Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018

Cleveland Centennial Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018

  1. The Death of Eliot Ness
  2. Single White Fringe Geek (blog)
  3. Chef Boyardee
  4. The Famous History of Troilus & Cressida
  5. Pretty In Pink (film)
  6. The Seagull (2001)
  7. Troilus & Cressida (dance choreography)
  8. Troilus & Cressida (rehearsal)
  9. The Way I Danced With You (glossary)
  10. Troilus & Cressida (costume design)

"Troilus & Cressida"
Cleveland Shakespeare Festival
Alex Belisle Photography
People find websites and blogs for a variety of reasons, and I do not believe most clicks onto my site are to read what I have to say about anything, This list is evidence of that.

For example, Death of Eliot Ness and Chef Boyardee are actually my two most popular posts of all time. They will always be at the top of this list, and I have no idea why. They are brief posts, with some basic data about each of their subjects. There are far more interesting sites for either figure elsewhere. But they must be popular search figures, and so inevitably people find them on this blog.

Each post was written in the early 2010s, when I was using this blog primarily to conduct research on Cleveland history. Nothing happened during the past year which would drive anyone to these posts any more than any during other year. And yet, people (or more, likely Russian bots, no joke) continue to access them.

The only unique post from this year to join these chestnuts in popularity was my take on theater criticism (Single White Fringe Geek) and its importance, a post which was widely shared, most notably by American Theater magazine.

I am amused that four of the top picks are related to a production of the obscure Shakespeare tragedy Troilus and Cressida, which I directed for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival this summer. Interest in each of these specific posts occurred during the run-up to the performance. I also wrote posts on how the production was received, and on fight choreography, but the most visited post was written just as rehearsals were beginning.

"The Way I Danced With You"
Blank Canvas Theatre
Again, I believe clicks have been generated more by those who are searching for general information about the text, and not by this specific production or anything I have to say about it.

There’s also the idea that members of the company were sharing the posts to promote the show before it had opened, and that interest fell off once the show was running and after it had closed.

I believe The Seagull post was also popular because there were so many in the 2001 NY Fringe company of Angst:84 and this post is really about them attending The Seagull, and not the Public Theatre production itself, and that their interest drove their friends to the site.

Finally, two posts related to the performances of The Way I Danced With You at Blank Canvas made the list; a glossary of terms and my evaluation of Pretty In Pink, a film I had never seen until late 2017. These are posts I am certain to refresh and re-post as we go into production for the premiere at Ensemble Theatre in March 2019.

Just posting this post of posts may drive up interest in each of these posts in the next day or so. So may I offer my personal top ten list of posts for 2018, and encourage you to check out those instead:

Cleveland Centennial Alternate Ten Blog Posts of 2018

  1. Jane Austen’s Epitaph
  2. Here Are The High School Plays!
  3. Shakespeare (Not) On Stage
  4. Professor Street Theater
  5. The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels In America (book)
  6. Sophisti-pop
  7. Plays of Regret
  8. The Venice Diaries (1991)
  9. Lincoln In the Bardo (book)
  10. Play a Day: How To Be a Respectable Junkie (BONUS)

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Season (book)

Twenty years ago my friend Roger, a Chicago theater director, recommended to me William Goldman’s book The Season. He told me he reads it every year.

Shortly thereafter, the wife found a fine first edition at a local bookstore, and I promptly read it. I understood what Roger was getting at, what an instructive and engaging read it is, and fully intended to follow his lead and re-read it the following year.

Last month the author, William Goldman, best-known as the screenwriter for films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and The Princess Bride, passed away at the age of 87. His book, The Season, stared at me, untouched, from the bookshelf in my office.

So I finally re-read The Season, a thorough and utterly demoralizing report on the state of the American professional theater, specifically Broadway, exactly fifty years ago.

Goldman received a grant which he employed to cover the entire 1967-68 Broadway season, attending every show, and interviewing a wide variety of players; actors, designers, technicians, stage hands, directors, producers, ticket agents, ticket “brokers”, audience members, and critics, and everyone in between.

One of the bitter joys of reading this book is how Goldman aggressively takes the piss out of everyone, from Clive Barnes to Neil Simon to Mike Nichols. It’s also tiresome, because we love Clive Barnes and Neil Simon and Mike Nichols, and while the author makes us complicit in his insult humor by making us his audience, his sense of superiority over absolutely everyone in “the business” means it’s hard to take any of it seriously, and he is deadly serious.

