A map of the memes of the year:
The NYT Magazine does what it does best--a long, involved dissection of a topic. This week it's the iPod, on the occasion of its second birthday. Near the end of the article Rob Walker is frank with his tension and issues with Steve Jobs, who can be singularly difficult to deal with--you sense that his vision is so strong that he locks out all other points of view. This is one of the things I like about him: when he is right, he's golden, and when he's wrong...well, he's really, really wrong.
That's my style, or a style I aspire to, though I'm nowhere near as abrasive, nor am I creating personal electronics...but in this short piece you really get a sense of both the strengths and weaknesses of Jobs, particularly in those closing paragraphs. It's very interesting.
Oh and this article on cats, picked up from John's site is so fucking disturbing--apparently cats transmit a parasite that infects humans and may alter their personallity. Basically the idea is that cat people have actually been reprogrammed, which would explain a great deal about the character of both cats and the people who love them inordinately.
Today is my last full day in Seattle--I have a lot of packing to do, and friends to see, so there isn't time for much more--the next update will be from the East Coast.
Exciting development: a gigabyte of data in a cheap, mass-producable storage medium the size of a sugar cube. Details are here. It may be closer than you'd think.
Less exciting development: a woman is trampled in the biggest shopping day of the year. In a fucking Wal•Mart. Bah.
Tonight my old sketch comedy group UP IN YOUR GRILL rides again with our twisted adaptation/mutilation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. In an inspired bit of lunacy the show will be performed on the set of Theater Babylon's current production of Streetcar, which means we get to use the set--a to-scale reproduction of the original Broadway set! It is enormously, ridiculously too large for our purposes, and that should give us Theater Magic right from the top.
Catch the show tonight and tomorrow night (Friday and Saturday) at 11pm at the Union Garage, 1418 10th Ave. Pay what you can at the door, and drinks will be served.
Now I need to go see if I can learn my lines in time for the opening.
A really fine Q&A on how microwave ovens work.
Note taped to the back of a chair of an employee in an underground military installation outside St. Louis.
Here's a good Umberto Eco essay on the nature of memory as created by technology, and how technology tends to layer itself over time, rather than "killing" methodologies that came before it. Good stuff, and it's such a pleasure to see a master semiotician grab the Net era by its horns and recognize how revolutions are never total and have many historical precedents.
It's Thanksgiving! I'm so delighted to be in Seattle for Thanksgiving--since 1996 I have usually celebrated this holiday in Seattle in the company of my adopted family, the Dovers. I've known them since Maine, and they are the loveliest, hardest-drinking holiday family this side of God's creation--Thanksgiving often disintegrates spectacularly under the weight of the drinking into shapes I never would have predicted. It's a total blast, and now that I live in New York I haven't made it for a few years--I'm so looking forward to this.
Strange half-week...mainly I've been having meetings, lunches and coffee with movers and shakers in Seattle theater scene, from folks who run and work at small spaces to the artistic directors of the big houses. Lots of meetings--I had 6 of them yesterday from 10am to 5:30pm, often doing them at the same coffeehouse back to back to back. It's so instructive to have intense meetings this way, because you get a snapshot of a whole community--Rashomon-like you get the same story of some public event retold so different details keep emerging. It also has reminded me why I like Seattle theater--it's smaller than New York, but the scale is such that every person makes a difference, which in a sense charges the individual members to really excel. If community is what you are looking for, Seattle has that in spades, and good or bad each member of that community could potentially make a big splash at any time and get everyone's attention. It's a really interesting dynamic.
Post-show reactions to The Ugly American have been very good, and I've been digesting this week. I've rarely been so happy with the first telling of one of my shows, and though there are already a few scenes on the chopping block I think the bulk of the piece is standing up to scrutiny. It'll lose a little length in the processing, but will probably retain its two-act structure. Now I need to apply myself to the search for producing partners and artistic homes.
Blah blah blah. I just resisted the urge to erase this entry, but I have to say--what's with blogging? Why am I writing out the process of my day and my observations? I have been thinking for some time that come December, as I shift over to other projects I will have to either curtail this blog in order to focus my energy. We shall see--I want to find a way to work with the form so that it actually supports me, and doesn't simply act as a writing release valve that then removes the impetus needed to get longer works finished. Hmmmm.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone--have a safe and eventful holiday unless you are not American, in which case it is simply Thursday, which I assume you will celebrate in your own fashion.
