Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Sandy Hook Massacre

Why isn't anyone talking about the fact that the United States (And that's us, because even though you may be a pacifist living in the US, you are paying your taxes) is bombing civilians in Pakistan, violently interfering in other countries' political processes, assassinating the leaders of factions it disagrees with. Why are we blaming the Sandy Hook shooting on Violent Video Games, and Television shows? The Violence of our Foreign Policy filters down to those Violent Video Games, and TV shows, and movies. These Violent Games, etc, are a reflection of the US Foreign Policy. Yes, we must outlaw military-style weapons! Even here, we see a copycat of military weapons. That is really their draw on the public. They do not cause violence. They reflect it. And this violence is reflected in the plays I am coming across.  It also has sparked a spate of plays concerned with despair, with death, with the uselessness of life, that I see on the other side of a general view that oil, gas and gold, and the violence needed to obtain it, supersedes health and the joy of good fellowship.

We must do background checks on all people who wish to buy guns. But again, although these things will certainly help, the basic attitude of the United States is that we are armed way more than any other nation. And we threaten to use these arms (Military weapons) to murder if necessary, in order to control the rest of the world. We have murdered most of our own modern leaders (Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy) and certainly have tried to murder those leaders of other countries (Lamumba, Bin Laden, Castro, etc).

How can we possibly downgrade the use of military-type weapons in our psyches, when our Army is out there, bullying and murdering people in other countries. So all we can do now, is to "control" our murderous instincts. But as long as our Nation's Foreign Policy is what it is, we will not be able to truthfully make the general public's view of guns (and certainly seeing automatic, military style weapons) as a form of power and glory. No, it is not power and glory that is found in possessing these weapons. It is dumbness, sickness and stupidity. But, then again, so is our Foreign Policy. After all, isn't that what we are screaming all the time! Kill 'em! Destroy 'em! Annihilate 'em! Someone said (when it was suggested that we have armed guards in our schools), "is this what we want? For America to become an Armed Camp?!" Well, guess what! That is indeed what we are! An Armed Camp! Ban Assault Weapons Now! Ban Assault Weapons Now! But also, stop Drone Attacks on Civilians! We have enough Atomic Bombs to destroy the planet. We are, indeed, the paranoid bully, terrorist, and freaking madman to the rest of the world. And indeed, this must change!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On The Road with the Street Theater!

Well! Well! Well! We've done it again! The Street Theater is on its feet and running all over New York. Going to all 5 Boroughs. We've already done the Bronx, Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan. We're due to go to Sunset Park, Brooklyn on Saturday, and Travers Park in Jackson Heights, Queens on Sunday.

You know, it's really funny. You really have to know who you're writing for. We opened on 1st Avenue and 10th Street on Saturday, August 4th. We had a good 200 people (low estimate) in the audience. We were an instant "hit (you never know for sure if you've reached your target 'til you bring it out to the Street)." A very fine friend of mine, saw the show and came over to congratulate me, after. She told me the show was fabulous. But she also told me, that the start of the show doesn't really work, until we get to the High School scene. Well, the start of the show is all about a local Gang and how they steal tire rims and are now going into the Bath Salts business, and in this section, one of he members gets kicked out of the Gang because he objects to hard drug selling and all the bad stuff that comes along with it.

The next day, Sunday, August 5th, we went to St. Mary's Park in the South Bronx. And guess what this audience was crazy happy about?! The beginning! All the Gang stuff, the young kid's courage in the face of peer pressure. So there you have it! They loved this kid, and they loved the young gang members who were bulldozed by the new Drug Kingpin. So it goes! Some people (community activists) love the whole section in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street part of this, rather rambunctious musical. Others love the ending, when all our neighbors turn into reps of different Countries that have immigrated to New York.