He’s also really funny. So you stick with it. Even through all the data, and there is an eye-crossing amount of data. After a joyride through perplexing London transfers, horribly ill-thought musical concepts, and cringe-worthily dated American plays on the Generation Gap (plays as memorable as films like Skiddoo and I Love You, Alice B, Toklas) Goldman draws his final conclusion on the fate of Broadway and American theater in general in an overlong final chapter, “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” (Aaron Sorkin fans, take note) stuffed with the results of a survey he himself commissioned; percentages and lists and numbers, numbers, numbers, asking “What do audience members want?”

Freud once asked a similar question about women, with a comparable conclusion. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

His prognosis for Broadway was dire, and while this may have been a cautionary tale when I first read the book two decades ago, during the time since there has been something of a correction. And the truth is much of what he said needed to change has born itself out, namely through diversification.

During the 1960s the makers of film, and those who produce and distribute them, discovered that you didn’t have to make all films appropriate for everyone, and Goldman concludes, naturally, that the same should apply to the creators of theater. Remember, we’re talking big-budget, professional theater. Plays, and specially musicals, even on Broadway, can be directed to segmented audiences and you can still make a pile.

He also predicted the increasing irrelevance of Broadway itself, and how the best playwrights were Off-Broadway or even (egad) off-off-Broadway. Recently I heard the critics from Three On The Aisle note how some of the best voices aren’t even in New York, which is crazy, I know.

Yet we have seen Broadway rebound, and while it is true that there are far, far fewer straight plays being produced for Broadway as compared to fifty years ago, that also means there are also far, far fewer shitty plays being produced for Broadway as compared to fifty years ago -- every single one of those fifty year-old plays, it should be noted, was written by a white man.

Speaking of which, race and gender are entirely not addressed in this book, and it is good to remember the progress which has been made, even in just the past few years. Every play referenced in The Season, and there are so many of them (e.g., Staircase, Dr. Cook's Garden, The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake) was written, directed and produced, and (with a handful of exceptions) performed by Caucasians, and women are merely in the performance category. But as much as Goldman likes to be cheeky about closeted homosexuals (it isn’t pretty) and Jews (for which he claims a pass) he has nothing to say about this disparity. It didn’t occur to him to mention it.

When I first read The Season, it was at a time I thought of myself as a director. Now, it is a playwright. And as such, here are my three major takeaways in 2018, or Things I Learned from William Goldman about Playwriting:
  1. The third act of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf sucks.
  2. No one has ever actually enjoyed watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
  3. Only stupid assholes who can’t write write the book for musicals.
Wisdom for the ages! I look forward to reading The Season again in 2038.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Top Ten Moments of 2018

Harlequinade 2018, Talespinner Children's Theatre (Photo By Steve Wagner)

This year has not been easy, for anyone, and it concludes with as much or more difficulty as it began. Moments accumulate, though, good moments, for me and for my family, and taking the time to acknowledge them is an attempt to keep them bright just a little longer.

2018 was my fiftieth year, which began with an impromptu visit to Orlando (see here), and included a beautiful weekend of performances of my play The Way I Danced With You at Blank Canvas Theatre, and catching the national tour of Hamilton at the State Theatre.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
(Chattanooga Theatre Centre)
My son played drums in several awesome sets with the School of Rock, and I ran the Cleveland Half Marathon with Fornadel. Then there was the election, the beginning of a slow crawl out of a dark pit. There was a lot to experience, and to celebrate.

Here are ten moments, in chronological order, which stand out to me at this time.

1. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” at Chattanooga Theatre Centre

Since its premiere six years ago, and subsequent publication, my adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles has become my most produced play. I am not yet widely produced, but a couple times a year a high school or community theater chooses this work, and I am grateful for that.

The year began with a rather stylish, intimate production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and by all accounts it was a splendid evening.

The boy will bash.
To be entirely honest, I have a complicated relationship with this text. It’s Agatha Christie’s story, not mine. I have only adapted it for the stage. But I am glad that folks produce it. So I welcomed the way this company, as overheard on promotional interviews, appreciated the adaptation itself, and what I was able to bring to the novel.

2. “Noises Off” at Heights High

My daughter does enough for me to be proud of, apart from the sheer magic of her existence. She paints, she plays violin, she excels in the classroom. I have never asked her to consider the stage.

But, as her father did before her, she performed in her first full-length play as a freshman in high school. Following an enjoyable turn during the winter one-acts, she auditioned for and had a part in the spring play, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off.

