Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Determining the Cause of Death

The show's over, we're all rested up, and we're eager to compare notes and find out how to improve on our efforts. We schedule a meeting.

Must we call it a "postmortem?"

Postmortems are conducted to determine a cause of death. Is the project/company/group dead? These meetings should be more like a doctor's physical than an ME's autopsy.

There has to be a more positive way to put this, that doesn't infer dredging up all the negatives and ignoring the positives.

What do you call these meetings?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

No Permanent Ink This Year*

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by AnxiousNut
The Permanent Ink List, our list of the best original plays to debut in Los Angeles over the past year will not be published this year. Your mad genius is a bit busy and won't be able to put it together.

If anyone cares to take up the mantle, have at it! 

* the irony is not lost on me.

Hollywood Burlesque Festival



This weekend, Hollywood has a Burlesque Festival!

From the website:
Hollywood Burlesque Festival is established to ensure the ongoing tradition of burlesque in the arts; to raise awareness and appreciation of an art form that both empowers and admires the human figure.

Our festival celebrates the glamorous yesterday and exciting today of burlesque over four nights of showcases, competitions, and film screenings. The action takes place at the Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057 and the 3Clubs, 1123 Vine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90038

I will be performing as one half of Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy on Saturday night, and I'll be teaching a prop-building class on Saturday afternoon. My lovely wife, Red Snapper takes the stage on Friday evening.

Tickets are on sale now! Come one, come all!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Average

Don't be average:
The safest thing you can do, it seems, is to fit in. Total deniability. Hey, I’m just doing what the masses do.

The masses are average. And by definition, we have a surplus of average.

Don’t be different just to be different. Be different to be better. 
Read the whole thing here.

So the goal is to be different, eh? To "Take the road less traveled by." Uh huh. Sure.

Aw shit, we about to get educated and shit:


"So the point of the poem is that everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter. But in reality, shit just happens the way that it happens, and it doesn’t matter."

Shit will just happen, regardless of the path you choose. So just pick a path, already. Don't worry about which is the better path, the safer path, or the surer path to success. Just pick a damn path.

Or rather, start walking down the path you've already picked. Yeah, that's right. I'm in your head now, and I know you already know what you want to do. You're waiting for some sign or for someone to give you permission to do it. Divine Providence. Well, that ain't gonna come. It's entirely up to you.

FOLLOW. YOUR. BLISS.
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
So says Joseph Campbell, the guy who coined the phrase. 

In our art (and in our lives) we have to make the choices that perhaps only make sense to us. Choices that make intuitive sense. Fritz Lang once spoke of a "somnambulant certainty" that guided his art. We all have that. Religious folk speak of the "still, small voice." Poets speak of their muse. I'm convinced there is a preconscious consciousness that has already calculated the odds and helps us determine our next step.

Often -- especially for artists and others who live and create on the edge of traditional norms -- that somnambulant certainty comes into direct conflict with our fight or flight mechanism. When that happens, we have to cowboy up and push through millions of years of evolution to make things happen for ourselves. It's painful. It's worth it.

The alternative is "average" and a life of quiet desperation.

What fork are you standing at? What decision are you putting off?

You already know the answer.

Tighten your bootlaces and get to walking.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Red Snapper on Video Auditions and Festival Applications

[NOTE: I am reposting this from Red Snapper's blog, Snippets from Snapper:]

What I Learned Being a Festival Application Judge

My very first festival submission video was shot in my living room over five years ago, and it was terrible. I was told by a teacher to submit, so I whipped together an act that was well-costumed but the storyline was very incomplete. I shot it in my living room and was shot down by two festivals with that submission.

Of course I was looking at my submission subjectively.  I worked hard to make the costume and I busted ass at the eleventh hour to get music edited and put together some choreography. With my resume of instructors and my lifetime as a performer, how could they not see how much potential I had and put me in the festival already?

I'm older, wiser, and more experienced now. I've suffered through seeing bad shows (largely plays) where I was not entertained but I'm sure everyone involved in the show was trying really hard. I've also been part of productions that I thought would've been better off closing early, going on hiatus to spend the time becoming something better, or needing an honest opinion from someone who wasn't so close to the show and trying so hard. I've also been part of an amazing play didn't get bumped up to the next level of festival competition because of the discussions that went down in the selection room.

The entire screening committee for the Hollywood Burlesque Festival watched every video submission. Even if we'd seen the act before, we watched the entire video that was submitted and worked with that performance for scoring.  We had a number system to make things as fair as possible. There were no write-ins, no comments sections for us to say, "Yeah, this video doesn't really showcase the performer's best act but we really, really, really like them and think they should compete with a better number." We didn't compare one performer to another but scored each individual video we were watching against itself.

I'm sharing the "inside baseball" from this experience because it was so wonderfully educational. Here are some of the most valuable things I learned as a performer from being a judge:
  • Lighting is important. We want to see you looking great, to take in all the colors of your costume, to see what you're actually doing. If your costume is black, the backdrop is black, and you have the red and green lights of a dive bar, it's going to be hard to see your act on video.
  • Framing is important. We want to see what you're doing. If you have to set up your own camera to shoot footage of your act, talk with show producers to make it happen. We can't tell what you're doing when you drop out of frame, and we may be missing the most amazing floor work ever. And we don't have to see the entire venue in your video, just what's happening on stage.
  • Focus is important. It's so hard to see what someone is doing when the picture is blurry. Your makeup may be amazing and the title of the book you're reading may be key to the act, but we can't see it if it's out of focus.
  • Do something worth watching. This probably sounds mean, but this is how I feel about theatre as well.  If you're not an incredible dancer, fill the act with personality. Make the best of the assets you do have and let them fill in for the things you're lacking. Boldly be you. Embrace and demonstrate what you bring to the table.
  • If you have to shoot your video in your living room, your performance needs to be bigger than your living room. Treat it like it's a stage and like you have a real audience.  Even though you watch sitcom reruns on that television, you need to regard it as a paying customer in your submission video. The dog and the cat become VIPs who deserve to be truly entertained when you shoot at home.
  • Video your rehearsals and watch the video. It's therapeutic. You can become your own judge to determine what works and what doesn't, where you need to add or subtract from the number. It's so nice to cut things that don't work and replace them with things that do, especially before you show that act to other people.
  • Tell a story/make sure your act flows logically. If your act is all about falling in love for the first time, don't grab your crotch in the first five seconds because it gives you nowhere to go with the story. In a burlesque act, you have to have a final reveal. The final reveal tends to be pasties, but could be a skimpier garment or a prop or a special ability. To be blunt, don't orgasm until the act is over or you'll be that person who act-gasms prematurely. ;)
  • Sometimes it comes down to numbers. You might be the next person on the list after the tallies, but there are only so many slots that can be filled. Your act may have been incredible, but the performance slots were filled by the people who tallied more points.
Watch your video before you submit it. Check for these elements. Try to watch it objectively. Enlist a trusted friend.  (My husband and I review acts for one another because we can't always see what the audience sees. We trust each other so it's really easy to say "that doesn't read for the audience" or "you need to wiggle your ass more there.") Think about what you want to submit to festivals and hone those acts.  (I know we only gave you thirty days to submit for our festival. "Surprise! We're having a festival!")

As a friend, I wanted all of my friends to get into the festival because I love spending time with them and I love it when they succeed. As a Californian, I wanted all the folks I haven't met in the face to spend some time in Hollywood so they might get a little idea of why I get misty-eyed every time my flight home lowers through the smog and I see my city. As a judge, I watched the videos and submitted my numbers.

