Wednesday, November 30, 2011

chopping wood

I'm looking at one of those rare free days.

Ten thousand things to do, of course, but no conference calls or meetings or pitches or deadlines looming.  I need to work on this new thing I'm writing, smooth out the beginning and figure out what the hell it's trying to be, start this crazy big project I cooked up with Martin Denton yesterday, try to scare some money out of thin air to fund The Extremists, The Apocalyptic Road Show and maybe keep the lights on, but the day is essentially unscheduled.

One thing I know I've got to do is chop wood.

No metaphor there; I'm going to go out in the yard with an axe and turn some fallen trees into firewood.

These days when Spitfire and I don't have to be in Rat City we hide out in the country.  Came out on Monday, here for a little stretch.  And one of the real glories of the hide-away is the fireplace.  Nothing like a blazing hearth when it's dark and backwoodsy outside and you're huddling up with the cat and the wife with nothing but HBO and Showtime and other premium channels to get you through the night.

Those of you who know me well will appreciate the heartbreaking hilarity that hung in the air the first time it was just me and the axe and the log. 

An axe?  Clancy with an axe

Well, this can't end well.

My Mom was horrified when I told her.

You're going to cut your leg off!  An axe?  You have an axe

But I've gotten pretty good at it.  Like everything in the world, you've just got to do it for awhile and then keep doing it and eventually you find you've figured it out.

But the first few times, man, you're standing out there with your work gloves and your safety glasses and a fucking axe eyeballing a tree, thinking:

Nah.  Never going to happen.  Someone could do this, this is something that people can do, obviously, but there is no way I'm turning this tree into something I can throw into the fireplace tonight .

And the first five or six or twenty swings of the old axe prove you right.  It bounces off  wrong and scares the hell out of you, you chip a little bit off the log, the axe bites into the wood and holds there and you're trying to wiggle it out like Jeremiah Johnson never had to do, you're just grateful there's no one but the deer to witness the sad parody of self-reliance you're enacting out back.

And it's hard, even when you're doing it wrong.  You're out of breath, your back and shoulders start seizing up, it's work, man.  But then the log splits, you've got two logs and then they divide and after a little bit more back-breaking terror, you've got firewood at your feet.

And you do it again.  And you've got a fire that night.  And it gets to the point, like right now, where you're actually looking forward to that axe and that log and your gloves and safety glasses.

It's just like that first or second or thirtieth blank page the writer stares down.  Like every first rehearsal the director walks into, every opening night the actor hurtles towards.  You know in your bones that you can't do it, someone else can, sure, it can be done, but no way I'm going to pull this off.   But you do it.  Maybe badly at first, but everyone else is staring down at their own log, judging themselves, so no one calls you out or laughs so you do it again.

And at the end of the day you've got firewood and if there's a fireplace to throw it in you're watching the blaze with your honey, warm and happy and tired and thinking about chopping wood tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2011

from the vault

Going through the vault over the weekend looking for hard copies of the old Piano Store plays, since back then we didn't have computers to store things on.  We'd use these things called "desk drawers" or sometimes "shelves".  You can google them, they've got pictures and everything.

Found them, things I wrote going on twenty years ago now.  Some of them still stand up, too.

The reason for the scavenger hunt is that the Dentons want to publish a collection of my old shorts (no snickering in the back, please, this is serious business) on indietheaternow.

During the search I came across this, below, written ten years ago.  Take is as a companion piece or an early sketch for Theater isn't Rock and Roll.

The syndrome I wrote about doesn't seem to be as widespread these days or maybe I'm just riding around with a different (older) gang now.

But I like the way it flows and it used to be true.


November, 2001

Steppenwolf Theater has always been cool.  They are the Rat Pack, the Dirty Dozen, the Wild Bunch of the American theater, roaring into town, picking up some awards, roaring back out.  The name itself, at first rangy and sharp-toothed and then a tip of the hat towards German literature perfectly captures the Dharma Bums/Hell’s Angels confluence of American cool.  Then you have the Chicago mythos. You imagine working-class Poles and Micks toiling in the deafening slaughterhouse all day and then trudging home to rehearse wild-ass shit all night in the basement of a church, slugging back black coffee and rye to stay awake.  Add to this the wild success, the movie stars, the Broadway runs and awards, and clearly Steppenwolf is the ideal.  So it’s hard to argue that they’ve all but killed American theater.

Not them, of course.  It’s their spawn, infected by the Steppenwolf Syndrome.  The Stepford Steppenwolfs. The Steppenpuppies.  If you’ve worked for any extensive period in the American theater you know them.  The actor who looks for any excuse in the script to take off his shirt, knock furniture around or clean his nails with a Bowie knife.  The director who casts these actors and encourages everyone to shout, smoke and stalk around.  The writer who is openly or secretly re-writing every early Shepard play and constantly robbing profanity of its beauty and power by using it as mere punctuation.

The result of all this misguided energy is a dizzying and ultimately dispiriting accumulation of loud, violent, messy evenings of theater. Every once in a while, like a night in a crowded bar or a walk on the Lower East Side on a Saturday night, these evenings can provide a life-affirming, electric jolt.  But all too often you find yourself looking around and thinking, “What the hell is everyone shouting about?” and wishing you were home with friends.  The Steppencubs have given us an undergraduate theater, a juvenile theater, a “boys-with-guns-and-women-who-strip-and-cuss” theater.

