Just Start It

You ever wanna just write and you don’t write? You sit and stare at a computer screen, or let tab after tab multiply at the head of your browser. I really think the “Open in a new tab” option is the worst and best, and then worst again, thing that’s ever happened to internet browsing and procrastination everywhere.

Thank good shit for deadlines.

I loved Hunter S as a kid when I first discovered this literary, counterculture rebel. The 1990’s were a hard and confusing for me a kid, hating popular culture in every form. Bad sitcoms, terrible movies, and boy bands. Fucking god, what was with boy bands.

But when I found Hunter at an age when I was too young to really understand him, his ferocious staccato word choice had such teeth and venom. His ideas about truth in fiction and 1st person narrative spat in the face of everything I understood. And I stood up and screamed for more.

As a man, too, he seemed a figure alone. He hated rules and deadlines and most constraints. But I think for me, the constant pressure of a hard two hours to get 700 of the best words I had made them that much better. You couldn’t agonize or self-edit internally. You’d drown in your own spittle first. And not school deadlines. Turning some buzzingly lettered essay before 11:59pm was never satisfying. Maybe in retrospect, you would peek back at the wordy monster vomited up by desperate synapses when you got to see whatever arbitrary grade it received. Maybe then you could take a little random pride in how it “wasn’t too bad, all things considered.”

No, it was the pressure of professional writing and its tantalizing publication that got me there. I feel my overall experience was a bit hampered by largely writing theater criticism or reviews or whatever the most appropriate terms are. Sure, I got to write the odd column or be more creative in certain pieces. Mostly I feel like I got Albuquerque theater people to dislike me real good, with maybe a few who I liked what I was doing.

But sometimes you get stuck, right? Creatively bankrupt is a bit harsh, but I feel a pretty common experience is sitting and staring at a blank paper or canvas or screen. I had to teach myself not to do that. And I did this by learning to start, even if I didn’t know where I’d finish or where the next step would be. That, my friends, is what editing is for. Once you have the pieces, you can pass them around, really making the connections you want. And knowing that you’re at the top of hill, staring down in fear at the precipitous slope below, is where the battle can only begin. Knowing you really can start running and that gravity won’t make you crash immediately on your face is as freeing as anything else. You CAN make it. You have it in you. Once you get the pace thought by thought, you start coasting– comfortably, even. Inertia is the most powerful creative force you can possibly have.

But if you don’t start, you’ll be at the tippy, static top, staring at a blinking cursor.

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My dream last night

I dreamt I was shrunk to about 2 feet tall or so. But also made invisible. I was played by Christian Bale. I went on a quest to write the wrongs. I was being supported physically by woman, sort of like an exoskeleton. I still had my sword, which was normal sized. I found arrows and a quiver in a pile of junk, but an old douchey co-worker who was the only one who could see me for some reason kept calling it a “KAR-RON” and insisted it was the proper pronunciation. It ended up being an extremely cumbersome amount of things to carry.

Before I was Christian Bale, I was me in a more or so high school drama setting. We were performing a satirical musical. Tino played God and Szeman played Jesus Christ, his son. God sent Jesus down during the time of the dinosaurs. The director was some snooty Hollywood bigshot. We were writing the play as we went along. I offered to help. I discussed how silly the Jesus death scene could be, with people mobbing him and “going all Brutus on him.” There were two-dimensional paper people from “South Park” there as well, so I suggested that “Stan could become the new hero.”

Before that, I was involved in some kind of mafia plot. Lots of killing and retribution killing. I was played by Michael Pitt. I had a premonition my flapper girlfriend was going to be killed, so I tried to reach an accord with the rival mob boss– *I* had to die.

So later on the dream, when I was in the play, I had a date planner with today’s date of the Saturday rehearsal saying “2-5 pm, Death” since I had to die publically where the rival mob boss would be able to know it’d happened. The snooty Hollywood director mostly blew me off, but the plan was that I had to actually die, but then I’d be defibrillated back to consciousness.

Backstage, as I was trying to write funny bits for the script, a girl from the show sat near me and we shared my blue and red cape like a blanket and she explained she’d tried to play a board game during her break but was too nervous. She called it something weird, but I imagined the box for a second trying to visualize it and thought it was “Exploding Kittens: the Card Game” or the “Simon’s Cat Card Game” which isn’t out yet. As I was trying to write more of the script, a stagehand came and yelled at me for working on personal things instead of the script before I could explain I was.