I hope this gives my fellow performers insight for their future festival submissions. I know that being a screener has changed my standard for what I will submit for other festivals.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cultural Identity Theft

“You can’t steal a gift. Bird [Charlie Parker] gave the world his music, and if you can hear it you can have it.” -- Dizzy Gillespie 

Regarding Miley Cyrus and twerking ...
 
MISappropriation. That's the problem: misappropriation. Appropriation is a good and necessary thing for the creation of art and the furtherance of ALL culture. Flamenco dance has its roots in Jewish folk dance. Traditional Mexican music has Germanic roots. The French borrowed the necktie from the Croatians. The Beatles covered the Isley Brothers and George Clinton covers the Beatles. You can't steal ideas and you can't steal culture. The worst you can do is disrespect and exploit a people.
 
Mockery is disrespect and misappropriation. Ignorantly lifting culture without attempting to understand it is misappropriation.
 
Learning dance moves, singing a certain kind of song, dressing like a different group; admiring the "other" so much you want to be like them in some small way -- this isn't disrespect. It's the sincerest form of respect. It says, "Your culture enriches my life." It expresses love and admiration, like a child who loves an adult so much she mimics the adult's speech patterns and gestures.
 
We are all learning how to be human, and NO ONE gets to tell you where you can take your lessons.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Right Kind of Synergy

syn·er·gy 
n. pl. syn·er·gies
1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
2. Cooperative interaction among groups, especially among the acquired subsidiaries or merged parts of a corporation, that creates an enhanced combined effect.

John Mayer drops a new album in a few days, Paradise Valley. Mayer (and I have no doubt he's behind this) has made a Spotify playlist available of "Paradise Valley influencers." In other words, this is a curated playlist of songs that informed his songwriting on this album. Here's a link to the playlist.

This is the right kind of synergy, and a wonderful use of Spotify as a tool to both promote an upcoming release and connect with the audience in a personal way. This is something theater companies and producers could and should use!

For example: in my review of The Baby, I made note of the incredible preshow music they play, music that sets the scene better than any preshow program in recent memory. There's no reason why that playlist couldn't be put onto Spotify.

Or perhaps the composers behind the original music in a show like Songs of Bilitis or Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini could post playlists of their "influencers."

To reiterate my advice for using Pinterest, this tool should not be used for self-aggrandizement. Use it to share with your audience, to initiate and facilitate your conversation with them. Use it to get them excited!

(BTW, I've listened to Paradise Valley, and it is a delightfully informal and warm album. If you're a fan, it's a must-have. If you're not a fan, you may be surprised by its range and listenability. Regardless, check it out.)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Hollywood Burlesque Festival

Fasten your seatbelts ...



... it's going to be a bumpy (and grindy) ride!

The Entertainment Capitol of the World is hosting the first festival of its kind in our city, the first annual Hollywood Burlesque Festival! The vibrant tapestry of burlesque, it's glamorous history and effervescent present will be represented over nights of showcases, competitions, and film screenings. Talent from around the globe will descend upon the Hayworth Theater December 6th - 9th for this unprecedented event.

Yours truly will be helping out in every way I can, including joining the incredible folks blogging about the festival, and all things burlesque both past and present.

Applications are being accepted from burlesque performers, and advertising opportunites are available. Tickets go on sale starting August 15th, so don't miss that. And don't forget to follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

There will be a fundraiser for the Hollywood Burlesque Festival on Tuesday, August 27th at Three Clubs in Hollywood. That's a venue well known to burlesque fans and Hollywood Fringe Festival-goers alike. The line-up so far is nothing short of amazing. Find out more about the fundraiser here.

Burlesque has been my artistic outlet over the past many years, and I couldn't be more excited about this festival. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rewedding

Monday, August 12th, My wife and I will be renewing our vows before a paying public.


It's going to be one helluva show.


Comics will make funny, crooners will croon, and strippers will strip. But lest you think this is merely a burlesque on weddings (which I suppose it is, in a way) Red and I are sincerely renewing our vows.

Heartwarming and strippers? Friends, that's how we roll.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Done, For Now ...

I've learned to never say never, but as of this moment I believe I've written my last theater review. For now, at least. My schedule prevents me from getting out to see much of anything, and I'm beginning to question the need for one more Los Angeles theater blogger passing his easy judgement on the hard work of undeniably talented artists.

Before I hang it up, I thought I might share something. Some time back, Ken Davenport published his "5 Ways to Revive Reviewing." I started this draft back then, but only recently finished it:

Five Things I've Tried To Keep In Mind When Writing Reviews

1. Know my audience. After a review is published, I drop the company's publicist an email. Quite rapidly, that review will be visited a dozen or more times. It doesn't take a genius to see what's happening here. People intimately connected to the show are reading the review. My first, most immediate audience are the very people I'm writing about.

This realization led to a couple of policies around here. First, we try to keep the snark in our reviews to a minimum. Perhaps that keeps us from being a more popular review site, but I give zero fucks about that sort of popularity. Second, we try to treat the reviews like we're giving notes. Arrogant? Perhaps. To be honest, the vast majority of who I review may not care about my notes so much as my pull quotes, but for those who are interested, we strive for a certain level of honesty and constructive criticism.

2. My review may be the only experience some people have of the show.  What lasts? After the set is struck and the cast and crew moves on, what record exists of their production? There's the script, of course, but the text is potential energy, not necessarily a record of what happened. And good luck finding a copy of the vast majority of original plays that debut each year. There are the company's own archives, but these are rarely made available to the public at large, and more than likely sit moldering in a hard drive or banker's box.

And then there's the review.

Reviews are unique in that they (often) describe the experience of seeing the show. The script is mere literature. The company's available archive is mere publicity. A well-written review suggests the actual flavor of the show. Part of my job, whether I've liked it or not, has been to serve as an unofficial archivist. A highly subjective, perhaps unreliable witness to a tiny sliver of theatrical history, but a witness nonetheless.

3. Some people want to know if a live performance is worth their time and money. Is it an experience they will love or loathe? How splashy is the splash zone, how challenging is the audience participation, can I bring my mother to the play about the child molester, etc. The trick is to give people an idea of what lies in store for them without spoiling anything. It's tricky.

4. Theater is a unique art form. It's not film and it's not television. It is the rare art form that (with the possible exception of some heavily automated Broadway shows) is never in its final, fixed form. No two performances are exactly the same, discoveries are constantly being made, moments are continually explored. Each performance can be made or undone by the audience itself -- a matinee crowd may love it, and the evening performance could bomb. 

Nitpicking a hiccup is stupid. It's a waste of the reviewer's words. That light cue may never be late again. That one dark spot upstage may be a blown lamp that was immediately replaced after the audience went home. I believe that you should posses and employ a working understanding of how theater is made in order to write a worthwhile review, and trust that the folks running the show saw (and will correct) the same hiccup you saw.

5. There are no 'bad' plays. I can't remember exactly where I heard it -- it may have been Craig Mazin who said it, on the entertaining and education podcast he co-hosts with John August, Scriptnotes -- but I've heard it said, "there are no 'bad' movies. There are movies that work, and movies that don't work."

The same is true of theater. No one sets out to produce a bad play. I try to focus on where a play works, and where it doesn't work. It helps me focus my writing, and helps me achieve the other aims listed above.

*     *     *

Mad Theatrics isn't going to pack it in completely, but what we do next is anyone's guess, self included. Will I publish another Permanent Ink list? I don't know. (Anyone want to take up the chore? I'll help tabulate the results. Email me.)

