Saturday, September 24, 2022

Process LXX

“I feel stupid and contagious.”

Why didn’t anyone tell me Covid was difficult to live with? I am currently reading several books at once, which is good, I’m not usually good at that. The deadlines are coming and they will be constant, from one week to the next.

Did you know ..? The 1927 film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, was adapted from a novel written by Thea von Harbou. It was first serialized and then collated into a book in 1925, though it was always meant to be the source material for the eventual film. This is one of the books I am currently reading.

I’ve been in love with the film since Giorgio Moroder released an abridged version with contemporary score in 1984. Some of the music is dated, very, very dated. Would not recommend someone watch this version for their first time. However, it is because of this version that I know and love this film, so I am very glad it existed, and when it did.

Moroder’s own compositions, however, are still entirely appropriate, most significantly the "Machines" theme.

One of the amazing things about early science fiction is that It does not, in fact, cannot rely on words or phrases we all know which act as a shortcut to our imagination. The word “spacecraft” automatically creates in the mind a picture, one of a self-contained vessel, most likely resembling in shape a nautical ship, set against a black sky festooned with stars.

So much of our modern storytelling is derivative in this way. Those who pioneered the craft of science fiction had their own images to work from, but quite often they were creating brand new images for the imagination, some of which can be quite confounding. Von Harbou’s novel for Metropolis is at times incomprehensible, at least upon first pass. I find myself going over passages a few times to make sure I am picturing what she intended.

This week has been very challenging, as I have been coping with the lingering effects of Covid, and also felt somewhat overwhelmed by all the assignments and responsibilities.

But wait – I had previously been lamenting my lack of deadlines, assignments and responsibilities. I just needed to remind myself how much I have been loving this. Grad school has given me life.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Process LXIX

“I still had all the afternoons in the world.” 
― Joan Didion, Goodbye to All That (1967)

This week I was introduced to the quote above, from Didion's legendary farewell to New York, or perhaps really to her twenties, and I have never imagined a more accurate turn of phrase to describe how one feels to be in their twenties.

After an unexpected interruption both of my classes are in progress and I no longer have any spare time, which is fine. I can just go back to saying no to everything.

Of course, it also helps if you have contracted Covid, which I have. Lucky me, it’s not as bad as I feared it might be. I cough, nights are difficult, I am achy and I wake a lot.

Monday night I was able to attend my first playwright’s workshop via speakerphone. The professor is really cool, he said he could run it all by me when I felt better, but like I said, there’s an awful lot to do and I’d rather not get behind on anything.

Without going into much detail, I am going to be able to use techniques from my creative nonfiction class on my first project in workshop. The man said I have to write a play that saves the world ― and go. I have a lot of people to talk to now to figure out how to do that.

Meanwhile, I am having a serious crisis of faith. This is compounded by my illness, and by the antihistamine I have been ingesting daily to quell my symptoms, and also the cavalcade of minor tragedies and disappointments which have befallen as a result of said illness.

I have had eye surgery, now Covid. I have been made despondent by weakness and dis-ability. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

This morning the wife and I watched Griffin Dunne's tribute to his aunt, the Joan Didion documentary The Center Will Not Hold. Last week I only knew her by reputation, now I have read a little of her work, seen her life, and fallen in love. I also have no excuse not to move forward, still.
“I don't know what I think until I write it down.” 
― Joan Didion

Monday, September 12, 2022

State of Siege (2003)

Drew Narten, Mindy Childress
(Bad Epitaph Theater Co., 2003)
Photo: Anthony Gray
Sunday night, I noticed I had a tickle in my throat. By bedtime, I was coughing. I decided to wait until morning to self-test, and all night I was achy and woke countless times. I obsessed about taking the test, and what the result would be. At six I took the test, which turned immediately positive. I have Covid.

By the middle of Monday morning I was weak and achy. I tried to sleep in, but was obsessing about my job, about the residency, the lesson plans I needed to teach – and how many actor-teachers may also have Covid. As the morning progressed, the news was largely positive, in that they were not positive.

I never imagined I was invulnerable, I never thought I was immune, I thought I might be immune, because who knows? In those apocalyptic plague stories there’s always a small percentage that never contracts the disease.

In 2003, Bad Epitaph emerged from hiatus with a production of Albert Camus’ State of Siege (1948) which he had adapted from his own novel, The Plague.

The play is a fable about a bad omen in the form of a comet over Cadiz, Spain, and how the people’s collective fear paves the way for a man named The Plague to assume the reins of power. It is the apocryphal quote from Ben Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” made manifest.

