Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tandava's Guide to The Zone -- Part III, New Year's Day (7pm through 6am 1/2/11)

So I made some changes to Part I and Part II of my New Year's Twilight Zone Guide, which reviews all of the Twilight Zone episodes to be aired on SyFy this weekend.

I added the "blue" category to Part I (i.e. episodes that are not great, but are worth watching for good performances). And, once again, if you are reading this entry in my FB Notes and want to see all the pretty colors, please view it here.

Plus I added IMDB links to all the actor and series' names, as well as jump links to the short lists in both parts so you can quickly get to the descriptions without scrolling.

Now, if you recall, Part I covers episodes airing New Year's Eve from 8am through Midnight.

Part II covers episodes on New Year's Day from Midnight through 7pm.

Part III covers episodes airing 7pm through 6am Sunday morning --  and SyFy has indeed saved many of the best for last! There are so many good episodes that my "short" list is not so short!!

It includes:

(1) Episodes on the Time Top 10 List -- These are the acknowledged classics; titles and times are red with bold underline.

(2) My Personal Favorite Episodes -- These are underrated gems with strong scripts and beautiful performances; titles and times are fuchsia with bold italics.

(3) Episodes Worth Watching -- These have flawed scripts or execution, but often have strong performances and/or ideas; titles and times are blue with bold.

My Favorites -- Not-So-Short List

7:00 PM -- The Invaders
7:30 PM -- Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
8:00 PM -- The Odyssey Of Flight 33
8:30 PM -- Where Is Everybody?
9:00 PM -- To Serve Man
9:30 PM -- Time Enough At Last
10:00 PM -- Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
10:30 PM -- Living Doll
11:30 PM -- The Obsolete Man
12:00 AM -- The After Hours
12:30 AM -- Death's-Head Revisited
1:00 AM -- Two
1:30 AM -- Mirror Image
2:00 AM -- The Changing Of The Guard
3:00 AM -- The Lonely
4:30 AM -- Nothing In The Dark

Full List -- With Descriptions

7:00 PM -- The Invaders -- Agnes Moorehead's virtuoso 25-minute wordless monologue; riveting with a slick twist at the end. #4 on the Time list

7:30 PM -- Five Characters In Search Of An Exit -- A soldier, a clown, a tramp, a bagpiper and a ballerina wake to find themselves in a doorless empty room. Well-played and engaging.

8:00 PM -- The Odyssey Of Flight 33 -- A 707 picks up a freak tail wind and travels back in time. Run-of-the-mill by modern sci-fi standards, but notable for its apparently realistic cockpit dialogue created by Serling's aviation writer brother, Robert Serling.

8:30 PM -- Where Is Everybody? -- Guy finds himself alone in an empty town, with hints of residents recently present (lit cigarette in ashtray, etc.). Eerie and amusing, most worth watching because this is the pilot that sold the series to CBS.

9:00 PM -- To Serve Man -- Aliens come to earth offering solutions to all the world's woes; their trouble-entendre mission: "To serve man." An undisputed classic, #3 on the Time list.

9:30 PM -- Time Enough At Last -- Burgess Meredith at his lovable best as a devoted bookworm constantly thwarted by his boss, wife, and everyone else -- until a touch of armageddon gives him new lease on life. #9 on the Time list.

10:00 PM -- Nightmare At 20,000 Feet -- "There's a man out on the wing!!" Shatner at his whiteknuckle best. #7 on the Time list.

10:30 PM -- Living Doll -- "My name is Talky Tina -- and you'd better be nice to me!" Telly Savalas takes on June Foray's creepy voiced doll. This one gave me nightmares. #6 on the Time list.

11:00 PM -- A Stop At Willoughby -- Beleagured exec finds himself in his childhood hometown. Similar to "Walking Distance" but trades insight for sentiment. Some people really like this one; I can do without it.

11:30 PM -- The Obsolete Man -- The superb Burgess Meredith is back to his book-loving ways, this time as a librarian in a dystopic totalitarian future, where both he and his books are declared obsolete.

12:00 AM -- The After Hours -- Stunning Anne Francis finds herself wandering the non-existent floors of a creepy department store. (Wait... is that mannequin watching me??)

12:30 AM -- Death's-Head Revisited -- Former Nazi captain's trot down memory lane via Dachau brings him to some unexpected denizens. Top-notch performances by Joseph Schildkraut and Oscar Beregi Jr.

1:00 AM -- Two -- Apocalypse survivors Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery approach each other warily in this sparsely written, beautifully acted episode.

1:30 AM -- Mirror Image -- Frightened bus traveller Vera Miles (best known as Janet Leigh's Psycho sister) is sure an evil doppelgänger is trying to replace her. Top-notch acting and direction.

2:00 AM -- The Changing Of The Guard -- It's A Wonderful Life meets Goodbye, Mr. Chips, TZ-style. Sweet, sentimental, with beautiful acting by Donald Pleasence.

2:30 AM -- Twenty-Two -- Recovering dancer is troubled by prescient dreams. "Room for one more, honey!" Shrill performances, flat writing. Mediocre tale best suited to Internet urban myth.

3:00 AM -- The Lonely -- Convict Jack Warden spends lonely days on an asteroid until his supply ship pal brings him a realistic robot -- in the ethereally beautiful form of a young Jean Marsh (best known as Rose from Upstairs, Downstairs). A touching, romantic story. Features Ted Knight as an obnoxious crew member.

3:30 AM -- Dead Man's Shoes -- Bum dons dead gangster's wing-tips and finds himself stepping into the thug's revenge-thirsty life. You might feel bad for the bum if you find yourself caring about anything in this one.

4:00 AM -- Hocus-Pocus and Frisby -- A braggart gas station attendant's tales of prowess are believed by some seriously gullible aliens who want to take him home as a specimen of Earth's finest.

4:30 AM -- Nothing In The Dark -- Aging Gladys Cooper tries to keep Death at bay by shutting her door -- until angelically beautiful Robert Redford shows up. I guarantee, it's not his acting that convinces her to open up..... Worth watching for her nuanced performance -- and his mesmerizing good looks!

5:00 AM -- Ninety Years Without Slumbering -- Ed Wynn fears that if his heirloom grandfather clock stops ticking, so will his heart! Pragmatic pregnant daughter sends him to a shrink for some serious de-Zoning. Too bad. According to Marc Scott Zicree, the original superior script stayed within (and was worthy of) the Zone.

5:30 AM -- The Last Rights Of Jeff Myrtlebank -- Small town home boy James Best wakes up at his own funeral, and seems much improved by the experience! Cute, folksy tale.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tandava's Guide to The Zone -- Part II, New Year's Day (Midnight to 7pm)

Continuing the list from yesterday's entry, below is a complete list of the Twilight Zone episodes to be aired on SyFy from midnight New Year's Day through 7pm.

A third entry will follow covering 7pm through 6am Sunday morning (this is very time-consuming, but I'm passionate about my Zone, and I've been meaning to do this for years).

First is the short list including the Time Top 10, my personal favorites, and other noteworthy episodes.

Since the colored fonts do not get picked up in the Facebook feed (and if you are reading this entry in my FB Notes and want to see all the pretty colors, please view it here), I'm adding additional formatting.

So, the categories are:

(1) Episodes on the Time Top 10 List -- These are the acknowledged classics; titles and times are red with bold underline.

(2) My Personal Favorite Episodes -- These are underrated gems with strong scripts and beautiful performances; titles and times are fuchsia with bold italics.

(3) Episodes Worth Watching -- These have flawed scripts or execution, but often have strong performances and/or ideas; titles and times are blue with bold.

