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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

But Is It "News"

Since I'll be attending the premiere of
Anung's First American Christmas
tonight and I really want to get some writing done on the current novel, I thought I'd introduce you to a new favorite website.

It's relatively the same as "Headlines" by Jay Leno, if you're familiar with that. I'm not usually one to watch nighttime talk shows, so I can get my fix of wacky stupidity here. It also reminds me of "News of the Weird" in the Chicago Reader.

It's called Criggo. Click here to go.

Be warned. It's addictive. You might find it all too easy to waste time by going backward through the posts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekend Wonders

Sorry... didn't mean to leave you in a lurch all weekend with nothing to read of my rants.
Although we didn’t do much (and certainly not all we planned) Bart and I had a filled weekend. Granted, some of that “fill” had to do with being lazy, too. Specifically, catching up on sleep (though not “sleeping in”) and also on episodes of Ellen. They piled up as I could not keep up with them this week. We also had a lovely brunch on Sunday with Laughter, who regretted not being able to go with Bart, Cassidy and me last Sunday. Yes, Laughter come back and had still been hanging about. He needed to take pictures of and for the Vitalist Theatre show Anung’s First American Christmas that he (we’ve) been working on for quite a while now.

One of the things we did accomplish (as if it counts as a feat!) is purchase the Robert Sabuda P0P-uP book of Peter Pan. It’s a delight. But is that any wonder? You might remember I’d been excited to see the crocodile. It turns out she is one of the side panels that opens up. A tad disappointing, as I had hoped to have gigantic massive jaws snapping down at me. The other mild let down is that there really isn’t a great “flying over London” page. Again, it exits in the flaps on the side. And it’s neat, yes. But not as grand as the moment seems to demand.

Don’t take any of the above comments as dislike. It’s an amazing piece of work just like his other books. Who can sneeze at a full scale pirate ship suddenly appearing before the eyes? One of the more fun pop-ups is Captain Hook sliding down the hollow tree. It’s unexpected and a great effect. Another tiny pleasure derives from the window shade going on at the Darling home as we see the Mr. and Mrs. in silhouette (calling back the shadow of the story) lamenting their loss. And how fun to see the Neverland sprawl out of nowhere!

Bravo Sabuda! (Again!)

Tomorrow is the opening/premiere of Anung’s First American Christmas. Laughter says it did indeed turn out to be a great show… visually stunning with all the puppetry and lighting and costumes. I’ll be sure to let you know what I thought. Though I've no doubt it will be fantastic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Little "Munster Cheese"

Hollywood strikes again. (No, really?)
The Wayans brothers are bringing us The Munsters movie. Read about it here.
I could go either way on this one.
It depends how it’s done.
We get a little taste of what they’re thinking from the article I linked.
I’d like to share what I’m thinking would behoove the big screen version of The Munsters. I’ll admit a fondness for the show. I’d watch during the afternoons while home sick. So for retooling it, I developed a couple ideas.

First, the black and white issue. Should the film be in black and white? The show appeared on the cusp of the rise of color television. But is it solely b/w by circumstance? The show continued on for 70 episodes in b/w. Surely production costs factored in, but then, I can’t help but think of the grayscale as an homage to the parodied 1930’s monster movies. Which leads us back to the query: Should the film be in black and white? My solution: Only in the interior of their home. Visitors who enter are not colorized within it. They, too, are in b/w. However, in the world outside we’d see Herman Munster’s green complexion. It would be jarring for us, to be sure, as we are used to seeing the characters in b/w. My rationale: For the other characters, seeing the Munsters is jarring, even more so. But we’ve come to find them endearing. We need to be shaken up. Yet their home would still be…familiar.

Brad Garrett must be Herman Munster. In my opinion, it’s a no brainer. He's known for his imitations. Perhaps you’ve been treated to his impeccable impression before. There’s no reason not to give him the part. No one else can do Fred Gwynne justice.

Do you agree with my ideas?

