The Women’s March in NYC

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, ME with tags on January 22, 2017 by travsd

My experience of the Women’s March in NYC was both unremarkable (i.e., “not unique to me”) and completely remarkable (i.e., “I’ve never experienced anything like it”). To come home and learn of the millions who participated throughout the world was the best news I have heard in…months? Feels like years?  I have never seen so many humans in one place firsthand in my life. And ALL in a jubilant mood. I saw little — maybe no — anger or hatred. Yes, verbal sarcasm and barbed tongues. But the mood was jubilant, it was thousands and thousands of people reveling in each other’s presence. The very presence of the people around you simply made you happy. “Thank God, I am not alone. These people are with me. We are here together. Maybe we can do what we need to do after all.”

I only took a few photos — I couldn’t get a cell signal to send pix via Instagram (due to the crowds) and I also wanted to conserve my battery. But here are a few, just for flavor.

We joined the throngs across from the U.N. -- an inspirational starting point!

We joined the throngs across from the U.N. — an inspirational starting point!


Amazingly, one of the first people I saw there, among the 300,000, was my old boss Crystal Field of Theater for the New City. She was a good distance away, and in motion, so I just got this blurry photo.


This was Second Ave, looking North. See the tens of thousands of people in the background? They hadn't even joined the official march yet

This was Second Ave, looking North. See the tens of thousands of people in the background? They hadn’t even joined the official march yet


Blurry, but it allows you to see the tens of thousands stretching up 42nd Street. Just ahead of us was Allison Williams of HBO's "Girls" , but I thought it would be rude to take her picture

Blurry, but it allows you to see the tens of thousands stretching up 42nd Street. Just ahead of us was Allison Williams of HBO’s “Girls” , but I thought it would be rude to take her picture


The Mad Marchioness in foreground, with friends Stephanie Cox-Williams and Jeff Lewonzyk

The Mad Marchioness in foreground, with friends Stephanie Cox-Williams and Jeff Lewonzyk


"I March for My Mom"

“I March for My Mom”



Century of Slapstick #106: Charlie Chaplin in “Easy Street”:

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2017 by travsd


Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of one of Charlie Chaplin’s best known and best loved comedy shorts Easy Street (1917).

Easy Street was made and released at the peak of Chaplin’s Mutual Period, which many modern fans regard as the acme of career, when he was at the height of his powers comically, but not yet too far down the road to pathos that he would begin in earnest around The Kid (1921). The plot is simple. Charlie plays a guy who’s so desperate for a job he becomes a policeman in a bad neighborhood, at a precinct just desperate enough to hire him. The slum is being terrorized by a thug played by Eric Campbell in probably his greatest screen role. He’s so scary that the entire neighborhood en masse won’t take him on. A crowd of literally 50 people cowers in his presence. Chaplin is the David to his Goliath, and he finally conquers him by gassing him with a lamp that he himself has bent down to show his strength. Later when he rebounds, Charlie gets the advantage again when he accidentally sits on a syringe full of cocaine and gets the strength to throw a stove on top of him out a window. In the end, Charlie gets the girl (Edna Purviance of course), the bully is reformed, and everyone goes to church on Sunday.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Stars of Vaudeville #1022: Samri Baldwin, “The White Mahatma”

Posted in Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Samuel Spencer “Samri” Baldwin (1848-1924) . Originally from Cincinnati, Baldwin became inspired to become a magician by studying the Davenport Brothers, and became one of the first mentalists by studying the tricks of Anna Eva Fay (who claimed to be a true medium). Billed as “The White Mahatama”, Baldwin publicly performed handcuff escapes and debunked fraudulent mediums, both activities prior to Houdini. His wife Kate or Kittie was often employed as his partner in the mentalism part of his act, as was his daughter Shadow.  The lady confederate would be led onstage in a trance, blindfolded, and then asked to ascertain the content of messages audience members had written on pads of paper. The Baldwins were the first to do this type of act.  Samri Baldwin’s books include Spirit Mediums Exposed (1879) and Secrets of Mahatma Land Explained (1895).

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold

Let America Be America Again

Posted in African American Interest, AMERICANA, BOOKS & AUTHORS, BROOKLYN, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags , , , on January 21, 2017 by travsd


Travalanche was dark yesterday in observance of the National Tragedy. Rather than rubberneck at the slow motion car wreck in Washington we opted to go to our nearby Brooklyn Museum, where they were holding a marathon reading of Langston Hughes  1935 poem “Let America Be America Again”. It was moving and illuminating to hear it read by people of different ages, races, ethnicities, genders, etc. It was the perfect message to be taking in, a message of working toward the promise of America instead of doubling down on the worst of her lapses and trespasses.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Author Directing Author: Out-Takes

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, Playwrights, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd

Photo by Theo Cote

Just hitting the stands now in the Villager/ Downtown Express/ Chelsea Now, my feature on AdA: Author Directing Author, opening at La Mama later this week. Read the article here.  For this piece I interviewed the three principle artists, director/playwrights Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani and Marta Buchaca (the latter two in person, the former by phone). After you read the article at the link, please come back here and read these additional out-takes from the interview, with Marco and Marta and check out Cashel Stewart’s great photos, below. I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the last 20 years, but I believe these are the first still photos ever to catch me in the act of interviewing. But really, read the feature first, these out-takes won’t make any sense unless you do.


