Sunday, December 30, 2012

Little Nemo In Cleveland

Just prior to switching from the New York Herald to Hearst's New York American newspaper, in 1911 Winsor McCay sent Little Nemo, Flip and Imp on an airship tour of the United States, stopping in all the major American cities. Guess where they landed in March? Cleveland!

NEMO: We ought to have a good time here next week! Cleveland is a great city!

In the panel above, we see a photo-realistic image of the Public Square (pre-Terminal Tower) facing east. See the Soldier and Sailors Monument, Superior and Euclid Avenues stretching out to the horizon. If it were not for those three significant landmarks, the place would be unrecognizeable, none of these building still exist and so many were yet to be built. Even the May Co. building would not be constructed for another three years.

NEMO: Cleveland is a beautiful city!

A young volunteer leads Nemo around and shares a raft of statistics. For example:

"Cleveland has three thousand streets; over 300 miles of sewers, an' 200 miles of paved streets. We have sixty thousand dwellings, 18 big hotels, 3000 factories employing sixty-five thousand people! There are seventy-five public schools, 5 high schools, one thousand and five hundred teachers and 60,000 pupils!"


The American Chicle Co. You're welcome.

This post has been updated.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On The Reading of Books

We are coming to the end of another pleasurable Christmas weekend at my in-laws. The day did not go as planned, it was to be a finally day of writing. However, nature intervened, we got maybe five inches of snow in a couple of hours and the power went out. So instead we took the kids out to my sister-in-law's boyfriend's place out in Albany, enjoying hayrides, snowball fights, a roaring bonfire, and hot cocoa. It was a worthy exchange. We can always write, we cannot always do these things.

Melancholy accompanies the final evening before a departure. Though the power is back, the lights are on, we are in our pajamas next to a warm fire and a sleeping hound, ready to read until we choose to retire. There is the inevitable sadness that comes with returning to life as usual. New Year's Eve is ahead of us, but still. Christmas is only now coming to an end.

I am currently enjoying the first volume of Simon Callow's biography of Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu. Reading has been very difficult for me this year, as I have begun and then discarded several volumes, which I may or may not return to. Some I surely shall, others leave me doubtful.

Susan Orleans' Rin Tin Tin was a welcome gift last Christmas, which I began at that time with great interest. However, the outreach tour got in the way and it was shelved some one hundred pages in. I see it every day, it is waiting for me. Stay, old boy. I will be right back.

Trying to find something to inspire me in preparation of The Times (or as an excuse to see the movie when it is released) I tried for perhaps the fourth time to read Kerouac's On the Road. After twenty pages I decided once again that Capote was right. And you can look that up.

Finally, I waited until after the election to read Under The Banner of Heaven. I have very much enjoyed other works by Jon Krakauer, but worked mightily not to let Mitt Romney's religion affect my opposition to him as a candidate. I have found Mormonism to be no more nor less ridiculous than any other religion that exists on earth, but concentrating on the history of the most repellent people who practice it is as unfair as concentrating on those most repellent Catholics, Muslims or Jews. However, I was interested and began in interest, until the events of Newtown, CT made my taste for stories of paranoid, murderous Americans vanish, for the duration.

And so we return to biography, in particular one which was loaned to me by my father maybe a decade ago. Just as well, I had his copy of The Last Place On Earth for almost as long but finally read and thoroughly enjoyed that.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Slumberland: It is happening again.

My mother-in-law loves me.

2:58 PM - Another day, another Donkey. Today the wife is not feeling well, but the kids already have a date to check out Monsters Inc. in 3-D with their aunt and grandmother, and so I have persuaded her to make our third journey into the Writers' Warren.

I have been storyboarding scenarios from Little Nemo, some of which are taken wholecloth from the strip, embellished from my own imagination and unhealthy nods to other McCay-inspired entities which include (but are not limited to) Sandman, In The Night Kitchen and maybe even Twin Peaks.

Also, too: This.

But they are disjointed and incoherent, as in a dream. Did I say that, or only imagine I did? In any case, that is the plan. Having just made stuff up off the top of my head, I will now make notes to put it into a logical, plot-like narrative. Which is the opposite of what I usually do. And that can be fun.

Did I mention my mother-in-law got me a proper, leather satchel for Christmas? Since I got my laptop, I have been permanently borrowing a prop from the Great Lakes Theater production of Julius Caesar (2004) where all the workers in the street  at the top of the show were vloggers and bloggers. That synthetic, black man-bag had a nametag reading "Nick K." in it.

4:01 PM - Bryan Ritchey will be my Carel Struycken.

And the owls are not what they seem.
 The Dreaming:
Recently I was rehearsing for a professional production of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works. Don't ask me which one it was, but I was a Lord. As part of the rehearsal process, the director was conducting a kind of free-form, staged read-through, where we walked into the middle of the rehearsal space and performed our particular soliloquy. It was one of Shakespeare's works where none of the characters talk to each other, they just just take the stage and share part of the narrative with the audience and exit. I read my piece twice. Each time I reached the word "egg" and then completely lost the thread of what I was saying. "Egg" was entirely out of context for this character, it didn't mean anything.

After my part of the rehearsal was through I went back to the Arden and looked up the longer notes, which I was embarrassed to learn I had not yet done. I assumed I knew what the words meant, but I was woefully unprepared. "Egg" was the most important word in the monologue. It was the core of my character, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

These things are true. All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.
4:43 PM -  Did you know Little Nemo visited Cleveland? Crazy, right? I have not yet read all of the comics as late as the 1910s. But I must, I must!

Today is a day for letting my mind wander and discover. Running this morning I came up with several ideas which I have tossed around and made note of. And now I just spinning some nonsense into script form.

5:44 PM - Time for dinner at Casa Nueva, suckers.

Talespinner Children's Theatre presents Adventures In Slumberland by David Hansen, Nov. 30 - Dec. 22, 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Little Nemo Meets the Princess

July 15, 1906

All the servants of Slumberland have worked for over a year to bring Little Nemo to the Princess to be her playmate.