It is, undeniably, an American theater, which is a large part of its draw and satisfaction.  For as much as Pinter and Stoppard and Orton thrill and stir us, there is something in Shepard and Mamet and Rabe that resonates more deeply and fully within us.  The best of this theater, like the best of American culture, achieves a Steinbeckian simplicity, an immediacy and a power we recognize intuitively.  Plainspoken truth and a celebration of the endurance, courage and decency of the human spirit, coupled with a heart-breaking, bleak beatification of the loner, the misfit and outcast, these things can appear and vanish in much of our theater like the ghosts of the American night.  But usually we see the worst of our culture, a loud, leering, dim-witted aggression and a sense that violence is in itself somehow both inevitable and vaguely romantic.

This translates to the stage as actors with little or no control or interest in their physical and vocal instrument, directors emphasizing mood and attitude over thought and objective and writers with their feet stuck firmly to the killing floor, afraid or unwilling to spread their wings and try to fly.  We should remember that Thornton Wilder and George S. Kaufman and Elmer Rice were three of the prototypical American playwrights.  We should remember that Dos Passos and Odets allowed working-class characters to breathe a lyricism that rarely rang hollow and always reached beyond the grim desperation of their circumstances.  We need to stop romanticizing the vulgar and vulgarizing the romantic in our theater and our heritage.

And I lay all of this on Steppenwolf’s door?

Sure. Why not?  It’s an American tradition to tear down yesterday’s champions and it’s an American attitude that says, “We know where that road goes, so let’s try something new for a change.”

If the SteppenFetchits were emulating Steppenwolf for the fierce tenacity of their early days, their insistence on an ensemble dynamic and their ability to attract and foster great new writers, I’d say Godspeed.  But when you strive to emulate their style, or worse, a dumbed-down, third-hand understanding of their style, I say enough, already.  You can break all the furniture you want and never create anything more meaningful than firewood onstage if there is no thought, poetry or craft behind the wreckage.  If you want to create the next Steppenwolf Theatre, then do what they did.  Commit to ten years with the same core of people and spend every night arguing and agreeing and thrashing around in a basement somewhere until you have your own aesthetic and vision to share.  Stop wearing hand-me-downs.  They don’t fit and they’re out of style anyway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

theater isn't rock and roll - conclusion

Not to be confused with an actual rock star

This goes on for a while.  Caught some kind of wave and couldn't stop.

So there we were on the Lower East Side.

I wish I could paint it from memory and drop you right down into it, but memory lies and as usual I wasn’t paying all that much attention.

Rat City, 1990.

David Dinkins is in charge and the city is going down.  AIDS is killing everyone, you watch your friends turn Biafran overnight and two weeks later they’re gone.  Crack is everywhere and unlike every other drug plague, this one turns every user into a psychotic zombie. They’re out of it but they’re fucking aggressive, so crime is like the weather, it’s a fact, a thing you accept.

Nancy’s working Off-Broadway and doing some soap opera work, I’m writing crazy shit no one wants to produce and auditioning for roles I don’t want in shows that suck and getting a few callbacks but no gigs.  Nancy recognizes the larger implications and says,

Let’s do it ourselves.  Let’s just put up these shows.  Why not?” 

We’d hooked up with two brilliant producer/hipsters from Boston and they called themselves House of Borax.  In Boston, or so the legend went, you’d staplegun an empty box of Borax or Tide or some other detergent onto a warehouse door and that was the signal that Wild Theater was going to go down on the other side.  They were trying to bring this theater rave scene to Gotham and Nancy and I climbed aboard the train. 

The Boraxians had made a deal with a dealer named Cam who oversaw a place called The Piano Store on Ludlow.   Cam was running an illegal after-hours club and he had it set up nice with a bar and hash brownies on the counter and a real sound system.  He wanted some kind of entertainment to happen around 10:30, some kind of faintly legitimate beard for those few authorities who might be paying attention.  The plan was we’d do a show at 10:30, we’d be down by midnight, people would hang out afterwards and then come 2:00, 2:30 the real crowd would roll in.

And thanks to the guerilla producing genius of the Boraxians and our hustling every friend we knew to come down, it was a success.  We played through the summer of ’91, a different show every weekend and the place was packed.  Aaron Beall was starting his empire across the street and we didn’t even know.

Like all too many good things it ended bad.  I didn’t think their stuff was as good as ours and said so.  Tried to make a deal where the Boraxians would produce and we’d be in charge of the artistic side.  After an epic twelve hour conversation/argument around my aunt’s dining room table in Gramercy Park we parted ways.

Thank you, David and Karen.  You threw us into the deep end and you knew how to swim.

So that blew up but we had managed to make enough noise to get an echo back, so we kept putting up shows wherever we could.  

Looking back, I know now where we made our first fateful misstep, but it seemed like the logical path at the time.  We were performing in bars that summer.  Bars without liquor licenses.  Speakeasys, so everyone knew as soon as they walked in that something was fundamentally wrong

Very rock and roll.

But that wasn’t a choice or any kind of plan, that’s just what happened.  So now we’re looking at theaters.  And we start playing little tiny theaters.  And it’s still cool, we’re still getting an audience but it’s not quite as much fun.  We’re too young and green to calibrate what’s happening, we think maybe it’s the show or the script or the fact that we’re too tired from working all day, but the high is definitely not the same. 

