Monday, March 28, 2005
It's another opening day--tonight I sally forth to do ALL STORIES ARE FICTION, with the following topic:
Monday, March 28, 2005
All Stories Are Fiction #21:
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Diplomacy: the art of saying "nice doggy" until you can find a rock.
I'm also performing at Eating It this evening, at the Zipper...we're actually going to finish ASAF, jump in a cab and rush over so that I can do one of the last spots of the evening. I'll be on with Jim Norton, Jim Gaffigan and a slew of other talented folks. Eating It is a New York comedy institution, where stand up comics experiment with brand-new material.
Astute readers of this blog, as well as people who know me from "real life" may recall that I am not, in fact, a stand-up comedian. This is true: I've actually never done stand-up in my life. But it is also true that the line between monologue and stand-up can be a blurry one, and I'm always interested in those boundaries--and if one is going to premiere somewhere doing stand-up, EATING IT is pretty fucking high-end.
Which means, if it all goes poorly, and it may--well, I will be well and severely screwed. But if there's one thing I know about myself it's that I respond to pressure--so pressure is exactly what I'm trying to apply here. We shall see.
Oh, and here is Shatner's famous craziness: Rocket Man.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Monday, March 21, 2005
Monday, March 21, 2005
All Stories Are Fiction #20:
ON LACKING CONVICTION
Not every child thrown to the wolves becomes a hero.
See you at the show!
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Read the NYTimes Review of Books today, which I've never really done before--fancy, fancy me. I loved the stuff on ghostwriting, which I've always been fascinated by the politics of--this piece by Joe Queenan is pretty great, but the Sarah Lyall investigation of Naim Attallah and his now-rebellious ghostwriter of 15 years is priceless--check it out.
This week brings performances of ALL STORIES ARE FICTION and an appearance by me at The Moth, where I will be doing extemporaneous storytelling as part of the evening, along with The Sopranos John Ventimiglia, Andy Borowitz and a cast of thousands. Well, not thousands. Actually, I think there are 6 storytellers, but I am assured they will *feel* like thousands in their whole-bodied intensity.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
I do not know how you went out of my life
or when exactly. The leaves of the Norway maple
are beginning to turn yellow, fall has come.
I last saw you on an evening at the end of July
but I think you were already gone then,
I think by then you had been gone for a long time.
And so it seems meaningless to count the days
yet still I count them, August, September,
October now half over, terrible days,
And I do not know where you are
or when I may have news of you again.
But I remember as if yesterday the day
you came out of my body into this world,
a fine splash in full midsummer, a small cry
like the meow of a Siamese cat,
your eyes wide open and looking all around;
remember how in the early hours of that morning,
before you arrived, I heard pass down our street
(as I had heard each morning that summer
of my thirtieth year) the clopping sound
of a lone horse pulling a calèche,
his sleepy driver bound for the road
that climbs Mount Royal's slope.
No one can take away that morning
or the exactness of its place in time.
I go there often.
I visit it like a temple.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The show went extremely well last night...many thanks to all who attended (and there were a lot of you!) and a special shout out to the folks who silenced the drunken revelers in the audience--apparently they had expected the monologue to be straight-up stand up, and then were surprised when it wasn't. C'est la vie.
Speaking of breaking expectations, Vallejo is at it again--check out this short and succinct piece in the NYT on what theater needs to change about itself to become more relevant. It's clearly titled: Well, Cheaper Tickets To Start With. It's all great, but I particularly liked this:
Plays written for performance, not for reading. Too many plays are written today that prevent interpretation by a director or company - their intent is too literal, too predictable. They are written to be read, not performed. We need writers who question every idea of what a text can be, of how it can work with an audience, and who embrace the idea that an audience can leave a theater arguing about what the whole thing was about.
True, true, true.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Sunday, March 13, 2005
As recently as 1992: games cost 200K. Next generation games will cost 20m. Publishers are becoming increasingly risk averse. Today you cannot get an innovative title published unless your last name is Wright or Miyamoto. Who was at the Microsoft keynote? I don’t know about you but it made my flesh crawl.
The HD era? Bigger, louder? Big bucks to be made! Well not by you and me of course. Those budgets and teams ensure the death of innovation. Was your allegiance bought at the price of a television? Then there was the Nintendo keynote. This was the company who established the business model that has crucified the industry today.. Iwata-san has the heart of a gamer, and my question is what poor bastard’s chest did he carve it from?
Read more here.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Friday, March 11, 2005
From Reuters...apparently, he's experiencing angelic manifestations.
Playing Flight of the Valkyries, natch.
