Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Shutting down the Museum for the holiday, back on Monday.

A long, hard year but I'm thankful for many things.

The unwavering and rock solid support of our friends and family and even some strangers when Nancy pulled her fireball stunt.

The confirmation that this hypnotized, terrified, bug-eyed country that I love has taken at least one step out of the tarpit of racism with the election of Obama.

The tenacity of the American theater artists I count as friends and even those I don't. It's hard staying honorable and enthused out there, but every show, every reading, every rehearsal keeps the torch burning, flickering though it may be at times.

The support of the audiences this year (you still got one more date to dance with us, Truth About Santa, don't worry I'll be reminding you soon). Honestly, if you didn't care, we wouldn't be doing it.

Try to take some time for yourself tomorrow.

It's a hard road, but that doesn't mean the sun isn't shining in the fields all around you. Take a second to look around.

Pretty, right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

our ancestors speak

Here's Herbert Blau, writing back in 1964:

If, as I believe, it is the nature of the theater to court peril, then it's a risk one may have to take if he wants to work in it honorably. There is a lot of desire and thinking incipient in our theater that is quickly cowed by the cocksure weary realism of established mediocrity. It may be true that thought collects in pools, but still water stinks if not deep. And we must talk up if we're not to be talked down to.

"...cocksure weary realism of established mediocrity."

Man, that's good.

Good run-through of The Truth About Santa last night in the space.

Thank gob for my musical elves, they're making me look great up there.

Ann correctly lassos Wildcat Kelley, winning another MMMQ and Rose wins as well, since (as she points out), Rattlesnake Pete is exactly the name you'd give to an old hound dog if you lived down South, which was the question hidden within the initial question.

Way to go deep, Rose.

Monday, November 24, 2008

professor scrappy

Spent the weekend up at Williams College, taking part in the Dialogue One Festival.

Taught a master class, Matt Oberg did The Event, all just a regular part of our ongoing efforts to warp young minds and feed off of the hulking, shambling beast that is the American theater's academic gulag.

Lot of money up there in them ivory towers.

The League is convening on December 7th, if you're not a member yet, well, why the hell not?

Download the application at

Due to some Museum housekeeping that had to get done, today's MMMQ is technically a MAMQ, but don't let that throw you. Ann was looking for a challenge, so how's this:

Ella Fitzgerald warbles her early genius all the way through "Don't Fence Me In". Who wants land, lots of land, under starry skies above? Who wants to ride to the ridge where the West commences and gaze at the moon until he loses his senses?

Who don't want to be fenced in?

1. Rattlesnake Pete

2. Wildcat Kelly

3. Wild Joe Poke

4. Johnny Appleseed


6. Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens?

Winners get to wander over yonder til they see the mountains rise, losers get the pokey.

Friday, November 21, 2008

on the road

Couldn't get out of the city last night, so it's an early morning sprint up to Williamstown.

Had our first stumble-through of The Truth About Santa last night, funny stuff.

World stays crazy, stocks keep dropping, the Attorney General collapses, MTA raises fares while cutting service.

Let's just hold on and get to the end of the year.

Good weekend to all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

mike stutz is a bad man

Kept me up all night last night, forcing me to drink whiskey and expound my opinion on every matter under the sun.

In my own home.

A very bad person.

Mike's in from Los Angeles, but he used to be a downtown performer and producer. His company Hoffenrich was in the first two Fringes here, '97 and '98, and they performed at the Fringe Club up on 45th Street way back in the day.

Crazy funny stuff, mixing modern dance with sketch comedy, which somehow worked.

Full day today, meetings, rehearsal and then driving up to the Berkshires tonight for a workshop and performance of The Event at Williams College over the weekend.

I'm going to need another pot of coffee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



Hijacking oil tankers?

Isn't that the plot of Superman V or something?

That's not really playing on my TV screen as news, is it?

The American auto industry, the entire industry, saying it probably won't make it until the spring?

Maybe electing the first black President tipped us into one of those parallel universes you hear smart people talking about all the time. It's just like our world, only your name is Jim, the president's black and pirates roam the seas.

What's next?


Powdered wigs?

It's getting very strange out there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

winter comes

Saw a few snow flakes this morning while walking up Avenue B, late for a breakfast meeting at the Odessa.

Come on, Father Frost.

End this year and give us a new one.

I promise we'll do better next time.

Ann nailed the easy MMMQ, Noel Redding was the last leg of the rock 'n roll tripod of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Next week, obscure garage bands from St. Louis, circa 1976.