Their efforts have been thwarted by Flip Flap, jealous of the Princess's affection for Nemo. Just prior to this day Flip was rendered "awake" by Dr. Pill and taken away from Nemo and the Princess who met only briefly before Nemo woke up calling, "Aw mama, can't I sleep a little longer?"

Flip is nephew to the Dawn, and has previously asked his help in waking up Little Nemo.

~~ END ~~

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Donkey Coffee and Espresso

 "Ageing Gen-X." None dare call it hipster.

For the record, Donkey Coffee opened ten years ago, and has justifiably received every popular merchants' award, not least of which a Best Coffeeshop in Ohio nod from Ohio Magazine. It is spacious (two big floors featuring rooms large and small) clean, the coffee is very good, the baristas are mostly polite (those who speak) and bestest of all, the place is quiet.

Well, not always quiet. My wife and are holed up in town for a week, she working on a manuscript, myself pushing through the first draft of a children's play. Our in-laws generously look after the kids while we head Uptown to write, write, write (and Facebook. Sigh.) The day before Christmas we checked out the upstairs of Donkey for the first time ever and found a cozy table for two next to two, short, empty couches.

After about an hour, a half dozen TEENAGERS slouched in, each carrying a Red Cup (wtf?) spilling themselves into the couches, and proceeding to talk disaffected nonsense for three-quarters of an hour.

(on the sound system: soundtrack to The Hours by Philip Glass)
Sal: Are you saying I don’t like Pink Floyd or that I don’t like don’t like Pink Floyd?
Austin: I don’t like old music.
June: I don’t like your face.

June: I’m just kidding. I love you.
Sal: I don’t like that Megan is here so I can’t kiss Austin.
Austin: I don’t like 'Zelda'.

: Gaping asshole.
Austin (whispered): Goatse...

(long pause)
Sal: I hate your mom.
June: (giggles) That was the most serious face ever.
Sal:Is it bad that I am almost starting to dig this song?
Megan: What song?
Sal: I’ll show you.
Megan: No don’t.
Sal: You’re saying don’t like you want to.
June: That was the best thing ever.
Sal: (about the music) This makes me feel so good.

(They whisper inaudibly.)
June: That’s exactly what you were wearing on Friday. I mean the shirt and the hat.
Sal: Austin, The transformation is coming.
June: Do they come off, ever?

(Austin leans across and kisses June. To sit back, he tries to pull he over to him, but she does not want to go.)
Megan: I saw these things on TV and I want them.
Zach: You have so many shirts with such tiny buttons.
Megan: They’re like fake.
June: Every single pair of pants, none of them had front pockets!
Zach: Girls don’t need front pockets.
Jenn: I do! I think guys just want to see guys put things by their butt.
June: This is as big as my pocket gets.
Jenn: Look where I put my cellphone.
June: This phone’s too big.
Sal: I wish cats had voices.
June: I love Amy.
Austin: I love Amy, too. Don’t be jealous.
June: Shut up.
They weren't actually loud. In fact, they were making a concerted effort to whisper, and occasionally hush each other. But they were astonishingly insipid.  Eventually one broke out a guitar (where the hell did that come from?) and began to tunelessly, pointless plunk at it, all the while disdaining assholes who can't actually play the guitar.

And then they all left, together, all at once. POOF. They're gone.

Today was even quieter and more successful, except the fact that I score a nasty sinus headache, which led to a walk in the rain to the CVS to buy drugs and a snack. Surprisingly, within moments of taking ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine, the pressure and pain went away. 

In the past two work days I have put down nineteen pages of the new play. This, following several months of rolling it all around in my head. Following auditions for Talespinner's 2013 season and attending a performance of Magic Flute, I solidified not only how many actors would be available to me, and who they are, but exactly how far I could push Ali & Co. in making this comic strip come alive. This holiday season has also given me some highfalutin idears about what I want to see in a Christmas pageant.

We will return.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tom L. Johnson

Thomas Loftin Johnson (July 18, 1854 – April 10, 1911) was the 35th Mayor of Cleveland, serving between 1901 and 1909. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 1903.

John Hay High School
(Clarence Carter?)
Johnson began his fortune in streetcars, investing in companies and even creating devices such as a see-through, glass fare box for use in trollies which he patented. He was also big in steel.

A Democrat, he was what they used to call a progressive* championing efforts to aid the lower classes, including public utilities, meat inspection standards and keeping streetcar fares low. He expanded the city's parks system, and championed public bath houses (but who doesn't, really?)

Johnson was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1892 for the 21st District, before running successfully for Mayor of Cleveland, campaigning on "Home rule, 3-cent fare, and just taxation!" and was eventually elected to three terms.

A bronze statue of Johnson, designed by Herman N. Matzen, was erected in Public Square in 1915, which bears the following inscription:

He found us striving each his selfish part.
He left a city with a civic heart.

UPDATE: Mayor Johnson was the inspiration for the character of "The Mayor" in Adventures In Slumberland, which premiered at Talespinner Children's Theatre in 2013.

Cleveland Historical
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

See also: John Hay High School

* Today Liberals have tried to revive the word Progressive so as to discard the much-maligned "L" word. Conservative commentators like Bill O'Reilly have simply used the word liberal and progressive interchangeably, which has rendered the entire experiment kind of pointless.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stealing Christmas (play)

Jen, Larry, me, Shruti Amin and (below) Victor.

Casing the joint.
Part of our responsibilities as members of the Karamu education department, in addition to the daily outreach tour to schools around northeast Ohio, was to perform in the annual holiday play for young audiences.

In 1991 that was a new play by John Cameron, Stealing Christmas, directed by education department director Justin Dennis.

The tale is straightforward. Four kids, Chris, Lila, Tony and Donny, craft a plan to make some money on a cold, winter's night. Chris (Victor Dickerson) is the ring-leader, deciding it would be clever to  knock on the door of some old person, sing carols or something, and when they get invited in, he would distract them while the others go through the place and rob them blind.