But people are coming and the mailing list is growing, so we start an actual company, The Present Company, and we print up business cards and we meet Elena Holy and she’s all business thank god and we’re in the game. 

And then Aaron Beall walks into our lives.

The story of Beall is too good and long and unbelievable to get shoe-horned in here, but give me a quick moment of your life to prep you for the eventual telling, if it ever comes to pass.  Go grab a drink or check your email and come back, this is good.

Aaron was a little guy, couldn’t have been more than five foot seven, but he walked like a giant and in his day, when it was working for him, he ruled every room he was in.  He played the trickster fool and revealed the power only at the end, turning over the ace in the hole only at the last pass when all the money was on the table.

He ran Todo con Nada, one of the perfectly named outfits on the street.  The others were Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious, so you get a sense of the careless genius and surfeit knowledge that was hanging in the very air of the neighborhood in those days.

Nada was a pit, a basement room with seven foot ceilings, no wing space, seventy seats and you changed in the back in Aaron’s office.   Depending on where you hung the back curtain you had a couple of feet backstage and behind you, always at your back, was the roaring nightlife of Ludlow Street.  People screaming, cops arresting the screaming people, other people screaming at the cops arresting their once screaming now silent friends, it was something all right.  

So you had to be more interesting than the street.  A great challenge, something the Elizabethans would have instantly understood.

And Aaron hooked us up with Brian Parks who had written an odd little comedy called Vomit and Roses and we put on that show at Nada and things started getting strange and wonderful. 

And more people showed up and I remember like this morning a winter night when I stood in the backyard of Nada and looked up at the night sky and listened to a full house of complete strangers howling and shrieking in joy while Vomit and Roses thrashed around on the stage in front of them and I thought

We’ve made it.  This is show biz.  We’ve got a hit.

Of course, none of us made a dime, not even Aaron who tried to rip us off.

Remember:  you changed in Aaron’s office.

So when the show started, I was stuck in the back.
In Aaron’s office.

I’d listen to the beginning of the show and then I’d go out to the backyard and smoke, but other than that there I was sitting at his desk.  And I saw the envelopes, each night’s take, sitting there on the desk in front of me.  The envelopes were empty, of course, but written on the front of each one was the total take.  So I’d copy down the amount in a notebook and at the end of the run I knew exactly how much money we’d brought in.  So when it came time to settle, about a month after we closed, Aaron says

Looks like you did good.  I owe you 855 dollars.

And I say smoothly

We did do good.  I think you owe us 1,346. 

And I hear the pause and the swallow and the penny dropping and Aaron comes back smoother than me,

Yeah, that sounds right. 

My partner in crime, my downtown mentor, the man who stole my youth and made me grow up, Aaron Beall.  

Stories will be told and facts will be disputed and if it goes right, someday, blood will be shed but that’s all I’ve got for now.

And with Aaron and a few others, the New York Fringe was born in 1997.

And that was full-on, no-brakes, hide-your-daughters, pray-to-Jesus rock and roll.

You’ve got blisters on your fingers? 

 Fuck you, I’ve got blisters on my feet from running down box offices all over the Lower East Side.  I haven’t slept in a bed in ten days motherfucker and I’m just waiting for someone to die so they’ll shut us down and I can go the hell home.

And that’s where and when I met Ian Hill and Kirk Bromley and Art Wallace and Al Orensanz and Rob Prichard and Bob and Patrick and everyone else at Collective Unconscious and for a brief moment there, maybe two years, there was an uneasy but very enjoyable unification of the tribes.

And then that blew up, mostly just because of real estate prices and the fact that all good things go bad if you’re not tending them carefully. 

But this is supposed to be about rock and roll and theater and how they’re not the same thing.

Goddamned Aaron Beall, got me off-track again.

So fast forward ten years or so and we’ve left the Fringe behind and improbably become minor art stars overseas.  And we’re touring and getting crazy good reviews and awards and all of that, but it’s not actually rock and roll. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s an American jazz musician’s life, playing an essential, original American style, wailing as hard as you know how and looking out at a crowd of Europeans.  Wonderful and you’re thankful to be there, but a little weird.

It was this last time, out on the road with Apocalypse, when the pieces started coming together for me.

It takes me a while sometimes, but I usually get it in the end.

We were in one of the smaller venues, New Pitsligo or Braemar, and the crowd had come in and we were about to start and instead of thinking “I hope they like it” or “Let’s blow the roof off of this place” I had a strange thought that was something like,

I hope the show respects these people and I hope they recognize that respect and listen to what it’s trying to say.


Not something you usually associate with rock and roll.

Because rock and roll is outlaw.  All of it, that’s the whole territory.  The best rock and roll announces its lack of respect at the very top and kicks it up harder from there.

The job of the rock and roll musician is to drive the crowd insane, to focus them on desire and release and personal power and complete abandon.  Watch Shine a Light and you’ll see a group of trained, experienced rock and roll artists doing exactly that with extraordinary precision.  They’re old men and they’re consciously and patiently invoking Dionysus with every move.

The job of the theater artist couldn’t be more different.  We’re trying to create consensus.  We’re trying to scare out the inner spirits and thoughts and demons, just like rock and roll, but then we freeze the moment, shine the light, so to speak, and ask the crowd

Is this what we want?  Is this who we are?

