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


Tomorrow: Nasty Women and Bad Hombres

Posted in BROOKLYN, Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd


Godspeed, Obama

Posted in African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd


Today is the last day in office of the best President I will probably ever see in my lifetime — certainly the finest man to serve as President.

The Right has a weird tendency to speak disparagingly of Obama’s inspirational rhetoric as if that were somehow nothing, as though trying to connect profoundly disconnected people back to whatever meaning still remains in what has become a cold, materialistic, violent nation was some kind of fool’s errand. But a leader needs to get people on board before he can take them anywhere. Obama tried very hard to do that. He tried to include people. He had no shady agenda of  trying to enrich his cronies like, well, just about every other President of my lifetime. It’s hard for me to think of the Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, or Johnson without sense memories of corruption; the Oval Office as pig sty. Like the archetype of the Holy Fool, like the Quixotic hero in a Frank Capra movie, Obama just tried to do the job, tried to make people’s lives better, and for that he was vilified, slandered, blocked and thwarted at every turn. At times, that was actually his opponents’ only agenda — they literally said so. They literally had nothing better to do than stop him from succeeding, even if his efforts would have helped the country.

I’ve often wished Obama were a good deal nastier, less a gentleman, so he could put these petty, beady-eyed pink weasels in their place. Even now, he’s doing more to be civil than a good many of us would do. Would you have a decent word for this oozing cyst whom America’s troglodytes have selected as his successor? Shake Trump’s hand? Give him advice? Attend his inauguration? Be diplomatic when referring to his dangerous inadequacies? After he waged an entire campaign to cast doubt on your American citizenship? And promises not only to undo everything you just did, but everything EVERY President EVER did? I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d change all the passwords, glue all the desk drawers shut, saw the legs on all the chairs, then move two blocks away from the White House and start a Think Tank called BREAK TRUMP INTO LITTLE PIECES, with a neon sign out front blinking that name. But if Obama acted that way, he wouldn’t be the man we admire. In the age of going low, as the First Lady put it, the Obamas believe in going high.

The only thing that makes me happy about the fact that this is last day is that, in my hero worship, I’ve always seen him as a kind of love child of Lincoln, King and Kennedy, and that particular combination has always made me constantly fear for his safety, lest someone who hates him and those three martyred leaders see the same thing. I pray for him all the time, and I’ll still do it after he leaves office. Because, for a people that goes around spouting noble words on patriotic holidays, there’s an awful lot of dark hatred in this land. To such an extent that on the rare occasion when someone of real character makes it to the highest office in the land, his skin color makes people go berzerk. Something tells me that very shortly some of the very people who rejected him will be fervently wishing for his return.

For more thoughts on the outgoing President, and all of his predecessors, go here.

Sarah Helen Whitman: The First Goth Girlfriend

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Women with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Providence poet, essayist, Transcendentalist and Spiritualist Sarah Helen Whitman (nee Power, 1803-1875). I first learned about this fascinating person from our friend the mentalist Rory Raven who took us to her house on a walking tour. She is best known today for her romantic relationship with Edgar Allan Poe, whom she came quite close to marrying towards the end of his life. A day had even been declared. But her one condition was sobriety. Poe failed at that, and was also involved with several other women. Today is also Poe’s birthday. I’ve yet to do a substantial post on him, despite his being one of my favorite writers as a youth, though there have been some small ones, including this and this.

Whitman was a fascinating person in her own right, and undoubtedly would have been a more equal match for him than his child bride Virginia Clemm, who died in early 1847. Whitman was older than Poe, a literary figure herself, the widow of writer and editor John Winslow Whitman, and an influence for Temperance in Poe’s life. Things might have gone very differently for him with her by his side. The circumstances of his death are mysterious, but whatever they were, they weren’t good. It’s idle speculation, but she might have kept him out of trouble, kept him alive a few more years. Whitman herself outlived Poe by nearly 30 years.

Whitman wrote many literary tributes to her famous lover. I like “The Raven” (1848) because it’s a true work of fan art, laced with references to his works. You see why they would have made a good couple:

Raven, from the dim dominions
On the Night’s Plutonian shore,
Oft I hear thy dusky pinions
Wave and flutter round my door—
See the shadow of thy pinions
Float along the moon-lit floor;

Often, from the oak-woods glooming
Round some dim ancestral tower,
In the lurid distance looming—
Some high solitary tower—
I can hear thy storm-cry booming
Through the lonely midnight hour.

When the moon is at the zenith,
Thou dost haunt the moated hall,
Where the marish flower greeneth
O’er the waters, like a pall—
Where the House of Usher leaneth,
Darkly nodding to its fall:

There I see thee, dimly gliding—
See thy black plumes waving slow—
In its hollow casements hiding,
When their shadow yawns below,
To the sullen tarn confiding
The dark secrets of their woe:—

See thee, when the stars are burning
In their cressets, silver clear—
When Ligeia’s spirit yearning
For the earth-life, wanders near—
When Morella’s soul returning,
Weirdly whispers “I am here.”

Once, within a realm enchanted,
On a far isle of the seas,
By unearthly visions haunted,
By unearthly melodies,
Where the evening sunlight slanted
Golden through the garden trees—

Where the dreamy moonlight dozes,
Where the early violets dwell,
Listening to the silver closes
Of a lyric loved too well,
Suddenly, among the roses,
Like a cloud, thy shadow fell.

Once, where Ulalume lies sleeping,
Hard by Auber’s haunted mere,
With the ghouls a vigil keeping,
On that night of all the year,
Came thy souding pinions, sweeping
Through the leafless woods of Weir!

Oft, with Proserpine I wander
On the Night’s Plutonian shore,
Hoping, fearing, while I ponder
On thy loved and lost Lenore—
On the demon doubts that sunder
Soul from soul forevermore;

Trusting, though with sorrow laden,
That when life’s dark dream is o’er,
By whatever name the maiden
Lives within thy mystic lore,
Eiros, in that distant Aidenn,
Shall his Charmion meet once more.

Tomorrow on TCM: Wheeler and Woolsey in “Cockeyed Cavaliers”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, Wheeler and Woolsey with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2017 by travsd


Tomorrow at 7:30am (EST), Turner Classic Movies will show the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934), directed by Mark Sandrich. This is rated one of the team’s best comedies, and just like their previous film Hips, Hips, Hooray it pairs them with the double whammy of Dorothy Lee and Thelma Todd. And, as in the previous film the boys are masquerading as somebody they’re not. In this case it’s the king’s physicians (they’re just a couple of country bumpkins). Oh, did we mention the Medieval setting? That’s what makes it special and the movie gets much mileage out of the history gags, which put it in a league with films like Roman Scandals, The Court Jester and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 

For more on comedy film history please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc

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