Thursday, August 23, 2007

The machine starts ...

So this radio version of Eric Coble's adaptation of E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops has been gestating for almost two years.

Eric had written the script as a stage play several years ago - and I said damn! I wanted to do that! But I hadn't not in the almost twenty years since I first read it, so it's just as well that he did. And that he did it better than I could have, which goes without saying.

The radio version of IHT wasn't in the can for a day when DeOreo asks me, so what do we do next? And instead of volunteering some new work of mine, because I didn't have one, I suggested TMS because, when I'd read it, with all the voices coming through The Machine, I thought it would make a great audio piece.

But why performed live in front of an audience, instead of in the safety of the booth? I have no idea. Because it sounded cool.

Last year they got a benefactor in the Hiram College Center for Literature, Medicine and the Biomedical Humanities - who had originally produced two staged readings of the piece - things started to move ... slowly. I spoke to Martin K. at Hiram last fall. There were a few production meetings. A cast was assembled. We had a read-through in May. Two rehearsals during the last two weeks. Today we set up the tech in the Westfield Insurance Studio at Idea Center ... and tomorrow we record in front of a crowd of about fifty.

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
How did I get here?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god! What have I done?

Since 1997 there has been a special moment when it all makes sense, and it all becomes real, and I know everything will be all right with the world. It's not first read-through. And it's not the first curtain.

It's when Dennis shows up with the music.

The Vampyres, Sin, Lysistrata, Cloud 9, I Hate This ... it's always the music. I love the stuff he's come up with for this piece. Very ... mechanical.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Machine Stops


WCPN 90.3 FM ideastream is producing Eric Coble's adaptation of E.M. Forster's science fiction classic THE MACHINE STOPS.

The performance will be recorded live in front of a studio audience on Friday, August 24 at 6 PM at the Idea Center inside the Westfield Insurance Studio Theater, for later broadcast on 90.3's "Around Noon".

Admission is free, but interested parties must have their name on a guest list to gain entrance to the building. There are limited seats, please contact director David Hansen at pengo(at)davidhansen(dot)org to be added to the list.

The acting company includes Nick Koesters, Rasheryl McCreary, Jazmin Corona, Tim Keo and Dawn Youngs with original music and sound by Dennis Yurich.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fringed Off

Following a few fringe-heavy years I have been sitting on the sidelines, "lurking" the sites for the MN and NY fringes, and paying a little attention to the feedback and fallout. I'd like to get back to one of those eventually, but you need to have a show first.

Actually, that's not true, a great deal of shows accepted by the MN Fringe during the lottery in February share the title TBA.

Because I was a PR Director for a local theater, once upon a time, I am more interested than most in what kind of free attention theater organizations can squeeze out of the media. Non-critical articles, as well as the reviews that may (or may not) come later on. As we have a daily subscription to the NY Times, every year at this time I use that to clock what's going on at the NY Fringe.

When Toni's show Angst:84 went in 2001, I noticed about a dozen reviews over the course of the festival's two week run. Of these, only one was scathingly negative. Then Urinetown opened that fall, a show which had its originas at the NY Fringe, and in 2002 there were maybe twenty Fringe reviews. That year they were almost universally negative.

In 2003 there were no individual reviews, only longer, week-end articles which pointed out some of the more interesting, "worth your while" productions. So I began to get the impression that the NY Times doles out attention to this famously hit-and-miss, yet difficult-to-ignore-based-on-its-size festival based on how good last year's festival was.

Lucky me, 2003 must have been a good year, because I got a write-up in 2004. If my theory is correct, however, 2006 must have sucked big yahoodies. The festival is half over, and the only mention the largest fringes festival in America has garnered in the nation's largest newspaper (it is still the biggest, isn't it?) was an advance piece in last Sunday's paper, which was mostly about Elena K. Holy, executive director and extremely nervous person.

In fact, as if to add insult to insult, the Times has written not one, but two long pieces about how things are going - and going so much bigger and better - at the Edinburg Fringe this month. In fact, it's the guy who wrote the IHT review - Jason Zinoman - who is cabling these reports back from Scotland.

Compared to Edinburgh, he says the NY Fringe is a lemonade stand. Ouch. Sour.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The frozen chosen

Finished reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union a few mornings ago. Love to say I polihed the entire thing off on my Chicag trip, but I didn't. That's two novels in less than a month. Way too much fiction for me, Krakauer needs to write another epic about stupid people doing stupid things in nature.

I don't know what to say about Chabon's novel without giving too much away, so stop reading if you plan on reading that any time soon. Or ever. I was looking forward to getting into this book - some are surprised I've never read Kavalier and Clay because of my reputation as some kind of comic book geek, I guess, thought I haven't been one for a long time now, but anyway.