Some more Munsters fun:

Official Website
Munster Official Site

VH1 had a program Totally Obsessed hosted by Fred Willard which visited monomaniacs across the country. On one episode is the story of Sandra and Charles McKee who diligently recreated the Munster Mansion. Unfortunately I cannot find video of the segment. They do have a web presence, however.
Visit them here.

Incidentally, The Munsters Theme is the only thing I can successfully play on the piano.

P.S. - Can you find the 'hidden' reference to the show in this post?
Hint: It requires a little puzzle-solving...take your time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nightmares, Too

I came across this description on the ‘net:

There is a place called Neverland – filled with children amidst innocence and laughter.

Does that sound right to you?
Technically, it shouldn't.

One of the misconceptions of the Neverland is that it’s a bright, happy place full of dreams, laughter and cheery adventures.

I don’t wish to take that notion away from people, nor do I mean to say that it is absolutely incorrect. It can be, certainly.

However, we must not ignore the fact that there are just as many nightmares as there are dreams!

Think about it. Peter Pan touts it as a wonderful place to be - a happy-go-lucky escape from the doldrums of adulthood. He entices us. But when you arrive, you quickly learn the truth.
Nearly everything in the Neverland is out to get you. To kill you.

Sure, what child doesn’t dream of sparing with pirates and hunting with “Indians.” Who would refuse a lagoon filled with mermaids and forests fluttering with fairies? Yes, such delights do exist there, no denying it. But by the same token, those pirates aren’t a fantasy. They’re bloodthirsty villains bent on attack. Before Pan saved Tiger Lily and befriended them, the Redskins were (and still can be) just as likely to strike. And those mermaids? Let’s have a look at what Barrie says:

The most haunting time at which to see them is at the turn of the moon, when they utter strange wailing cries; but the lagoon is dangerous for mortals then …

While she stitched a change came to the lagoon. Little shivers ran over it, and the sun went away and shadows stole across the water, turning it cold. Wendy could no longer see to thread her needle, and when she looked up, the lagoon that had always hitherto been such a laughing place seemed formidable and unfriendly.

It was not, she knew, that night had come, but something as dark as night had come. No, worse than that. It had not come, but it had sent that shiver through the sea to say that it was coming. What was it?

It is, of course, the pirates coming. Didn't I just warn you about them? And for the record, even the pirates can be scared on the island.

Smee and Starkey clung to each other in terror. (In reference to thinking spirits are near.)

And let us not forget that the mermaids try to drown Wendy.

Wild animals abound…wolves, coyotes, bears...oh my.

Barrie’s fairies will just as soon “mischief” you as dance to Peter’s pipes.

And I haven’t even mentioned the massive crocodile. Granted, it’s after the Captain, but I wouldn’t want to meet up with it…would you?

Just putting in my two cents as a reminder. It's become a bit of a pet peeve of mine, this belief that the island is only bright, beauteous and magical.

The Neverland is indeed a fanciful place... but not all peaches and cream. It’s savage and brutal and you must always keep on your toes…and hope that Peter Pan is in the mood to save you when you’re in danger.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does this Wax Work?

The obsession with the fairy who plots the murder of an innocent young girl continues... in wax this time.

The latest and smallest addition at Madame Tussauds London can be read about here.

Here are the dimensions:

Height : 5.5 inches
Width of eyes : 2mm
Length of eyelashes : 1mm
Length of fingers : 4mm
Size of fingernails : 1/2mm
Waist size : 1.5cm

At least the height is correct, as per Barrie. However, the same cannot be said of her waist.
Barrie says that Tinker Bell is embonpoint. Take THAT, Hollywood and media! (As in the current damaging portrayal of beauty!)

Though I understand why, it's a bit of a shame that Disney's depiction is used for this dubious honor. Especially since it's in London.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mystical Elegance

- my two word description
of the set for Anung’s First American Christmas.

Yes, I returned to the theatre last night. (Twice, actually. But two different theatres - more in a bit.)

Let me say that my prediction had been correct. The results of the work done are wonderful. (Not that it had been any great feat to predict as such!) Walking in, I beheld a complete dreamcatcher. Even the “web” portion has been colored to match the sinew of the real dreamtime tool. Every detail certainly counts toward the whole effect.

