And so it begins….again!

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How about that artwork? Pretty snazzy huh? Kessi Rilinki is the artist, check her out and The Audio Drama Production Podcast group on Facebook.

And now onto our story.

After driving from Philadelphia to Minneapolis (with a stop in Fremont, Indiana) we have arrived safe and sound on Tuesday, February 19th. After a rest and some much-needed animal corraling it was time to sift through the audio detritus that will eventually make up season 2 of Jarnsaxa Rising.

It was a shame we couldn’t hang out with the cast during the time that we were there but with the readthroughs and the re-writes, there wasn’t time. We had a narrow window to record in due to conflicting schedules with the cast but we did manage to get everything done in a final 12-hour session.

Tech notes here so if this stuff bores you just skip it. I included links in the event of anyone interested in the product and my experience with it in a real-world situation. I’m not getting compensated for anything.

For recording, I opted for the Zoom F8 field recorder along with the FRC-8 controller to give me more flexibility in mixing and control. I ended up using a CAD TRION 6000, CAD GXL 2200, 2 Aston Origins, Sterling Audio ST151 and the trusty Shure SM58. Except for SM58, all the other mics are condensers. To get more level out of the SM58, I ran that through a Cloudlifter CL-1 via the F8’s phantom power.

For the actors, I decided to have a headphone distribution system set up so they can hear themselves. I went cheap and got the Behringer Powerplay which actually did a pretty good job. I brought with me what I had in headphones (2 pairs of Sony MDR 7506’s, Sennheiser HD280, and a pair of KOSS over the ear type. I also made a quick stop at Twin Town Guitars and grabbed some 1/8″ to 1/4″ adaptors just in case.

A little plug for Sony here, if you are looking for bulletproof, great sounding headphones, get the MDR 7506. I have a pair that is over 20 years old the other is 10 and they are user serviceable so you can replace parts.

The recording space was the second floor (attic?) at the home of the director Carin Bratlie Wethern. We kept any room reverb down by utilizing blankets and pillows. I also tried to keep to the “3 to 1” rule to cut down on bleed. I was somewhat successful in this after listening to playbacks and isolating tracks.

If time permits I will occasionally post again. The work is going to be slow and tedious. Then I have to create SFX beds and music cues for 8 episodes so it may take a few months or more to get a decent product.

Things are looking up!

Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Alfred Steiglitz. Good things are happening.

I’m pleased to announce that Wide Open Spaces will be read as part of the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival this summer!

Wide Open Spaces is the play that I wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, and her personal changes that made her the painter we know today. It has forty-some odd characters played by eight performers, and takes place in one room and all across America over three years, so this is going to be a good experience. I’m really excited about this, and grateful that the festival coordinators see what I’ve seen in this story.

Philadelphia’s never had a theatre festival specializing in work created by women, before this year. Ms Fest at Plays & Players was a huge success, so the energy of supply and demand is high for a women’s theatre festival.  Currently, the PWTF is raising funds to make the festival happen, and you can support this project.  They have four days left to meet their fundraising goal, and donations are tax-deductible. 

I know so many people who complain at being left out of opportunities. There’s so much “they don’t want me because I’m too (x, y, z) for them” that I hear, and I want to be in a culture of saying “yes, and.”   This is one of those times where we can step up and build the sandbox in which we want to play.

Speaking of building your own sandbox, progress on Jarnsaxa Rising continues. In addition to the script, I’m working on “meet the artist” posts for the podcast’s blog. Every time I open up my e-mail, see the performers’ headshots and read their bios, I get all warm and giggly inside. This project is going to be Really Good.

And, of course, if science-fiction-fantasy podcasts are your thing, you can join us on the journey.

IMG_3686 And last night it rained, finally, so the garden is getting wild again. The red lilies are blooming and doubling and trebling, and the morning glory vine has started to fight with the lavender, but they’re no match for the mint, so I have to get in there and break up some of this battle.

 

 

Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?
Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?

 

 

 

Things that keep me awake at night

Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_Williams Once upon a time there was a playwright who was really, really bored.

She sent a Facebook message to a friend, a director, who was never bored, halfway across the country. The message was, “I need something new to write about, throw me a prompt.”

The director said, “Just above the 60th parallel in the Baltic Ocean, a team of researchers arrives at an abandoned wind farm, to investigate some unexplained energy surges. They discover that the wind farm has become sentient. And hungry.”

The writer said, I like this, and she researched and thought and imagined. Five years later, we have this:

Smøla Wind Farm, Norway. Photo by Bjørn Luell.
Photo by Bjørn Luell

Jarnsaxa Rising

It seemed like a great play idea, with multiple characters and the wind turbines themselves being played by actors who rotated giant rain sticks, as if the gods and humans and everyone were all embodied in the wind turbines. But the story was too unwieldy. It made more sense to break it into episodes and do it as a podcast. So, basically, it’s a science fiction fantasy revenge tragedy that takes place in a dystopian future and the ancient past.

and that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

round box brooch swedish So, I’m writing the script. I’m eight episodes in, with hopefully only two more to go. although two of the episodes may get merged into one. Vince is doing all the sound engineering. Carin is directing, she’s found a cast, and we’re going to Minneapolis to record it in July. We’ll edit the files in August, and launch the podcast in the fall.

I’ve been taking a Coursera course, called Sagas and Space, about Norse culture and how they thought about themselves. It’s been inspiring and helpful, particularly Terry Gunnell’s guest lecture on “Spaces, Places, Liminality and The Supernatural in The Old Nordic World.”

I’ve been learning a lot about Indiegogo. This is our campaign, in case you like this and want to help. We’re just over 5% funded, with 41 days to go. I get about two messages a day from people who want me to pay them to retweet the campaign or add it to a directory. which feels like adding my needle to a haystack.

woman holding-headphones-listening-to-music
“OMG! This is, like, SO much better than Serial!”