Mom, a friend, and me.
(Cleveland Museum of Art)
3. Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC

Yeah, I like this musical. And having the opportunity to share it with my wife and children for the first time in an outstanding television production was really only part of it. We all gathered around the TV (WHO DOES THAT) at my mother’s house, where we got to view and then chat during the commercials.

At this stage in life I think of myself as the lucky one, one of the three brothers, the one who lives in the same city at mom. I get to see her a lot. Maybe not as much as I should, But we do visit a lot, go places, see things. She invited me to join her to see the Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the art museum, that was another high-point of the year.

Which is to say, I have loved spending so much time with my mother, getting to know her so much better. My father has been gone for close to three years. And while I am a little ashamed to admit it, I have had more conversation with in the past 34 months than I did in the previous forty-eight years. But that’s a good thing to know.

4. "Troilus & Cressida" for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

Young actors on my deck.
(Troilus & Cressida cast party)
So I directed a little-performed Shakespearean problem play for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. That was nothing new. What was unique was working with a company of performers with whom I was not experienced, at that they were all so young.

And so I was inspired, for perhaps the first time in twenty years, to hold an opening night cast party. I mean, that’s not a big deal, in the larger sense, but it is for me. “Come over to my house.” It used to be a common refrain. With this crew, I even wondered if they would want to come. I worried I wasn’t cool enough. Isn’t that silly?

It was a great show, followed by a lovely evening. On the deck. Around the fire bowl. We were up rather late. It was a very nice time, and it is nice to have those.

5. Visiting Monticello

The wife and I love road trips, but with our schedules, and the increasingly crowded schedules of our children, most summers we speed to our location of choice (North Carolina, Maine) to begin maximum relaxation as soon as possible. I wasn’t having it this year, and suggested a stop on our way back from Topsail Beach.

Visiting Charlottesville and Monticello in 2018 was an eye-opening experience. You can read an account of our journey here. In summary, for better or worse, the whitewash is being stripped from our complicated American story, and the kids are ready to learn from it.

6. Music From the Big Love

After my wife and I had been dating for three years (not yet married) I did that thing that Gen Xers used to do for the people we were hot for -- I made a mixtape. Not just any mixtape, however. It was a chronological account of our time together to date, from 1994 to 1997.

I made her another in 2000. That was also novel. The one I created in 2003 was a bit challenging however, as something I had established as a music account of road trips, concerts and other good times needed to include not only stillbirth and 9/11 but also the birth of our first living child.

It’s a pretty amazing tape.

Since then, I have moved from cassettes to CDs to playlists, always a forty-five to fifty minute collection of songs chronicling our time together. This summer I talked it over with my thirteen year-old before presenting it to Toni. I asked him to remember what had happened the past three years.

David Byrne ft. Cleveland
(Jacobs Pavilion)
“The worst years of my life,” he said. And he was correct. The worst years of our lives. And I made a playlist out of it. We listened to it on the first leg of our drive to Maine this summer, and it went over very well. Because this is our life, and we love each other and we love music.

(Unavailable on Spotify: Hallelujah performed by Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and COH-CAINE from "Oh, Hello on Broadway.")

7. David Byrne at Jacobs Pavilion

I’m not a live music person the way others are, but I do live a good show. My brother tipped me off that everyone at work was talking about how amazing the David Byrne tour was, and that I should catch it if possible. Even better, the tickets were a surprise from the wife!

I cannot remember the last time I was at Nautica (Jacobs Pavilion) it may have been BNL on July 4, 1995. For reals.

Me and Chennelle ... and Khaki.
(Parnell's Irish Pub)
You know, I had been a server at Fridays in the Flats in 1991, as they were putting the finishing touches on the (now) KeyBank Building. I had forgotten that the backdrop for Nautica is full Cleveland. The skyline. “Our two buildings,” as Mike Polk would say. It’s beautiful, and with the barges passing back and forth, like quiet, sliding office blocks, it’s really quite something.

Byrne and his Millennial-aged ensemble, each of whom carried their instruments, even the percussionists, constantly moving about the stage, kinetic and frenetic. The closing number was Hell You Talmbout by Janelle Monáe, which was momentous and astounding, and seemed to leave most of the largely white Gen X audience speechless, in more ways than one. But we said their names.

8. My Fiftieth Birthday Party

Toni and Chennelle threw me a joyful celebration at Parnell’s one August evening, which I have to admit was a bit of a blur. I am not at ease at parties, especially being the center of attention at one, but I wanted this. When I turned forty I was not in a good place and asked for something simple and small. We had a lovely picnic.