We'll see how well Algernon does with that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

scrappy's back

Amazing what about sixty hours of sleep can do to a man.

Busy week ahead and on Friday we're up at Williams College with The Event as part of the Dialogue One Festival.

Going to warp some young minds, Gob willing.

And I'm breaking all theatrical laws with The Truth About Santa. Decided last week to cast Lusia's bull dog as the lamb with seven horns and seven eyes in the big apocalyptic finale.

Yep. Children and dogs.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mitch Mitchell died last week in a hotel in Portland, Oregon. Mitch was one third of probably the greatest all-time power trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The obit said he thought it was going to be a two-week gig, ended up putting out three albums before Jimi shuffled off the mortal coil.

Our MMMQ goes back to those days of bell-bottoms and towering afros and asks you to name the third man on stage with Jimi and Mitch. Who put out the bass line that Jimi could fight his guitar back to when the beast got tired of yowling?

Was it

1. Kenny Gradney

2. Noel Redding

3. Otis Redding

4. Ray Manzarek


5. President-elect Barack Hussein Obama?

Winners get to kiss the sky, losers get experienced.

Friday, November 14, 2008

scrappy is down

Woke up this morning, stumbled to the coffee-maker as usual and realized I could barely stand up. Went back to the bed and slept until noon. Up now, but just barely. Nothing hurts, just tired to my bones. Going to sleep a little more and see if I can make a 3:00 rehearsal.

Man. Whipped.

Here's another essay from the vault:


When I think of Shakespeare, I think of Gulliver in Lilliputia: a giant tied down and held fast by hundreds of tiny ropes. We are the Lilliputians when we approach Shakespeare, busily fastening our slim theories, inspirations and critical interpretations to the great bulk in a foolish and futile attempt to hold the Titan still.

Another metaphor: a ship so covered in barnacles that the weight makes the sailing sluggish and slow. The generations of criticism, prejudices, assumptions and unchecked misperceptions cling to the great ship Shakespeare and all but drag it under. The barnacles are then blessed with the pomp and sanctity of hallowed writ and the once living ship descends to the depths, the Titan becoming a Titanic, distant, cold, dead.

The constant miracle, of course, is that all one must do is read the lines aloud and listen to them, unvarnished and alive and Shakespeare is among us again, breathing hard on our neck and pushing us about the stage. And if we hold three things in our heads and refer to them throughout the rehearsal process, Shakespeare again becomes accessible, simple and immediate.

The first thing to hold in your mind when working with Shakespeare is that he wrote for the stage, not for the page. The Globe was open to the sun, half the audience was standing and the reverent, hushed atmosphere of today’s audience was something a player had to earn and fight to keep against great odds, not something assumed. For the actor, this translates simply to making the primary focus and scene partner not your fellow actor, but the audience immediately in front of you. It is not a job for psychological realism or imitative dexterity; it is a job for speaking clearly and standing still. The audience is directly addressed, of course, in the constant soliloquies and asides, but these moments are not departures from the world of the play but rather logical extensions. When playing Shakespeare, you are never in Verona, never in Arden, never in Egypt, Rome or England. You are always on a stage, playing a role in front of an audience. This consciousness will both heighten the urgency of your speech and action and add a necessary freedom and critical distance to the degree of your role-playing. By not burying yourself in character, you remain free to engage in the larger wordplay and dramatic conceits of the language. While this understanding is blatantly essential when playing a fool or a rustic, it is no less necessary in the more subtle and complex roles. There is always an awareness in Shakespeare that another living being is watching and listening. To disregard this is as crippling as disregarding the rhythm and meter of iambic pentameter.

The second principle, which follows from the first, is that Shakespeare used poetry to write drama, not the other way around. Since the formal, rhythmic constraints of blank verse shape the thoughts and expressions of his characters, the actor must understand and respect the rules of the verse. But neither the actor nor the director should ever be concerned primarily with the beauty of the language. Shakespeare has already created the language; your job is to make sure it is heard clearly. The creative team must be concerned with action, character, and drama. The reason Shakespeare’s plays are still performed is not because of their gorgeous language, but because of their theatrical economy, wit and intelligence. You are never reciting. You are always playing. The character is never engaged in wordplay for it’s own sake, but only to complete or initiate an action. One must accept that the characters speak in this fashion, understand the rules and governing principles of the style and then banish the idea of “poetry” and all of the word’s passive associations in order to chase and follow the actions and thoughts of the character and the play.