Drew Narten, Nick Koesters, Christine Castro
(Bad Epitaph Theater Co., 2003)
Photo: Tim Safranek
Bad Epitaph Producing Director Tom Cullinan chose to produce this piece because (1) he had long wanted to and (2) it was a response to the Patriot Act, when Americans openly encouraged the government to strip away at our civil liberties in the “war against terrorism.”

“Cullinan imbues the production with sinewy style and imaginative staging,” said Cleveland Scene theater critic Christine Howey. “All the actors wear half-masks, in commedia dell’arte style, which gives this parable a heightened sense of symbolism.”

Traditionally, anti-fascist plays such as this one are resolved when the people come together as one, eschew their fear, and cast out the authoritarian. Unfortunately, if this was ever something that happened in the United States, it does no longer.

For twenty-one years we have lived in a perpetual state of crisis, and the authoritarians are still winning, through division and fear, which has never been so evident as during the current pandemic.

Because we are still in a  pandemic. If you have any doubt, come on over and I will breathe on you. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Guerrilla Theater Company: Thirty Years On

Guerrillas in the Professor Street Theater
Now we are here. Now it is time. Now we have come to rule you.

Dusk in Tremont. A tortured dog, a coat hanger wrapped around the base of his matted, entangled tail, ran down Professor, yowling in pain, followed by two or three other mutts. 

The dog stopped every few yards to turn around to snap at the metal dragging the ground, an entirely useless attempt, the coat hanger whipping around with it. The other dogs yapped in delight and surprise, also trying to bite at the wire hanger.

The seven of us emerged from the building for which Torque and I had recently signed a lease, the building we would soon call the Professor Street Theatre. We were going to rehearse one of our new short plays outdoors. I was anxious.

“Let’s do it over there,” Torque said, gesturing down the street with a mallet, toward the steps of St. John Cantius. Torque was wearing a bass drum, Wee-Bear had a pair of cymbals.

“Uhm,” I said. “Okay.”

We walked over to the church. I stood at the top of the steps, with Torque and Wee-Bear a few steps below, flanking me. The others stood around, scattered here and there, on the sidewalk, in the street, like they would do if they were standing among the crowd at the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Coventry, or the Yard as it was called. The way we were going to do, there, in a little over an hour.

Torque beat out one loud rhythm on his drum, Wee-Bear a different one on her cymbals. And I began our first ever play, calling out into the darkness.

The view from the steps of St. John Cantius was not a particularly interesting one. It faced a vacant lot. There was a huge, grassy lot between our building and the boarded up delicatessen on the corner, where there were once three other buildings. You could see where the buildings had been because the land sagged in the middle. None of us ever walked across this lot for fear of popping into the ground and never being seen again.

I was shouting at a vacant lot. An abandoned storefront. The empty street. A Tremonster, just out for a walk. I felt like an idiot, calling into the night air. And if I felt stupid here, how would I feel an hour later, in front of actual people, in Cleveland Heights?

Earlier that day we had sent faxes to all the major news outlets -- Channels 3, 5 and 8, as well as the daily newspaper, the Plain Dealer -- announcing that Guerrilla Theater Company would be staging a “Hit on Coventry” at 10:30 PM that night, Thursday, September 10, 1992.

We had never performed in public before. We were still creating the show which we planned to open in late October. No one knew who we were. This was the reason we were doing this stunt, to announce our arrival. So all would know our name. 

Steps of St. John Cantius at night.
When no one called the office number (the one we called the Guerrilla Connection) for more information, we called them.

WKYC couldn’t find the release, and didn’t know what we were talking about. Ditto WJW and the Plain Dealer.

The guy at WEWS, when we pressed him as to whether or not we would get covered, asked smartly, “Do you believe your little stunt would be of any interest to 10,000 people?” We were unable to convince him that it would.

Screw it. We traveled in two cars out to Coventry Village, a fifteen minute drive from Tremont, and began the assault.

Coventry Yard was bustling, the tables were full of folks enjoying coffee from Arabica. Guitars were being plucked. Beemer and Jelly Jam wandered in from Coventry Road, and moved among the throng, passing out cryptic little flyers with the Guerrilla Logo on it, and the number for the Guerrilla Connection.

We had two phone lines, one for regular office use, and a second, the Guerrilla Connection, with a funny answering machine message on it that we promised to change once a week to encourage people to call back.

Mammy and Retro approached from Euclid Heights Boulevard, passing out these same flyers. The four of them mingled amongst the folks sitting out in the Yard, enjoying the last of the late summer weather.

