Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Select Whom to Lunch With

Sometimes, you just need someone to tell you you aren't crazy.

Or that you are.

I write by myself, and even though I have a team that does other things on the show, when I write, it's me and my computer. It's usually 3 a.m. and I've already seen the Seinfeld episode they're rerunning, because it's the same one that was on at 1 a.m. when I was trying to not write then, there is no one to talk to and at some point, I forget that there is anyone else to help me.

But there are people.

And if those people are willing to help you on a Friday night in the new Fringe Creation Lab, all the better.

Just hearing it and thinking about it with not my brain makes it seem like maybe it won't be so bad, or if it is, that it isn't the end of the world.

But really, it will be awesome. Because this is the team:

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Rain, the Pavement Shines Like Silver

Late night shoot!

Actually, not late night at all. Oy, it is getting dark early. I started dreading winter in June, and its coming. I love fall so so much and I am totally into the crisp weather we're having, with the trees all beautiful and the days either being gray and making me feel like being cozy in bed, or bright and blue and lovely. But winter, but winter, no!!!!


Adventures in downtown Toronto with Kyle the Wonderboy Genius Purcell and his Amazing Apparatus of Whizbang Wizardry. This kid is ridiculous. In the best way.

And with the kindest of all human beans, Eric Double. Also the best kind of ridiculous.

I'm pretty terrible at having my picture taken (evidence: this entire blog), and for some reason I have been doing photo shoots, for various promotional reasons, and I am not very good at 'taking direction', or 'emoting with my face', or 'standing in the same position', or 'looking like a human'. I'm sure all this bodes very well for my acting 'career'. But having my picture taken is very different than being on a stage and it scares me. What if the camera takes my soul?!?

Or worse, what if I have red eye?

Photo credit: Eric Double (Your pleasure, Double your fun)

But, Kyle has come up with a very very cool concept and so we took the first steps to making it happen. These steps had to happen downtown on a Sunday evening, and they had to impede the steps of others, as I had to stand in traffic a lot. And try not to ruin the pictures with my face.

And it only rained a tiny bit.

Hopefully it will turn into a promo video and that will turn into a viral hit and that will turn into bums in seats and that will turn into profit. That's my business model, and I'm sticking to it.

Because the show is about the Intrawebs, we're trying to use them to help us advertise. This is old hat: now, almost every independent show has a trailer to promote it. But it's valuable. And fun! We're trying to come up with some other cool, new stuff. So that people will see the show. Gahhhhh. What's the word for when you are equal parts nervous and excited? Nervcited? Exervous? Cristunity?

Clip, Clip Here, Clip, Clip There

New drafts all the time.

New edits all the time.

Though even at its longest it will only be 60 minutes, my script, I feel, is now of substantial girth. Like, it looks like a thing. A thing! It's not 'a couple of pages'. It is a draft. Or a script.

So much gone in to it, so much more still needs to go in. And come out. So many changes to make and think about. So many questions. Tiny little things have big ramifications. Huge changes happen organically.

It's ok, it's ok, it will all get done and it will be the best that I can do, and that's all I can do with it. Although I am notorious for not thinking that our best is good enough....urgh. I hate the phrase 'good enough'. I want everything to be AMMMMAAAAZING.

Although maybe then we'd get bored with amazing. That's kind of where our technology is at, it it amazing and we are bored. Like how Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, plans meals with more subtle dishes to balance bold flavors, there has to be good work and great work and amazing work and not so good, great, amazing work.

I hope what I'm making right now is least good.

It's exciting, I'm coming up to a deadline and the script feels, finally, that it is nearing a point of some kind of completion. I will continue to tinker, but I'll become more of an actor, not have to generate new material all the time. I guess that's sad, but it means the writer in me is free to do new things, which I can't wait for, as writing this just has sent me spiralling into more, and more, and more that I want to create about. And it will start to become a production. New challenges. Things are brewing. Fun.

In other news, I've been incredibly fortunate to see a great deal of excellent Toronto theatre lately. The Maids, The Ugly One, His Greatness, Sex, Religion and Other Hang Ups, In the Next Room, all are somewhere between interesting and transcendent, and just a huge variety of different kinds of show. There's so much more I want to see playing right now and opening soon. It's a pretty great month in Toronto theatre. Inspiring. Hopeful.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Circling the Apartment, Logging Miles

I’m trying to write.

No, really, I am, I swear!

It looks like this.

And like this:

Sometimes like this:

And often like this:

Because I get bored with writing, and when I get bored, that’s right, MUPPET FASHION PARADE!

The best thing about the Muppet doppelganger is if the writing is bad, you can blame the play on her.

