Saturday, December 31, 2011

PERMANENT INK
2011
 

Parker Duofold nib / Parker Duofold tollhegy (János Fehér) / CC BY-SA 2.0
Here's Bright Everlasting!
Here's a Crumb of Forever!
- Louis Bogan, I Saw Eternity

What a fantastic inaugural year!  This is not a perfect list, but I've come around to believing in the old canard "don't let perfect be the enemy of good."  There will be a few changes made for next year's list, but I'll get into all that later (I can opine and comment on another day.  It's New Year's Eve!)  I will say this:  I did actually check to see if these plays premiered in 2011 in Los Angeles.  So to the individual or individuals who tried to slip one past me:  Nice try, but no dice.

What follows are the top five original, unpublished plays that debuted in Los Angeles in 2011, as determined by a wholly unscientific survey.  In the coming days (once I've had a chance to vet them to ensure they indeed premiered in Los Angeles in 2011) I will publish an "Honorable Mention" list of the plays that didn't make it into the top five.

Without any further adieu, I present the 2011 Permanent Ink List! 

Small Engine Repair
by John Pollono
Premiered March 25, 2011 at Theatre/Theater.  Presented by Rogue Machine Theatre.
Read review excerpts on Bitter Lemons:  100% Sweet

Summary:
Welcome to Frank's Small Engine Repair Shop where men behave badly and deep secrets are revealed... in this gritty, candid and darkly comic exploration of friendship, alienation, loyalty and social networking. An alcohol-soaked, Bro-mantic Thriller.

The War Cycle: Gospel According to First Squad
by Tom Burmester
Premiered July 28, 2011 at Powerhouse Theater.  Presented by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble.
Read review excerpts on Bitter Lemons:  100% Sweet
Summary:
The highly anticipated third installment of Tom Burmester’s War Cycle, Gospel According to First Squad, takes place in the Theatre of War. On the brink of civilization in Eastern Afghanistan, deep in the deadly Korengal Valley, the men of First Squad walk the tightrope between boredom and terror everyday. In a valley lit by firestorms of chaos, courage can be proved by a casual walk to the burn-shitter.  As First Squad navigates the human terrain, winning hearts and minds from the Taliban, a new addition to their team threatens their mission, the populace, and their dreams of home.  Gospel According to First Squad will take you on a tour of duty -- as an American -- that will shine a light on our mission, our morals, and asks what you will do -- or won’t do -- to keep your freedom.

Quicksand Rising*
by Markietha Ka'Von
Premiered April 9, 2011 at the NoHo Performing Arts Center
Summary:
"Quicksand Rising" is a show that's based on the abusive relationships encountered by one woman.  It entails her struggle to rise in the midst of extreme chaos as well as the unraveling and rebuilding of spirit. In the midst of struggle to survive in a world where relationships threatens to pull her under; this woman fights to rise out of quicksand, taking courageous steps to take control of her life.

Monkey Adored
by Henry Murray
Premiered October 8, 2011 at Theatre/Theater.  Presented by Rogue Machine Theatre
Read review excerpts on Bitter Lemons:  77% Sweet
Summary:
When the monkey is taken to the animal testing lab, the dog must choose between his loyalty to humans and the use of violence to free the animal he loves.

Part wartime drama, part tender love story and part sex farce, Monkey Adored follows the exploits of a group of animals in a human-dominated society.

Hermetically Sealed
by Kathryn Graf
Premiered October 14, 2011 at Skylight Theatre.  Presented by The Katselas Theatre Company
Read review excerpts on Bitter Lemons: 93% Sweet
Summary:
The May family has its daily routine; the oldest boy comes home from partying at dawn the same time his mother, Tessie, begins her work baking cakes. At noon, Tessie wakes her younger son, Conor, and throughout the afternoon Tessie bakes cakes and Conor plays video games.

This day-today works just fine, helping them maintain a private, isolated world where they can keep their secret carefully concealed and almost evade their unspeakable pain.

