Saturday, October 29, 2005

Automatic Superstar, part 2

It was pointed out to me that I didn't mention Tracy in my blog about automatic superstar. Naturally I feel like shit. Of course, now that it's been pointed out that I didn't mention her, mentioning her seems totally insincere. but I'll do it anyway.

Tracy plays Tracy Trouble, the female love interest/wannabe rock star in Automatic Superstar. She is cute, sexy, and has an amazing set of pipes on her. If any record execs actually do see the show (not likely, considering the subject matter), she could end living out her part in real life. She's that good.

A further note about the brechtian quality of the whole play. Some of this comes from working with rock and roll people as opposed to theatre people. While everyone involved has some theatre experience, the production is being run by people who are primarilly musicians. As such a lot of the conventions of theatre are completely ignored, particularly in regard to the audience. Like *The Donkey Show*, which provides some inspiration for this piece, the audience is supposed to be part of the erformance. It is supposed to be in a rock club. The band hangs out on the floor at intermission as though taking a break between sets. The actors mingle with the crowd before and after the show--even Matic, who come sotu and shakes a few hands before taking his place for the overature. The extras, playing mostly concert goers, are int he crowd the whole time. There is no illusion here. THe piece is in a way very ritualistic, as though the actors come on as themselves and say "ok, now we're going to do a show." This fits in with the iconic nature in which the characters are written. There is absolutely no barrier set up between spectator and performer.

The interesting thing is how few of the audience members get it. They act as though they have come to see a PLAY. They look for seats when they come in (it's a dance hall, seats run out fast). The sit or stand during the performance more or less quietly--or, more precisely, as though they are observers. I have only seen one person so far join the extras and dance as if they were at a concert. It's kind of dissapointing, but very pavlovian. People when they go to see a rock concert expect a different kind of aesthetic then when they go to see a play, and audience members seem to be conditioned to take a position of passive observation when viewing what they no to be a play, a conditioning that is hard to break.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Automatic Superstar

Last night was the opening night of Automatic Superstar, a rock opera about music downloading that I kind of lucked into. Zorikh/Ervald, my former roommate and another SCA member, was cast as a security guard and he got first myself and Dwayne/Sir Diablu to join him. We have basic spear carrier roles, mostly standing around looking intimidating and clearing a path through the audience for the rock star-hero.

This show rocks! The music is awesome and the cast is one of the most talented I’ve worked with ever (and in various walk on and background rolls I’ve worked with a few greats). While all the conventions of rock opera and rock musicals are there—lonely, alienated hero, unrequited love, high melodrama, evil record executives, etc—the show is also a political statement on the social revolution of music downloading. The premise of the show is the theory that ideas (in this case music) cannot be bought and sold, that they belong to everybody, and that downloading music will free artists from the shackles put on them by the record companies. Now, those who know me or have taken my class know the problems I have with downloading, and that I generally believe in copyright as a legal principle, but this show shows how downloading can be a good thing by giving artists the ability to market themselves instead of indebting themselves to record companies, which, let’s face it, are among the most vile, exploitative, venal businesses out there. This, of course, makes them easy targets, and the play goes after them hammer and tongs. The interactive show moves all over the nightclub. It is, of course, extremely Brechtian in its approach while being very accessible and entertaining (and we should not forget old Dale Whalberg’s insistence that Rock Opera comes closer to Artuad’s theatre of Cruelty then anything else—I don’t completely agree with Dale on this, but he certainly hadn’t seen De Laguarda when he said it). The show has been bouncing around the New York theater scene for about a year and a half, in workshop productions and partial stagings, but last nights was full blown. There was video, great lights, (some sound problems), a lot of extras, three incredibly hot and talented dancers, and an awesome aerialist. It’s a real trip.