I painted this time - but all the “fun” parts had already been done. It’s best, anyway, to leave that to professionals like Laughter. But now, by my meager hand, the rest of the theatre floor is black, which sets off the…er…set. For the record, Laughter’s Cosmos is much more subtle than the photos I showed. He did have a plethora of pictures much the same, but it’s easy to see why he toned it down. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shining stars and streaming wufts of color. Just not as prominent. And, of course, it works much better. All part of the elegance. The fabrics, too, have been fancified with hues. It’s marvelous.

I also saw my college prof, the one who wrote the show. (I suppose I should give him a name!) Very nice to see Sparrow again. We chatted about the show a little. Naturally, he asked about Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, too. Sparrow then showed Laughter and me the materials he’ll be using for the Installation. Vitalist Theatre is known for its elaborate ante-room presentations. And Sparrow goes to town on them, for they are his domain. Whether it be bits of literature, photos or actual pieces (in this case branches/trees, antlers, animal skulls, etc.) the decorative and informative display is a theatrical event all its own.

I also chanced to wander through the Green Room. Know what I saw? The puppets, masks and costumes! Wow! Bravo to everyone involved. The puppets are truly remarkable. They are adorable yet reverently realistic of the Animals they represent. I can’t wait to see them in motion. Exquisite work all around. And I’m too curious who wears what and when!

Mighty fine work. Oh, by the way, Laughter says the 40 foot silks are in fact 45 feet.

While Anung rehearsed, I attened The Ville, a series by Bare Boned Theatre. The brainchild of Dragonfly’s beau, Tall Boy (along with Sappho), The Ville is a madcap soap opera depicting the lives of gays and lesbians in Andersonville. Regrettably I have not been able to make every performance in the saga. (A new “episode” begins the first Monday of each month.) But I am quite glad to have seen this one, the musical season finale. Tall Boy wrote all the music and lyrics. He’s quite talented, skilled in not only varying the melodies and tone, but able to wittily convey the story through song. [You know, like an composer and lyricist should! ;) ] Bravo, Tall Boy! And bravo to Sappho and everyone else in the company. It’s quite the amusing show. And yet, for every purposeful over-the-top scenario is an undercut of poignancy and a deeper issue. It’s always a delight.

My first post about Anung's First American Christmas can be found here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rare Von Brownian Poetry

I rarely, if ever, write poetry.
I admire, perhaps even revere, the art.

It's just not my forte. Maybe it's the rigid structures that thwart me? [Yes, I know of "free form" poems - but I am even more in awe of the poets who achieve it.] Whatever the reason, to me poetry is the wonderful garden Alice sees through the keyhole, but I lack both the "Drink Me" potion and the key.

Though, I have taken a class or two. So my poetry does exist. But I'll be the first to tell you not to read it. Not out of humility, privacy or embarrassment. Because you'd be better off reading someone else's. My only real poetic flavors are in my prose.

However, I am going to share one with you. For this one is a little different. I wrote it for class. The assignment: Write a parody of a well-known poem. So, trying to give myself a challenge, I chose Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven.

The Wombat

Once upon a noontime sunny, while I laughed at jokes unfunny,
Told many a time and overly stupid, a hopeless bore.
Time I wasted, evening dawning, suddenly there came a fawning,
As of something yawning, yawning at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some moocher," I grumbled, "yawning at my own chamber door --
Only this and nothing more."

Let whatsoever it may be to wallow in its own misery
As long as I, content with pleasantries am up one on score.
And thus let the world turning, fellow humans in their yearning,
Listen now to an intriguing tale that proves most obscure.
I witnessed a creature not native here -- it was quite obscure.
'Twas a creature I adore.

A nocturnal marsupial which did not wonders for my morale
Stood there looking so much smarter than I can give credit for.
"If thou were not so cute and furry, there," I said, "might be some worry.
Princely small yet stately Wombat wandering from the Nightly shore --
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Edgarian shore!"
Quoth the Wombat, "Whate'er for?"