My Favorites -- Short List

12:00 AM -- The Midnight Sun
1:00 AM -- Long Distance Call
1:30 AM -- One For The Angels
2:00 AM -- Night Of The Meek
3:00 AM -- Night Call
5:00 AM -- The Grave
6:00 AM -- Judgment Night
6:30 AM -- Long Live Walter Jameson
7:30 AM -- A Quality Of Mercy
10:30 AM -- A World Of His Own
11:30 AM -- Mr. Denton On Doomsday

2:00 PM -- Mr. Dingle, The Strong
2:30 PM -- People Are Alike All Over
3:30 PM -- A Game Of Pool
4:00 PM -- Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
4:30 PM -- Nick Of Time
5:30 PM -- The Dummy
6:30 PM -- Kick The Can

Full List -- With Descriptions

12:00 AM -- The Midnight Sun -- Earth has been knocked off its orbit and is gradually approaching the sun. Thermometers pop, a painting melts off its canvas (this is actually a painted wax tablet on a hot plate!), but this apocalyptic tale is most interesting for its relationships -- an excellent script, beautifully acted.

12:30 AM -- Third From The Sun -- Trigger-happy world leaders have their finger on the button! Doomsday is near! Time for a select few to secretly gather their families to escape to a nearby planet. Hm... now what planet would that be..?

1:00 AM -- Long Distance Call -- Creepy dead gramma wants her favorite grandson to be with her forever, and conveys her wishes via a toy phone. (Now if only Billy Mumy -- TZ's favorite child actor -- could wish her into the cornfield!)

1:30 AM -- One For The Angels -- One of TZ's more successful dark comedies features Ed Wynn as a fast-talking salesman who must use his skills to save a child's life.

2:00 AM -- Night Of The Meek -- Down-and-out department store Santa, Art Carney, loses his job but finds a bag of gifts and plays Santa one last time for the neighborhood kiddies. But is it just an act? Beautiful, touching episode.

2:30 AM -- Nightmare As A Child -- Freaky, annoying brat spooks schoolteacher. Or does the marm have more to fear? Find out, if you can stay awake through this snoozer.

3:00 AM -- Night Call -- Originally called "Sorry Right Number," this careful-what-you-wish for tale features calls from beyond and a beautiful performance by Gladys Cooper. It has also been recycled as internet glurge.

3:30 AM -- Probe 7 Over and Out -- Stranded astronaut Richard Basehart, meets hostile alien female on deserted planet. She hurls rocks at him. Or maybe it's just foreplay. Now, what shall we call this place...? The same story is better told in "Two."

4:00 AM -- The Rip Van Winkle Caper -- It's Treasure of the Sierra Madre with suspended animation and blah writing. Good performances and a fun twist at the end make it sort of worth watching.

4:30 AM -- I Am the Night - Color Me Black -- Murderous bigotry, hatred and fear are bad things. OK. We get it.

5:00 AM -- The Grave --Spooky old west tale of a dare gone bad, featuring James Best, Lee Van Cleef and Lee Marvin. Also recycled on the internet.

5:30 AM -- The Fear -- Reclusive writer and state trooper battle giant (or maybe not-so-giant) aliens in this bottom-of-the-barrel turkey.

6:00 AM -- Judgment Night -- Nehemiah Persoff just knows a nearby U-boat will blast his passenger steamer. But no one one board will believe him! (And exactly how does he know anyway...?) Excellent performances, great ending and a sweet cameo by The Avengers' Patrick MacNee.

6:30 AM -- Long Live Walter Jameson -- TZ's most successful working of the "morality of mortality" theme features fine performances, a strong script and a touch of righteous revenge.

7:00 AM -- The Arrival -- Mystery plane lands itself at airport. Could it all just be an illusion? Ummm... maybe...

7:30 AM -- A Quality Of Mercy -- In WWII Philippines brash Lieutenant Dean Stockwell learns to walk a mile in the other guy's army boots. Good performances all around, plus a pre-Spock Leonard Nimoy in a bit part.

8:00 AM -- The Fugitive -- Cinderella story, sci-fi style. Not great; not terrible.

8:30 AM -- The Gift -- Mexicans fear an (ahem) illegal alien. Too bad, cuz he could have really helped you guys... Crappy script, wooden performances. Skip it.

9:00 AM -- Black Leather Jackets -- Bad leather-clad alien (dressed this way to "blend") falls for local girl in this not-quite-Avatar.

9:30 AM -- A Piano In The House -- Enchanted ivories reveal uncomfortable secrets; akin to "What's in the Box" and "A Kind of Camera", and slightly better than either.

10:00 AM -- The Shelter -- "Maple Street" meets the lazy grasshopper. The industrious ant of this tale has built a bomb shelter for his family, and his neighbors scoff -- until there is an emergency... Bloated prose and one-dimensional characters make this a must-miss.

10:30 AM -- A World Of His Own -- Sweet story about the reality of reality features the only time Serling interacts with his characters.

11:00 AM -- A Short Drink From A Certain Fountain -- Here we go again with the be-careful-what-you-wish-for theme. Rich geezer wants to keep up with his greedy vain young wife; comeuppance awaits them both.

11:30 AM -- Mr. Denton On Doomsday -- Touching old west tale about top-gunslinger-turned-town-drunk finding redemption. Fine performances by Dan Duryea, Martin Landau and Doug McClure.

12:00 PM -- I Shot An Arrow Into The Air -- Three astronauts survive a crash on an asteroid (where the atmosphere and gravity are the same as on Earth, but no one notices this). Limited provisions stir bloodthirsty behavior. Yes, Rod, people in crisis are just no darned good.

12:30 PM -- The Little People -- Ego and physical relativity clash in this memorable (though mediocre) episode, which has been lampooned  in The Simpsons, South Park, and Futurama. Good performance by Claude Akins.

1:00 PM -- A Kind Of Stopwatch -- Blabbering bore gets comeuppance via magical timepiece. Even The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything was better than this turkey.

1:30 PM -- The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms -- Spooked National Guard tank crew gets drafted into Custer's 7th Cavalry. Big whoop.

2:00 PM -- Mr. Dingle, The Strong -- Loud-mouthed salesman pisses away alien gifts on trivial feats. Worth watching for an adorable Burgess Meredith and amusing (and very young) Don Rickles.

2:30 PM -- People Are Alike All Over -- Astronaut Roddy McDowall crashes on populous Mars, and consoles his fears with the thought that Martians (who include the radiant Susan Oliver) and humans must be "alike" ...

3:00 PM -- Stopover In A Quiet Town -- At least it was quiet until this nattering couple woke up in a strange house with no memory of how they got there, and no one to ask where they are, or why the grass is made of papier-mâché. And if they'd shut up for two seconds, we just might care....

3:30 PM -- A Game Of Pool -- Taut two-person drama about winning and losing, and what's really important in the game of life. Fine performances by Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters. Not crazy about the ending; the real (and better) ending was done in the 80s TZ version.

4:00 PM -- Number Twelve Looks Just Like You -- Dystopic utopia where everyone is beautifully identical and lifts their pretty mugs with a glass of Instant Smile. Mediocre script saved by Collin Wilcox's terrific performance.

4:30 PM -- Nick Of Time -- A charming script and low-key performance by pre-Kirk William Shatner (yes, I used "low-key" and "Shatner" in the same sentence) grace this cautionary tale about superstition and self-determination.

5:00 PM -- The Bewitchin' Pool -- Worst. Episode. Ever. Even To Kill a Mockingbird's Oscar-nominated Mary Badham couldn't save this dismal excuse for a story. Spoiled brats escape manipulative divorcing parents by finding their way to SuperGrandma via an enchanted pool. Now, if Grandma dumped the tots in an oven, then we might have a story....

5:30 PM -- The Dummy -- Cliff Robertson as a troubled ventriloquist whose creepy dummy will simply not stay in the box.