Rock and roll is all about being reckless.
Theater is all about responsibility.

Rock and roll is all about me.
Theater's about us.

It’s something C.J. Hopkins taught me, patiently, over many years and many shows.  Great theater, powerful theater and the most subversive theater is all about being on the inside.  Being fully complicit with the crowd and acknowledging that fact, clearly and constantly.  Being aware of the crowd and respectful of the room. 

It’s the difference between shouting at a drunk in the street

What’s the matter with you?  Go home, sober up, you’re throwing your life away!

and sitting down with your brother and saying,

Look man, I love you and I think you’ve got a problem and I’m sorry to be an asshole and bring it up, but you’ve got to stop drinking, you don’t do it well.

One is an arrogant, misguided intrusion into a stranger’s life.
The other is an act of love and concern.
One is rock and roll, brash, loud and public.
The other is theater, thoughtful and controlled and one on one.

And that’s the whole thing. 

It also has a lot to do with my father’s great insight, something that makes no sense when you hear it as a young man but something you know in your bones is true a little later:

Nothing of any consequence happens after midnight.

The key word being consequence.   Because we all know that most of the amazing and terrifying and hilarious things we’ve survived all happened after midnight, well after midnight, in those small hours when nothing matters but who you’re with and what you want and what you think you can get away with and that, my friends, is rock and roll.

And if you’re not up past midnight, if instead you’ve retired sensibly with a book, you miss out on the madness. 

But you get the morning.

You get those quiet hours before the world starts calling and knocking on your door and waving that goddamned watch in your face telling you exactly how late you’re going to be to that thing you don’t even want to got to in the first place.

You get the morning and your head is clear and you can look at things and watch things weigh themselves and maybe write a few things down that you can look over later.

Rock and roll kicks in best after midnight when you stop thinking too clearly.
Theater rewards the thoughtful and reflective and those paying the most attention.

So theater isn’t rock and roll.

It’s taken me half a lifetime (Gob willing) to figure that out.

I’m no rock star.  I make plays and try to put them on and make enough money to do it again down the road. And I love that I get to do what I do.

But I also know if I were given the terrible choice and the two bonfires were laid out before me,  one stacked high with every play ever written and the other a great pyre of every rock and roll album ever released and they handed me the lit match, well…

I’d like to think that I’d hesitate, at least for a moment. 

Shakespeare.  Aeschylus and Sophocles and Brecht and Wilder and Genet and Shepard and Williams.  Everything I’ve ever written and directed and performed and seen.

But I know what I’d do and the pages and speeches and stage directions would all burn.

And I suspect, or at least I hope, that every American theater artist of my generation (and certainly every theater artist of my temperament) would make the same choice.

Without theater, I’d have to create a whole new life.
But if I never heard the opening chords of You Shook Me All Night Long again?
How would I even know I was alive?

And that’s why I’m standing here before you now, digitally speaking.

Because at 16, I didn’t have the talent or courage to pick up an instrument and become a rock and roll casualty. 

I chose the theater, this bizarre shifting plot of holy ground where I try to do honorable battle every time I get the chance.  It was the right choice, no question.

But it ain’t rock and roll.

Monday, November 21, 2011

theater isn't rock and roll

But I grew up believing it could be close.

I’ve been reflecting the last few days, something I always find myself doing this time of year when the night comes down fast, before the day properly ends and you’re inside in the lamplight with your wife and your thoughts and the cat and you know the year is coming to a close and you know you’re not going to get everything done before the holidays hijack the little time you have, but somehow you also know it’s all right and things are going to be things at the end of the day and it all balances out in some scale somewhere, so just sit back and be grateful that you're here and you've got what you've got and there might be some more time tomorrow.

Theater isn’t rock and roll, but I used to act like it should be, it could be if we could just figure it out, if we stopped caring so much about beauty and subtlety, if we could just be a lot funnier and faster and speak much, much more directly to our audience and our world.

A lot of the blame for this adolescent faith that I could transform Aristotle into AC/DC with just the right alchemical formula I lay directly at the feet of Sam Shepard.

Remember young Sam?

Cowboy-booted, squint-eyed, good-looking young rebel staring out at you from the back of those early collections.  And the plays, man.  Cowboy Mouth?  Suicide in B Flat?  Fucking  Tooth of Crime?

Tooth of Crime, the name is pure rock and roll.

And Cowboy Mouth written with Patti Smith, an actual rock and roll star.

Add to it Shepard was a drummer, then power forward to the masterworks of Buried Child, True West and Fool for Love and you’re standing in a serious rock and roll/great art nexus where it seems possible to be deep as hell and dangerous at the exact same time.

But then Sam lost interest, of course.  Started making movies, making money and spending quality time with Jessica Lange.  And given the choice, hard to blame the man.

Jessica Lange, kids.  Hollywood.

Godspeed, young rebel/poet.  Enjoy the sunshine.

What’s not at the feet of Shepard you can evenly divide up between David Mamet and Steppenwolf out in Chicago.  Mamet for the pitch-perfect profanity he effortlessly spun in the early days and Steppenwolf for acting like a bunch of rock stars and of course, for naming themselves after a great rock and roll band.

I know they named themselves after the Hesse book, but come on.  It had to be in the back of their minds somewhere.