That’s about when I got shrank. I began to see it a screenplay for a movie, a kind of Hero’s Journey thing. This allowed me to meta visualize what had happened to me: the big evil villain, who was probably some sort of king, had sent his wizard viser to kill him, but instead he’d shrunk me. When the king asked the wizard if I was dead, the viser answered, “He’s been taken care of,” in reference to my shrinking. Then a voice popped into my head saying that “wasn’t it a cliche that the villain thinks the hero is dead due to a shoddy job by an assassin halfway through the plot? Plus the miscommunication of the instructions.” I resolved to fix the plot so such blaring cliches weren’t present. But I was still a shrunk Christian Bale with a woman partner exoskeleton with too much gear.

I went around a corner to the front of the theater to see two aliens talking in the manner of a “Shadows of the Empire” cutscene. One green female alien said in a floating text box “Oh no… Melchior finally did it…” when the alarm woke me up.

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“Theatre of the Oppressed” Uplifting

How does one make art and be socially conscious? Well, make socially conscientious art.

Theatre of the Oppressed is style of socially conscious interactive improv created by Brazilian director, artist and activist Augusto Boal in the mid-twentieth century. Working Classroom, a non-profit corporation, has created a presentation of that work as a joint effort with El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, an organization which works to defend rights for Latino immigrants. Normally, Theatre of the Oppressed is centered on a theme or social issue the performers wish to explore and is collaboratively decided. This time, oddly enough, the subject was the rights of Latino immigrants.

I last went to Working Classroom to view ¡Bocon!, a brilliant, sharply-made performance of children not making children’s theatre.

As I looked around the audience, it was gratifying and a bit relieving to not recognize a single face. No one even looked familiar. There were families everywhere populated largely by chaotic ninos.

As “tight knit’ as the Albuquerque theatre community is, it is as always a remarkably niche scene. There’s very little transience for the talent or audience members, and especially very little new blood or interest.

It was clear to me that audience was not full of “theatre people,” that is, the sort of people in Albuquerque actually go to see plays. It is a very specific group. Never does a person who’s never had the thought before in their life suddenly say, “You know what. I think I’ll go out tonight a see a play! I wonder that’d be like. Let’s go check out the local paper and see what manner of live performance might be available for tonight’s viewing…”

And yet, this manner of theatre is exactly the kind that needs to reach every kind of person, especially those who don’t go and seek it out.

Theatre of the Oppressed more or less works like this: after the central idea is established, an officiator addresses the audience directly, in this case Working Classroom Outreach Coordinator/Public Ally/AmeriCorps Intern Joel Garcia. There will be short scenes, usually dialogues, where the central conflict involves the social issue at hand. After the scene plays out with an ultimately negative conclusion, the players reset and the officiator allows audience members to step in. The volunteer simply shouts out, and then replaces the character being oppressed. The oppressor and the new person then improvise the dialogue as the audience member attempts to enact a solution to the problem.

Also, the whole thing was in Spanish.

It’s difficult for me to express how elegant, simple and amazing I think this structure is. It would take far more than the 700 words I have here to explain the power and profundity I feel it has.

I’ll just mention one.

The entire audience is constantly and immediately engaged with the subject matter. When the officiator asks the audience for solutions, he or she is addressing every individual person. And when a single person actually steps up to the stage and takes charge, the remaining audience members, even those who have no desire to get up in front of other people, may still engage, personally imagining themselves in the situation and inventing what they might do.

Theatre of the Oppressed not only encourages social consciousness and solutions. It requires them.

The cast comprised female employees of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos. Clearly, they weren’t trained actors. But, again, that’s part of what made the whole thing so good. These were real people exploring real problems that real people face. But purely as performers, the women did exceptionally well.

The more I learn about Working Classroom, the more I like it. They need more attention, more audience members, more students, more anything. Even in a town like Albuquerque inundated with theatre after theatre, Working Classroom thoroughly stands out.

Why don’t people know about this place? Working Classroom educates “historical ignored communities” about art which is smart and dedicated to making the world better for the people who live in it.

What could be better than that?

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For more information on Working Classing and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, visit their websites at http://www.workingclassroom.org/ and http://elcentronm.org/

One of the Worst Fucking Edit Jobs on my Articles Ever

So, Steve Martin wrote a play.

Yes, THE Steve Martin. And, it’s hilarious.

It is the imagined meeting of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, each in their early twenties, who happen into the same bar in Paris in 1904.

Thus: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

The two battle over the “superiority” of Art v. Science, then ultimately conclude that the ideas are very much the same and become fast friends.

The barflies stare in awe at what they’ve seen. But there has to be a triptych, with a final point to the triangle. If these two men are going to change the 20th century, who is the third?

And then the punchline walks out of the bathroom.

Full disclosure, I performed in the Aux Dog’s production of this play four years ago. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every production has to be the same. That is the joy of theatre. It is the differences and chances to make bold decisions. And there really is no such thing as a “definitive” version.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is fantastic, clever, insightful script, with of both the best of both high and lowbrow humor. Anyone who hasn’t seen it performed should definitely go give it watch.