My mother was an Immigrant, who came her steerage, with the animals and the cargo, in 1905. She became an American Success. But as a Doctor in New York, she did many House Calls and treated many patients, and gratis, delivered many babies during her long life. And I was lucky enough to hear all the stories of her struggles, early in life. She always let me know her opinions of immigration which were; this is where the future health of this country lies. And be sure, that after much angst, many will cross the line of poverty. And we need to help as much as we can, to give them the leg up they need, to make that leap. She remembered free, 7-day a week libraries. Free colleges (she went to Hunter) and the wonderful Theater she was able to see, for nothing and close to nothing (Eve Le Galleiere's Civic Repertory Company, among others) Hooray for Free Theater! Our Street Theater is indeed admission free, 99% Reduced Fat, or, You Can Bank On Us! That's the title for this Summer's Show! All singing! All dancing! All brainy Vaudeville! Street Theater allows our audience to love our hate it. It has a non-captive audience. It breaks that 4th wall with a giant kick and audience interaction is a good part of its joyous creation.

A breath of fresh breeze in a Hot, Muggy Summer, it takes us out of the cement and steel that holds us in, so much, in this city. This City in which I was born.

We've got a bunch of shows still in front of us. We're going to Staten Island. We're going to Tompkins Square Park. And more and more! I just can't wait! Here's the schedule:

Saturday, August 25st - 2PM - Brooklyn
Sunset Park at 44th Street & 6th Avenue

Sunday, August 26th - 2PM - Queens
Jackson Heights, Travers Park at 34th Avenue between 77th & 78th Streets

Saturday, September 8th - 2PM - Manhattan
Tompkins Square Park at East 7th Street & Avenue A

Sunday, September 9th - 2PM - Manhattan
Washington Square Park

Saturday, September 15th - 2PM - Staten Island
Corporal Thompson Park, Broadway & Wayne Street

Sunday, September 16th - 2PM - Manhattan
St. Marks Church, East 10th Street at 2nd Avenue

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Writing the Street Theater

Hey! I just realized it's Bastille Day!

I'm sitting here on the screened-in porch of my trailer just outside Germantown, NY. I just finished the Street Theater play for this year. The porch, by the way, was built by Mark Marcante, and rebuilt by him this Summer. He is the Production Director of TNC and a leading actor in the Street Theater company. The roof caved in this Winter due to a heavy accumulation of snow. He had built it 4 years ago and the roof is all screening, except for the crosspieces of wood. So it's held up pretty well, I'd say. It's a Godsend to me since we have no air conditioning and I like to write outside at night when the trailer is like a Hot Tin Box. It cools off pretty well outside, up here, at night. But around 5:30pm the bugs come out and even with Eucalyptus oil slathered all over me and smelling like a Vicks Vaporizer, it doesn't really stop them. And as the night progresses, it gets worse.

We are situated in the woods and a little creek behind and a cemetery across the road in front. So I have quiet, to write, which I do, morning to night, and sometimes morning to night to morning. I'm writing with a deadline, so my notes and papers are scattered all over the place. There's a library in the town itself, about a 7 minute drive from the trailer and it's got computers and almost no one using it a lot of the time. The town itself only has 1 store and a little post office. There doesn't seem to be anything written yet about Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but it's in and I put a hold on a book they will be getting called "The Rise of Labor." It'll be after the fact, but I'll read it anyway. However, there's lots of pictures and articles on the computer, and we had a member of OWS come talk to us (the cast) as part of our two-week workshop we do just before I go off to isolation land. Don't get me wrong. A screened-in porch is not a panacea. The Bugs get in. The Gnats and the Noseeums. But when you're writing it takes a lot more than that to "bug" you. No wonder writers are so into themselves. I include myself. When you're on a roll, the house could burn down and you really wouldn't care. Afterwards, oh, yes, but while the muse is upon you, the rest of the world goes away. And, of course, you need time to dream.

My process is usually this. I write, I fall asleep in the chair, pen in hand, I wake up an hour later, or 10 minutes later, or 60 seconds later, and I write. Sometimes I remember my dream. Sometimes not. It doesn't matter. You are working on the play during sleep. Argue with me if you will. Let good writers let me know how it is with you.