Torque, Wee-Bear and I waited in the car.

“Do you see any cameras or anything?”


“Well, forget it, let’s just do this.”

We strode in lock-step, I at point, my long, black, cotton jacket whipping behind me. Torque and Wee-Bear were at my corners with their instruments. Once into the Yard, I hopped up onto the topmost step of the long cement bankment and turned to face the crowd.

There may have been fifty people spread out around the patio, chatting, playing hacky-sack. Standing up there, aware of what I was about to do, I felt very tall indeed, and far from everyone but dreadfully exposed. I felt vertiginous.

Before I could think too hard, however, Torque and Wee-Bear were in their places, just below me, as we had rehearsed, and beating out their rhythms very, very loud. I had expected such an arrival to create a great hush amidst the throng, but I was mistaken. They looked up in surprise, but their response was louder than the normal cacophony of a crowd of voices. Some laughed, some said “What the hell?” I waited not an instant.

“I am here,” I said, loudly. Now they got a little quiet.

“I am here!” I repeated, as though I had not gotten the response I wanted. There were giggles.

“So what?” someone called back.

“Who are you?” Mammy, sitting at a table, called back to me.

“Yeah, who the fuck are you?” someone else said.

“I have come to lead you!” I yelled.

“Why should we follow you?” Jelly Jam said, standing close by, looking up at me.

“Because I know what's good for you,” I said, pointing at him. By now no one was heckling, some still laughed, but they were listening. It was a show!

“You know what's good for us?” Beemer and Retro said together.

“I have a plan to end the bad times we are currently suffering and start anew the good times we all remember,” I said.

“Where have you been?” said all four crowd-member Guerrillas. Torque and Wee-Bear stood silently at attention below me.

“I have been living life as one of you, making mistakes, achieving great victories, and now I am here,” I said. “Now it is time. Now I have come to rule you.”

“I’ll vote for you!” someone called out.

“Tell us more!” said the Guerrillas. They were slowly stepping towards me, through the Yard.

“The people who rule you now don't care about you!” I shouted. “I care about you!”

“You care about us!” they cried in disbelief.

“The people who rule you don't know how to make things better! But I know how to make things better!”

“Make things better!” they wept.

“Yes! I can make things better! And I need your help!” I said.

“What can we do?”

“I need your support!”

“We support you!”

“I need your money!”

“Take our money!”

“I need your trust! I need your love!”

“We trust you! We love you!”

Anchorman Ted
“And …” I said, looking down at them all, my hands outstretched “... I need you to love each other!”

They all stopped in their tracks and looked at each other. The crowd of strangers in the Yard waited for what happened next.

“Kill him,” they all agreed. Torque, Wee-Bear and I looked shocked and scared.

“Kill him!” they yelled again, and lunged for us, but we had turned around and were sprinting through the shrubs and bushes that blocked the way behind us. We tore through the traffic across Euclid Hts. Boulevard as Jelly Jam, Mammy, Beemer and Retro took after us, shouting with hate.

Who knows what happened at the Yard, we were too full of the notion that maybe we were being pursued, that perhaps our actions were somehow illegal, which they weren’t, but that maybe cops would try to stop us or something.

In any case, we jumped in our cars, and took off, back to Tremont.

We were putting things away at the building when my fiancée called.

“Turn on Channel 5,” she said.

“What? Why?”

“No time!”

So we all gathered in the sitting room and switched on the TV, and there was Anchorman Ted.

“From the strange to the bizarre,” said Anchorman Ted, “Impromptu theater took on new meaning tonight in town when a group of actors paid a very unannounced visit to the Arabica coffee shop on Coventry!”

The image on the screen switched to that of Torque, Wee-Bear and myself, striding past the Centrum movie theater towards the Yard.

“Oh my God!” Wee-Bear said.

“Can you qualify how ‘unannounced’ something is?” Mammy asked.

Anchorman Ted continued, “Happened around 10:30 tonight, the performers rushed into the restaurant, surprising absolutely all the patrons there …”

“We didn’t go inside!” Beemer said, squinting.

“Say our name!” Torque said.

“... they put on a short performance, then they rushed out again.”

The image switched abruptly to our running away from the scene, Wee-Bear clanging her cymbals, all of us dodging traffic.

“They missed the performance,” I sighed.

“Now from what we’ve been told,” Ted said, “troupes of actors in New York City have been staging similar performances like this one. No harm done, really, but it certainly comes as a surprise to those who see it happen.”