New Jerk Hustler
The first house they try, they meet Edna (Jennifer Silver) who lives on her own, and is all too happy to have company. Soon Chris is seated, eating cookies while Lila (Shruti Amin), Donny (my college roommate Larry Trice) and Tony (myself) have disappeared into the rest of the house.

Edna's childhood stories were played out onstage by three of us, with me returning as her father, Larry her brother and Shruti as a young Edna, showing how she and her family always got by without much, except love and happiness and positive feelings. 

In the end Chris learns the true meaning of Christmas, and his friends return to tell what they have learned: the old woman has nothing, her house is practically empty.

Christmas memories.
I was reminded of this tale when my family and I journeyed downtown this afternoon to see the new holiday play A Carol for Cleveland at Cleveland Play House.

Written by Eric Coble and based on a novella by mystery writer Les Roberts, this play tells the story of an out-of-work steelworker in the late 1970s. Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Ed Podolak (Charles Kartali) has been living hand-to-mouth in the armpit of the nation for a year, trying to find steady employment.

As in Stealing Christmas -- indeed, as in the original Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol -- the past is used as a device not only to educate the audience about the history of an individual, and how they came to be who they are, but to provide a reminder of what they were always meant to be. Or could be. Or after all, should be.

Yelling at hobos on Public Square.
However, as my wife pointed out, it is Dickens who dared take that extra step, and to wade into class politics.

It is important for us, all of us, to be grateful for what we have, to share with those closest to us, and with those we do not even know, and above all to remain positive. To have hope.

But Dickens also suggests that those who live in plenty have a moral responsibility to contribute to the general welfare, and to engage with and to care for mankind.

Or to burn for all eternity in the pits of Hell.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Double Heart: Photo Shoot

Has it been a year? Todd and I headed over to TRG this afternoon to create the image for Double Heart. As much as I enjoy participating in these photos shoots, I am also happy to sit back and watch. I worry people might not necessarily want to see a play featuring a doughy, bald guy in his 40. And as this play is about young romance, I thought my mug on the poster would be particularly inappropriate.

You may have noticed that it is not necessary for someone actually performing in a play to be featured on the poster. This is the case everywhere, not just with us. However, it does happen. And as we have cast this production particularly early, I was as excited as anyone to have our two romantic leads, James and Emily, featured on the poster.

A few weeks back, Todd, Daniel and I threw out some ideas, and Todd focused on a face-to-face image. Having made that decision, there are still numerous variants. It can be playful, dominant, even somber. The most important thing is that it is intimate. We discussed making the character of Beatrice the dominant one ... however, in practice, if you aren't careful, the taller person must press their chin into their neck. After one early take Emily bemoaned, "Oh God, it's Double Heart, Double Chin."

The shot featured above (I just snapped that from their desktop, that's a rough image) is a better example of what we were playing with. I can't wait to see the final image. I like that we are promoting it as a charming, period romance. But you know me, it all ends in death.

But everything looks perfect from far away.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Alison Garrigan

Heather N. Stout is an evil queen in "Magic Flute"
(Talespinner Children's Theatre, 2012)

My friend Ali Garrigan has lived in the creative service of others, and by that I mean she has existed as collaborative partner in all manner of artistic endeavors, always providing an unending fount of positive energy and enthusiasm along with bottomless creativity and joy to whatever pursuit she is currently engaged in.

Quite often toward more than one project at a time. Sometimes twelve.

Since 1996, for this theater artist alone, she has created original music and created soundtracks for, performed in, directed others and directed me in plays I have written, designed and created costumes for and performed in plays I have directed, designed and created costumes for plays I have performed in directed by others, and we have performed in plays together.

We have collaborated in well over fifteen plays in fifteen years. That’s just with me.

This weekend the family traveled to see the second offering from Talespinner Children’s Theatre Magic Flute (a new adaptation based on the original folk tale written by Anne McEvoy) and remained after to witness auditions for the 2013 productions.

Ali’s skill at working as a great collaborator in others’ companies has prepared her for the most creative, collaborative, and positive-spirited environment I have walked into. She is “in charge” but only in the sense that she empowers all participants to step up and confidently contribute to the best of their ability.

It is astonishing how much sound, color, music, movement and magic is compact onto on small stage, with seven actors, in one hour during Magic Flute. The production does not represent one theatrical discipline, it samples from plenty, whichever suits the situation, from Far East to Africa to European folk tradition, with one or two contemporary quirks thrown in, but only one or two.

At the risk of quoting myself, she suits the action to the word, the word to the action.

I owe Ali a script for Adventures In Slumberland. It will come. Attending Magic Flute was necessary, even after witnessing The Tale of the Name of the Tree last summer. I wanted to pay attention to the text, and how much was text, and what they do with it. She calls our work “Guide Scripts” which I like. I like the opportunity to be that kind of collaborator, that the writing is as fluid as the direction or the performance, or any and all of the technical elements.

Watching her, as I am right now, leading actors who (in some cases) have never met, to discover how they move, and think, and collaborate, and take imaginative risks with each other … well, it’s a lot like auditioning to be a GLT actor-teacher, honestly (which means I am in my comfort zone) but unique to the task at hand, and unique to Ali, as director.

How often does someone have the opportunity to consider the company before writing the play? It happens. It is rare. It is a gift. I got a lot of dreams for Slumberland. I have confidence that Ali will make them reality.

UPDATE: Talespinner Children's Theatre presents "The Boy Who Stole the Sun," adapted and directed by Alison Garrigan, now through October 7 2019.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Smoking

Julia avec cigarette.

When I was a four year in college, we did Balm In Gilead, Lanford Wilson's tribute to pimps, dopers, losers and twinks. Everyone smoked. I don't just mean the characters smoked, we all smoked cigarettes. Live. On stage. The show was in the round -- the entire audience was practically smoking for the haze that hung over the stage. This was in 1989.

