Friday, February 22, 2013

Idea: Teal Deer Theater

From the "Desperate Search for Relevancy in the Modern World" department, comes this idea:


Truncated classics for the on-the-go audience of today!  Experience an entire three hour epic in 45 minutes!  Wow your friends with a complete yet shallow understanding of Shakespeare!

Performed in the manner of Brecht's Epic Theater, full of shorthand and commentary and literally spelling things out for the audience.  "Important" moments underlined.  An accompanying Twitter feed that tells the audience what emotional response they should be feeling on a moment-by-moment basis.

For long, boring passages that can't be cut without losing the story completely, a hip Gen-Y'er with a wireless headset microphone races through a tight, edgy Powerpoint presentation.

End with a stand-up comedian who makes jokes about the classic that was just presented, so the audience can repeat the same jokes in conversation later, thus appearing even more urbane.

Here's the hang-up:  Tickets are a solid $50 per.  No discounts, no Goldstar special, etc.  You're not selling the show, you're selling an opportunity for vapid, self-involved douchebags to add to their repertoire of smugness.

It should be a HUGE hit in Hollywood.

Run with this idea, someone.  All I ask is a meager 10%, and can you give me a referral to your agent?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Buy the Cow?

Posted on Cartoon Brew:


Actors, take note.

Actors who actually pay cash money to be part of a theater company for the potential opportunity to ply your trade, WAKE THE FUCK UP.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"He walks amongst us, but he is not one of us."

Seth Godin eloquently defines bullying:

Bullying is what happens when an individual with power exercises that power against people who don't fit in. By threatening to expose or harm or degrade the outlier, the bully reinforces the status quo in a way that increases his power. [Physical bullying is a different phenomenon... I'm mostly writing here about emotional bullying.] 
"I will punish you because you don't fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do." 
Bullying persists when bureaucracies and hierarchies permit it to continue. It's easier to keep order in an environment where bullying can thrive (and vice versa), because the very things that permit a few to control the rest also permit bullies to do their work. The bully uses the organization's desire for conformity to his own ends. 

"It gets better" has never really sat right with me. Maybe that's because the first "It gets better" video I watched featured David Spade, a guy whose career has been built on bagging on people. Or perhaps because the advice seems akin to telling a victim of violence to close their eyes and go to a happy place until it's all over. This is life, not a dental extraction. You should never have to endure pain to get to some imagined happy future.

The world is bigger than your bullies.  You can find a place where you fit in, but you will have to be brave enough to look.  Sometimes the bully in your life is connected to you in such a way that to cut him out of your life means turning your back on other friends and on what you have built together.  At first it seems scary.  You're suddenly unmoored, adrift.

But soon the calm descends.  The yelling stops.  Other doors open, and you are finally able to live your life on your own terms.  I suppose, yes, it does get better.  But only after you decide to do what it takes to make things better and do it.

You belong somewhere.  A whole new life is waiting for you to find it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Folk Drama

(Note to self:  Find this article!)

I ran across an interesting quote in Dr. Andrew Davis' seminal work, Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Tradition.

"Folk drama exists on a village or small-group level," [folklorist Roger D.] Abrahams wrote in 1972. "The performers are members of the community and therefore known to most of the audience... Popular theater often arises from folk theater but the players are professional and the audience comes from places other than the community in which the players live."

The quote is from an article titled "Folk Drama" in the book Folklore and Folklife.

Sounds like a fair definition of equity waiver theater to me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tragic Spectacle

From some old Greek guy:

Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of the Oedipus. But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle is a less artistic method, and dependent on extraneous aids. Those who employ spectacular means to create a sense not of the terrible but only of the monstrous, are strangers to the purpose of Tragedy; for we must not demand of Tragedy any and every kind of pleasure, but only that which is proper to it. And since the pleasure which the poet should afford is that which comes from pity and fear through imitation, it is evident that this quality must be impressed upon the incidents.

"... even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place."

Story first!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

White Like Paul

Fantastic article at LA Stage Times by Paul Zaloom, the madman who takes the stage at Bootleg starting February 15th with WHITE LIKE ME: A Honky Dory Puppet Show:
That night I spun a bunch of bullshit and did the pitch the next day. The room got quiet, and lots of folks were aghast at the sheer audacity of this foolish honky going on about the trials and tribulations of being white. As soon as I left the stage, I had secured commissioning partners and an NPN Creation Fund Grant.
Go read the entire thing.  The show sounds crazy and mind-blowing.