Tonight, I have writer’s block. I know what needs to happen next, everything is outlined. As I write, I feel like I’m stumbling. There’s a lot of new things that I’m learning: writing purely for audio instead of live audio-visual performance, using episodes, using non-linear narrative. some information is missing, and I don’t know what it is, but without it, I can’t confidently move forward. I’ll get it, I just have to find it. I also know that writing doesn’t come from inspiration, inspiration comes from writing.

Fortunately, I have a really good cast, good people who have said, “sure, I’ll climb aboard your wagon.” I just want to make sure I don’t disappoint anyone.

I wanted to go to bed early tonight, so I can get up early tomorrow. It was hot today and it’s supposed to be hot tomorrow, so I’d like to have some of the cool hours of the day at my disposal. I want to get up early, pull weeds and water the flowerbeds before the rest of the world gets moving. The local amateur pyrotechnic aficionados are setting things off, which upsets the dogs. They’re being pretty good about it, but I can hear them shuffling around anxiously.

I think I’m just going to lie down and listen to an audiobook, and hope that settles me down.

Anyway, this is what’s keeping me awake lately.

Don’t go changing to try and please me.

Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program is really cool, but it’s only a small part of the many arts organizations who contribute to the life of this city.

Philadelphia Arts Advocacy Day probably sounds like something involving tall skinny women wearing all black and chunky jewelry sipping chardonnay and complaining about the callouses they have on their check-writing hand. And who’s to say it isn’t? Any tall skinny woman who wants to sip chardonnay and complain about arts funding is a friend of mine, as long as she keeps donating to the arts organization of her choice.

But seriously, folks. The Philadelphia Cultural Fund is likely to be reduced for fiscal year 2016. Last year arts advocates convinced Mayor Nutter and City Council to approve an increase in the funding, to $3.14 million. This year, we’re only asking that the budget not be reduced. We’re not asking for an increase (though that would be really nice too). We’re just asking that it not be cut (to the 1.84 million that Mayor Nutter has proposed).

In order to have cool things that make a place livable, such as summer camps, street fairs, orchestras, nifty little painting and writing classes, and endless productions of Shakespeare to make us all feel smart, you have to have cultural funding in your city budget. If you want to be a great city, you have to have great art, and that means great money. We’re not even asking for more money, we’re asking just to keep the number the same.

The NCAR Arts Vibrancy Report is Southern Methodist University’s index of supply and demand for cities’ arts, culture, and how their governments spends money on them. It’s a way of quantifying a major contributor to a city’s livability (aside from jobs, climate, pollution, transit, and so on).  While Philadelphia’s Avenue of The Arts may seem like a vast buffet of entertainment and provocation, our city didn’t even make the top ten. For cities with populations over one million, Philadelphia came in 13th, right under Denver. 

A bearded hipster-lookin' man with some plush creatures that look really cool.
You guys, please, please, don’t let Denver be cooler than us. Please.

 That’s right. Philadelphia was outranked for vibrancy by DENVER, COLORADO. This aggression will not stand, man. 

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has created a guide of simple ways that you can communicate to Mayor Nutter and City Council that the Philadelphia Cultural Fund is important to you, and that you don’t want it reduced. I read the useful and helpful pre-written letter provided, and re-edited it for my own (nefarious?) purposes to send to my council person, Bobby Henon.

The letter I sent is below.

I highly recommend that if you

a) live in Philadelphia, or its surrounding counties (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, yes, this affects you too)

and

b) like things other than sports sometimes,

that you click, tweet, write, make noise, whatever. Make that happen. I mean it. Here’s the guide. It’s not hard. Easier than Candy Crush.

Thank you.

Dear Councilman Henon,

Thank you for all the hard work that you’re doing for Tacony and Mayfair. I moved to Tacony when I married my husband, and in the past eight years I’ve seen a lot of positive change. For example, the Tacony Storefront Improvement Program was long overdue and is a great asset to our neighborhood. Here is another way that life in our district can be improved, that’s also very important to me.

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund’s budget allocation is at risk. As a writer, artist and arts supporter, I’m writing to urge you to save the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF) and keep the budget allocation at $3.14 million for the fiscal year 2016.

As you already know, last year Council appropriated an additional $1.3M for PCF, bringing its allocation up to $3.14M. This additional funding allowed PCF to dole out larger grants and reinstate the Youth Arts Enrichment grants. This grant provides project support for arts-education programs serving K-12 students in the Philadelphia School District.

Funded projects directly address the priorities of reducing youth violence, reducing truancy and drop-out rates, and increasing the percentage of School District graduation rates and graduates going on to college.

They give kids something positive and productive to do. This is something that our district desperately needs. We have tons of young people wandering the neighborhood, and no opportunities available to them beyond sports. For kids who aren’y interested in or good at sports, there needs to be meaningful activity. Furthermore, participation in arts programs helps increase emotional intelligence, making people less likely to engage in violent or destructive activity.

There are many people in Tacony and Mayfair who are just plain bored, and live to complain about renters or people who are different, and watch television. Events such as the Mayfair farmers’ market and street fairs give residents the opportunity to interact. It’s great that this is happening, but we need more. The Devon Theatre has been sitting idle for years. It’s a tragic joke that the past artistic directors abandoned it. However, it would make an excellent space for Theatre Philadelphia companies to give performances. People in our district need intellectual and emotional stimulation that art and culture provides, in order to lessen violence, drug use and crime. The arts also enhance local businesses; people who attend arts events are more likely to spend money near by, such as for dining and parking. The Philadelphia Cultural Fund allows for better opportunities not only in District 6, but throughout the region.

Mayor Nutter has only appropriated only $1.84 million for the PCF in his FY2016 budget. Please encourage Council to act and ensure that PCF is flat funded for Fiscal year 2016.

