Friday, September 23, 2011

WHO ARE WE BECOMING?

Anger only begets more anger. Hatred feeds upon hatred. Self-interest leads to the self-serving.

There is a serious need to put the brakes on, America, and look at who we’re becoming. While the Middle East is full of countries where the people are asking for their voice and their vote—after years of our encouragement—we in the meantime are reverting to a nation of greedy shouters, calling out
“Everything for ME” or “I better grab mine before someone else gets it.” We are entitled to do whatever we please. Through our own self-involvement and self-interest, we are truly becoming a mean nation.

It starts with small things—pushing people out of the way on a subway car or running over someone’s foot with a double-wide baby stroller. But soon it escalates.

A man gets executed on Death Row because the verdict said so—despite the recanting by 7 out of 9 witnesses, the basis of the whole case, not to mention that there is a man who has openly bragged of doing the deed himself. The plea to reconsider from world citizens, ranging from Presidents to Popes, fell on deaf ears. Somehow, “reasonable doubt” seems an inconvenience in the face of ego, pride, and an attitude of “I made a decision, I can’t be wrong.” And so a possibly innocent man is killed by the judgment of other men.

A soldier who has served his country heroically in Iraq is booed by an audience when asking about the change in the DON’T ASK DON’T TELL policy. And that crowd response is cheerfully encouraged by the potential candidates for our next Commander-in-Chief.

Activities like raising the Debt Ceiling are decried by folks who swear that Ronald Reagan and their other past heroes were Gods—despite the fact that Reagan raised the debt ceiling more times in his administration than any other President. But then, these are the same folks who block this administration's attempts and then try to blame the current administration for not fixing the problems created by the previous administration. It’s not about trying to do the right thing. It’s about insisting on being the one who’s right.

And no ideologue seems to be blameless in this self-serving rush. Unfortunately, this egotism is the one thing that is truly bipartisan.

If you deserved equal land rights, rights to the land of your birth, and you had even been told you have equal land rights, then you might be upset if the area was continuing to be settled deliberately by others while the talks and negotiations are still going on—and those arbitrating were doing nothing to stop it. Yet we think it odd when people pursue official recognition of statehood at the UN in order to put the debate on an even keel?

Let’s go ahead and set up hydraulic fracturing around the reservoir while, after years of asking, we STILL don’t know the chemical compounds being used (proprietary, don’t you know, like the special sauce of a Big Mac), and there still is no consistent, effective method for cleanup of the waste products. After all, if there’s money to be made, why not make it now and ask questions about health and the environment later, when it’s irreversible?!

This “my way or the highway” cowboy-ism has recurred over many centuries. (Italy and the Fascists of WWII come most readily to mind.) There is something wrong when the freedom to pursue your dream, your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, get trampled down into “Gimme mine and don’t let anyone get in my way.” Will it take a gigantic, cataclysmic slap in the face to get us to wake up and re-assess this shameful behavior? The Mayan 2012 predictions suggest not the end of the world but rather the end of life as we know it, the start of a new cycle. Perhaps there's something positive in that.

Anger only begets more anger. Hatred feeds upon hatred. Self-interest leads to the self-serving.

Saturday, July 02, 2011



WAY UP NORTH


Just back from another amazing trip to Alaska, my fourth within two years. How wonderful a place it is--breathtakingly beautiful!

And how sad it is that the first thing everyone asks about back in the lower 48 is the ex-governor (whom the Alaskans are exporting to Arizona soon). It is not that ex-Governor Palin--wait, how long was she Governor for?--it's not that any one single aspect of Gov. Palin's agenda upsets Alaskans to the point of rebellion, it's that along the way she became this ramrod conservative party-liner, spouting rhetoric and jargon along a narrow point of view, all conservative, all the time. (I'm told this wasn't always true of her before she became so spotlight- enamored).

Whereas a key trait I've found in most Alaskans (be they natives or subsequent immigrants) is that they have a VARIETY of opinions on all kinds of subjects, and no person is a one-trick pony: no one sticks to a strict party line like a safety blanket. Most of the folks I've met do many, many different things with their time, their talent, and their passions. They might be a taxidermist who practices Buddhism and dances ballet. The joy of sitting at an Alaskan dinner table discussion is that when discussing multiple issues, you cannot predict where each person will stand on any given subject. A fiscal conservative may end up also being pro right-to-choose or anti the war or pro gay marriage, etc. Alaskans are independent thinkers, deciding topic by topic what they believe, and they are usually articulate, well-read and well-informed, not to mention hugely involved in many cultures and the arts. It is a land of creative thinking and living.

