Thursday, September 30, 2010

the coi podcast is delayed (again)


After a good stretch of getting new episodes released on a semi-regular schedule, we'll have to pause our pipeline once again while we deal with some technical difficulties.

Sorry.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ars Marginal

If you're interested in any of the following:

  • minority viewpoints vis a vis mass media
  • informed sci-fi fandom
  • the playwright's process
  • good damn writing

do yourself a favor and bookmark this site. You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

morality is a mule

The New York Times reported earlier this month that one of the most celebrated photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, Ernest C. Withers, was actually an FBI informant.
On Sunday, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. It was an astonishing revelation about a former police officer nicknamed the Original Civil Rights Photographer, whose previous claim to fame had been the trust he engendered among high-ranking civil rights leaders, including Dr. King.

[...]

Although Mr. Withers’s motivation is not known, Mr. Garrow said informers were rarely motivated by the financial compensation, which “wasn’t enough money to live on.” But Marc Perrusquia, who wrote the article for The Commercial Appeal, noted that Mr. Withers had eight children and might have struggled to support them.
The lack of any reaction among those not old enough to have participated in the movement themselves is a damning indictment of our society's sense of history.

On the one hand, many clearly see the political gains that resulted from the struggle to be pre-ordained. This bodes ill for those who hope to secure the rights of non-documented laborers, gay and lesbians who wish to serve in the military and/or adopt children, any many other marginalized groups. Why do we need to lift a hand to ensure social justice? These things just happen.

Another perversion of hindsight is that the enemy of change came in the form of chaw-chewing, pot-bellied, pasty-faced Southern sheriffs calling grown men "boy" and lecherously ogling African-American women; sure, if you live in the world of "Mississippi Burning" (or even, heck, "A Time To Kill"), but the reality is that the camps of "us" and "them" are far blurrier than we like to admit.

Through rose-tinted glasses, segregation was an unmistakable evil, its elimination an inevitable historical correction. Those who equivocated, opposed, or undermined the progress of history are the enemies of all that is good.

But in the event, things don't ever shake out that clearly.

Desegregating Southern society had the potential to undermining a large black middle class that had developed as an unintended byproduct of "separate but equal." It was a group largely destroyed by integration -- and nothing of its ilk has ever arisen to take its place. There were plenty of people who wanted to protect the status quo rather than cast in with a bunch of Communists and degenerates.

And there were plenty of people -- like, apparently, Ernest Withers -- who used the agitation of the time to make a quick buck off the strife between those who wanted change and those who wanted things to stay just the way they were. Withers had access to civil rights leaders, and the federal government was willing to pay for that access.

It doesn't make him evil, merely human. And it's a reminder that human motivations and allegiances are almost never as clear-cut as we wish they were.

Monday, September 27, 2010

you lose some, and you lose some


Some bad news: All's Fair (Six Western) will not be able to avail itself of the space grant from Centrum.

The grant, which we first outlined here, would have allowed us to hole up with a cast and director of the original piece in the glorious Pacific Northwest forest. And while we have received some spectacular monetary support for this project from The Puffin Foundation (and company subscribers), the funds raised weren't enough to underwrite the cost of the trip.

Oh well.

We will continue plugging away for our 2011 NYC Premiere, and hopefully we'll have good news to outweigh the bad in the weeks to come...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kevin McCarthy, 1914-2010


Last week the NY Times marked the passing of Kevin McCarthy, veteran stage, film, and television actor most famous for his leading role in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (I will always remember him as the cartoonish villain in the utterly ridiculous UHF).

The biggest distinction between stage actors and screen actors is one of work ethic -- to reach the pinnacle of one's craft in the latter means large payouts in exchange for as little effort as possible, while in the former to be at the highest levels is to work exhaustively.

McCarthy, throughout his career, was a stage actor in temperament:
Despite his film and television success Mr. McCarthy never abandoned the stage. The 18 Broadway productions in which he appeared included Moss Hart’s “Winged Victory” (in which he was billed as Sgt. Kevin McCarthy), the political drama “Advise and Consent,” Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and Kurt Vonnegut’s irreverent “Happy Birthday, Wanda June.”
[...]
But in 1991 he told a critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune about his feeling that purposeful employment was a remedy for many ills. “I try to get as much work as I possibly can,” Mr. McCarthy, then 77, said. “I love to work. I love to be in things.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

scripts for development


Even though COItc's Reading Series will lie dormant through the remainder of the 2010/2011 season (we're consumed with staging projects), that doesn't mean you should stop submitting.