Here’s a list of things that are vaguely related to writing (BUT ARE CLEVERLY NOT WRITING!) that I do so that I can convince myself that I am writing, but I am very much not):

1) Make a long list of people to invite to my show so that my career will take off. While generally connected to the Toronto theatre community, in certain flights of fancy, the list can include such luminaries as Julie Taymor, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Pope Pius XII.
(There is a sub heading to this category, and that is the list of fictional characters who would get this piece. This includes, but is not limited to Holden Caulfield, Esther Greenwood, Timon from The Lion King, and, once again, the Ghost of Christmas Past).

2) Look up festivals, shows, events where I could remount my as-now-unwritten show. Aggressively pursue such opportunities, all of which require a complete script to enter. Shows in places that allow me to travel to exotic locales are preferred (Hello, Avignon Theatre Festival!)

3) Make track lists of

a. Songs to use as pre show music

b. Songs to use in the show

c. Songs that various characters would like

d. Songs that I will write to, when I am, in future, writing.

e. Songs that are just great to dance to, cause, like, great songs, gotta dance!

4)Make up fantasy sequences of taking my bows (Several. Extended.)

5) Make up fantasy sequences of post-show euphoria in which various gentlemen callers ask for my hands, artistic directors flock around me, writers burst forth from the walls to offer to write amazing new parts for me, and everyone in my life gets along and we all drink and laugh with open mouths together forever. Taxes are abolished and death flees from our joyous party, as there could never be an end to such merriment and artistic ass-kickery.

6) Make up fantasy sequences of post-show euphoria in which my enemies come to the show , wherein I stun them, not only with my amazing show and now-amazing life, but with my incredible recreation of Destiny’s Child ‘Survivor’, which I sing to them, in three part harmony, by myself. Back up dancers appear as if from no where to assist me in finger-wagging. Enemies vanish in clouds of ignominy.

You know I'm not gon' diss you on the Internet...'cause my momma taught me better than that.

7) Muppet fashion parade (previously discussed).

Oh, and 8) Blog about all this.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And the Devil Will Drag You Under With a Soul So Heavy You'll Never Float

So the reason that I went to New York, when I really shouldn't be spending such gross amounts of money on extravagant trips or ANYTHING, is to see a play that I had heard would change my life. So I went to see it.

It is called Sleep No More, and it is a pretty amazing experience.

Brief Encounter remains the best play I've ever seen in my life, and the best experience I have ever had in a theatre. But that's partially because this is not a play, and this is not in a theatre. This is one of the weirdest, most challenging and exciting interactions I have ever had with a piece of theatre, or a piece of art. I had problems with it, large problems that, were I not in this kind of strange milieu, were I sitting in a theatre watching it, would have meant that I didn't like the show. But the whole experience (I keep using that word and I'm going to use it a lot, but I think that's all I've got for this one, vocabulary wise), was so amazing and transcendent and wonderful in so many ways that my problems are really insignificant in light of the project in its entirety.

And it was so impressive a project that I saw it twice.


Here is my brother and I before Sleep No More, two normal theatre goers not entirely sure what we would see:


Amazeballs. If you look carefully, you can see our minds are actually blown.

I think it's best to go in to the show not knowing specifics, which is not how I went in, but now I think might be a good idea. So I'm going to give some specifics, but won't encourage you to do what I did, or to do anything, if you do decide to go. It's your own journey. You create your own version of the show, and I think that's the way to see it. You're going to miss shit, and the shit you miss is going to be awesome. But you're going to see shit, too, and the shit you see will also be awesome. You have to strangely accept this, which is hard for me, and a large part of why I had to go see it a second time: I felt like I had failed as an audience member and not done a good enough job of seeing things. Looking back, though, that's just my own hysteria and neuroses. So I'm not telling you what to do, should you go. I'm not that kind of guy, you know?

Ok. So you go here:

Which is a very large warehouse compound in Chelsea, apparently three separate buildings that used to be nightclubs.

You get in a line with other people and no one tells you anything but everyone in line is talking about it, and everyone in line is already having some kind of feeling about it. We are a combination of excited, scared, unsure, hyperactive, skeptical. Everyone's talking about what we're going into and absolutely nothing has happened yet.

You go in and are given your ticket, which is a playing card, and a mask, which you put on and will wear for the entirety of the show.

Already the show is cooler and sexier than I will ever be and, while walking through a pitch dark, narrow corridor I will feel slightly saddened by this fact.

And then you are let loose in this massive, multi-story, enormous building to chase after characters as they do a kind of extrapolation from Macbeth.'s great.

