Thursday, March 31, 2011
Sweeping New York State budget cuts announced this week will have a deep impact on many New York City programs, from law enforcement to education, with the MTA being no exception. Among the cuts New York will be forced to make following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget announcement, is the removal of the Fish Train that runs from Brooklyn to Space, as well as service on the Bronx bound 1,2, and 3 lines that makes stops along fire escapes.
The cuts have set off an outcry among New York City residents, many with severely reduced options on how to commute to work. Pablo Martin, 39, a saxophonist who commutes nightly to a club in Dumbo from the Cloud he lives on, doesn’t know what he’ll do. “Without the Fish, I don’t know how I’m going to get to work,” Martin said. “Planes are expensive.” Those most affected by the Fish cuts may be those coming from the trains last stop, in the Xenon 4 galaxy, that the train travels 43 light years to get to each day. KlangX’ingto Probfjinj, 687, an alien resident recently interviewed said, “It fucking sucks.”
In a speech regarding the budget cuts, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, “If we really want this city to open its doors to all walks of life we need to have the money to bring in people from space, the sky, the past, and the future.” Many riders commute using the fish’s time travel route, such as Sir Henry XI, who travels to Chelsea on occasion from the 15th century. “I’ll miss it very much, although service was pretty bad late at night. Got stuck in the 80’s a couple times.”
Other riders are pleased the train is being shut down for safety issues. Jon Carles, 32, used to ride the train weekly to see his girlfriend who lived in China. “I almost fell out of that thing every time I rode it. I even dropped my brief case once. That’s a weird train, man…people always making out on it and singing, like normal subway etiquette doesn’t even apply. I once even saw an alligator on it…a fucking alligator!”
Other service being cut by the MTA is selected fire escape stops on the 1, 2, and 3 lines from 125th st. to 250th st. Adored by many riders for the trains easy access into homes, many more seem happy to see service go. “Shit was like some wacky roller coaster or some shit,” says Marc Chou, 27, who grew nauseous on his daily commute. The MTA has been considering shutting down the lines for some time, as many privacy and vandalism lawsuits have been filed which some claim could have been prevented had trains not lead directly into their bedroom windows. Maria Cohen contacted the MTA several times to no avail. “Every time I was getting dressed a train full of people came by…it was terrible. I’m looking forward to my privacy and being able to put my laundry out again.”
No word yet on if the budget cuts will prevent the removal of the giant colorful lizard birds walking along New York City railways.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I first read the name Mary Anning at the end of this marvelous cartoon by Kate Beaton (seriously, go read it, espesh if you saw Photograph 51 last fall!), where Kate laments that reading about awesome women of the past is awesome--until you realize that almost all of them got screwed in some hugely frustrating way (cf. also Kate's cartoon about Ada Lovelace). It's a pretty exhausting narrative, and it is often told exhaustingly. Look at this woman, who beat the odds! (And then, in smaller type:) But she never got any credit. Over and over, junior high textbooks straining to find role models for the modern girl. No, seriously, you can do science. Look at how well it went for Marie Curie. Wait, how did she die? DAMMIT!
Mary Anning fits right into the pantheon of depressing heroines. She lived in England during the early 19th century and was born into the family business of fossil hunting. As a kid she'd go out on the cliffs with her dad and her brother and they'd find small fossils to sell to tourists. Except then it turned out, Mary was really good at this. And not just good at finding little fossils. She was good at finding fossils that no one had ever seen before, and she was really good at constructing the skeletons. Should be famous scientist material, but because she was uneducated, and because she was of the lower class, and because her family needed to eat, she had to settle for selling her finds to wealthy gentlemen scientists, who would then publish on her findings.
What's unique about Mary is that she didn't have her work stolen from her, really. She sold it. But she didn't sell it out of ignorance, she sold it out of need. Her family was always in the hole. Once or twice, a prominent scientist in London would raise money and send it to the Annings, but fundraisers aren't sustainable, and so she struggled. And although Mary was proud of her work and the connections she made with those London scientists, eventually she came to resent them and the credit they received. She died young, at age 47, of breast cancer (after, it should be noted, twice before dodging death--she was almost hit by lightning as a baby, and nearly killed by an avalanche as an adult). Charles Dickens wrote a kind but vaguely patronizing magazine article about her, winding up with:
"Her history shows what humble people may do, if they have just purpose and courage enough, towards promoting the cause of science.... The carpenter's daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it."