MARTA, on the transfer from Barcelona to New York:

Barcelona was a big success. Now we are here doing the same plays with different actors, in a different language and that’s good for me. I can improve my English! (laughs) There are a lot of things that changed and I think its really interesting as a playwright and director. Now I see parts of the play that I didn’t see in Barleona, more levels. You’re discovering another way because you have different actors and different approaches. I love the actors they have, they are amazing, they are really really good. In general you have amazing actors here in America.


MARCO, on the methodology:

We pick a theme and then we share it and each of us wrote a piece separately. We didn’t get in touch and tell each other what we’re writing about. Of course we set up some rules. We say it needs to be two characters, that’s the main thing, it needs to relate to the designated theme, and shouldn’t require a complicated, elaborate set, not just for the financial aspect but also because the three plays have to be part of one show, so the setting needs to change easily. Or, at least, if you write a play that has specifies five floors or something be ready for the director to have to throw that out. But the biggest rules are the theme, the number of characters, and the length, which were set at 30-35 minutes.

MARCO, on writing female characters:

For reasons that are spontaneous I like writing female characters in general. Especially in terms of speaking of the struggle of aging, which is more traumatic for women unfortunately. Sometimes. Not all the time. At least in my story, in my situation, it is. It’s a woman alone. She’s been left alone by her man and is at the end, probably, of her professional career. So it was dramatic as a choice for me.


MARTA, on her play Summit, which is based on real-life Barcelona mayoress Ada Colau

“Power” [the theme of this year’s production] for me means politics. I had never written a play about politics. And this was great, because after the Barcelona production I got the opportunity to to talk with [Colau], and could add some new things. She was really interesting to write about. When she was in the campaign, all of the other candidates were men, and she was of a lower [economic] class than the other politicians in Barcelona. And she semmed really “apart” from them. They were doing a tv show and she was alone with her cell phone, because no one wanted to introduce her to that world. Now she’s in that world and doing an amazing job. But you know, like Colau, I’m a mother. When I wrote this play I had just had a baby. For me it was really important, to talk about having a professional career and having a baby. I just spent 10 days alone with without my child. For men, that’s not even a topic of conversation. If my husband had to come here to New York as I did, no one would say anything. But when I say to my family, “OK, I’m going to New York, I’m spending 10 days alone, everyone was like, ‘OK we will come and help your husband!'”. Well, yeah! But I mean, he will be fine! But you know we’re still at that point. If you are a mayor you work from 7 in the morning to 1 the next morning. All day. I talked to her about this. She was kind of unhappy about being separated from her child. She said, “It’s hard but I;m doing very important things for the city.” She made her decision. For me as a woman, that’s important. And I love these men telling her that she has to be a mother. Just a mother. We can do both. I can be a playwright and a director and a mother.


MARCO, on the process

When you write it’s a very lonely activity and when you are director you are called to also be a leader. In the way we are collaborating it feels more like a friendship than a responsibility. It’s always shared. That doesn’t mean you get to do less, but its about sharing. It’s a good fit. Wherever we are going to, we are having a very good experience….I have learned so much from AdA, by allowing somebody to work through your plays and being responsible for another play by another playwright, who is working on the other playwright’s play. I’ve learned a lot not just about theatre and writing and directing but about collaboration and trust .


MARTA, on working with actors Gabby Beans and Margaret Colin: 

Maggie and Gabby are open to do anything and they want to … they are really free and they have their own proposals. And they listen to me and I listen to them and its really a collaboration. I have no friends here in New York. My cast are my friends and family. I think they know this. I think it was quite the “mom” thing in this case. Gabby is newer and brings the energy. Maggie has the experience. They are nice people. I think it is more important to me when I cast someone that they nice than they be perfect. He might be the most perfect actor in the world but if he is an asshole I don’t want to work with him! Because you work together for many days, all day, and it’s so intimate and it’s so hard, you want to be with people who have humor and are nice and have fun,


Sometimes I have to stop my actors (Richard Kind and Gia Crovatin) from having fun and say let’s be serious! We’ve done a lot in a very few days and that makes me feel very good.




Run to the box office and see it! It’s going to be amazing!



R. Sikorak Signs Anti-Trump Comics Tomorrow!

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd


I am a big fan of witty illustrator R. Sikorak, who is especially adept at aping the styles of classic era comic books. Tomorrow night from 6 to 8pm he will be one of the thousands providing worthy counterpoint to the national disgrace that is Donald Trump’s inauguration by signing copies of his comic The Unquotable Trump, which features Trump as the villain in several classic comic book settings. It will take place at JHU Comics, 32 East 32nd Street, NYC.

Tonight at Barbes: Charming Disaster & Curtis Eller!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Contemporary Variety, Music, PLUGS with tags , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd


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