Tag Archives: new york city

Radio Free Bay Ridge is live!

I’m doing a podcast. About politics. Surprised, right? 😉

www.radiofreebayridge.org

Enjoy.

Theater Review: “The Collector” at 59E59

You know that logline for “The Wizard of Oz” that circulates Facebook from time to time, about Dorothy killing a woman and then banding together with friends to kill again? Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis) opens The Collector by pleading for the reverse shift in perspective for his narrative: self-pitying rich man in a position of ultimate power begs us to feel bad for him and blames everything but himself for his circumstances for 2½ hours, while we in turn watch him kidnap, torture and kill a young woman. Who he supposedly loves.

The source material, John Fowles’ novel of the same name, is thick with symbolism. It it would be easy to spend this entire review digging into the parallels between the butterflies Clegg collects and Miranda (Jillian Geurts), who he has kidnapped. But given that the book has been around since 1963 and the play was staged in Edinburgh around 20 years ago, I’ll set aside my desire to dig in on that side of things, and just talk about this production.

De Rogatis and Geurts achieve a deeply disturbing connection on behalf of their characters, one that develops and deepens over the course of the film. Of course, the question is always whether or not Miranda’s feelings are genuine – and Geurts’ accomplishment here is that there are times when Miranda’s attempts to escape shock even the audience – despite the fact that she has been straightforward with both her captor and with us: she will make the attempt every time she gets a chance.

While his accent initially seems unspecific, over time that becomes less distracting and de Rogatis’ real talent shows through: his ability to draw the audience into complicity through connections with individual audience members – some of whom I observed nodding and smiling as de Rogatis delivered a line to them here or there. What initially seemed like an awkward presentation became artfully intentional as the play progressed, transmuting the voyeuristic qualities of the audience into moral support for the monster at the center of the play.

Attempted, but flawed in its execution, is the horrific naturalism of novel and script. 59E59’s Theatre C is small, but the layout of the set and the script’s specific instructions regarding how to achieve its intentions mean that the weight of the set and action often felt imbalanced. Without enough space to really separate each level either physically or with laser-focused lighting changes, there were times when the sharply defined limits of Miranda’s world were blurred, lessening the transfer of her claustrophobic surroundings to the audience and intensifying the effect Geurts needed to have to keep the audience feeling that level of tension. While she more than made up for this loss of energy with one intense exchange with de Rogatis after another (and certainly it was helpful that in many of these exchanges de Rogatis was able to contribute physically to a claustrophobic atmosphere), the play requires the audience to watch a young woman’s terror and pain and take it in as entertainment. The script demands our complicity in its violence, with its treatment of Miranda as a character who wants to break out of the limitations and definitions imposed on her by others, but who is never able to transcend the boundaries and demands placed on her (as the damsel-who-can’t-quite-get-herself-out-of-distress) to achieve true personhood. We’re allowed glimpses into her life – she has a loving upper middle class family, a sister, some friends, a lover/teacher – but we have a far more specific picture of Clegg’s pathetic existence. Which is probably exactly as it should be, given that – again, requiring our cooperation in the narrative – we’re listening to Clegg’s side of the story.

As audience members, we are the reason for the theatrical snuff film that unfolds over the production’s two and a half hours (which, it’s important to note, doesn’t feel overlong at all). In any theater, after the play concludes and the lights come up, we reflect on what we’ve just been a party to. In the case of a production like The Collector, those reflections will be vast and sometimes disturbing.

The Collector plays at 59E59 in New York City, through November 13, 2016, and is presented by Nine Theatricals & Roebuck Theatrical.

When Voting 3rd Party Might Mean Voting for Clinton

The following is adapted from a Facebook post I made earlier today, which friends wanted to share.

I meant to write about this sooner, but later is better than never. So here goes.

wp-1474329232785.jpgLast Thursday night I went and met Bernie Sanders at the Working Families Party gala. Well, okay, I stood up against the stage snapping pics and then shook his hand (along with a bunch of other people) as he left the stage. (Okay. I stood up against the stage like it 2000 and I was at a Placebo concert at Irving Plaza. Shhh. Moving on.)

What impressed me (aside from OMG BERNIE SHOOK MY HAND!!!!) was the level of support that the party had from both local politicians and from more mainstream Dems, including people like Chuck Schumer and Bill de Blasio. Nina Turner spoke, too, and there were also WFP city council types and state legislature types.

Speaking at the Working Families Party gala.

Senator Nina Turner, speaking at the Working Families Party Gala.