Suzanne sent me this NYT interview with Ned Beatty, who is playing Big Daddy in the current Broadway run of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Mr. Beatty has always been an amazing stage actor, and the reviews appear to bear that out--his costars, Ashley Judd and Jason Patric, are not receiving anywhere near as good notices. SImply put, they don't have the chops to be on live stage. Most TV and film stars don't--why would they? Learning how to make things work in a film is entirely different than the moment-to-moment high-wire of theater. There are always exceptions--Beatty mentions Brendan Fraser, who actually trained as a stage actor years ago at Cornish with friends of mine, and apparently can make things work on stage. Beatty is candid, but condemns the necessity of casting these stars who simply can't do their jobs.
Speaking of the NYT, there's a great Talk of The Town piece in The New Yorker about a man who reads every day's issue of the New York Times. He's seventy-nine, and because it takes upward of two and a half hours a day to get through it he's actually behind--so every day he's reading news that happened over a year ago. It's a nicely observed portrait of a non-destructive obsession.
We sold out the theater on Saturday, for the closing of 21DY, and then again on Sunday for The Ugly American...from what the ticket office can tell they think they turned away as many folks as came to see the Sunday show, which means about 1,000 people wanted to see my work that night--I am still wrapping my head around that, but I have to say that I couldn't have received a more splendid gift for the end of this run at Intiman.
We did the show with the theater half-converted over to Black Nativity, and it actually gave us a "set" that was incredibly beautiful--a lot of the wood was still a warm, unpainted color, and the blacks (curtains) were tied aloft so you could see the forest of ropes in many colors that support the fly system. Down center they put a great looking oak table from the conference room, and I set there, on a stool, with my outline, a cup of water and a handkerchief. It was so wonderfully composed...I have the funniest feeling I am going to be returning to this image again and again when it comes time to look for sets for this show.
It was a birth, like it always is when I do the show the first time, and it seems that when you are having your fourth child you have either learned lamaze, have gotten drugs...or maybe having 500 eager midwives makes the whole thing easier, because it was a joy. The words leapt out of me, and most importantly so did the silences--I took the time that was needed, which is usually a pacing problem in the first telling, because I'm scared and don't know what comes at each turn and so have a tendency to overdrive and punch through things. Instead the pace was varied, had nice flow and form, and many of the moments I knew were risks acquitted themselves honorably and didn't explode.
It feels so good to have another show up and alive. I have so much work to do, and I'm so ready to do it.
It is Monday, a day of rest. More soon.
(The show went really, really well. Thanks to all who came.)
Closing day. This has been the fastest full run of 21 DOG YEARS so far--even at the Speakeasy we played for over 4 months, and I have to say that while I am emotionally ready to put the show to bed, part of me is grieving. It's so wonderful to know a piece right down to its core, to have built it and beaten it and suffered with it until it can live itself fully...there's even a pleasure in knowing its flaws and shortcomings, in feeling the areas that have never come quite right, that could have been something more or something else.
It's routine, above all else--performance is routine. I get to the theater the same amount of time before the show every day, I repeat the same series of actions before the play begins, I warm-up the same way, I have the same conversations--I make a conscious effort to ritualize the event, because that is somehow part of it. And it's always hard when it ends--I always get depressed, always, and the more fully realized the run has been, the deeper the depression becomes. I miss the audiences--not in a facile, needy way, but because every night I get to communicate with them, and we get to know each other, and in that communion I've seen things I could have never seen anywhere else. Life without that compression and ritual doesn't seem much like life at all, for a while.
At the same time this is all thankfully complicated by THE UGLY AMERICAN. A new show, my first full-length new show in three years...I am edgy, and anxious, and very, very excited. We've sold a lot of tickets, which has been a greatest gift in a trip filled with generosity from the people of Seattle--over 300 and still rising. It's a workshop, which means we have no sound, no staging and I will simply tell the story...but ironically it is lights and sound and trappings that often help cover and disguise weakness, when you don't quite know the right words. I'll be naked out there tomorrow, profoundly naked, as I create the show the first time for a public audience, and it feels like the day before a battle all over the house--it's quiet, JM is leaving me alone and I am thinking and thinking and thinking about how this is going to go down.