The third essential thing to understand when playing Shakespeare is the simplest and yet the most widely disregarded. This is the principle of playing the opposite. Over and over we see “regal” kings and “comical” clowns and “virtuous” heroines and “noble” heroes plodding dully across countless stages in what seems to be a conscious conspiracy to render Shakespeare dull, obvious and dead. Playing a clown as comical is as good an idea as pouring sugar on ice cream. To approach a villain with the goal of expressing his malice is to twirl a mustache and wear a black hat. It is a universal truth that comedy is funny in direct proportion to the gravity of the comedians. If Lou Costello doesn’t passionately want to know who’s on first, the bit becomes quickly endless and endlessly annoying. If we remember that the fools in Shakespeare’s time literally lived on their wits and depended on the understanding and appreciation of their words for their food, clothing and shelter, we would see far fewer slouching, winking, leering and unfunny fools on our stage. In the same way, a tragic figure is only tragic to us when we are allowed to see his frailty, her humanity. Play the man who bears the crown, not the king who wears it. Pay attention to the heroine’s work, not her worth. You will find Shakespeare reaching towards you and handing you the tools if you begin to play the opposite and the weight of the great roles will lift from your shoulders and become wings.

When working on Shakespeare, stay on the stage, aware of the audience, study but never play the poetry and look for the opposite of the established understanding of the role. With these three things in mind, Shakespeare becomes your collaborator and partner and his plays live again, rescued from the depths of unthinking tradition, liberated from the thousand thin ropes of theory.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

on rehearsal

Pressed for time today and the cat doesn't seem inspired, so here's a long-ass post about rehearsal, an essay I wrote a few years back.


A broad but truthful dividing line between all theatre people separates those who would prefer to always be in rehearsal and those who would prefer to always be on stage. I’m a rehearsal man. It’s sort of like preferring to be on a journey rather than at the destination. I find that all destinations, no matter how glittering or exotic, inevitably disappoint while the most mundane journey offers endless surprise and opportunity to marvel. By the same analogy, there is no one way to rehearse, just as you cannot give the same directions to Poughkeepsie and Cairo. You can’t even give the same directions to two different travelers both on their way to Poughkeepsie. The first may be wealthy and need to be there tomorrow while the second is penniless and has nothing but time. But as there are general principles towards safe and enjoyable travel, there are principles of rehearsal, which hold true in all circumstances.

The rehearsal period is one of discovery and it is impossible to discover anything if you believe you already know what it is. Any conversation about spirituality with a religious zealot is sufficient to convince anyone of this. For this reason, all theories and assumptions and first and second impressions of the play in rehearsal, no matter how obvious, august or time-honored, should be regarded with a high degree of suspicion. Often we find we believe plays are comedies only because we have been told so repeatedly. In the same way we are subjected to productions of Romeo and Juliet that stubbornly attempt to convince us we are seeing a great love story, despite the obvious foolishness and bloodlust of the protagonists.

The opening period of the rehearsal process is a rigorous interrogation exercise where the text is forced to incriminate itself. If the author is alive and present, she is at best the text’s attorney; she must not be treated as a witness or accomplice. She will not be on stage with the actors opening night, they will be alone with the text. Question the text, together as a company and most importantly, listen to what the text actually says. The key question the director asks in this phase is “What do you think?” All too often you hear exactly the wrong leading question, “How did that feel?” In these early stages, any feelings the actors may have towards the text or their work is unreliable. Odds are they will feel stiff and clumsy and hesitant. You don’t ask someone about the view when they’re still in the train station. “What do you think?” allows the actors to use all of their intellect and common sense and experience to analyze and respond to a phrase or an argument or a line of thought. Like good interrogators or detectives, they can latch onto the smallest clue, the detail that can unlock the entire piece for them. It is important for the director to ask, listen and ask again, leading the investigation but not coming to or announcing any conclusions. This is a hard thing for a director to do, but an understanding of a production that has come out of consensus and the actor’s own discoveries is much more valuable and durable than one announced at the first rehearsal and doggedly prosecuted for four weeks. The director’s job should never be to convince anyone of anything, it should be to provide the opportunity for the text to reveal itself to the actors and for the actors to give themselves to the text. Directors are not surgeons, they are midwives. Question everything, question each other, but always go to the text for answers. Every answer is in the text.

After a few sessions of open questioning and group discussion restlessness inevitably descends. The actors are tired of talking. The wise director agrees with them and lets them run at this point. The majority of the actual work of rehearsal: character definition, blocking, the first breaching of the arc of the play, is accomplished during this second period. The actors grow confident. The spirit of play and creation bounce around the room. The director can literally direct, steering the ensemble into and around the reefs and shoals of the text and always back towards the center of the play.