One of my big issues (yes, there are more than one, we all know that by now) with voting for Clinton, outside of the issues I take with her positions and her campaign, has been thinking of voting for Clinton as rewarding the DNC for their choice —  and #sorrynotsorry, but there is no fucking way the DNC is getting my vote this year (and possibly any other year). Not in light of the way the primaries were run, the way the debates were gamed, the myriad of questions surrounding people purged from electoral roles, the behavior of their ex-Chairwoman and her subsequent reward of an “honorary” position, etc. Even if not doing *all those things* wouldn’t have meant a Sanders victory (and I would very strongly argue that a earlier and more frequent debates could have changed the Democrats’ primary landscape substantially), the fact that the Democrats did those things?

They don’t get my vote.

Period.

The end.

Well, going to the Working Families Party Gala  the other night gave me a new perspective – a new way of framing the workings of our political system.

The WFP, in NYC at least, has a very strong presence and has been able to help get laws like the $15/hour minimum wage and NY Sick Leave laws passed. In many cases, these smaller parties end up having a major party “nominee” in their candidate box. As speakers stressed over and over (and btw, here’s a link to the speeches, if you’ve got two hours and will excuse that I missed the first few minutes of Senator Turner’s remarks), many of the ideas that ended up in the non-binding 2016 Democratic Platform have origins in the WFP’s party goals.

ChuckSchumer.jpg

Senator Chuck Schumer at the Working Families Party Gala

 

Living in NYC and knowing what I do about my district, etc., I will likely be voting straight-ticket third party in November. HOWEVER. Up till Thursday night it hadn’t occurred to me that voting a straight third-party ticket could, potentially, include a vote for Clinton. And that, philosophically, I might be okay with that.

Whereas voters who vote Green or Libertarian won’t necessarily have a voice in the government after the election, Clinton will know how many of her votes came through local third parties, and even where she may not have success in major progressive domestic policies, at the local level I’ll know I’ve thrown my weight behind a third party that already has proven accomplishments where I live. As a party with deep roots in unions and activism, I can also be assured (to whatever degree one can trust politicians) that the party will advocate heavily for its agenda within the larger agenda, and that there are politicians at both the federal and the local level who consider this a party worth paying attention to. While I won’t know how I’m voting until close to November, after last Thursday’s gala I do know that anybody who shouts “a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump!” (or the reverse, as has happened once or twice in my conversations this election season) isn’t looking at the whole picture.

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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the Working Families Party Gala

I would strongly encourage other people who want to vote 3rd party, who do not want to support the current Democratic Party, to consider  strong local parties available near them.

At the very least, it’s a way of combining your voice with the voices of others in your area, pursuing a party whose goals more closely align with your personal viewpoint (because let’s face it: Dem, Repub, Green and Libertarian is still pretty damn broad as far as categorizing the political affiliations of +/-300M people), and ensuring that there will be a chorus of voices there to hold the politician at the top of the ballot accountable.

REVIEW: Alice in Black and White at 59E59

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

L-R: Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, written by Robin Rice and directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Holly Stone

Alice in Black and White
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
Written by Robin Rice
Kathi E.B. Ellis
59E59, New York City

Casual fans of street photography may not recognize the name Alice Austen, instead favoring Bill Cunningham or Humans of New York. In Robin Rice’s account of Alice’s life, we see the life of a trailblazer in both the personal and public realms.

 

The play takes place in two times: the first, Alice’s path through life; the second, how two people in 1951 go about trying to locate this woman from the past and resurrect her memory. At points, the characters of Alice (Jennifer Thalman Keppler) and 1951’s Oliver (Joseph Hatfield) communicate; the latter is working on a book called The Revolt of American Women and longs to include Austen in his work.

As the protagonist, Keppler moves through a lifetime of relationships, personal values and socio-political changes deftly. Her initial (slightly distracting) exuberance tempers as Alice grows into her teens, though the character’s stubborn single-mindedness never falters.

As Alice’s mother (Shannon Woolley Allison) and indulgent grandfather (Ted Lesley) implore her to find a husband, Alice rejects their advice and forms a relationship with a visitor from Queens – Gertrude Tate (Laura Ellis). A flawed heroine, Alice fails to grasp the importance of supporting herself – and while she doesn’t realize the implications at the time, she also overlooks the impact the stock market crash of 1929 will have on her in the years to come.

Meanwhile, in 1951, Oliver arrives at the Staten Island Historical Society on the lookout for some photographic negatives that his assistant had pinpointed as being in a trunk in the basement. The problem? Sally Lally (Trina Fischer), volunteer receptionist and aspiring Curator of the collection, who refuses to go against policy and let him inspect the contents of the trunk. It’s difficult to trace the emotional line of their story, and if there were more chemistry between the two leads – or clearly not more chemistry – it might be easier to do so.

