Monday, November 26, 2007

carpe diem 11-24

here's my column from saturday.
hope everyone had a good thanksgiving!


I’ve been flogging the subject of the writers’ strike in this space for the past couple of weeks, so rather than rant about it yet again, I thought I might take a look at some alternatives that are available for those who are starting to feel deprived as original scripts for their favorite shows dry up.

· read a book. Of course, this is probably pure fantasy, the most unlikely alternative to television in a society where people feel the need to have streaming video with them at all times on their iPhones, but it’s worth a shot. I’ve been re-reading some of my ancient favorites: “Catch-22 by Joseph Heller resonates more than ever in today’s lunatic-led, war-like environment, and I went on a Vonnegut spree recently. Also, a friend introduced me to Terry Pratchett a while back, and I ripped through half a dozen of his books in a few weeks’ time. Pratchett is a hilarious and sharp-witted writer able to skewer human ignorance and hope through casts of fantastical creatures like trolls, dwarves and vampires. Sort of a Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) of fantasy.

· catch up on movies. Apart from being able to drink beer and hit pause while you’re watching DVDs at home, another advantage is the extras available on most discs. I’ve long been interested in the actor’s process of creating characters, as well as the nuts and bolts of making a film, and many DVDs provide enticing glimpses into that world. Some of my favorite bits are outtakes where actors helplessly crack up: any recent Will Farrell movie is bound to have these; start with “Anchorman.” Judd Apatow, who produced that film, added a hilarious bit to the extras of the recently released “Knocked Up,” which he wrote and directed. In a five-minute pseudo-doc called “Directing the Director,” director Bennet Miller of “Capote” fame is depicted as having been brought in by the studio to earnestly help “shepherd” Apatow along, providing him tips on “his craft.” He offers on-set advice, giving notes to Apatow’s puzzled actress-wife Leslie Mann, and asks her if their marriage is “serious.” Another favorite is the extras on “Inside Man,” which actually has clips of the very first table-read the cast did.

· web videos rule. While the networks and the writers’ union squabble over who gets what portion of the revenue from online video, people are still putting new material out there. Comedy Central is touting the fact that every episode of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are now online at (For a hilarious segment featuring Stephen Colbert simultaneously trying to report, eat a banana, and not crack up, search for “colbert prince charles” on “The Daily Show” site.) Also, the striking writers have a blog at Another site with tons of funny material is, a site started by Will Farrell and Adam McKay, where Farrell’s infamous “Landlord” videos debuted. Check out John C. Reilly’s Satisfaction Guaranteed,” a pseudo-commercial for a chain restaurant named “Pepperbee’s” where the manager really enjoys giving good customer service. No, he really enjoys it.

On a more serious note, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has a new video available at called “Apathy Kills,” in which he outlines in gruesome terms just how the media distract from the real and very dangerous problems we face. Backed with a strong beat and understated vocals (for Reznor, anyway) the four-minute clip uses footage of the World Trade Center towers falling, photos of Bush administration cronies cozying up with dictators, statistics and graphic pictures of those wounded and killed in our self-proclaimed war on terror. Juxtaposed with clips of Paris, Britney, and all the other starlet/train wrecks you can imagine, on whom we concentrate so much more attention than we do on fellow Americans who are dying every day, the video is damning indeed.

It’s a stirring call-to-arms, demanding that we arm ourselves not with guns, but with the knowledge that these heinous acts are being perpetrated in our name, yet benefit only a very few. It’s also a reminder that perhaps the only thing scarier than the Bush administration being in charge for the next year is the mess they are going to leave behind.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

abandoned II

'dark passages' is another site that explores the interiors of abandoned buildings. there are lots of factories, old hospitals, tunnels, etc., mostly east coast places.


i've run across some cool sites lately that have extensive photos of abandoned buildings. this site has tons of what photographer Chuck Hutchison calls "american ruins," shots of crumbling buildings, rusted out vehicles and equipment, etc.