This I pondered while surprised that with an animal I compromised.
Though its answer little meaning -- little relevancy bore
Yet somehow had logic deeper than dreams of a profound sleeper.
Being soothed by its fine wisdom I began to long for more.
Even though 'twas of simple nature, I craved it all the more.
Quoth the Wombat, "Whate'er for?"

"Prophet !" said I, "knowledge golden! Now I know that mine life of olden
Does not cut mustard and all along has been some awful chore.
I should not care for just myself or stock my mem'ries on a shelf.
'Tis fruitless to care just for me or lament o'er dead Lenore.
I could spend my life grieving you for all my days -- but Lenore:
Quoth the Wombat, "Whate'er for?"

Thus my past no longer needing the Wombat and I started feeding.
On both corporeal and intellectual meals we soar.
With the past always fleeing, we are into future seeing.
Heed the Wombat's words and you'll regain happiness for sure.
Question all your current practices of which you are not sure.
Philosophy: "Whate'er for?"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Helping to Build a Dream

Just wanted to take a minute to put in an early plug for the new Vitalist Theatre show. Even though I haven’t even seen it, nor read it. But I can already get a sense of its grandeur . I’m posting this now because the next time I am able to visit the Theatre Building, much more will have been done with the set. For I know what is yet to be done. And it shall be nothing short of magical.

To give you some idea, center stage is a 14-foot dreamcatcher. Yes, you read that right. Laughter built a dreamcatcher that large. Even better, it spins 360° (Vertically…not circularly.) Plus, it can also swing pendulum-like. And be easily lifted and tilted to any desired angle. It’s amazing. It looks terrific, even without all of the “dressing” (wrapped fabric and a painting treatment around the ring) that will go on it.

I should explain that I do know the basic idea of the plot. I also saw Laughter’s model quite some time ago. But watching it come to fruition is causing anticipation to build, right along with the set. Last night while I helped secure platforms, they had a run-through of sorts of the projection elements. Lovely, ornate shadow work…and continuous! As in landscapes scrolling by and by and by and…birds flew in, the moon rose. Just wonderful. Then, the drummers thumped a bit. The sound moved right through the core of the space. A deep, resonant bellow. I thought how the drums would demand attention during a performance. Later, Laughter, one of his former students and I painted the floor - in phase one. Okay, technically I did not paint this time. My job had been to wield the water in a spritz-adjustable bottle. You see, the painting had also been done with spray bottles. The water helped diffuse the color and splatters of the mist. Why on Earth, you might ask? Well, because it is not on Earth! The floor will reflect the amazing colorful gases and nebulae and stars that comprise the Cosmos. It’s the Dreamtime.

Here are some examples of what I am talking about. These are actual photographs, people. Taken by the Hubble Telescope. Behold the mystical, magical glory of the Universe! No, these are not specifically the pictures being used in the show design. Laughter has dozens to inspire him. But it will give you some idea.

Perhaps from the poster (and the mention of a giant dreamcatcher and drums) you figured out this show deals with Native American legends and philosophies. The script is adapted from the novella by Carl Nordgren (as told to him by former Tribal Council Chief Steve Fobister (Baminowekapo) of the Keewatin Ojibway, Grassy Narrows First Nation, Canada). And who is writing it? No, not me. It's penned by the co-founder of Vitalist Theatre, my college mentor. Thus, the production has a special significance for me. He’s quite the poet, so the language of the play will be exquisite and beautiful.

This time Vitalist is pairing up with one of the members of Redmoon Theater, a company here in Chicago acclaimed for their masterful work using masks, physical performance, and an international range of puppetry style. I’ve seen some of the masks while at Knox for Homecoming. And I’m sure they will be further developed and even more spectacular and haunting.

The World Priemere of Anung’s First American Christmas, even in this stage of development, is damn impressive. The little white model is paling in comparison to the marvels that are taking shape. It just didn’t show the true scope of the vision.