Please allocate $1.3M for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Thank you again for your hard work, your time, and your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Lindsay Harris-Friel

we’ll find a place where there’s room to grow

Paul Williams wins a Grammy in 2014
Paul Williams wins a Grammy in 2014 for his collaboration on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Photo by Allen J Schaben, Los Angeles

Before you think this has turned into a Paul Williams Stalker Blog, let me give you a little bit of background. Matt Casarino (friend, playwright, singer-songwriter, performer and half of the band HOT BREAKFAST!) and I have been discussing the Paul Williams documentary, Still Alive.

It stuck in our craw, collectively, as you might say. Were this a dog park, the documentary would be that weird tree root sticking up out of the beaten earth that we both kept sniffing, chewing, and trying to pull out, before realizing it was stuck to something much more insidious.

As dogs will, we are compelled to keep gnawing and pulling at that tree root until it sticks up out of the ground, and let the sun and rain hit it, until it grows leaves.

I think what’s frustrating both of us is that Kessler had the opportunity to interview Paul Williams, a person who tapped into the collective unconscious and spun out some amazing songs, and he dropped it. Matt and I both wish we could get a Google Hangout interview with Williams, to ask the really important questions (just how sleazy were the infamous El Sleezo dancing girls?) and just listen and let the man talk, for crying out loud.  What’s the science of his songwriting? What’s the process? True, there’s no specific formula to make something that tugs at your emotions, but Williams’ decades of work is close to Joseph Campbell’s decades of study of myth.

Matt Casarino on stage at The Baby Grand, Wilmington, DE
Matt Casarino on stage at The Baby Grand, Wilmington, DE

Initially, when I saw the movie and it bothered me, I started to write an e-mail to Matt about it. Matt knows the science of what makes pop songs and stories engaging, so I wanted to know his thoughts about the movie. Then I really got on my high horse and posted my rant publicly. Matt wrote me back, and was kind enough to allow me to post his continuation of the conversation here.

Both of us feel like this movie misses a point. Matt showed me that it hits another, very interesting mark.

 

Without further ado: this just in from Casarino.

————————————————————————-

The first 45 minutes of Still Alive are maddening. Frustrating as all get-out.

I understand documentaries can be as much about the filmmaker as the subject – whether or not they’re seen on-camera, the director/editor is the one shaping the narrative into the story they want us to see. But while a little personal context is fine, good LORD, man, you’ve got one of the most interesting fellows in the world in front of you, and you’re talking about yourself? Shut up, step aside, and let Williams talk.

My frustration reached its apex during the Vegas scene. After a few awkward shots of Paul’s wife, we see shots of her repeatedly interrupting the band rehearsal to ask the musicians how many comps they want as an annoyed Williams looks on. I turned to Jill and said “this is bullshit. It’s a cheap shot. Kessler is deceptively editing the film to make her look intrusive.” This was followed by Kessler’s v/o, as he opines that Williams is clearly annoyed that his wife is ruining this trip.

That’s when it hit me – I’ve been duped. Kessler isn’t clueless. It’s not just this scene that’s unfairly edited – it’s the whole movie. He’s doing this on purpose. He’s painting himself as a dopey, gooey-eyed fan, and purposefully leaving in all the shots “normal” documentaries leave out – the awkward and uncomfortable confrontations, the sideways glances given to increasingly intrusive cameras. He’s going behind the scenes of his own movie.

And with this method, he ends up showing us a side of Paul we otherwise never would have seen.

He could have given us a sitting-on-a-couch documentary, in which Paul takes us through his life, his various projects, his process, his highs & lows, all that stuff. That would have been very satisfying, honestly, because Paul is a fascinating man and has spent decades learning how to charm the camera. But we wouldn’t know Paul like we do now. We wouldn’t see the very real, often deeply uncomfortable moments when Paul is just barely too polite to tell Steve to go eat a handful of crap. We wouldn’t see an exhausted Paul telling Steve he’s all “Paul Williamsed out,” or telling Steve his questions are condescending and insulting. Those are real, honest moments, and very telling.

And they never would have worked in a “normal” documentary. They would have been jarring, making Paul come off as irritable, unpleasant, ungrateful. But here, we get it. We cannot believe this drip is botching his Paul Williams documentary, a movie he’s lucky to be making. When Paul’s values overtake his courtesy and he incredulously calls out Steve for being shitty, we’re on his side. It’s a great moment, albeit terrifically hard to watch. But if Steve were “invisible,” if the movie was more of a talking head documentary, that moment would make Paul appear irritable and combative. But because we’re as exasperated as Williams, we see a man determined to be present, to accept his past without regretting it. Paul’s not telling us how he feels – he’s showing us. Remarkable.

And Steve takes the hit. He lets himself be comically obtuse, mistaking Paul’s obvious sarcasm for an actual invitation. He lets Williams and his wife glare at Kessler and the camera with a sort of polite contempt. He’s a simpering wuss in the Phillipines, whining about the food and terrorists. He asks jerky questions that seem designed not to provoke answers, but to make Williams feel bad. Christ, he even dresses like a drip, with his oversized, droopy t-shirts, wrinkled pants, and stooped posture. Doesn’t he know he’s in a movie?

But by being the bad guy, he lets Williams be the good guy. That incredible moment at the end, when Williams watches a video of his coked-up 1983 persona with horror, absolute disgust, and embarrassment? That probably couldn’t have happened in a “normal” documentary. In this one, where the jerky filmmaker has been pushing for this moment for years and Williams has been resisting it, it becomes the entire point. It reveals the soul of Paul Williams.

Now, this revelation doesn’t mean I loved the movie. It’s still kind of hacky. Kessler lays it on way too thick, especially in his v/o that opens the movie, when he tells us how much Paul meant to him as a child. He overplays his hand, becoming so unlikable that the movie itself turns off-putting when it should be riveting. And he can’t resist unnecessary, gratuitous intrusions, like the campy clip from The Karen Carpenter Story. Even if his indulgence is a put-on, it’s still indulgence, and often maddening.