Oh, she said it.
This time we had a big people party which was lively and stylish and had a surprising number of young people, which is always preferable. The theme was "Dave's Decades," people were encouraged to dress in fashion from one of the past five decades. I dressed like me.

9. That Time My Wife Said "Fuck Mitch McConnell" Live on C-SPAN

10. "A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest

The year concludes, as it traditionally does, with Great Lakes Theater “A Christmas Carol” Writing Contest, which is open to middle school aged students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

This year was a particular joy, as we celebrated not only the award-winning work of six young writers (see video) but also the thirtieth year of the program. We connect three of the original six winners from the year 1989 with the folks at WCPN to talk the impact the contest had on their lives.

We are currently relaxing with family in Southeast Ohio. Once Christmas Day has past, the wife and I will be spending time at some local coffee shop or other, writing. Oh! To have enough leisure time to do more work.

Many thanks to all whose path I have crossed this year, you made my life the richer for it. Have a lovely holiday, if you can, and best wishes for a peaceful productive new year.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmastime In Painesville (song)

"I put the tree up last night,
And all the lights are blue."
What is the allure of the sad or bittersweet holiday song? Why do we enjoy them so?

Perhaps I should ask myself why I do.

Your Christmas songs can fall into several categories; the properly religious carol, the Santa-oriented song for children, the playful wintertime love song, and the song of heartbreak, disappointment and disillusionment.

Then there’s Fairytale of New York which is all of those in one number, which is why its the greatest Christmas song of all time.

There were many Decembers in my youth when I had no romantic partner at the holidays, and that’s fine, not perfect. People can be happily unattached. But I can think of two Christmases in particular when I was in the process of grieving a relationship and it was at those moments that the cold was so much colder.

I always listen to music to alter or enhance my mood, but it is at moments of great unhappiness that song becomes much more potent, and sad music acts as a palliative remedy. But why? How does that work, poking the wound?

Look at it this way, the converse makes no sense -- listening to happy music when despondent doesn’t make any sense. It almost seems cruel. It’s unwanted.

But a song of heartbreak is sympathetic. It communicates understanding. It means you’re not crazy, not alone. There’s someone out there who knows what you’re going through -- even better, they made a great melody out of it.

In 1992 there was a holiday single on WENZ by the band Slack Jaw (also once known as Rust) called Christmastime in Painesville.

A timely, jangly number, reminiscent of Reckoning-era R.E.M. If you’re not from the Cleveland area you’ve probably never heard it, because not only is it a holiday song, but a local holiday song, name-checking cities like Painesville, Strongsville, and, uh. Yeah. Painesville and Strongsville.

Once you get past the novelty of those local references, it’s still a wistful, heart-tugging period pop song, and I never get tired of it. My favorite recording of it is from a holiday rock show at Cleveland Public Theatre though that’s probably because I was there. I was young, in love, and very, very troubled.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Pathetic Geek Stories (comic strip)

Click on to enlarge.

“Wall to wall, people hypnotized ...”

The holidays mean MUSIC CONCERTS! This week we hit the mother lode, with solo bass and violin recitals, as well as a middle school concert and tomorrow night’s Holiday Favorites with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

There are many well-intentioned thought pieces available online about the death of proper audience behavior; we have moved from the auditory torment of candy wrappers to the blinding nuisance of smartphones.

The other day there was a gentleman actually having a conversation on phone during the concert. He kept his voice down though, and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying anyway, so I chose not to engage.

Besides, whenever I am feeling uppity about the behavior of others, I check myself and remember that one time at another middle school concert when I made a complete, public ass of myself.

In order to relieve myself of decades of guilt over this stupid little episode, I wrote it out and sent it to Maria Schneider as fodder for her awesome strip Pathetic Geek Stories, which used to run in The Onion (see above.)

So, the next time you attend a live performance, please be considerate of others and be sure to power off your cellphone ... or any other devices which might cause a distraction. Cheers!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Adventures In Slumberland (script)

Photo: Steve Wagner
NEMO: Can I help put up the tree? I want to go out into the street and sing carols and see all the people!
MAMA: No, no, no.
NEMO: I am missing everyone! They are missing me!
MAMA: Nemo, no one misses you, you are no-one.
Adventures In Slumberland was my first script for Talespinner Children’s Theatre, an adaptation based on characters created by the legendary comic strip artist and animator Winsor McCay.

Perhaps you are old enough to remember the animated film of the same name, which was released in 1989. If so, you have a poor idea of what the original comic strip (Little Nemo in Slumberland) was all about, trust me, my short play had little to do with that.