I’m not sure how much more I will get to help out before it’s completed, as much of it will probably be accomplished over the weekend. Bart and I have previous engagements all weekend, so my time there might already be spent. I hope not. (But then, for their sake, I do hope they have a speedy completion.) Plus, this time I had the “thrill” of working on a Vitalist show at Knox! All the previous shows I saw the fruits of labor that came from the college which needed assembly here. But I spent some of my time at Homecoming making myself useful, such as grommeting the 40-foot silk curtains-strips as well as the fabrics on which the shadows will dance. But I do know that the next time I see it, I will be “w0w”ed even more. And I’m pretty damn excited to see this show as it is.

Information about the show can be found on the Vitalist Theatre website, here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Look What P0Pped UP!

If you thought “Pop-Up Books” are for children, think again. A man named Robert Sabuda does the miraculous with folding and moving papers.
Just take a look. I mean, honestly. Talk about an art form!

As you can see, he makes pop-ups out of classic literature as well as other themes. Not only are they popping out at you…they do things! Such as the tornado that transports Dorothy. It spins as you open it up. You can see inside the houses. And wait until you experience the simple but ingenious way to make Alice fall down the rabbit hole. And that T-Rex? Yes, it will chomp. It's not limited to the main art, either. Every page has at least one smaller flap to open revealing complex pop-ups, too.

I highly recommend ANY of his books. They’ll astound you. How does one even begin to solve the folding and such to produce these giant 3-D images? You’ll find yourself trying to figure it out, only to be mesmerized and bamboozled. And what I've posted here is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Immerse yourself in genius.

Well, folks, he’s now tackled J.M. Barrie’s eternal boy. Yes, Peter Pan is a Robert Sabuda Pop-Up. It’s just recently been released and needless to say, I’m excited to play with it. But alas, I do not have the time to obtain it just yet. For I will be assisting Laughter with the Vitalist Theatre show again tonight. The next two evenings are booked for Bart and me. But rest assured that I will track it down and fly with Peter Pan in an entirely new way. You can be sure I’ll post my thoughts when I do. Just imagine the crocodile! Good grief! :)

Thank you, Mr. Sabuda. BRAVO!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not All is Forbidden

I’ve already expressed my feelings on remakes. You can find those posts here and here. I hope I made it clear that in some cases, a remake can be a good idea. One of those cases is happening. In fact, I’ve been waiting for this revamp for roughly twenty years.

Forbidden Planet, through no fault of its own, deserves an update. And as it stands, it’s an amazing piece of work. It’s rich in sets, acting, script and special effects. What they achieved is worthy of applause. Can you tell I liked it? If you have not seen it, I urge you to have a look. The 1956 movie is widely upheld as a classic.

Before I delve into why (and what) I am excited about seeing redone, let me tell you one of the reasons I liked the original. Forbidden Planet is based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (Which happens to be my favorite of the Bard’s collection.) Substitute a planet for an island (that sounds familiar somehow), technology for magic (hmm, perhaps it influenced me more than I realized until now), a robot servant for a captive spirit and a horrendous monster for…well, a horrendous monster (of sorts.) It works quite well.

Now, as I said, the F/X in FP are terrific. But they are limited, of course, by the technology of the age. (Which is kind of funny, considering one of the points raised by the film.) Some of it is done via animation by Disney studio. Given today’s damn-near-real F/X (meaning a combination of advanced animatronics, blue/green screen, models and Computer Generated Imagery) the bar can be raised quite high. And the original had already reached the stars. So there’s one aspect that would benefit from a remake.

It seems to me the message of the film (though not exactly steeped in unique) is now more relevant than ever. Here we are realizing dreams of our Science Fiction stories. How far can we take it? How far should we? I don’t have an answer, but FP can provide a slap in the face of the potential triumphs and dangers once more. Especially with the strides we have made since the original.

I ‘d like to see a tad more “action” put into the movie. No, I am not talking about revamping it into some shoot-em-up-let’s-see-how-many-explosions-we-can-stuff-into-two-hours type of action. Not an overkill. It’s just that the story can be rather heady. Certainly not a bad thing. If it did not have this element it wouldn’t be a masterpiece. For I hope we all know that spectacle without substance is often a waste of time. But I also know that some people have complained of the “slow parts” of FP. Thus, a little pepper of more “action” will be welcome. It isn’t as if such scenes would need to be haphazardly thrown in just for the hell of it. There are plenty of places in the script to turn up the volume a little.