As the Vortex’s flagship production in their brand new performance space, it has quite the burden of expectation. While the play overall is a grand time and enjoyable experience, there is certainly some roughness around the edges that does not sink the performance, but speaks to missed opportunities.

What best describes these faults are a lack of “attention to detail.”

This is not because jokes always have to be delivered the same way in order to be funny. But the play suffers if so much is ignored.

At the most basic level, the pacing of the Vortex’s production drags. Energy is low and the play is slow because of it. The script is short and full of snappy quips. The bar hardly seems “alive” most of the time. Far too often, the actors are just dutifully repeating one line after another, and then sitting and waiting for their next.

They don’t have to drag focus. But silent moments like those across the bar between Picasso (played by H. Grey Blanco) and Suzanne, the sexy young conquest of Picasso’s desires (played by Evening Star Barron), are few and far between.

Some performances are through the roof, blasted to orbit, and happily chucking jokes down at us from space. Mario Cabrera, Micah McCoy, and Paul Hunton each come rocketing onstage, instilling the play with sudden fun, energy, and invention.

Since there is such a significant dissidence between these performances and others, it leads me to believe there was a light touch from director Martin Andrews.

Actors like Cabrera, McCoy, and Hunton clearly have strong comedic instincts. But if other actors are struggling with what to do, it is the director’s job to notice and address these issues.

Leigh-Ann Santillanes is a fine actor, demonstrated by her artful handling of her monologue about “men like you.” But for most the play, she is completely unengaged from Freddy, her husband, (well-played by the nutty Nathan Chavez) as well as most of what goes in the play.

There is plenty to be explored about these characters who are not towering figures of humanity history, and it is unfortunate that they seem to be neglected.

Likewise, Jeremy Gwin plays the heady Albert Einstein though spends much of his extensive time onstage staring off and looking bored.

These issues are much like the set itself– it is wide, echoy, busy with nicknacks and crap. It hardly looks like a bar. Why are there pink legs onstage? Well, why the hell not!

Mostly, it feels excessive and like no one bothered to stop and question it. If there is such a kitschy feel to this bar, I want to know why. And I want people to interact with the many objects scattered across the set.

The costumes are another odd example of this. Nearly every costume pops with lavish love given to fine dresses and dapper suits– every costume except Picasso’s, who looks like a cheap cartoon from a racist age of animation.

It is possible to criticism a piece of media and still enjoy it. If you see “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, you, too, will enjoy it. It is stagnant and a little slow, but delightful and clever.

We could all be so lucky.

 

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http://www.dailylobo.com/article/2014/09/graham-play-review

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Picasso at the Lapin Agile

by Steve Martin
Directed by Martin Andrews
The Vortex Theatre
(New location)
2900 Carlisle NE

Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 pm, Sundays, 2:00 pm
Runs through September 28
$22 General Admission
$15 Students with valid ID
For More Information call (505) 247-8600 or visit http://www.vortexabq.org

 

 

Charlie L Mee: “Oh em gee so random lol”

When you walk out of “Night and Day,” you’re going to be asking yourself, “What the Fuck did I just watch?”

But the real question is whether or not that’s a good thing.

The good: it’s good to be challenged. It’s good to uncomfortable and accosted by art, and by extension, life.

The bad is that it can also be pretentious bullshit.

“Night and Day” can be colorlessly described as “dance theatre.” This play is about 95 percent dance and 5 percent theatre — or, if you prefer, “talking.” For the full 80 minutes or so of the first act, you’re bombarded with what boils down to “weirdass shit.”

You’re treating to a lounge singer summarizing around five interrelated Greek myths, backed by people filed in an orgasm wall, then to logs being removed from briefcases and smacked lackadaisically with axes, to people talking about eating, then a short visit to Silent Hill, with a Deformed Diaper Dance and a Lightbulb Woman, then off to a naked eating orgy, then to demonic war stories and a suited man talking about human history, then a Cello-backed Bird Sockhead dance, then a man half-murdered in a wine trench, to people falling down to a song with the lyrics “falling down”, to a woman in spider-heart-cage wheeled through more talking about Greeks, to sky booze descending from the ceiling only to be drank and spat violently like an alcoholic Sea World which, of course, turns into white people meticulously moshing, to men stomping chairs accompanied by the silliest band in the world, Ramstein, and then, without question, a man in bondage gear cavorting about while singing “O Fortuna” in a shrill falsetto.

It was actually more fun writing down these quick descriptions of everything as a means to remember it all. There is so much of it that while it can be engrossing, sometimes annoying ideas and images, much of it evaporates from my short-term memory upon the show’s completion.