6:00 PM -- Little Girl Lost -- Little girl has slipped into another dimension. Can her parents and conveniently present physicist pal rescue her before the portal closes forever? Decent script but bland acting. Tune in for the final 10 minutes for all you need to know.

6:30 PM -- Kick The Can -- Timeless story about rest home residents learning that you are indeed as young as you feel. "Look! Think! Feel! Doesn't that wake some sleeping part of you?!"

Tandava's Guide to The Zone -- Part I, New Year's Eve

It's that time of year! Champagne corks will fly and balls will drop, and many of us will spend at least some time in The Zone.

This year, as every year, SyFy (formerly the Science Fiction Channel, or SciFi) will air 88 episodes for its New Year's Twilight Zone marathon, starting 8am on 12/31 and ending at 6am on 1/2. So that's a lot of Serling for your dollar... but how do you tell the quality from the clunkers?

Unfortunately, SyFy is not airing any of the beautiful hour-long episodes from Season 4, but there are still classics aplenty among the half-hour episodes. All ten of Time Magazine's Top Twilight Zone Episodes will be featured (they are in red), along with some lesser known beauties like "The Masks" and "In Praise of Pip", (in fuchsia), and finally a few that are not perfect, but have notable performances (in blue).

Here is a short list of my favorite episodes which will be aired on Friday, December 31st, followed by a full list of all episodes, with brief descriptions and hopefully not too many spoilers. Celebrity names and other items of interest are bolded.

In a few days, I'll post a rundown of episodes to be aired from 1/1 through the morning of 1/2.

Happy Zoning!

My Favorites -- Short List

9:30 AM -- A Thing About Machines
10:30 AM -- And When The Sky Was Opened
12:30 PM -- In Praise Of Pip
3:30 PM -- A Penny For Your Thoughts
4:30 PM -- Walking Distance
5:00 PM -- A Hundred Yards Over The Rim
6:30 PM -- It's A Good Life
7:00 PM -- Eye Of The Beholder
7:30 PM -- The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
10:00 PM -- The Hitch-hiker
11:30 PM -- The Masks


Full List -- With Descriptions

8:00 AM -- Perchance To Dream – Neat psychodrama with some freaky felinesque dream sequences.

8:30 AM -- The Four Of Us Are Dying – Guy who can change his face learns he can’t change his scumbag nature.

9:00 AM -- The Fever – Well-acted but ultimately hokey morality play about gambling addiction.

9:30 AM -- A Thing About Machines – One of my all-time faves about a guy who beats up on his machines -- which, in 1960, was his typewriter, electric razor, TV and car -- and they gang up to have their revenge. I have to wonder what this episode would look like today! ("Now, why don’t you get out of here, Finchley!!")

10:00 AM -- What's In The Box – Lame and ridiculous episode about a couple’s bickering leading to accidental murder and capital punishment. Freaky TV predicts it all. There, now you don’t have to watch it and aren’t you glad?

10:30 AM -- And When The Sky Was Opened – Well played, creepy episode about astronauts returning to earth… or did they? Or were they ever here? Or were you?? TZ makes us question our grasp of reality.

11:00 AM -- Ring-a-ding Girl – Medium episode about movie star returning to her home town and throwing a “celebrate me” party. Or is she? Even though it’s not great, I always find myself watching this one all the way through.

11:30 AM -- Escape Clause – I only like this one because I like David Wayne, but it’s not a great episode, just a grim morality play about the value of mortality. *Yawn!*

12:00 PM -- Mr. Garrity And The Graves – A more humorous take on the “value of mortality” theme, plus “be careful what you wish for.”

12:30 PM -- In Praise Of Pip – I LOVE this episode. I REALLY love this episode (and did I mention I love this episode?). Jack Klugman delivers a top-notch, tragic performance as a dying no-good trying to do right by his serviceman son, Pip (a much less fearsome Billy Mumy). Sweet, sad magical ending.

1:00 PM -- Queen Of The Nile – Dopey episode about life-sucking millennia-old Egyptian queen. Blah blah blah. Skip it. "Long Live Walter Jameson" handles the material much more skillfully.

1:30 PM -- A Nice Place To Visit – Another “be careful what you wish for” morality tale about what Hell might really be like.

2:00 PM -- The Last Flight – Well-acted drama about WWI fighter pilot who lands in 1960s England. Should he return to save his squadron? You betcha!

2:30 PM -- Mr. Bevis – Loser gets all he desires (money, nice apartment), only to learn he can’t be his true whackadoo self and keep up appearances. Moral: Enjoy who you are.

3:00 PM -- The Old Man In The Cave – Confused story set in a post-apocalyptic future of 1974 (!!!). Town listens to the “old man” until soldiers tell them not to be superstitious – and it doesn’t work out well for anyone. What’s the message? Don’t trust your own perceptions? Ugh. Only worth watching for a young James Coburn.

3:30 PM -- A Penny For Your Thoughts – Not a classic, but one of my favorites, featuring a young Dick York (the first Darren from Bewitched.)

4:00 PM -- The Hunt – This mediocre folksy tale by The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr. has been recycled as internet glurge. Guy and dog have died and are walking along the road to heaven. Guy at pearly gate says, “No dogs allowed.” Guy says, “I ain’t going nowhere without my hound…” Sheesh.

4:30 PM -- Walking Distance – I LOVE this episode, a classic (#8 on the Time list) about a frustrated exec who, longing for his boyhood days, visits his hometown – only to find himself a grown-up amidst his own childhood. Insightful lesson about valuing the present and not romanticizing the past.

5:00 PM -- A Hundred Yards Over The Rim – Underrated episode featuring a very young Cliff Robertson as a pioneer dad who will go yards, miles and years to heal his ailing son.

5:30 PM -- A Most Unusual Camera – Idiotic episode about three greedy idiots undone by a magic camera. Hokey, ridiculous, predictable ending. Skip it.

6:00 PM -- I Sing The Body Electric – Sweet episode about robot nanny lovingly bonding with tots.

6:30 PM -- It's A Good Life – One of the most famous episodes (#2 on the Time list) featuring little Billy Mumy as a terrifying child who can create and destroy at will. The brilliant Cloris Leachman is his petrified mother. (“That’s a good thing you did… A real good thing… Now please wish it into the cornfield!).

7:00 PM -- Eye Of The Beholder – A classic (#10 on the Time list) about the relativity of beauty, the lengths we will go to be beautiful – or to at least conform – and the dangers of conformity. Note: the girl at the end (Donna Douglas, of Beverly Hillbillies) is a different actress than the one under the bandages (Maxine Stuart), but she speaks in her own voice -- doing a very good impression of Stuart!

7:30 PM -- The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street – #1 on the Time list. The text of one is included in grade-school anthologies. Beautifully written masterpiece about fearing thy neighbor. The brilliant Claude Akins is considered the lead, though it is a true ensemble piece. Don’t miss it.

10:00 PM -- The Hitch-hiker –A driver keeps seeing the same hitch-hiker thumbing a ride as she heads west…. A deliciously Hitchcockian morality/mortality play about fear and acceptance.

10:30 PM -- Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up – This was voted 8.5 on the IMDB, but I think it’s dopey and ridiculous. Bus passengers are stranded at a diner – but there is one too many. Oh, and rumor has it that a spacecraft crashed nearby. Give me a break.

11:00 PM -- The Howling Man – A visitor to a monastery is disturbed to find the monks have a screaming guy locked up. Well, they must have a good reason… A lot of people like this one. I think it’s pretty meh. Features John Carradine as a monk.