The New Play is, in it's way, historical fiction, and so is this. What if a) a zone was established around Sitka, Alaska in the late 30s as a refuge for displaced Jews and b) the war that established Israel in 1948 was lost? That's the premise for what is otherwise a detective novel, which takes place in 2007 in the "District of Sitka." The New Play is about improv comedy in the 1950s, and that's all I'll say about that. But reading someone else play fast and loose with reality as we know it was awfully liberating.

{{{ SPOILER }}}

Our main character, Meyer Landsman, divorced, living in a flophouse, and a detective for the District Police. He and his ex-wife, a police administrator, were expecting their first child, a boy named Django (and that was on our list) who was tested to possibly have an additional chromosone. Possibly an "unviable pregnancy." They chose to terminate the pregnancy, and it has tormented Landsman ever since.

It was impossible to read this without recalling the tests, all the confusing tests, about Calvin, whether he had spina bifida, why he was smaller than he should have been for his age, and my wondering what the point of no return was - not legally, but emotionally, morally, ethically, practically, humanely, you get the picture.

After the abortion, he approaches a doctor who bluntly tells him there didn't appear to be anything abnormal about the fetus. "Not that there wasn't anything wrong with it," he added.

I am not what some choose to call "Pro-Life." But I am a strong believer in potential and how life is imbued by hope, and promise. At first I thought the novel was just kind of cheeky - it's hard to take this northern refuge district seriosuly, it's like a two million person Cicely, and everyone is Joel. Nu? And yet there was a deep sadness, this fragility, everything about to crack and collapse - leavened by irreverent humor.

Which, I guess, from what I have witnessed in my life, must be what it's like to be Jewish.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Is gross.

The first time I saw The Pajama Men (formerly their act was called "Sabotage") was at the MN Fringe in 2003. Hey. Four years is a lot of time. Anyway, they were just hysterical. Caught them last night at the Second City Storefront space in the Loop. Thought that was very, very funny, too.

Shame there were only 10 people in the audience. Hate it when that happens. Not conducive to comedy. And I really hoped, hoped it wouldn't affect their act. I don't think it did, but you know, laughter is infectious. I think Ben and I were laughing harder than most. God, they're weird.

They do this stream-of-consciousness thing - two guys, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez, who actually do their entire act in pajamas - that kind of tells a story. They introduce several characters, with interesting relationships (father/daughter, two cowboys, woman/amorous space alien) jumping swiftly from one nonsensical scenario to another, though they eventually dovetail and things that didn't make sense near the beginning have an explanation near the end. Or not. It doesn't matter. They crack me up.

Four years ago the main thread was about a horse that conspired to kill his rider.

Horse snorkel. Sorry. Had to say that. Horse snorkel.

Images from that show four years ago still stick with me and make me laugh. So will moments from last night's show. I can't remember much from the Second City show I saw on Friday night. But then, I was half in the bag.

Lovely day yesterday, absolutely lovely. Christine and I met up at the Fountain Towers With the Faces In Them (I asked Ben if that has a nickname yet, that the locals call it, he said yeah, we call it the fountain towers with the faces in them) and after a leisurely catching-up lunch on Michigan Avenue (on the sidewalk, not in the street) she gave me a tour of the Fine Arts Building where the company she has been working with, Moving Dock, do their work.

What a fascinating old structure. What a great place to rehearse, perform, buy antiquarian books, whatever.

By the time we reached the Art Institute (Roger called it "The Toot," not sure if that's a common nickname or just his) we realized we only had two hours before closing, but that was more than enough to take a "Greatest Hits" tour. She was pleased to find that The Gates of Paradise are on display. For a heathen I know quite a bit, but I didn't know about that.

After that whirlwind tour, we just sat by the big towers with faces on them, listening to children cry in delight and knock heads together while hydroplaning across its obsidian surface, while we drank coffee and I tried to get my scalp to stop from sweating. It was a hot, bright weekend. In spite of having sunglasses on most of the time I was out doors, I got this nasty red crease in my brow, which was only intensified by watching a show each night. I had migraine meds Friday night, but I did all right without them last night.

I met Roger and Ben for dinner, Roger knows I prefer local spots, but he said Big Bowl has his favorite Pad Thai in town, so I was like, I'm there! I don't get to have pad thai much, due to Z.'s peanut allergy. Roger got to tell us of his adventures in NYC a few weeks ago, checking out Eric C.'s latest piece, and he and I gave Ben a basic education in what effing crazily obsessed people marathon runners are, going on and on at length with anecdotes and tales of great athletic accomplishment. Or maybe it was just me going on too long, that happens.