“Similar performances like this one?” Mammy said.

“Say the name!” Torque said.

“I wonder how our cameraperson found out it was going to happen?” Ted asked as the picture switched back to three happy TV people on the set -- Ted, Don the Weatherman and their newest arrival, Evelyn.

“Because we sent you a fucking press release?” I said.

“He’s sharp,” said Evelyn, the new female anchor, and significantly younger than Ted or Don. “Maybe Don is going to surprise us with some nice weather this weekend,” she said, making the perfect segue.

“You haven’t been around long enough to know,” cried the ancient meteorologist (he was fifty-four). “Only on Coventry!”

“Is that right?” she asked, appropriately interested.

“Uh yes,” Ted added, with fatherly insight, “Home of the strange and the unusual for over three decades now.”

“Ha ha ha.”

“Heh heh heh.”

“Anyway!” Don said, facing camera two.


“They didn’t say our name.”

Friday, September 9, 2022

Process LXVIII

GooGoo Cluster (w/dirty fingernail)
At first thought, it is easy to say, “Wow, I can’t believe I am on my final year of grad school!” As if no time has passed at all. Of course, that is ridiculous. Things have changed so much. Fall 2020 we were in the middle of a quarantine.

I did not see some friends in person for a year or more. All interaction was online. That included work and school. And school for my children, both of whom still lived here; the eldest now commencing their second year at university.

All classes were online. My family was very accommodating to my new homework schedule, which involved reading and writing pretty much every night and all weekend. These work hours are still necessary, only complicated by rehearsals downtown, classes an hour’s drive away, and family-related engagements that did not exist two years ago.

We have, all of us, been through so much. We’re still going through it, too.

Last night was a wake up call to me, a sign of what is at stake in this final class I may ever take in a university setting, my final class in craft and theory. And C&T has always been my Achilles’ heel, as it is about the craft, not the subject. I hope I can stay focused on craft (i.e., how it is done) rather than focusing so narrowly on the subject, though the argument that the craft serves is also relevant.

But I so easily digress.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Pandemonium 22

In rehearsal with
James Rankin & Sarah Blubaugh
The past year we have been digging deeper in the dirt of our subconscious.

Both in-class writing exercises and writing assignments have yielded some remarkable results. The Ocean Breathes Salty, a ten-minute play presented at the 2022 NEOMFA Playwrights Festival was the end result of a homework assignment. An in-class assignment yielded my contribution to Cleveland Public Theatre’s Pandemonium 2022, Here’s To You, Mrs. Robinson.

Yes, so many of my plays feature titles or lyrics from popular songs. And I think that’s cool.

In brief, this short play is the story of two young adults who meet by a neighborhood creek to get high. Rehearsing this scene with performers James Rankin and Sarah Blubaugh has been a joy, and I am really looking forward to learning how it plays in the space we have been assigned at the party.

Our performance space is a shipping container, an honest-to-goodness corrugated metal shipping container. It’s not an open space, but it’s not a secluded space. There will be bands nearby and lots of folks coming and going. And yet, we have crafted an intimate two-person piece about transgression and acceptance. Kink and communication. It is a bit raunchy and full of joy.

The theme for the party this year is “doors of imagination” so I thought it only appropriate to pitch a piece I had written about opening those passageways to desire that we would otherwise choose to keep entirely sealed.

This week we get our technical rehearsal in the shipping container. Huh. I think we will give a whole new meaning to the term shipping container. GET IT?

Cleveland Public Theatre presents PANDEMONIUM: THE DOORS OF IMAGINATION this Saturday, September 10, 2022.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Process LXVII

"Some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on the event."
- HAM IV.iv
My concentration is greater in the morning than the evening (whether or not I have been drinking) but time is short. That could be part of it. This week we had a 200 page text and I was constantly distracting myself.

"Why not skim?" she asks. Because I’m not good at it. Because I like to read, not process, information. And because my eyes, I guess.

But also! This particular text is a guide to creative nonfiction. And I realized I spent a lot of time ruminating over a potential subject for my paper and had to go back over the same paragraph several times.

Recently I dug up an archive video of the Cleveland Public Theatre workshop production of my solo performance And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years). It's not the best video, but the sound is all right, and it was good enough to get us into the New York Fringe in 2009.

I forgot how funny it was. This scene is about when I was twelve and had a crush on a character from the animated film Animalympics. I also forgot how much of this play is about my sexual interests. I have come to the realization that writing and performing this play was my midlife crisis.