Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Here Comes the Judge

So, everyone is judgmental, fact. You are judgmental, your mom is judgmental, and, yes, perhaps most shockingly of all, I am hella judgy. We all assess the world, every moment of every day, whether to ascertain if that seat is clean, or in fact a place to sit at all. We determine what to wear and what we think of celebrity’s hair. It is how we understand and function in the world.

So why are we all down on judgment? Judgmental is not a kind thing to call someone (even though I just did – sorry, friends, but the truth hurts). It implies that we value the idea of not assessing the world we live in. A live and let live kind of spirit.

But what are the actual examples of that? How is dictating someone’s personal life or someone else’s spending priorities non-judgmental? I know what you are thinking, “but inconsistent blogger, I am correct. My views are validated by a higher power than you or my ideological opponent.” Notice my vagaries because I could be talking about right-wing, conservative nut job, or left wing hippie nut job? Yeah, I don’t think there are a ton of people who go around purporting and actively fighting for beliefs they think are fundamentally wrong. Sure, there’s probably that one guy that had it rough in school, or whatever, and makes every day opposite day. BUT, I think it is fair to assume, that most people, most of the time, are doing what they think is right. They are working for what they judge to be right.

So, if we all think we are doing the right thing, wouldn’t it be a reasonable assumption that those people who aren’t doing what you are doing are incorrect? Yes, it is also a reasonable assumption that you should perhaps analyze your world view and not leap to criticizing others, but what are we, saints? No, we are judgey, judgey freaks. So lay off, man.

Sorry, kids, I’ll be better next time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Clap: 3 Reasons You Love It

I’m back, kittens. I know, we’ve missed each other. But let’s not dwell on the past – we have more important matters to deal with: I have an obsession.

It all started a few weeks ago when, by complete happenstance, a song crept its way into rotation on my digital music player (no plug for you, Mega-Corp, till I get one for free!). Not just any song – not just a good song, but a song with clapping. Now, weeks later, I find I am still listening, over, and over, and over to The Formats “The First Single (Cause a Scene)” as if it held the answer to the mysteries of life.

This isn’t the first clapping song that has won my heart, and prime rotation privileges. Kate Nash’s “Doo-Wah-Doo” enjoyed a similar run, and Lunapop’s “50 Speciale” found its way through the language barrier (Italian) on to many a friend’s car radio.

So, as in any mediocre moment of pattern, epiphany or cultural commentary, I must take pause and ponder –why are songs with clapping just better than songs without? Are you ready for a semi-reasoned, totally speculative response without any scientific evidence – please! It has already been brought – in list form.

  1. It feels good: Ok, obvious, maybe, but generally clapping is featured in upbeat songs, so that helps the feeling good. However, in a broader sense, when one claps, it is to express approval, elation or general good will toward one’s object (no, your friend giving you the slow-clap is an ironic response playing off our shared understanding of “clapping as good” to make fun of you. Yeah, your friend is jerk). The sound, then, in turn cues for us “this is good” and part of our judgmental jerk selves (see friend above) is muted in favor of the positive feelings. But, why does someone else clapping make us feel good?
  2. Love the Crowd, Love Yourself: We are social creatures – you’ve probably heard that before – and we want to feel accepted by our peers. So, generally, we accept the physical cues of other at face value (if you are crying, I’m going to think you are sad, if you are laughing, I’m going to think you’ve just read my hilarious blog post). So, if some people are clapping, I think, they like something, and because I don’t want these people to start clapping me, and what’s more, I want them to like me, I’m going to assume the clapping is not only good, but that I like the something too, till I find otherwise (see Demolition Derby).
  3. Participation: Clapping in a song asks for you to participate. When we were hear it, we want to do it. How many times have you been at a concert or a play, and someone starts clapping, and before you know it, you are following right along with them? It is this visceral request for your participation that ultimately heightens the experience of listening to the song, I think, above others, because you are not just listening to it, you are helping to make the experience of listening to it, like a baseball game or, you guessed it, the theatre. While you are making the song itself, you are contributing to your experience of the song, and, really, the people who made the song did so in order that you would be able to experience it. So, when they stick clapping in there, they are doing so to directly impact your experience. Music is a hugely evocative medium, and I think, clapping is like the musical equivalent of that moment just before the resolution in a Disney film. You know, when the bad guy is defeated, but you think at the cost of the good guy, and even though your rational brain is going “he’s not really dead,” your eyes are still welling up like rain gutters? Like that. Tricky folks, musicians.