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Baby

presented by The Visceral Company

review by Andrew Moore

Germaine (Natasha Charles Parker) feeds her brother Baby (Torrey Halverson), who wears a diaper and sleeps in a crib; looking on are (from left) sister Alba (Cloie Wyatt Taylor), Mama Wadsworth (Frank Blocker), and social worker Ann Gentry (Jana Wimer) in a scene from The Visceral Company's production of THE BABY, now playing at the Lex Theatre.
Fully committed to the tropes and excesses of exploitation cinema, the cast and crew of The Baby revel in this sick and demented little domestic melodrama. There is a sincerity is buried beneath every insincere choice and moment of over-the-top emoting. This is a loving farce of an obscure and obscene film, and is the most fun I've had at a play in a long time.

Baby is a grown man whose development has been frozen in infancy. When a new social worker comes a calling, her attempts to bring Baby out of his shell and into manhood open up a twisted game of cat an mouse with Baby's sisters and mother. The fun and games culminate in a twist -- a twisted twist -- that has to be seen to be believed. The story is fiendishly clever.  Most grindhouse fare would stop at the basic premise and fill an hour and a half with just that.

Director Dan Spurgeon (who also adapted the play from the screenplay by Abe Polsky) keeps a stilted script from playing stilted, taking every advantage of the hammy possibilities the material presents. It's always hard to guess how much an actor brings and how much a director elicits, but it is plain to see that Spurgeon created a safe space for his cast to blossom in absurdity. He keeps up the pace as well, and transitions are seamless.

The cast is fantastic, but three actors in particular stand out. Firstly, Torrey Halverson as the titular Baby never lets the mask slip. Never. Even in blackouts, one can see his silhouette crawling towards the wings. The unfocused eyes, the gaping mouth, the lax muscle control -- this is a characterization born of careful observation and diligent practice. And yet, even when Baby does creepy things (and a hat tip to Jonica Patella as the Babysitter for being party to the creepiest thing I've seen on stage since ... ever) even when Baby does unspeakable things, he seems completely innocent and without blame.

Jana Wimer flirts with insanity as the straitlaced, dedicated social worker, Ann Gentry. What is her interest in Baby? Genuine altruism? Sexual kink? Perhaps there's some unknown yet jaw-droppingly warped selfish purpose? Wimer plays the cipher well, never tipping her hand (until things get thoroughly tipped). Her moments of wide-eyed crazy are hilarious and haunting.

Finally, Frank Blocker as Mama Wadsworth. Look, here's the deal. The novelty of casting a man in drag as the matron of the Wadsworth clan is deserving enough of praise. It's a clever choice that adds a certain John Waters-esque vigor to this adaptation. The fact is, Frank Blocker owns every inch of this role, is in charge of every moment. He is an actor, as they say, fully in command of his instrument. It is such a thoughtfully charted persona, it's almost Shakespearean in magnitude. (Considering the King's Men did drag as well, that's not such a crazy comparison to make.)

I need to make mention of the sound design. They don't credit it as such, instead listing Neel Boyett as the Music Advisor. However it went down, whoever decided to program a preshow playlist with the creepiest cover tunes of 1970s soft rock hits ever recorded, kudos and thank you. You set the tone so well, I was chuckling before the house lights dimmed. Throughout the play itself, there were moments underlined by perfect music cues. It added so much to the evening, to the exploitation cinema feel, I can't imagine the show without them.

The Visceral Company is extending their run of The Baby to the end of August. Don't miss this funny and perverse excursion into 1970s cinema excess.

The Baby has playtime on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm through August 31st at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., in Hollywood (just east of Highland.) Street parking is available, but you will have to hunt for it. Get there early and be sure to read the street signs. Tickets are available online. Be advised that there is some nudity and (disturbing) adult situations.

Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini

Sacred Fools present the new play by Jaime Robledo

review by Andrew Moore

Scott Leggett as Watson. Photo by Jessica Sherman Photography

Perhaps I should have seen Watson: The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes. I get the impression that had I seen the first play, the sequel would have been easier to digest. Despite the best efforts of a cast and crew who really endeavor to put on a great show, Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini was ultimately an empty experience for me.

It's difficult to delve into exactly why this didn't work for me without spoiling the end of the play, so consider yourself warned. Watson and Holmes, who have had a falling out after the events of the first play, are drawn together to solve a series of ritualistic murders that seem to involve the Ectoplasmic Man himself, Harry Houdini. As the plot thickens, reality itself begins to dissolve, and the final case of Watson's career shuffles off with his mortal coil. We are left with an incomplete and unsatisfying narrative, an unfortunate end for an otherwise enticing, magical evening of theatre.

Michael James Schneider provides an evocative unit set framed by latticework and incandescent bulbs. Matthew Richter paints this set with his lights, digging into his bag of tricks to add a pleasing aesthetic to the cast's pantomimes. The combination of sound and lighting design with low-tech theatrical solutions is a large part of this show's charm: a reenactment of a murder performed as though a silent film, complete with flickering lights;  a foot pursuit through Coney Island's carnival barkers and a carousel; the mental hall of mirrors Watson finds himself in -- all very well executed and exciting to take in.

Murder most foul. Photo by Jessica Sherman Photography

These clever solutions are the work of writer/director Jaime Robledo. Robledo has a keen mind for crafting theatrical solutions to staging problems. His stage is a funhouse of movement, and this is reason enough to take in Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini. Recalling how he staged the shuffleboard game between Houdini and Holmes brings a smile to my face. Delightful, inventive work.

The cast is simply wonderful. Scott Leggett's Watson is stately and endearing; a man conflicted, resolute in his fidelity to his lost wife, trying to come to terms with the loss but not quite ready to move on. Joe Fria brings a spritely, good-natured narcissism to his turn as Sherlock. He's brilliant yet obtuse, cunning yet clumsy. Donal Thomas-Cappello shines as Harry Houdini. Introduced as an affable American with a subtle air of menace, the character may fizzle in the second act, but Thomas-Cappello's commitment to the role never does. Graham Skipper is memorable in dual roles, as the buoyant sensationalist Pike and the wise-cracking bullscheisser, Freud.

Where Watson falls down for me is in the writing. It's a muddled script that doesn't know what it wants to be. An original yet relatively loyal take on Doyle's universe, an anachronistic romp, or perhaps some hybrid of the two? It seems this last approach is Robledo's target but the script lacks the focus to achieve this aim. When the plot twists -- or perhaps is abandoned in favor of an expedient close -- we are left with an unsatisfying and dreary end. The crimes our heroes are investigating and Houdini's ambiguity is all for naught. All the great stuff Robledo sets up doesn't pay off. Even as Watson realizes what has happened to him, it's not a mystery that he solves, piecing together what the events of the play add up to, but rather an understanding that feels handed to him.

It is frustrating, because I really wanted to like this show. It has everything going for it, save the most important thing. The quality stagecraft, earnest performances, and clever direction can't make up for where the show breaks down: the script.

Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini is exhibited Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm through July 27th, at the Sacred Fools Theater, 600 N. Heliotrope Dr. (Just south of Melrose and just west of Vermont.) Street parking is ample, but there is a pay lot at the theater. Tickets are available online.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Do You Feel?

I attended a screening of Star Trek: Into Darkness last night that was followed by a Q&A with composer Michael Giacchino and producer Bryan Burk. During the Q&A, Giacchino spoke of his process, saying that what he does is translate his emotional responses to whatever movie or TV show he's composing for into the music. This got me to thinking.