At any rate, "99% Reduced Fat, or, You Can Bank On Us" is finished. The Book and Lyrics, anyway. Now it's up to Joe Banks to set the music. He's been e-mailed all the lyrics but we've only got three weeks to get this baby on the Boards. There are 3 A.D.s and myself taking notes during the Workshop, and I always have an Alumni Meeting a week before the Workshop, where the Wonderful Street Theater actors from previous years, talk about the issues of the Day. I tell them this year's theme, and they go off from there. They know I'm looking for Humor and Satire. They undersrtand the process. One of the A.D.s takes notes and so do I. These notes are irreplaceable. They are my inspiration. I will have written the play's synopsis even before the Alumni Meeting, but ideas come out of that meeting, and lots more from the workshop improvs. Great characters emerge. One actor came up with a really super character. A Sanitation Worker named Willy. I think maybe next year, he will be the Hero of my play. This year, the hero is a young member of a gang who leaves that life to become a community activist. It's loosely based on the life of Chino Garcia, and the founding of that great Cultural Center on the Lower East Side, CHARAS, which was the Focal Point of the Lower East Side for so many years, until Mayor Giuliani had the building sold right under our noses. You know who it was sold to? The same guy who owns the new Nets Stadium in Brooklyn. Bruce Ratner. The neighborhood was so up in arms about it, he was never able to develop that old school building on 12th Street. The Neighborhood stopped him at every turn. Rallies, picketing. There is still hope that the Lower East Side consortium can buy back the Building and make it back into the true Cultural Center that it was. Chino's CHARAS co-founder and partner was murdered during the fight to save the building. A coincidence, maybe. But that's not the feeling around here.

Chino, who is still a community activist, came and spoke during that 2-week Workshop. The workshop also has other activists come and speak. Also, this year, two teachers, because the kid hero of our play is mentored by an old teacher of his. In that workshop, we teach Commedia, Clowning, Voice production, Modern Dance, Improvisation, Theater games, Microphone use, Juggling and Stilt Walking, as well.

At any rate, I've finished the play. Now, we've got to get this baby on its feet. It's Saturday, late morning. The last song got finished early this morning. I've got a little breathing time 'til tomorrow when I drive directly to TNC, with the finished script. The A.D.s type it up. Monday, I go over it, line-by-line, with Jon Weber, one of the A.D.s, looking for lines left out, incorrect words, etc., and Tuesday at 6pm, I read the entire script once. I learned that at Lincoln Center when Arthur Miller used to read the new play of his, aloud, once at the start of Rehearsals. That way, you get a real sens of the writer's intent. Also, it's the only time the actors will get an overview of the play, since we only have three weeks to get it on and we'll be rehearsing out of order and probably have Music rehearsals in one theater while we're doing scenes in another and choreography in a third. We open Saturday, August 4th at 2pm, outside TNC on East 10th Street at 1st Avenue. See you then. Writers (only the good ones) let me know your process. It'd be good for people to know how very hard a writer has to work, to write something that people can just pick up and read or see, in an hour or a day or a couple of days. Of course, we always expect you to think about it for a long time to come, and I guess that's work too, isn't it!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Friend from Pakistan

I had tea the other day with a wonderful playwright who is also, a dear friend. A Pakistani-American writer. A Muslim. She was going on a trip and I wanted to speak to her before she left. We sat in a little cafe and over a Blueberry tart with two forks and steamed soy lattes, we talked. She was not writing about the things that she was really thinking about. I felt they were terrifying things and that she had moved away from them and was therefore in a depressed state. Her last two plays were about lost or un-acted moments, and t hen one in which there was no play at all.

"Where's the Play?" asks one character.

"In my pocket." says another.

"But you have no pockets," says the first, "so where's the play?"

"There is no play"

"But you said you want to ready your play. So where is it?"


Now, this writer is really good and anything she writes is of interest. But I intuitively felt that her running from her own thoughts, that certainly, in today's climate of racism and general hostility toward immigrants, particularly Muslims, must have had some effect on her writing. I could feel that her next play might not even be there at all.

