Sunday, December 21, 2008

'Tis the Season

I'll be away for the Holidays, so please forgive my absence for a little while. But like Frosty the Snowman (as well as Peter Pan) promised, I'll be back again someday. And in this case, "someday" will be sooner than later. Until then,
have a wonderful celebration!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lil' Updates

Well, I’d assumed wrong. (You know what they say...) Bart does not have the soundtrack to Leonard Bernstein’s musical of Peter Pan, which I wrote about in the last post. Jeepers. That surprises me. Maybe we’ll have to obtain it via the Holiday spoils (as in using a Gift Card.) The cover of the CD looks cool, doesn't it? (Although Pan looks an awful lot like Disney's.)

Also, I forgot to mention another opera star we had the pleasure of hearing in Madama Butterfly, which I also spoke of in the last post. And shame on me…for he’s one of my favorites: David Cangelosi. Bravo, sir! Although we did not catch him after the performance at the Stage Door, Bart and I have met him before. I told him (and quite honestly) how I could listen to him sing for hours. In fact, I have, both on stage at Lyric Opera and in a recording Bart gifted me with him in Siegfried. (Which, by the way, is a 5 hour opera and my favorite, believe it or not.) In Siegfried he plays the role of Mime (pronounced Me-may, not the like silent clowns)…and boy does he! He’s terrific.

Lemonie informed me that she has read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, which I posted about here and again here. She loved it, too. We were both enchanted by the cat character. [The cat does not have a name, seriously.] The movie is still scheduled for February 2009. It looks promising. You can visit the official website here. It's worth it. It's quite charming and elaborate. LOTS of interactivity. Or, if you just want to see the latest trailer:

I’m sure that my characters ZJ and Andy must hate me. For all sorts of other obligations (and perhaps a touch of laziness, I dare admit) have kept me from writing their story. Their story of course being the book I am currently writing. (Or not.) I plan to delve back into them today and tonight. Let’s hope they’re not too cross with me and will jabber on so that I can barely keep up. [Note: Only ZJ is depicted, as I have not yet made a picture of Andy.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

L.B. stands for Lost Boys -and- for Leonard Bernstein

I thought I'd stay with the Peter Pan theme that's been going on this week.
(Gee, imagine that.)

I must admit I'm also late in reporting this one, as I'd been with Disney's depiction of the Lost Boys being featured by The Hundreds. I've really no excuse in not reporting it other than Life intervening... such as attending Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera last night. The amazing Patricia Racette did indeed vocally float as delicately as a winged beauty as well as radiate with all the glory of Japan. Bart beamed, for he says [and rightly so] that she has the perfect voice for Madame Butterfly.

Okay... on to Peter Pan.

It seems a "long lost" Pan is flying again. In the form of Leonard Bernstein's "forgotten" musical. It's been 60 years since its premiere! And then, all but forgotten, like Wendy's memory of Peter Pan coming to her window. I knew of it, naturally. But I cannot say I am entirely familiar with it. I suppose I should correct that, no? I'm pretty sure Bart has a recording of it. I'll give it a listen if he does and report back to you. For unfortunately due to time and such, I will not be able to attend the new production. (And please don't hate me when I say I'm not so very fond of his outfit in the show. It just seems "too much" to me. Those brown leg fringes, for instance.)

You can read about the new production here.

And I also came across this in-depth article about Bernstein's version of Peter Pan here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Comment that Glows Like Tinker Bell

I'm pleased to announce that Jeremy Sumpter, the young man who brought Peter Pan to life on the big screen, has read Peter Pan's NeverWorld!

I'm even more pleased that he liked it!

What better testimonial than Peter Pan himself?

Thank you, Jeremy Sumpter.

Looking forward to seeing more of your work. All the best.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hindsight Inspiration

Long after writing Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, I noticed how the song "Obscurity Knocks" by The Trash Can Sinatras reminded me of Michael Pan. It's rather uncanny and eerie how well it fits. For those of you who have already met Peter’s brother via ink on the page, have a look and see if you don’t agree. If you’ve still yet to read about him, what sort of insights into Michael does it provide for you?

Obscurity Knocks
The Trash Can Sinatras

Always at the foot of the photograph - that's me there
Snug as a thug in a mugshot pose
Owner of this corner and not much more
Still these days I'm better placed to get my just rewards
I'll pound out a tune and very soon
I'll have too much to say and a dead stupid name

Though I ought to be learning I feel like a veteran
Of "Oh I like your poetry but I hate your poems"
Calendars crumble I'm knee deep in numbers
Turned 21, I've twist, I'm bust and wrong again

Rubbing shoulders with the sheets till two
Looking at my watch and I'm half-past caring
In the lap of luxury it comes to mind
Is this headboard hard? Am I a lap behind?
But to face doom in a sock-stenched room all by myself
Is the kind of fate I never contemplate
Lots of people would cry though none spring to mind

Know what it's like
To sigh at the sight of the first quarter of life?
Every stopped to think and found out nothing was there?