Paul Williams performing in Brian diploma's movie, Phantom of the Paradise.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of Paul Williams playing a piano? Here, he’s at least got his hands on one, in Brian de Palma’s film Phantom of the Paradise.

 

Worst of all, the doc really doesn’t spend enough time on Williams’ extraordinary life. I get that Paul isn’t interested in telling old war stories, but there are some important questions that need to be asked. Who first noticed that he was a good songwriter? What movies mean something to him? What songs mean something to him? Who else does he admire? What was it like filming Phantom of the Paradise and The Muppet Show? How did he get sober, and how does he stay that way? What of his family, his children? The portrait of Paul Williams is incomplete without these questions answered. I suspect the middle ground between the vérité doc we got and the This-is-Your-Life doc we wanted is amazing.

But I still like the movie. I find Williams more fascinating, and wonderful, than ever. I want to be his friend, his confidant. And you know what? Now I don’t want to know certain things. I don’t want to know the lurid details of his drug habit. I don’t want to know his songwriting process. I don’t want to know how he channels sadness and depression into his work.

Well – I do want to know those things, but now I don’t think they’re any of my business. Now that I’ve seen Still Alive, I’d rather give him a little space, let him think about his next golf game and where he might want to take his family on vacation.

If I were writing soundbites, I’d say something like “Still Alive isn’t the Paul Williams biography you want, but it’s the one you need.” Thank Cthulhu I’m not a soundbite writer, because that makes me want to stab myself in the nipple. Instead, I’ll say this: I’m glad I saw Still Alive. I like this Paul Williams – a wonderful old guy who’s been through hell (and heaven) and still performs to make a living while helping thousands of people get and stay sober, a guy who’s lost more than he’s won but is happy with what he has. I’d still like to smack Steve Kessler on the back of the head for all the opportunities he missed, but I’d also like to thank him for letting me meet the real Paul.

————————————————————————————————-

It’s very true that Still Alive inverts traditional documentary conventions, to make us rethink privacy, loneliness and intimacy, particularly when those things are pushed against fame.  I’m grateful to have friends like Matt, with whom I can have these conversations.

You’ve almost convinced me I’m real

Paul Williams accepting the Academy Award for the song "Evergreen."
Paul Williams accepting the Academy Award for the song “Evergreen.”

Last night we watched the documentary, Paul Williams Still Alive. It was okay, but problematic. It might be interestingly problematic. Stick with this, because there is a point. I promise.

Basically, this guy, Stephen Kessler, was amazed to find out that award-winning, chart-topping soft-rock songwriter and television personality Paul Williams was not dead. In his joy and amazement, he set out to make a documentary about his childhood hero, hoping that maybe it would culminate in the two of them having a sleepover and staying up all night watching old tv clips from his many appearances and swapping tales of 70’s celebrity wacky times. Probably sitting in a pillow fort, wearing their pajamas and drinking Kool-Aid.

Result: the documentarian becomes the documented, and the experiment in narcicissm becomes really freaking tragic. It’s worth watching, if you want to see how what could be a very good documentary can go totally tits up.

This movie’s most annoying attribute is not Kessler’s strained relationship with Williams’ wife, the shaky filming, or the fact that Williams knows how run an interview and  how to direct a documentary better than this guy. It’s that not once does he touch on Paul Williams’ songwriting process.

Kermit The Frog and Paul Williams
Kessler does not spend any time discussing Williams’ collaborations with The Muppets. Unforgivable.

Kessler concentrates on the fame, tv appearances, booze, drugs, and sobriety, all the things about which Williams doesn’t want to talk, what should be the painful third act of your documentary, a part of it, not the end goal or sum and substance. We see Williams touch a keyboard once in the entire film (other than archival footage), and then only for a second. Paul Williams is now the president of ASCAP, and I can’t imagine a better advocate for the rights of songwriters. Although I have to admit I’d love to hear a discussion between him and Jonathan Coulton about songwriters’ rights in a mixed media world. I think Coulton’s experience with audience relationships and the Internet would be interestingly balanced by Williams’ decades in TV, film, and recording.

Kessler totally missed the fact that when you hear a Paul Williams song, you know it’s his, even if you don’t know the title, and haven’t been told anything about it. He has a particular style, once stamped on a song, which pulls the listener in, and then turns just as soon as a comfort level is established. He has an aural relationship with exposition, conflict, escalation and resolution which makes the listener always want a little bit more.

Kessler’s documentary is watchable, and shows us an intimate and painful side of a guy who has made a lot of people happy for many years (particularly in the Phillipines).  But it doesn’t show Williams’ productivity, never asked once how he worked on music while getting clean, or how he works on music now. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF. This is the kind of thing that helps artists and listeners and ARGH ARGH ARGH Come on, pal. Grow up.

The documentary was made in 2011, so it was made years before Williams became the president of ASCAP, and long before Daft Punk would have tapped him for involvement in their work.

Paul Williams wins a Grammy in 2014
Paul Williams wins a Grammy in 2014 for his collaboration on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Photo by Allen J Schaben, Los Angeles

If you listen to this, even without Williams’ unmistakeably unique voice, you can hear his style, despite the layers of electronica and Daft Punkiness of it all. Particularly at about the three minute mark, where the music fills your head with curly-haired women in glittery gowns twirling under colored lights, and Muppets playing sax and juggling silk handkerchiefs. But then the song widens and deepens, and this is the work of a really grown-up master of the art form. This might not be The Only King Of Pop, but he’s certainly a King Of Pop.  This is The Phantom of the Paradise and Evergreen.

So, yeah, nice try Kessler, but before you spend a lot of time on the tree’s tinsel, why not water its roots?

Hide and steek

Today I took a huge risk, which un-nerved me to my very core, the name for which not even Autocorrect recognizes. I tried steeking.

Steeking, for those of you who aren’t knitting geeks, is the process by which knit material is cut and sewn to make it into something else or smaller or whatever. In my case, I had pretty much given up on the project, and figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the process.