My friend Pete was not a smoker, but he had to play one in this show. And like most non-smokers, he was "bad" at it. By bad I only mean anyone who actually smokes cigarettes can tell when someone who doesn't smoke is just playing at it. It's not just that they puff lightly on it and poof out a little ball of smoke, they can't even hold one convincingly. It wasn't him. It was any of them. There was us, and there was them. And we were smoking like hell, I mean, damn, the school was paying for our cigarettes! They were a prop!

Eew! Smoking!

And maybe that's the point. Cigarettes are always a prop, for everyone. Sometimes they facilitate thought. In general they satisfy a chemical urge. But for so many, especially those in the theater community, they are about image. In olden days, they said glamor. Today they say, fuck you.

In any event, in America at least, they day of the cigarette is over. This isn't the demise of a centuries-old custom, it was a 20th century phenomenon. Chain-smoking wasn't exactly cost-effective for the average Victorian prole. The rise of Big Tobacco changed that, at least for a while.

In the meantime, a lot of playwrights wrote a lot of plays about those kinds of people who smoke. And modern theater companies have to deal with the consequences of strict non-smoking regulations, with varying success.

I have seen countrified Noel Coward dandies take out their cigarettes, and their lighters, fiddle with them with intention, get distracted and put their cigarettes away ... as if that ever happens. I have seen actors cope with electronic cigarettes which appear to light and even emit a wan, feeble "smoke" ... and like everyone else, have completely stopped listening to whatever is going on, irritated by the artifice.

And yet, here we are. Technology will catch up. Weak tea is readily accepted as hard liquor, because it looks like it. Last weekend I saw The Whipping Man at Cleveland Play House, which employed a lot of candles, all of which were fake, which I noticed at first but then promptly forgot about, because they were so successfully handled by the actors and flickered and glowed with realism, in a manner which was not possible even ten years ago because they didn't exist because nobody needed them.

I imagine most professional playhouses are relieved to not have to deal with open flame whatsoever. What a headache! The fire marshal has a lot less to be suspicious of, everyone can rest easy. The Globe will not burn down.

The second part of These Are The Times takes place in the mid-1950s among a troupe of young performers. Historically, such people would smoke. Do they need to smoke? Good question. Even if they could, which they can't, each scene is so short, jumping from rehearsal to performance to backstage, lighting and stubbing smokes all night would be ungainly and prohibitive.

But ... it's a look, it's a style. It's a prop. See: Mad Men. See: Good Night and Good Luck. Last night Mark called a rehearsal for the four actors who make the core of "The Times", my fictional improv comedy troupe. We discussed cigarettes. It just so happened that Valerie had brought her own personal collection of fake cigarettes (see above). Mark and were both impressed with how realistic they look. They accomplish what is required, to be that thing.

I'm gonna go out to Big Fun and get a bunch of them for everybody.

Patio Cigarette Receptacle - Beige - Ash & Trash Receptacles (Google Affiliate Ad)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The 12 Bands of Christmas Sing!

The first 12 Bands of Christmas Sing was a benefit for Cleveland Public Theatre, held on Tuesday, December 22, 1992. Featured bands included Jehovah Waitresses, Moko Bovo, Hostile Omish, Giant Jack Johnsons, King of Clubs, Hot Tin Roof, Jericho Turnpike, Chuck Mosbrook and The Electric Monkey, 6 Feet Under, The Waynes, Odd Girl Out and Rust (aka Slack Jaw).

All the bands were asked to play at least one Christmas-oriented tune, and it was perfectly all right if it were blasphemous.

For our part, the Guerrillas had written the “Six Hits of Christmas,” to be performed between acts. That night we climbed the million stairs ... there were a lot of people behind us, in front of us, passing us on their way down. We could hear the music and all the people up there. This was going to be our largest audience yet. We found the Green Room, which was very small, filled with guitars and aspiring musicians. We had no props, we had no costumes, it was going to be just us and one chair against the teeming throng.

“Hey guys!”

It was The End's Maria Farina! Maria was hosting the show!

She bopped into the Green Room to find us and give us the low-down. She was sporting a groovy new sequined vest and a flat-topped, wide-brimmed, Debbie Gibson hat.

“So what have you got planned?" she asked.

“Well, we have six short plays to do.”

“Do you need the microphone on the floor?" Maria asked. "You could do your plays between sets and maybe you can help me give away prizes.”

“Okay, cool, uh, we don’t need the microphone, though, we’ll just project.”

We moved out into the house to check out the scene. Man, there were a lot of people here. Guerrillas scurried into the seating sections during a particularly rowdy set by Hostile Omish (the boys intimidated Maria into churning butter) and handed out flyers for You Have the Right to Remain Silent!

Guerrillas were scattered about the space. Hostile Omish concluded their set. Maria looked noticeably disturbed by her butter-churning experience.

“How about that, huh?” The crowd cheered enthusiastically. “Wow,” she continued, “there’s some angry youth here ... Yeah!”

She caught my eye. “And now, here’s a very special treat -- the Guerrilla Theater Company!”

A smattering of cheers and cat-calls.

“They’ll be doing some sketches for you throughout the evening, and later we’re going to give away some most excellent prizes like they do in their show, let’s hear it for them!”

A polite round of applause as we appeared from everywhere to take the floor in front of the bandstand. Audience members got up in large numbers to get beer from the concession stand out in the lobby.

“Good evening, everyone!” I called out. My voice was thin and wispy, and it floated gently up, towards the ceiling. A large part of the crowd were talking and weren’t about to be quiet for us, not to mention the hubbub from the now very crowded lobby.

“Beginning New Year’s Day and every Friday and Saturday night from now until the end of time we do a show called --”

All Guerrillas: “'You Have the Right to Remain Silent!'”

“Make sure you get one of these flyers before you leave for a special discount --”

I was losing them.

“-- and we’re going to do a very special Christmas play for you now entitled 'It’s A Wonderful Lie'.”