shots like these remind me of where my relatives live in Indiana, and the conversations my grandmother and aunts and uncles used to have about the history of the area. there was always someone who had been 'burned up' in a fire, and a crumbling barn would spark endless ruminations on who had lived there and when. the nature of our economy today dictates that many small towns and even the cities of the midwest are dying, with people fleeing for more lucrative environs. and with no one new moving in, lots and lots of houses and factories just sit abandoned.

the shots also serve to remind us how fleeting our time here really is - all of these structures that humans build, the places where we live and work and raise families and die - these places will not last forever. i think sometimes we think they will, that by slapping together concrete and steel we have made something that will last forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

a thanksgiving prayer

happy thanksgiving, everybody. i'm planning to hang out with friends, eat lots of food, and maybe have a drink or two and a laugh or three. but sometimes it's good to be reminded of just what has been sacrificed by others so that we can enjoy our largess.

this is william s. burroughs' famous "Thanksgiving Prayer," a stark, moving, verbal slash at what our ancestors have done to make this country what it is.

Monday, November 19, 2007

carpe diem 11-17

here's another carpe diem column, from saturday. more ranting about the writers strike. there are tons of great videos about all of this, starting with this, this, and this.


As the screenwriters’ strike gains momentum, and the public begins to notice that their favorite shows may indeed be in jeopardy without someone to actually create the, you know, words that people say on screen, the battle has thus far gone in favor of the creative class, not the moneyed class. There are dozens of articles published each day in print newspapers as well as online dissecting the real issues surrounding the strike and laying out for television viewers just what is at stake, and the storyline thus far seems to favor the striking writers.

Not only are we approaching a time when “Law & Order” and “CSI” will run out of scripts, as have topical late-night shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” we’re also beginning to witness what the networks have in mind to replace these shows: reruns and “reality” programming. After all, can you ever have enough “Dancing With The Stars?”

But as creative people, the writers have not shied away from using their gifts since their days have been reduced to hauling around picket signs and inquiring about the status of their 401k accounts.

In fact, in a delicious bit of irony, the writers and their supporters are using the very medium that has caused so much consternation in negotiations between their union and the studios—the internet—to mercilessly flog their corporate masters over what exactly is wrong with the deal the studios are proposing. There is a new crop of videos out there that not only showcases the picket lines, but also uses humor to illustrate the writers’ side in a way that the studio heads cannot express themselves—at least not without their striking creative teams.

One of the most ingenious and clever videos that have been created in support of the striking writers does little more than let the studio bosses use their very own words to hang themselves. In this short clip, which can be seen here, Fox’s Rupert Murdoch, CBS’ Les Moonves, Viacom’s Sumner Redstone and others are shown in interviews extolling the new revenue streams that broadband distribution of their shows will bring in. Of course, in negotiations with the writers, these same boasters have pled poverty, claiming that there is no more money, that the pie has already been divided and, so sorry, writers just don’t get a slice. In one especially telling bit, CBS’ Les Moonves lists all the people who will benefit from the new media distribution of their shows: “Wherever say, CSI is shown, we as the network, as the studio, as the production company, as the producers—we are going to get paid for it.”

Whoops. Forgot someone, there.

Again, let’s put this in perspective: for each DVD sold of say, “Cold Case,” the writer who put the words in the mouths of those fine actors you love so much gets around three cents. That’s out of a price tag of $20 or so. And studios are suggesting that it is reasonable that writers get exactly zero percent of digital revenue.

And here’s why this issue is so important: not only does the sudden halt in new programming illustrate how important a writer’s job really is, the strike also lays out in stark terms the dichotomy between those who create and those who just have money. While scripts for “Two and A Half Men” may not exactly be Pulitzer Prize-winning material, the studios can’t create it without a writer at the heart of it. Les Moonves can’t sit down at his typewriter and bang out an episode when times get tight. Could you? Could I?