As Literary Manager for our sister company, Oracle Theatre Inc., I'm tasked with reading scripts for the Truth Be Told and Playwright's Forum series. So keep 'em coming!

conflictinfo[at]gmail[dot]com
or
sergei_burbank[at]oracletheatreinc[dot]com

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the COI podcast would love to showcase your work


We've always been blessed with a steady pipeline of work, but it's worth nothing that we are always interested in reading submissions for the COI podcast. Submissions can be emailed to conflictinfo[at]gmail[dot]com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

re-emerging apartheid

You know the old chestnut: if you don't know who the sucker at the poker table is, it's you. A corollary: if you're at a table with Germany and they're not the biggest xenophobic asshole in the room? It's you.
France and Germany are embroiled in a diplomatic row after German Chancellor Angela Merkel flatly contradicted President Nicolas Sarkozy over Roma (Gypsy) camps.

The issue of Roma deportations from France dominated an EU summit.

Mr Sarkozy told a news conference that Chancellor Merkel had said to him that she intended to follow France's example in dismantling Roma camps.

Mrs Merkel's spokesman denied she had discussed the issue with Mr Sarkozy.
The issue here is not that in times of economic crisis, governments look for scapegoats while they finger their rosary beads and wait for jobs and complacency to magically return -- that happens all the time, and can be chalked up to simple human stupidity, and ignored. The problem is when those scapegoats are found (or created) within more permanent social subgroups, the discrimination against which will outlast any economic crisis.

When, instead of blaming equal-status outsiders for your own misfortune, you start to see groups that were already marginalized and suffering before your current crisis as the source of your misfortune, that trouble (and by "trouble" I mean institutionalized discrimination, hate speech, internment camps) begins. If you live in Tucson, Miami, Las Vegas, or Marseilles and blame recent arrivals from other regions (fellow citizens) for soaking up the few jobs to be had, you're safely within the former. If you blame undocumented immigrants (Mexican, Roma) for somehow eliminating jobs -- jobs for which your groups  never going to compete in the first place -- (a) you're an idiot, and (b) you're on your way to internment camps.

[This is exactly what EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding was talking about, and she was absolutely right.]

The insidious language of inequality continues on these shores. The Daily Beast has a pretty good rundown of The New Republic editor Martin Peretz's comments on his blog that Muslim life is "cheap," and the firestorm it has sparked:
In the article in question, Peretz criticized a New York Times editorial for defending Muslim-Americans against prejudice during the debate over whether to build an Islamic community center blocks from ground zero.

Citing violence in Muslim countries, Peretz wrote on his blog that “frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf, there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”
The refutation of his specific idiocy can be left to others who have already -- and creditably -- done so.

However, his premise is still troubling -- and is one that theater artists should see as not only morally repugnant, but a threat to our ability to create. It is a relatively recent commonplace that there is no such thing as a "cheap" life. Enormous diplomatic effort has gone into cementing this very assertion. It is not anywhere close to being universally accepted. And it's all to easy to give credence to voices which will argue that "our" lives are worth more than "theirs."

As theater artists, as storytellers, we cannot allow these such an assertion to stand unchallenged. From an amoral standpoint, it would simply negate our ability -- our right -- to mine any and all human experiences for instances of the sublime. From a self-aggrandizing one, we alone have the ability to discover and highlight the epic qualities of humanity's significance of history's well-known chapters, not to mention the deeper resonance of the mundane everyday -- not putzes like Peretz. From an ethical one, our voices have been at the forefront of the battle against this very ignorance for so, so long: the fact that his words are not immediately dismissed as insane show just how vital our work remains.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the danger of the narrow trench

Some potentially troubling reactions to this comic:

  • You find nothing objectionable about the world it posits
  • You immediately run this search
  • You're already on the robots-in-suits listserv

Thursday, September 16, 2010

innovative play reading series

If you're at a loss of things to do this coming Monday, our friends over at Monday Night Reading Series are presenting the latest installment at THE COVE in Brooklyn. Want to listen to new work? Want to be part of an off-the-cuff cold read? Take a look.