This evening, however, when Tessie’s boss picks up the cakes, their carefully balanced life may be undone.
And that's the list!  A big thanks to everyone who played along, forwarded the link, and especially to Bitter Lemons for calling me a mad genius.  Let's do this again next year, shall we?

* I had a difficult time finding any information about this play, and it seems to have been performed for one night only.  If anyone has any information about the show, including any critical reviews, I'd be very interested to learn more about it.  It obviously had a very enthusiastic fanbase.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Biting Footbullets

This:
Walking to my car, I feel disgust and disappointment with the world. This whole evening has been so amateurish, so insultingly half-assed, it is as if the theater had stood up and said “Fuck you” to me. It’s even colder now, and I have to wait while my heater skims the frost from the windshield. I drive home to someone who loves me and I taste my bile a little less sharply.
(Read Jason Rohrer's entire piece at Bitter Lemons.) Boy howdy, have I been there. But what really drew my attention was this comment from Gedaly Guberek:
This is what happens when artists have a business that needs to stay open. “We need to keep producing non-stop in order to pay rent.” I don’t think you need an MBA to see the problem with this [lack of a] business model.
That has been my experience, exactly.  There was a time when I crowed about the old company producing twenty to thirty individual productions over the course of a year.  I was a fool.  You shouldn't chart theatrical success in numbers of productions, certainly not at the Under-99 level.  Success (and ambition, for that matter) at the margins is reflected in quality, not quantity.  Any idiot with access to a space and enough gullible friends can slam together a season of thirty individual productions.  Successful companies (like Rogue Artists Ensemble, for example) put their resources behind a small number of thoughtfully and artfully rendered productions.

It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's really not:  The best shows I've seen at the Under-99 level looked and felt like college productions.  In college we had the luxury of time; of stock costumes, set pieces and props; of practically living in our theatre spaces; and -- in most cases -- a guaranteed budget for each show.  To replicate that level of polish at the Under-99 level is nothing short of ... what's that word I'm looking for?  Oh yeah.

Professional.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 PERMANENT INK


Let's do this thing.
   
Let's generate a list of the best original, unpublished plays to debut in Los Angeles in 2011.
   
"The Black List" takes votes from studio executives.  Well, we're looking at produced plays, so I think we should include all comers:  Artistic Directors, other playwrights, critics, audience memebers, and all folks in between.  It may prove to be a big mistake, but we're going to do this on the honor system.
   
Just like The Black List, this isn't a "best of" list, it's a "most liked" list.  Voting will be closed on December 30th, and I'll publish the results on New Years Eve.  So vote, forward the link, and spread the word.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out!
   

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Fright Before Christmas

Art by Noel Belknap

Phillip Kelly and I produced our second variety show this past weekend, The Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy Rumpus Revue in: "KRAMPUSNACHT!" The through-line had me and the Rumpus Revue regulars playing a prank on Mr. Buddy. Since he had been a naughty boy all year, and since he still believes in Krampus, we decided to mess with Mr. Buddy a little bit. Little did we know that the REAL Krampus (played to the hilt by Scot Nery) was on hand. The through-line played out in bits and sketches between the acts.

Performing on our stage this time:

Comedy and Burlesque by Meredith Tittle (aka Honey Ima Home) and Red Snapper
Music by the Incredibly Odious Ari and the Capable Miss Puddles
A rap performance by Jayk Gallagher
“Gravinipulation” by our Craigslist Wildcard, Broadway Brian

We also had the usual slapstick hijinks of Chase McKenna as Billy and the absurd mimery of Jacob Smith as Pistachio the Mime. Phillip Kelly and I performed a couple of songs as well. At an hour and a half long, we need to either change our pitch or start calling ourselves “The Longest Hour-Long Variety Show in Los Angeles!”