They laugh to see such fun
Playing Blind Man's Bluff all by myself
And they're chanting a line from a nursery rhyme
"Ba Ba Bleary Eyes - Have you any idea?"

The calendar's cluttered with days that are numbered

You can listen to this song for free by clicking on the big play button in the upper right corner at this site.
(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the website playing the music for free.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wearing Out the Lost Boys?

I’m a little late in reporting this one. I had to find the time to explore exactly what I’d been looking at when I came across it. I’m out of the loop when it comes to current “clothing trends” so the following brand name had been unfamiliar to me.

There is a popular line called The Hundreds and it embodies the youth culture to some degree. (Not meant offensively, as I said, I’m not in the loop.)

But take a look. They’ve managed to partner with the House of Mouse and create “cute thug” versions of Disney’s adaptation of the Lost Boys. I’m surprised these were allowed given how protective Disney can be of its characters. I’m glad they did it, for I like them very much.

They're featured in a Limited Edition run of T-shirts brought out on the market on December 11.
For individual Lost Boy pictures as well as the Peter Pan and Captain Hook hats and the shirt with Tinker Bell, or more info in general on these creations keep scrolling down here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fa la la la WOW

BRAVO to the Goodman Theatre for this year's production.

As the saying goes, they have outdone themselves for its 30th Anniversary. Remember when I said they vary the appearance of Marley's ghost? They stepped it up by many notches. The show opens differently. It provides a welcome, pleasant ease into the Dickensian magic. A major change is made to one of the Ghosts. A decidedly bold but thoroughly enjoyable choice. All in all, wonderful performances and additions. And yet very familiar.

Comfort and joy!

And yes, Fred's window is STILL snowing and I've no idea how. :)

A note on Fred. I mentioned his fiancé in the last post but this production says his wife. Not that it matters, as the myriad of versions vary it back and forth. Sometimes it allows for a bigger discussion between Scrooge and Fred about whether or not "being in love" is worth anything. If you're wondering what's written by Dickens, Fred is in fact already married. Thus, they presented it correctly. Shame on me for being tainted by variations. Bravo to the Goodman Theatre for creating memorable and fantastic variations.

Don't miss it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Singing the Praises of this Carol

Tonight Bart, his sister Lage and our Aunt will be attending A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre. For Bart and I it will be our fourth year in a row. (Or at least third.) Yes, it’s that excellent of a production. All of it from the script to the acting to the special effects are sheer delights. And since the actors tend to switch out from year to year (while others remain the same), a new experience is to be had each production. But it doesn’t stop there. They also vary other parts of the show. Such as where/how Jacob Marley enters and the arrvial of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

I am still trying to figure out some of the effects. In particular, the window in Nephew Fred’s home. Are you ready for this? It’s snowing! Not that amazing, you say? What if I told you that the window is a fly-on set piece (suspended by wires) and that just the window frame and panes exist. It’s suggestive, there is no wall. And yet…it is snowing. The snow can be seen falling in the glass, but none of it falls behind the bottom of the window pane. (This part isn’t so difficult to solve, as perhaps there is an unseen tray protruding to collect the snow.) However, there is nothing above that could be producing the flakes, as they fall only within the window itself. It’s astounding. Aunt attended last year and I’ll never forget her sincere “Ooooh!” exclaimed in delight at a bit of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s magic.

My favorite part of the tale is when Scrooge arrives on Christmas Day at his nephew’s home. Fred’s fiancé kindly welcoming the repentant miser chokes me up. Call me sentimental, it’s just touching no matter what you say.

And on the subject of A Christmas Carol, isn’t it intriguing how much exposure and alteration this story has seen? It certain endures the test of time. Umpteen movies have been made of it and each one has its great moments. It’s been replicated with authenticity and also completely “abused” into a Flintstones’ special, even by Mr. Magoo. It's been acted quite seriously by cinematic great George C. Scott and done both as a movie and as a One Man Show by the gallant Patrick Stewart. Even lovable crazy man Bill Murray played the miser in the ingeniously re-tooled Scrooged. Kelsey Grammer stars as the miser in a musical also featuring Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock. The Muppets have a take on the tale. Good grief, Barbie’s Christmas Carol is released this season.

Very few stories are as malleable as this one. In whatever form it takes, the poignant message of Dickens shines through like the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

If you’re in Chicago, do check it out if you’re never seen the show. You won’t be disappointed. The direct link for tickets and info is here.

Second Post: Fa la la la WOW

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shadow of a Doubt

Don’t you just love Peter Pan’s shadow?
How it moves around like a living entity all its own?
I don’t.

Sorry to rain on the balloon, but I’m going to have to pop the parade.

The “living shadow” does not appear in the play Peter Pan nor does it happen in the book Peter and Wendy. It’s yet another concoction of the House of Mouse. And a slightly (pun noted) damaging one at that, for the free-roaming silhouette has become part of pop culture. (Much like the ruby slippers of Oz.) The mischievous moving shadow even shows up in P.J. Hogan’s version. In fact, he devotes quite a bit of time to it. (Time which might have been spent putting some other aspect of the book onto the screen.)