From the mouth of MNRS themselves:
This Monday night, the 20th, we're reading a collection of short new plays from an awesome group of up-and-coming playwrights at the The Cove in Williamsburg.
We're tweaking things a bit, too. Half the plays will be cast ahead of time, half will be cast live (name-drawn-from-hat style, fans of The Moth) and read completely cold.
Got all that?
Details:
An Evening of Shorts @ The Cove
featuring work from Bekah Brunstetter, Josh Koenigsberg,
Sibyl Kempson, Dan Moyer, Adam Bock, Gina Gionfriddo,
Richard LaGravenese, Rob Ripley and MORE!
Monday, September 20th
*Drinks @ 6:30
Readings @ 7:30
*actors arrive early, say hi and submit your names!
The Cove
108 N. 6th Street (b/w Berry & Wythe)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
*L to Bedford

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

new podcast episode

A new episode of the COI podcast is ready for download, as we wrap up Jason Andrew Updike's original work, "Avalon." As always, there are three ways to listen:

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



Friday, September 10, 2010

obsession

It's of course fitting that Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Cervantes' masterpiece, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, is a rolling disaster. It was immortalized in the documentary Lost in La Mancha -- essential viewing for anyone who has produced a play or film -- but beware, it's our version of a horror film. It looks like we might need a sequel:
Terry Gilliam has said his latest attempt to make a film about Don Quixote has stalled after his financial backers pulled out.

The director told Variety magazine that financing for his take on the Spanish knight-errant "collapsed about a month and a half ago".

His film, in the making for more than a decade, has been beset by problems.
By the time the book closes on Gilliam's career, it will stand as a parable for the many hazards of film making: loss of creative control (Brazil), tragic acts of God (Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus), and the pitfalls of chasing one's obsession (Don Quixote).

The danger of producing a work that obsesses you is that, if you're honest, you don't really know -- you can't know -- if your end product is any good. Obsession necessarily shuts out actual perception: you have an idea of what the final product is already going to be like (otherwise why would you be obsessed?). When you a chase an idea that passionately, you condemn yourself to never actually consummating the project, since you'll be chasing just the idea of it all your days.

It feels like this, right, TG?

This is not the finger-wagging of a pedant, but the lament of a fellow-sufferer. But good luck, fellow obsessives, everywhere.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

pretty obvious answer

In their recap of an interview with author Daniel Pink, the CS Monitor asks:
Author Daniel Pink argues that once you have "enough" money, it's not much of a motivator to work harder. So why do wealthy entrepreneurs keep starting new businesses?
Because sufferers of unfettered avarice and megalomania are too obsessed to bother with counting their money.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

short memories

I grew up hearing tales of great-grandparents who, having lived through the Great Depression, behaved in anachronistically austere behavior that during my parents' childhoods (the full-bellied Fifties) and my adolescence (the swinging Nineties) seemed bizarre -- scraping the wrapping paper on sticks of butter, etc -- but it seems the memory cycle has tightened considerably.

A case in point: why would anyone, anyone, who has lived through the past three years give this quote to a newspaper reporter:
“We have had enough artificial support and need to let the free market do its thing,” said the housing analyst Ivy Zelman.
Yup. "Experts" are saying that -- with unemployment at 10% and the economy turning towards a double-dip recession -- the problem with housing prices is that the government is simply doing too much.

Having just survived a failed attempt to be a homeowner myself, these articles fill me with terror; if, as it seems many argue, the Obama Administration has run out of tools in its toolbox to prop up house prices, that doesn't necessarily mean that some laissez-faire hegemony returns by default, does it? We've been here before. But, oops, I guess that was too long ago to remember in the internet age:
As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.
Guys. Seriously. You're not even changing the terminology?

While I support (most of) President Obama's policies, it has become clear that he has continued many of President Bush's initiatives in everything but name -- especially the conduct of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the human rights abuses perpetuated in our name in extra-legal detention centers around the world. But while he has abandoned the eye-rolling terminology of George W. Bush's ownership society, the Obama Administration's efforts to prevent mortgage defaults at all costs is the same desperate attempt to prop up unsustainable levels of consumption.