I tried knitting a hat, using Plymouth Yarns’ Gina in 0001. I wanted a loose, slouchy hat which would cover my ears, without mushing my hair irretrievably flat against my head. So, I looked at Bohoknits’ Sockhead Hat (which is a terrific pattern) and modified it to accept the different gauge of this thicker yarn.

I also wanted a diagonal rib for the 4″ band at the hat’s brim, because I think it’s more interesting to knit.  Unfortunately, despite measuring my melon and taking careful notes, I ended up with a giant family-sized salad bowl of a hat.

My head is smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle. I promise.
My head is smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle. I promise.

In this case, a normal person who wanted a hand-made custom-fit hat should do one of two things:

1) Get an expert to make it for you.

2) Frog, or unravel, the knitting, and start over.

Unfortunately, when it comes to clothing myself in cold weather, I am more stubborn than rational. So, I know that if you run wool through the washer on a warm cycle, it will shrink. This process is sometimes called felting, and sometimes called tragedy.  I decided that this hat was so big it could afford to participate in an experiment in shrinkage. So, not only did I run it through a clothes washer on a hot cycle, I ran it through a hot dryer.

diagonal rib and stockingette stitchesFor what it’s worth, let me show you how pretty the stitches looked before felting.

Thank you.

I also have to say that this yarn is as soft as a baby lamb’s earlobe. I knew felting would take away that feel. But baby, it’s cold outside.

So, a risky hot water wash and hot air dry later, I ended up with a hat that felt more tightly knit, but, guess what, was EXACTLY THE SAME DAMN SIZE. This is truly a testament to the resiliency and durability of Plymouth Yarn. I’m sure they make a yarn specifically for felting projects. If you want a yarn that won’t get ruined in the wash by mistake, I recommend this. And yes, it’s 100% wool.

Meanwhile, I still had a fuzzy floppy fruit bowl.  I thought, I give up. I can’t frog it now, because it’s about 50% felted. I tried wearing it, and it flopped and any breeze threatened to blow it off my noggin. Finally, I folded up part of it and pinned it with a safety pin to make it fit more snugly.

Then I remembered steeking. I’d read about it in some knitting books, but never actually done it, nor seen it done. I looked up some YouTube tutorials on the process, and saw that it required more skill and foresight than I had for this project. Today, I said, screw it, I have nothing to lose at this point.

IMG_3287

 

I measured out how much had to go, turned it inside out, and sewed a row of stitches across the hat, making a dart.

IMG_3289Then I took a pair of scissors and a deep breath, and cut the extra part off.

And here’s what I got:

me wearing my hat, after steeking.
Yes, that is a giant Darth Vader Pez Dispenser on our tchotchke shelf.

 

I like it. It fits, it’s comfortable, it looks cute. I am running it through another hot wash to see if I can get the new stitches to felt and mush with the rest of the yarn, so that seam will be more durable.

So, yeah; it’s been a while since I’ve last posted here. I’ve been applying for jobs and submitting scripts to opportunities. My track record has averaged one submission a day since last May. So far I’ve had a few good things come back (for example, The Wreck Of The Alberta had a reading with Athena Theatre Company, and it went Really Well, they’re good people). But it must be reading season, because I haven’t heard much lately.

Stay warm and safe.

Are you in Southern California?

If you are, or plan to be, in the Los Angeles area on Thursday, November 13, you owe it to yourself to head down to Casa 101 Theatre in Boyle Heights to see Teatro MOZ.

@Jules Dee Photography 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Katie Ventura in rehearsal.
@Jules Dee Photography 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Katie Ventura in rehearsal.

Tickets are now available for a showcase of Latino-American love for the man whose voice helped redefine masculinity, Morrissey.  The short plays are all culled from a nationwide call for submissions. I took a gamble with my friend, DJ and cultural connector, Rhienna Renee Guedry.  We wrote a play about bicycles, not having sex, and woman-loving-women who love Morrissey, and sent it in, crossing our fingers and clapping our hands because we believe in fairies.

A few weeks later, we were fortunate enough to have our play, Pretty Petty Things, chosen as a finalist.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to get to Los Angeles from Philadelphia right now. BUT, if you can, you should! The cast is not only talented and skilled, but also gorgeous. The show promises to be a tour de force, complete with live musical performances and a lot of sweet and tender hooliganism. It’s only playing for one night, Thursday, November 13, at eight pm.

@Jules Dee Photography, 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Moises Rodriguez in rehearsal.
@Jules Dee Photography, 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Moises Rodriguez in rehearsal.

How often do you get to see a theatrical event that combines Latino contemporary life and California culture with the Anglophilic pop sensibility of the former frontman of The Smiths? Come to Casa 101 Theatre, 2102 East First Street, Los Angeles, California, 90033, for a singular dramatic event.

Tickets available at this link!  Go get ’em, Tiger!

 

 

 

 

Getting CASL to let down the drawbridge

Come see my show, come see my show, come see my show, eh? Oops, I just got fined a million dollars.

Canadian Flag
Ce n’est pas le drapeau Japonais.

In Moses Avalon’s recent article about Canada’s new anti-spam law, called CASL (pronounced “castle”), he describes a Kafka-esque or Orwellian nightmare in which bands who use a web-based form to gather their fans’ email addresses can be fined a million dollars for each e-mail they send to a Canadian recipient.  Avalon focuses on the impact this legislation has for musicians, but this can apply to theater companies and any business owner, small or large, who needs to be able to reach a lot of people at once, on the cheap.   Basically,

-if you have a super-cheap or free website, coded in HTML with a text box labeled, “fill in your e-mail address to join our mailing list,”

-and the user’s address is put on a list without a second opportunity to confirm that

-yes, they do want to join your mailing list,

-then, if you send them an e-mail, and they are a Canadian Citizen,

-you just bought the Canadian government a new library. Or something.