Do we serve as emotional ambassadors to our audiences? Is it our job to have an emotional response to a story, and translate that response into a physical form: as music, performance, direction, design, even the writing of the story? Are we in fact being paid, not just to tell a story, but to have an emotional response to the story we tell?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kill Me

The Visceral Company presents the Los Angeles premiere of a play by Scott T. Barsotti.

review by Andrew Moore
Cam (Natasha Charles Parker), center, surrounded by (clockwise from left), her sister Wendy (Angela Stern); the four Miseries: Paranoia (Yanna Fabian), Despair (Alexander Price), Dread (Karen Nicole), and Angst (Lamont Webb); and her lover Grace (Jonica Patella), in a scene from Kill Me, now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 2.

Some works of art disturb you, dominate your thoughts, haunt you. Kill Me has the potential to dig its hooks into an audience's psyche, and The Visceral Company's production of this difficult piece very nearly achieves this end. The flaws in the production are significant but not fatal. Kill Me is an intense, suspenseful evening of theater that fans of psychological horror should seek out.

The play opens with a great bit of John McCormick's sound design over blackout, followed by the lyrical pyrotechnics of overlapping dialogue. The audience is injected into the world of the play with immediacy and intensity. Cam (an earnest and committed Natasha Charles Parker) emerges from a life--and sanity--altering experience. Her estranged sister Wendy (Angela Stern) and lover Grace (Jonica Patella) struggle to understand her and help her heal. Cam is haunted by the Miseries, four actors who embody Paranoia, Dread, Despair, and Angst.

Kill Me is a gripping glimpse into schizophrenia; into the horror of living with someone who is so convinced by the reality of her delusions, her loved ones begin to believe as well. It is about the potential contagion of mental illness, and the frightening possibility that the ravings of a lunatic may be prophetic and true. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti has painted a compelling picture. There are moments so ... well, moments so visceral, they are almost impossible to process on a logical level.

The problem is there is no build to these moments. Patella in particular is cranked up pretty high on the intensity scale from the beginning, with nowhere really to go. Even at Grace's weakest, most vulnerable moments she continues with full intensity. Ultimately, it cheats the depth her final moment onstage should have. That's unfortunate, because her journey is the most interesting of the three main characters. Director Dan Spurgeon needs to find the peaks and valleys and exploit them with his actors. Otherwise, it's just an onslaught.

There are other opportunities here that remain unexploited. Given the nature of the dialogue, the fluidity of the scenes, and the dreamlike quality of the show overall it is dismaying that Spurgeon opted for rather static blocking throughout. The choices Spurgeon made lead to awkward transitions at times. For instance, the Miseries are forced to retreat in full view of the audience after particularly feverish interaction with an actor. Slinking backwards to the wings. There is no proper ebb to the flow.

Regarding the Miseries, designers Erica D. Schwartz (costumes) and Jana Wimer (makeup) made very bold and specific choices in their depiction of the Miseries, which is a good thing. However the Miseries feel out of sync with this piece, as if they were characters from another play who happened in to this one. They are just distracting enough at times to work against the mood that is being created.

Despite the problems I found with the production, I greatly enjoyed it. The commitment of the cast, the quality of the production values, and the script itself are all wonderful, and perhaps you will leave it as I did, pondering the themes at play and wondering just how crazy Cam actually was.  This company is fully committed to its mission statement by bringing suspenseful and frightening works to the Los Angeles theatre scene, and they definitely succeed with that aim.

Kill Me is at The Lex Theatre Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through June 2nd. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased through www.thevisceralcompany.com. The Lex Theatre is located at 6760 Lexington Ave. in Hollywood California, just off Highland. Parking can be a challenge, so get there a little early and pay attention to the signs.

This play contains intense and frightening imagery, including graphic makeup effects. Leave the kids at home.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hemophelia's House of Horrors

Presented by The Visceral Company

review by Andrew Moore

Lara Fisher is Hemophelia, the ghoul of cool and hostess of Hemophelia's House of Horrors, an all-new horror-themed comedy/variety show now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 8.
The Visceral Company presents a frightfully fun excursion into laugh-out-loud funny horror; an eclectic collection of sketches that range from macabre jokes to horror movie satire, with occasional artistic and technical flourishes that elevate this from being a mere sketch comedy show to something truly worth seeing.

Lara Fisher is Hemophelia, our host, our sexy Crypt Keeper-ette. She fills the space between the sketches with songs (Matt DeNoto has composed some truly funny stuff here) and goriously bad puns, but most importantly keeps the show moving along. Her name is in the title, but Hemophelia (like all good emcees) knows the show isn't just about her. We get just enough of her dark wackiness that we want more.

Hemophelia's House of Horrors, an all-new horror-themed comedy/variety show now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 8, features (top center) Lara Fisher as Hemophelia, the ghoul of cool, and a comedy troupe of (clockwise from bottom) Brian Prisco, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Cynthia Zitter, Torrey Halverson, Matt DeNoto, Samm Hill, and Casey Christensen.
Three sketches in particular stand out. In "Organ Grinder," Samm Hill and Matt DeNoto play out the kind of high-concept terror I associate with Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, and other EC horror comics. It has its funny moments, but the sketch is a statement about addiction and loss served up with the heavy-handed, gorily metaphoric moralizing EC Comics is known for. Hill and DeNoto give the right amount of fully-committed scenery chewing, and the piece serves as a nice break from more conventional sketch comedy fare, such as the parody of the Friday the 13th movies that precedes it.

"Habeus Corpus," created and directed by Jana Wimer, is a trippy piece of puppetry magic. A disembodied head and hands dig through a trash can, pulling out bits and pieces of garbage to assemble a body. Spooky and fun with a startling ending. Like "Organ Grinder," it's not the sort of fare you would expect in a sketch show, but the otherworldly eeriness contributes to the overall vibe of the night.

"Karmic Retribution" exemplifies what this troupe is capable of with straight up sketch comedy. A genre-twisting take on the "axe-wielding maniac" trope, three survivors lock themselves in a cabin and let their true feelings be known about a fourth friend who was slaughtered offstage. Casey Christensen, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, and Cynthia Zitter play up the imperiled campers, giving a more dimensional portrayal of the victim archetypes from conventional horror. The piece builds tension through its staging, releasing bits of that tension through humor until the grim and hilarious end. It is delightful.

This show is a lot of fun, and I recommend braving the horrible parking to take it in. (Parking is a nightmare. Get there a little early, expect to do laps, and pay attention to the signs before committing to a spot. You may have to park a few blocks away from the venue.)

Hemophelia's House of Horrors opens its doors Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 pm through June 8th (there are no performances on May 17th or 18th) and may also be visited during Hollywood Fringe Festival on Tuesday, June 11th at 8pm and Thursday, June 13th at 10:30pm. The Visceral Company is in residence at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood. Nearest cross street is Highland.