I also think Leslie Nielsen should return for the new version. But this time in the role of Dr. Edward Morbius. I certainly don’t suggest him in the sense of his delightful “ridiculum” he is now known for in such works as Police Squad!/Naked Gun. He can be quite serious and dramatic. If you don’t believe me, watch his performance as Commander J. J. Adams in FP. I’m a believer in using actors from the original to be in remakes, provided that the remake is “good” and the re-casting seems appropriate. I can see Nielsen as the courteous but foreboding Morbius. I feel he would do justice to Walter Pidgeon's compelling character.

The real question, of course, is the design of Robby the Robot. To keep or not to keep? On one hand, he’s truly iconic and should not be tampered with out of respect. On the other, his goofy (said with admiration) appearance might not fit the repackaging of the movie. I’m just not sure about it. [I do know that in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (regardless of its merit or foibles) they tinkered with the famous sleek robot guardian Gort only to discover that he’s just not Gort without utilizing the original design. So now he looks just the same, only fine-tuned.] Let us hope there is a happy medium.

Lastly, and it should go without saying, they will need to keep the integrity, spirit and quality of the original. Not often achieved. But not impossible, either.

So there you have it… one of the few remakes to which I will nod in eager assent.
Unfortunately, we have to wait until 2010 to see the results. But after my double decade wait for it, it’s not so bad. Let’s hope we can say at least that much of the new movie.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Lights Never Quite Came On...

If you're wondering why I didn't yet post my reaction and compare/contrast of the movie City of Ember to the book, The City of Ember, there is a good reason. I have not yet seen it. Cassidy and I wanted to go together on a weekend. But our schedules have not yet allowed us. Bart and I are to see her this coming Sunday, perhaps it will happen then. Perhaps. For my interest in seeing it has waned. From what I heard, the movie did not do so well. Plus, you might recall that Sunshine's students read it for class. They watched the film. Sunshine tells me they returned and asked her, "Did they read the book before they made the movie?" I probably would ask the same thing. For I can be rather fussy when it comes to adaptations as well. It's nice to know that the next generation is learning to be intolerant of sloppy work. To respect art. It's one thing to make allowances and changes to reflect a new medium. It's another to completely alter a work. And from what I have seen in commercials, the other complaints I have heard from Sunshine's students and the fizzling excitement I've read of what is supposed to be a "family movie," this is not one of the better conversions.

If I ever do see it, I'll post about it. But it seems as if I should let my vision of Ember come from Jeanne DuPrau's novel.

My other posts about it are here and here.

Update: Sunshine read the post and told me more. She said she is proud of her students for their disgust. She said, a really precocious girl told me with absolute horror in her voice that they added a MONSTER. "A MONSTER!!! There are no MONSTERS. They missed the point entirely."
Brava, precocious girl!
Don't let Hollywood stomp on literature by thinking they know better. It's the rare case when they do.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Where I Did My Business...

While back at college for Homecoming, I wandered around campus. I visited some of my favorite places, naturally. A lot has changed (even in the time since I'd last been there about three years ago). But for every new element is a “just the same.”

I took some pictures in the library. They are not the best quality, as I took them with my cell phone. It can produce great pictures on occasion. But I snapped them quickly, as I did not want to be “that guy” while current students studied around me.

Why did I chose these locations? Simple. They are the places I could usually be found doing my research on Sir J. M. Barrie. Although I may have made some notes for it in these places, I did not actually compose Peter Pan’s NeverWorld at them. But I’d immerse myself in the wonder, splendor, triumphs and tribulations of the man who brought us the Eternal Boy.

Lastly, I took a picture of my mentor’s (writing professor and Chairman of my Honors Committee) door. He’s away from the college right now, so I did not visit with him. But it matters little, for I see him rather frequently as it is -- he’s one of the founders of the Vitalist Theatre company. You might recall that I help them out with their productions here in Chicago. And I am always in attendance of the shows, more than once.

In fact, I’ll be going to assist my buddy Laughter with their latest later tonight. But more on the new Vitalist Show at another time.