Monday, January 21, 2019

Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour (three)

"It's another dreary and miserable day in Cleaverston Heights, and just the perfect weather for a little social unrest."
- The Raghouse, Episode Four
In light of a recent event, one in which a young man in a MAGA hat leered at a Native American Vietnam Vet at the Lincoln Memorial, several took to Twitter to shame those who were outraged, to wit; "Oh, this outrages you?"

They would go on to delineate several, previous examples of human rights violations against native people that presumably have not aroused outrage, not to the extent this viral image has.

This public shaming of those who are selectively outraged -- why? What is the point> The moment itself is outrageous enough, what does calling the reaction to the moment into question do but create confusion?

Like some right-wing website announcing the TRUTH of this HOAX by providing the UNEDITED VIDEO, which no one is actually meant to watch because if they did they would see the same thing, it’s the headline that counts.

But as to this idea of selective outrage -- oh, now you’re outraged? No, I am not outraged now. I’m not some middle-aged white liberal guy who just cuts and pastes sad stories, playing into Big Media’s lazy narrative.

I’ve been outraged for twenty-eight years, twenty-eight years this week, in fact. Ever since I saw the outpouring of glee on behalf of a large and loud segment of the students at my school burst into celebration the evening the Persian Gulf War began, January 17, 2001.

For three nights they took to the streets -- took over the streets! To celebrate a war. I had been on the fence in the past, but that night I became an activist, and even though I do not spend as much energy as others on liberal causes, I have striven to remain educated, aware and vocal.


Revisiting the Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour has been an ear-opening experience. I forgot we talked like that. Sure, we spent plenty of time spent criticizing popular television and complaining about parking tickets, but there were also discussions about rBGH, air pollution and yes, even twenty-five years ago, the use of excessive deadly force against African-American males by the Cleveland Police Department.

The best script I wrote for the program was the fourth episode of The Raghouse (see link, above.) That series was set in and around a coffee house, frequented by an array of then twenty-something Generation X stereotypes. The stories were often just an attempt to cram as many hip, early 90s buzzwords into fifteen minutes as possible.

For this episode, however, I took the focus off the main character, Biggles Malone (just as well, too, as you can tell I had lost my voice when we recorded this episode) and handed it to Satch, who carried the narrative into the realm of social justice and activism. What this episode has to say about what white people choose to get outraged over -- and what they do not -- has unfortunately withstood the test of time.

Not to ring my bell too loud, the episode also included an ugly racial stereotype, a one-off joke that I thought was pretty funny at the time, but am now entirely ashamed to have written and broadcast. It has been edited out of this sound file.

Have a good Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Entry Point (2019)

Writing down the words.
For the third year, Cleveland Public Theatre has produced Entry Point, a kind of weekend fringe festival where you can experience anywhere from one full length to maybe five, fifteen minutes vignettes in the course of a single evening.

These are all new works, or work in development, staged simply but professionally, and an important part of each of the three nights (Thursday through Saturday) are the tightly curated and brief post-performances feedback sessions.

Two years ago I was an actor at Entry Point, in someone else’s piece. Last year I wrote a piece with Chennelle. This year I was invited to facilitate a couple evenings of post-show discussion.

The post-show talkback, for better or worse, has become a modern theatre event, or perhaps I should say add-on, or thing. The pre-show discussion (usually more like a lecture than a chat) is a staple at companies like Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theater and Dobama, providing context and knowledge for the show. These are quite popular even though they can turn a three-hour evening into a four-hour one.

The post-show talkback is for the die-hard theatergoer (one who would could to sit some more rather than immediately grab a drink, which is what I usually need to do) to discuss the issues raised in the production, or in the case of a new work, to provide a response which the creator may find useful.

The post-performance discussions I managed on Thursday and Friday evenings were very different experiences. There were fewer folks in general on Thursday night, and the moment I stepped out to begin at least half of the audience got up to dash onto the next thing, which is fine, you can do that, but I was left reaching for a response from a small number of people.

I’m okay with silence. My job is teaching actors how to lead discussions with reluctant or disinterested children. But I was taken aback by the large number of those who did not even choose to remain.

(Full disclosure: I, too, will dash from post-show discussions, especially when the audience is mostly white; confirmation bias is a thing and I don’t need to sit among a bunch of middle-aged Caucasians affirming their own personal goodness. But, I digress.)

Because this is a creative process, and a creative evening, which Raymond, the artistic director, makes very clear at the beginning of the evening with an opening speech in the lounge which has become a delightful tradition. The audience is here to bear witness. It’s why you drove in this weather to get here.

Friday was much different, with full houses, and even at those performances at the end of the evening that had fewer attendants (folks were ready to get that drink on) they stayed and responded with enthusiasm and spirit. There’s a part where the facilitator is to write down words that the piece inspires (see photo, above) and I could barely keep up, they just kept coming at me. The playwrights must have been delighted.

The biggest challenge for me was the taking in of commentary without offering my own viewpoint. In the residency program we engaged the comment, and then play devil's advocate, pressing for alternate viewpoints of challenging assumptions. The job here was to encourage thought, field response, and move on. I deeply hope these post-performance events were helpful to these artists.