First, we went to a reading by the talented Clay McLeod Chapman, an author, performer and friend. We met him through the Pumpkin Pie Show, a remarkable ensemble of storytelling and gothic theater that he performs with One Ring Zero--they're really quite tremendous, and will be appearing at PS122 this spring, so make sure to catch them.
He's been out of the city for quite some time, replenishing his batteries in his homeland of Virginia, and it's a treat to have him back in the city. He told four stories tonight, and one of them concerning deer hunting season and a lost boy in a lost town was so haunting, I can see it in my mind's eye. Clay has tremendous gifts and a warm heart--it was a real delight to see him at KGB Bar, where the tiny podium with its strange light and the looming faces of fallen Communist icons makes what is, to my eyes, the perfect absurd backdrop to his stories.
Then it was on to the premiere of our friend Kyle's new rock experience, GORILLA MAN, at PS122.
There was fantastic energy in the room, and a fog machine used to good effect--nothing beats fog!
Then the show began--and what a monster! It was bursting at the seams, like the Fabulous Entourage but blown apart and rearranged with extra text--Kyle is a huge part of both endeavors, so it makes sense--but this was a great big mess of a show, with lots to commend it for. The singing was fantastic, and the staging is pure vaudevillian fun--the musicians act as a Greek chorus when needed, guiding the action, and the show is smart and sly in all the right places. If you're only going to see one musical about a boy transforming into a monstrous gorilla like his father before him, this would be the one.
We only stayed at the opening party briefly--I'm exhausted, and we have a lot to do before Monday.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
On our way out of the building we ran into someone who recognized me and said, "Oh, you're the lying fiction guy!" I nodded, a little confused, but she said she liked our postcards, and then she was gone before I could clarify that ALL STORIES ARE FICTION is not, in fact, a bunch of 'lying fiction".
I know it's a leading title, and so I made this bed myself by being clever, but I want to set the record straight before both God and Google by posting it here: All Stories Are Fiction is a series of autobiographical monologues I tell, and the material within them is wholly non-fictional. However, I believe that the act of telling any story is an act of fiction--the moment we make decisions about what to remember and not remember, what to say and what remains unsaid, in that half-breath all stories become fiction because the truth is vapor and nuance that cannot survive direct observation--our biases don't allow it.
But don't let this make you think I'm some namsy-pansy deconstructionist--I'm a big believer in truth, and of the truths that i hold to be self-evident is emotional truth, and that's the truth I think that stories are best suited to reveal. So the take-away here is that ALL STORIES ARE FICTION is autobiographical, always, now and forever--but just because stories are autobiography doesn't give them a license to not be fiction, and just because something is fiction doesn't mean it isn't true.
Engine like a Singer sewing machine, where have you
not carried me-to dance class, grocery
into the heart of darkness and back again? O the fruit
you've transported-cherries, peaches,
watermelons, thousands of Fuji apples-books,
and all my dark thoughts, the giddy
like bottles of champagne popped at the wedding of two people
who will pass each other on the street
in twenty years. Ronald Reagan was president when I walked
into Big Chief Motors and saw you
on the lot like a slice of broiled mahi mahi or sushi
without its topknot of tuna. Remember
I drove you to work singing "Some Enchanted Evening"?
Those were scary times. All I thought
was getting on I-10 with you and not stopping. Would you
have made it to New Orleans? What would
have been like there? I'd forgotten about poetry. Thank God,
I remembered her. She saved us both. We
together. Now we're not. College boys stop us at traffic lights
and tell me how cool you are. Like an
ice cube, I say,
though you've never had air conditioning. Who needed it?
I would have missed so many smells
confederate jasmine, magnolia blossoms, the briny sigh
of the Gulf of Mexico, rotting 'possums
along 319 between Sopchoppy and Panacea. How many holes
are there in the ballet shoes in your
How did that pair of men's white loafers end up in your trunk?
Why do I have so many questions, and why
are the answers like the animals that dart in front of your headlights
as we drive home from the coast, the
strung across the black velvet bowl of the sky like the tiara
of some impossibly fat empress who rules
but doesn't know if tomorrow is December or Tuesday or June first.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Saw the Wooster Group's remounting of House/Lights this evening down at St. Ann's--they last staged it in NYC in 1999 at the Performing Garage, and I feel very lucky to have seen it. Brantley's rave in the NYT is dead on the money:
The company has become the American theater's most inspired and articulate interpreter of an age in which machines mediate between the perceiver and the perceived, between subject and object. In its productions of the last 15 years in particular, it has increasingly specialized in ravishing, meticulous marriages of live and recorded performance that make it shatteringly clear reality ain't what it used to be.