And we did our little play, an indictment of the Savings and Loan bail-out, there on this small stage with people walking back and forth in front of us, struggling against the din. When it concluded we ignored the light applause and quickly did another one, about all the leftist things we want for Christmas, said thank you very much and beat a hasty retreat from the stage.

We performed some more sketches after the next band, and performed an impromptu “Trivia Round” with Maria to give away some prizes.

As soon as our shtick was spent, we grabbed our things and slunk away, even though at the rate things were going, the concert was going to continue well after midnight.

Another disappointing aspect of our not choosing to use a microphone, apart from the obvious, is that there is no recording of our having performed there.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Staging Success: The PlayhouseSquare Story

 What I am truly thankful for.

One week ago, Thursday, November 15, WVIZ ideastream aired a one-hour documentary chronicling the history of theaters built during the 1920s on the north side of Euclid Avenue. Today the district is known as PlayhouseSquare, but in the intervening time Cleveland went through its steep decline from sixth largest city in America to where we are today ... which is where, exactly, I don't know. But it's not the late 1960s, when these opulent play houses were in terrible disrepair and on the verge of being torn down to -- literally -- put up a parking lot.

Throughout this blog I have told short stories about Cleveland in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s ... research for me, but also my own education of this saggy metropolis into whose orbit I was born, and where I continue to live and thrive today. Understanding where we are and where we are going requires a knowledge of where we have been, otherwise nothing makes any sense. It's also pretty interesting stuff.

Got an hour? Watch the video. There are moments I actually cried. I miss the past I never experienced, but I more thankful to be where we are today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Elvis at the Arena

November 23, 1956, Elvis played the Arena. One of these days I will document the Moondog Coronation Ball (1952) in some detail ... or at least spread more specious rumors. Regardless, the Arena was an all-purpose venue, the site where boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson murdered Jimmy Doyle in the sixth (literally, as it turned out) and the Cleveland Barons played hockey.

On Halloween night, 1956, the Cleveland Newspaper Guild went on strike, bringing to an abrupt halt the publication of all three Cleveland papers -- the Press, News and Plain Dealer. At the top of his game, Elvis Presley storms into town. His first movie, Love Me Tender had opened a week earlier, and the theme song was on top of the charts. No. 2 that week was Don't Be Cruel.

There wasn't a single Cleveland paper covering the concert.

Well, there was one paper covering the event. The Black and Gold sent its star photographer, seventeen year-old Lew Allen to cover the concert. Yes, that's right -- the Heights High School newspaper.

The show did not begin punctually at 8 PM that night as advertised. Excited fans were left waiting for fifteen minutes before Elvis took the stage. Legend has it he was receiving a phone call from a very ill and disappointed, ticket-holding girl who was in the hospital, and he just chatted with her for a while to try and make her feel better. Believe it or not, that's the story Lew Allen himself told, and has a picture of Elvis backstage on the phone as proof.

Allen went on to study photography at the Rochester Institute of Art, and went on a rock and roll tour in 1958, take great photographs of Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Frankie Avalon, Duane Eddy, Bobby Darin, the Hollywood Flames and others.

The Cleveland Arena and Elvis Presley were demolished in 1977.

Hockey stick.

Sources: Elvis Australia

See also: Elvis Presley at Brooklyn High (1955)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

1. Trying to sneak across an international border. I was supposed to hand over the I.D. of a colleague, was supposed to claim she is my wife. The crossing guard began asking questions, first off all, what her birthday was. I said, "I don't know," and started laughing nervously to myself. I was entirely unprepared for this and was going to be arrested.

2. A vicious house cat -- that talked. Everyone was terrified of it. There was this sweet old tabby that was going to reason with it. They were climbing a rope together. I could not get to either of them, they both went down the rope and the innocent, old cat began to scream horribly, the other cat had gotten into its face and was doing something unthinkable to him.

3. A large, volcanic eruption in the water just off the shore of a major city. We ran, terrified, as one of our party described exactly the fate that awaited us, in grotesque detail, if we were subsumed by the lava. We got into an office building however, and jumped a futuristic escalator to safety. I did have friends on a day-cruise ship just at sea. I could only imagine their fate.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Flash Gordon (1936 serial)

Warhol, Ming ... and R2-D2.

A couple weeks back, Talespinner Children's Theatre held its 2012 Glam Rock Benefit. Recently the kids and I took in Queen's Flash Gordon Theme music video, and I made a connections between Freddie Mercury's high-pitched "ah-ahs!" and the sheer unadulterated magnificent awesomeness of Max Von Sydow to cobble together some kind of Ming the Merciless get-up, replete with skullcap, dyed beard and eyebrows and green eyeshadow.


Tim reminded me afterwards that the character is another grotesque Asian stereotype, so I feel a little bad about that. But I did win for best male costume. So I got that going for me.

Buck Rogers, a World War I veteran exposed to radioactive gas and hidden in a collapsed mine shaft only to be reanimated five hundred years later, was created in 1928. The success of this popular comic strip character inspired the creation of Flash Gordon in 1934. A dashing young polo player (*snigger*) Flash and his girl Dale Arden are kidnapped by Dr. Hans Zarkov, who is obsessed with finding the origin of great firey meteors that are striking the Earth. They arrive at the planet Mongo, ruled by aforementioned grotesque racial stereotype Ming the Merciless.

The strip more or less follows the adventures of Dale being continually rescued from capture by Ming, and trips to all manner of surrounding planets, defined as all planets are in science fiction by a single weather pattern or dominant animal-inspired lifeform with one, primary emotion (see: Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on.) Sharkman, Hawkman, Lionman, Treeman. You get it.

The first film serial of Flash Gordon debuted in that most-amazing year of 1936. Olympic athlete Buster Crabbe assumed the role of Flash for 13 episodes, and another two serialized series in 1938 and 1940. The video above includes the arrival of Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov on planet Mongo, and the introduction of Ming the Merciless. Ming looks pretty stylish for 1936 ... and then he opens his mouth.