Yesterday afternoon Cleveland Public, in association with Howlround and the Dramatists Guild presented a brace of panel discussion in the James Levin Theatre, and it was exciting to see how full the audience was, especially with the impending storm.

More on that soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour (two)

We recorded Saturday mornings.
My last post describes how the Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour came to be. The drama series we produced for the program include: 

The Abnormal Doctor Boomer by Torque 

Dr. Frank Litigious Boomer is a disgusting, drooling, perverted old scientist, and the hero of these tales.

Most of the action involves his sycophantic assistant, Daniel Quick, getting into situations where he can test formulas developed by The Doctor that are meant to cure society of ills such as abortion, homosexuality, political dissent and Spanish.

The Raghouse by Tower

Biggles Malone, a member of “The 13th Generation” is a slacker and a nobody. He and his erstwhile “love interest” Malekha and his best acquaintance Satch insult each other and sit around and waste time at The Raghouse, a local coffee emporium.



The Adventure of Annie Gordon by Beemer 

Annie Gordon is a sensitive, young, professional woman, working as a manager at Harlow’s Department Store in Manhattan. Annie serves as a model for the right way to behave as a mature adult, whether dealing with her back-biting co-worker Stacey Petrillo, her gay co-worker Steve, her bigoted boss Mr. Harlow -- or falling in love with DJ Paul Travis.

Digit, Torque, and that amazing door.
There were also these three introductory episodes, produced near the end of our history:

Lucy Bontelle, Private Eye by Gooch, a classic, hard-boiled detective story set in a fictional past where women are aggressively dominant and the men aren’t. Lucy Bontelle is a hard-drinking, fast-loving private dick who falls for Donneyboy, a gangster’s moll.

I expanded on an old comic strip I’d created in college, and produced The Turtleneck, which was going to be a fast-paced and very short piece (ten minutes an episode, tops) about Maxwell Peavey who, through a circumstance (unfortunately similar to the one John Ritter found himself in in Hero At Large) becomes a reluctant costumed avenger.

Finally, Torque wrote The Plight of Mister Martin, an amazing Brechtian homage. In it Mr. Martin stands up to the Corporate Manager and loses his job -- but for entirely selfish reasons. His destitute wife June  leaves him to grovel with the Whore and takes up Martin’s sledgehammer.

With original music by Torque, hand-made sound effects created by Torque and myself during a fun afternoon in the ‘RUW studio, highly-stylized and tightly-written satire, Mr. Martin was inarguably the best piece we ever made. And, regrettably, the last.

Many thanks to Thom Cechowski for loaning me his Kenwood cassette deck to make these recordings possible!

Next up: The Raghouse!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour (one)

Torque & Gooch in "The Shower"
This year marks several notable twenty-five year anniversaries, a lot of stuff happened in 1994.

I directed my first Shakespeare, my wife and I began dating. And on January 28, 1994, the Guerrilla Theater Radio Hour debuted on WRUW 91.1 FM.

We were still producing a weekly political revue in Tremont with (‘ud’s me) four performances every Friday and Saturday, but we had also started messing around with some brief radio dramas for the station during the past year and requested a slot. We got the thirty-minute slot on Friday nights at seven, hence the name.

Any particular episode would be recorded earlier the same week, consisting of a produced episode penned by a member of the company, and gab about recent events. We pretended it was live, despite the fact that we would remind the audience that we would be there at The Actors’ Gym to open the doors for Mind Your Own Business pretty much exactly when the radio show concluded.

No one asked us about it. Maybe they thought we were broadcasting from The Actors’ Gym. Maybe nobody listened.



In order to save time editing we would mix the entire thing in one take. As a result, if something went terribly wrong (like if someone said “shit” like Gooch often did when she was in the booth) we would have to start again from the beginning.

I managed the board, acting as host and basically ‘directing’ the show, partly because I had previous experience working in a radio studio, and also because I am a complete control freak.

Sound Engineer Digit
What is pretty incredible about the dramas themselves is that they sound as good as they do. Torque and I each wrote and produced three (each) at the beginning of 1993, in the Professor Street Theater, using a cassette four-track machine.

We put down the dialog, and mixed in sound effects, inventing some pretty clever noises along the way. Skulls were cracked open, people urinated on the floor, and we created a wonderful homo-erotic dream sequence that took place during an aerial dogfight.

Finally, we were able to experiment with some of the techniques we'd learned working with David Ossman!

In addition to these six episodes, we created nine more the second year, at The Actors’ Gym. These were produced in The Shower, literally one of the gang showers in the basement, with mats hung on the walls and ceiling to soak up echo and a big, ugly, amazing Frankenstein of a door, hand-crafted by Torque. He also composed and performed many original themes..

During this second year I did most of the post-production, which was more out of a desire to get them done very fast than anything else. Torque was disappointed with how I started using sound effects CDs instead of creating our own sounds. I will not disagree that the hand-made sound effects always did sound better than the pre-recorded ones.



Next up: The Episodes!