Please don’t take offense to me pointing it out that it’s not correct. I’ll grant you that it’s a charming idea. But don’t forget that I’m a Pan purist. It’s just my nature to sigh at misrepresentation.

You may now be wondering what DOES happen according to Barrie. You probably remember some of it correctly: Peter’s shadow is snapped off when Nana slams the window down on it as he is escaping from the Darlings’ home. Now for the parts you might not know. Mrs. Darling finds it in Nana’s mouth (after checking for a little boy’s body outside as she saw him leap out a window). She keeps it, rolls it up and stuffs it in a drawer. (You likely remember the drawer.) But what you probably don’t recall is Mrs. Darling's intial inclination. At first she hangs it out the window: He is sure to come back for it; let us put it where he can get it easily without disturbing the children. The narrator goes on to say: But unfortunately Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out at the window, it looked so like the washing and lowered the whole tone of the house. So you see, in Barrie’s vision, a shadow does not behave like an inky flat person of free-will. It’s rather like a piece of laundry. I know what you may be thinking…what with all the magic that Peter Pan has been exposed to, wouldn’t his shadow have obtained magical qualities? No, apparently not: You may be sure Mrs. Darling examined the shadow carefully, but it was quite the ordinary kind.
Again, sorry to have debunked Disney’s touch for those who liked it. But let us assume that it is a sentient shadow for a moment. It’s just not logical (outside of it being utterly fantastical). What happens to the shadow when it is re-attached to Peter? It behaves normally, so… does that mean it is now dead, so to speak? Or is it still “alive” and a slave to Pan’s motions? Either notion is creepy. It just doesn’t work, if you ask me.

Now it’s entirely possible that Barrie himself would have relished this idea. If stage effects had been sophisticated enough to have produced a living shadow, would he have wanted one? (Chances are it could be easily accomplished with a scrim and backlighting.) Animation had been in its infancy when the play premiered in 1904. Barrie probably would not have readily thought to produce an animated Pan. And if he had, it would have remained silent anyway. So we are left wondering whether or not he would have enjoyed the “living shadow” concept. There is no way to know for sure. However, I'll admit that it does indeed have a Barriesque quality.

For Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, I decided to make a compromise. Since the idea is in fact ingrained into popular culture but nevertheless incorrect, how could I reconcile the two, as it were? I solved it thus: Peter’s shadow is again “lost” when he arrives on NeverWorld and it is roaming around freely. Did I go against my own rant? No. You see, the shadow is not willfully flitting around. Rather it’s being blown about by the wind. Naturally, I couldn't simply separate him from it without cause. As for what that reason is or how Peter Pan is re-acquainted with his pesky shadow… you’ll have to read the book to find out, of course.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Can You Bake of This?

Perhaps you recall a post of mine where the titles of books and authors’ names were pun-ished with humorous food-related monikers. Such as: Red Wine of Courage, The Scarlet Lettuce Soup and Gulliver's Truffles.

Let me again give credit to The Golden Girls episode "Dorothy's New Friend," where I first enjoyed this ‘game.’ You can find the post and more about the episode here.

I’ve just run across a group of people who take this idea one step beyond.
Yes, they actually produce the foods! Thankfully, it’s in the context of a contest and not a random and time-intensive act of silliness. (Although, that would be just fine, too!)

Here are some of my favorites:

Peter Pan(cakes) with Berries - Laura Larkin (I think it should be with J.M. Berries, no?)
The Pelican Beef, by John Grisham - Emily Love
Sword and the Scone - Lisa Fager

You can find the article and more photos here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

When In Doubt Just Use: ?

Here’s another “process” tidbit for you. But this one has a little not so unexpected twist.

When writing a book, obviously one keeps notes.
I recently jotted down some ideas for the book I am currently writing. With them, I found myself making a notation. A simple question mark next to one of the thoughts. For you see, I am not entirely sure that it is a viable idea. It certainly may help with the story, but then it may wind up dropping out of the narrative entirely. But I must keep track of it either way, to be sure. I’ll know when I get there, so to speak. I do it often, this putting a ? next to a line.

But where did I pick up the notation? Yes, that’s right, from reading Sir J.M. Barrie’s notebooks. He did just the same. (And some of them, in fact, were not included in the tale of Peter Pan.)

I’m not saying others don’t utilize this quick “perhaps” marking in their notes, nor even that Barrie started it. I’m just pointing out that it’s convenient and useful. And that I personally learned it from a modern mythmaker.

I will try and obtain a picture from Barrie’s scrawling and will post it when I do. I'll also try and make it be one of the "dropped out" ideas from Peter Pan. (Not calling it Peter and Wendy here since the notes would have been for the writing of the play.)

UPDATE: Ok, the only example I could find at this time is on the right. They are notes for the "Afterthought" to the story of Peter Pan. No, not the ones that led me to my book. Rather it is the beginning of the scene with Jane, Wendy's daughter. They don't look much like question marks, but trust me, they are.
It reads:
Peter Pan - Ten years later? Wendy grown up & Peter still a boy. (one-act-play?)
He incorporated it into the script for a One Night Only performance on the last night of the 1908 run. After a bewlidering fifteen minutes of darkness waiting for play's closing Tree Top scene, a baby mermaid (Tessie Parke) bid the audience to stay for an extra special piece by Barrie. The new scene generated a full quarter of an hour of applause.