It’s like the run-on sentence of a junkie describing a fever dream. A little of this sort of theatre goes a long way, but here it’s just too damn much stimulation: too many ideas and images, all at a lightning-fast pace. But there is no time to catch your breath, to digest or make connections, of which there are desperately few. For the most part, it seems overindulgent.

The second act is considerably more coherent, presenting a strong visual theme of a changing monochromic light that engulfs the stage, arranged with motifs of a bouquet of pastoral kindness.

There is a remarkable specificity being created here: the chorus cast of sixteen actors zoom on and off stage by the second, packing the space with many simultaneous actions and intentions. What are our monkey brains and forward-facing binocular vision intended to focus on? Beyond the simple idea of overstimulation, there is the simple question of “Why?” If there is such a titanic effort of choreography and intensity, why do something so abstract? The answer, it seems, as it often is with art like this, is “because we can.”

It is difficult to even really critique art so obtuse. It’s bodily movement by means of abstracted emotion and images. It’s impossible to say something was “bad” or “wrong,” since it seems every possible thing is up for grabs to be used or performed. Every possible “failure,” from an actor’s performance to malfunctioning technical design and multimedia might simply be “part of the show,” which can be entirely meta in an interesting way, or frustrating and without consequence or responsibility for itself.

With that in mind, it is nearly impossible to say whether it is “good” or not. Ultimately, I’d rather art like this existed rather than it didn’t. While it would be amusing if the lawless artsy entropy of the first act was suddenly followed up by a second act of something like some straight-and-clean Neil Simon, “Night and Day” is a testament to the exploration of boundaries and a rebellion against limitation.

And if that’s really all that’s going on here, then, bravo, “Night and Day”. “Fuck the man”, indeed.

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Night and Day
by Charles L. Mee
Directed by Bill Walters
UNM’s Rodey Theatre
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
$15 General, $12 Faculty and Seniors, $10 Staff and Students
For More Information:
(505)925-5858 or visit
http://www.unmtickets.com

Day and Night 

Experience the Whole Hog with “Fat Pig”

People are empty, shallow terrified animals and, apparently, I’m not the only person who thinks so. Playwright Neil LaBute is a fascinating artist. He writes and directs movies as diverse as the delightful black comedy “Nurse Betty” to the Nic … Continue reading

Make Theatre with Something to Prove

 

Theatre has a bit of a PR problem.

People have a lot of preconceived notions about what it is and what it can do. I would even go so far as to generalize that most people have zero interest in watching plays. Often they imagine something stiff, lifeless and boring. They’d rather spend their $15 on a new Hollywood movie, full of all the lights, sounds and stimulation you could possibly want.

And to be honest, it’s really hard to blame them.

I come from a different background, but I am still frustrated by what I see. It’s sad to see the same faces in every crowd, at every play. This goes for the actors, yes, but mainly for the audiences. And it’s sad to see so much theatre that just isn’t any good.

The problem for the general public is exposure. Why don’t people want to see plays? Well, probably because they’ve never seen a play, or whatever idea they have of a play does not appeal to them.

It’s easy to consume television or movies causally. Their omnipresence makes it possible. Not so with theatre.

Any popular art that can equally be consumed as entertainment — that is, novels, comic books, television, movies, even video games — has a percentage breakdown of terrible, passable, okay, good or great works. Currently, that can extend to anything aesthetic, but it’s easiest to see in anything produced in an industry largely based around making money.

It’s cynical, but it’s the nature of the beast: most of these products will be bad or average. Few will be good. Fewer still will be truly inspired.

So where does it start? You begin dealing with the uncertain, unadventurous mind of the average person.

“It’s not my style,” you might hear. The appeal isn’t there because people don’t know there is something there to be appealing.

Perhaps more children should be taken to plays to learn it can be exhilarating or engrossing.

I like to be an idealist. It’s like being an optimist, but with more specifics in mind. I have seen and produced theatre I believe can do unique things for the performer and the audience, adding effects and questions that other storytelling mediums cannot.

I know I am not the only person frustrated by lack of interest or low ticket sales in the grand scheme of things. If you want more people to see your plays, make better plays. It starts there.

Theatres need to keep in mind that the vast majority of people aren’t going to give a dainty discharge if a play is a rough-and-racy David Mamet, a classic Eugene O’Neil or even the Reefer Madness Musical. It’s all going to sound like stuffy Shakespeare or bland, safe Neil Simon to them.

The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. The real audience to attract is not the fraction of the populous who are pleased by whatever they see, regardless of the play or its quality, but to the masses to whom sitting down for something alive and made in light before them would never occur to them.

If you’re not making theatre like you have something to prove, well, there’s something wrong. Theater definitely has something to prove — to the masses, to itself and to you. It may, sadly, come to begging.

Sorry for that in advance.

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