Anyone familiar with the 1980 film -- starring not only film legend Von Sydow but also Broadway star Topol, and classically trained British actors Timothy Dalton and BRIAN BLESSED -- might reconsider the "cheesiness" of the costumes and special effects, and appreciate instead the extent to which they created a faithful, cheery modern adaptation of the original short films.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Actors' Gym


Guerrilla Theater Company lasted two years, in two locations along Professor Street in Tremont. We had disagreements with our first-year landlord, and were happy to move into a location just a block away which had more space in which to perform, including something like a lobby.

Unfortunately, what we named The Actors' Gym was rather plain or ugly from the outside. Unlike The Professor Street Theater there were no ground floor windows, nor even a nearby lamp post. We jerry-rigged an exterior light and that was it. At night -- when we did all of our work -- the facade was rather foreboding and I know for certain of at least one person who was in high school at the time, deciding to "slum it" by checking out some cutting-edge comedy in the g-e-t-o, took one look at the place and decided it wasn't worth it.

Prior to our occupancy, the space had been an actual gym. There was shag carpeting in the main space, gang showers upstairs and down, and even a sauna. The landlord allowed us to work off some rent through sweat equity, ripping up layers of carpeting, thick plywood, all-weather carpeting, and linoleum, before reaching the original oak flooring.

The lobby was rather bizarre, with a nautical theme ... wood and ropes and salty-dog wallpaper. The coved ceiling was stuccoed.  To the left of the front door there was a counter with a display case built in and a wall behind and to the side with cubbyholes, which we used as a box office.  To the right, another display case, and two small alcoves that could act as a coat check or a tiny office.  And directly in front, a raised platform with railings around it, a kind of display area.  We left the lobby as it was, didn't change a thing.

Beach Party Night (1994) 

The other day, after supervising some of our actor-teachers and giving notes and running lines over lunch at Grumpy's, I decided to give one of our newest members, raised in Chicago, a brief driving tour of this most interesting neighborhood, which had only started its gentrification twenty years ago.


Approaching the former Actors' Gym I hollered, gaped, and pulled over. I couldn't even believe my eyes. Guerrilla wasn't my last experience with this space. Since then Bad Epitaph produced two shows there, when it was the art gallery called INSIDE and later *. In early 2001, my wife, very pregnant with our first child, performed in a show for J.P. Morgan's short-lived Radical Evil Drama company. But the facade was always the same, ugly paneling and no windows.

1989 Loma Prieta earthquake scene from Bad Epitaph Theater Company production of SIN by Wendy MacLeod at INSIDE, Cleveland, OH. September 1999. The performance space was tiny, the audience was limited to 40.
To create a realistic earthquake, the seating risers were cantilevered, one bank resting slightly on the one beneath, with large bass speaker cabinets lying on the floor beneath the audience, directed up. Actors on the still, hardwood floor throw themselves about as the set comes apart, but the audience was literally shaken by the sound, as in an amusement park ride.
What had never occurred to me was that the lobby was once an alcove. But of course it was! Stripped away, losing all of the crappy display boxes and adding high windows, the space is now an attractive show place.

You can ask Andrew. I was practically crying, it's so beautiful.

Superhero Night (1994)

Peeking into the space, there has not yet been any renovation inside the space. Just those hardwood floors I participated in discovering nineteen years ago. Signage indicates that the new owner is now in the public phase of attracting backers for a New Orleans themed restaurant.

Driving my young associate around the neighborhood, and describing what it was like two decades ago, I became excited for the city all over again. Tides rise, they ebb. But I still feel that we are moving forward.


* No, seriously. An art gallery called "*".

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Promoting an upcoming project, I am one of my fellow artists were on a local radio program. We were being interviewed. One of the questions pertained to someone I knew a long time ago, a very good friend. I was asked to say a few things about them, I can't remember how this related to the subject of the interview, but I did my best to say positive, cheery things about their personality and about their work. The person being interviewed with me and the host threw in a few comments of their own which, for the purposes of humor, were even more cheeky.

After the interview I received a phone call from this person, hurt, they said, but also apparently angered by the description. This person laid out in detail all the recent work they had done (which I guess I knew about -- they had made a short film?? -- but I wasn't sure) and took particular umbrage that I had said that they had once done work as a clown.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Last night we attended the second annual Talespinner Children's Theatre benefit at Mahall's in Lakewood. Theme for the evening was "Glam Rock" which for some reason the kids today confuse with Hair Metal ... my wife almost cried when we had to explain to one of our party exactly who David Bowie is.

Regardless, it was a tremendous evening. My favorite moment of the night was before we'd even left my parents' house, watching the girl spraying my wife with glitter in the driveway. Precious moments. I knew I wasn't going to swing any kind of Lou Reed look, I can't fit into those pants right now. But a headpiece in the education department rehearsal space gave me an idea, and so I cobbled together an ensemble inspired by Ming the Merciless. I am glad to say there were several on hand who didn't even recognize me at first glance.

Followers of this blog may notice a certain slacking off since Styles closed last March. Henry VIII inspired numerous entries about production, and there were the occasional events which warranted mention in a Cleveland-writing blog. But there's not much research going on, not much to share Just my day-job, and my home-life. This will all change very shortly.

Next year will be busy indeed. I have three productions in 2013, one of which was announced at the benefit last night and I am now free to discuss all of them.


Every year, Great Lakes Theater offers a free play which tours 21 locations in Cuyahoga, Summit and Lorain Counties that is tied to themes represented in one of its mainstage productions. This March they will present Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Several years ago I saw a production and a certain exchange jumped out at me:
Don Pedro: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
Beatrice: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for a single one.
And their history as lovers, or one potential history, was revealed to me. I was elated when Daniel gave me the green light ... on one condition.

He asked, "Can you write it in verse?"

Uh. Sure! And that's what I have done. One hour tragic romance told in verse, including humor both high and low, a sword fight, and dancing! For those who can't get enough of me, I will be playing four different roles in this one. Sigh.