So there we are in the haze of the late ‘70s, not even aware that the early ’80s are about to come down like some toxic cloud spreading Reagan/Thatcher, AIDs and crack and shoulder pads across the landscape and into our bloodstreams, and our boy is thinking about a life in the theater.

Because it’s going to be so bad-ass.

Theater, man.  Trust.

And exactly how I equated doing Pippin in high school with Live at Budokan, I can’t honestly explain.

But I carried my conviction through college and even for a year of grad school in Dallas and then a couple of years in L.A. and then my bride and I hit Rat City Itself, August 1990 and it’s time to rock and roll.

And it actually started happening in a very punk rock way.

Back then, you didn’t do your work in theaters.  Not because you were too cool, but because they didn’t invite you into the theaters.  It was a pretty closed shop.  Still is, of course, but when you’re in your late twenties and you have all these crazy ideas and even crazier scripts and somehow even crazier friends, they don’t let you play on their stages.  You had to spend weeks trying to get a meeting and this was at the little bitty places.   Probably exactly the same now, but everyone’s youth is the One and Only True Story, even if everyone’s youth is 95% the same as everyone else’s.

So we all ended up on the Lower East Side.  Mostly centered around Stanton and Ludlow, with a few satellites west and a very few a few blocks north.

And we’re literally playing in basements and back rooms.  And we’re doing all new stuff and we’re starting the shows at 10:30 and later and for some reason people are showing up

And it feels like rock and roll.

This is turning into a much longer thing than I thought it would be, so I’m going to break it up and end here for now.

More to come, the best part, when our hero realizes the error of his ways and the foolishness of his boyhood dream.

It turns out fine, don’t worry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

loving it

I know it's going to be serious and close in November and I know that we, the all-knowing electorate, have voted dangerous clowns into office before (Ron Reagan and Bush the Lesser in my lifetime alone), but man.

Come on.

This is just too much fun.

Who are our lucky contestants this go-round, Johnny?

Newt, the Man of Ideas.  Except for the fact that every single idea he's ever had turned out to be wrong.

It's like holding up Rube Goldberg as a visionary inventor.

Herman Cain, who has managed to become a parody of Donald Trump, which I frankly thought was well beyond the realm of the possible.

Rick Perry, he whom the Texas wags for years have called "Bush without the brains."

Don't think I can do any better than that.

Michelle Bachmann, who would be a very real threat, she's actually a working politician and she seems whip-smart, except for the fact that she also seems to be seriously bat-shit crazy.  And is anyone really ready to listen to that voice for four more minutes, let alone four more years?  It's a small thing, but these little things matter when you're casting the Lead.

Ron Paul, the only intellectually honest guy on the stage, maybe in office.

Personally, I like the Department of Education and Energy and Commerce and the idea of someone inspecting my food and fixing the highways and making sure planes don't crash into each other up above my head, but if you don't, Ron's your man.

I'd actually vote for the guy if there were only a time machine that would take me back 160 years to a time when we were a largely agrarian republic with very little commerce or involvement with the rest of the world.

Nah.  I'd probably just go back to Hill Valley in the 50s and crash the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, see if I can help out Doc and Marty.  That looks like a lot of fun.

Look it up.

And that leaves the Mittbot 2012.

The saddest cyborg I know.  Gamely grinning and shaking hands all day and then going home at night, sitting down in a dark room with his programmers and wailing in his robot woe:

Why don't they like me?  What is my design flaw this time?  I thought you made me perfect!

And the programmers, baffled and guilty, try to blame each other while half-heartedly comforting their telegenic creation.

Like I said, anyone of these folks could conceivably win it.  Well, not Santorum or Paul, but anyone else.  People vote their wallet, goes the old saw, and our wallets are mostly stuffed with maxed credit cards and food stamps these days.

But the cyborg don't play in Iowa, which means the circus isn't leaving town for a while yet.  Before it gets serious and until more than 10% of the electorate is even paying attention, I'm just going to enjoy the hell out of this.

rat city revealed

So I'm watching Mayor Bloomberg's press conference yesterday.  And as always, he's calm, clear and preternaturally self-possessed with the bulldog face of Ray Kelly glaring at us from behind his left shoulder.

And except for a few patently ridiculous things - (were there really "allegations of people defecating in alleys" in Lower Manhattan?  Let me tell you, Mike, I can guarantee you that people have been shitting in the streets down there, long before the protesters showed up and it's a sure bet that the fecal deposits will continue long after they're gone) - he made his case.

It's an indefensible case, but it's capable of being made.

And it really has very little to do with Brookfield Properties property rights and nothing at all to do with the spurious claim that the occupation was preventing non-protesters from enjoying the "passive recreation" that the park is supposed to provide to the people of New York.

What does that actually mean, I wonder, "passive recreation"?  You can throw a frisbee but you can't chase after it if the wind whips it away?

No, the telling part of the Mayor's speech and the moment when the true twin faces of Rat City appeared floating above the podium was when Mike tried to justify the forced removal and arrest of hundreds of peaceful protesters with the typical New Yorker's unexamined arrogance, pointing out that he didn't do it like "other cities", no squadrons of cops waded into the crowd with billy clubs raised, this ain't Oakland, son.

He did it in the New York way.  Efficient, bloodless and with the elegant legal fig leaf that covers the shame, the defense that says "Our plan was to re-open the park at 8:00 AM.  And the protesters are welcome to come back.  Just without their tents and backpacks and everything else that allows them to occupy the place."