Tickets are $15 via Brown Paper Tickets, but you may use the code "HEMO" at check-out for a $5 discount. More information may be found on The Visceral Company website.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Autopsy of a Deceased Theater

As Scott Walters (formerly blogging at Theatre Ideas, now blogging at Creative Insubordination) once opined:
What if we thought of theatre not as a product, but as an alliance (a "connection based on kinship, marriage, or common interest; a bond or tie"), a fellowship (a "close association of friends or equals sharing similar interests"), a guild (an "association of persons of the same trade or pursuits, formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards"). Instead of buying a product (a ticket to a show), you became a member of this alliance/fellowship/guild and could participate in all of the activities associated with that organization. A church can serve as an interesting model.
Indeed, a church is a fantastic model, which is why I sat up in my chair a bit when my dad -- a Methodist minister -- posted a link to this article on Facebook:


The 11 lessons outlined may be of particular interest to folks who find themselves concerned for the health of their theater company. It should be read by all, regardless, as the items listed sketch out a road map for failure that may be avoided. Let's take a look at just three of these items.
2. The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
Can you imagine a theater company becoming calcified and insular? Acting -- banish the thought -- cliquish? (Note: you have to focus on the community you actually belong to, not the community you wish you belonged to. This is often a key distinction for companies in Los Angeles.)
7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
For me the analogy is creative leadership turnover. When a company begins chewing up and spitting out its creative talent, you might want to start warming up the defibrillator.
 9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
And herein lies a clue to the cure. A dying company lacks purpose. Say, I haven't quoted Peter Brook in a while, have I? This seems like a good time to do so. From The Empty Space:
There is always a new season in hand and we are too busy to ask the only vital question which measures the whole structure. Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a superannuated oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties?
Granted, the cure involves asking tough questions and coming up with challenging answers.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that precisely what theater is good at?

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Tell When it's Time to Cut Bait

Barring any last minute inspiration, this will be the last post in our "Won't Get Fooled Again" series of posts this month. To celebrate the spirit of April Fools Day, we've taken a look at Meeting Trolls, the importance of knowing your rights, creating sustainable fun, and how to work with a partner or collaborator.  Today we look at the flip side of this last topic:

How to Tell When it's Time to Cut Bait

When a collaboration or partnership clicks, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Some amazing art can be created. Sometimes, things go horribly awry. It is incredibly hard to tell how bad things really are when you are in the middle of things. Before settling down, you should spend some time "dating" to see if a partnership or collaboration is a love connection. Work on a limited project with your potential collaborators, and evaluate the experience from a safe distance before committing further.

Hopefully, this list will help you recognize the signs of a bad creative relationship so that you can move on and find your perfect match. Or, if you have settled down, perhaps it will help you resist doubling down on a partnership that's driving you nuts.

1. SANDBAGGING. Important information is being withheld. One of your collaborators knows something you don't, and in order to gain some advantage over you, he keeps you in the dark. If you are being sandbagged, you are not in a healthy relationship; you are connected to someone who is actively working against you in a passive-aggressive, underhanded way.

This is reason enough to pack it in and hit the road. This is a basic trust issue. If your partner or collaborators are doing this to you, run.

2. STATED MISSION VS. THE ACTUAL ACTIVITIES. This is not the same as making an honest attempt and failing. No, this is saying one thing and doing another. For instance  the stated goal is to develop new material, but the group only seems interested in producing published plays that will showcase the actors.

We all have our wild hares to chase, but when things get wildly out of phase and most of the time, something more serious is at hand.

3. YOUR GOALS VS. THE GOALS OF YOUR COLLABORATORS. This is a big one, yet it's strangely easy to miss. It's really a "no harm, no foul" situation -- you're just not all on the same page. You want to create spontaneous happenings in public, someone else wants to produce Shakespeare in the park, and a third person wants to produce her one-woman show in a North Hollywood storefront theater.

This can lead to "No, but ..." brainstorming, as opposed to "Yes, and ...." Every idea thrown out is immediately shot down by someone who's just not on the same page with you. You're planning a garden salad, he's planning to change the oil in his Buick Skylark. "Carrots!" "No, Pennzoil 10W30!" "No, celery!" "No, Fram HM3887A oil filter!" If it feels like you're speaking a different language than your collaborator, you probably are.

4. ALL STICK, NO CARROT. Sometimes we need enforcement to get things done. The enforcement of a deadline, for instance. If you are in a creative relationship that is all enforcement and no positive reinforcement (e.g. rewards, opportunities, a simple "thank you"), you are most likely dealing with someone who gets off on pushing other people around. The world is too vast, and creative opportunities too ample to remain attached to a bruiser who'd rather smack you than pat you on the back.

5. FOCUSING ON BLAME RATHER THAN PRODUCTION. Ever have one of those meetings where you deviate wildly off of the agenda and into finger-pointing territory? Any hope for productivity flies out the window and you spend the next hour rehashing things that went astray -- rehashing without any attempt to actually learn from those mistakes. Nope, it's much more fun to tell a person, "You're wrong!"

This gets really sick when it becomes a proactive attempt to catch you out on something. To actually manipulate you into an unintentional lie or misstep; a game of "GOTCHA!"

6. FREQUENT CLASHES, ESPECIALLY OF A PERSONAL NATURE. This is an extension of the above, and it deserves its own bullet. There's blaming others for things that have gone wrong, and then there's taking personal potshots at them. If it's happening, again, the person you're dealing with is actively working against you. Nothing good can come of that relationship. Run.

7. DRUDGERY. Finally, if you're just plain miserable, cut bait and move on.

It can be tough. There's this thing called "The Sunk Cost Bias." There's a great article about it here. The short version is, it's damned hard to step away from something you've invested in. For some reason it feels "better" to keep doubling down on a bad hand than to simply fold. This is what Buddha meant when he said "The origin of suffering is attachment."

To paraphrase Walt Whitman, you are large; you contain multitudes. Don't let anyone sell you on the idea that leaving a messed-up relationship will in anyway hinder your ability to create. Instead, remember the sage words of Bobcat Goldthwait:
Work with your friends. Avoid chasing fame or money. Just do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it. And if it’s not making you happy, quit. Quit hard, and quit often. Eventually you’ll end up somewhere that you never want to leave.

The Importance of Outlining

As for the story, whether the [writer] takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.
- Aristotle, The Poetics
The older I get, the more I appreciate the notion that all writing is not simply rewriting (as the old saying goes) but rather all writing is rewriting and pre-writing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Red Bastard

Sacred Fools Spotlight Presents the Adult Only Show

Review by Andrew Moore
Photo via redbastard.com

There's a nagging little imp inside our minds that is telling us we could do more, accomplish more, be more. We try to shut him up with pills or alcohol or simply being "too busy," but he's there, waiting for an opportunity to rub our pathetic little failures in our face and say, "SEE? YOU WOULDN'T BE STUCK IN A DEAD-END LIFE IF YOU HAD JUST LISTENED TO ME IN THE FIRST PLACE!"

There's a reason why we keep him shut up in a mental broom closet, why we strive to keep his voice out of our heads. It's uncomfortable to be laughed at -- it's worse when it's us doing the laughing.

Red Bastard is that imp. His wild gymnastics and existential challenges are uncomfortable, but sorely needed.

This isn't entertainment; it's an experience. Eric Davis is entertaining -- please don't misunderstand. He is entrancing and vivacious as the eponymous bulbous buffoon. What I mean to say is this is not some mere show that you just go to see.

Brecht said, "Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it." Red Bastard is the mirror and the hammer, and he empowers his audience to join him. He can't force his audience out of their comfort zone; they have to be willing to go on the journey with him. You do not have to be willing to trust him, per se, at least no more than you would trust yourself, but willing to play along. Willing to dance with the devil, as it were.

Does he succeed? It depends upon the audience, I suppose. He certainly gave me pause, and I've been rolling around the Red Bastard experience in my mind since last night's performance. Davis makes a valiant effort at being an agent provocateur and change agent, yet in spite of his monstrous posturing and the maniacal control he exercises over the audience, there is a very human vulnerability just under the surface of the monster. This spark of vulnerability lends a certain ineffable charm to Red Bastard, and provides a sense of safety no matter how risky the dance becomes. His performance hinges on an audience willing to play, and it is a courageous risk on his own part.