Yes. At long last, the so-called "Cleveland Centennial" which inspired this blog will come to a stage near you. You have three chances, March 7, 8 & 9 to experience this fictional panorama of Cleveland during its heyday at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Ten years ago, CPT started its popular Big Box series, giving local artists the opportunity to showcase new works. That year -- 2003 -- I had the unique chance to share my first solo production, I Hate This (a play without the baby). I can't express how excited an apprehensive I am about having the chance to get a reaction to this new piece from a Cleveland audience.


For the 2013 Holiday Season, Talespinner Children's Theatre will present this world premiere adaptation, based upon characters created by Winsor McCay for his groundbreaking comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. For Pandemonium I developed a five-minute treatment. It was a delightful experience, and made me feel confident that I could expand it into an hour-long piece for kids.

We decided not to use the name of the main character in the title, because everyone would think it was about a fish.

Last night at the benefit I won for Best Costume: Male. It's going to be quite a year.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Have the Right to Remain Silent! (1992)


This is what happened.

10:30 PM on Friday October 23, 1992. The Guerrillas were all prepared, we were all in the “auditorium” -- except Jelly Jam, who was off by himself somewhere in the house.

The Wheel was up and ready, with a laminated picture of each of our faces on it and one of the Guerrilla Gorilla. The Guerrilla Gorilla himself was seated in a chair on-stage, wearing a helmet and a GTC T-shirt.

A prize from Big Fun was hung behind Door #2, a free-standing door with a big, rainbow-colored, happy number two painted on it. All the props were laid out with care on a long, narrow table, made out of one by eight and some cinder blocks.

We had fifty folding chairs, on loan for the weekend from Our Lady of Mercy, in four rows -- a big block of seats in the center, and two smaller sections to the right and left, which were angled slightly to better face the stage. The stage was a runway about five feet deep and thirty feet long -- one side of the room. The bathroom was clean. The coffee was brewing. There was a platter of fruit, cheese and crackers sitting on a stool in the center of the playing space, a few feet from the first row. That was for our audience. 

Geddy was our Technical Support and Sound Guy. He was in the booth, an actual little sound booth that had been built and then left behind by a previous tenant, situated at the far end of the stage, and he started the pre-show tape. We opened the door.

And a couple of friends were waiting to come in.

Upon entering, people were directed to the ticket booth, where they would be asked if they had prepared for The Theme of the Weekend. Those who were got in for five dollars, those who hadn’t, for seven.

Theme for the First Weekend was “Theatre.” Most of us simply wore T-shirts advertising other theaters (I was wearing my Karamu House shirt) and those few audience members who really understood what the whole “theme” concept was about either did the same or some of them brought scripts or ticket stubs, programs from other theaters, which were fine. Our family members and close friends sported the new Guerrilla Shirts we had extorted them to buy.

Some tried to use the word “theatre” as a password, they were not given the discount. I was appalled at all of the people who made a fuss about having to pay two extra, stinking dollars at the door. Our explanation that seven dollars was the admission, and preparing for the Theme was a discount did little to mollify their tiny, withered souls.

Wee-Bear’s husband was one of them. He was dismayed he had to pay at all. On the way past the box office he noticed a sign we had made and stuck to a wall in an obscure place, a sign we hoped we might need to put out on the door sometime soon.

It read “SOLD OUT. Please come back next week!”

“Heh,” he said, spying the sign and pointing it out to Beemer, “wishful thinking, eh?”

Around 11:15 PM we had roughly thirty people in the house, mostly friends and family. When we decided we couldn’t hold the house any longer, the Guerrillas moved through the space, turning the four bare bulbs in the ceiling off one by one. The stage lights (four flood lights, directed at the stage area, their bases screwed to the tin ceiling) were dimmed for effect.

Geddy hit the Theme Music, and we all burst onto the stage from left and right.

“Good evening!” I said, “and welcome to You Have the Right to Remain Silent! Cleveland’s own live action game show! Fraught with radical political thinking, dangerous social expression, and FABULOUS PRIZES!”

Cheers and applause.

“Thank you all for hanging on there, we wanted to wait until we had an audience. NOW --”


“-- I’d like to explain the rules of the game. If you will open up your program, in the center, you will find something called a Hit List --”

I was talking very, very fast.

“What we’ll be doing for you this evening are a bunch of plays, ranging from five seconds to two minutes, that we call HITS. We’ll be doing them in a Hit and Run format, you’ll know a piece has begun because we will yell the title of the Hit, and then the word, HIT, we’ll perform the HIT, then yell the word RUN and we’ll go onto the next one.”

Oh boy, did this need to be rehearsed.

“We’ll choose the order, we, all of us, uh, of the Hits, by playing games. We’ll be playing games with you, the audience, and we’ll be picking certain members of you to decide what we will be seeing next. All right?”

No response. 

“Now we only have 27 Hits, you’ll see that there are 24 titles listed there, and that’s because three of them are what we call ‘Misses’.”

“Twenty-one,” Beemer mumbled.

“Twenty-seven Hits?” Torque asked.

“Did I say twenty-seven?” I asked. “No, we have twenty-one Hits, there are twenty-three names in the program, three of them are Misses --”

Okay, by now the audience was completely confused, and the Guerrillas were laughing at me.

“-- which are titles without any plays attached to them. If you stand up and pick a MISS, Geddy will play the theme song, and we’ll bring you up here to spin --”

Jelly Jam spun the Wheel. Click, click, click, click, click!

“-- our own Wheel of Misfortune.”

Big laugh.

“Which this weekend is sponsored by Heart of the South Side,” and I pointed out the large, round ad for that establishment that was taped to the center of the Wheel.

“Now. If it lands on, say, Torque, you get to do a piece with him. We’ll give you a script and you’ll get to perform with him, for everyone. If it lands on the Gorilla, you get the shirt off the Gorilla’s back --” gesturing at the Guerrilla Gorilla “-- OR what’s behind DOOR #2!” And Jelly Jam pulled a Vanna next to The Door.