Or, at least, that is what I think. How about you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Devil and the Deep Rue Sea

First post of the New Year – huzzah! I hope everyone had a good 2009 or that y’all are at least looking forward to the opportunities of 2010. I find myself a might reflective.

As I sit to work on writing a play, I am struck by the role of the playwright (and, yes, I’m procrastinating). It seems to me, to be completely reductive of all of theatre history; a play has either been considered the Bible or a cookbook, metaphorically speaking.

If you think a play is the Bible, then the playwright is God and the play is the word of God. In short, perfection not to be trifled with. For some time (and in some circles today) the prevailing notion was that the most perfect production of Shakespeare was the one you imagined as you sat quietly reading his plays at home (most popular reads of the 19th century? The Bible, followed by the works of Mr. Billy Shakes). It’s not terribly surprising that we want our playwrights to be gods – we want our doctors, our political leaders, even our parents to be gods too. Of course, they aren’t gods – at all - and to insist they are puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a mere mortal. In case of the playwright, this expectation assumes your play must be perfect right out of the gate. If it’s not, the faithful might question your glory, and refuse to worship. Ok, the metaphor is stretching a little, but I think you get the idea. Theatres – especially in our fair city – are loathe to try an audience’s faith with anything untested. So, new plays aren’t done, new playwrights aren’t developed, and modern American theatre falls to ruins like the Temple at Delphi. It’s a theatre blog, I’m allowed to be dramatic.

However, if you think a play more akin to a cookbook or a recipe, then you acknowledge it is not the finished product. You don’t read a recipe and say, “yum, delicious! I am full and fulfilled.” If a play is a recipe, it means you need other ingredients, you need time to make it, and then, when it’s made, you need people to share it with before you (and they) can say “yum, delicious” or “needs salt.” A recipe allows for a new and unique experience each time you cook – the ability to add a little more basil or take out the dairy for your lactose-intolerant friends. Perhaps most importantly, a recipe allows you to fuck it up, cause you can always try again. Playwrights need to be able to take risks, and fail. They, of course, also need to learn from their mistakes – you can get away with mixing up the sugar and salt once. More than once and you might just suck at cooking.

Take playwrights out of the temple. Let’s meet them in the kitchen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So, hey, I just went to London not so long ago. Like most Bostonians I suspect, I’m a bit of an anglophile, therefore a return to the spiritual homeland is refreshing and inspiring on many counts. While there, I saw very much theatre (shocking, I know), two of which were adaptations of two different classic novels.

A was performed at a small, out of the way theatre with an ensemble cast of about 8. B was at a large West-End house with a star and an ensemble cast of about 8 as well. A was brilliant, B was…not. However, instead of discussing the particular merits or lack-thereof of productions most of you won’t get a chance to see, I thought I’d speak a little broadly about adaptations.

Movies adapt books all the time, and Broadway is now adapting popular film for the stage. We are all looking for good stories, right? And if they’ve already proved themselves successful in one medium, surely they can try a few others? In my humble opinion, some stories lend themselves better to some media then others. I mean, the best way JK Rowling knew how to tell Harry Potter was in several books, Picasso could best express Guernica on canvas, and Shakespeare found his voice on stage. I don’t think this makes adaptation impossible, or a violation of the original intent, but I do think you have to have a means, or an idea, or a reason to move a story to a different medium. There are certain unique-ish characteristics of each mode of expression that have to be confronted in a translation between forms.

Narrative, for example, is the primary means of gaining information in a novel, and often in stage or screen adaptations, we get a Narrator or voice-over to fill the gap. The thing is, a narrator isn’t very “theatrical” because in film and theatre we get information through action – we see stuff happen. Part of why books like Harry Potter and Twilight are so successful in film, is the books are heavy on action, and light on existential reflection.