Usually towards the end of this second period of serious play and accomplishment the bottom drops out. Like the alchemical process set horribly in reverse, all that was golden turns to lead. Actors turn into automatons, the text is revealed as hackneyed, pretentious, second-rate scribbling, the director is a tongue-tied fool who never should have been trusted in the first place. Embarrassment, if not career-ending disaster is certain if the wretched thing ever actually opens. This is the time when everyone realizes independently and as a group that it’s serious. It’s actually going to happen. The idea of opening night is best kept out of the rehearsal hall for as long as possible, but it must be faced and it always bursts in frantic and accusing. The more discovery and risk that have occurred during the early phases, the deeper the unease and doubt at this phase. I have been in rehearsals where terror has reigned and actors have been physically affected by the depth of their discomfort. This is not the time to change course or pull out a map you have been hiding the whole time. Nor is it a time to reassure. The terror, doubt, or if you are lucky, simple boredom of this phase must be addressed directly and endured stoically. This is the time to say, “Yes. It’s horrible. Why?” Keep running the scenes and acts and look carefully for the one moment or exchange where the unhappiness in the room most clearly manifests itself. Focus on that moment, not by running it to death, but by talking about it and drawing the company’s attention to it. Question it as you did in the beginning. It will eventually answer and open the door to the final phase of rehearsal. There is always something in the play or the production or the ensemble that has been disregarded or left undeveloped, something small that was remarked upon early in rehearsal but not understood. Look for it now and it will come rushing towards you in all its insignificant simplicity and it will hand you your play.

Finally, you are in technical rehearsals and previews. Best to forget about the play entirely during technical rehearsals and leave the poor actors alone. You’ve given them all you can at this point. Once you can get a decent run together, complete with costumes, sound, light, props and sets, it is the right time to ask the company as a whole “How do you feel?” Actors are, in most cases, a very brave and canny lot and all you can do on the eve of their battle is thank them, praise them and embolden them as best you can.

So. Question everything and everyone at first, looking for and noting any truthful response. All of these responses will add up to something the actors can run with and breathe life into. Anticipate disaster. Acknowledge doubt and discomfort. Stay the course; eyes open for the detail that has been neglected. Seize it, unlock the last door, usher the company through and remain on the threshold, cheering them on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The title of this post, "xd'" was suggested by the cat, who just walked across my open laptop when I turned to try to adjust the volume on the TV, typing the mystical syllable:


Have we unwittingly stumbled upon a fragment of the ancient cat language Mu?


Not sure if I can top that, so that's my meditation for today.

xd' to all and be careful out there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ruby tuesday

It's a proper fall day out there in Rat City, sweaters and jackets and such. We're starting to get holiday party invitations here at the Museum, hard to believe another year is winding down.

I've got Palin on MSNBC in the background. They keep giving her rope. She's starting to sound pathological, just babbling away with those fixed eyes and hard smile. It's a blood sport and no one seems to have the heart to crucify Johnny Mac, so Ms. Palin is tethered on the altar, I guess.

Back in rehearsal today. Also meeting up with the Stolen Chair crew today, keeping my consultant hand in.

Everyone got the MMMQ, even Rose, I'm going to have to ratchet it up next week. The Glimmer Twins produced Rewind and Obama is a de facto correct answer for the forseeable future.

Tony brings up the Google question.

I don't know about the fine young men and women of Temple University, paying good money for their education, but it seems to me there's something sacrosanct about a weekly online music quiz.

But I'll leave it to the judges to parse.

Happy Veterans Day to all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

itching and scratching

and just trying to move on. I'm seriously jonesing over here without my nightly Chuck Todd numbers and Chris Matthews televised bar-fights.

And I don't want to hear about McCain or Bush or any of those other liars being "generous" or "gracious".

It's actually quite easy to be nice when you've lost, the test of a person is how you behave when you're in a fight.

Spent the weekend working on The Truth About Santa, Greg Kotis' apocalyptic holiday tale. How many shows manage to fit in singing elves, candy-wine, ice wolves, joy-weed and the Apocalypse in under an hour?

Damn few, I would imagine, but I'm working on one of them.

Also had a very productive League of Independent Theater board meeting on Sunday. The fall flung us all far and wide, we're back now and focused. Charter members should be hearing from us very soon and I'm really looking forward to hearing from you. Much to be done.