The great animator Hayao Miyazaki actually had a hand in that film’s production for a very brief moment before walking away. Among other problems he had with the production as it was developing, he reportedly could not get behind a story that literally takes place in a dream, because that means it isn’t real.

And he’s not wrong. You go to sleep, think a lot of amazing things, but in the morning you are still the same person you were when you went to sleep. None of it actually happened.

This, and other issues, were foremost in my mind when creating this play. If the protagonist is a five year-old boy, how might a dream actually change him?

And as it was to be a holiday play, shouldn't it all take place on Christmas Eve? But if the action takes place over the course of only one night, we would miss out on all those hilarious waking moments which concluded every single McCay Slumberland comic strip. I needed to resolve that issue, too.

Then there are all those so-called “Easter eggs” I was aching to include; nods to other pop culture references to Little Nemo, including those found in the comic book Sandman, lyrics from Genesis, and that more contemporary animation with a character named "Nemo." (Chennelle calls them Easter eggs, someone else might call them copyright violations.)

One of my favorite parts of McCay’s strip is how he was able to accurately depict what a dream looks like, how a dream works, how people talk in dreams. Also how maddeningly repetitive or frustrating they can be. Nemo spent years trying to reach the Princess, always failing just before waking -- because that’s what happens in dreams!

But meeting the Princess is a MacGuffin, not the actual goal of the adventure. Neither is finding Santa Claus. I loved including Santa Claus, but he’s not the main event, either! I am so subversive.

My first children’s play, Adventures In Slumberland, is a forty-minute, honest-to-goodness, Joseph Campbell-inspired hero’s journey toward self-actualization and personhood.

And it’s now available in paperback and eBook. Please share and enjoy with the literary manager of your local children’s theater, college or school.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Serial (podcast)

Emmanuel Dzotsi & Sarah Koenig
Photo: Sandy Honig
Recently, Aaron Sorkin wrote an essay for New York Magazine in which he described the journey of his new stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He was tasked with a seemingly intractable puzzle; stay entirely faithful to the original without changing a thing, but make it fresh and new.

While Mockingbird is a widely-cherished piece of work (the book, the original 1990 stage play by Christopher Stergel, and the award-winning film) presenting it as-is to a 2018 audience held a host of challenges; two notable problems are the unchangeable (see: undramatic) character of protagonist Atticus Finch, and the fact that a story which is primarily about race has few characters of color. Those present do not speak very much.

In the first case, Sorkin has addressed the problem of Atticus’s seemingly flawless character by making that his flaw. Atticus Finch believes that, as Sorkin puts it, as another put it before him, “there are fine people on both sides.” His crisis of conscience comes when that belief is permanently shaken.

As to the other, to creating scenes where the Finch housekeeper Calpurnia, and the accused Tom Robinson get to speak their minds where previously they had not, that is an issue where the estate of Harper Lee felt it necessary to take this new production to court.

Unlike in the 1960 novel, this recent trial played out in Mr. Robinson’s favor.

But the trial in this new adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird still ends in tragedy, as it must. Justice is denied. And the frustration felt by Atticus Finch and the disillusionment experienced by his young daughter Scout remains the main focus of this story, the one white Americans who love it most relate to.

Sorkin here quotes his friend and colleague, director David Fincher, stating, “art isn’t supposed to answer questions, it’s supposed to ask them.” The internet tells me it was actually the playwright Anton Chekhov who said that, but who knows. The point is, Mockingbird remains a troubling work, and in an era where violence against black men in America by those in authority is still an everyday occurrence, is it enough to simply ask questions? Do we not demand answers?

Justice is also the theme of the third season of the podcast Serial. A spin-off from This American Life, the concept is simple -- instead of one, brief story, or one episode-long story, one entire modern American mystery is investigated over the course of weeks.

It would have been hard to top Serial’s first season, and it was. The 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee had much going for it to create a pop culture phenomenon; teen sex, interracial relationships, Islamophobia, drugs, an attractive anti-hero in the convicted boyfriend, Adnan Syed, and even late 90s nostalgia (pinging cell towers, anyone?)

Episode Six mural art by Martinez E-B
Photo by Moth Studio
And then there is the producer-host, Sarah Koenig, who has no qualms about crossing journalistic boundaries and becoming part of the story. She breaks the cardinal rule of impartiality, developing something of a crush on Syed, and openly expressing confusion and concern about what the truth actually is, which is fine for me because 1) she’s entirely up-front and transparent about it and 2) who the fuck is impartial anymore?