The production benefits from a sparing set, which consists of a table, some chairs and some props (mostly cameras, but some tea implements as well), and lighting is used mostly to emphasize moments when Oliver and Alice seem to communicate across space and time. The metaphysical aspects of the play don’t receive a lot of explanation, and the audience is left to wonder how Oliver and Austen shared this bond across the decades, but in the end those moments seem incidental to the plot anyways. My one major critique of the play is that the relationship between Oliver and Lally doesn’t feel as if it grows organically, instead feeling superimposed on the characters.

For those who were already fans of Austen, Rice’s lens will no doubt prove a delightful delving into a woman of historical import. For those unaware of Alice’s work, the play offers just enough of a taste of the photographer’s personality and approach to life to whet the appetite.

Alice in Black and White is playing until August 14th at 59E59 theatre in New York City.

7 Facts About Me (Part 2: Versatile Blogger Awards)

I'm looking at turtles on the ocean floor. My back is roasting to a nice crispy texture.Yesterday, I blogged about how Christina Zarrella awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award. Part one of receiving the award was to nominate 15 bloggers I think you should check out; part two is sharing 7 facts about me. Yesterday’s blog got a bit long, so today here are some more facts (facts, and nothing but the facts). Check out Christina’s blog, Turbulence in the Veins, if you haven’t already.

7 Facts About Me:

1. My first (paid) writing gig was as one of the inaugural writers for NeXt, the teen section of The Buffalo News. I mostly covered science fiction events, including movie reviews and even a Star Trek convention. During my 2-year stint as a correspondent, I got to interview people like George Takei (briefly, at a local Star Trek convention) and Michael DeLuise (who I knew and loved from NBC’s short-lived seaQuest DSV).

2. One of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced was swimming with turtles in St. Maarten last year. Even though I got the worst sunburn of my life, it was totally worth it. While I’d do it again in a heartbeat, I might choose to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the water, next time.

3. As of this year, New York City overtook Edinburgh as the place I’ve lived the longest, other than my childhood hometown.

4. Growing up, I studied ballet lessons, gymnastics, swim team, the French Horn, the flute and the piano. I no longer do any of those things.

5. I have only seen each of the original Star Wars movies once, only seen the first of the prequels, and have no intention of watching any more of them ever again.

butchering a pig

Left: Kevin O’Donnell, chef at The Salty Pig, Boston. Right: Me, tearing fat out of a pig carcass.

6. Two years ago, I won a lesson in how to butcher a pig by claiming “it’s a skill I’ll need in order to survive after the zombie apocalypse.” I’m not sure they realized my main goal would not be to catch wild pigs with my bare hands after zombies took over the planet. (Too subtle? Or too tasteless? Either way, I joke.)

7. Beneath my cynical and direct exterior, I’m actually a total pushover, but I mostly try to keep that a secret. 😉

Thus concludes my acceptance of my Versatile Blogger Award!

 

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Citywalk

Part of getting better is making sure that I stay as mobile as I can. When I woke up the other morning feeling like every muscle in my body had locked up, I knew it was going to be a rough day. After doing my physical therapy exercises, I decided the best thing to do would be to go for a walk around the neighborhood – even if it was just a short one, it was moving, and came with the added benefit of some vitamin D.

There are some cute gardens and shops in my neighborhood, and here are some pictures I took while I was walking. Enjoy!

 

 

Pay-To-Play, Theater Edition: Companies Who Make Playwrights Pay

Imagine you’re a doctor. You’ve put time, money and effort into your training, and have come to be regarded as a professional in your field. Now, there’s a job for a local hospital where you’d like to work. The job carries a $50 “application fee,” and once the hospital in question has decided they want you practicing under their auspices, you’re going to have to pay $5000 in order to see or treat any patients. You can expect about $100 per patient seen as a “kickback” for the chance to treat them, as a way of “honoring” your “investment” with the hospital.

Are you going to take the job? Are you even going to apply?

More importantly, as a patient, are you going to believe that the hospital involved is really interested in providing you with the best medical care available?

Now imagine the hospital is a theater company, and you’re a playwright.

The number of theater companies who think it’s okay to charge both reading and acceptance fees to playwrights seems to be on the rise. And that’s not okay. Playwrights aren’t going to cut into your body (not physically, at least) and they’re not going to save you from an acute life-or-death situation (though they might write something that sticks with you for years to come), but they’re still artists(often trained and practiced) who have put time, effort and ability into their work. And they have no business subsidizing theater companies.

The other day on Facebook, a friend pointed out an “opportunity” for writers who wanted to work with one of NYC’s downtown theater company. After paying a $15 application/reading fee, anyone who was accepted could also look forward to being charged a $175 “acceptance fee” to see their work performed.

Excuse me?

Dear budding playwrights and other writers: the name for a company that poduces or publishes you in exchange for money is “vanity publisher.”