Here are some observations and lessons learned:
  • Have a fall-back plan to cover for emerging issues. Holy smokes, the sound cue worked in rehearsal. But when it came time for Red to wow us with her fan dancing awesomeness, the sound cut out. As our booth op and the theatre manager struggled to fix it, Jake and Scot took the stage with some general, unrehearsed Tomfoolery. It worked in a pinch, but I think we should have a rehearsed bit that we can throw in as needed. (If it’s rehearsed we’ll probably never need to use it!)
  • Los Angeles is a crazy talented town. Our Craigslist Wildcards have practically stolen the show both times. These are complete strangers, folks, people we’ve never seen perform. The talent we know that we book are likewise incredibly talented. It boggles me that we are able to book such amazing artists.
  • We book acts that entertain us. This is the secret to a consistent variety show. Granted, we’re going for a patchwork quilt type of show; a Muppet Show-esque collection of eclectic acts. But since they are acts that Phillip and I book, they reflect our tastes, and our tastes define the show. Now, there is one thing that sucks about booking acts that you love: When you’re backstage preparing for the next bit, you can’t watch the performers you’ve booked.
  • Know your collaborators, trust your collaborators. Comedy depends upon trust. If you can’t trust the person you’re onstage with, you will hold them at arm’s length and nothing will land. You have to know and trust the people you share the stage with. That doesn’t mean you have to like them! I can hear the objection already: Laurel and Hardy couldn’t stand each other at the end, Martin and Lewis fought, etc. That may be the case, but onstage they knew they could trust the other performer. When that trust goes away, the partnership ends. (As it so happens, I love my collaborators.)
I would like to write a few words about Noel Belknap, the artist whose work has featured on our first two postcards.  In short:  She is terrific!  She perfectly captures the fun and fancy-free spirit of what Phillip and I do.  The image above set the tone for our show, as all good postcard art should.  Connecting up with Noel was serendipitous!

I will have photos before too long to share (from Markus Alias, another great artist!), and hopefully some video. In the meantime, enjoy this classic Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy performance:

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Hard Knock Life

A stimulating read at HowlRound today, by Howard Sherman:
I wonder whether the not-for-profit theater is guilty of what we accuse “popular culture” of doing, that is to say, constantly embracing the new and abandoning anything that can be accused of being “so five minutes ago” (as is that particular phrase). Do we lionize only the true hits and consign the vast body of literature engendered by and created for our stages to the dustbin of history? Yes, you can browse for them at the Drama Book Shop in New York or the Samuel French shop in Los Angeles, but beyond that, they require archeological hunts, facilitated by sites both commercial (Amazon) and altruistic (the dizzyingly thorough Doollee.com). But how many never even saw publication, relegating them to permanent anonymity?

I wonder if there is any research on the number of new plays that debut each year?  The number of new shows in Los Angeles is dizzying; I can only imagine that in more "dedicated" theatre towns, the numbers are greater.

There is a huge wealth of material out there, most of which will never be seen again.  It's kind of depressing to think about, particularly if you're one of the playwrights generating that material.  I wonder what is being done -- or could be done -- to facilitate the archeological hunts that Sherman mentions.  Doollee seems to be a step in the right direction.  Perhaps there is something we could do regionally to help producers find underproduced gems?  Something as simple as Bitter Lemons adding a "original work" tag to their LemonMeter would make it easier for producers to search for the best reviewed new plays.

Here's a thought:  We should put together our own version of "The Black List."  Instead of a list of the best, unproduced screenplays, we could generate a list of the best original plays produced in Los Angeles in the previous year.  Such a list might just encourage play producers in other cities to consider producing our homegrown drama.  Perhaps other cities would generate their own lists, and we could exchange and share our wealth.

This list would be specifically for unpublished original plays, the exact sort of work Sherman says are relegated "to permanent anonymity" for lack of publishing.

Where to start?  Digging through the LemonMeter for 100% sweet debuts?  Emailing critics?  Asking Ovation voters?  I wouldn't mind doing the tabulation, but I'm not sure where to start ...