Sunday, July 20, 2014

Boy Camp 2014

Boy Camp, a mescla of high and low. The girls are camping in the Pennsylvania wilderness, getting their feminist on, while we sleep late and watch a lot of television. We look like we smell of beer, but there is no beer.

Last night, culture. It was opening night for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival production of Romeo & Juliet, set this night in the Coventry Peace Park. Highlight of the evening were the rising of a half-dozen police vehicles which sped east along Euclid Heights Blvd. just as the deadly fight began Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo.

“Mercutio, one of the ballsiest males in Shakespeare, is played for some elusive purpose, by a woman.”
- Jim Damico, The Free Times (1994)
 As intense as that was, it was hard to keep a straight face when, just as the Prince decreed, “Bear hence this body,” an ambulance flew down the street behind him.

(Side note: Calimoxo is an excellent drink to put into a travel coffee mug.)

After we went home and watched Red vs. Blue and MST3K: Gamera.

Saturday morning I made chicken & waffles, and then to School of Rock, where the boy kept time rather successfully, in spite of an injury to his right hand at a ball game last Tuesday. I wrote.

We took a visit to the garden center, and then he introduced me to Critical Hit Games across the street. Some day I am just going to drop him off there and let the geeks teach him how to play Dungeons & Dragons while the wife and I have drinks at Melt.

Just kidding. We don't like to go to Melt.

Spreading hardwood mulch was thwarted by a delightful summer downpour, but that’s cool, that’s why we have Minecraft videos.

"This is crap."
 Saturday evening things got a little crazy, as we made our annual pilgrimage to go bowlin’ in Solon. The boy was joined by two of his high octane companions, fortunately I had Dr. D. as company and got to engage in the first big-people conversation in 24 hours.

The good doctor inquired about my writing, after I had claimed to have drafted one page that morning. He asked, “When that happens, do you think, Euerka! I have written a page! Or is it more like, Ugh. Only one page.” What a great question!

In that morning’s case the latter, but this morning, as the boy played video games with a friend who had slept over, I wrote another page and thought, Eureka!

Photo: Brent Durken
Our final journey before the women returned was to attend Emily & Benjamin's wedding in St. Theodosius in Tremont. Such an iconic building, but I had never been inside. It's beautiful! The boy was very patient, though I regretted my ignorance that Orthodox services are spent largely standing. If I had known this, I would have chosen an aisle seat so the boy could see the proceedings, but he was very mature and patient.

As most in attendance were not Orthodox, the priest was explaining the service as we went. The boy, who remained attentive, whispered to me, "It's like he's giving us a tour of his process."  That's my son.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Shakespeare Garden

Last year, as part of the Cleveland One World Festival, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presented an abridged version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the British Garden, which is one of the 35 (and growing) plots which make up the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

I missed the production, but I did see the photos, and was shocked, utterly shocked, the discover that there exists in Cleveland a bust of Shakespeare. How did I not know this???

You may well ask how I never knew there was even a British Garden, not to mention a Polish, Hebrew or Slovenian Garden. I had never seen these before. That explanation is simple, and also one I am not too proud of.

Many of us, especially those from the West Side, are familiar with the cultural gardens only in so much as we use MLK Jr. Blvd. as safe passage to get from I-90 to the orchestra or art museum and back. We see the gardens from our car windows, and they do look very nice.

When I first trained for a marathon in 2006, I chose to run down MLK to the lake, and this was pretty much the first time I had ever taken in the gardens on foot. One weekend morning eight years ago I chose the Italian garden as my turnaround, but instead of doubling back, took a little walk up the steps and was astonished at what I saw. This garden didn't exist merely in this valley, but extended up the hill and featured statues and fountains and beautiful foliage. My exploration, for the time being, stopped there, unfortunately.

In the past year or so, however, construction on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights and on Chester in Cleveland has been ridiculous, and like others I have been choosing to take Superior downtown (more on that soon.) Taking Superior to MLK, rather than say through University Circle, is a much faster way to get to Ohio City and Gordon Square, and so I discovered old East Boulevard, and all those gardens which do not include a face on MLK Blvd.