One step at a time. First we close DOG YEARS, then we open the next show. I need to have some breakfast, get my game face on. There isn't time to think about the new show today. I will do my job, close this book and then open the next one, and God willing it will come out clear.
Because it is always useful to see Scientology in action improving the lives of ordinary people, here is a picture of John Travolta's house:
I am delighted to announce that the book Waiting For Snow In Havana by Carlos Eire, edited by my editor, Rachel Klayman, has won the National Book Award. Read about this great book at the NBA site, or buy a copy at any fine bookseller. It's a great book, and Ms. Klayman is perhaps the finest, keenest editor working in America today--it's really a tremendous honor, and she deserves every last piece of it.
No, really--New Line Cinema decorated a NYC subway train (the S shuttle) as an extremely stupid looking "Shire" train, complete with fake stone flooring, burlap (?) sacks on the ceilings and green lighting. Further photos of this abortion of a media campaign can be found here.
Jardine Libaire, a friend of mine I recently had the pleasure of working with has a keenly observed essay up at Nerve which deals with call girls--a central element of my new show. Funny synchronicity, that.
For the record, Ms. Libaire does not dress nearly as trashily as you might imagine from her own self-description, and her first book, Here, Kitty, Kitty will be published in the spring by Little Brown.
Ah, the silky hand of our corporate masters--here is the complete list of McDonald's trademarks, courtesy of Chris:
The following trademarks used herein are owned by the McDonald's Corporation and its affiliates: 1-800-MC1-STCK, Always Quality. Always Fun., America's Favorite Fries, Arch Deluxe, Aroma Café, Automac, Big Mac, Big N' Tasty, Big Xtra!, Birdie, the Early Bird and Design, Black History Makers of tomorrow, Bolshoi Mac, Boston Market, Cajita Feliz, Changing The Face of The World, Chicken McGrill, Chicken McNuggets, Chipolte Mexican Grill, Cuarto De Libra, Did Somebody Say , Donatos Pizza, emac digital, Egg McMuffin, Extra Value Meal, Filet-O-Fish, French Fry Box Design, Gep Op Mac, Golden Arches, Golden Arches Logo, Good Jobs For Good People, Good Times. Great Taste., Gospelfest, Great Breaks, Grimace and Design, Groenteburger, HACER, Hamburglar and Design, Hamburger University, Happy Meal, Happy Meal Box Design, Have You Had Your Break Today?, Healthy Growing Up, Helping Hands Logo, Hey, i'm lovin' it, It Could Happen!, Iam Hungry and Design, Immunize for Healthy Lives, Kiwiburger, Lifting Kids To A Better Tomorrow, Mac Attack, Mac Jr., Mac Tonight and Design, McDonald's Racing Team Design, Made For You, McBaby, McBacon, McBurger, McBus, McCafe, McChicken, McDia Feliz, MCDirect Shares, McDonaldland, McDonald's , McDonald's All American High School Basketball Game, McDonald's All American High School Jazz Bank, McDonald's All Star Racing Team, McDonald's Building Design, McDonald's Earth Effort, McDonald's Earth Effort Logo, McDonald's Express, McDonald's Express Logo, McDonald's Is Your Kind of Place, McDonald's Means Opportunity, McDouble, McDrive, McExpress, McFamily, McFlurry, McFranchise, McGriddles, McGrilled Chicken, McHappy Day, McHero, McJobs, McKids, McKids Logo, McKroket, McMaco, McMemories, McMenu, McMusic, McNifica, McNuggets, McNuggets Kip, McOz, McPlane, McPollo, McPrep, McRecycle USA, McRib, McRoyal, McScholar, McScholar of the Year, McSwing, McWorld, Mighty Wings, Millennium Dreamers, Morning Mac, Quarter Pounder, RMHC, Ronald McDonald and Design, Ronald McDonald House, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Ronald McDonald House Charities Logo, Ronald McDonald House Logo, Ronald Scholars, Sausage McGriddles, Sausage McMuffin, Single Arch Logo, Speedee Logo, Super Size, Teriyaki McBurger, The House That Love Built, The House That Love Built Design, twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesoniononasesameseedbun, Vegi Mac, We Love to See You Smile, What's On Your Place, When the U.S. Wins You Win, World Children's Day, World Children's Day Logo, World Famous Fries, You Deserve a Break Today.