This show is part of what can now be viewed as a long tradition of rock and roll theater. There are obvious parallels to other rock and roll stories and other rock operas. Some of the music, especially duets between Matic and his agent Stanton (who has a rock tenor voice that would make Meatloaf jealous) has echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar. I mean it: Stanton has moments that are as sharp and dramatic as Jesus scourging the money changers out of the temple (“My temple should be/a house of prayer!”) or Judas’ screams. The rock icon as Christ figure motif is also not unlike Tommy, and Matic’s loyal fans who insist he be the rock star they fantasize about is classic Who. Not to mention that Frankie, who plays the record company owner Rod Blocker, can out-Tina Tina Turner herself! In look, feel and some of the sound it is a lot like Ziggy Stardust. The mesmerizing rock star as pied piper and the inhumanity of the record companies is much like Harlan Elison’s novel Spiderkiss. The millennial undertones are a lot like the post-apocalyptic fantasy created in Sam Sheppard’s The Tooth of Crime. And, of course, the Faustian bargain Matic makes to become a rock star is straight out of that greatest of rock musicals, the Phantom of the Paradise (so, for that matter, is the mask), and writer/composer/director and all around crazy man Bob Weidman would make an excellent Swan (though, surprisingly, he’s never seen it).

I’ve always appreciated the cultural revolution aspect of downloading, how it removes greedy corporate middlemen from the distribution process. Problems with downloading can be addressed later. This show is a lot of fun to be in and a lot of fun to watch (which, face it, is what I spend most of my stage time doing). Everybody should check it out. It’s currently playing Friday Nights, 8 o’clock, at Show on West 41 between 6th and Broadway (that’s right! I am in a show that’s right off Times Square! It’s practically Broadway!)

Tickets can be had through
A great write up on the show can be found at
Music can be downloaded at

Those are just a few sites. Google it and you’ll find a lot more, including reviews of earlier productions. I mean it, this show totally rocks! You must see it!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bond, James Bond

To me the best news out of Bondville is not that Daniel Craig, a competnet Brittish actor who was in "Tomb Raider" and "The Road to Perdition," has been picked as the next James Bond. Yes, I would have chosen Sean Beam as my first choice, and yes Jason Connery is out there somewhere, but no biggie. The fact that he's blonde (not really blonde, mind you, just a sandy brown) isn't a problem, although Jason Conery did once say he would never play Bond because Bond is supposed to be dark and swarthy. This pick has taken a lot of people by surprise int he same way the George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton did. But I don't care. No: what really interests me about this choice is that the movie they are filming is Casino Royale. Casino Royale holds a unique place in Bond history. It has been filmed twice, but never as part of the "offical" bond catalogue. The very first James Bond film was a version of Casino Royale from the 1954 TV series "Climax Mystery Theatre" staring Bary Nelson and Peter Lorre that is so rare it doesn't even have an IMBD entry. The 1967 version wasn't a James Bond film in the traditional sense but a classic "60s Acid Comedy" staring Peter Sellars and Woody Allen. Bond fans have been waiting for a full-scale big budget production Casino Royale since "Dr. No." It's about time!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Little annoying things Bill Maher. I know it's because he's a PETA Nazi, but he makes me embarrassed to be a liberal sometimes. He made a joke about the recent "take your kid hunting" day, as though taking your kid hunting was something only whackos and crazy's would do. He really is that out of touch with rural America. Taking a kid hunting is one of the most important parent/child bonding traditions in America, and if he knew anything about country folk he'd know that. But Bill is opposed to all gun ownership and all hunting, so at least he's consistent. And, of course, his schtick is acting like people are stupid for engaging in any sort of conservative activity, and I like 80 percent of what he does and agree with 90 percent of what he says, so I shouldn't complain. He just touched one of my buttons.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Guns in NOLA

This is for my buddy J.P.

As I’ve written before, when you come from Redneck stock and you live in New York you find very quickly that one great dividing points between New Yorkers and people from the country is on the subject of guns. Most New Yorkers I know (though certainlyh not all) view guns as irredeemably bad things. This is especially true of New Yorkers who live in traditionally high crime neighborhoods. I like to shock my public speaking students by telling them that my step father gave me my first rifle when I was 13 years old. They are often mortified: “how could you give a gun to a little child?” Well, it’s simple: in the cities (and the US is becoming more urbanized every day) guns are a problem. They are part of a culture of violence. They represent crime and mayhem and murder. The number of my students who know people who have been murdered is pretty disheartening (I have known three people who were murdered, plus two murderers, and I lived a very calm middle class background, but more on that later). In the country guns are seen as tools of survival. They are marks of independence and freedom. They often have a sacred quality to them, a symbolism that is borne out of the fact that our country was founded in a revolution based on two principles, taxes and gun ownership, and that the first battle of the revolutionary war was fought by local militia using their own weapons and British troops who had been sent to disarm them and destroy their munitions at Concord. Gun rights are therefore at the core of American democracy—at least if you are the type of person who likes guns.