Very big laugh. And thank God for it.

“The prize behind Door #2 is brought to you by Big Fun on Coventry. But you will have to sacrifice the T-shirt to find out what it is. You don’t get to find out what is behind Door #2 without trading the shirt for it.”

Wow, that took a long time.

“Have I left anything out?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Torque said, wild-eyed.

“There will be three rounds, the first will be The Quotation Round, you all filled out cards when you came in, sharing your thoughts and your name, we’ll bring two Guerrillas up here, they’ll read the quotes and whichever gets the loudest audience response gets to pick the first Hit. Easy enough?”

No response.

“Let’s begin!”

The Guerrillas ran to me, standing center. I pulled two quotes blindly out of my Fanny Pack, handed one to Torque and one to Beemer.

“Torque!” I said, asking Torque to read the quote I given him.

Quotations. There would be over 700 quotes read during the first season, and maybe 2000 read during the second season.

Torque read the very first quote ever read in a Guerrilla show.

“Fuck off!” he said.

And off we went.

It was all very rough, but everyone, including, thank goodness, the audience, was up for it.

These were some of the other quotations that night:
  • “They say no man is an island, who are they, anyway?” 
  • “The half-life of a cheeseburger in red pumps.”
  • “I wuv you.”
  • “Fuck me like fried-potatoes on the most beautiful, hungry morning of my goddamn life.”
  • “While the juices of society flow gently into mediocrity.” 
  • “Happiness.” 
  • “It started out as a wart on my ass.” 
  • “Left turn on red.” 
  • “Bugs!”
But my, we flew through the Hits. The first two happened to carry strong feminist messages from Torque, which inspired some self-conscious giggling.

Then we got to Retro’s first piece, Short Term Memory, in which Torque and Retro beat the hell out of themselves trying to remember the name of Joyce DeWitt. Now that got applause. 

We sent up Hamlet. We made fun of Ross Perot, and the Cleveland Play House. We slammed Deadbeat Dads and Catholicism. Retro shared creepy stories from work and Mammy revealed how sexist the names of cocktails are. And of course, "Disaster Movie Theater".

By the end of the show ... well, the most important thing that night was, we reached the end of the show.

“Thanks for coming!” I called, over the applause and music, “We will continue to do this show every Friday and Saturday night at 11 PM from now until the end of time! So tell your friends, and remember --”

“You Have the Right to Remain Silent!” yelled all the Guerrillas, and we all did the Dating Game Kiss -- MMMMMWHAH!

We danced to the music and let that carry us into the audience where we shook hands, hugged our friends, and talked to as many people as we could.

As the last few people filed out, and we were cleaning up, Torque came up to me and we gave each other a big hug.

“We did it,” he said, overwhelmed. “I can’t believe we’ve actually done it.”

“Yeah, we did,” I said, laughing. “I gotta tell you, I was expecting the police or the Fire Marshall to show up any minute and shut us down. I guess they don’t care.”

“Yeah. Hope that lasts,” he said. “What I can’t figure out is ... why doesn’t everybody do this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this was easy,” he said. “Everybody talks about doing a show, everyone talks and talks about starting their own company, their own theater, and we just did it. It doesn’t make sense.”

“This wasn’t easy,” I said, finally. “We spent all summer doing this.

“All of this,” I said, and waved my hand at our space, “we put a lot of long hours into this place. The three of us have been having meetings, being serious about it, putting the time in. Nothing easy about it.”

He said, “Hmn."

Wee-Bear had tallied the box office receipts.

“Hey, everybody!” she announced to all the Guerrillas after the front door was closed and locked, “Guerrilla Theater Company made over $150 tonight!”

A hundred and fifty dollars, in admission and donations! In one night! That was truly stunning. There were cheers all around.

She went on to proclaim happily, “I think the first round at Edison’s is on Guerrilla Theater Company tonight!”

“Yee-ah!” Retro howled.

“I don’t think we should spend our profit on beer,” Torque said.

“Oh come on,” she said. “It’s Opening Night! I mean ... I mean -- come on!”

“I’ve got the first round,” I said. “We’ll let the company hang onto that money until we decide what to do with it.”

And we went to Edison’s, and I got the first round. I may have gotten the sixth as well, but by then I had stopped counting.

On Monday I handed in my two-weeks notice at Karamu. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Worked very hard to pry open a flashlight battery. Scooped out some of what was inside, a translucent white paste. spread it on a Ritz and ate it, and almost immediately wished I hadn't.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Harvey Pekar Memorial Desk

The boy completed his fall soccer season 5-2-1, and after the final game at Denison Field, I whisked him to the CH-UH Main Public Library just in time to catch the unveiling of the Harvey Pekar Memorial Desk Sculpture.  All of Cleveland Heights, it seemed, was on hand to celebrate the man, and this fitting tribute; an interactive art installation on the second floor of this library, which was one of Harvey's favorite places to be. 

 Joyce explains the piece.

It has been about a year since Harvey's wife, Joyce Brabner, originally announced her intentions for the sculpture. Shortly after his death, she has wistfully remarked that she wanted his grave at Lakeview Cemetery to be marked with something you could color or write on, with chalk. When Lakeview politely informed her that they have a policy of not letting anyone mark the monuments, she contacted the library. Between a successful Kickstarter campaign and positive support from, well, everybody, the piece became a reality.

Local artist Justin Coulter created the statue, which sits atop the desk. Anyone is welcome to peruse the drawers, and use the items inside, which include pens, pencils and paper, as well as copies of some of Harvey's favorite books.

You may touch the artwork.

The back of the statue features a chalk board divided into comic book panels for anyone to write or draw upon. I was about to do a little cartoon of Harvey but the boy for some reason talked me out of it. That's all right, it is there to stay and I will compose something on some ordinary day. Maybe take up the whole thing, tell a whole story!