The answer is no. And for networks to say on one hand that they are on the verge of reaping billions of dollars in ad revenue from the internet and other digital media, and on the other, that this redistribution of material that writers created is essentially worthless smacks of greed and dishonesty.



...what's the point of starting a blog if you're never going to update it, you ask? not much point at all. i've been slacking here lately, due to all the usual reasons: busy, drunk, lazy, etc.
but i'm very excited about the audiences we've been getting for 'noises off,' which runs through dec. 1.
yesterday we had a packed house for our first sunday matinee show, which is rare. they loved us, and gave us a standing o. always rewarding, in a cheap, sleazy, 'look-at-me' kind of way.
but what was funny about it was that during act 1, we all noticed a sweet lady in the front row who was completely crashed, chin down on her chest, snoozing away. lol.
no, really, it's a great show--you can sleep right through it. :)
here are some more reviews, along with a nice piece on openstage by lisa parker.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

carpe diem 11-10

scroll down for my latest column.

the writer's strike raises all sorts of thorny issues, what with the hollywood screenwriter not being exactly the most sympathetic character when it comes to siding with a striker. but the issues underlying the strike are fascinating, and also point out just how horribly skewed the entire system is towards those at the top - meaning the studio heads, not well-paid actors; actors' pay is just a drop in the bucket - making ever-higher profits on the backs of the people who created the content.

i hesitate to call it 'art,' as we're talking about television and movies - ALL movies, not just the good ones. but on the other hand, we are talking about creative people pouring themselves into something only to have fat rich men siphon off most of the resulting cash.

anyway, there are some great stories out there about the strike, some funny, some more serious, and some just plain silly.

'blood pizza,' indeed. :)




Like anything that happens in that otherworldly, mythical land we call Hollywood, the screenwriter’s strike that began on November 1 has a certain air of the fanciful about it. There aren't many strikes that feature so many cameras—not to mention cameos, like Tina Fey carrying picket signs and Jay Leno handing out Krispy Kremes.

Even what we call “Hollywood” isn’t in the actual place Hollywood, California, which is a seething freakshow of transvestites, drug dealers and rent boys. The glamorous Hollywood of our quaint heartland dreams mostly takes place hidden away far up in the hills above Hollywood, and in the great rooms of Beverly Hills mansions. That’s where the rich and beautiful ply their real trade—negotiation—safely ensconced behind massive gates.

And the fact that we’re talking about writers—Hollywood screenwriters, no less—lends the strike a certain loopy weirdness. On the face of it, it’s hard to muster a whole lot of sympathy for people who generally start entry-level jobs at $70,000 a year, topping out around $150,000. These are not coal miners or auto workers facing unsafe working conditions. Hell, they’re not even air traffic controllers, whose jobs routinely involve life or death decisions.

No one’s going to perish because a writer for the Ellen Degeneres show didn’t get hazelnut in his half-caf latte.

But, again, this is Hollywood. And when you compare the obscene wages earned by the pretty bobbleheads who speak those writers’ words on camera with the money earned by the scribes without whom even the greatest actor is helpless, it becomes apparent that writers are low man on the totem pole, despite being the creative engine behind the massive Hollywood money machine. And $70,000 in heartland money is a far cry from $70,000 in L.A. money.

But the strike isn’t even about Leo DiCaprio or George Clooney taking an unfair portion of the pie. Hollywood, like pro sports before salary caps, is a nutty nutshell of capitalism at its most absurd, with studios paying seemingly limitless amounts of money for big-name actors and directors in the hopes that their talents will return an even more absurd profit. Indeed, it’s these same studios that, having belatedly discovered the potential for profits waiting for them in the form of digital content, are hoping to seal a deal with the writer’s union that would ensure that the digital wave will wash most future profits into those lavish mansions owned by studio heads, leaving the writers in their seedy bungalows—in literal Hollywood, not mythical Hollywood—where they belong.