11:30 PM -- The Masks -- One of the GREAT underrated episodes, and the only TZ episode to be directed by a woman, Ida Lupino (she also starred in “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”, which is not featured in this marathon). A crusty millionaire geezer tells his greedy family he will die before Mardi Gras is over – but they must wear freaky custom masks through the evening if they want to claim their inheritance.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tokyo Story Part I: How PURE Reflections Came to Japan

"Japan beckons cold-footed Carol!"

It is the evening of Wednesday, September 22nd -- barely three days after our Big PURE Weekend of workshops and shows (which I organized and hosted) and I am still catching my breath.

And now, I was going to Japan.

The Monday before, I'd learned that Kaeshi, PURE's Artistic Director, had been approached by Lâle Sayoko, a well-known Japanese dancer and member of PURE, about bringing PURE Reflections to Japan.

Lâle had seen the show and performed with us earlier that year and found the experience so powerful that she had determined to share it with her sisters in PURE Tokyo (PURE's only international chapter -- so far! :-> ). And now her dream was becoming a reality -- more quickly than anyone could have imagined!

Kaeshi, it turned out, was going to be in the Far East for Jillina's Bellydance Evolution show in December, and had been approached to teach a few workshops in Osaka. And while she realized it would not be feasible to bring the entire 30-person cast of dancers and musicians to Japan, it might be possible, she thought, to mount it with a Japanese cast.

"Do you think one week will be enough?" she asked as we headed through Cooper Square Monday night.

"Well... they would really need to understand the show," I replied, "It would take a lot of preparation in the weeks beforehand..."

"I know..." she winced a little.

"Well, you're not doing it without me."

Her eyes popped. "Really? Would you really do that?"

"Sure," I said, "I mean ... I can't let you do it alone."

We checked airline prices that evening. $980! My account wasn't exactly flush, but the show was more important. And even with two people at the helm, mounting PURE Reflections would be an herculean task.

Then I started to worry... What if the dancers aren't that committed? What if it all falls apart in the eight weeks between now and then?

Then my paranoia set in.

I wrote Kaeshi:  "I just checked prices and it says $980... was that what it was yesterday, or did it go up like $100 already?"

Her measured response followed moments later: "It is the same price as yesterday. It did not go up..."

I was bursting.

"I am getting slightly cold feet about this," I dithered, "... it's happening a lot faster than I'd thought. Feeling very nervous..."

Her next message warmed my soles: "I think at this point, it's safe to go ahead and buy that ticket. The dancers are already all rearranging their work schedules to suit what I posted about rehearsals... Japan beckons cold-footed Carol! Catching a plane is much like riding a subway, only it looks and sounds a lot different on the other side..."

Well OK then!

And I bought the ticket.

At the next PURE-NYC meeting, Kaeshi asked if any other members would like to take the Tokyo plunge, and the bravehearted Pacita -- who turned out to be an extraordinary Assistant Director -- stepped up. And after a similar announcement during the PURE facilitator weekly web conference our team doubled in size, with Brian and Misha from Sarasota joining, as well Katie from Connecticut (who had hosted the show in May).

And we were on our way!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bizarro Help Desk Ticket of the Week

Sometimes, my job makes me channel my inner-Dr. House (only without the whole life-and-death thing... although lawyers certainly like to convince you that everything is life-and-death, but I digress....)

Last week, a Help Desk ticket came in from a secretary at the law firm where I work complaining that "dots" were appearing on her Client Bill printouts, just above the total figure.

"I can't send out a quarter-million dollar bill to a client with dots on it!" she bleated.

First, the Help Desk sent the ticket to Hardware Support, figuring there was something wrong with the printer. But then they printed another bill on regular paper, and there were no dots. So then they figured there was something wrong with Microsoft Word, and the ticket came to my department.

"You know this is probably a Hardware problem," my coworker groaned.

"Probably," I shrugged and went up to visit the secretary who was now pulling out her hair.

She showed me the printed culprit:

Printer Issue -- The Crime

"See!" she brandished the forlorn stationery, "Dots!"

I groaned a little. Was it really such a big deal? Yeah, I had to admit -- I'd be a little put off if I were a client receiving a motley bill for a figure larger than my mortgage....

I ran a few more tests -- each time eating up more stationery, which made the secretary grumble since the bill sheets are logged and numbered and must all be accounted for. So I started running through ones that had already been printed, several at a time -- and I noticed the dots didn't appear every time.

And they only appeared just above the Total figure on the pre-printed side of the stationery, containing Firm letterhead, various disclaimers, instructions and a blank line for the date.

I tried printing on the back of the stationery. No dots.

Then I noticed a pattern.

The Bill template has always given us grief because the stationery's Date line is so close to the top margin. In Word, we -- the unfortunate few responsible for configuring Word -- set the margin in the Bill as high as it will go (usually a quarter-inch), but most printers don't like this and push it down -- because printers have their own margin settings.

When Word has a tug-of-war with a printer, you end up with tiny differences from page to page -- something that doesn't usually make a difference until you're dealing with pre-printed stationery and picky secretaries.

So, in every case where the "dots" appeared, the Date looked like this:

Printer Issue - The Culprit

Whenever the date cleared the line, there were no "dots."

And I realized that the "dots" were, in fact, a tiny remnant of the date text -- exactly where the type hit the pre-printed line.

In short, it was  printer issue. Or, more accurately, a fuser issue.

I don't know much about laser printers, but my guess is that the fuser wasn't running hot enough. The fuser is supposed to burn the toner particles onto the paper, but this printer was not able to burn into pre-printed bits of the stationery. So the toner stuck to the rollers, only to get burned onto the next part of the paper they rolled onto -- which, coincidentally, was directly above the Total line.

The temporary fix:  Move up the date even higher and print only one at a time so you don't have the roving margin effect.

The permanent fix: Get a new fuser.

In other words, it was a Hardware problem.

So. There.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

October-November Events Archive

Friday, October 1st @ 11pm
Dancing at Lafayette Grill
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
No Cover/2-Drink Minimum

Sunday, October 10th @ 4pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
at Rakkasah East
Ukrainian Cultural Center
135 Davidson Ave, Somerset, NJ

Tuesday, October 12th @ 9pm
Dancing in the PaperDolls Burlesque
Blue Owl Lounge
196 2nd avenue (corner of 12th and 2nd), NYC
Downstairs
(212) 505-2583
Cover $10

Tuesday, October 26th @ 9pm
Dancing in the PaperDolls Burlesque
Blue Owl Lounge
196 2nd avenue (corner of 12th and 2nd), NYC
Downstairs
(212) 505-2583
Cover $10

Friday, October 29th @ 9pm
Dancing and Emceeing for the Lafayette Grill Halloween Party at
Lafayette Grill
featuring Tango, Salsa, Middle Eastern Dance & Comedy
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
No Cover/Donations Welcome
$10 Table Minimum

Dancing in PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined
Yokohama CreativeCity Center
6-50-1 Honcho, Naka-ku
Yokohama 231-8315
JAPAN
http://puretokyo.org/reflections.html
¥3000

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stupid Human Tricks

When I started in IT over a decade ago, temping on a Help Desk, my cavalier (i.e. reckless) attitude toward computers helped me to learn a great deal about how applications worked.

It also destroyed quite a few machines in my care.

One particular evening in the late 90s, I was experimenting with a new media driver and reduced my poor Dell to a black DOS screen with only a flashing cursor (yes, not even a C prompt).

Rebuilding it from scratch took about five hours, and to kill time in the wee hours of the morning, I taught myself how to throw pencils in the ceiling -- not dart-style, where you level the point towards your target with an even-handed throw, but knife-style, where you hold the point, take a breath, and fling with a prayer.

I got very good at this and once put 32 pencils and a letter-opener in the ceiling of a co-worker's office when I'd learned he'd given notice without telling me first.

And although technically this is verboten at my current job, I will still occasionally find the odd Mirado Black Warrior stuck in the ceiling of a copy room or computer lab.