And then, closing with the kicker:
The Wooster Group may be the only troupe in the world in which theater beats the movies at their own game.
I think he's right--there is amazing magic here, wound up in the electric lights and devil smiles, between the antic precision and their certain knowledge that the audience is with them as a guest and voyeur, not to be ignored and mistreated but delighted and subverted.
JM and I were walking home, discussing how strange ticket prices are--I've seen many shows that cost more than House/Lights, and many that cost less. It's rare beyond treasure to know that there are shows that are worth any price to see, and this is one of them.
Gorgeous shot of Mt. St. Helens this evening...if we were still at the Mark Spencer, we'd have watched it all evening.
Had a fantastic night--we went to Soho and met up with Sarah Richardson, one of the founders and artistic directors of the Rude Mechanicals, a fantastic ensemble out of Austin. They're famous for their bare-knuckle theatrics, amongst which is a play about Nikola Tesla, called Requiem for Tesla...check it out on their site.
They had a Tesla coil twice the size of ours, and she regaled us with stories of its incredibly dangerous qualities as we drank beers and kibbitzed like old, old friends who have only just met. We then went off to see all wear bowlers at HERE.
This was a real treat--a marvelous work of vaudevillian invention melded with modern existentialism, updated for the modern day. It delighted me in so many different ways, it's hard to count them all--and the palette! Working with seemlessly integrated film, these two men from Pig Iron and the Civilians make a clown show that transcends the tired hackery of so many others, and stakes out a claim in a space only inhabited by Sam Beckett in the past. Marvelous, masterful stuff--check out Zinoman's review in the Times, where he totally gets the piece. You really can't afford to miss this one.
A fast subway home compensated for the bitter wind, and now I'm making lists for tomorrow. Never done.
Tonight I'll dream of eggs.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
"People and squirrels are very different. Most people will not argue that. But I find that there is one situation in which they're very similar. And that is: when I am driving towards them in my car."
Man, a whole day with no blogging--and a Monday, no less! Given how active things have been lately, it must have seemed like the world was caving in.
In reality I've been cleaning--with Monopoly! down and an entire 6 days before ASAF, we're using some of this time to clean the house--laundry needed doing, dry cleaning, spring cleaning to our closets and such even though outside right now it looks nothing like spring at all.
All this week I'm going to see a lot of events around town, bulk-loading on shows before I descend back into work. Last night it was stand-up, with tickets courtesy of Ginger...we were at the UCB for an evening with Demetri Martin.
I know Demetri from Edinburgh, where we performed in the same space--my show was on immediately before his, and so we'd do change-over together. He's a very nice guy, and it was instructive and interesting to see someone going through a fame transformation right before my eyes--as that was the year that Demetri won the most prestigious comedy award in the UK, the Perrier award, for the show he was doing. I still remember how the first show he had a half-house and complained that no one seemed to understand his comedy. I told him that it would work out.
And it did--in spades. His second show was full, the reviews hit and he was sold out for the rest of the festival...they added shows everywhere, and it was still sold out. Every article was on Demetri, all the buzz was "DEMETRI!" and there was even some degree of a backlash movement, mainly consisting of "Demetri Haters" bitching and moaning that the comedy was too cerebral. When he won the Perrier it was a foregone conclusion, even though they almost never give that award to a non-Brit.
From our point of view it was a little hard to take--we had good houses, but they looked pitiful next to his massive lines, and considering that we came in with an Off-Broadway pedigree he cleaned our clocks, publicity-wise. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous--who wouldn't be?--but I was glad to see it wasn't that hard to control. After all, Demetri is a great guy, and the wheel spins for us all--and I like to have people I know do well, because it raises everyone's possibilities.
All that said, last night's show was slightly disappointing in that it wasn't an integrated "show" but rather disparate pieces of stand-up that he is polishing for the Melbourne Fringe. That said, Demetri is a very funny person--absurd, intelligent and penetrating, so that the hour whizzed by as he artfully knocked one observation after another out of the park. I prefer more narrative in my comedy, more arc, but I'm a monologuist. I did love the energy of the room, which was infectious, lively and YOUNG. So fucking YOUNG. What we're trying to do with my work obviously needs to bridge traditional theater and this--we need to bring ourselves to the young people, and the young people to us. I loved the room almost more than I did Demetri, but only almost--Demetri has a sly smile, and a knowing quality that rewards listening, and that is rare, rare, rare.