Well, back to my notes...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Still Sighing.

Here's more to sigh about.

Each of these are reportedly being remade:

Romancing the Stone
They Live
Captain Blood

Not that I am particularly sighing over They Live. I worked in a movie theater at the time this hit the theaters and saw the better portion of it. No offense to anyone who liked it, but ANY amount of rewriting could only help that flick. But the others... need I say it? Just look at Charlie Brown.

*Sigh* - Just...*sigh*

Apparently Disney has set sights on making a live-action version of Barrie’s famed characters. Many internet articles exist about it. But so far something remains unclear. Whether it will be a live action version of Peter and Wendy (aka Peter Pan) or a live action version of their movie Tinker Bell. (Articles have conflicting reports.)

Either way, I have to say I really wish they wouldn’t. Besides my general bitterness (which I am able to lay aside) it just does not seem right that they would re-do one of their more beloved creations. There are many who adore the Disneyified Pan… so why would they want to risk tainting their piece for them? It just doesn’t seem necessary.

And to make it “worse,” Paris Hilton is allegedly in the running and the top choice by Disney executives to play Tinker Bell.

If they are in fact re-doing the Barrie story, I must ask: WHY? Maybe Disney just couldn’t abide that a version which utilizes modern special effects exists that is not their own? Isn’t it bad enough that they used James Newton Howard’s score ‘Flying’ from the P.J. Hogan movie to promote their own theme park in television ads?

The House of Mouse proves once again that for every amazing piece of work (such as the Blu-Ray restoration of Sleeping Beauty) there must be at least one atrocity. Granted, none of us have yet seen the result of this Paris Bell version, so perhaps it’s unfair to proclaim it an atrocity already. But I just can’t see this working out entirely well for Pan fans (Disney or otherwise).

If only we could bring back Sir J.M. Barrie and get all of this sorted out, eh?

And I’m sorry there’s no picture, I just couldn’t bring myself to dignify this post with one.

Update: I found this line - "a Disney project about what would happen if the Peter Pan fairy's life got flipped turned upside down and she ended up a real girl." at this site.
If that's the case, then it's even more ridiculous, for Tinker Bell is not a cartoon. She's a real fairy in the real world. No, I don't mean in our sense of reality, but within the world of Barrie/the story which is also supposed to be "the real world." Perhaps they mean to make it so that the Disney cartoon comes to life? Now that's worse yet, am I right?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Should We Even -BE- "Toys 'R' Us" Kids?

It’s that time of year again… for buying toys. But as you do, here’s something to stuff in your sack.

Years ago I saw woman an a.m. TV talk show, outraged by the toys being marketed to children. I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, great. We’ve been on this sleigh ride before! But she had a very different area of focus. One that still applies. Here’s her gripe: Storytelling.

She observed many toy “lines” have a story ‘Built In.’ Such as, say, The Transformers [I’m talking “Old School” people, not this butchered, sadly produced new batch! Although her observation is still relevant.] and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. In other words, kids know which characters are good and which are bad. They know what powers they have, their relationships to other characters, even speech patterns. Why? Because they see it on television.

She suggested this impairs a child’s imagination. How can they develop creative skills if the storyline is pre-packaged? Naturally, they will act out what they see on TV. It’s not behooving them to have a formula for their adventures.

An interesting proposition. I can’t say I disagree with her. It is a shame that much of their playtime is dictated to them. However, I cannot fully get on board either. Don’t underestimate the power of the juvenile mind. It’s unlikely they will replicate the activities exactly as they appear on TV. It's entirely possible that even though kids know She-Ra is the long lost twin sister of He-Man and what method of conveyance brings them from planet Etheria to planet Eternia that they will invent their own scenario for the pair of heroes using, say, a treasure chest from some other toy line.

Okay. Now forget about TV and toys for a minute. The woman’s fear can easily be applied to books. For what child doesn’t also act out the escapades of characters in books? Tell me there aren’t little boys pretending to be Peter Pan and little girls who assume the role of Pippi Longstocking. (As you may have read in my interview, I am guilty as charged. No, not Pippi. I played at being Pan.) And in so doing, are the kids not also locked into the traits, abilities and mannerisms of a pre-established storyline? When I played as Peter Pan, we did not re-enact Barrie’s story. Rather we had a grand time thinking up other adventures in the Neverland. Thus, I’ve re-illustrated my point.
Not to mention Comic Books. Oh wait, I just did.

I suppose it all comes down to the child and how far inside the well of Improv they are willing to reach. Or will the force-fed tendency of their playthings win out? It’s like a coin, two sides. Let’s hope they spend the playtime wisely.

How do you feel about it? Do you think kids today are less likely to develop creative and imaginative skills because of the media dictating what they should think and do with their toys? Or is this woman, as I say, underestimating the power of child’s mind?