And in such cases, I often can't resist tossing the lonely lead stalactite a mate. (Yes, I know pencils are graphite not lead, but I can't resist alliteration either.)

Unfortunately, my skills are no longer what they were, and it can take me a few throws for the muscle memory to kick in. And when it does, I find myself conscious of exactly what my hand is doing before the throw: loosely wagging the pencil while holding the tip between my thumb and middle finger.

Now, doing this doesn't ensure the pencil will hit its mark; but whenever I don't do this, I always miss.

And it finally occurred to me why this is: For a knife-style (or dare I say Xena-style) throw, the object will spin one-and-a-half times before striking. (See http://bigthink.com/ideas/21815 for details from the Great Throwdini). So what I think I'm intuitively doing here is gauging the weight and length of the pencil so that I am holding it at the right spot and sending it off at the right speed.

Now, this isn't something I seem to be able to teach in a literal way (i.e. hold the pencil here and let it leave your hand at such-and-such a time). But I have been able to "teach" people by just saying: "Throw it as though you want to hit the ceiling with the eraser."

Why does this work? I have no clue. But if you work in an office where the ceilings of a copy or storage room are nicely mottled, try it out.

Grab a sharp-pointed Mirado Black Warrior (they are the most aero-dynamic), long, if possible, as that will give you the most momentum. With your thumb, hold it point-up against the intermediate phalange of your middle finger. Then wag it loosely a few times to get a feel for the weight and chuck the eraser towards in the ceiling.

And let me know what happens.

And, yes, I know you all want to know what happened in Tokyo.

I'm still processing it all, so it will take a while for me to put anything down in writing. But it was incredible ... a dream come true.

I feel very fortunate and humbled to have found PURE -- a great bunch of people who are doing great things.

Here is a shot of us, joined by some of the Bellyqueen and Rising Siren dancers at the Halloween Parade. And check out photos 2 and 5 on CNN!


Don't we look awesome??

VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE 2010  -   Greenwich Village, Manhattan NYC   -   10/31/10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Ready for PURE Reflections in Tokyo: Lost (and Found) in Translation

When we first committed to the daunting project of mounting PURE-NYC's body image dance-theater work PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined in Japan, with a mixed cast of PURE Tokyo members and a handful of PURE members from US chapters, it was obvious that communication would be key.

I created a Google group which has a sleek discussion thread feature which, with the touch of a button, completely translates every email in a given thread -- or at least it tries to!

As the Tokyo ladies geared up, organizing everything from logistics to publicity, a flurry of Japanese emails billowed through my inbox. And every day or so, I'd check the translated group page to see what all the chatter was about, and then weigh in, if necessary.

Yesterday's round told me that Tuesday night would be a Special Evening.

PURE-NYC's good friend, the Japanese-English BodyPoet Kazuma, had given them the DVD of  PURE Reflections recorded in April at Columbia -- and many of the dancers who had signed onto the project in blind faith would see the show for the first time.

I chatted briefly online a few hours earlier with Naho, one of the PURE Tokyo facilitators. 

"We're so excited to hear what your reaction will be to it," I wrote.

What I really wanted to say was, "We can't wait to hear what you think of it," but for some reason whenever I talk to a non-English speaker, I always find myself imitating their speech pattern (or at least my perception of it... which, come to think of it, probably ends up comically confusing to them).

"I appreciate all your help and very precise comments and advices :)", she wrote back, and then had to take a phone call.

This morning, I saw a long Japanese email on my mobile and ran to the laptop to read the translated thread.

It started:

"Reflections on DVD today held a meeting 10/28. The report. Here are some details as well as topics mix. ... Performance about 58 minutes, after which the 15-minute Q & A."

OK so far. Then followed a bulleted list of their reactions to the show.

First bullet:

"Acting is terrible."

My jaw dropped. Oh god, I thought, they hate us!!

Then I read through the rest of the list:


Scene 1 -- like birth from the sea, motherhood, accept
Scene 5 -- emotional scenes!
Scene 7 -- Demon, scary!
Scene 9 -- Spiral, wonderful scenes of the sun.

And finally:

"Everyone (even those not moving) to the acting, which everybody understands the meaning of the scene."

In other words: They liked us!! They really liked us!!

So clearly it was just a translator issue... right?

I scrolled back up to the fateful characters --  演技力がすごい -- and brought up a variety of online translators, first Dictionary.com and AppliedLanguage.

Both spat back, "Acting is terrible."

Then my inner-HitchHiker took me to AltaVista's blessed BabelFish, which rendered, "Performance power is enormous."  And WorldLingo concurred.

Ahhhhh! Now that's more like it!

But how did this happen?

I broke the phrase down, character-by-character, and fed it to each translation engine.

Piecemeal, it reads something like this: "Performing/Played skill/technology force/power the it does us."

So the issue it seems was in switching "enormous" with "terrible" -- which by colloquial English standards is a pretty terrible thing to do, as we are used it meaning "really, really bad."

But earlier meanings have more to do with awe-stricken fear. Indeed, the word itself stems from Indo-rooted Sanskrit and Avestan for "feared" AND "revered" -- indeed, anything that would cause us to tremble in awe, as enormous things are wont to do.

My guess is that the Japanese character for "force/power" must have multiple meanings which, when combined idiomatically, could render as "terrible," "enormous" -- or, dare I say, awesome ☺ -- and probably dozens of other ways depending on the translator.

Given the vast sea of translational possibilities, the fact that Google and other online translators do as good a job as they do is pretty freaking camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle amazing.

And the fact that there are so many translation engines to offer second, third and fourth opinions is beyond mind-blowing to me.

But in the end, perhaps it is best to remember these two rules of online translation:

(1) Always give your correspondent the benefit of a doubt. Even in the same language, email can be easily misinterpreted; and

(2) Some online translations are best experienced like a John Ashbery poem -- just let let the images wash over, smile sweetly and pretend you understand.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mobile Updates and More Thoughts on Time

"One thing I've noticed about your blog," a friend remarked at dinner last night, "If you haven't posted in a long time, you don't write in your next post, 'Gee, I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted...'"

Actually, I used to do that, way back when I kept a blog on LiveJournal. And I think I've done it a few times here, too. But most of my baker's dozen of regular readers know I'm pretty busy.

My weekdays are spent at work, most of my evenings are spent in classes, rehearsals, performances, or some combination of any or all of these things.

And then there are more workshops and classes (both taking and teaching) on weekends.

So, to save some time, I set up mobile updates, with varying success.

I've tried three so far; the first went OK. The second got lost in cyberspace. And the third (last week's) I had composed with my Android's Swype -- which is pretty cool, as long as you don't accidentally brush your fingertip across the part of the screen that might, say, fire off your email before your done.

I ended up completing the entry by logging in via my mobile browser -- which left me with a very limited interface and no end of trouble when trying to, say, move the cursor around or spell check.

But I was determined to get something posted, so I fired that one off with spelling and formatting errors intact (which are now fixed, incidentally).

Now, as I write this, I'm wolfing down some chow before heading off to class and rehearsal with Bellyqueen and the Rising Sirens, respectively, my usual Thursday night activities which go until 10pm.

Monday is similarly spoken for with PURE, which usually includes dinner at Klong after to kibbitz and go over business.

Tuesday is usually karate night (from 7 to 9:30pm, by the time I'm showered and heading out), and somtimes includes a comedy set at Karma, if I'm feeling up to it. For the past two months, however, I've been taking an improv class at The PIT on Tuesdays, which goes until 10pm and leaves me pretty beat.

That leaves Wednesdays and Fridays -- my swing nights.

