don't know why this poster bugs me so much. Probably the assumption behind the poster: that the viewing public will devour pretty much anything provided it has guns, boobs, and beer commercials.
So it'll be the runaway hit of the season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

the moment where this presidency turned a corner?

"... when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter ... at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves." -- POTUS No. 44

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

knowing your enemies

As the entanglement in Afganistan worsens and begins to increasingly resemble our past, it's important to be open to changes in the context. This week's call by the Taliban for an investigation into the air strike by NATO forces on fuel trucks that allegedly killed scores of civilians is an earthquake of a shift.

For the past eight years the argument has always been that the Taliban and al Qaeda were indistinguishable, repressive fundamentalist Islamic regimes responsible for a joint reign of theocratic terror upon the hapless Afgani population.

Until now, any civilian deaths by NATO/American hands would be presented by the Taliban and their allies as the inevitable result of invasion, and the central argument for the violent resistance to all foreign soldiers -- like the Soviets and British before them. [After all, al Qaeda's justification for its attacks on civilian targets in the United States is based upon an argument that Islam and the West are at Total War, with no distinction between civilian and military targets.]

In calling for the UN and other NGOs to participate in an inquiry, the Taliban simultaneously legitimates the humanitarian intervention by those groups, and de-legitimizes the Karzai regime. If this is the first step in a more developed position, and two camps could coalesce:
  • one with a multi-ethnic face demanding transparent rules of engagement with a welcoming hand to neutral international aid;
  • the other offering continued tribal strife, widespread corruption, and actively antidemocratic efforts to maintain its grip on power.
I know which camp our soldiers better not side with.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

it's not a crime in service of the king

Watching a marathon of Band of Brothers on cable, saw an interesting disclaimer coming back from commercial advising viewer discretion due to coarse language and the graphic depiction of "war violence."

Which got me thinking: what exactly is the difference between war violence and regular violence? It's not like other shows warn as specifically about "urban violence" or "farm implement-related violence." Would a viewer refrain from calling the FCC to complain about watching a man shoot another simply because he wears the right uniform while pulling the trigger?

Back in my Gandhi-obsessed Marxist days (a mode of thinking I'm currently trying to de-program) I would have a ready-made soapbox speech about the legitimization of state violence. There are still things that trouble me about lionizing the participants in a dark chapter in humanity's history; it's especially weird that someone would object to glorifying this, but have no objections to glorifying this.

We're already of a schizoid mind when it comes to violence committed during war, and the international prosecution of war criminals is not clearing things up:
  • The massacre of civilians in Darfur is not actionable as a humanitarian crisis, but as a war crime it just might be (but probably not).
  • The brutalization of civilians in Sierra Leone lands the president of Liberia in the dock at the Hague (war crime), but despite the much fresher corpses of civilians in Baghdad (collateral damage).
On top of all this is the far more disturbing fact that continent-wide war serves as fodder not for reflective art that would seek to prevent its repetition, but instead the background for much less ambitious entertainment.

(While it does nothing to end war, Band of Brothers is a great show.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

beware idealists

For all who wait to be governed by the pure, don't hold your breath. I'm particularly disappointed by those who condemn the President's attempts at building consensus as appeasement since the Republican Party heeds the shouts these days of the lunatic fringe.

The goal in building consensus is not to bestow legitimacy on Michael Steele for his stupid ideas, the goal is consensus itself. Because the alternative -- pursuit of ideological purity -- is a recipe for disaster, pure and simple.

As if the Soviet Union, Khmer Rouge, and Jacobin Terror had not provided enough examples, yet another one looms: Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. We'd already seen how far they will go to defend an illegitimate regime, but last week's Economist underlined their cravenness, outlining some very un-Islamic industries the IRGC has got going on the side:
The IRGC is also widely rumoured to control a near monopoly over the smuggling of alcohol, cigarettes and satellite dishes, among other things in great demand. One MP reckons these black-market deals net it $12 billion a year. This creates not just a drain on state coffers but an incentive to radicalise the regime; the IRGC’s commanders personally profit from Iran’s isolation, since it creates more demand for contraband.
(File that next to Taliban, heroin smugglers.) My old history teacher always warned about idealists in power. But they don't even need to be in power: if you believe you are enacting God's will and possess sufficient firepower, that's scary enough.

Friday, September 4, 2009

new poster

Courtesy of our friends over at A2K Productions...


Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett has suffered a minor injury after being hit by a prop during a live performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in Sydney.

The Elizabeth star was accidentally hit in the head with a radio during a fight scene with her co-star Joel Edgerton.

Audience members said she left the stage with blood pouring down her head. The show was subsequently cancelled.
She's apparently fine.

Dude. I wasn't there -- so what do I know? -- but as performers we've all been there: working with scene partners who get into the moment just a bit too much for safety. (I still have a scar from the Fringe show where my scene partner took some clippers to my ear. Yikes.)