You don't say.
Reading about Mary reminded me of some of our recent discussions here on the Youngblog, in particular, our discussions about privilege. Although I'm sure Dickens thought he was being a total mensch when he patted the late Mary's head for being humble, purposeful, and courageous, I couldn't help but think, okay. Then why'd she have to sell everything she worked for? All the time? Why did she only get credit as an afterthought? Oh, right. Privilege. A woman of lower class: damn, girl. You did good with nothing.
Ain't nothing wrong with being humble, purposeful, and courageous. Ain't nothing wrong with working your rear end off, either with your marathon Mat Smart days or however else it works for you. But it's all just treading water upstream if the system stays broken, and that's why we've been beating drums here on the Youngblog. Because all us Mary Annings in the world, we already plan on working. We already plan on getting up at the crack of dawn, to dig up fossils or write ten pages before we have to go to our survival jobs. So long as we're holding up our end of the bargain, I think it's only right we keep an eye on the other end.
Oh also, I wrote a play about Mary Anning, and it's called She Sells Seashells, because also did you know that tongue-twister is totally about her?, and it's in Youngblood's SCIENCE BRUNCH, and that is happening this Sunday, April 3rd. A brunch buffet, an open bar, and five awesome plays about the most sciencey things we could think of. Buy your tickets here. See you soon.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
94 St. Mark's Place is up for sell, and that means trouble for my beloved UNDER St. Mark's, which is currently renting for 20% less than market rate. An official press release is coming soon, but the possibility of UNDER St. Mark's going away makes me want to go to sleep forever.
It was my first artistic home in New York, and I continue to do shows there even now. It was where I premiered The Chalk Boy, MilkMilkLemonade and Lonesome Winter. It's where I directed the premiere of Dorothy Fortenberry's awesome Caitlin and the Swan and where I played a giant lobster woman in Joe Tracz's Song for a Future Generation.
Is it tiny? Yes. Do the pipes clang? Totally. Do you sometimes have to kick out crackheads? Sure. But it's also charming as hell and a lot of fun. If it went away, Horse Trade would still have The Kraine and The Red Room, but UNDER St. Mark's was always my pick. I would miss buying Crif Dog tater tots for my audience sometimes. I'd miss the tattoo parlor upstairs and the hobos who sleep near the door.
For all of its flaws, UNDER St. Mark's is my home. It's my heart. Can't we do some Breakin' shit and save the teen center, er... I mean, theater from ruin!
This Nashville review of In The Heights has been making the rounds and the internet is aflame with righteous fury. It's certainly understandable. The original review was removed, but the internet forgets nothing:
What will the American musical do for thematic material when the melting pot has completely turned to ethnic mush and no group is really underprivileged? We might be there already, in fact, which makes pondering sitting through this Broadway “blockbuster” a comme ci, comme ça proposition. In the Heights won four 2008 Tony Awards, but it’s getting harder and harder to know if that’s a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or a rubber stamp that has to be affixed dutifully to some show or another every year.So... wow.
Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s story — book by Quiara Alegría Hudes — tells of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, “where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music.” In other words, an excuse to employ dynamic youthful minority performers who dance and sing and holler to a lot of salsa music and groove on lyrics about Latin loving and partying. Oh yeah, and also about fulfilling their hopes and dreams in the Promised Land of America (specifically, New York City, where the L train plays a lullaby).
This fest of semi-huddled masses yearning to be free encompasses Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, etc., making it an easy leap to presume their forebears were the inspiration for half the cast of the original production of West Side Story. All that exuberance is great — yet the horns alone might give you a headache. But if you like your ingénues brown and leggy and your music “hot, hot, hot,” this is the show for you.