IScreenshot_2014-04-29-10-26-44 realize that reading plays takes time, and producing them takes money, but as a company, if you’re not making enough off your ticket sales and from producer investments to profit from a play without charging the people who wrote them (who are notorious, industry-wide, for NOT GETTING PAID FOR THEIR WORK) to put them on — and you’re not okay with that — then do you really have any business running a theater festival?

Open a theater school. Run a summer camp. Set yourself up as a dramaturg-for-hire. Open your company to development-for-hire.

Just don’t pretend you’re interested in producing theater that opens opportunities or artistic space for those who can’t afford to subsidize you.

When I co-produced ANY OBJECTIONS? for Glasgay 2012, my fellow producer and I put out a global call for short plays dealing with marriage equality. We were particularly interested in getting plays from Asia, Africa and other regions that were under-represented in the world of Western theater, because those were the perspectives we felt it might be most important to show our primarily English-speaking audience. Our only barrier to entry? The plays had to be in English – we simply didn’t have the time or money required to make a translator available.

Did we charge a reading fee? No. Did we charge an “acceptance fee”? No. Did we make any money off anybody but the patrons who came to the performance? No, we did not. And did everybody involved get some kind of paid?

You bet your underwear they did.

The actors got paid, the director got paid, and every single participating writer (with the exception of one who chose to remain anonymous and who, I believe, we were unable to contact with follow-up information, despite our best efforts) got a check as payment for their participation in the event.

Paying For The Right To Work

While the language of the Playbill notice differs slightly from the language used on the company’s website, let’s note that this is posted in a major theatrical publication under the title of “Editorial/Job Opportunity,” and the last time I saw a job you had to pay to take it was because they were selling you a kit of “E-Z ASSEMBLE-AT-HOME JEWELRY, MAKE $5000/MONTH” or a list of real estate leads. Let’s also note that this is a production festival for female playwrights, a group that’s historically under-represented in theater productions worldwide – which, to my mind, makes it even more unethical to charge them for the privilege of having their work produced.

Screenshot_2014-04-29-10-30-27The company who placed the ad cited above offers a $1-per-ticket return (they call it a “kickback) after a $175 “acceptance fee” – which comes after a $15 “reading fee,” mind – so that the playwright can hope to recoup some of her investment. That means a playwright has to see three sold out shows and one half-full house before she’s broken even. Does the company give any information on their average audience size for the festival, past production attendance or marketing reach? No? What? You mean the festival’s only in it’s first year, so there’s no data on how much reach it has or what ticket prices should be? (Note: While I’ve emailed the company regarding questions about past audience size, marketing reach and more, they requested more information Tuesday and have not responded to subsequent emails.)

If we playwrights are investing, shouldn’t we be doing so in an informed manner? And shouldn’t the company we’re investing in encourage that?

With this kind of barrier to entry, the company is already excluding any playwright who doesn’t have nearly $200 in her budget from even competing. Is this approach really going to net them the most talented, most engaging entrants? Is it going to open up the possibility of performance in a meaningful way? As an audience member, do you think that this company is more interested in producing an evening of theater that excites and challenges you, or in finding a way to wring as much money as possible from an evening of performances?

I get it, making theater takes money. I also understand that not everyone has a deep-pocketed producer on board to help offset their costs. I’ve produced theater under those circumstances, too. You know what we did? Anybody who put money in got their money back first, and any profits were split evenly between all members of the company.

Know what else? Every single one of those productions was profitable.

Artists Get Taken Advantage Of All The Time – Don’t Be One Of Them

Many years ago, a co-worker told me about a friend who had started a photography festival and was now living off the entry fees. Each photographer who sent an entry was charged $150 for the privilege, and in addition to making enough to pay for a considerable cash prize, the person who had started the contest was now making a full-time living off the fees.

So excuse me if I’m a little skeptical of companies that set up on this kind of model. As a producer, either you believe in the work you’re putting on stage or you don’t. If you do, then you assume the financial risk, pay your artists (or take them on in an equal, transparent profit-share), and hope for the best.

If you don’t believe in the work, and you don’t think you’re going to make a profit, and you have a problem with that, then don’t produce the play in the first place.

That said, the only way this practice is going to stop is if writers stop responding to these calls for work. So writers, if you value your work and your time, don’t buy into the hype. Submit to the hundreds of opportunities that don’t ask for your financial investment. You’ve already put your time, training and effort into your art. Don’t feel like you have to pay someone else to make it for you.

Charging artists to produce their work in order to make yourself a buck isn’t about making quality theater. It’s about running the production equivalent of a vanity press.

Presenting that as a great opportunity for new playwrights is not okay.

 

*To note: this is not the only company charging for acceptance (although Manhattan Rep frames their Spring One Act as a production fee, not one aimed at playwrights, and doesn’t charge for entry) nor are they charging the most.