On behalf of all us Cates to the Joels of the stage: take it down a notch, okay? It's not real.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

looking in the mirror

Something was on the tip of my brain when I read about the latest outrage (as if anyone paying attention -- on the anniversary of Katrina, with the gruesome milestone of 4,000 Americans lost in Babylon already surpassed -- as if we could be outraged anymore):
Security at the United States Embassy in Afghanistan has been seriously compromised by mismanagement and misbehavior among civilian guards and their supervisors, according to reports by a Congressional subcommittee and a nonprofit oversight organization.

The oversight group’s report said guards worked in a “ ‘Lord of the Flies’ environment,” where they and their supervisors groped and urinated on one another. They cite photographs that suggest guards have drawn Afghans into activities forbidden in a conservative Muslim country.

“Multiple guards say this deviant hazing has created a climate of fear and coercion,” the report said, “with those who declined to participate often ridiculed, humiliated, demoted or even fired.”
It was somewhere in my brain, rolling and rattling around, bit for the moment it was an idea too big to quite articulate.

We like our villains -- I know I do. I'd enjoyed making the problem all about Blackwater/Xe -- but that was moot, now that another private contractor has shown its employees to be craven schoolboys with guns.

Maybe, I thought, we could blame outsourcing of government work; but we know that regular soldiers commit atrocities, too.

That thing, that thought rolling around in my head rolled a bit closer to the tip of my tongue: maybe it wasn't that we'd found the wrong villain. Maybe the problem is that we were looking for a villain at all.

And there it was: maybe the point was that when you take the madness of war and occupation, add isolation, and remove any familiar signposts, maybe this is what happens to any of us.
But then, just as I had found the words, with the proper syntax and punctuation, I found that Tom Tomorrow had already found a way to say it better than I ever could.

"So, what's next?"

This is the question I've gotten more than I can count in the past two months. Most folks in COI's orbit have grown accustomed since last October to monthly -- if not weekly -- emails from us about The Next Show. It's been a couple months now since we were teasing any Next Show, and it's starting to get weird. And for our monthly subscribers, I'm sure it's a question that's starting to get a bit awkward (what exactly are they subscribing to, after all?).

Believe me, it's ten times weirder for us. I feel a niggling guilt when people ask what's next, and I don't have an answer. As an actor, it's not your fault when you don't have a project lined up ... but when you produce, it kind of is.

It's been a luxury to know what was next. But it wasn't planned: one show lead to the next, and then the next...and pretty soon we'd produced half a dozen projects in a row. Initially, we knew we wanted to do McReele in advance of the election -- we'd (unnecessarily, as it turned out) scrambled for the funds to secure the rights in December of 2007 .

I never planned to be doing project after project after project all through 2008 and up until July 2009. At the same time, it was such a high to look at a calendar and know what was next. Who was I to kill our momentum? (My checking account had other ideas.)

If you're a monthly donor, a well-wisher, an interloper -- rest assured, we are all working very hard to figure out what is coming next. Harder than we have any right to, since this is definitely not our day job. Keep asking, goading, cajoling -- one day soon, we'll have details.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

pigeonholing the penis-less (part IV)

They're still coming! Answers to our standing question: do female performers have to choose between being pretty or funny? As always, these folks want to be anonymous:
before I answer your questions, let me respond to the initial statements that triggered the article-- The Times has a profile of Anne Heche where the co-creator of the new series Hung, Colette Burson, says "It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35."

When i look at character breakdowns, I'm more drawn to descriptions that have to do with the character's journey or relationships with other characters. If it just states that she's "funny" or "beautiful" I tend to skip it. "Funny" and "beautiful" are uber subjective and unless there are sides or unless i can get my hands on the script to see if there's something in her journey that speaks to me, I'm less likely to go to something where it feels like it's just about looks or less likely to attend something where I think the expectation walking into the room will be, "Okay, try to make me laugh." In the case of the latter scenario, I'd like to connect with you, but if you expect me to "make" you do something, I think you're probably rooting against me, whether or not that is your conscious intent. As for the "beautiful" description, that leads me to think that it's just about looks and truth be told, I am not comfortable consciously placing myself in a situation where I feel I'm just being judged on my looks--I'm an actor, not a model.

Back to "funny." If you want "funny," I hope your script is "funny." If you want "funny," please give us sides. I don't want to waste your time. I am a big fan of sides! Sides allow us the chance to see if we're on the same page as to the kind of "funny" you're probably looking for. There's I Love Lucy funny, there's Roseanne funny, there's Buster Keaton funny, there's Andy Kaufman funny, etc, etc.
End of tangent. Now to the specific questions:

*So, what I wanted to ask you about. Have you experienced this kind of either/or dichotomy -- expected to be pretty OR funny, but never both?

I can't remember encountering this in my auditioning experience.

*How pigeonholed are you in auditions these days? By your looks/age/ethnicity/possessionof a brain?

I once had an agent who I believe sent me out on any and all auditions for Black characters who could sing just because I am Black and I can carry a tune. Anyone who has heard me sing (and he has-- I sang two songs for him in his office) would say that I have more of a legit sound. But most of the roles he had me auditioning for were better suited for someone trained to sing gospel. I did my best at the auditions, but I felt like he was operating based on my looks alone.