The past two Wednesdays went to the NY Press Karaoke contest thingey, which was too strange (and I'll go into all that another time), but normally I'll either take an improv class/Anything Goes with Artistic New Directions or Carl Kissin, or ballet with Broadway Dance

And if I can escape from work early enough, there is no substitute for Dalia Carella's advanced bellydance/modern fusion class, which ends just in time for Bellyqueen's Djam at Je'Bon a few blocks away.

That leaves Friday.

I've been working on so many projects lately, that Friday has been my solo rehearsal day. But at other times (if I'm even in town), I love the Vinyasa Yoga class at NY Health & Racquet Club.

But Fridays are almost always full with other stuff. Like, this Friday will be a special workshop with Yousry Sharif, and next Friday is the Halloween Party at Lafayette Grill, which I'm hosting and dancing in.

And then on the weekends...

Well, during the summer, I try to devote my Saturday mornings to my sailing club TASCA, as I have to teach a certain number of sessions per year to maintian my instructor status (plus it's a really fun way to spend a Saturday). But often I run off to this or that workshop or rehearsal during the afternoon, and don't get much of a chance to practice riding the winds myself...

This fall and winter, I'm taking a Shakespeare class with Charles Gerber of the Workshop Theater Company, and have been planning to take Amir's advanced dumbek class at Bellydance America, but last week it was canceled.

And then Sundays... If at all possible, I try to sleep in and get stuff done at home. But more often than not, there is a rehearsal, show (attending or performing in) begging my attention.

But this Sunday I'm hoping to catch a movie, since I have four movie vouchers that need to be used before the end of the month.

Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some Random Thoughts on the Way to Rakkasah

Killing time on a delayed train to New Brunswick I came across this article about the perecetion of time: How to Live Forever! Or Why Habits are a Curse.

Appropriate, huh?

At that particular moment, it seemed like we'd been waiting for ages when in fact it had barely been ten minutes. Now as I write this over a half-hour later my contentedly occupied mind barely felt the moments pass.

It's often joked that the length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on, but the article's author observes that time is also lengthened or condensed during activites of non-expertise. When one is "expert" at physical routines, our focus is no longer on the minutae of the tasks but the meaning behind them. Indeed, focusing on the details can impair the "expert" level of performance -- it will also make time seem to pass more slowly.

The author finds an interesting irony in our culture, which prizes both expertise AND perpetually vital youth, and so suggests changing our familiar routines and taking up new and challenging activities could make each day seem like an eternity of perpetual youth.

Cute, huh?

But beneath this glib thesis is perhaps a valuable insight: Getting out of our practiced routines forces us to connect with the physical world in ways that can be uncomfortable, but will give greater richness and depth to each moment (and, yes, I think this holds true even for the bathroom scenario.), that could both make time pass more slowly (i.e. richly) and more quickly.

When we are comfortable, too much at ease in our well practiced, routine lives, we are not quite in our bodies and not quite connecting to the world around us. (This point is made beautifully in the classic arty film My Dinner with Andre: "When you're just operating by habit, then you're not really living."). But in order to live full, rich, engaged lives we must stay in contact with the world around us and all of its attendant joys and discomforts.

And contrary to the author's observations, this richness of experience is key to feeling youthful and vital, and has little to do with the sense of the passage of time, but rather with a feeling of engagement with the world.

The best example of this is any activity in which we feel passionately interested -- regardless of whether we are "expert" at it. Then time can seem to disappear, yet the accomplishment is deeply felt, so time passes with a visceral richness -- both quickly and slowly at once.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September Events Archive

Wednesday, September 8th @ 8pm
Dancing at
Bellyqueen's Djam Under Je'Bon
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
212-388-1313
$10 cover/$5 minimum

Sunday, September 12th @ 6pm & 8pm
Dancing and Emceeing in Anasma's
On Your Marks,

Get Set... DANCE!

A unique, innovative, global live dance show, where dancers improvise to YOUR suggestions, and

YOUR music selections -- so bring your iPods!!

The Producers' Club, Grand Theater
358 West 44th Street @ 9th Ave, NYC
212-315-4743
$20 adv/$25 at the door
Buy 5 tickets, get one free!!
(NOTE: The 6pm & 8pm shows will have DIFFERENT line-ups. I will be dancing a solo ONLY in

the 8pm show.
)

Wednesday, September 15th @ 8pm
Performing Stand-Up Comedy in
Scott Erik's Prodigy Comedy at
The Eastville Comedy Club
85 East 4th Street @ 2nd Ave, NYC
Reservations: (212) 260-2445 email@EastvilleComedy.com.
$5 Cover
2-Drink Minimim
Free Guacamole Served!

Saturday, September 18th 11am-2pm
Teaching the PURE Foundation Choreography for
PURE's Weekend of Dance Workshops
440 Studios
440 Lafayette St, 4th Fl @ Cooper Sq, NYC
(212) 529-0259
$30 adv/$35 at the door

Saturday, September 18th @ 7:30pm
Emceeing and Dancing PURE's Variety Show
at Je'Bon
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
212-388-1313
No cover/$5 minimum

Sunday, September 19th 5pm-7pm
Dancing in PURE NYC's Annual Procession
Performing two PURE Choreographies on
The High Line Elevated Park
(West Village, from Gansevoort Street to Chelsea, 20th Street & 10th Ave)
at the Chelsea Market Passage and Tenth Ave Square
then Processing north of the Park to Pier 66
Join us anywhere along the way!

Emceeing and Dancing in PURE's
Identity-Themed Variety Show
at the Docked Boat
Lightship Frying Pan
Pier 66 @ 12th Ave & 26th St, NYC
No Cover

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dance-Improv, Going to Tokyo and Other PUREly Fabulous Septemberish Things

Is the month nearly over already?

When you're crazy-busy doing things, it's not so easy to find time to write about them.

So, in a nutshell....

This month began on the heels of an intense dumbek teacher's training Retreat -- the first that Raquy has ever held. I definitely bit off more than I could chew, technique-wise, and was suitably humbled by the end of the weekend. Turkish technique is haaarrrddd!!!

Then I jumped into intense rehearsals for Anasma's amazing event, On Your Marks, Get Set... DANCE! This unique show featured a first half of choreographed theatrical dance on the theme of Warrior, Woman or City (or a combination of these themes).

I chose Warrior and worked assiduously with Elisheva and Kazuma to create a narrative solo exploring the genesis of a Warrior Spirit -- and how it can have unintended consequences. My blurb for the program was this: 

"The Warrior's fighting spirit is often awakened during childhood, when we are confronted with bullying and random playground cruelty. This Warrior spirit inspires us to stand up for ourselves and develop our physical and mental power. But if that initial injury is not addressed and healed, it can become an impetus for revenge, and the warrior can devolve into brutality and mindless power-seeking."

The second part of the show was entirely improvised, melding dance and improvisational theater. Working from audience suggestions (and the mystery music provided by their iPods!) we created dance scenes, machines and an emotional orchestra, to the great delight of all!

And I was privileged to emcee the entire evening, so I got quite a workout!

The following weekend, I presented the Warrior piece again for the PURE weekend of workshops, variety shows, and our Annual Procession which, this year, was on The High Line, with variety shows at Je'Bon and the rescued docked boat, Lightship Frying Pan. (Actually, the good people at Pier 66 asked us to use the gorgeous big space on their main barge, rather than the groovy but small boiler-room space in the Frying Pan itself.)

Fresh on the heels of our fabulous PURE weekend, we finalized plans to bring PURE Reflections to Tokyo, Japan!

Members of our thriving PURE chapter there saw our April performance at Columbia University and, moved to tears, asked us to mount the production there with PURE TK's dancers.

Here is our promo using footage from that performance (if you are viewing this entry on Facebook, please click here):



Kaeshi and I finalized plans to go there in mid-November to prepare for a November 28th Procession and Performance.