*By the way, as you might recall, the rest of the Toys 'R' Us line is "I don't want to grow up." That part I can agree with!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Think It's Worth the Trip

While purchasing the Blu-Ray player I mentioned in the previous post, we were told to select a Blu-Ray disc which we could have included gratis. A much simpler task than it sounds. For Bart and I could not necessarily agree on any one movie. Or else the movies weren’t appealing to us. We could have gone with something we already owned – just to see it presented “that much” better. Not exactly the most tempting idea. We wanted something fresh to us. We eventually came to our choice: Journey to the Center of the Earth, the recent version with Brendan Fraser.

I know what you might be thinking…why? Well, we figured it would at least be eye candy. Especially in High Definition. For free. Even if the story and acting left everything to be desired, it would at least look damn cool. And – it’s in 3-D. Oh…did I mention that Bart as a crush on Brendan Fraser? (Can't say I don't agree with him.)

I’m a fan of the Jules Verne book, so I’d become curious as to how they handled it. Going into it (in fact many, many moons before the film’s theatrical release) I knew the premise. I certainly did not expect it to follow the book. Nor did I plan to scoff at the “additions.” I just wanted to have fun with it.

And you know what? I really did. I quite enjoyed it. Is it a great movie? No. But it’s well done and quite the ride. The acting is great. The effects are marvelous. The adventure walks the line between fantastic and plausible. (Okay, mostly fantastic…but hey, it’s a “summer action flick,” it’s supposed to stretch the truth.)

One of the more refreshing aspects is the character of Hannah Ásgeirsson played skillfully by Anita Briem. Refreshing in that she is not a complaining bimbo. However, she is not a bookish annoyance, either. She’s a delight. How wonderful to have a strong female character in a such a film. And yet, she didn’t overdo the “macho” either. Quite the wily feminine side as well. See for yourself – you will like Hannah the Mountain Guide.

As for the premise, quickly: Brendan Fraiser plays a professor who is saddled with his nephew. The professor continues his brother’s work, who disappeared looking into seismic activity. He left a copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth for his son (the nephew). Notes in the book reveal that book that it may not be fiction after all. The conditions for entering the Earth are about to occur. Naturally, they investigate. Adventure abounds.

I particularly liked when they came to the elaborate mine car track which prompted the lines, Is this in the book? – Sean, the nephew. No, I don’t think so. - Prof. Trevor Anderson. [It’s not ;) ] They had a sense of humor about their own over-fabrication. Nice to see.

Even by the time we reached the end, it had not made me roll my eyes. It remained entertaining. I recall Bart saying a third of the way through, “Ok, I’m not hating this…”

So, there you have it. Sure, it’s a little campy. But you would figure that going into, right? It’s just plain fun.

Sadly the 3-D glasses use the blue/red method rather than polarized, so a ghosting is involved. But WHOA! It matters little. 'Tis truly amazing to have otherwise crisp 3-D manifestations right there in the living room. Even single strands of hair popped out.

I just wish it had another title. For technically, it is not the book, so it "can't" be called as such. Alas, I cannot think of a better one. I mean, Our Journey to the Center of the Earth is stupid. Or New Journey. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it. My point is just that it's a charming play off the book while referencing it within the movie. That deserves a more descriptive and clever name. Any ideas?

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Pete Rogers" in the 21st Century?

Allow me to speak off the topic of writing and storytelling for today’s post so I may tell you what transpired this weekend.

Bart and took another step into the 21st Century. Our 52” widescreen flat HDTV arrived. Hosah. We also now have a Blu-Ray player and HD TiVo (150 hours of HD storage). To quote Napoleon Dynamite, “SWEET!”

That’s what we did on Saturday…waited beyond the “window” of time for the delivery and patiently waited for it to be set up. As you may know from the cover flap of Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, Bart and I live on the third floor. It’s a walk up. Obviously we did not want to lug it up ourselves when we could have someone used to the task do it for us. But we’re the “recipients who care” as we had coffee, orange juice, multi-flavor bagels from ‘Einstein!’ and both regular and strawberry cream cheese spread. He told us that many folks don’t even offer water!

I’m not going to typing rave about how “sweet” it is…you all either know or can imagine.

But wowsers.

As of right now, we have to wait until tomorrow evening to actually get HD channels…or even cable stations like the Food Network (a favorite of Bart, my adorable cook.) It’s because of a lack of knowledge both on my part and on the part of our cable provider. The cable provider is notorious for making “customer service” an oxymoron. [Thanks to Mission Improvisational, see post here.] However, don’t think me a moron. My misunderstanding is caused by unfamiliarity. We no longer have a “cable box.” A “cable card” slides into our TiVo and it becomes both. So the card equals/replaces the box. Completely foreign and wacky concept to me. Cable Provider had told me "oh just plug it in!" but...NO. "Lied" to, again. They need to activate it somehow and cannot do so until Tuesday because not enough people are aware of how to do it. (The technology/procedure is “foreign” to many, including their own staff.)