On our way there we had to take a detour around a film shoot. Must have been a couple dozen police vehicles with their lights flashing, lots of gawkers and crowds. All the temporary signs guiding people around the site were for some feature called Rory's First Kiss, but, well, IMDB that title and you'll find out what they were really shooting. We failed to spot Heath.

Another run this morning, and then I met up with Donna, who I haven't since since, no kidding 1995. Jesus, these women I was so close to in college, they have got to start showing some age, I feel like I am the portrait of Dorian F*cking Gray looking at them (caught that one at the Toot, by the way.)

She's a talent agent. Great conversation, not just catching up stuff, but about the shows I'd seen (her firm represents members of both show I caught) how good, or not, most improv sketch comedy is, then I had to catch a taxi to O'Hare.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Playtime for Dad

Last December, Toni asked if she could take a weekend on her own, to visit friends in New York, and I said, of course.

Then in January she said, oh! Some folks are getting together in Indiana, could I go to that, too? And I said, uh ... yeah.

By the middle of this summer I realized if I didn't cash in soon, the new school year would be upon us and I'd never get a chance to get away. So I asked about this weekend - a week after camp ended, a couple before rehearsals begin - and she agreed. Good for me to get away. Spend some time alone.

Only ... where should I go? I didn't have a clue.

So I came to Chicago. That's where I am now. In the Chicago Public Library, blogging this in air conditioned comfort instead of spending time in the 90 degree heat.

Just a few notes:

Ran into Tony S. walking the other way down the concourse at Hopkins. I said, "Hey! I'm leaving, you're coming home!" and he said, "Actually, I am going home - to Mississippi!"

Spending the weekend in a basement B&B in Old Town. It's great, a whole apartment to myself, in a real neighborhood. Discovered that Second City is right around the corner - so I went there. Never actually seen a show at Second City before. No surprises. Funny. Sketch comedy is like Chinese food ... I'll stop there.

Walking up North Ave., checking out my surroundings, I saw this guy who looked exactly like Leilani step out a Walgreen's. I thought, weird, that guy looks exactly like Leilani, only Leilani's taller. An hour later, after a plate of the most decadent sushi I have ever had in my life, I'm walking past the same intersection and I hear this rich basso profundo call out, "David Hansen!"

Yeah, it was him. Only shorter than I remembered.

This morning I took a run then double-checked plans with Ben and Roger for tonight, and even got a call from Donna, who I haven't seen in twelve years. We're meeting tomorrow for coffee.

Gotta run, I'm meeting Christine by the fountain in Millennium Park and heading off to the Art Institute. Never seen Sunday in the Park before. They say it's big - and if you cross your eyes and squint, you can see a puppy.

Okay, I stole that joke from the show I saw last night.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Watergate Sue

Anyone following this?

Couple years back the NY Times Sunday Magazine began running serialized comix. Since April it's been Watergate Sue by Megan Kelso. It's the story of a woman in 2006 having her first baby, trying to get the true story of her own birth (during the Watergate summer of 1974) out of her mom, who doesn't want to talk about it.

In last week's episode (in 1974) Sue's Dad asks how it went at the doctor's and her mom says, "My blood pressure is a little high and I better take it easy."

We know Sue survived, it's her story. But the week before that, 2006 Sue was talking to her sister Josie over the phone and said rather casually, "I'm sooo not having a C-section like mom." Last week 2006 Mom is talking to Josie over the phone, saying, "I'm worried about Sue, she hasn't called or returned any of my messages.

Today ... well, no news on Sue's baby today.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Twin Cities

From my sister-in-law ...

It's Wednesday evening around 9:30 MN time.  You may have heard of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis.  Denny and I were home safe in St. Paul.  My parents and R. and H. were in Circle Pines.  A. and M. were in Minneapolis.  They had driven over the bridge an hour before, but are now home safe and sound.

Denny was called into work.  As we speak he is out on a remote at city hall to interview the mayor of Minneapolis.


My brother works for NPR.

It's a truly horrifying event. I was in the Twin Cities four years ago for the MN Fringe. I-34 is a heavily traveled road, one we used frequently getting back and forth.

The Minnesota Fringe opens tonight. This, from their website:

Greetings from Fringeland.

All of us are shocked by yesterday's bridge collapse on 35W. But the Minnesota Fringe Festival will open tonight at 5:30 p.m. as scheduled. The engine of Fringe is unstoppable, and the creation of art and community is essential.

As soon as we know if there are any changes to Fringe shows and schedules, we'll post it here on the web site, as well as information on alternate travel routes. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to help alleviate traffic tie-ups by using MetroTransit for their Fringing.

Otherwise, the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross gets our nod for being the hippest nonprofit in town - it's the best way to help.

Stay tuned for updates and changes.

Take care,
Robin Gillette
Executive Director (on behalf of everyone at the Fringe)

Wish I could be there. For a number of reasons.