Which begs the question -- which bothered me the entire time I was failing spectacularly to purchase property -- if home ownership is the hallmark of stability that everyone seems to think it is, why would messing around with tax credits of $6,000 to $8,000 (a fraction of a home's purchase price) create such earthquakes? Could it be that it's a concept based on a fallacy? Like the ownership society? Like capitalism?

(Seriously, just read Naomi Klein.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

let there be light

It's hard to see the bigger picture inside a violent disruption of the status quo, but it's still entertaining to watch newspapers discover the concept of audience feedback, as the New York Times did on Monday:
In most businesses, not knowing how well a particular product is performing would be almost unthinkable. But newspapers have always been a peculiar business, one that has stubbornly, proudly clung to a sense that focusing too much on the bottom line can lead nowhere good.

Now, because of technology that can pinpoint what people online are viewing and commenting on, how much time they spend with an article and even how much money an article makes in advertising revenue, newspapers can make more scientific decisions about allocating their ever scarcer resources.
Throughout the Times piece, the ability to track a published article's popularity and audience is couched in careful terms stressing it's benefits, instead of being seen as an unqualified technological advance. Hewing too closely to audience feedback is pooh-poohed as some sort of degenerate rabble-rousing:
The New York Times does not use Web metrics to determine how articles are presented, but it does use them to make strategic decisions about its online report, said Bill Keller, the executive editor. “We don’t let metrics dictate our assignments and play,” he said, “because we believe readers come to us for our judgment, not the judgment of the crowd. We’re not ‘American Idol.’ ”
Instead of being a flawed (or, if not flawed, at the very least limited) business model, the era when newspapers didn't know (or care?) what interested their readers is held up as some sort of halcyon ideal:
Looking to the public for insight on how to cover a topic is never comfortable for newsrooms, which have the deeply held belief that readers come to a newspaper not only for its information but also for its editorial judgment.
A couple items for your brilliant editorial judgement scrapbook, Times:


(And what the hell, let's obey the rule of threes.)

Thank goodness the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray has the right question:
How can you say you don’t care what your customers think?
How, indeed? It's something Michael Roderick over at One Producer in the City noted well:
If you haven't ever asked your customers to give you feedback, it's like trying to catch fish with your [b]are hands.
Working in theater, audience feedback isn't an abstraction or some violation of principle, it's our very lifeblood. Some generic newspaper's principled stand against knowing what their readers think when  technology makes it possible is incomprehensible, and baldly suicidal.

But this obligation works both ways.

While there are raw numbers of site traffic and counting clicks, the article tracks more advanced news organizations that rely more and more on readers to answer surveys filling out their demographic picture. I'm one of those annoying minorities who refuse to answer questions about my race -- now that content providers pointedly ask for this information, is my tetchy obstinacy contributing in some part to unrepresentative media? Much as I resent it, media companies wouldn't even be asking the color of my skin ten or twenty years ago.

Friday, September 3, 2010

what you do with bullies

Last month, Michael Ian Black logged his exchange with what we're (I guess) now calling Tea-Party fellow-travelers:

Last night, as I was talking about how much I love the president (because I do), somebody yelled out “Heil Hitler.”

Heil Hitler?

My immediate reaction was to crumple to the floor, which I did. I don’t know why, except that it seemed to me in that moment that the show had now gone south very quickly, and if bottles were going to be thrown, I didn’t want to get hit.

But then I stood up and asked the person (shrouded in darkness, as people who scream “Heil Hitler” often are) why he yelled that, thinking maybe he thought it was funny in some obtuse way, like maybe he though shouting that would be interpreted as clever satire. Or maybe he was being ironic. Grasping, I know, but I honestly had no idea why somebody would yell that outside of a Klan rally.

But I am still being polite.

The guy in the dark says, “Because when you say you like Obama, that’s the same thing to me as saying ‘Heil Hitler.’”

The audience, predictably, starts booing. I ask them to please calm down, that I will handle this in a mature way. While I am saying this to the audience, I am thinking, How do I possibly handle this in a mature way.

So the audience settles down, and I turn to the gentleman and say, “Sir, I say with this all due respect - you are a fucking moron.”