I hope his tour goes very well, but I'm sure it absolutely will, even if they don't get him on the first night.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Being a good party member was far more important than your skill level, and so my boss was a man who had been a pig farmer. After decades spent raising hogs, he suddenly was supervising dozens of machinists, most of whom had engineering degrees and had built bridges and buildings until we were reassigned to "practical and useful" work -- making parts for factory machines.
Working for Carly Fiorina reminded me of my days working for that farmer.
A sobering indictment of Carly Fiorina's time at Hewlett-Packard.
Baseless, I tell you. Baseless.
And now we are done with Monopoly! . . .for now.
And now, the time of Great Coma will commence, lasting for a time of at least 24 hours.
Friday, March 04, 2005
The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters
these by themselves delight, even without
a meaning, in a foreign language, in
Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve
all day across the lake, scoring their white
records in ice. Being intelligible,
these winding ways with their audacities
and delicate hesitations, they become
miraculous, so intimately, out there
at the pen's point or brush's tip, do world
and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist
balance against great skeletons of stars
exactly; the blind bat surveys his way
by echo alone. Still, the point of style
is character. The universe induces
a different tremor in every hand, from the
check-forger's to that of the Emperor
Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy
the 'Slender Gold.' A nervous man
writers nervously of a nervous world, and so on.
Miraculous. It is as thought the world
were a great writing. Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
Not only must the skaters soon go home;
also the hard inscription of their skates
is scored across the open water, which long
remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.
Q: If you're always performing stories about things that happened to you, how do you get time to go out and have things happen that you can then perform stories about? Are all the stories from before you started performing stories? Or do you go out and try to gather experiences to make performances about? And if so, doesn't that taint the experience and, later, the story and the performance?
A: That's an excellent question, one that I suspect more people have of me than are willing to ask, so let me address it in full.
I used to worry, quite a lot, that I would eventually run out of material as a monologuist--that I would run out of death-defying, tumultuous events and be left empty, or worse start inventing or self-inflicting drama upon myself to get stories. I was worried about this, to varying degrees, up until I started performing ALL STORIES ARE FICTION a year ago.
Creating a show every week made it suddenly, blazingly clear to me that there are stories everywhere--I had simply blinded myself to the different scales those stories come in, only seeing the largest and most obvious ones in my own life. That's reflected in my recent work: ALL STORIES ARE FICTION is almost journalistic, weaving together the larger theme of the evening with events from the preceding week that reinforce and deepen the story. MONOPOLY!, my most recent monologue, has historical detail built throughout it that lets the story range widely from my own life. Some monologues, like THE UGLY AMERICAN, are about the parts of my life before I was working as a monologuist, but I don't think that's the norm.
What I don't do is gather experiences to have the performance be about--I know that's a mistake. It's enough to immerse myself in a story and look for threads and patterns in the past--anytime that I've violated that it's always worked out poorly, coming back to bite my ass by flattening and dulling the story. There are more than enough tools, between flashback, total narrative control, emphasis and omission that manipulating the events themselves is really totally beside the point--and real life is a lot more compelling, for this form, in the long run.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Wal-Mart may have perfected this technique, but you can find it almost everywhere these days. Corporations are in fierce competition to get and keep customers, so they pass the bulk of their cost cuts through to consumers as lower prices. Products are manufactured in China at a fraction of the cost of making them here, and American consumers get great deals. Back-office work, along with computer programming and data crunching, is "offshored" to India, so our dollars go even further.
Meanwhile, many of us pressure companies to give us even better bargains. I look on the Internet to find the lowest price I can and buy airline tickets, books, merchandise from just about anywhere with a click of a mouse. Don't you?
The fact is, today's economy offers us a Faustian bargain: it can give consumers deals largely because it hammers workers and communities.
The New York Times - Don't Blame Wal-Mart
I find Reich's views a little simplistic and intrinsically upper-middle class...but then again, he is writing for the NYT, so perhaps he just knows his damn audience.
((Also of interest from Aaron is this wonderful piece he read at the Christmas party: Nostalgic Instructions for Agnostic Half-Jewish Theater Dorks))
That she was glad to sit down.
That her legs hurt in spite of the medicine.
That times were bad.
That her husband had died nearly thirty years before.
That the war had changed things.
That the new priest looked like a schoolboy and you could barely
hear him in church.
That pigs were better company, generally speaking, than goats.
That no one could fool her.
That both her sons had married stupid women.
That her son-in-law drove a truck.
That he had once delivered something to the President's palace.
That his flat was on the seventh floor and that it made her dizzy to
think of it.
That he brought her presents from the black market.