NPR is doing a retrospective on the National Lampoon Radio Hour on the occasion of its 30th birthday. As I've mentioned here before, I'm a staff writer for the show, hosted by Richard Belzer, and this Morning Edition piece covers the impact the show has had, and there's a selection of sketches on the page for listening. Sadly my immortal Dick Cheney piece is not among them, but I can only hope that after I am dead from overdosing and my material is three decades older NPR will see fit to celebrate my ass as well.
One week from today, THE UGLY AMERICAN goes up at the Intiman. For details on the show, check out this article I wrote for The Stranger, a weekly paper in Seattle. In the same paper can be found this interview with me on a variety of topics, including my feelings on the descriptor "owl-shaped."
To order tickets to THE UGLY AMERICAN you simply need to go here at Intiman's web site.
>Found this wonderful story hidden away on the BBC News website:
>>When Sir Ian McKellen was lobbying then Home Secretary Michael Howard about
>the controversial Section 28, which forbids the promotion of homosexuality
>in schools, Mr Howard asked for the actor's autograph for his children.
>With a smile on his face, but with his lobbying having failed, McKellen
>says he wrote :"F*** off, I'm gay."
Last night was the Hale's Ales night in the theater. God bless them, that was a lot of drinky audience members--it almost felt like I was back at the Speakeasy again, though there were many fewer winos screaming from the alleys behind the theater, interrupting the show.
I have four shows over the weekend, and I have to say I'm excited for it--this is the last full weekend of the show, which is hard to believe after doing the show Off-Broadway, because I keep expecting the show to go on for 6 months or so. It's a little sad, but since we have the new show to occupy our time and there are whisperings of a new city for 21DY to visit in 2004 it isn't final.
Jean-Michele sent me a transcript of a wonderful talk by Ira Glass. I'm not a part of the Cult Of Ira--if you work in storytelling, or hang out with people who've written for This American Life, or know freelance journalists you are probably familiar with this cult, which can be annoying but is otherwise pretty benign. But Ira himself is a very laid back, very intelligent guy, and this talk in particular is quite savvy. I liked even more this interview with Ira at the Onion A.V. Club.
Yes, giant coyote hats are the latest rage in postmodern Williamsburg. Beautiful.
Good show tonight--hard crowd at first, and not as large as some we've been having, but over time they I reeled them in and they decided to get on the ride with me. Some wonderful moments--the ending went particularly well this evening.
Afterwards I adjourned to McMenamins with Cory and Troy from the sketch scene, and Imogen Love and Sarah Rudinoff representing the acting scene. Beer was drunk and tater tots were eaten, and we discussed the paradox that in order to be discovered and embraced by Seattle, you have to leave Seattle and live in other cities. I argued that while unfair, it is not a strange system--people want a sense of mythology in their artists, an arc to their travels, and evidence that they can hold their own nationally before they return. As you might imagine, people don't always like the system because for some people, leaving Seattle is not an option--but for those people there is always the choice to break the rules, if they can find a way to force the city to recognize them.
Sarah Rudinoff is a fantastic actress, artist and human being whom I worked with years ago doing weird, edgy improv and strange theater. Just a stellar lady--so sharp, and so adept with her performance skills that she takes your breath away. We hadn't actually hung out in years, and it was such a pleasure--she's been finding success of her own, with amazing reviews for her solo work and a booking for her new show at On The Boards in their upcoming season. It's so nice to talk to other solo performers and find common ground--it can get awfully lonely up there.
Work on The Ugly American has been going very well, and tomorrow is a real crunch day--I'm revising and streamlining, and a shape is starting to form out of the mist. I'm going to hit the bed so I can get back into it early tomorrow.
Check this out--the FCC cut the cord on phone numbers. Now if you drop your home number, you can take that number with you to be a cellular number, or whatever you like...a very nice ruling, which should help increase the churn in the wireless market & keep pressure on the landline companies to compete.
Dude, it's the brightest laptop in the world!