Having a dual tuner TiVo makes it all the more wonderful. And Bart is truly astounded and satisfied with the amazing quality of Disney’s first Blu-Ray animated feature, Sleeping Beauty. (It’s his favorite.) I gave him the Blu-Ray of it (as well as the enhanced regular DVD version) for our Anniversary this past October. So only now (then) has he been able to experience its glory. [And, yes, I too relish said glory.]

Okay. Enough about the 21st Century upgrade at our place.

The rest of our weekend (when not seeing [and learning remotes and settings and such of] the magnitude) had its share of delights. We had a lovely meal on Saturday night at the home of a family which is friends with ours.

Sunday morning we brunched with Dragonfly and Tall Boy. We had them meet us at our place first, as they had not been told about the “new arrival.” Needless to say, they Oooed and Ahhhed. We then went on to brunch, choosing a place just blocks from where we live. For the weather proved rather unwelcoming. Yes, Winter has officially come to Chicago. We braved the sleet-like rain and wind, rewarded, thankfully, with a great meal and a lovely visit. Tall Boy regaled us with some inside information on The Ville, his live theatre soap opera. Even better, he told us about the opera he has conceived. It's marvelously inventive...and it had been inspired by something Dragonfly said. How great is that? I wish could explain the premise to you, but 1) it is not place to do so with an unestablished work and 2) it's something you'd be better off discovering. It's that imaginative. "Wow," said I with utmost weight and sincerity to Tall Boy. "Yeah," he replied, "I've been thinking about this for a while now." Let us hope that he finds the time and gumption to bring it to fruition!

Meanwhile, Winter progressed to horrendous as the day wore on into a nighttime snowy, icy mess. But it looks damn pretty everywhere!

I then spent much of the rest of Sunday cleaning up the den. Before the new TV came, we had been using the television I use to play Wii, for we gave our living room TV to friends who had a television a fraction of the size of most folks. (Circa 18”) Since they have two adorable little girls, we knew they’d enjoy receiving a bigger screen, too. They also inherited our all-the-bells-and-whistles DVD player. Hooray for sharing and caring. Thus, since the TV had been removed, I took the opportunity to dust and just generally clean up and out and entire room. It had become a tangled overstuffed mess. Incidentally, the den is also where the computer is and hence, where I do my writing.

All righty, thanks for letting me ramble about my lovely weekend.

I’ll be back on track with story/writing posts tomorrow with a review of the movie we watched in HD.

Friday, November 28, 2008

They Shoot Stories, Don't They?

Remember when I spoke of my favorite teacher? Mrs. Leona Drizin. She passed along a little game called Writer’s Russian Roulette.

Writers (Players) are presented with a sentence. The proverbial opening line. Wordsmithing ensues for five minutes. Pencils down. Players pass their paper to the person on left. The text is read. Another five minutes are allotted to write. And so on, until players recover their original papers. They read quite a story, one they believe they once knew. Players must now write toward a conclusion.

Stories might be nowhere near what had been intended, veering off into uncharted territory begging for exploration. Curiosity is piqued. “What ever became of that one with the squid?” Before long, stories are read aloud, laughter breaks out and wonder overcomes.

And oh, yes. Somebody’s story will be shot. It’s inevitable. At least one of the adventures will take a serious turn for the absurd. A veering so far off course it should be put out of its misery if not so danged humorous. Free entertainment.

Or rather edutainment. Not only does it stimulate creativity and encourage interaction, it forces one to heed and hone basic writing skills. After all, a competent narrative and story-steering must be accomplished in five minutes.

For a different twist, provide the closing sentence. The added challenge of working toward a conclusion from the onset can be tricky.

I recall one Closing Sentence from when I’ve played.
And we all stared back at the grapefruit lying by the side
of the road.
Two of the stories it spawned stuck in my mind and they could not be more different. One dealt with a race of mutant big-headed humans bent on global domination…you know, that ordeal. Because of one quasi-scientific reason or another, they degenergated into…grapefruits, what else? The other told the plight of migrant workers, but not as bleakly as Steinbeck.

I played Writer’s Russian Roulette with my students when I interned at the Young Master’s Consortium for the Arts back in Pennsylvania. They had itchy trigger fingers…always wanting to squeeze in time for another round.

Gather up a group of your writing friends and fire away.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble Gobble!

Here’s a book from my childhood. Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. I remember my brother and I reading this one together. We each had a theory. A theory of what? As to whole stole Grandmother’s secret recipe! It’s a cute story about Thanksgiving Day in New England. To Grandmother’s dismay, Maggie invites the dubious character of Mr. Whiskers. At the table the turkey is not the star attraction, but Grandmother’s cranberry bread. The festivities turn sour when her recipe is, yes, purloined!

The illustration of the shifty Mr. Whiskers gave me the heebie-jeebies. Creepily sketched strands of his beard, moustache and eyebrows call for a “Bravo!” to the Devlins. As I searched for more information (to assist my failing memory) on the book, I discovered that I am not alone. The reviews are always glowing. Both for the story and the included “famous” recipe.