There's a lot about the show that was just so inspiring. The scope of it is enormous. Five huge floors, each with room after room. Space is transformed to create a graveyard indoors, or a dead forest maze that comes off of an asylum. There are rooms full of bathtubs, and rooms full of taxidermy. Ancient ruins and woodsy cabins. Banquet halls and clubs and bars. You go through room after room and get lost. The first time I was there, I completely missed the entire top floor. It's so big....imagine being able to be lost in a set. I was. For hours.

I don't know how you think to do a show this big. I don't know how you then get enough people to say 'yes', in terms of money, and time, and work that needs to go into it. I don't know how you make theatre this big happen, but it's amazing. I feel like in the work that I do, I'm conditioned to find problems before I can find possibilities. So often I'll have an idea that makes me light up, and when I tell someone, the first thing they want to say is, 'Now, it's going to be very hard to have a cast of six', or, 'I don't know if we can do that', or 'this can't be staged'. A project like Sleep No More requires, at several levels, people to say, 'This is not possible and it will happen anyway'. 'I do not know how but I will do this'.

How is this kind of thinking possible? Why don't I have it, or, when I do have it, why don't I have enough of whatever else I need to make others say 'yes'? Where can I get it? Costco?

Can we, as a community, make a pact to just TRY thinking this way? Maybe we'd create some good shit. Or at least build really amazing haunted houses.

And what really makes the hugeness of the project so incredible is the minute detail that fills every inch of this massive space. Every room is full of tricks and ticks. There's stuff in all the drawers, there's writing on all the pads of paper. The design is beautiful and spooky, rooms made of cardboard with playing cards nailed to the walls, or a crib with headless babies hanging over it. It's an amazing juxtaposition between the very big and the very small. The dancing mirrors this, and the story. Its a huge Shakespearean tale told, in many ways, through tiny moments. MacDuff forgetting about his wife at a party, while he dances with another woman (really a witch). Banquo and Macbeth changing shirts together before something terrible possesses them both. Malcolm shaving his father before they go to Macbeth's castle. The dancing flies and scales the walls (wow, do they ever climb the walls, gravity seems just another negotiable factor), but is also unnervingly intricate and precise. It's an amazing combination of dreaming big, while still knowing the devil is in the details.

Then there's this amazing idea that you create something that the audience viscerally wants to see. This moves beyond being 'on the edge of your seat', because you can literally and physically be propelled forward, off the seat, and chasing the action up six flights of stairs or down a hallway. You can get pushed out of a room where you so desperately wanted to see the scene. I hadn't seen any of Malcolm's stuff so I was determined to follow him out of a big group scene that marks a kind of looping point in the show. He ran out of the room, so I BOLTED after him, running as hard as I could up five flights of stairs. I was the only one following him and was so thrilled that I would see all of his stuff. And then, out of nowhere, two other people in masks came out on a landing between us, and he got away. I was so disappointed. It's rare that I want to see something so badly that I chase it down (other than ice cream trucks or Pauly Shore movies). But that's what this show makes you do. I always love shows where you see the actors sweat, and I love being in shows where I get to run, or that feel like running: shows where the characters fly and move so quickly through thought that they are physically in motion, even if it's all internal to me. That's the kind of stuff I like doing. So to have that feeling as an audience member was kind of remarkable. I have never been this exhilarated when I wasn't performing.

But, of course, I was, implicitly, performing in this piece. You can watch the audience in the same way you watch the show. Your presence factors in, you're slowing other audience members down, forcing others to run (especially if you're me, I got kinda pushy), you are standing somewhere where an actor needs to be, rifling through a prop that is soon to enter a scene. You're a weird, complicit, partner, a ghost in this haunted world.

Don't worry, I already put it on my resume.

I remember once being taught that speaking Shakespeare should feel like you have a knife at your back, so great is the need to speak. This was like watching with a knife at your back, so great was the desire, the need, to investigate, to see, to explore, to understand, to discover, to win.

I see a lot of theatre and going, much of the time, feels like taking tonic, like it is something that 'I have to do' or 'is good for me'. I stand in lines with other actors and we say that we don't really want to see this play, but we felt we had to, out of devotion to our friends or our heroes, out of the desire to be seen at the theatre and therefore remind other theatre goers of our existence, out of the hope that maybe we'll see something that is beautiful or terrifying or sexy or silly or enough to remind us that we want to keep working and we want to keep fighting. This is not to say that I don't see very good theatre on a fairly regular basis, because I do. But there is a difference in having to fight to watch. In having to make choices. Here, passivity, do stay in the same room and watch the action go through you, is a choice. So is pushing to the front of a mob of people to see naked bodies, or sprinting after a witch so hard you fall down (guess which ones I did). But they are choices, not defaults.