Why am I writing this? One of the big subtexts of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that only a few in the media picked up on was guns. Guns played a specific part in several of the news reports coming out of NOLA and, interestingly enough, it was the New York Times which seemed to have the most balanced coverage of the issue. Now for a moment I’m going to sound like a conservative, so if you don’t like it you will need to go read something else today.

Guns were in the news in several places:

1.) “Street gangs” were rumored to be looting gun stores, supposedly to arm themselves so they could engage in more looting, car-jackings, and all around mayhem.
2.) When Baton Rouge began accepting refugees from Katrina, there was a run on local guns stores. Apparently the citizens of the state capital panicked at the idea of “those people” invading their fair city.
3.) The Times ran a long piece about citizens of New Orleans arming themselves against looters. The accompanying picture was of a husband and wife armed with pump action shotguns and wearing sidearms standing in front of their machine shop. One person interviewed told of how he had driven off some looters by firing a warning shot over their heads and (a very quotable man he was) said, “you’ve heard of law West of the Pecos, well this is the law south of Canal street.”
4.) Later, the Times reported that under martial law, authorities were going into people’s homes and seizing their weapons. A spokesperson for the coast guard (another report had it as a spokesperson for the city) was reported to have said “no one will be allowed to go armed.
5.) Sean Penn, who notably took part in several rescues in the days after the flooding, appeared in a photograph in the New York Post wading through hip deep water carrying a shotgun.
6.) My mom sent me a picture off the internet of several men standing around a home made plywood sign somewhere in the Hurricane Rita disaster zone. All of the men were carrying firearms and the hand painted sing read, “Drunks with guns—you loot we shoot!”

The sign kind of sums up the situation. This was the militia that the 2nd amendment envisioned (not the national guard, no matter what some liberal constitutional scholars may argue): neighbors banding together, armed to the teeth, to protect their neighborhood. And that is why number 4 on this list is so odious. Surely, if there is any purpose to the 2nd amendment, it is so that people can protect themselves and their property when civil authorities are unable to do so (Huey Newton’s demonstration that it’s all so the rich white folks can protect their property from the poor black folks may, in fact, be germane in the case of NOLA, but we should pick that up another day). To have the federal government go into people’s houses and seize their weapons, leaving them with no means of protection (the police force is in shambles and there is no phone service to call 911) is reprehensible. It is certainly unconstitutional. On the NRA website this week there was an item that a federal judge had issued an injunction against the police and military forces in NOLA ordering them to stop seizing people’s guns right away.

I didn’t see that covered in the Times though.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I'm Depressed