I've just returned from the 19th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, one of the truly amazing treasures of the national theater scene. Almost 300 playwrights, actors, designers, and directors assemble for a theater "boot camp." From dawn till dusk (which at this time of year is 2 am!), you have play readings, topical workshops, professional theater productions, and even a wild and crazy fringe festival. We talk, we read, we theorize, we party and we celebrate a like-minded creativity. Plays from the Conference go on to productions all around the world, which is not surprising since participants are sometimes international (like my roommate this year, the gifted Jack Dickson, who came all the way from Glasgow!). And whether you're Marshall W. Mason or, well, er, me (trying to come up with extremes of the deservedly known and the unknown), all share in a splendid camaraderie that celebrates the art of play writing. The Conference also provides attention to a very special aspect of theater. Unlike too many movies made for mass consumption, a play can take a very small idea--about relationships or tribal ancestors or the financial state of the world or mother-daughter conflicts or terrorism or 50s zombie films--and create an event that causes real discussion, real thought, real reaction and real sharing. Now those who go into mass entertainment forms are not to be disparaged. Hopefully, the money they make on those ventures then trickles back down into the creation of smaller, one-of-a-kind art pieces. (Yeah, like trickle-down economics always works!). But think about it--the usual superhero/special effects film lasts about two hours or less, and the thoughts it evokes last an even shorter span of time. Whereas, if you get 50 or 100 people in a room to listen and discuss and share ideas, the effects of that encounter can last months, years, a lifetime.

Of course, I also enjoy the Conference because having bombed out at "summer camp"as a kid, it is the ultimate do-over: for a change, I'm somewhere that I have skills that matter, I'm not the LEAST popular kid chosen last, and no one steals my underwear nor do I almost drown in an overly-chlorinated pool. I am actually able to celebrate being a playwright.

It is not for those who wish to take it slow--as I say, you WILL go from 8 am till midnight or later, constantly engaged in art, but it is extraordinarily rejuvenating. To find out that there are like-minded people who care about humanity, about interconnections with others, about the survival of the planet and survival of its culture . . . well, again, you can see why Sara just HAS to move to Arizona!

Next season will be the 20th year, hosted once again at Prince William Sound Community College (a part of the University of Alaska system), and Conference Coordinator Dawson Moore has already put out the call for scripts for next year, which he no doubt will receive, as usual, by the hundreds. (For those who wish more information, you can visit their quite wonderful web site, http://www.pwscc.edu/conference/, which gets updated with amazing regularity all year round.) You go thinking it will be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure--and it is! But with the stimulation and the friendships and the creation and sheer energy created, you know the siren's song will call you back again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


CHANGIN’ TIMES

When it comes to the world’s stage, America has long had a bit of an ego complex: we are the paradigm for Democracy. We are the good that can happen when people have a voice. We are the exemplar for how other nations should behave.

Well, inevitably, a still (relatively) young nation is bound to have the ego and the preening pride of a teenager, which is what we are when compared to some of the world’s older sovereign nations. And we’ve had the energy and the bucks to back up our boasts, and, with a teenager’s heart, we’ve often been passionate and sincere in our desire to do good for others.

But in the same way that people who don’t let go of that teenage ego as they mature (or rather don’t) can shift from passionate to disturbingly pedantic, we as a people stand potentially guilty of the same over-weaning behavior, the same na├»ve assurance curdling into egotistical grand-standing.

If we put our money and our beliefs where our sometimes too big mouths are, then we are cheering for the people of Cairo, not because they’ve got it all figured out (as yet) but because they finally awoke from their apathy and said, no, we don’t like what’s going on and we’re not going to take it anymore. They demanded change. And while there were some skirmishes and mistakes made in the protest process, they were minor compared to the major task they were accomplishing. It is particularly significant that when some rioters started attacking national treasures, the crowd reminded them that these were the people’s treasures, Egypt’s treasures, and promptly created a people’s detail to surround the museum to protect the contents and NOT sacrifice them as part of the demonstration. This spoke both of a national pride and a realization that the art of the past is a vital and necessary part of our culture today. We should salute our brethren in Egypt, regardless of whether we are Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, because we support human rights, human kindness, the desire and the right to raise our families, to celebrate life and to live in peace and earn an honest living.

Many Americans have been strangely speechless this week, especially in certain usually noisy corners of Washington. On one hand, an open display of a fight for Democracy that was not instigated by us was a shocker, and we couldn’t take any credit for it. On the other, since we had supported the Mubarak regime, a regime that apparently had outraged so many that this was the result, we didn’t know what to say, especially as Mubarak had been our ally in the war on Terror, so that till now we didn’t want to ask too many questions about what else was going on. Fears have been expressed that maybe the new regime, still to be determined, may not be as favorable to our friendly “wishes.” They may not leap to our defense each time, and they may not be as generous with passages through the Suez, which could have a financial effect at the gas pumps. The question is: do we, the American people, really believe that any people have a right to their own voice, or do we support them only as long as it serves our interests? If their wants differ from ours, will we still support their right to choose?

Meanwhile, there are folks here in this country striving to eliminate NPR and the NEA and all financial support to our national culture, as if it were some senseless frill to be cut from wasteful spending packages. These are the same folks who refuse to enact legislation against animal cruelty, ignoring the warning signs that if we can be cruel to our defenseless four-legged friends, we are only a literal stone’s throw away from abusing those who walk on two legs who we deem “lesser.” And these are some of the same folks remaining fairly quiet when they see other people’s rising up to claim the rights we always say all human beings are entitled to by birth, the rights our Constitution trumpets.