So I shelled out $980 for a ticket to Tokyo on Wednesday, so you can imagine, I am thrilled, nervous and deliriously excited about this!!

Not only is it a dream-come-true for me to go to Tokyo, to do so within the context of creating a work of art so near to my heart exceeds my wildest hopes.

This show, both in process and performance, is a life-changing experience.  It is our deepest hope to be able to share it dancers and audience everywhere.

Who would have guessed that our first baby step in this direction would take us clear across the Pacific Ocean!!

Life is strange and wonderful.

Monday, August 30, 2010

July-August 2010 Events Archive

Sunday, July 11th @ 6pm
Dancing and Emceeing in the Theatrical Bellydance
Closing Night Party at
Lafayette Grill
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
$15 Cover/$15 Minimum

Sunday, July 25th @ 1pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
in Stanton Street
Summer Sundays

at the Intersection of
Stanton and Orchard, Lower East Side, NYC
Free and Open to the Public

Sunday, July 25th @ 3pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
in Caribbean Rose's Latina Arabe
Showcase at
Lafayette Grill
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
$10 Cover/$20 Minimum

Sunday, July 25th @ 4pm & 7pm
Saturday July 31st @ 8pm

Dancing Funny in NY Artists' Cringe Fest
(A Festival of Deliciously Awful One-Act Plays, Films & Musicals)
Sunday's Show: "Dow Jones Meets Deep Throat"
Saturday's Show: "Sex Encounters of a Disturbed Mind"
The Producers Club
358 West 44th Street @ 9th Ave, NYC
212-242-6036
$20 (Sun)
$25 (Sat)

Sunday, August 29th @ 6pm
Performing Improv Comedy at The PIT
154 West 29th Street (btw @ 7th Ave), NYC
212-568-7488
$5 Tickets
(PIT Audience gets a 10% discount on food and drink at Mustang Sally's on 7th Ave & 28th.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pay No Attention to that Woman Behind the Curtain! (Thoughts on Directing, Part 2)

The theatre director's hand should be invisible, as though the playwright's words are flowing effortlessly from the page to the stage.  Throughout the rehearsal process, a good director must nudge and inspire the actor from within, rather than domineer and control from without.

This invaluable credo is central to the excellent book A Sense of Direction, by William Ball, which I mentioned in my earlier blog entry on theatre directing. Indeed, the Wizard of Oz quote graces the very first pages.

So, from the beginning, I understood that a good director must not be a puppeteer -- and must not hold too tightly to whatever initial vision he or she formed upon first reading the play. What appears on the stage must arise organically, a product of the director's unfolding vision and the actors' intuitive creativity.

The director shapes and prunes, and always keeps faith in the actors, no matter how awful things get in rehearsal. And, when this is done gently and seamlessly, sometimes even the actors are not entirely aware of the director's work, and can find themselves believing the finished performance would have emerged all on its own.

*  *  *

"What did you make of that last play?" I asked a fellow theatre company member as we headed out of an evening of one-acts.
"Which one?" she asked, searching her mind for images that she had seen less than 10 minutes before.
"The thing about the woman in the bar... in Scotland? She meets this weird drunken guy...?"
"Oh right!" she said and paused.  "Not much!! I mean, what was that?"
"That was Life and Death -- the same play I directed a few months ago. Which you liked..."
"It was? No fucking way."

But, yes, it was. It was. In every fucking way.

Earlier that year, I had been given this spare, tense script about a vulnerable American tourist who is beset, seduced, frightened and charmed by a tortured charismatic Scottish nobleman in Edinburgh.

My two actors: Lee, a slight young woman with a hint of toughness, and Greg, a stocky, good-natured 30-something guy from Staten Island.

Lee immediately had a sense of the character's vulnerability and curiosity.

Greg, on the other hand, had no clue whatsoever. In the initial read, he started overacting, hunched over like a slightly deranged Jack Nicholson with a hint of Peter Lorre.

"Um... Let's try it again," I said, "And just sit up straight in the chair. And don't worry so much about acting. Just read the words for sense."

Now he gave me a more straight-backed Jack Nicholson.

"OK," I said afterwards, "That's getting there. And it's good that you're getting a sense of the dangerousness of this character. But remember, she's not running away, so he is charming her, right?" Greg agreed. "So, once again, don't worry so much about acting, just put in the back of your mind how you might talk to a woman you're interested in."

Now he stared at her relentlessly and even seemed to be salivating a bit.

"OK, let's take a break," I said.

Greg went for a cigarette and Lee pulled me aside, shaking her head, "This is really creeping me out!" "I know, I know," I sighed, "Give him a chance."

"Have you ever seen My Favorite Year?" I asked Greg after rehearsal.

"The thing with Peter O'Toole and the Jewish guy?" he asked.

"Yes. Yes, that's the one. Before our next rehearsal, can you watch that and pay special attention to Peter O'Toole's performance? Because, remember this character isn't American, so he should be..."

"You mean kind of faggy-like?"

"Um... yeah...."

"Sure. No problem."

So Greg watched My Favorite Year and came back with a respectable embodiment of an upper-class Brit. We tamed the creepy leering and punched up the properness and things started to work.

But he was still having a hard time with the character's many transitions.

As he is charming and seducing the woman, he delves into increasingly angry and resentful diatribes about his brother being killed in "The American War" (i.e. Vietnam). Then he switches in to charming-mode, and then into dangerous seduction (OK, we kept a bit of the initial creepy leer after all :-> ), and then he goes back into Vietnam-War-anger, then he wistfully reflects on his life in Scotland and then back into charming, and then seduction, and around and around...

And Greg couldn't tell one beat from the next.

So I bought a box of crayons and color coded the script: pink for charming, red for seduction, light green for the early stages of the Vietnam diatribe, and darker green as his anger intensifies, then light blue for the reflective bits, and so on.

I had him monologue about the brother and about the war, about sex and love. We went through the script and found active, riveting verbs for each beat, layering moments of tension and suspension which gave the whole thing a beautiful roller-coaster feel.

In short, I practically breast-fed the guy.

And through it all, there was Lee....

She did well enough responding to what he was now giving her, but since I had to focus so much on him, I was not able to help her develop her character.

Even on opening night, she was working with generalities like, "I'm in Scotland to escape..." From what? Why? What do you want?? We never figured it out. She did well enough because she was a good actor, but I did her a disservice....

The upshot?

The playwright LOVED him -- and hated her. (And she didn't care much for me either.)

It turned out that the piece was semi-autobiographical, and the playwright made the mistake of expecting to see an onstage re-enactment of her own experience with some real-life Scottish weirdo.

She expected to see her own anguish, frailty, desire, frustration, confusion, etc. played out in Lee's eyes. To the playwright, this was a story about the woman. And, perhaps because she was telling her own story, she believed the vividness in her mind's eye would come across in the text, but it didn't.

As the play is written, the woman is just a foil for this bizarre man; to artificially make it her story would only dilute the drama.

Anyway. Everyone loved it. And everyone LOVED Greg.

Lee and I stood aside as exiting audience shook his hand and slapped his back. He continued to receive praise -- and additional roles -- for weeks and months after the show.

And the theatre company loved it so much there was talk of entering it in the Samuel French festival for Best One-Act Plays. And they decided to remount it a month or two before the festival. But this time, without Lee -- and without me.

The playwright cast herself in the woman's role and got some friend of hers to direct the incomphrehensible mess that appeared on the mainstage that summer.

The result was bad. It was worse than bad.

It was instantly forgettable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

But What I Really (Didn't!) Want to Do ....

... is direct.

When actors whine that "what they really want to do is direct," they are talking about film -- where, in these days of the auteur, the film director is seen to exercise complete control in realizing his or her vision.