So, what are artists supposed to do to avoid this? Avalon says:

Hatley Castle, British Columbia.
C’est un château Canadienne.

“The CRTC demands that every recording artist get “express consent” from each Canadian member of their mailing list before July 1, 2014. This requires figuring out who on a mailing list of potentially hundreds or thousands of opt-ins are Canadian, extracting their names, and then sending them another double opt-in permission email before proceeding to email them further. A task that experts on the subject agree will be impossible to do by the deadline.  For the most part there is no way to tell which emails on a list belong to Canadians without expensive tracking services.”

Neil Young
Keep on rocking in the free world.

Essentially, he implies that this law is an unnecessary and tiring burden on musicians, to pick through their e-mail lists with a fine-toothed comb, extracting the Canadian addresses and getting a second opt-in permission from the users in question. Furthermore, Avalon points out more about how this is all part of the vast government conspiracy to kill off every last independent artist with sweeping legislation;

“Or, or for the poor-man’s approach, if you’re a US band, you could simply stay out of Canada.  And if you’re a Canadian band, you could move to the US.

Joni_Mitchell_2004
Une ressource naturelle importante au Canada.

I cannot think of a more bone-headed move on the part of our sister country.   And all this time I thought they were supposed to be the kinder more polite America.”

I don’t think the government wants to kill artists off in one fell swoop. They wouldn’t enjoy that anywhere near as much as hunting us individually for sport.

So, before we all panic, let’s find out a little bit more about what this really means and what we can do about it.

Again, CASL states that e-mail recipients must have provided express consent. Generally, most businesses use what’s called a DOI, or double-opt-in method. You have probably seen this if you’ve signed up for any newsletter or social network in the last few years.  Jeremy Moskowitz, who is a sharp mind among Internet technology people, describes DOI as:

1.      They fill out a form on a website.

2.      They get an email to confirm.

3.      They confirm.

4.      It’s registered as confirmed.

Jeremy said that e-mail list management systems such as Infusionsoft can show an e-mail list manager immediately if an address is confirmed (a human got the confirmation e-mail and responded) or unconfirmed (that hasn’t happened and you might want to remove that e-mail from your list). He said, “If you plan on running a business of any kind, you should consider using something that does this for you.”

Using a double-opt-in method allows you to be confident that your e-mail is actually going to humans interested in your work, not people who’ve been pranked, mis-spelled versions of the e-mail addresses of your fans, or bots.

kd lang
Une ressource naturelle importante au Canada.

Michele Grant, an attorney, read the actual text of CASL and summed up the impact of this legislation as,

“If you send out commercial e-mail, then you have to make sure that

(1) the recipient consents to receiving it, expressly or impliedly; and

(2) the sender/originator is identified, the sender/originator can be contacted, and

(3) the recipient can unsubscribe.”

So, basically, your e-mail list has to be based on a conscious and consensual exchange of information. (I can hear you now. “Oh, that sounds hard. Being a rock star isn’t supposed to be hard.”)

This is not a hassle, it’s an opportunity. Seriously.  Remember when you were little, and your mom sent you to clean up your room, and you didn’t want to do it, so you shoved all of your books and stuffed animals into one pile at the end of the bed and said, “Okay, all done, Mom!” and she wasn’t too thrilled? Now, remember when she sent you to clean up your room, and took all your books and put them on the shelves in the order in which you knew they would get along with each other best and lined up your stuffed animals and dolls under the window in the order in which they best got along so that they wouldn’t fight, because really, that’s how all this trouble got started?

What? Was that just me?

Rush in concert
Une ressource naturelle importante au Canada.

Basically, you have to engage with your audience. Your e-mail can afford to be fun, as long as it’s clear and concise. Use your sense of play. That’s what got you into being an independent artist in the first place, right?  Grant points out that the government provides a FAQ devoted to the intricacies of the new anti-spam legislation (really, they don’t want outsiders to stop doing business in Canada completely), but it can be about as simple as, “You’re receiving this commercial message because you signed up on our mailing list. Do you really want to be on our mailing list? If so, click here. Thanks!” and making sure that every e-mail you send out clearly states, “If you no longer consent to receiving these e-mails, ‘click here’ to unsubscribe. Thanks!” Think of this as a way of keeping your relationship with your audience engaged and active.

You might be saying, “But I have, like, dozens of fans on my mailing list, and I played a show in Wildwood last year while the Alliance de Surf Internationale de Quebec was in town, and they loved us! How do I reach them, legally, when I want to sell the new EP I spent my last dime recording and pressing?”

Bruce Cockburn
Une ressource naturelle importante au Canada.

Okay. So, first of all, you get yourself a cheap e-mail list manager. Moskowitz recommends MailChimp, which, along with d0uble-opt-in gathering methods, can give you 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free.  Send an e-mail out to your current homemade list BEFORE JULY 1, 2014,  telling them that you want to make sure that everyone on the list is getting the email because they really want to.  Give them a link to your page with the link for a double-opt-in option to join the new mailing list (this is where Mail Chimp comes in). While you’re at it, throw in a perk for joining the list: a free download of a secret track you’ve recorded, a pdf of a connect-the-dots puzzle, some kind of incentive for joining, to remind them just how terrific you and your craft are.

Look at managing your e-mail list as an opportunity to connect with your fans in a different way. You’ll clear out the old e-mail addresses that no longer function, and reconnect with your listeners in a way which shows them that you’re responsible as well as entertaining.

Paul Anka
Ce ne pas Moses Avalon.

Moses Avalon is a guy who knows a hell of a lot about the recording industry. His books are chock full of good advice, not only for businesses, but also for anyone who wants to make their music, art or craft without being financially punished for it. In the case of his article about CASL, his opinion and description is fair, but slightly alarmist. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing, it can jolt you out of complacency and get you to try new things. Use this opportunity to change things for yourself and your audience.

What’s the one weird trick for absolute success?