I approached the subject with trepidation because I don't want to interfere with a writer's creativity. At TNC there is no censorship. My own history in the Theater includes a number of moments when a Producer laid their heavy hands on a piece of artistic work, and cut out the soft and beautiful center of the play, in their efforts to make it a more sell-able product. In a writer's development, this bodes Evil. In my memory, as well, these actions did not make the play better. It made it Stupid. TNC is a place of freedom for a writer.

However, this was to me, a time in which I must speak out! And I did! I told her that writing is a risk taken. That without that risk, the baring of one's soul, the the nakedness of one's vision. There is a cloud that will descend on your work and Block your path. I told her that I am taking a risk in writing a Blog, and that I too am afraid of repercussions, criticism, anger and even hatred, as a result. I told her I was gearing up for this year's Street Theater, and I had plenty to say. Worrying that I might offend her, I waited for her reply. And what a reply it was!

She told me that she indeed had decided not to write about Muslims in America, or the trials and tribulations of a woman Muslim, or about the United States invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, or the horror and terror that the Drone attacks are causing in the country (Pakistan) where her family still lives.

Then, she told me, in a torrent of words, that ever since 9/11, she has had fear of reprisal for being a South Asian. And, even more, for being Muslim.

I told her I understood completely since I once wore a hood and scarf combination in Winter and someone spat at me, thinking I was a Muslim. She told me that after 9/11, she wrote plays that dealt with issues that were indeed Socio-Political. But the dirty looks and sometime actual verbal and even semi-physical assaults from strangers after seeing her plays, had had an effect on her. She told me also of the great applause and sometimes standing ovations she received, and that they only exacerbated her fear. And now she found herself in the middle of a standing Political fight that she could not actually participate in, for she is "Just a writer and not an activist." Wow! What could I say?!

I told her that we must be brave and that I, as well as she, must write our Hearts out, because that is what were put on this earth to do, and lo and behold, she thanked me! It was as though I had somehow, given her permission to go ahead! She smiled--she laughed! we drank our tea and shared our Blueberry tart,, and I wished her a safe and happy journey. We had actually given each other courage. We had laid bare our fears and understood what we had to do. We knew our fate as writers was to write--about whatever--and come what may. That was, and is, and will be our salvation.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Makes A Good "Read?"

I have been reading, late into the night, an old play by a relatively young author. Reading it, because I must pick 20 pages of it, as a work sample for a Grants application. And this much I can tell you—a good play is a good "Read." So many plays are impossible to get through. They pontificate, or they report, ad infinitum, the same thoughts. Even the same lines. They have no action. No passion. No suspense.

I remembered, last night, because the play I was reading was such a good "read," the plays of Chekhov I used to read, over and over again. The thing about a really great play is when the author does not tell you what he or she thinks, but lets the story unfold so that you get the point, maybe three hours after you've read the piece. The play pulls you into its world. You become one with its characters. Lost in the drama of their lives. And what is that, really? It's a good story. A good story is at the bottom of every good play. Why do so many authors think that a play is a place to force an Audience to hear their ideas. A really good play is innocent of lecturing. It lets its characters know less than the author. Just as a good actor knows more than the character he or she plays. The audience then becomes the wise one—not the author, and what makes a play different from a nove. A play is life set before us. Truncated—compressed like the computer can do to a program or a file. The wild passion of its people is never stated. It happens in front of our eyes. Simply...and after with no comment by the author. The author should seem a dunderhead. Naive, gullible, totally taken with his/her characters. Only the reader knows "what's up."

And in every good play, we find a development, a movement forward that actually grips and drags its audience with it. And this development happens on stage. Right in front of our eyes. That is why many actors fall in love with each other when working on a really good play. And the reader of a good play will not wish to put it down until it is ended. And then, will wish o live a little longer in the world they have been allowed to enter—by a really good playwright who knows that "life" on the stage and in a really good play "happens" 'without comment. Without reason, almost. And that, first and foremost, the story that lives behind the plot, makes for a really good "read."