At issue are the potential revenue streams from digital downloads of television shows and movies. The technology is there, but the methods by which these formats are marketed and sold are still in their infancy—and both studios and writers can sense the coming flood. The studios are seeking to lock writers into a long-term agreement that would largely shut the writers out of future profits, and the writers are having none of it. The issue of where the media is going is so important that negotiations to alter the agreement by which writers get a share of DVD sales was taken off the table prior to the strike, in order to concentrate on the digital future.

To give you an idea of where a writer stands in the hierarchy of Hollywood, the current deal gives writers four cents per DVD sold. They were fighting to get eight cents.

And according to some prognosticators, the studios have looked at the short-term losses they will undoubtedly incur as shows featuring pundits like Stewart, Colbert, Leno and Letterman—whose content relies on daily writing—go into re-runs, soon to be followed by serial dramas, and then sitcoms. They’ve looked at the numbers, and figured they can still make a whole lot more money down the road, if they hold out and squeeze the writers—who generally don’t have the resources to weather a long strike like the studios can.

So for now, look forward to a whole lot more script-free dreck, brought to you by the makers of “Ow, That Was My Balls,” “Catty Bitches 7,” and “Dude, Watch This!”

Maybe a forced dose of “reality” television is just what America needs to realize how important the words spoken by actual actors really are.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

noises off 2

careful with that axe, eugene.

well, the first review is in on our play 'noises off,' and, i gotta tell you, this one is a relief. john moore of the denver post came and saw us last friday night and gave us three stars and pretty much across the board praise. he's always the reviewer that makes me most nervous, because he is tough, but mostly fair. that, and the fact that his paper is read by many more people than any of the other ones in the area.

i got a bad review from him in my first big show in fort collins, 'angels in america,' and the truth is it rattled me a little. ever since, i pick up the paper with a little apprehension when i know a review is coming out.

it's weird - even if you KNOW, for certain, 100 percent that you killed, that you OWN the role you're playing, that the audience connected with it, and that it was a good show, when it comes time to get reviewed, all the pathetic actor insecurity comes out. you start thinking about all the little fuck-ups, all the things you could have done differently, if only--in other words you get inside your head worse than chuck knoblauch trying to turn a double play.

and if you have an actor's version of 'the yips,' it's impossible to do anything genuine. it means you are up there, trying to play the part you've studied, and rehearsed endlessly, and thought about ad infinitum, and on which you've gotten feedback from your peers, your director, and maybe even an audience or two. but in the back of your head, you're thinking, 'oh, how is it going to look if i do that, or move over there, or say this line that way, or...'

in other words you become one step removed from your character, it is a phony mask you are attempting to wear, but one which fits badly. for me, the key to acting is not thinking.

there, i said it. it doesn't mean that great actors (and i do NOT include myself among them) are all idiots. it just means that the great roles you remember, the ones that really stand out as scary, or hilarious or just plain REAL, are played by actors who are able to shut off much of the clamoring that goes on inside all of our brains all the time. instead, playing their roles, they are able to simply be. maybe that's the draw for some of us who like to perform - it's an opportunity, if everything works out just right, to not only not be yourself for a little while, but also to have at least a chance of simply being there. without all the baggage and doubt, and insecurity - it's a moment when all the choices have been worked out for you, and all you have to do is follow the thread. you don't have to think about where to go, what the right thing to say might be... if it's done right, it's a chance to not only play someone else for a little while, it's a chance to BE someone else.

none of this is original thought on my part - check out a great book for more.

well, at any rate, hopefully that's just the first of many reviews, and i'm sure i'll hate some of them. :) we are definitely having fun, and the audience is too, so that's what really counts.


Monday, November 5, 2007

carpe diem 11-03

here's my column from saturday.


A few years ago, a retired philosophy professor named Harry Frankfurt wrote an essay entitled “On Bullshit.” It quickly spread on the internet and was later published as a book.