Now before you start getting upset, I’m not suggesting we abandon think-y books in favor of action ones. However, you have to think about how you are going to make the leap. B didn’t do that – in fact, B did very little thinking, as reinforced by the actors all struggling in their own individual plays, completely separate from one another. Dear lord, there is nothing worse in the theatre- well, few things worse, I suppose.

A, however, fit the narrative of the theatrical world into the framework of the novel. We were in the world of the novel, and were watching a reenactment as cautionary tale about the novel’s hero. By throwing in several Brechtian elements, puppetry and some hilarious pictograms, they made strategic use of the narration all while focusing on the action of the story.

So, the moral of the story is think good and hard, and your audience will be rewarded. Or at least, I will.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On French Braids and Truth or Dare

I saw the new Twilight Movie last night (I know, I know). Basically, in my defense, it’s a cultural phenomenon which, for better or worse, will influence many media for some time to come. I also saw the first one (commence judgment), and haven’t seen a movie in a while.

I’ll say before I begin, I haven’t read the books, nor do I have any plans to (I still haven’t finished Harry Potter, let alone the shelves of “serious” books at home). But I’m interested in the values of these films (and, I’ll assume of the books), how they build on vampire lore and what they say about us today. If you are a loyal adherent to the saga, you probably won’t enjoy this, and if you want the movies or the books to be a surprise, then don’t read any further.

The Heroine
While I appreciate that the character of Bella is an awkward, clumsy, blushy, angsty teen (as I was) I find her lack of agency disappointing. In a post-Buffy universe, I didn’t realize the damsel-in-distress routine was still copasetic. But she’s only human, and in a world of shape-shifters and vampires it’s tough for a girl to compete. However, her only substance seems to be from her all-consuming love for her vampy-beau. The Romantic-era the author apparently takes some of her inspiration certainly permitted less dynamic or engaging ladies, but we’ve come a long way since then, no? Also, two words for you: Jane Austen. Even her more lackluster heroines had depth, dimension and diverse interests. I don’t really get that here (maybe that has something to do with the actor, book-followers?). So, while, yes, I like my ass-kicking ladies, I’d take artistic or bookish or funny or athletic or something.

The Vampires
Each Vampire story I know builds on some of the same principals. Vampires are eternally young and usually beautiful (the appeal), often evil, dangerous and sexy. The sexual metaphor is more overt for some than others. So, while Nosferatu wasn’t as nice to look at as your more contemporary heartthrobs, the sneaking into ladies’ bedrooms at night while they slept to “have your way” with them conveys a similar idea. What’s interesting about Twilight’s vision, is the vampires have no “ugly face” literally and metaphorically. They are always very pretty, and seem to be able to choose if they will be good or evil. Really, being a vampire seems mostly pretty awesome – as opposed to other stories that really play up “the catch” (you have an insatiable urge to kill people, you are a monster, you are damned, you can’t go out in the sun without bursting into flames, no more Italian food, etc).

The Sex
My understanding is that these books (and therefore films) are supposed to, to some extent, extol the virtues of abstinence pre-marriage. So, while the movies portray gleaming, writhing, beautiful youthful bodies, the romance and the appeal is in the longing, not the fulfillment of desire. Sure, anticipation is fun, but do we really need to continue to stigmatism women’s desire for sexual fulfillment? Really? Also, Bella is torn between two men who might eat her, one of which she wants to die for. Because danger is hot, and a true woman can reform a man through her love? Thanks, Victorian era. Seriously, though, I don’t want to sound all, well, mom-ish or puritanical, but isn’t this a bit of a dangerous example to be setting for young girls? I mean, a VERY reductive version of the story could be he hurts her, but he also loves her, and because she really loves him, she’ll stick it out till he kills her. Um, gross. Not to mention 18 seems a tad young to get married, to me, but she literally doesn’t seem to have anything else to do, so why not?

To answer your question preemptively, yes, I probably will see the next two movies, further contributing to the franchise, because I am, in part, an angsty-pre-teen trapped in an adult body. And now that you know all of my secrets, I will go eat some cake.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Interim Update

I’m in Portland, Maine, dear readers. This little city has so much charm, even the guy peeing in the alley is wearing a Polo.

