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)