Photo dated 1926
Note original bust by Joseph Motto and Stephen Rebeck
The Shakespeare Garden (now the British Garden) was in fact the first of Cleveland's cultural gardens. Dedicated on April 14, 1916 as part of a global celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Bard's demise, there is in fact a gate announcing the British Garden on MLK Blvd., which leads up the hill to East Blvd. and then across the street.
From the Cleveland Cultural Gardens website:
At the entrance are gateposts of English design and the garden boundaries are defined with hedges.
The central flagstone walk is lined with multi-hued border plantings, and, together with other her-bordered paths, converging on a bust of Shakespeare flanked by trees.
A mulberry tree grows here from cutting sent by the late Sir Sidney Lee, famed Shakespearean critic, from the mulberry, Shakespeare himself planted at New Place, in Stratford.
The garden is adorned with oaks planted by the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, and by Phyllis Neilson Terry, niece of Ellen Terry; a circular bed of roses (Shakespeare's favorite flower) sent by the Mayor of Verona, from the traditional tomb of Juliet; Birnam Wood sycamore maples transplanted from Scotland, and several other representative English forest trees.
Today, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are flourishing. Several of the the older gardens (Italian, 1930 or Greek, 1940, to name two my wife and I strolled through last weekend) feature new, recently installed statuary and well-tended gardens and lawns. The upper level of the Italian Garden, in particular, presents a stunning fountain, the kind which should on a gorgeous day in any other city be surrounded by people reading, talking, eating, just enjoying themselves.

Recent additions, like the Croatian Garden (2011) proudly share this international stage, with a beautiful new waterfall feature and emotionally affecting statue of an "Immigrant Mother" by Joseph Turkaly.

Unfortunately, the British Garden feels entirely abandoned and is in sorry shape. The plantings are all overgrown, flagstones are missing from the weed-encumbered walk, and the pillars marking the entrance are either in partial collapse, or dangerously close to being so.

In less than two years, the Cleveland Cultural Garden will be celebrating its centennial, and the world will note the 400th anniversary of the death of the man whose signature marks the greatest plays in the English language. Hopefully by then his garden will be ready for the party.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (book)

WHAT IF ... The Original Marvel Bullpen Had Been A Socialist Collective ..?

The origins of the most indelible characters in DC Comics were created by artists and writers whose ideas were kept by the corporation, the enrich those who owned the company. These artists were paid for the work - the artwork, the pages - they produced. But the ideas remained the possession of the corporation, in perpetuity.

As long as you were an employee, you were paid a wage. Once you left, your characters - which in other industries we may compare to inventions, patented or copyrighted - remained behind. No residuals, no royalties, even the artwork itself was owned by the corporation for which it had been created. (See: Superman.)

So it was also with Marvel Comics. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Steve Gerber - they did not own The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Howard the Duck.

Only Stan Lee benefited from his initial contributions to the early works of Marvel, because he never left. As the years went by, his self-made legend grew and he was able to capitalize on this and make a fortune. I will not debate whether he was anything more than an editor (to his dying day Kirby insisted Lee never wrote a word) but he certainly made himself the Ronald McDonald of Marvel Comics.

By the 1980s, management at DC and Marvel had learned that by providing incentives (let us not call them royalties) for popular work, they could encourage artists to create comics that would have the broadest appeal. In the case of Marvel, this also translated into cross-title storylines which increased their bottom line exponentially.

That's Capitalism.

For a brief period of time, the lasting effects of the so-called Silver Age of 1970s comics (for which people of my generation were so emotionally connected to) coincided with the glut of multiples titles for one character or team and "event" comics, so that everyone on board at that time lived in security and in a couple of cases, great wealth.

That lasted one or two years. And by that time (some would argue long before) the comics were awful to read and look at, and the emperor was revealed to have no clothes.

Hey, wait a minute! These are comics!
We've been reading comics!

Imagine an alternate Marvel Universe, where the original Marvel Bullpen (if there ever was such a thing) was a profit-sharing collective, where success for one was success for all. Where funding went to training the best artists and writers and editors. Where there was a strong, paid internship program, vacations and great health care for emphysemic illustrators?

