Friday, May 27, 2022

The History of Western Civilization (play)

Following a number of mass shootings in 1993, my colleague Rich "Torque" Weiss wrote a piece titled "The History of Western Civilization" for our weekly social satire program Mind Your Own Business. It was a big hit and one we kept in the show for some time.

Torque was always more successful than I was at writing short plays that did not include spoken dialogue at all. I found it very hard to make my point without including one or two lines of dialogue at the end.

In this piece, a Guerrilla (usually him) would keep time on a marching bass drum as the rest of the team evolved from apes to humans to inventing the gun.

Having invented the gun, we all struggled to hold and keep it until eventually everyone had been shot dead, including the drummer. The last person holding the gun looked around, saw what they had done, put the weapon in their own mouth and then the scene would end before the final blast.

What started as amusing ended as a horror. Perfect, short piece.

We do not have video of this performance, the photo (above) depicts the struggle. Notice how one actor has his hands on the other's shoulders, and not around their actual neck. The piece was carefully choreographed.

The second image (right) is program cover art by Torque which we used for most of early 1994.

Did you know that when assault rifles were banned in 1994, mass shootings dropped by 43%? The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, and mass shootings have since increased by 243%.

There are many causes of gun violence. But they all include guns.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Bedtrick (book)

Pengo’s 2022 Summer Book Club

“At least there’s no plague this year, “Johnny said as we enter the Globe for our rehearsal of 'Julius Caesar'.
Last week, the New York Times published a poorly written essay titled Let Actors Act by Pamela Paul, former editor of the Times Book Review, in which she chose to offer her opinion on the modern debate on representation on American stages.

“It’s called acting,” she said, a sarcastic and tired way of telling people to just shut up already, anyone can play anything. But while it is true that anyone can play anything, it is another question as to whether they should. And that is a nuanced and interesting conversation Paul apparently does not wish to participate in.

I have my own thoughts on the matter, perhaps someday I will share them. It is enough to say, for now, that each individual production warrants its own thoughtful discussion. But did you know that during Shakespeare’s time, women were not permitted to perform on public stages?

Presumably no people of color, either. That doesn’t mean they did not, only that they were not legally permitted to. However, people do not always follow such laws, and for their own individual reasons.

Jinny Webber’s novel Bedtrick begins with a trope explored in the film Shakespeare In Love (and elsewhere I’m sure) in which a woman passes as a boy to play female roles on stage at a time when that was forbidden in England. Taken to its extreme, however, the person in question would have to live each day as a man, forming relationships and connections – and always under threat of discovery.

What follows is a queer fantasty, inspired by true events and peopled with historical characters, which has great resonance today as we navigate the limits of LGBTQIA+ acceptance in the 21st century.

At center is Alexander “Sander” Cooke, which was the name of a player in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s company) and in Webber’s imagination, born female and presenting as male from a young age. Only passing, though. She presumes herself heterosexual, as evidenced by her attraction only toward men (notably, a relationship with the poet John Donne) until she enters into a marriage of convenience with her close friend, the seamstress and shop-owner Frances, when she, Frances, has become pregnant with Johnny, Sander’s older brother. Johnny is also a player in the company, and refuses to marry Frances.

Surely, that’s impossible, historians may protest. It would not be permitted, a woman living day to day, assuming the identiy of  man. And that the argument, whether it would be possible. Those who are oppressed have always relied upon an uneasy alliance with those with the privilege for assistance, people who either support or do not have an interest one way or the other in non-codified avenues of living. This is as true today as it has ever been.

This includes the character of William Shakespeare who is one of several people who know Sander’s secret and keep it. This does not make him an ally, he has a very talented actor who he believes can best originate roles such as Portia, Viola, Gertrude, Isabel and most notably, Rosalind. It is in his own interest that Sander is not found out, not hers.

The main interest, however, lies in how the relationship between Sander and Frances evolves over the years, through friendship, passion, loss, heartbreak, and finally a true affection which rivals that of any successfully married couple. Are they lesbians? Bisexual? Is Sander transexual? These were not terms used at that time nor are they employed here, and without such labels we simply see these two for who they are, in their own private, unique relationship, figuring out how best to live and be happy.

See also: Shakespeare On Stage

Source: "Let Actors Act" by Pamela Paul, The New York Times, 5/15/2022 
Interesting, the URL for this page reads "Acting-Representation-Identity" as if it were a placeholder for a complete different editorial.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Process LXV

and you and you and you ... and you were there! 
Monday was the second first reading (first second reading?) of my new script. This time the entire class read the piece via Zoom, and the response was again very positive. More significantly, through their feedback I am now able to articulate what the piece is really about.

It is a mystery, but it is not confusing. There are a couple fakes in there, and some chills. It’s all about the second act; the first is a deep dive into the subconscious, the second carries the weight of having actual significance in the real world.

There was again the comparison to Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, but I was again reminded of the influence of Cloud 9, in regards to the significance of double casting. The Wizard of Oz was also mentioned, and how the farmhands Hickory, Hunk and Zeke come to represent Dorothy’s friends.

The white, male protagonist has a secret, which is common to us, that we harbor fears of dominance and abuse and that we have the potential to become, or that we have already become, that thing we fear the most. How we deal with that struggle is the central conflict in the play.

The question is one of resolution, and there were many helpful suggestions as to how I might alter the action but there wasn’t one of them I hadn’t already considered and found wanting. Churchill includes callbacks in Cloud 9, where characters from the first act intrude late into the second, as if to remind us of things we haven’t actually forgotten yet.

The dream is the dream, and readers believe it is a realistic dream. Reality is reality, and must remain reality. I don’t want anyone to leave asking about the bunny.


Also this week, I have been editing the Falling monologue for the class on illness narratives, and recording myself reading them in various locations, to suggest the passage of time. I may need to revise the text further before submitting the written piece, but just reading them aloud has provided guidance to judicious cutting.