Indeed, an auteur -- as a director of signature-style films -- (Jim Jarmush, Woody Allen, Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, etc.) can be more of a star than any given actor in his (yes his, more often than her) films.

Not so in the world of theatre directors.

"im in theatre class," [sic] pleaded a student on Yahoo's message board, "and i need a famous theatre director and i cant find anything......so please help me........."

Needless to say, the Wikipedia list of theatre directors provided by a thoughtful respondent yields very few recognizable names -- at least to those who aren't in theatre. And the few notables belong to directors who famously crossed over to film: Orson Welles, Mike Nichols, Laurence Olivier, Bob Fosse, and the like.

When I first joined a Manhattan theater company, in my early 20s, with little training and questionable talent, I had less of a clue about exactly what a director did than our young Yahoo poster. Like much of the average audience, I was quick to assign the finished product on the stage entirely to the actor and writer.

As far as I knew, the director made sure everyone knew their lines and didn't trip over the furniture.

And even in my first few one-acts, it didn't seem like the director did much -- other than the lines-and-furniture thing.

This, it turns out, was because those few directors just weren't very good.

This particular company did not actively seek directors; their bread-and-butter was young out-of-towners hungry for any -- and I do mean ANY -- NYC stage experience. So we all auditioned, paid $100 and were guaranteed a role.

If we wanted more roles, we had to do stuff for the company: stage manage, run lights and sound, build sets, clean the theater, run the box office, create flyers and programs -- and direct.

So many of the directors were just actors who were grudgingly putting in hours so they could get their butts back onstage.

And then I was cast in a sensitive, two-person drama about a jilted wife reuniting with her fanatical ex who had run off with a cult.

I was completely lost.

Thankfully, I had a director who had actually studied directing, and who wanted to pursue a career in directing. And she was brilliant!! She helped me understand the meaning and intention of each beat, to clarify and solidify my performance, and create a moving drama.

Slowly, it became clear to me how crucial good directing was -- and how very difficult it was, first to grasp the meaning of the play, and then to guide the actors towards the fullest, richest telling of the story.

About a year later, I was given my first one-act to direct. And, happily, I came across ACT director William Ball's outstanding book A Sense of Direction, which not only gave me essential tools for directing; it changed my understanding of acting as well.

It also seared into my brain the maxim that The Director is Always Responsible -- no matter what, with no excuses; the finished product is the director's responsibility. You can never, ever blame the actor. (Admittedly, a few times I've wanted to blame the writer, but even there, a badly written play can be directed into something worth watching... more on this in another entry).

This uncompromising acceptance of responsibility at first seemed daunting, but ultimately I embraced it as both a challenge and even an act of unconditional love.

I had once heard that to truly love a thing, you can fully -- without delusion or denial -- see it in its current and perhaps flawed state, and you can also see its most beautiful, most fully realized potential. In short, you can see what it wants to be. And through love (and more than a little sweat and tenacity), you can guide it to that fruition.

And I think that many of the actors understood this about me... that no matter how hopeless things sometimes seemed in rehearsal, they knew I had faith in them, in the play, and in the creative process itself, and so they had faith in me.

I soon began to love directing (though, diva that I was -- and still am -- still sought the spotlight when I could), and within a few months I was given my first full-length play.

To this day, the playwright -- who has been produced throughout the US -- considers that production among the best of his work.

He recently wrote, "Some things about that little production I’ll never forget -- some things you don’t even know about -- like my sister’s reaction. She’s passed away now. She came up from Florida to see it. She had no idea what I was up to. I can still see her leaning against the wall afterward, across the room from me, mouthing the words, wow, wow, wow -- blown away."

And many other playwrights have felt the same. Even after I left the company, I had been sought out to direct more work for satisfied playwrights.

And even though I know -- and they know -- exactly how much the director's hand is responsible for what the audience sees... sometimes I forget.

And so do they....

Sometimes, even as the audience cheers, and friends are slapping their castmember pals on the back... I can't help thinking, "Could this have been done without me....?"

To be continued...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sailing, Synchronicity and Face Blindness

So I went to my sailing club's little tent this evening hoping to take out a sailboat.

Unfortunately, I arrived close to 8pm and the Dockmaster told me the wind had died down shortly before, so the boats were starting to head in -- at about a half-knot, so it could take an hour to reach the dock.

So, no sailing for me.

But the weather was nice, otherwise, and the sunset was luminous and pink. So I hung out chatting with another member.

We small-talked for a bit, and then I decided to ask about a member whom I'll call Nick Nevins, who had been on my mind a lot.

I'd met Nick a month or two before and we'd emailed over subsequent weeks.

And then Nick suffered a terrible personal tragedy.

There were email announcements and heartfelt words of sympathy on the club's message board. We took up a collection and sent love and good thoughts.

While I'd joined in the collection, I was nervous about emailing Nick as, after all, I didn't know him that well. But I had experienced a tragedy similar to what he'd gone through and hoped I could offer insight or encouragement that could be useful to him.

But mostly I was concerned about him. He hadn't posted to the board or sent any word to the club other than his gratitude for the support.

So, after a beat in the conversation, I asked my new friend, "Have you heard anything about Nick Nevins? Is he ok?"

And he said, "Uh... I AM Nick Nevins..."

The next thing I knew, he was giving ME sympathy for making such a fool of myself!

I told him how I'd been thinking about him but was unsure about reaching out. And he said it was strange that I'd come to the lake that very day since he had been away since the day of the Event.

And I had not been to the lake myself in all that time either...

Synchronicity.

Fast-forward to the train ride home and I start listening to a new podcast of one of my favorite shows, RadioLab.

The topic? FACE BLINDNESS! Yes, really!!

The blurb describes how the famous neuroscientist Oliver Sachs, and PORTRAIT ARTIST Chuck Close, were both born with a condition called face blindness.

"You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.)"

Now, while my experiences are not quite as extreme as Sachs' -- who recalls stroking his beard in a diner mirror, only to realize his reflection was not! It was, in fact, a bewildered bearded gentleman wondering why Sachs was making faces at him -- for most of my life I have been unable to remember new faces.

Like Sachs and Close, I've come up with techniques to help myself recall details of a face which I try to connect to a name -- though I suck at remembering names, too -- (e.g. Mary has the mole, Joe has the big schnoz), but my circuits overload quickly, the system crashes and I end up remembering useless fragments of faces and names.

I have a few kind friends who help me negotiate parties; throughout the evening, I'll run up to them asking, "Who did I just talk to? Was that the person who poured my drink when we arrived?" And they patiently answer and calm me down without making me feel like an idiot or a lunatic.
It usually takes several focused meetings for me to be able to recall, reassemble and/or recognize a face. But once a face is in, it's there for good.

Thinking about it now, I can't quite say what it is that I recognize when a face finally sinks in. Sometimes I think it has more to do with mannerisms than physiognomy -- though I'm good at recognizing actors in very different roles.

But I NEVER recognize celebrities on the street.

For some reason, they read differently when they are not performing.

I'm also good at remembering voices and I have excellent episodic memory. So if I've met you once and you told me your life story, I can guarantee I won't recognize you the next time I see you (even if it's the next day). BUT, once you start talking, I will remember every detail of your story, as well as where and how you stood or sat during the tale.

Go figure.

It's a frustrating way to live -- especially since people often remember ME, and I feel like a schmuck for not being able to return the favor -- but it's nice to know that there are many others who go through this as well.

Perhaps that is why Nick was so understanding...

Strange -- thinking about him even now, I can't quite recall what his face looks like, but I have a few details.

Mostly, though, I recall how he carried himself, where there was tension in his body, and the way that he walked. So that should be enough to recognize him next time. As long as he is not sitting down.....
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