White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show will be at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd. LA 90057 from February 15th - March 2nd,  Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20. Visit for more info, or call (213) 389-3856.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013



A few weeks ago, Pamela and I attended a screening of Teller's Play Dead* at the Aero in Santa Monica.  In case you are not in the know, Teller co-wrote a meditation on death with Todd Robbins that opened Off-Broadway in 2010.  Part magic show, part spook show it is a uniquely theatrical excursion into murky memento mori; a thrilling, funny, and at times deeply moving show.  I have it on good authority that Play Dead will have it's Los Angeles debut this coming fall.  DON'T MISS IT.

I'm a fan of Penn & Teller, but mostly Teller.  Way back in the pre-internet days of yore, a chance discovery of their PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public ignited a wildfire in my teenage brain, propelling me to the microfiche stores at my high school library.  I read every article I could get my hands on.  One bit has stuck with me, a story Teller told about setting up obstacle courses for his friends.  He would blindfold them and carefully walk them through the course.  He got weepy recounting it; gifting his friends with an experience.

It's safe to say Teller rekindled my interest in theatre, and his childhood anecdote affected how I think about what theatre does.

Seeing him in person after the screening, answering questions about the show was a huge treat, and it has kicked off a "Tellerpalooza," as I revisit things he has written and spoken about magic, entertainment in general, the performer-audience relationship, etc.  It culminated in hearing his interview on Penn Jillette's podcast, Penn's Sunday School.

I thought I might share a few of these things with you.  Enjoy Tellerpalooza 2013!

First, Teller on Penn's Sunday School.  He speaks at some length about his production of Macbeth, and a production of The Tempest that he has in the works.  The latter sounds absolutely amazing, and I hope he's able to bring it out here.  He has some unique insight into producing the Bard.  His hard-won thoughts about rehearsal are well worth listening to.

Here is a talk he gave at the Magic of Consciousness Symposium in 2007.  He talks about the psychology of magic, and how magicians use our way of processing information to completely bamboozle us.  Very applicable to the theatre, and entertainment in general:

He wrote this amazing article for Smithsonian Magazine:  "Teller Reveals his Secrets," and was interviewed for same here:  "Teller Speaks on the Enduring Appeal of Magic."  Again, these are magic-specific, but there are lessons to be gleaned for other forms of entertainment.

This interview on NPR is a nice companion piece to the Smithsonian articles: Teller Talks: The Science Behind Magic Tricks.

"To compose a new tune in magic, you don't just write the notes, you build the piano." I riffed on this quote a couple of times last year (here and here.)  Here's the article where I found it: VOICES interview with Teller.

If you're a hardcore theatre nerd, you'll love his Macbeth production journal.

And of course, Play Dead.  Seek out this movie version of the play!  (The trailer is here.)

I wanted to toss Teller a Q after the screening of Play Dead, but the Q&A milieu is lousy for the type of in-depth conversation I would love to have.  How methodical is he in developing the tricks and special effects for his shows?  Does he develop (or select) the trick for the story, or build the story around the trick?  What tricks get cut?  Do they get cut for purely technical reasons, or has he had to cut something because it didn't work thematically?  How concerned is he with the audience's experience, and did he find it difficult to balance an evening about death?  I imagine the show could leave the audience profoundly empty.  It doesn't.

Teller is a master of his art, and he's sharing his secrets.  Listen and learn, folks.  I know I am.

"Start with the awareness that art is just good. People doing bad shows is better than people doing good murders and rapes. Art means people are celebrating being alive, even if they do it with Hippity Hop Rabbits." - Teller

*Technically, it was a double feature, the second film being the highly underrated Penn & Teller Get Killed.  Unfortunately, the wife and I had to step out after the Q&A.  I really wish I could have seen it on the big screen.  It's one of my all-time favorites.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

You're Not Running the New Burbage Theatre Festival ...

... so stop acting like it.
"Part of it is about not trying to be professional. Like, a lot of people come into indie games trying to be like a big company. What those game companies do is create highly polished things that serve as large of an audience as possible. The way that you do that is by filing off all the bumps on something if there's a sharp corner, you make sure that's not going to hurt anybody if they bump into it or whatever. That creation of this highly glossy commercial product is the opposite of making something personal. Things that are personal have flaws; they have vulnerabilities. If you don't see a vulnerability in somebody, you're probably not relating with them on a very personal level. So, it's the same with game design. Making it was about 'let me take my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and put them in the game'... and let's see what happens." - Jonathan Blow, developer of indie game Braid, as quoted in the documentary film Indie Game
Watch Indie Game.  It speaks to the artist-as-entrepreneur in general, not just game designers.