Kind of a key word there, occupy.

And the old, original visage of New Amsterdam twinkled there for a moment, Old Man Knickerbocker himself, a shrewd Dutch merchant with no time for anything but the market.  It's the old truth of the city, no surprise but still cold and heart-stopping each time you hear it plainly stated:

It's about the money.  Finally, simply and always.  Everything else is fine and allowed. Go crazy, it's the Big Town, but if you don't have the dime you don't get to dance, so pack it up and go back to a less serious place.  We mean business here.

Right, so nothing new there.  Power takes care of power and we're all adults here.

It was a little later, when the mayor was answering some softball question pitched lazily from the crowd, that the second face appeared.

The mayor was talking about the homeless, that other and more long-standing contingent of tent-pitchers and property rights violators.  And he dropped the assertion, probably true, that New York has the smallest homeless population of any major American city.

And I saw what at first looked to be Rudy Giuliani staring back at me hard-eyed and victorious.  And then it morphed into a much more benign and friendly face, a face you started seeing all over the place in the 80s and then usually in pairs down in my neighborhood in the 90s, a smooth-cheeked, smiling young face, a young businessman in a nice suit and Italian shoes, standing at the most unlikely of corners, pointing at derelict buildings and laughing easily.

I'd stand on the street smoking a morning cigarette wondering who the hell were these white guys and what the hell were they doing down here?

Like the family dog wondering where we were all going this morning and who's the guy in the white coat and why are you holding me down?

And waking up without his balls.

They cleaned this town up, friends.  It's still Rat City, you're never going to exterminate those brutes, but the town I moved to, the town of CBGBs and Alphabet City and the old Times Square and all the rest of it is a beautiful, doubtful memory.

And every old-timer says the same thing, it's Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City, I know, I know but that doesn't mean it's not true.  

So there was Mike, saying it without having to say it:  we don't let anything actually dangerous happen here anymore.  You can do what you want up to a point, sure, but after that point, we shut you down.

And I'm not going to romanticize crime and poverty and mountains of garbage.  The place used to be a fucking sewer, seriously.  But there was a life beating beneath all of that, something you could feel jumping and something that scared you in a good way, made you sharper and a little braver just by walking through it.

There was a possibility that I think we sold for a few tourist dollars and some empty corporate headquarters.

I'd love to hear from some twenty-year-olds that I'm a cranky old man who's spouting shit.  I'm sure they're out there.  And all I have for a reply is the Old Man's Dodge:

Yeah, but you weren't there.  It was something to see, kid.  It was something to see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I have become increasingly concerned - as had the park's owner, Brookfield Properties - that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to protesters and to the surrounding community.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

Utter and complete horseshit, Mr. Mayor.

The only concern is that a group of citizens began to exercise the explicit constitutional right to gather peaceably and they chose a "privately-owned public place" to do so.  And this sets up a direct confrontation between property rights (the rich) and human rights (the rest of us).

And the rich must be protected in this country.

If you're going to run the rabble out, at least have the integrity to say why.

Monday, November 14, 2011

scheming and dreaming

Been having some very interesting conversations over the last few days.
It's feeling like it's time to try something Big and Crazy again.

What the hell, right?
Beats working for a living.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

captain overlord's folly now available

Staying on the self-promotion kick for right now, why don't every single one of you fine people go here and buy the finest, most outrageous play I've ever written?

Thanks to Martin and Rochelle Denton, it's been cyber-published as part of their genius and forward-thinking project Indie Theater Now.  Pretty sure I've got the spacing wrong on that, but go to the link and all shall be clarified.

And seriously, this is my favorite thing.  Got a ton of money from the Edinburgh International Festival a few years back to develop it, worked with a brilliant cast of actors in the old Ohio Theater's sixth floor rehearsal space, we flew over and did a staged reading and then got busy with other things.

This thing needs to be produced.  Needs some institutional support, it's a full-length, big-cast Beast.

Take a look and then give me a call.

And thank you, Dentons, for doing what you do. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

something for the kids out there

Something we take very seriously here at the Museum is our role in warping, that is, molding young minds.  What with the video games and the pinball machines and the pool halls out there, today's youth are all too easily led down the wrong path and before you know it they're stealing cars and speaking Lithuanian.  

I've seen it happen, folks.   Breaks your heart.

So here, for the edification of all, is an excerpt from the recent U.K. smash hit Apocalypse
It's kind of a social critique.