This continues to be a strange and frightening time in the world and, yes, things are not the same globally, politically or economically. But the changes are not all bad, and often there are scary moments before change finishes yielding its benefits. Perhaps it bruises our egos a bit that WE may not be leading the charge, even though I think the people of the United States have in fact inspired our brethren in other lands to believe that they can have a say in how they live and who rules them. Rather than sulk, it is our time to not only support other people in other countries in their efforts to become independent, but also to re-evaluate ourselves and what we value. Do we value basic human kindness? Do we value decency to animals and others? Do we value art and culture as the epitome of our very humanity? Or is it always to be about money, who has the most, who shows it off the most, and who is more valuable because they have the most? We may not need a revolution—but a little bit of soul-searching and re-evaluation wouldn’t hurt us any, either.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


INSPIRED WORK

While great art stands the test of time, great artists survive not only by how their work is viewed over the years but also how their work influences other artists and audiences, sometimes even beyond their own lifespans. In a sense, they stay living--if you define living as the ability to interact and affect the thoughts, emotions and actions of others, which is the ultimate connection we all strive for in our daily lives. Artists of all stripes manage this neat trick. Just recently, sitting in Starbucks (yes, Starbucks!), upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing over the sound system, my mood and rhythm were changed entirely, my brain connected with the lyrics she sang, and, yes, at least for that moment, Ella was still with us. I've often found that upon viewing a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Gauguin--alright, gang, fill in your favorite here!--I am transported to another place. For those who favor the time-continuum theory, it's an example of recognizing a connection that exists in time, going beyond the merely linear. And certainly this is true of great writing, wherein our minds become hospitality suites for the words and imagination of some of the great literary lights, who live as long as we provide them hosting space in our heads. Thus we continue to rally to thoughts and emotions engendered by the works of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Shakespeare.

Certainly, Tennessee Williams manages to affect us in this way and continues to do so as we approach the centenary of his birth this coming March. Works like Streetcar, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Night of the Iguana, Summer and Smoke, and many more continue to fill theaters across the globe, while some of his lesser-known works continually pop-up like amazing gifts, often receiving more positive responses than they did in their initial productions in his own lifetime. But also of late, he has stimulated more creativity in the theatrical community, inspiring another generation of writers to explores his themes, his characters, and his poetry to create new work that is at once both original and tinged with the poetry, magic and humanity that one finds in each piece of Williams' work.

This weekend, a special opportunity to see and feel this influence will be available to New Yorkers when Blue Roses Productions, that sterling group devoted both to the works of Tennessee Williams and the development of work by new and gifted playwrights, will present a wonderful 90-minute bill at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex on West 36th Street. Tom's Children is a splendid collection of work inspired by Williams' poetry, with each playwright creating a new piece from their own imagination (versus adapting the poetry literally into a stage tale). The result is a refreshing, powerful and often humorous assortment of plays that take the audience through many realms while maintaining that wonderful sense of humanity (and sometimes inhumanity) that is the cornerstone of the master's work. Erma Duricko, artistic director of Blue Roses, conceived, curated and directed the bill, assembling work from such gifted playwrights as Kara Lee Corthron, Richard Cottrell, Gary Giovannetti, Dawson Moore, Craig Pospisil, Tom Matthew Wolfe and John Yearley. All have distinct and distinctly different voices, yet their work is of an unusually high quality. (I can say this because I have heard these works read and know just how wonderful and powerful they are!) The company has then provided a splendid cast, featuring Dominic Comperatore, Marissa Danielle Duricko, Michael Graves, Heather Lee Harper, Jim Ireland, Blair Sams and George Sheffey, stunning actors all whose intelligence and talent is most fortunately matched by their devotion to good writing. At present, only three performances are scheduled, so you'll want to make sure you get there this weekend--if not to selfishly enjoy it yourself, then to see it now in order to make room for all those other folks who will hopefully see it when it is brought back by popular demand.

Yes, Blue Roses is a group I like and have worked with--truth in disclaimer--but the reason I do is because of their high standards. I always come away transported, enlightened, and in love with what a good time in the theater can do for the soul.

Here's the information:

Blue Roses Productions presents
Tom's Children
new plays inspired by the poetry of Tennessee Williams
Friday, January 28, 2011 through Sunday, January 30, 2011

Friday, 1/28 @ 8:00 pm
Saturday, 1/29 @ 8:00 pm
Sunday, 1/30 @ 2:00 pm

Conceived, curated and directed by Erma Duricko, SDC

WRITTEN BY
Kara Lee Corthron, Richard Cottrell, Gary Giovannetti, Dawson Moore, Craig Pospisil, Tom Matthew Wolfe and John Yearley

FEATURING
Dominic Comperatore*, Marissa Danielle Duricko*, Michael Graves*, Heather Lee Harper, Jim Ireland*, Blair Sams* and George Sheffey*

Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th Street, 1st floor (but not the ground floor)
$15 suggested donation
Seating is limited so get your tickets or make your reservations now!
http://bit.ly/TomsChildren or phone 212-252-4915

*members of Actors' Equity