Caught Shine a Light last night on my Time Warner Video on Demand (or Video on Humble Request as me and McGee call it, since it often involves wailing "O please! Come on!" at the TV screen before your selection appears.) Man. Those boys haven't lost a step. Great footage of the lads acting sweet and harmless, shaking hands with Bill Clinton and friends before taking the stage and then hurling themselves into the Rock and Roll Frenzy.

The Stones are the subject of today's MMMQ. Rewind (1971-1984) was produced by:

1. The Neville Brothers

2. The Chemical Brothers

3. The Glam Twins

4. The Glimmer Twins


5. The Righteous Brothers, except for track five, Tumbling Dice, produced by the Olsen Twins.

Winners get a heaping spoonful of Brown Sugar, losers are just Fools to Cry.

Friday, November 07, 2008


I had to meet my writing partner up in midtown last night around 6:00.

Took the subway up to 50th and 8th and then cut east into the Belly of the Beast, walking fast because I was late.

And I started moving like a Terminator. And I started thinking like a chess-playing computer, like Deep Blue kicking Bobby Fischer's ass all around the board.

Same thing happened coming home. As soon as I was out there doing the broken-field, cross-town, jay-walking, full-stride Rat City Hustle, my mind started whirring.

It's been a weird, fragmented fall for all of us at the Museum, with funerals and flights and long periods of sitting out in the woods camouflaged as regular Americans.

You forget, when you live in a large city, how that city conditions you and how much you give up just by living there. Lawns, quiet, stars at night, etc.

But you also forget, until you taste the rush and almost feel the blade, like I did last night, that the City is a whetstone and it sharpens you every day.

I could practically hear the snick, snick inside my head coming home from that meeting.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

home again, home again

Jiggity jig.

Tuesday night goes down in my personal All-Time Surreal Moments record book:

Singing The Star Spangled Banner, full-throated and proud in a pub in Belfast in front of a bunch of cheering Irishmen, waiting for Pennsylvania to come in.

Later that night, 3:00 AM, alone with a bottle of Famous Grouse in my bedroom in a bedsit on the other side of town, standing in front of the little TV mounted on the wall, holding on to the television with both hands, rocking back and forth and whispering to the screen,

"Come on. Come on, Florida. Come on Ohio. Come on."

And then waking to find we won, hallelujah, and I had hugely overslept and was about to miss my flight to London.

Thanks to a fearless and possibly unhinged taxi-driver I made the flight and then spent the day in Heathrow buying every paper they sold, reading the first two pages, weeping quietly to myself, a strange, unshaven figure stalking Terminal 3, the American abroad, just wanting to get back home.

Swing State Cabaret rocked, well done to all.

And well done, Mr. President-elect.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

new day


That was something.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

it's here

Well, it's all over now except the vote fraud.

If you're in Belfast tonight, come see me at Sally McCracken's Pub, political humor galore.

If you're in America, you know what to do.

Please Jesus, let it be a happy ending.

Carl and Ann correctly identified Van as George Ivan and thus are moondancing together on a cyber dancefloor in my mind.

I'm up all night tonight, Pennsylvania doesn't close until 1:00 AM over here, and then traveling back home tomorrow, so you may not hear from me until Thursday.

Come on, Virginia. Let's go, Florida.

I'm just a wreck, man.

Let it end right.

Monday, November 03, 2008

dateline belfast

Landed in this troubled town last night, the plane from Heathrow filled with men and women all carrying Irish babies, ginger-haired, dark-eyed round-faced Irish girls and boys, all strangely quiet, staring at the American.

Michael Duke and his wife (also carrying an Irish child, their daughter Nora) picked me up and then Mick and I toured the city. Standing in front of the Hotel Europa, which has the dubious distinction of being the most bombed hotel in Europe, I felt a shiver. Could have been the travel catching up with me, could have been the northern Irish wind.

Haven't been here long enough to know if the ghosts still walk, but there's no doubt that it's an English city.

Meeting up with the other writers in about an hour and then the actors join us this afternoon. Tomorrow night, election night, we put up Swing State Cabaret at McCracken's Pub, downtown Belfast, and then gather around a television with our rosary beads and whiskey.

Strange to be away, but good to have a job to do.

Our MMMQ honors the great rock and roll mystic and son of Belfast, Van Morrison. Van is too cool a name to be handed down, it had to be crafted out of what the boy had been given. So, was the wee lad christened:

1. Ivan Dmitri Morrison

2. Evan George Morrison

3. George Ivan Morrison

4. Grigori Ivan Dmitri Morrison


5. Ivan Dmitri Dmitronovich Dmitrivonovonovich Morrison?

Winners get a Moondance with a partner of their choice, losers fall like a Domino.