Go be a part of Red Bastard; be willing to play. Take the clown at face value and he will return the favor.

Red Bastard is seducing audiences Mondays at 8pm, but THERE ARE ONLY TWO PERFORMANCES LEFT! April 29th and May 13th, at Sacred Fools, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., in Los Angeles; just south of Melrose and a couple of blocks west of Vermont Ave. Street parking is ample, but get there a little early. Tickets are $20 and available at www.sacredfools.org/onlineboxoffice/.

(Side note: Scoops, a groovy little gelato joint just north of Melrose on Heliotrope is open until 10:00 pm. After the show, take a little walk and try their salted caramel or jasmine pistachio. It's a tasty, decadent treat that pairs well with nursing your inner imp.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to Work With a Partner or Collaborator

Continuing our little theme this month, a "Won't Get Fooled Again" Guide to How to Work With a Partner or Collaborator.

What do I know about this subject?

I've had my successes:
Photo by Jason Kamimura
I've been married to this wonderful woman for 20 years this August. In addition to marital bliss, we are constantly working on stuff together.

Photo by Jason Kamimura
Phillip and I have been working together in this capacity for five years (I've known him a little longer than that.) We write together, and have been known to produce theater together as well.

I've also had my painful, bitter failures.  (Names omitted pursuant to Thumper's Rule.)

HOW TO WORK WITH A PARTNER OR COLLABORATOR

1. MAKE SURE YOU'RE ON THE SAME PAGE.  I cannot emphasize this enough. You could ignore all the rest of this advice and still find incredible success if you just make sure at the outset that you and your potential collaborators are on the same page. Before Pamela and I start a new project, we spend hours talking it over, conducting visual research, sketching ideas, listening to music, etc. Before we start the project, we have a pretty good idea what we're going in on.

Likewise, Phillip and I throw ideas off each other, mull things around, argue a bit, and ultimately come out with an alloyed idea that is stronger than what either one of us could have generated alone. When Phillip and I first embarked upon The Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy Rumpus Revue, we went back and forth describing our "sensory and emotional responses" to the idea of the show.  We actually broke it down on a visceral level: What does the show feel like, in a tactile sense? What does it smell like? It helped us forge the finished show conceptually, before the first bad joke was written.

The biggest partnership failures I've had occurred because we weren't all on the same page.  I wanted to zig, they wanted to zag. I had everything worked out in my head, but I didn't take the time to explain -- or, as is more often the case, my ego balked at the notion of "explaining myself." Which brings me to the next point:

2. GET OVER YOUR EGO.
"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." 
- Marsellus Wallace
I have been cursed of late with the ability to see myself doing or saying stupid shit as I do or say it. I know when my ego has gotten the better of me. I'm not bragging about some mutant ability here, I'm just saying I'm a dick, and I know it.

The trick is to suck it up and admit you're wrong. Or -- and this is perhaps the most difficult thing of all -- admit your partner is right and you're wrong. My advice is to recognize that, if you are all on the same page, you all have the same goal. In the end, it doesn't really matter if you took a right turn or a left turn, so long as you got to your destination on time. Don't be so married to your own ideas that you miss out on a shortcut.

And it's okay to be unhappy about being wrong. Only channel that unhappiness away from your partner, and towards something more constructive, like punching a wall.

3. WASTE IDEAS. This is a good piece of creative advice in general, but it is so very important in a partnership. It gets to the heart of brainstorming, and it will help alleviate the ego sting mentioned above.

In short, an idea is nothing. We are in the idea business, so reeling off a bunch of different possibilities should come easy. If not, it's a muscle you should exercise. Ideas are not precious, and once you make your peace with that, your ability to work with others will increase by an order of magnitude.

4. "YES, AND" NOT "NO, BUT". When you're in brainstorming mode, cut the brake line and head for the highest hill. Keep notes. Sort the wheat from the chaff after you've harvested everything. If you're truly on the same page, not married to your precious ideas, and willing to get over your bad self, separating the wheat from the chaff should be relatively quick and painless, once you get to that stage.

The last thing you want to do is clamp down on a free flow of ideas in the moment. You ever notice that "moment" and "momentum" have the same root? Kill the moment, and you kill the momentum.

5. DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU. Yes, the Golden Rule. I like to extend it to also mean, "cut your partner the same breaks you hope they would cut for you."

A partnership is give and take, and I'm not really aware of any reliable way to determine when to give and when to take, other than following the Golden Rule. Granted, it can be a bit of a "grind it 'til you find it" proposition. The important thing is to go into a collaboration knowing it will be a give and take, and honoring that part of the relationship.

6. COMPARTMENTALIZE. This may come as a surprise to you, but I've had arguments with Pamela and Phillip. More often with Phillip than with Pamela, but she's way cuter than he is.

You have to let the argument, the project, etc. exist in its own space, and continue to tend the relationship. Oftentimes, the parts of the partnership that are working will overwhelm and choke out the part that's not working, but you must first focus your energies on the positive.

A corollary to this is a little something I learned from Penn & Teller:


Petty disagreements between artistic partners should never get so out of hand that they threaten your mutual output or potential income. When all else fails, just be professional.

IN CONCLUSION. Not every partnership is going to pan out, no matter how noble your intentions are when you first go in on it. Sometimes people just don't mesh. Sometimes you may be doing everything right, but the other person is incapable of getting past their own ego, getting on the same page with you, wasting ideas, etc. As mentioned in the last installment in this series, there's no shame in cutting bait and walking away.

Next time, we'll take a closer look at partnerships that don't work.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sustainable Fun

Evie Lovelle, photo by Amanda Brooks

Continuing our "Won't Get Fooled Again" April,  words of wisdom from a striptease artist. One of my performer friends in the Burlesque world, Evie Lovelle recently posted on Facebook:

If it's your livelihood, make sure it's sustainable, if it's an adventure, make sure it's actually fun.


For many of us in the arts, it is our goal to make our adventure our livelihood. Sustainable fun. I believe one possible path to this is an unrelenting pursuit of what I call the joie.  What does it mean in the context of "Won't Get Fooled Again?"

If it hurts, something is wrong. If your pursuit is draining your resources without contributing anything back; if it has become a joyless drudgery, it's time to make a change. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to take a breather and assess your situation. Eat a good meal, take a long walk, and reapproach what you're doing -- including and especially your relationships -- with fresh eyes.  There's no shame in cutting bait and walking away.

Don't let other people suck all the joie out of your life and your art.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Know Your Rights

We've all seen this by now, I trust:

“Firefly” Hat Triggers Corporate Crackdown

Because Firefly fans need more reasons to be mad at 20th Century Fox. After years of satisfied customers, online stores selling hand-knitted replicas of the show's iconic “Jayne hat” are being forced to shut down… and fans are upset.
If you haven't, get thee to BuzzFeed posthaste!

In the "Won't Get Fooled Again" spirit of April, a gentle imploration:

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

In this particular case, the exact nature of the takedown isn't noted. It is assumed by many that the hat itself is somehow copyrighted or trademarked. Au contraire ... you cannot copyright an article of clothing. You can copyright logos and that sort of thing, which is why you see Louis Vuitton logos plastered all over Louis Vuitton handbags, etc.  (There's some interesting information about this very topic in a Morning Edition story from last September: "Why Knockoffs are Good for the Fashion Industry.")

It may be a trademark issue.  For instance if the Etsy sellers were listing it as "Firefly hat as worn by Jayne Cobb" or the like. In that case, the makers of these hats need to take a page out of Whimsic Alley's book:


... see what they did there?  (If you have never been to Whimsic Alley, you really should attend one of their high teas.  Absolutely delightful, if you're a fan of Harry Potter.) It doesn't take a wizard of the House of Lion to figure out that sort of work-around.