The website removed the original post, replacing it with an edited version. You can read that here. The editor leads with an apology, which leaves me pretty cold. The thing is, if you read the edited version with the most flagrantly racist remarks removed, there's nothing negative left. So why only one star? If this reason he hated the musical is NOT that it's full of brown folks, what exactly didn't work about it for this critic?
P.S. Who doesn't like their ingenues "brown and leggy"? Nobody worth knowing, that's who.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
"Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough."I'd like to point out something about this ideal day of "work".
It's all sitting down.
Although I haven't heard anybody talking about it, there's a serious problem here. It's a problem for our whole society built around white collar desk jobs and blue collar automation-monitoring jobs, but it is also a problem for writers. Apparently, in order to make it, we have to spend 5 days a week sitting for at least 17 hours (plus sitting on our hour-long commutes to and from work). On the weekends we'd only have to sit for 9 hours each day to write and email, but we'll probably spend the other hours relaxing by watching a movie or some television or reading a book, also while sitting. We also sit while we eat our meals, we sit at meetings of our playwriting groups, we sit at the theater, and we sit at bars and restaurants to socialize.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published an editorial linking prolonged sitting to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health problems such as cancer, obesity, and early death. There is an Australian study that came to similar conclusions, and a great Olivia Judson article about the molecular machinations at work in your body while you sit. Essentially, sitting for long periods of time shortens your life expectancy and your quality of life while you're living it. Even people who go for a run every day but otherwise are sedentary are screwed. Thinness doesn't indicate healthiness either.
I know, I know. Playwrights are indoor children. We had our periods every single week in middle school so we wouldn't have to play dodgeball. These days, as adults, we tell ourselves we live in New York, so we "walk all the time" and eat organic vegetables so therefore we don't need to actually exercise. These are lies. Face it. A couple blocks to and from the subway is not "all the time."
Do we really need to kill ourselves to prove our dedication to our work? Certainly, you have to put in quite a few hours writing if you want to be a writer. And you have to work a dayjob, to pay the rent. And the best paying jobs, the most buck for your hour, if you will, are usually sedentary office jobs...you're not going to find some gig digging ditches for $20 an hour.
There's no simple way to change this, as it's a problem deeply ingrained in our current cultural and economic identity. But it's also a problem in our professional identities as writers. We're told that we are lazy if we don't chain ourselves to desk chairs for our entire lives, that our failings are our restlessness and interest in the physical world beyond the office. Is it really a surprise, then, when we go to the theater and see lots of plays about people sitting in chairs and talking about stupid, internal, neurotic, naval-gazing bullshit? Does playwriting really have to be such a prison?
I'd like to advocate for balance, for remembering that we are bodies as well as brains, for caring for ourselves as physical beings. Stand up for yourself! Take time to walk, run, or bike around, be in the world and in your musculature, and do it regularly. Get up from your desk for a few minutes every hour and take a break. Even if that means taking an extra few days to send those "business emails." Even if it means only writing for a couple hours each night instead of six. (Uh, by the way, six? Maybe I'm just a lazy piece of shit, but I cannot write for six straight hours every day. And I feel good about the rate and trajectory of my career. Smart must be winning Pulitzers every week or something.)
This week I'm getting rid of my sitting desk and chair and building a standing desk. I've been trying it out on my kitchen counter piled with books, and I find I am more productive, less likely to get distracted, and more likely to notice when I do get distracted, so I can walk around, refocus myself, and get back to work sooner. Hopefully I'll be able to have a career, an apartment, and a long and healthy life. Because I sure as hell don't have health insurance. But that's a topic for another blog post.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Of course he's right that playwrights need to work hard, but his attitude represents a larger sort of American thinking that's outdated and dangerous. It's the idea that we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top. The truth is, privilege exists in theater because it exists everywhere in America.
We do not live in a meritocracy.
I love when straight, white, dudes are brash enough to argue that disadvantages against women, racial minorities, poor folks, gays etc. are completely imagined despite oodles of evidence to the contrary. Minorities are poor because of LAZINESS.