Unfortunately, it is no longer in print. Online sales of it start at $40.
I’ll bet the Recipe that my parents still have it in their house.

A special GIVING of THANKS to everyone who has ever helped me and for all the blessings in our lives. No, really.
Image Hosted by

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Candid Character

I talked about listening to my characters yesterday. As I've said in a previous post, I like to be able to see my characters, too. In that post, I also explain my tendency to "Frankenstein" photographs of my fictional friends.

Since he's already out in the world via the button for What If It's a Trick Question? on the left, I thought I'd show you a "snapshot" of Jeremy Strache. [As if you haven't already seen him on the cover!] I'm not trying to win any sort of graphic manipulation award. Nor am I looking for praise of my skill or lack thereof. Just sharing a simple but fun assist in the writing process. In case you're wondering what I do with them, they make great inspirational desktops.

This picture is taken along a route I frequent. In fact, it became the route that leads Jeremy into adventure in the book. You'll find a yellow jeep in the novel, too. Athough this exact moment does not appear in the story, I could not resist placing him into a picture taken during the month of October with a yellow jeep on the route, now could I?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No One Writes Alone...

I’ve spoken a little about this subject before, but I’m saying it again. For the experience never gets old. I’m talking about the collaborative process of author and character. It happened again last night.

Characters are often said to “come alive” on the page. For an author, that can be even more true than it is for the reader. The reader only receives the end result of the story, the final form. But the writer’s locked down version of the events were not finalized at all during the process of creation. Rather they unfolded and shifted along the way.

Whatever amount of “living” quality characters possess is magnified in scribbling down the words. For the characters relate what transpired in their lives. Some, such as Bart’s sister Lage, brush me off as insane. I’ll be the first to admit to a degree of insanity, or a least severe silliness. (See last post.)

Last night on the train I revised the latest portion of the current novel. I moved on to composing. For I knew what came next. (Chances are I do, right?) But later, when I typed in the new material, I found myself writing unplanned additional information. The character interjected, giving me an even better understanding of how to structure the scene. Suddenly I had a more dynamic version of what happened in his psyche at that moment. I raced to include his thoughts on the subject. Then he surprised me, for I did not expect him to react as well as he did to the discovery in the scene.

It often works the other way, too. By which I mean I’m “told” that what I have written is not correct in the least. If I’m lucky, the character will go on to clue me in as to what really happened right away. Sometimes I’m at their mercy.

For those of you who wonder if I actually hear their voices, the answer is still no. I’m not entirely crazy. I do know the “extra material” arises from me in some capacity. But any author will attest that the information really does feel as if it comes from outside oneself. It seems to stem from other entities - those who have lived through the very story being told. So it only makes sense to “listen” to them. A writer becomes merely the conduit.

Maybe I really do have access to other realms. More likely I have an overactive imagination. Either way, some would call me “nuts.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to collaborate…um, write.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Silly = Natural

In one of her posts which champion and extol the virtues of Improv use in daily life, Danielle Mari wrote:

Guerrilla theatre brings theatre to those who need it most: those unconverted, uninitiated few wandering through life unaware that it's completely possible (and even beneficial) to rearrange perspective, stir reality, and shake things up a bit.
[Whole post here.]

As I commented on the post, I find it horribly sad that such a mindset exists. These people, I suppose, are the same type who would turn their nose at fantasy. If it’s not “real” than why bother, right? Wrong! Fantasy and nonsense are vital components in a person’s well-being.

Allow me to quote two of the silliest people who ever lived.

Mike Meyers:
Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.

I had originally heard him say this on Inisde the Actor’s Studio. He attributed the idea to his father. (He also said that his father and brothers told him ‘You’re not funny, Michael. Stop trying.’ Can you imagine what THEY must be like??) I also recall the notion that the inclination to repress silliness is what is wrong with the world. I agree.

Dr. Seuss:
I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities.

What would the world be without the wacky but poignant doses of the best medicine from the good doctor?

I’ve actually known people to be annoyed with silliness. Sure, one can argue it has a time and a place. But then one could also argue that bringing levity to any situation cannot be entirely construed as a bad thing. It also brings to mind the great Monty Python skit Confuse-A-Cat. Despite its inherent wackiness, the overlaying message is a severe one. It’s all too easy to get bogged down by routine. If we cannot see beyond our noses like the people in the City of Reality in Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth [another great source of profound silliness] then how can we know we’re alive?

...the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.

No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all
- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

Bringing fantasy and craziness is not just the job of comedians and authors. It’s a duty of all humans. We must have a reality that shines with silly, lusters with laughter and is filled with fantasy.

If we cannot laugh and play, then we are truly lost.

Be sure to read Danielle Mari’s insightful post if you have not already.
The videos alone are worth it.

Here's the video for Confuse-A-Cat.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rare Von Brownian Poetry Returns

I thought I'd share another one of my so-called poems. As I explain in the previous poetry post (alliteration!), my forte it's not. But here's another that passes for decent at least.