LULU:            I’ll be glad when it’s gone.
GDJET:          O hell yes. What’s that?
LULU:            All of it.
GDJET:          All of it, hell yes. Fuck it.
LULU:            What the hell was it?
GDJET:          Bunch of shit. Bunch of bullshit.
LULU:            Fucking world. Full of people.
GDJET:          All fucking each other over.
LULU:            So that they can get more shit.
GDJET:          Bunch of money-grubbing, shit-grubbing
                       fuckers grubbing shit.
LULU:            Shit-grubbers.
GDJET:          Fuckers.
LULU:            Bunch of selfish assholes, you want to
                        bottom-line it.
GDJET:          All of them?
LULU:            Every last one.
(They think.)
GDJET:          Gandhi?
LULU:            Asshole.
GDJET:          Smug bastard, wasn’t he?
LULU:            Holier-than-thou asshole.
GDJET:          Wandering around in that ridiculous little
LULU:            Total fucking asshole.
GDJET:          Shit-grubber.
LULU:            Shit-grubbing fuck.
GDJET:          Shit-grubbing, frock-wearing fucker
                       grubbing shit!
LULU:            Nelson Mandela was a total fucking prick.
GDJET:          Shit-grubbing total fucking prick.
LULU:            Bunch of shit-grubbers, really.
GDJET:          Bunch of motherfucking, shit-grubbing
                       total fucking pricks.
LULU:            All of them.
GDJET:          Every last one.
LULU:            Fuck Martin Luther King!
GDJET:          Agitator.
LULU:            And shit-grubber.
GDJET:          Motherfucking Teresa, now there’s a fucking
LULU:            Fucking leper-loving, shit-grubbing whore
                        grubbing shit!
GDJET:          They’re all a bunch of shit-grubbers.
LULU:            Oh, they grub that shit.
GDJET:          They just love to grub that shit!
LULU:            Because they’re shit-grubbing fucks.
GDJET:          Julie Andrews?
LULU:            Fuck her and her favorite fucking things.
GDJET:          Fucking shit-grubbing fuck.
LULU:            Shakespeare?
GDJET:          Fucking hack.
LULU:            Fucking shit-grubbing hack.
GDJET:          (Local hero) ?
LULU:            Fuck that shit-grubbing fuck!
GDJET:          And they’re all gonna burn.
LULU:            Gonna scream in the fire.
GDJET:          Every one of you fuckers.
LULU:            Gonna burn for grubbing shit.
GDJET:          Money-grubbing, shit-grubbing fuckers
                       gonna burn!
LULU:            Shouldn’t have grubbed all that shit.
GDJET:          You fucking shit-grubbing fucks.
LULU:            Shouldn’t have fucked each other over.
GDJET:          So you could grub each other’s shit.
LULU:            Should have thought it fucking through.
GDJET:          You motherfucking shit-grubbers.
LULU:            Everyone is gonna burn.
GDJET:          Every last one born to die. 
LULU:            Every single fucking
GDJET:          Money-grubbing
LULU:            Motherfucking
BOTH:           Shit-grubbing fuck.


Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm standing by my man

Three years ago, yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama beat John Sidney McCain handily and became the  President-Elect of the United States of America.

He came up hard, raised by a single mother and his grandparents, but he wasn't the first president to come from the underclass.  Nixon was from dirt-poor farmers, Clinton grew up in backwoods Arkansas and Ulysses S. Grant was, of course, raised by wolves in the wilds of Alaska.

I was in Belfast the night of the election and flew home through Heathrow the next day.  I sat in that terrible airport waiting for my connection, reading the English papers, weeping in amazement and relief.

I'm always happy to be home, but that day was the first in many years that I was proud.

Proud because I knew in my bones that we had elected a man who was going to have a very hard time screwing the poor.

Not that he wouldn't, but just that it was going to be a lot harder for him to do it.  Which is something you can't say about a lot of the guys who've had the job and, truthfully, about all I look for any more in a candidate's resume.

So Barack Obama was sworn into office and settled his skinny self behind the Big Desk.

And to many people's great surprise, the junior Senator from Illinois turned out to be a politician. And not a particularly seasoned one at that.  He got rolled, over and over again, by an opposition more united against him than anything Bill Clinton ever saw and that's saying a great, great deal.  He didn't handle the greatest economic self-created catastrophe that Capitalism has wrought in eighty years.  He hired the only guys who could even pretend to understand what had gone wrong, they being the guys who engineered the train wreck in the first place.

He behaved like he was some kind of, I don't know, constitutional scholar rather than the dyed-in-the-wool liberal firebrand we elected.

And he passed health care reform and it's not perfect and it's not what we all wanted and parts of it plain don't work, but criticizing the achievement is like bitching that Jackie Robinson batted under 300 in his first season with the Dodgers.

It happened.  It's on the books.  We go forward from here.

He allowed gay servicemen and women to keep their careers in the event that they were discovered to be, well, themselves.

He didn't start a war.

If you want the whole partisan litany, it's here.

Now I've got more than a few close friends who've written the President off and I hear that Matt Damon and Ben Stiller and other fine movie actors are disappointed in his performance.  And if you look at things objectively, everyone's got a point.  Guantanamo Bay is still open.  We doubled-down in Afghanistan.  Unemployment's at 9 percent and gay people can't get married.

But how do you think John McCain and his cohorts would have done over the last few years?

And how do you think Romney, Perry, Cain or any of the rest of the line-up will do?

And in the end, remember, please remember:

The Democratic party is run by hopelessly compromised, corporate money-addicted, status quo- worshipping, rich white men.

The Republican party is run by Christian fundamentalist bigots.

There is a difference.

There's a difference between a cigarette and a handgun.  Both will kill you, but only one is expressly designed for that purpose.

And believe it or not, I've got some good Republican friends.  Can't help it, I grew up in the Midwest.  And they're not Christian fundamentalist bigots.  So I'm not saying that every Republican is a Neanderthal, I'm saying that the Republican party is run by Christian fundamentalist bigots.  Which is why a sensible, worldly cyborg like Mitt Romney has to mouth ridiculous things that go against his factory settings just to keep standing on the stage with Bachmann and Perry and Santorum.