The line of thinking is: "I've never found X to be a problem, so it must not exist." It's a selfish, myopic understanding of life in America, whether it's about theater or any other profession. In short, it's the argument of somebody who benefits from privilege.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Suggestions? What's the best Saint Patrick's Day read?
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
This is seemingly a step in the right direction.
For the uninitiated, The Boys in the Band revolves around a group of gay men at a birthday party on the Upper East Side in 1969. Things start out great, until somebody's straight college friend shows up and makes things awkward. Things only get worse when the birthday boy appears two hours late, stoned and miserable and ready to fight. As the evening progresses and the booze and pot is consumed, dark secrets and painful memories come out and all the party attendees are left wondering why, as gay men, they hate themselves so much.
It's an examination of loneliness and self-loathing and despite being very clever and funny at times, some people find its bleakness excruciating. Unfortunately, it didn't fit into the narrative of the gay liberation movement of the past few decades and so it kind of got thrown under the bus as a relic of another time, at best, or a shameful, hateful embarrassment to the gay community, at worst. That's a fucking shame, because it's a masterpiece, and one a lot of young queer people probably don't know.
I keep thinking how brave Mart Crowley was. He wrote this play at a time when gay men were getting the shit beat out of them in gay bars (not that they don't anymore, but still.) The film version was the first major motion picture about gay lives and I can't think of one since that features all gay men and examines their lives in a way that's honest, even if painful. And I, for one, think it's still pretty radical to see a story that has only gay men in it without any wacky female buddies or understanding straight bros.
I mean, when I was a closeted gay teen in the 90's there was an explosion of gay movies, but they really fell into two categories:
1. Gay teen coming out movie
2. White, gay men with money romantic comedies
And in the theater we had Jeffrey and Love! Valour! Compassion! etc. which often became indie films too. With the exception of Angels in America, nothing feels as radical in gay theater as The Boys in the Band. (Although I'm so optimistic and excited about The Normal Heart remount coming up.) In general though, they were mostly apolitical and kind of wholesome, even.
I guess what I'm getting at is that gay plays and movies seem so safe to me now. But why? Our lives are easier, but still not easy. We haven't assimilated into mainstream culture that much. The struggle is still a struggle. Why are all these plays and films about white, Urban men with money? I'm starting to think there's a difference between being gay and being queer.
I guess part of being a queer artist is coming to terms with never crossing over to the mainstream? Is that it? As far as I'm concerned, Charles Ludlam should be in the pantheon of great American playwrights, but he isn't really. Ditto Mart Crowley. Ditto Charles Busch. Ditto Doric Wilson. And that's just the theater. If I went into music or film and the wonderful, over looked artists I'd write a list that goes on forever.
People can say what they will about The Boys in the Band, but at least it's bold. At least it's honest. At least it's authentic. Three things I want all queer artists to be. Three things I want to be too.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
For maximum enjoyment I recommend reading Streetcar before seeing it.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
The trailer for "Tale of Two Sisters" appears here - Charlie Sheen reads his his poetry over the second half of it (around 1:08). It is really....really...inspiring....(?)
Why is this on the Youngblog? Just good old writerly camaraderie I guess.
Friday, March 04, 2011
"Dickens and other commentators marked, in the Britannia and theatres like it, the huge and suffocating galleries packed with coatless youths who expressed approval and disapproval with shrill whistles, cheers and united sound effects of massive volume; the consumption of fried fish, porter, sausages, ham sandwiches, cakes, oranges and pig-trotters; the babies in the pit; the general spirit of enjoyment; the immense popularity of stage favourites and comic songs; and intense interest in the business of the stage." [Booth, "The Theatre and Its Audience," in The Revels History of Drama in English, p. 27]
P.S. Coatless Youths would be an amazing name for a punk band.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Josh Conkel says in an earlier posting (and I agree) that a lot of great new voices who actually have something interesting to say about different socio-economic experiences don't have the opportunities that writers of financial privilege do. I think this is a very complicated issue and I'm going to put in my two cents - as well as explain where I'm coming from, personally.