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has an interesting proposal: artistic freedom vouchers as an alternative to copyright. The corporate masters who run the system would never agree to it, but it's an good read for its vision and scope.
An amazing audience last night--they were actually more energetic than the opening, which is quite remarkable. I actually had to stop the show during the prologue, as a lady was laughing so hard and erratically that it was scaring people around her--they (and I) feared she might be having a seizure. Happily, she survived.
We had some folks from Pets.com in the house as well--their company takes a beating in the show, but they seemed to weather it with grace.
Back-to-back shows, on a sunny autumn day in Seattle. Not too shabby...and now I will get breakfast at the Continental, my favorite Greek place.
William Saletan whines a bit here about government in action, but it's worth the time. I've never spent time in traffic court--this isn't very encouraging.
Ladies and gentlemen, the CIA has a kid's site where Ginger the Bear goes on adventures for the Friendly Federal Government. We all owe Ray a round of thanks for this one.
Big writing day. Can't talk now, very very busy, can't talk now, moving my hands, all day long, very very busy.
Our friends at Eat The State with some tips for how to skip paying taxes, just like Bill Gates.
A gallery of eggshells carved with a high speed tool. Intricate, delicate work.
It's a tie for best moment of last night's panel:
1) Scott making an excited point about how gold rush fanatics would coat themselves in a special paste before rolling down mountains...then, at the bottom, they were supposed to be covered in gold dust which will have stuck to them.
2)The audience member who liked the show, but wanted to know why his friend, a very old lady, hated the show more than any other show she's ever seen in her life. I was asked to explain why she hated it, and not knowing the woman personally was forced to simply admit that you can't please everybody.
My great thanks to Glenn, Scott and Eric for their assistance, and to Stephanie for moderating.
Here's a picture of my sister at mile 18 of the NYC marathon, looking sharp.
Tonight after the show is Speaker's Corner, where some folks are going to speak with me on a panel after the show. It's an eclectic mix of people: Eric Berry, former Customer Service warrior, Glenn Fleischmann, tech pundit, writer and former early-era Amazonian and Scott Cole, an old friend of mine who is teaching at UW and specializes in oral performance forms and the mythology of the West. We'll talk with moderator Stephanie Coen, then take audience questions and so forth--should be fun. Stick around if you are coming to the show this evening.
If you're reading this from the UW Drama program--thanks for being such a great audience today. I had a great time, and from the questions afterward you seem to be a really savvy bunch, so there's cause to hope. My email link is in the nav bar.
Thanks to Ray for this.
More shots from my adopted home: this is next to my studio/lair where I write next to the Manhattan Bridge.
What a fantastic night--the audience was so responsive, and it was made all the more special by it being a Sunday evening show...for those that don't know theater, that is not traditionally a time when audiences leap into life. What luck, and how wonderful to get to do the show for them this evening--it really was a treat, and a great way to end a long week before my day off.
It's actually not much of a day off--I have a lot of writing to do, and I'm giving a lecture at the UW Drama program in the afternoon. Tomorrow night is going to be a big family dinner, which I am looking forward to a lot, and hopefully I'll have caught up by then.
Congratulations to my lovely sister, who finished the NYC marathon today with an excellent time--she kicked P. Diddy's ass, which was her main objective. I couldn't be more proud.
Something I haven't posted in a while: some real Amazon customer service exchanges, this time with an author having issues with the new search features at Amazon with regards to her book. The correspondence is a horrific chain of one terrible form letter after another from Amazon--as if evidence was needed that things had changed at the company, this certainly corroborates the feelings of many that no one is awake over there anymore.
Yesterday I was honored to serve as the Judge and High Executor of the annual Intiman Halloween Pumpkin Carving Contest--a pitched, timed battle of skill and daring at which each department battles to the death to determine their supremacy in the upcoming year.
The design elements are crucial to good execution. Mistakes are unacceptable.
Hold the pumpkin as you would a baby you were sacrificing.
Zombies have low dexterity, and should observe rather than carve.
A masterpiece--disturbing, relevant and likely to scare theatregoers.
This year's victor--our friends in production understand brutalism, and know how to use nails with aplomb.
Again, my thanks to all the teams that participated, and it is my earnest hope that I'll be able to reprise my role as Judge in the future as I didn't receive nearly enough bribes this time around.