Oh boy! One weird trick!  Dermatologists hate me! Mortgage lenders curse my name! Why? Because I know the one weird trick that will help you, yes, YOU, pay off your mortgage, get rid of your wrinkles, reduce back and belly fat, and crack your script into shape to ensure total and immediate Hollywood screenwriting success in just minutes!

All of this is a gross exaggeration for comic effect, but you knew this, Gentle Reader. However, it’ll be interesting to see if my SEO skills result in some interesting search engine terms leading readers here.

Once upon a time, I knew a struggling actor, beginning playwright, and reasonably successful waiter. Just one? This one in particular, let’s call him Phil, had some bad networking habits. He was a schmoozer, and he was pretty good at getting into conversations about the business of making art with people more advanced in their career than he was. If you’re in any aspect of art-making, this will probably sound very familiar to you.

This is the guy he would usually bother. he has the patience of mountains, yet somehow Phil would still find a way to test it.
This is the guy he would usually bother. He has the patience of mountains, yet somehow Phil would still find a way to test it.

Inevitably, once some cheap wine or craft beer was flowing, and people were warming up, he would find whoever it was in the room that seemed to be the most advanced or successful in their career, corner them, and interrogate them, asking, “what’s the one thing, the one thing, the one piece of advice you can give me?”  By then his interrogation had driven away anyone else, and the interrogated would be shuffling and hemming and hawing, until finally they muttered something about perseverance, and said anything Young Torquemada wanted to hear so they could slip out of the conversation.

What was never clear (to me, anyway), was whether:

A) he only wanted to know one thing, because he didn’t intend to take up too much of their time with his request for professional guidance

or

B) he thought there was one secret to success, one ring to rule them all, which could be easily summed up in one simple weird trick, task, or dance move.

The reality, as anyone with half a brain knows, is that there is no one weird trick that will get anyone where they need to go. While it’s true that someone’s life can be ruined with one weird mistake or choice, getting where you want to go takes many steps, lessons, and actions over time. Very few people get this until they’ve learned it the hard way (myself included). That’s why I’m using a bold font. 

Me, waiting in a stairwell at the Temple Performing Arts Center, to go get my degree.
Me, waiting in a stairwell at the Temple Performing Arts Center, to go get my degree.

This past Thursday, I graduated with my Master of Fine Arts degree in Playwriting from Temple University.  It was crowded and hot and fun and thrilling, and a big vindication of all the hard work I’ve done over the past four years. Now I have a bunch of scripts, an MFA, a rail pass, and a copy of Writing Movies For Fun And Profit. I can take the train anywhere I want (at least through Sunday at midnight, and as long as I’m not planning to go past more than 2 SEPTA transit zones).

I also have a lot of new neural pathways burnt into my brain, from a four-year regime of writing, rewriting, reading, reciting, reiterating, re-reading, re-rewriting, researching, rehearsing, late nights, early mornings, too little sleep, too much coffee, and occasionally too much bourbon.  I’ve built some good habits and learned a few things. Which means I think now is the only time in my life that it’ll be fresh in my mind to address the question I was asked, back at the beginning of this process:

“Why do you need to go to graduate school to be an artist?”

IMG_2359
This is what I do. Not only do I make puppets, I sew berets and knit scarves for them.

It can be assumed that art is subjective, originality is more important than craft, that meaning is in the perception of the beholder, and maybe learning too many of the conventional rules of art-making can destroy creative impulses. Therefore, graduate school could, effectively, stifle real originality and creativity.  There’s the NYC vs. MFA debate (as if New York is the only city in the world where anyone does creative work and gets paid for it), where some people feel that rather than attending grad school, young people should get a job in their preferred industry and do it until they become successful.

Some of this is true. Some of this is not. I would make the argument that work and education need to co-exist. The ivory tower can insulate and stifle, and the working world can make you honest, but wear you down as well. You need both to improve as an artist.

Prior to applying to graduate school, I had a pretty good cultural education. I had worked in a lot of theaters where I had the opportunity to see world-class plays, music, dance, and whatever the Flying Karamazov Brothers are, for free, as long as I didn’t mind standing in the back. I heard Randy Newman play from the trap room underneath his piano, I saw the first production of Anna In The Tropics from 8th row center in a 300-seat house, I’ve been hugged by Dael Orlandersmith and kissed on the cheek by Tom Stoppard. For ten years, I absorbed all the culture I could, read tons of scripts,  and sold probably thousands of tickets and subscriptions.  Through this experience, I learned a lot about playwriting. Some of it I learned in weekly writers’ workshops and self-producing. Some of it I learned by seeing what shows were selected every season and where, and what wasn’t.

One does not simply walk into Mordor-blank
You’re thinking it. Right now. Yes, you are.

The biggest thing I learned is that if you don’t clean up real pretty, you don’t get asked to the dance. The competition for what I wanted to do was so fierce that if I didn’t have the MFA making me stand out, anything else that would was probably The Sarah Kane Solution.*

Right before I started graduate school, I was asked, “How is going to graduate school going to make you a better artist, something which relies on originality?” and I finally said, “I don’t know, but I have to try, because I can’t work the overnight shift at the big-box craft store for the rest of my life.”

So, here’s what I did learn in graduate school, how it changed me, and why I would advocate a mix of graduate school and “real-world” work in order to improve as an artist.

IMG_2046  First of all, as Polly Carl said, it’s a terrible idea to go directly from your undergraduate years into a graduate writing program. You need to go out and make mistakes and get scared in order to fully understand risks, stakes, consequences and motivation. Many playwrights who come from Ivy League universities produce scripts which suffer from the consequences not of the stakes needing to be higher, but the consequences of your protagonist not reaching their goal be a fate worse than death. If you spend your summers playing piano and tending bar in Brooklyn or Prague while reading poetry, or using the word “summer” as a verb in Cape Cod, you don’t know what a fate worse than death is. You need to get lost in very bad neighborhoods, and find your way home all by yourself.  You need to run completely out of food but still scrape up enough change to buy enough kibble to keep your cat alive. You need to work double shifts for a bad boss and too many customers and ache like you’ve been beaten with hockey sticks with no end in sight. You need to get so broke that you will do anything to get enough to eat, and then do that anything. You need to let time and tide and experience work on you. You need to learn the hard way who your real friends are.  Then, when you do get a good job, survive the night, see the sun rise, sink your teeth into that excellent meal, you need to let yourself feel real, heart-warming gratitude and pay it forward.  After all that, you’ll have something to write about.