Some theaters are quite cautious about alienating their subscription base with discomforting tales of class differences, but I think that many theaters are very interested in plays that address class in fresh ways. So why aren't we seeing more? I think it has to do with the economics of playwriting.
It’s not just about going to a great school or having an MFA: how many people can afford to live a playwright’s life?
It’s so expensive to live in New York City. So if you’re dedicated to being a playwright (or artist in general) you have to find a job that a) pays your bills b) leaves you time to write and c) leaves you time to shmooze and network.
Part of the reason that there are so many voices of financial privilege out there is that they have the time. If you don’t have to have a 9 to 5 job you can spend your days writing and you can spend your nights meeting more people to help you get your plays on.
Well, what about when playwrights start to get a little successful? Can’t you poor playwrights just sit tight until you get a play on? Let’s not forget that theater, at least at first, still doesn’t really pay that much.
Certainly not enough to live on. So the poor playwright has to continue to have a part time job (even if they had a great review in the Times) while the financially privileged playwright can devote all his/her time to the momentum of his/her newfound success.
I don’t come from money but my parents prioritized my education. I did go to a lot of great schools (on scholarship). But when it came to getting an MFA – I wasn’t interested. Why would I burden myself with a crazy debt that writing may never pay off? I also considered film school for awhile – where in addition to debt you also have to fundraise for your own projects. No thank you.
So I took the poor writer’s route and took very crappy jobs that allowed me time to write. (I have literally never made more than 15k per year since moving to New York.) I was a barista. I was a writer’s assistant. I was a dogwalker. I was a babysitter. And I continue to do weird jobs to make ends meet. While these jobs don’t directly help my career in any way they allow me the time to write and provide tons of writer’s fodder. I met a ton of weirdos. I learned to make a great soy cappuccino. I once pulled a tampon out of a pugle’s butt (his owners wondered why he had had a stomach ache for the past week).
But it was hard. And it was especially hard to get my writing out there without a community. I guess that is what MFA programs and Yale is for. While I had studied theater at a great school (Stanford) we weren’t really known for our theater department and there were virtually no theater professionals from Stanford in New York City. Compared to the Goodfellas-esque Yale mafia, the Stanford presence in New York resembles those pathetic Italian drinking clubs in the basements of brownstones in Carroll Gardens.
Finally, I went to Williamstown Theater Festival, determined to meet people. And I did. But it was expensive. I was a directing intern – so while they provided free housing they they didn’t pay me. I had to save money from my tip jar earnings and sublet my apartment over the summer. It’s not the festival’s fault – they don’t really have that much money either. I guess it’s just the way things work. At least I wasn’t an apprentice though, they have to pay a few k just to go.
After I met those people, I met more people. And eventually I got into Youngblood, which has been a very centering force in my life.
But how do you take that leap from artist to artist-that-people-care-about without resources?
I decided to produce my own feature film last year – which I wrote, directed, edited and acted in (yeah, I'm one of those hyphenate assholes). The film is called “Five Days Gone” – it is largely about class and I’m very proud of it. It wasn’t that expensive – but it was way more than I had. Luckily, I had help. My boyfriend Sam and others helped me fundraise for the film – without their support I would have never been able to make it.
For me, this was the first thing that I did after college – and I graduated five years ago.
I also recently found out that I’ll have my NYC play premiere this summer at Second Stage’s uptown space (see earlier blog posting about The Talls). So it feels like things are finally starting to come together.
If I was rich, I would have self produced a play and a movie right out of college. But honestly, they probably would have been terrible. I'm happy that it took a few years before I had the opportunity to show anything to the world. But even if my play gets great reviews and my movie gets into amazing festivals, I still have to get other work to pay my bills. I’m constantly trying to cobble together an income from odd jobs.
I look forward to the day when my writing will pay the bills. But at the same time, I’m happy that I’ve had to struggle. I’m happy that I actually have something to write about.
***Additional post-post thought/question:
Playwriting, theater, the arts in general are a crazy gamble. The system is flawed - but what is the alternative? What does it mean to be successful in theater? Does that mean making all your money from theater? Does it mean having a play up at a certain place or a certain number of fans?