That an alarm clock was of no use to her.
That she could no longer walk to town and back.
That all her friends were dead.
That I should be careful about mushrooms.
That ghosts never came to a house where a sprig of rosemary had
That the cinema was a ridiculous invention.
That the modern dances were no good.
That her husband had had a beautiful singing voice, until drink
That the war had changed things.
That she had seen on a map where the war had been fought.
That Hitler was definitely in Hell right now.
That children were cheekier than ever.
That it was going to be a cold winter, you could tell from the height
of the birds' nests.
That even salt was expensive these days.
That she had had a long life and was not afraid of dying.
That times were very bad.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
...one humid afternoon when I came across a small newspaper notice that announced in large letters, "$25,000 POETRY CONTEST." "Have you written a poem?" the notice began. I had written a poem. I had even considered submitting it to contests, but the prizes offered never amounted to much--a university might put up $100 in the name of a dead professor--and I hadn't sent it off. This was a different proposition. With $25,000 I could pay off my debts, quit my jobs, and run the air on HI/COOL for a while. I submitted my poem that very day.
Two weeks later I had in my hands a letter from something calling itself the Famous Poets Society, based in Talent, Oregon. The Executive Committee of its distinguished Board of Directors, the letter informed me, had chosen my poem, from a multitude, to be entered in its seventh annual poetry convention, which would be held September 16-18 at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel and casino in Reno, Nevada. "Poets from all over the world will be there to enjoy your renown," the letter boasted, "including film superstar Tony Curtis."
...and it just gets crazier from there--one of my favorite Harper's articles of all time.
Harper's Magazine: What is poetry? And does it pay?
A psychologist at the University of Alberta, Hurd said that it has been known for more than a century that the length of the index finger relative to the ring finger differs between men and women. More recently, researchers have found a direct correlation between finger lengths and the amount of testosterone that a fetus is exposed to in the womb. The shorter the index finger relative to the ring finger, the higher the amount of prenatal testosterone, and--as Hurd and Bailey have now shown--the more likely he will be physically aggressive throughout his life
A mind-blowing special alert came via email tonight from David Schmader, an explorer of the weird not normally given to hyperbole...which is why it caught my attention when he declared the following, "the most mind-blowing news item he's seen in a month of Sundays."
The scene: The Starbucks Licensed Stores Awards ceremony, a celebratory/motivational leadership conference, held this evening in the fourth-floor ballroom of the Washington State Convention Center. "Boring stuff, as usual corporate things go," writes our man on the scene. But things took a turn for the surreal when the emcee announced "something special for you all--Jefferson Starbucks!" after which the hydraulic stage rotated to reveal a pretend band comprised of the upper-management folk the audience had heard speak earlier in the evening.
"They were standing in front of a huge American Bandstand-esque 45 single dangling in the air," writes our eyewitness. "And they all had on rock 'n' roll Halloween costumes: pink glitter wigs, white fishnet shirts, fake leather pants, as well as big fake instruments--a huge, oversized piñata guitar and keyboards. It was like a living cake decoration."
From this most promising of plateaus, Jefferson Starbucks quickly ascended to the heavens, lip-synching their way through a company-specific rewrite of Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City," the 1985 anthem that made fresh headlines last year by topping an international critics' poll of the worst songs ever. But tonight, Starship's crap was Starbucks' gold, as "We Built This City On Rock 'n' Roll" was reborn as "We Built This Starbucks on Heart and Soul!" with lyrics rewritten to celebrate the Starbucks way:
Knee-deep in the mocha/making coffee right
So many partners/working late at night
We just want to build here--IMDS, does it pass?
We call on development to complete the task!
Living the way of being,
In the Green Apron Book!
Don't you remember?
We built this Starbucks on heart and soul!
The rewrite even replicated the weird helicopter news report that appears in the middle of the original: "I'm looking out over hundreds of partners on another fantastic leadership conference and I'm seeing a bunch of everyday heroes!" "I couldn't fucking believe it," writes our poor, suffering witness. "The rest of the crowd was stunned, too. Eventually, the emcee berated them--'Come on you guys! Dance! This is your band! This is for you!'--and the crowd half-heartedly got up and just stood there." (A moment of silence for the million silent deaths experienced by the audience during the song's merciless four-minute-and-48-second running time.)
Best of all, before his departure, the victims were given their very own copies of the inexhaustibly mind-blowing song, pressed onto souvenir CDs and distributed with pride by Starbucks stars. Thank you for surviving and sharing. Humanity is forever in your debt.
And now, for your listening pleasure: Jefferson Starbucks.