Season two was something of a let-down. The Bowe Bergdahl case, a story of American involvement in Afghanistan, was compelling, fascinating even. But as a central character Bergdahl is, excuse me for saying so, boring. Worse, I don’t like him. Worse, I don’t care about him.

Season three left me emotionally startled at the jump, and kept me there, and for very personal reasons. They broke the mold of the first two seasons by changing focus from a single mystery to be plumbed (a murder, a disappearance) to a larger social ill to be remedied -- namely, the American criminal justice system. And the main character was not a person, but a city. Cleveland.

For nine weeks, Koenig and reporter-producer Emmanuel Dzotsi set up shop in the Justice Center downtown, and followed the stories they found there, drawing a complex web of tales depicting a dysfunctional system through which we meet a engaging collection of characters (people) in places a little too close for comfort.

In episode six (You In the Red Shirt) a citizen is harassed by East Cleveland officers in “the park.” It’s not just any park, though. They say its proper name just once, Forest Hill Park. I take a run in that park every day. There is a world within my world of which I remain blithely ignorant.

I am not going to describe the stories, these citizens, you need to listen to the podcast yourself. Perhaps you already have. But I was startled by how Koenig chose to conclude, with a litany of suggestions. And it’s a long list.
“Don't pile six charges onto a single crime when one charge will do. Don't overcharge to force a guilty plea. Don't lock anyone up, unless they're demonstrably violent. Admit that police officers lie under oath. Get out of the punishment business and turn toward the urgent problem of fairness.”
She goes on for four paragraphs. In this holiday season, she even quotes Dickens: “Don't be insensibly tempted ... into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course.”

Her final word is, “Let's all accept that something's gone wrong. Let's make that our premise.”

And so, they say that art isn’t supposed to answer questions, it’s supposed to ask them. But these days, it is as though even journalism -- tasked with reporting the truth -- doesn’t even ask the questions. Koenig and her team do ask questions, some very difficult questions.

And they dare to provide some answers. Because for God’s sake someone has to.

Behind the Scenes of Serial Season Three, featuring Sarah Koenig and Emamanuel Dzotsi, comes to Playhouse Square on Saturday, December 15, 2018.

SeriaLand, a blog by Cleveland attorney Rebecca Maurer, providing greater historical context to Serial Season Three.

Cleveland Talks Serial, a podcast produced by IdeaStream. A round table discussion on the series.

Serial (podcast)

"Bringing To Kill a Mockingbird to Broadway was nearly impossible" by Aaron Sorkin, New York Magazine 11/26/2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

Christmas Wrapping (song)

This weekend, ageing alt-rock hipster Twitter was going nuts over a tweet from Andy Partridge (XTC) in which he lavished praise on that holiday classic Christmas Wrapping by Akron's own The Waitresses.

"So much about this that I wished i'd done," Partridge said. "The cheekiness."

Waitress scribe Chris Butler on Facebook responded simply, "Speechless."

Indeed. If I received such praise from the man who wrote Dear God I would also be gobsmacked.

Why is Christmas Wrapping such an endurable bop? It's completely dated; early 80s white girl rapping, syncopated, post-punk pop with jangly guitars and jingle bells, even the lyrics lock it rigidly to the year it was released:
Had his number, but never the time.
Most of '81 passed along those lines.
Perhaps it is that sentiment, about never having the time, which makes the story part of the song something everyone relates to.

Butler was commissioned by a record label to create a Waitresses song for a compilation album of indie holiday tunes, and he found the idea of writing a Christmas song (especially in the middle of summer) to be as oppressive as the holiday itself can be.

"I hated Christmas," he told reporter John Petrick in 2005. "It wasn't about joy. It was something to cope with."

And so, he created a narrative of a young adult - not a parent or a child - working, dating, getting sick, looking for connection, settling for a solo Christmas dinner in her apartment before finding that last minute date at the grocery store.

Truth be told, I was not hip to this song when it was released. I was thirteen and not as cool as all that. But there was an early 80s revival in the mid-1990s, as Gen Xers were recovering bits of their lost childhood, and this record went to the top of my personal holiday playlist in a big way.

Because of nostalgia for the New Wave era. Because it’s downtown and upbeat. Because it’s about striving and failing and being happy with what you have. Because the late Patty Donahue knows what boys like, she’s a square peg, and she can use my comb.

"How an obscure 80s punk band created a Christmas classic" by John Petrick, The Star Online 12/22/2005

UPDATE: In my original draft, I erroneously said the track was synth-laden. "No synths!" - C.Butler