Ok, so I didn't get the story. Not really. I got moments from the plot, but they were isolated, and I know the play very well (I am, however, very stupid and often don't get things. This amazes me, how little I get in a a given play). Big stuff is there, the murders, who is on whose side. And the invented stuff particularly with the MacDuffs, was wonderful, and felt like it did, indeed, come from the text. But I don't know a ton about dance, so, to my untrained eye, the dancing sometimes got repetitive, and it didn't help me differentiate characters or moments. Everyone is in a kind of perpetual state of either lust, or paranoia, so I didn't really see character arcs. Everyone dances in a quite similar way, to me. Sometimes, I get this a lot with physical theatre, I could see that movements were specific, but I didn't know what they meant, so they end up just kind of being 'the dance of sadness' for me. And that happened.

But I did get a very strong sense of the feel of the play. It's a huge insight into fear. How scary it is to be alone in a world where witches can appear. How paranoid you get when there's darkness all around, when everyone's face is a mystery. There's also a fascinating duality between individualism and collectivism. Everyone's time there will be different, and there's a supreme desire, at least for me, to have an individual experience, to see something no one else will, to discover something new. There's also an immense comfort in moving as a group, in outnumbering the actors and forming the shadows or demons that are in their imaginations, or maybe even their realities. I moved back and forth constantly between wanting to stand out and be autonomous, and craving the other white masks around me, to protect me.

There's also something about the voyeurism, about insatiable curiousity, that compels us to break all the rules that we've learned in years of theatre going, to rifle through papers and get close to the performance. It's powerful and intoxicating, doing what you shouldn't, and as seductive as the power of a demon or the lure of a throne. The appeal of the dark side is overpowering, toxic, and that's such a presence in the script, and manifests in a totally sensory, palpable way. All of these feelings that are in the play are made flesh, if the actions are not. It's pretty cool. It's a pretty cool way of thinking about how to communicate. I know that I've been told to stop worrying about communicating feeling and just deal with action, that you can't act feeling, you can just do things, and I always hated that because I am the type of guy who would really like to just get up and cry and laugh because I am awesome at having and showing too many feelings and not so great at getting out of bed and making decisions and conquering Rome. This made me think that there is something to all the feelings I have, and there's a way that that can be made valuable and tangible to an audience, and as satisfying as watching concrete action.

It's pretty amazing to have a show that can challenge the rules you have been taught or you have accepted or made for yourself as an artist.

And then, after, it continues to work on me. My brother and I were pretty obsessed with it (and my brother is not really a theatre person. He occasionally works in theatre as a musician, but its not his medium of choice, although because of me and some other friends, he now sees a fair amount. He loved this show). So obsessed, that we spent a lot of time comparing our experiences and then trying to piece together the whole thing, so that we had a map of the show. Which looked like this:

Each column is a character and we wrote down what we saw them do, then tried to locate it in a timeline.

This took an embarrassing amount of time. And was worth every minute, because when we went back for the second time, we had plans, and were mathematically figuring out where to go.

I've been endlessly going over not just the technical stuff, of who goes where when, and what that means for where other people are, but been - actually - haunted by the images. Of the white masks roaming around darkened halls. Of rubber rooms with stray straight jackets in them. Of the taxidermy wing and the pile of salt in the corner of a tea room, of the feeling that someone was sneaking up on me, or watching me, or that I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be and seeing something I shouldn't. It's been a week and it's still very much with me.

Exciting. Scary. Wicked, in every sense of the word. Yup.

If you need to be inspired and confused and enlightened and spooked and charged and pushed and left alone and forcibly moved and softly caressed, get out and see this show if you can.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Bronx is up and the Battery's Down

I went to New York.

I love New York.

I really do.

I talk to other artists and they say they couldn't live there, and I totally get that it is very hard and I would be eaten alive and in a total panic within seconds, but a huge part of me just wants to be there so so badly. I could never afford the lifestyle with any sense of comfort or confidence, and I'd be so overwhelmed by the crowds and worry and all that, but still, but still, but still.

It really is such a mecca for theatre. I saw three shows there, one twice, and I'll talk about them all in subsequent posts, but it's just so inspiring to be in a city that has such successful commercial theatre, that brings people from all over the world, and also has really subversive and interesting, different kind of stuff.

I feel bad saying that because I have seen three shows here in Toronto in the past four days, and they were all very very good, there's an abundance of great stuff to see here right now and I'm overwhelmed and lucky by it. But New York is still different. Right? What is that?

On 30 Rock, when Steve Martin guest stars, he has a line trying to get Liz to live with him, and he says they could move to Canada, and says, 'Toronto is just like New York without all the stuff!' One of my favorite lines. Is that true? It is both true and not true.

So I was very inspired but also sad because it made me feel like this amazing work was possible, but far away.

But either way, I still got to go to New York, which I always love more than almost anything.

So exciting.....