A lot of people have asked me why I’m not writing a lot lately. What about Judy Miller? What do I think about her? Not much, really. The feds put the screws to her. To hell with a free press. Why would it surprise anybody? Somebody asked why I haven’t written about Tom Delay. Mostly it’s because I don’t really care. Tom Delay is a pig. He’s going down. I can’t say anything nicer then that about him, so I probably shouldn’t say anything at all.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve been watching a lot of the talking heads lately, and it’s made me so fucking depressed I don’t even want to think about media or politics or anything “serious” for a long time. Lately it’s been the Bill Bennett thing, but that’s only the latest in a long line of things the scumbags in the right-wing media have latched on to that have made me want to slit my wrists. Listening to Tucker Carlson (John Stewart was certainly right about that dick) defend Bennett made me want to puke. His premise? That people are accusing Bennett of racism out of spite. The same tack was taken by whatever blonde bimbo that was filling in for Bill O’Reiley this weekend. To them there is nothing racist about the statement “you could abort every black baby in the country and crime would go down.” They say the statement was taken out of context. Bullshit. I heard the context and the statement was still racist. And what’s worse these truth benders know it. They aren’t stupid. They know that they can score points with the KKK crowd while confusing those who aren’t really paying attention, in an attempt to prop one of their decrepit, morally bankrupt icons up. Of course it’s a racist statement. Why Bennett made the statement I have no idea. Either he is much stupider then I always believed him to be, or else he was trying to provoke the very reaction he got, or else maybe he was all hopped up on acid and some idiot at the station put a mic in his hand by mistake. I don’t really know and I don’t’ care. Bennett has always been a foul, evil, twisted son of a bitch, a huge fat Nazi with a very small penis and the bitter life outlook to match. He was the first conservative I heard engage in real Orwellian doublespeak, back when he was “drug czar.” He said “we have to go after the casual user, those who use drugs once in awhile and otherwise lead a normal life, because they give children the impression that you can use drugs and still lead a normal life.” In other words, they prove that I’m full of horse shit, so they must be brought down. Dr. Gonzo once said that he thought Ed Meese should be fucked by an elk. I can say no less for Bill Bennett. Bennett’s larger context was that you should not bring statistics into the abortion debate, in reaction to Steven Levit’s discovery that the legalization of abortion after Roe v. Wade was responsible for the drop in the crime rate in the 1990s. His point was that it shouldn’t matter if the crime rate will go back up if Roe v. Wade is overturned because abortion is wrong period. It was his bringing race into it, his implication that black people are primarily responsible for crime in the USA, that marked him for the closet Grand Wizard we always knew him to be. Thankfully, in this post-Katrina news cycle, the public is paying attention to race right now, and Bennett will be cut no slack.

Have you gotten the impression that I’m angry tonight?

John Gibson went after someone—I don’t know who—and attacked him really viciously, because he had the temerity to support the first amendment. This guy was backing the ACLU in their suit to get all the Abu Grahib phots released. Gibson’s position was that they should not be released because it would lead to the killing of more Americans. Forget for a moment that that is a pretty broad assumption, and that the terrorists in Iraq couldn’t possibly hate us any more then they already do. Gibson went so far as to say that a mere legal technicality like the First Amendment should not apply with photos that could show America in a bad light. He actually said that!!! Well excuse me! I thought that’s exactly what freedom of the press was SUPPOSED to protect. Like Rush Limbaugh and Morton Downey Junior before him, Gibson came from the airwaves in my hometown, and I liked him when he was local. Now he makes me want to drink Draino. I am mortified that he and those other clowns are in anyway associated with me, but there are a lot of reasons why, like Herb Caen before me, I left Sacramento.

I watched one of those “debates” you see on Fox the other day. It doesn’t even matter what the subject was. As usual the conservative talking head was allowed to spew forth a bunch of nonsense, unchallenged, and then as soon as the poor hapless liberal opened her mouth the host joined the conservative guest in ganging up on her.

That’s what really pisses me off about the right. They are bullies, every one of them: Rove, Cheney, Bush, Hannity, Carlson, O’Reiley, Novak, Limbaugh, Drudge, Delay, Frist, all of them. They are mean, nasty, vindictive bullies. They push people around, defame their opponents, intimidate the press, and bald face lie to us. They use fear to control us. They use hate to divide us. They vilify the poor and oppress the weak and say they do it for all of our good. They play the homophobia card for all it is worth because they know that Gays are an easy target and that a lot of folks fear and hate gays the way people in Germany feared and hated Jews back in the day. They obfuscate. Like all petty tyrants they try to control the news through belligerence and lies. They pay newscasters to support their views and produce favorable news segments for TV stations to air, and claim that it’s not propaganda. Worst of all, they have proved again and again they will do anything, destroy anyone, to maintain their power. Ghoering, Goebels, and Himler could be writing their playbook, and like the Nazi three they are themselves a bunch of weak, perverted, schizoid drug addicts who compensate for their impotence and confused sexuality by beating up on the little guys.

It’s depressing. Maybe Tim Leary was right after all.