Next time you hear yourself saying that there's no real difference between the two parties, think of these two words: "Supreme Court".  And remember two names: Roe and Wade.

Because the lasting legacy of Bush is not the waste of Afghanistan or the crime of Iraq or the economic disaster or even the Patriot Act, it's the Roberts Court. The guys who, without even being asked directly, ruled that corporations have the full rights of human beings.  The men and women who will serve up to and, in some cases through, senility.

Life appointments, my friends.  Wars can be abandoned, terrible, terrible laws can be repealed but when you put on that black robe, only the undertaker gets to take it off.

So I'm standing by the president.  And everyone else better get off their asses and do the same thing.  In 364 days, they count the votes again.  Wouldn't you rather bitch about how lame President Obama is for another four years than watch the Mittbot 2012 or someone far scarier take the oath?

Think about it for a minute and then let's get to work.

Friday, November 04, 2011

the downside of world-wide theatricals

So we're back home.

The next cool thing is that The Event is having its German language premiere in Nurenberg next week.

And we'll start the hustle to get The Extremists over to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next summer and see what we can do to get some more money to take Apocalypse out for another spin.

There's some stateside stuff going on, but the bulk of the work next year, like this year, like last year, is Over There.

A couple of years ago I was talking with my buddy Greg Kotis.  I had just gotten back from somewhere and was heading out to somewhere else and he casually asked,

So, you're happy being like a jazz musician, working mostly in Europe and over there?

And I thought,

Huh.  Not really, no.

I'm happy and grateful for every gig, wherever it may be.  And it's a blast to get to see new places and work with artists with wildly different backgrounds and vocabulary.

But I'm 48 years old, kids.  And the road can be mighty cruel when your bones begin to ache in cold weather.

I'm a New York City artist.  Spent over twenty years making shows in Manhattan, opened and ran two theaters here, started a festival that's still thrilling and pissing people off, even became some kind of elder statesman despite my youthful looks and boyish temperament.

But I've got to get on a plane and carry a passport if I want to get paid.

And I know I'm not alone.  I've had the conversation with dozens of friends and all of us are careful to say right at the top,

I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong, work is work, but...

It's just nice to walk home after work.  It's nice to play to the home crowd.

So all I'm saying here, I guess, is if you've got a theater or a barn or a backyard or even a decent sized basement and you like the kind of stuff we do,

Hire us.

We work pretty cheap and clean up after ourselves.

And we'll tell you some wild stories from the road.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

home again, home again

Jiggity jig.

I'm up after the best sleep I've had in eight weeks.  No complaints about our Edinburgh digs, but nothing beats waking up at home.

One remarkable thing about the last two months that I never mentioned is the fact that except for the last week on the road, we were all living under the same roof.   Full days of rehearsal and then back to Pete and Catherine’s flat.  A flat the four of us share with Pete’s son Joe, 17 years old, and Catherine’s daughter Lucy, 12, and more often than not someone else passing through. 

Catherine and Pete are Collectivists of the old school; the door is always open.  You know this as soon as you arrive.  You put your bags down, settle for a moment and then ask if there is an extra set of keys.  Pete disappears and is immediately back with a shiny, new set dropped into your open hand.  It’s like asking for a glass of water, of course, here you are, what else?    

Now this could have been disaster. 

Rehearsal is a pressure cooker under any circumstances.  We had a hard deadline and no script.  We decided to create a comic cabaret about the end of the world, personal extinction, famine, war, a real crowd-pleasing knee-slapper.  We had the two foreigners (us) straining to understand simple shifts in conversation and astonished daily at the cost of a pint.  And while this is all going on, Pete and Catherine are dealing with all of the everyday domestic crises, kids getting fed, phone calls returned, shopping, bills and all the rest of it.  Under the best of circumstances, a little distance is a healthy thing.  You work all day and then you go back to your haven, a quiet place away from the show, away from your collaborators.  A little room to breathe. 

Without getting all Partridge Family about it, it was an extraordinary time.

Up in the morning, jockey for showers in the one bathroom, as much coffee as you can make and drink in one of those European press things (the usefulness, purpose and existence of which completely escapes my blithe American mind), dressed and troop down the road to the rehearsal space.  Three hours of existential grappling, occasionally hitting something solid, like boxing a bored kangaroo blindfolded, lunch, back home for a sandwich, another four hours with the kangaroo, now grown restive and surly, home, bruised and wanting another round with the brute, kids pile in, dinner which Catherine or Nancy cook with varying degrees of theatricality and panic, bottles of red wine opened and poured, specifics and overall motivations questioned, debated, defended, more wine, kids to bed, more debate, spirited but miraculously still civil and good-natured, individual retreats to our sleeping quarters, shouted good-nights, five or six hours of silence in the dark filled with fitful dreams and then the kids are up for school, the sound of showers and distant, muffled collisions and conversations from the kitchen, front door closing, another hour of wakeful half-sleep and then we’re all up to do it again.

I’m just saying homicide would have been justified and easily arguable, in a court of law, at some point along the way.

But, no.  We survived not only as collaborators but at the end, still as friends. 

Simple human decency is an amazing and underrated trait, the greatest lubricant and cooling agent in the friction and pressure of creative collaboration.  Just looking in someone’s eyes and saying “good morning”, making more coffee even when you’ve had yours, holding open a door, these small, everyday things support everything else and mark the difference between tolerance and harmony in an ensemble.