IMG_2369  Secondly, it is true that graduate school insulates you from the “real world,” but this is a good thing. Effectively, it is a safe space to make creative mistakes. If you make mistakes in a job, you get fired, so you learn very quickly not to make mistakes. What you’re really learning is what your boss, client, etc. wants to hear or see. So, you might not create the most meaningful or affecting work, but you might create what gets you paid. Then you’re making the work that makes the groupthink happy and innovation doesn’t happen. Next thing you know, you’re buying up creativity books and going to seminars on “Five Highly Effective Ways To Think Outside The Box And Move Their Cheese.”

So, okay, yes, in grad school you get some playground time, and this is necessary in order to learn new ways of thinking.

When I wrote plays back in 2009, I used to type drafts directly into my computer, maybe very rarely handwriting if I had to.

IMG_2365
Just before MFA Playfest, May 9, 2014. Audiences are the best thing EVER.

Now, I storyboard and collage through idea generation, use a whiteboard through organizing my thoughts and structure,  type in Final Draft, and scribble throughout the process on paper. I also listen and talk out loud. I’ve traded various iterations of the same sentence back and forth with director Liz Carlson to find the right blend of craft and intention. We had a great time trying to figure out which was better, “lie back with your bed full of cupcakes,” or “lie back in your bed full of cupcakes.” I’ve done improvisation and used puppets to find new ways of telling a story. I learned from the most powerful brains in art-making fields, all with widely varied perspectives and methods.  If I had been in a for-profit work world, the opportunity to learn from leaders, make mistakes and try again would never have happened.

It’s true that Mark Foster of Foster The People honed his skills in commercial jingle writing, and John Hodgman sharpened his scholarly sensibilities as a literary agent.  However, these artists also were able to use grassroots and non-traditional media to create their own sandboxes. “Pumped Up Kicks” garnered its initial success via a free download on Foster’s website. Hodgman wrote a column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and now hosts his own podcast, Judge John Hodgman.

This dog has a frog. Were I cornered at a beer-and-cheap-wine fundraiser, by someone like Phil, and badgered for the “one weird trick to ensure success” (See how great my SEO skills are? You guys can stop spamming me now),  there would be a lesson I learned the hard way, to which I would refer.

In my second year of graduate school, I was working on a docudrama, which I grew to loathe. It dealt with a brutal murder, a woman falsely convicted via the court of public opinion, and her exoneration. The source material was so savage it gave me nightmares.** Writing this play was Not Fun Anymore.

IMG_2296  Now, if you have a situation where you work nine to five and make your art on the weekends and in the evenings, you can, and probably should, walk away from it when it’s no longer fun. If you’re doing it for love, and the love is gone, don’t stick with it. If you’re making a project for money, and you don’t love it, you’ll take the path of least persistence and do what the money wants. Client wants a beagle with mustard-colored ears on the label, you’ll make the beagle’s ears mustard-colored, even though you know caramel would be better. But, in this situation, failure to take this painful situation and not give it the honest illustration it required, would mean disappointment from people I admired, and in myself.  It would have been failure without honor. I needed to rely on craft to carry me through the emotional pain of this project.

IMG_2228  So, I dropped back, took a good look at the project, and thought about what it was that brought me to this project more than anything else. The idea of being tried in the court of public opinion was the one thing of which I could not let go.

I invented a new character, Lucky Moskowitz. Lucky is a 35-year-old lesbian who wears a lot of black, has black spiky hair, big blue eyes, and runs Lucky’s Gas n’Gulp out by the Interstate. She comes from a Chicago family of cops, but moved to the heartland to get away from a painful past with a mob-related former girlfriend (none of this ever came up in the play, but it sure is fun). Lucky gave me a means to tie together the disparate strands of the play and move the plot forward. Everybody comes through Lucky’s Gas n’ Gulp, and everybody’s got an opinion.  Lucky’s presence allowed me to look at the story in a new way.  The point is, eventually, you will hate a project so much that it is impossible to continue in the same way you always have. Then, you have to get perspective, and either find or invent a new personal point of entry into the work.

IMG_2363  Then you have to do it again and again and again, using the right tools and with the right people, until it becomes second nature. Then you have to forget all that, back up, take a good look, and just do it.

I don’t think an MFA alone is superior to real-world work, or vice versa. Neither is superior or inferior to building one’s own sandbox and using new technologies to find an audience. I think all these components have to work together. I do know that I’m definitely a better, more confident artist with more tools and techniques for play writing and screen writing now, after four years in the playwriting trenches at Temple University, than I was in 2010, left to my own devices.

Picard has had enough of your weird tricks.
Captain Picard has had enough of your weird tricks.

I believe that the one weird trick for absolute success is going out there and finding it for yourself.

That statement may seem like an oversimplification, and I don’t mean it that way. I could not have the portfolio of scripts, confidence, or neural pathways burnt into my brain without the teachers I had at Temple University, or the colleagues. I am deeply grateful every day for their work, skill, and talent.  What I mean is that the journey is the destination, and the goal is the work is takes to get there.

———————-

*Which would make a brilliant band name.

**I dreamt that I was employed by a tourism board to find all the haunted houses in a given area, witness the ghosts living out their own murders, write them down, and make it into a book to sell ghost tours. After describing the dream to my prof, Bob Hedley, he suggested I take a couple of days off from the work.

IMG_2228