It is a short book, only because what it lays out is one of those ideas that is stunningly apparent, but only after the fact: much of what we are surrounded with is bullshit. We know this to be true, but until Frankfurt’s paper came out, it was never defined and dissected so succinctly.

The book is an invaluable tract to anyone who would like to have a better grip on the unreality that has become our reality today. The way Frankfurt defines it, “bullshit” isn’t a synonym for a “lie,” but rather: “It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as the essence of bullshit.

In other words, if you are lying, you are at least aware of the truth, if only in terms of saying the opposite of what it is. If you are “bullshitting,” in Frankfurt’s view, you are completely removed from the concept of truth versus lie.

And I would take the idea a step further and say that we have finally gone round the bend, passed a magic threshold, accumulated a critical mass of bullshit to the point where it has in fact become our reality.

Hannah Montana started as a fictional pop star who sells millions of records, and is played by actress Miley Cyrus on the Disney Channel show of the same name. Now, Miley Cyrus playing Miley Cyrus playing Hannah Montana sells millions of records and sells out arenas like the Pepsi Center in a matter of minutes.

Fox News Channel is still called Fox “News” for some reason, despite the company’s lawyers fighting and winning a battle in a Florida courtroom, proving to the satisfaction of a judge that there is “no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.

And of course there are people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, doing what they actually call “fake news.” Sadly enough, there is more truth, more slicing away of the layers of bullshit on their comedy shows than there is on the “real” news, where “real” reporters dutifully relay talking points just as they were instructed to.

Which brings us to the poorly-thought out FEMA “news conference” last week in Southern California, wherein FEMA employees were the only attendees—er, “reporters” who asked any questions of FEMA’s spokesman. Actual reporters were notified of the news conference, but only 15 minutes prior to it starting. And as anyone who has ever lived in, visited, or even heard about Southern California knows, 15 minutes isn’t enough time to even get to the freeway, let alone get anywhere on it.

The department’s chicanery was duly exposed—FEMA spokespeople apologized, Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff gave the hoax’s authors a public tongue-lashing. And the whole thing made for great entertainment, and fodder for late-night talk show hosts.

But really, why not stage fake news conferences? In this era where public relations, image, and spin are always going to trump truth anyway, why not indeed? What the hell, we’re not going to hear anything remotely close to the truth from these people—we might as well get a good show out of it.

And if we’re all a little dumber for it, well…you get what you pay for. That’s your government hard at work, twisting and pirouetting and twirling around the truth till you can’t tell what it is anymore. And it’s easier to keep the populace in line when they not only don’t ask questions, but are actually so ignorant they don’t even know what questions to ask.

That's entertainment.


noises off

well, i haven't posted anything here in a while, due to tech week of Noises Off, which opened on Saturday night. it's a brutally exhausting show, with gallons of sweat and lots of panting, frantic running around up and down stairs. but based on what we've heard not only from our friends in OpenStage who were there at the opening night party, but also from our free student night audience on thursday and our corporate night audience on friday, it was all worth it. anytime you have a hot girl (hello, Nikki :) running around in her underwear and, ahem, a hot guy (hello, me lol) dropping his pants on stage, you're bound to get some kind of reaction.

but the laughter seemed genuine, and all the last-minute panic of wondering if i would remember all my entrances and exits, all my sardines and letters and costume changes and pants-droppings evaporated when i heard the house getting into it whole-heartedly. it is truly an amazing cast, and an amazing director, judi allen, who somehow kept her cool during the rehearsal process as she put up with all of us cracking up and forgetting even the simplest shit. "where are we?" indeed.

if i had been in her shoes i would have plucked out my own eyes long ago.

anyway, for a fun, silly night of theatre, you could do worse. it's running friday and saturday nights at the lincoln center through december 1 with some sunday matinees thrown in.

hope to see you there!