Even still, I understand that under certain circumstances you can use trademarked terms in the description of a good or service. This is how the manufacturers of Apple accessories can refer to something as an "iPad case" without running afoul of Apple. The case itself is called something like "EXXXTREME CONTACT CASE" and "iPad case" is merely description. This is called nominative fair use.

The takeaway from all this is, know your rights. That way, when you receive the C&D notice, you don't have to panic. You can calmly respond (through your attorney) and carry on.  If you don't know your rights, odds are you will infringe without realizing it, and/or panic and wind up shooting yourself in the foot.

Speaking of footbullets, I'm not sure how it is Etsy has avoided any umbrage in all this. ThinkGeek is taking its lumps, but very little has been said about Etsy taking down every store Ripple Junction complained about without bothering to see if any actual infringing was going on.  For shame, Etsy.  You should know your rights as well.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Meeting Trolls

Seth Godin gives us a description of a particularly nasty species, the Meeting Troll.  A couple of choice excerpts:
1. The meeting troll has a neverending list of reasonable objections. It's the length of the list that makes the objections unreasonable.
2. Despite his protestations about how much he hates meetings, the meeting troll actually thrives on them, because, after all, this is the only place he gets to do his best work. The very best way to extinguish the meeting troll is to  extinguish meetings. The second best way is to not invite him.
[...]
6. Growth hackers look for a yes at every turn. The meeting troll thinks his job is to find the no.
[...]
9. The meeting troll has a perfect memory for previous failures and complete amnesia when it comes to things that have worked.
Well worth a read.  Go over to Seth's blog and check it out.

For the month of April, Mad Theatrics is going to focus a little bit on what should be the true spirit of April Fools Day: learning to be a little more skeptical in our response to the information presented to us. This extends to ferreting out where we've been bamboozled, hoodwinked, and manipulated into accepting someone else's agenda, all the while being diverted off a path that we know is right for us as an artist.

The Meeting Troll is a humbug. Making art is risk-taking, and the Meeting Troll hates risk. His job is to put a damper on things and prevent the sort of risk-taking that can result in artistic triumph but more often than not failure. Like Seth says, he's not evil, he's just afraid, and it's understandable.  No one wants to fail, no matter how essential failure is to growth.

I've been in meetings that were what I term "yes, and ..." meetings, and I've been in meetings that were "no, but ..." meetings. Guess which type actually produces something of value? Hint: the Meeting Troll thrives in the other type.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Whoops ...

Due to an error in email settings, I haven't been receiving email sent to madtheatrics[at]gmail.com.  If you have emailed me in the past few years and I never got back to you, that's why.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Mad Theatrics Presents ...


We're very big on practicing what we preach around here, and so I am pleased to announce Mad Theatrics is filing articles of incorporation today, as a non-profit theater company. Beginning this summer, we won't just be reviewing and commenting on theater -- we'll be making theater the old fashioned way.

Mad Theatrics Presents, Inc. will be holding member auditions in a few weeks. So if you want to be a part of L.A.'s newest, edgiest, most ambitious theater company, start working out those audition monologues! As is traditional with Equity-waiver upstarts in this town, we will be a dues-paying theater company. Running a company is damned expensive, and we'll need our members to help foot the bill.  Besides, investing monetarily is a good way to demonstrate your commitment to our mission statement (at press time, the mission statement is still being refined.)

I am also pleased to announce the line-up for our first season!
  • William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream set on skid row. A group of Beverly Hills brats go on a wild adventure in Downtown L.A.
  • An evening of one act plays inspired by the challenges of producing no-budget, Equity-waiver theater in Los Angeles. Currently untitled and unwritten. The plan is for members of Mad Theatrics Presents to draw upon their own experiences and write the plays together in a free-form, improvisational rehearsal process that depends heavily upon sense memory and Mike Leigh exercises.
  • Your Dinner with Andre, a hilarious, interactive parody of the 1981 classic where one lucky cast member is invited onstage to play Wally Shawn.
Of course we'll be rolling out Kickstarter campaigns for each of these, so watch for those.

There was some discussion among the writing staff of Mad Theatrics as to how we should handle the review process for our own shows. After giving it much thought, we've decided there is no compelling conflict of interest to prevent us from reviewing our own work.  Besides, it works for Randall Gray.

We are very excited to begin this new chapter in our creative lives, and look forward to you joining us, either as dues-paying members or pay-what-you-want audience members!

Happy April Fools

Today is the day when our friends teach us to be a little more skeptical in our response to information presented to us.


It is also an excellent time to look at your life, to see if you've been bamboozled or hoodwinked, to pull back the curtain on people who are manipulating you; a time to evaluate your professional relationships, to determine if someone is getting the better of you; a time to ask questions, to cry "Humbug!" and end exploitation. Happy April Fools!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contributors Wanted

"Bee Swarm" licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: fir0002 at the English language Wikipedia.

An artistic director for one of L.A.'s under-99's once told me that Mad Theatrics "represents a refreshing, unrehearsed and intelligent alternative voice in the LA scene."

We need more unrehearsed and intelligent alternative voices at Mad Theatrics.

Phillip Kelly and I are finding it harder and harder to get out to review the approximately 18,000 plays that open across the greater Los Angeles area every year.  We could use help.

If you think you'd be a good fit, shoot me a line at madtheatrics[at]gmail.com. We'll dialogue, and I may have you write a guest review or commentary, to see if we jibe.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Alice in Wonderlust

Night three of Burlesqueland V featured the Los Angeles Chapter of Naked Girls Reading.


At the top of the show, from Wonderlust Productions came a brief excerpt of Alice in Wonderlust, an erotic musical they are planning on opening this year.

It was a little rough around the edges, but it is a clever idea that I am interested in seeing on its feet.  Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a coming-of-age story, and so translating it to a sexual awakening works.



The performers (Maya Papaya as Alice, Donatella MeLies as the Caterpillar, and Corporal Punishment as the Cheshire Cat) fully committed to the material, which seems to be the make or break point for this sort of thing. As long as the performer is fully present and engaged, onstage eroticism and nudity (Alice in Wonderlust has both) clicks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Little Commentary on Bilitis ...

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.” 
- Winston Churchill
My review of Songs of Bilitis is comfortably in the rear-view mirror, and so I feel I can publish a little more commentary. I really enjoyed Bilitis, and think everyone should go see it.  Even if it's not your cup of tea, you should go see it.  In fact, stop reading this (there are spoilers) and go buy your tickets.  They just announced they are extending the run to April 6th, but make your plans now.

Bilitis has stirred my imagination as a writer and occasional producer of live entertainment, and that means I'm fussing with details, questioning choices, wondering how things might have been done differently, etc. I have nothing but the utmost appreciation and admiration for what Rogue Artists Ensemble has accomplished, so everything I have to say here comes from that.  Also, it's all my opinion and probably wrong.

Eroticism as a Narrative Device

Rogue has methodically and thoughtfully sought to render eroticism as a narrative device. This isn't eroticism as a gimmick, this is eroticism as essential to the storytelling.  No mean feat.  In the review I wrote, "It feels at times like an academic exercise," and this is what I'm talking about.  A lot of thought went into how to weave the physical into the story.