I’ll come up with something more… thoughtful soon, but I wanted to throw this bug in your ear: perhaps the reason Minor League Baseball can get 6000 people to come to the little stadiums is because adorable, furrowed brow mascots do back-flips. True Fact.

Boston Theatre, you may take that idea and run with it free of charge.

An Anti-Ode

It is difficult to avoid the lure of New York, especially as a theatre professional. Even if you aren’t dreaming of Broadway, New York has it all – or so it seems. Think your town has the goods? Maybe, but New York has ten times the goods you do. Communal costume storage. So many theatre festivals they double-up on spaces. And don’t even get me started on the food. Hey, artists have to eat to, and in New York you can eat just about anything you want at almost any time of day.

As I write this, I am being hurled out of the city by Amtrak after spending a truly wonderful few days with New York, some friends and the Fringe Festival. My dearest friends, mostly because we wish we spent more time together, continued a persistent nudging to extend my stay – permanently. There were moments – sipping my first egg cream, devouring a delicious Egyptian meal, tapping my foot to a delicious jazz quartet – when the notion was tempting.

So, I find that I need to take a moment and remind myself – and perhaps you, dear reader, why New York is not the place for everyone.*

  1. Ghosts: Despite being introduced to pockets to the contrary, New York has obliterated the majority of the architecture that indicates it was inhabited prior to the 20th century. I find new, or relatively new, buildings a little unsettling. There are no ghosts. I like imagining the hundreds of lives that have played out in the rooms where I’ve lived. I feel tied to not only a sense of history, but to an extended distant family that I am helping to perpetuate.
  2. What’s that smell?: Seriously. The distinct urban odor that can only come from the unique combination of 7 million people, billions of pounds of trash, exhaust and rodent excrement. Add the heat of summer, and you have a brew you can’t ignore. I only wonder what rotting horse corpses and open sewage added to the stew a century ago.
  3. Oh, I see: Perhaps related to the smell, is the brown-grey grime that cakes every structure, in every neighborhood across the city from stem to stern. Nuff said.
  4. You gonna pay for that: it’s expensive. No, really. The free show expects a two drink minimum, sure, but since you are likely far from home, dinner, transportation, and post-show drinks just jumped the cost of your free night out to endangering next month’s rent.
  5. You can’t get there from here: New York is big – really big. So, even if you live in the same city as some of your dearest friends, don’t expect to seem them unless they live in your neighborhood. When I told my same nudging friends that I could consider living in Brooklyn, they all lamented that they would never see me. Sure, they love me, but Brooklyn? Might as well still live in Boston.
  6. You are one in a million, or 7: For some, I imagine the anonymity is comforting, but I find it isolating. The constant battle for your place on the sidewalk, on the subway platform or anywhere wears on one’s politeness. Before you know it, you are elbowing old ladies and knocking over baby carriages just to get off the subway in time.
  7. The dress code: I’m no fashion plate, but I manage to leave my sweatpants at home most days. But minimal effort is not ok in The Big City. Never have I been given the incredulous label stare as extensively or as often as in New York. Even their ball team has a dress code, for goodness sake!
  8. You have to sleep in your Manolo box: Act now for your own overpriced, under-maintained shoebox. Seriously, bring your checkbook because a 1000 other people are waiting for that cardboard box outside.
  9. Taxes: In addition to your Federal and rather high state taxes, the city of New York charges additional taxes for the pleasure of shopping there.
  10. The privileged: Maybe you too found the elitism displayed in shows like Sex in the City and Seinfeld distasteful. But, not only are New Yorkers better than you, they are better than each other. Friends – dear friends and strangers alike reserve a special disdain for people from New Jersey, people who walk slow, the Bridge and Tunnel crowd, or the worst offenders of all – hipsters.

*This is list is not exhaustive and is highly subjective. I know there are many more things one could say in favor of New York, or to denigrate other cities. I am using a public forum to discuss my current personal emotional state. Nevertheless, I await your rebuttal.