I also wrote this one for class. My usual haunt, but this time the focus is on the pirate nemesis. The movie that bears the title of the poem came out midway through my college years. So I wrote with some degree of excitement, as I originally expected it to be a retelling of Peter and Wendy but from the Captain's perspective. Eternal Boy, had I been wrong!
Such as it is, I much prefer my poem instead

I have an anecdote about this piece. It doesn't portray the professor of the class in a very good light, but he's no longer with the college and I hope he would be able to see the humor in it. He praised me to some degree for the poem, I don't recall the wherefores. But he ended with, "I'm just puzzled as to why it's called 'Hook.'"

You can click on the picture to read the poem. I used a picture of the Jason Isaacs version for I believe his portrayal to be the best. If you're wondering, my second favorite is Tim Curry in Fox's Peter Pan & the Pirates.

Enjoy! Rare Von Brownian Poetry

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WHEN the Wild Things Are...

If you’re not aware, Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are is hitting the big screen. Like you, I would assume, I loved this book as a kid. And like you, I would also assume, I bemoaned this fate of one of the most treasured and beloved books. It’s not exactly a cinema-sustainable plotline. But the more I heard and saw, the more I swayed. They’ve been trying to produce one for a decade or more… and I swear I saw a CGI Max chasing the cat around the house with a meat cleaver. (Good grief!) The one I speak of, however, is live action directed by Spike Jonze. Jim Henson Productions is creating the Wild Things. For there is nothing quite as “real” as a tangible creature. However, CGI can bring forth much that animatronic puppetry cannot. Thus, it seems best to utilize all the avenues to create the best effect. Precisely what they are doing. I became skeptical again, however, once I learned that the rough cut of it had been asked to be retooled and re-cut/shot so as to meet studio requirements or some such red tape. An interview with Jonze just came out wherein he explains much - and I am once again aboard. Still a bit leery by nature, perhaps, but hopeful and excited. You see, much of the retooling apparently came from the kid test audiences. Also, Sendak actually shared a historical anecdote about the book to Jonze and had given him advice on how to proceed. Can’t argue with those incidents!

You can decide for yourself by reading the interview and checking out the below images.
We can see the movie on October 16, 2009.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take a Holiday...

What do the teachings, mythology and cultural icons of Native Americans have to do with traditional ‘Christian’ Christmas? “Incongruous!” you may bark. But if that is your answer, then you have not seen Vitalist Theatre’s new masterpiece, Anung’s First American Christmas.

I’ll admit that when Laughter first showed me the model of the set and explained the premise of the show, I could not help but be skeptical. As I say in the Foreword of Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, I have acquired a great respect and admiration for Native American culture and beliefs. Thus, mixing their sacredness up into all that has come about from the Xmas holiday did not quite sit right with me. But as Laughter explained more of what would develop within the story of Anung, the clouds began to disperse.

I don’t want to say I doubted, for I knew the caliber of those producing the play. I mean after all, it is written by Sparrow, the man who honed the craft of writing in me. Blend these two incongruous clashing cultures? Sure, I knew he’d manage it. But I should have realized the degree to which he could resonate their similarities. During the premiere’s after party Bart (speaking of a particular “cross reference”) told me, “Sparrow is a genius.” Bravo, Sparrow!

It’s a show full of, well, vitality. It speaks to the heart (without the sense of “cheese” that this idea conjures), plays on fears, stimulates the intellect, ignites wonder and generates laughter as well.

Everything I’ve said up until the point of actually viewing it (posts here and here) can be doubled in magnitude. The shadow work, puppetry, costumes, sound design, set manipulation and lighting are not to be missed. A portion of the Dreamtime is truly invoked onto the stage. Anung’s journey races forward and yet pleasantly lingers… just as in a dream.

Everyone is to be congratulated, but the show just would not work as well as it does without the delightful performance of Eden Newmark, who portrays Anung on the quest. She commands the stage, the embodiment of a rambunctious, eager and nervous young boy. Brava! (Gee, what other brave little boy do we know who has been played by talented women?) And allow me to give an additional “Bravo!” to the whole cast.

Children were in attendance as well. How wonderful to see their reactions. Whether it be cowering at the dreadful Weendigo or chuckling at the silly-but-scintillating Turtle, they seemed just as caught up in the dream as anyone.

Anung’s First American Christmas shows that the spirit of one story can take many forms, can be disguised and repackaged until it becomes difficult to see where one version ends and another begins. To give you some idea of what I mean: At one point, shepherds argue whether their visitor had been a bird or an angel. But when the visitor’s message is clear … does it really matter?

At the after party, I literally found myself munching a cracker to the rhythm of the dreams (ok... I meant to type drums... but both work!) at the finale.

It’s a magical work.

If you are in the Chicago area, I urge you:
Take a trip across Space and Time to sink into the SpaceTime Continuum and transmute your old knowledge with (k)new, to gain a better understanding of the mystical world around you.

Bravo Vitalist Theatre!

You can find information about the show here.

The image I used in this post came from the Vitalist Theatre website. The image is © Lori Reed.
Please allow its usage to promote the show and Reed Studios.