Well. We know Steve Ditko would have no part of it. And no doubt a model like that would never produce an artist-entrepreneur like Todd McFarlane, or any of the Marvel-inspired blockbusters of the last ten years. They'd just continue producing low-grade pulp superhero comics strictly for the people who like to read them.

But unlike the What If titles of the late 1970s and early 80s - which always ended in disaster, as if to prove the correctness of the canonical storyline - perhaps this alternate universe would have had a happier ending, at least for the artists instead of the publishers.

'Nuff said.

Source: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

Monday, July 7, 2014

View from the Old Globe Theatre

Standing at the site of the Midway, observing the Coast Guard station parking lot where the Old Globe Theatre once stood, adjacent to a still, man-made inlet on North Coast Harbor, it is not difficult to imagine why many recalled these Shakespeare performances carrying with them the stench of dead fish.

The Old Globe was at the entrance to The Midway, (which Press columnist Winsor French described, “as honky-tonk as Coney island”) across a watery inlet from several kiddie rides, and across the street from numerous attractions.

From the front door of the Old Globe, you might see:
  • Pantheon De La Guerre, featuring relics from European wars both recent and not.
  • The World a Million Year’s Ago, a collection of animated dinosaurs.
  • Cliff Wilson's Snake Show, including Elmer, the twenty-eight foot, Borneo reticulated python.
  • Mammy’s Cabin, providing “real Southern cooking” - and real Southern charm, as this and other establishments were called out by the Call & Post for refusing to serve blacks.
  • Midget Circus, which warrants no further description.
  • 13 Spook Street, a haunted castle.
  • Strange As It Seems, like a freak show, but you, know, educational.
You also might see ... YOURSELF, on an electronic "television" screen! What will they think up next?

Meet Me On Lake Erie, Dearie! by John Vacha (Kent State University Press)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Finding the Old Globe Theatre

Cleveland Press, 1936

Regardless of the time I have spent read or researching about the Old Globe Theatre at the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition, I have never been able to successfully picture where it stood in space, nor what surrounded it. So I contacted historian John Vacha and he agreed to meet me for an informal walking tour.

John arrived more prepared for this journey than I was (though I did bring my copy of Meet Me On Lake Erie, Dearie for him to sign) as he provided a map he found in the Cleveland Press which was much easier to read and follow than others I have seen. We parked on Lakeshore and walked west towards East Ninth.

It has been a beautiful day for walking.

The Olde Globe Theatre

The Main Entrance, the most photogenic entrance, featuring seven grand pylons, was actually a couple blocks south, on the other side of the Public Hall, but that was not our destination. The Expo was divided by East Ninth, with the lion's share of exhibits north of the railroad tracks.

Where the Rock Halls stands was the Firestone exhibit, where now stands the Great Lakes Science Center was the Hall of Progress and Automotive Building. The football stadium stand where once stood, uh, the old football stadium. That was also not my site of interest.

Just north of North Marginal Drive, formerly called "Shore Drive" they had built a tunnel beneath East Ninth for folks to pass unimpeded from the western exhibits to the Midway to the east, and also an entrance north of that right off East Ninth. It is that entrance which would have been the easiest access to the Old Globe Theatre.

With the exception of the creation of North Coast Harbor (see above) the land footprint is nearly the same as that of 78 years ago. Where now rests the World War II submarine, the USS Cod, there had been a World War One sub during the exposition. The Coast Guard had a station right there in 1936 - only several hundred yards to the north, where the Army Corps of Engineers now stands.

By mine and John's best estimate, the Old Globe Theatre, which presented forty-minute abridgements of several of Shakespeare's greatest plays (and also Henry VIII), the very play house where Sam Wanamaker, at the tender age of eighteen, first worked as a professional actor, performing the greatest roles of the canon (Second Citizen, Servant, Guard, Philostrate), inspiring him to one day recreate Shakespeare's Globe on old Bankside, was in fact located where now sits the Coast Guard station parking lot.

Just there, behind the young woman sitting at the water's edge (see her?) reading a book.

"What's she reading?" I asked.

I answered my own question at the same time John did: "Shakespeare."

To be continued.