It is a highly romanticized take on the writer's work. Pierre Louys writhes on the floor, pen to paper. Bilitis' story, the very words are like a seething mass of skin on skin, reaching, spilling forth from Pierre. Bilitis' trysts play out in a very impressionistic way. It is as if we are seeing into Pierre's imagination.  At the same time, the touching, kissing, moaning, etc. is a living metaphor of the creative act.  It's the closest thing to "Theatre of Cruelty" that I've witnessed, and it's staggering when it hits.

The journey Bilitis takes is Pierre's journey.  Wherever the idea of Bilitis came from, and no matter how haunted he is by Bilitis as his muse, he is still her progenitor. This comes into sharp relief with the following exchange (and a huge thank you to playwright Katie Polebaum for providing me with the exact dialogue from her playscript):
PIERRE
Did I ruin you? You came to me so full of life and now- 
BILITIS
Not ruined. 
PIERRE
I don’t want to keep hurting you.
Quite frankly, this is something only a writer can fully understand.  When you grow attached to a character, and are forced to contort them through horrific experiences on their journey to some cathartic climax, it fucking hurts.  The brilliant thing that Polebaum did in her writing (and the company no doubt contributed to this through their process) was to tie the emotional journey to a physical manifestation that hits the audience smack dab in the middle of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's masterful.

And yes, it is academic at times.  And yes, they sometimes cheat and give us simulated sex instead of real eroticism.  Considering the overall success of the piece, the occasional stumbles are forgivable.

The Use of Theatrical Nudity

Songs of Bilitis has a fair share of nudity, although most of it is carefully teased at. A laundry list: Pierre Louys wears nearly sheer underwear.  His consort Meriem dances for him in a shimmy belt and revealing chainmail top.  Actors strip down and copulate in silhouette.  Bilitis is stripped topless for a ritual involving three dancing priestesses, nude save for gauzy, short-cropped togas.  Characters appear onstage wearing grotesque phalli.

Let's take a look at the priestess episode. Polebaum and the play's director, Shawn Calweti address it in an interview with LA Stage Times.

“Once you get over the initial, ‘Oh my gosh, someone is totally naked on stage,’ where do you look?  It’s distracting, you can’t really pay attention.”  Polebaum is quoted.  I don't know if I buy that.  If anything, these Rogue cats are experts at telling an audience where to look.
A scene set in a temple with priestesses initially contained explicit nudity.  “The scene became instantly really uninteresting,” Cawelti says with a shrug.
Now, the priestesses wear very gauzy material, masking the nudity underneath.  Cawelti says this works much more effectively.  “Because you don’t see hard underwear lines, and they are moving a very free way, the audience feels this sensuality and eroticism.”  He compares it to another art form, “So much of it is like a great burlesque strip tease.  As someone is taking off their dress, a piece of fabric is flying in, so you are just seeing a few inches of skin as the dress is coming off.”
I get it.  First of all, the high priestesses wear masks. I imagine it would look quite absurd to have a dancer onstage, nude save for a mask.  Second, without the tease, the immediate impact of the nudity wears off.  I've seen this happen at Naked Girls Reading.  Third, as in burlesque, you need to tell a story.  Otherwise, why not just cut to the chase and go to Bare Elegance?

And yet there is that final reveal in burlesque.  The priestess episode from Bilitis and the above quote from Cawelti reminds me of the Eyes Wide Shut homage from Kubrilesque, a burlesque tribute to the films of Stanley Kubrick from Cherry Kiss Burlesque. I was there for the first couple of stagings of the show (my wife was Alex in the Clockwork Orange homage.)

The second night of the show, the Eyes Wide Shut number really clicked. At the end of  a very ritualistic number (well ... ritualistic meets Las Vegas showgirl,) from the center of a ring of dancers holding massive feather fans emerged a lone dancer -- Crystal Swarovski -- completely nude.  It was a moment of release; a final reveal of magnitude.

The mere act of disrobing means something.  When a burlesque dancer removes a glove, it can mean more then the mere discarding of a garment.  Think about how much of our experience of the world around us depends upon our hands and our sense of touch.  "Look with your eyes, not your hands," we are sometimes told whilst manhandling a new and foreign object.  When a dancer exposes her hand, she is symbolically opening herself up to sensation. Amplify that by every inch of skin, and you have the final reveal from the Eyes Wide Shut homage.

Such a final reveal would be interesting in the priestess episode.  Tease the audience with the barely-clad dancers, and at the climax of the number we see the emergence of a completely nude Bilitis.  It would be a rebirth; a baptism of the flesh. As it plays now, Bilitis is topless during the entire episode, and it does lose its impact.

Random Observations

A few scattered observations and thoughts, and a couple of nitpicks that would have just muddled my review:
  • In the staging of the nudity and simulated sex, it was a little too pat that the screens would suddenly rise to conceal the naughty bits. It got to the point where a screen would rise and we'd just kind of expect someone was about to get naked.  There must be a more subtle way to stage those moments without telegraphing what is about to happen.
  • One of the most erotic moments of the play is (possibly) accidental.  Pierre is at his lowest ebb, completely wasted.  Debussy enters and takes pity on his friend. Debussy sits on the bed and places Pierre's head in his lap. It is an innocent moment that nevertheless has a homoerotic charge to it. It could be that Cawelti knew exactly what he was doing in this moment, and if so, I doff my hat.
  • The puppets are not as well integrated into the play as they could be.  I'm not sure what the solution might be.  As I mentioned in the review, the puppets of young Bilitis and Selenis seem unfinished. Given that they herald the first sexual encounter, they need to be softened.  Hell, they are walking hand in hand across fields built out of the actors' bodies.  The ground they walk on is softer than the puppets!
  • One of the images of Bilitis used in the videos looks like a headshot of the actress.  I swear to Bacchus, I saw pearl stud earrings.  Maybe I didn't -- maybe I did and pearl stud earrings are historically correct.  Nevertheless, every other pair of earrings we see are dangly and it stands out (did I mention some of these would be nitpicks?)

In Conclusion

I'm a fan of this show. Obviously. If that were not the case, I wouldn't have bothered with this follow-up and commentary. I wish I had seen the workshop version at Getty Villa, and I would like to revisit the show later on in its run. I would be interested to hear what audience members thought about the show and what they experienced. I'd like to know more about the process that brought Bilitis to the stage.

Friday, March 15, 2013

BURLESQUELAND V

If you're not going to Songs of Bilitis this weekend, head on down to Fais Do Do for the fifth annual Burlesqueland ...


Tonight is the first of three nights of "Dizney-Inspired Burlesque," and as we have since the very beginning, Phillip Kelly and I will be opening the show as our neo-vaudevillian alter egos, Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy:


Tomorrow night, the fun continues at Fais Do Do, with an entirely new line-up of amazing dancers:


And Sunday night, a slight change of venue as Naked Girls Reading takes the stage at Moving Arts:


And as far as art goes, Naked Girls Reading is indeed moving, ifyouknowwhatImean.  Wink wink, nudge nudge, say -- no -- more.  But seriously, I wrote about the Naked Girls Reading experience here.  When the readers are fully engaged in what they are reading, a very theatrical kind of intimacy sets in.  You have to experience it to understand.

If you've never been to a burlesque show, this is an excellent opportunity for you. Burlesqueland is the de facto Los Angeles burlesque festival. It attracts talent from all over the globe, and the producers have their pick of the best acts available.  Plus, it parodies something we all know and love (even if some love to hate it) the House of Mouse.  So come on out!

Friday, March 15th and Saturday, March 16th, 2013

FAIS DO DO
5253 W. Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016

NIGHT THREE:
Sunday, March 17th, 2013

MOVING ARTS
1822 Hyperion Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027