And then I kind of lost my shit.
How, precisely, MIB lost his shit is worth reading through, but he ends his post with an apology to the anonymous heckler for losing his shit, with qualifications:

There was no reason to meet your idiocy with my own, even though you are a fucking moron.
That, in turn, brings to mind Shoutey McGlasserson's cogent rebuttal to opponents of the Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan. (Yeah, we're not calling it the G****d Z**o M****e, because it's not. Here are other things it's not: a dirigible tethering station; a BP oil derrick; an ice skating rink.)

The take-away here, aside from the helpful neighborhood context, is that "this is America, dammit" and banning houses of worship isn't really how we roll.

Which brings us to today's news that the Justice Department has taken "America's Toughest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio to court for his enthusiastic enforcement of the Nuremberg Laws not cooperating with an investigation into his enthusiastic enforcement of Nuremberg-like Laws. What sayeth thou, Grey Lady?
Obama administration officials called the suit the first time in 30 years that the federal government had to sue to compel a law enforcement agency to cooperate with an investigation concerning Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the department’s civil rights division, said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Sheriff Arpaio said he was surprised by the lawsuit since he thought his lawyers and those of the government had been close to an agreement. “I’m not going to be intimidated by the federal government going to court against us,” he said.

[...]

The Justice Department issued 51 requests for documents, most of which Sheriff Arpaio’s department ignored, as well as asking for tours of department facilities and interviews with commanders, staff members and inmates.

Sheriff Arpaio, who has denied that he engages in racial profiling, has remained defiant of the government’s investigation. His lawyers have repeatedly refused to provide the documents sought by the Justice Department or provide unfettered access to its facilities.

“It is ironic that the very sheriff who regularly demands that others turn over their papers has refused to turn over his papers,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which has been critical of Sheriff Arpaio.
(Snip snap.)

The bigger point is, just like Olbermann says above, when people are being idiots, it's your stand up and call them out on it. And hopefully not just in comedy clubs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

from the minds of others


While there must be an element of schadenfreude in watching the self-aggrandizing and over-hyped get taken down a peg, there's an interesting nugget buried inside the Guardian (UK)'s summary of new plagiarism allegations being leveled against blowhard and animal-cadaver-defiler Damien Hirst. First, the basic rundown:
While Hirst has previously faced accusations that works including his diamond skull came from the imagination of other artists, the new allegations include his "crucified sheep", medicine cabinets, spin paintings, spot paintings, installation of a ball on an air-jet, his anatomical figure and his cancer cell images.

Charles Thomson, the artist and co-founder of the Stuckists, a group campaigning for traditional artistry, collated the number of plagiarism claims relating to Hirst's work for the latest issue of the Jackdaw art magazine.
Now the money quote. Quoth Thompson:
"Hirst puts himself forward as a great artist, but a lot of his work exists only because other artists have come up with original ideas which he has stolen," said Thomson. "Hirst is a plagiarist in a way that would be totally unacceptable in science or literature."
Maybe he's just getting himself a bit overwrought by his own rhetoric, but the thing is, as copyright law runs now visual art is treated the same as literature now that (shock of all shocks) it's been warped and corrupted to protect the interests of well-heeled corporations with little to no interest in the actual creative process.

The point of this little jig is not to debate the originality or quality of Hirst (he's terrible) but instead to underline the point that intellectual property law is a god-awful hideous mess.

Just like Damien Hirst's body of work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

let's stop the fussing and the feuding

COI's central computing unit has returned from its second sojourn at the sanitarium. On its way out, during its final session of the talking cure, the doctor thought it would be best to hash out some thoughts on healthier living to prevent a relapse.

Since the unit is the final repository for the COI podcast (readers of the blog have even seen it in action), grant application materials, playscripts, and input for this humble blog, it seems a prudent course of action.

Things we should do, but probably wont
  • Not keep the COI podcast, grant application materials, playscripts, and draft blog articles in one place
  • Use cloud computing services to keep said materials available [not until a tablet that ain't tethered to ATT comes out; lookin' at you, Verizon]
Things we should do, but definitely wont
  • Not live in the digital domain quite so much, return to paper notebooks
Things we will do
  • Continue backing up data like it is a religious duty
  • Treat the laptop as a fragile, valued, and expensive colleague, and fully acknowledge that it owns the entirety of our creative output so we'd better shape up
That was therapeutic.
This time it's not Rudolph, it's sick.