In six days, Vince and I are going to take A Big Risk. We’re going to get on a plane (Vince hates flying) and go to Minneapolis, Minnesota. There we’re going to hand a script to a room full of people, most of whom I haven’t met (first-draft readings take a pint of my blood), and we’re going to read it, rehearse it, record it, and make a serial podcast out of it.
This is Jarnsaxa Rising. Ancient Norse Gods use humans as pawns to battle each other. When an ancient giantess takes human form to engage in eco-terrorism, a corporate team tries to stop her, and learns who the real enemy is.
The script is stylistically different for me, in narrative and in craft. I’ve never written science fiction or fantasy before. Adjusting to audio drama is also new for me. Vince has done a lot of sound engineering and still experiments with it for fun. He’ll be performing all of the sound engineering and writing all of the music. We made a sketch comedy podcast episode to prove to ourselves we could do it. Now we’re getting involved with other people and going on a journey.
Carin Bratlie believed in me enough to produce Traveling Light years ago, and now we’re going to go take a leap of faith together again. She’s assembled a solid, smart cast, and she’ll be directing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
SEO (Search Engine Optimized) Writing seems to be the main topic of interest that anyone ever comments about here on this little blog of mine. It’s fascinating. With all of the writing that I and sometimes my husband do about pop culture, music, theatre and the occasional recipe for canine cuisine, the one weird trick that always comes through in the Comments section is something like this:
Good morning writer and hello to you your website should have more traffic driving it I can make with SEO content your website traffic increase by one thousand and ninety seven percent, SEO is the wave of the future just like jetpacks and flying cars SEO Writing is a rare and highly specialized skill to use SEO keywords optimized to bring the highest Google results and increase your market potential my SEO experience and background in writing fluentest English extensively can bring SEO to your website now and make lots of more big dollars for you and myself huge potential contact me now sir more info about SEO Writing.
To which I say, wow, thank you for the word salad, and hit delete.
I’ve done a fair amount of SEO writing, and I’m not a bad SEO writer. A client contacts me, because they want some content on a particular topic for their website, and they want someone to do the research and write about it in an accessible way. They tell me how many words they want, usually around 300-500 per article, and what topic. I research it, write about it, rewrite it again to make it more concise and reader-friendly, and send it. They pay me, and everyone’s happy. They get clear, concise, accessible, researched website content to explain more about their product or service, and I get paid to do something at which I’m good and that I enjoy.
The difference between SEO writing and other kinds of writing is the search engine optimization. In order for the article to rank highly in search engine results, it has to use the same keyword as many times as possible. So, if you write an article that used the phrase “SEO writing services” once in the entire 500-word article, its page won’t have as high of a rank as, say, one that includes the phrase “SEO writing services” seven or eight times in those 500 words.
Now, when I was a wee lass learning to write out on the Quaker farm, where we still used paper and pencils, we were taught that repeating the same word too many times is tiring to a reader. And of course, since it was a Quaker school, wasting paper and graphite was a terrible sin. We learned not to bore our audience by repeating the same word over and over again. Sadly, the Internet was a gleam in the eye of a developer, and “page rank” was never discussed in seventh-grade writing classrooms.
But now, in the writing marketplace, repetition is good. However, a good SEO writer has to find inventive ways to make sure that the finished product is a clear, informative, helpful article with genuine information. It can’t just be a string of keywords, like a pattern of colored beads.
Currently, on Elance.com, writing is the second most high in demand skill, second to Web design. You’d think that a good SEO writer would be working 9-5 every day and making $40 an hour. Unfortunately, the offers are very strange, relative to the expected product and service an SEO writer provides.
As I write this, mostly based on experience, my current word count is 618, and it’s taken me roughly 20 minutes. I’ve barely done any research on this topic, other than a few quick glances at Elance. If I were to write an article with citable examples and footnotes, it would have taken longer. Furthermore, a shorter article takes more time, because of the thought process involved in condensing a topic. There is a reason that the haiku is an art form.
Most clients offer, for a 500 word researched article, using SEO writing, less than five dollars. I have been offered as little as six-tenths of a cent per word.
I have been fortunate, in that clients I’ve worked with have paid more, and they’ve been happy with my work. Unfortunately, these clients are few and far between. It’s really sad that the ability to write well is so undervalued, and it sincerely makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life sometimes. But, I’m really good at this, I can’t stop doing it, and this is what I want to do for a living.
In other news: The search terms used to find this blog, relative to the actual content, are often interesting. I think of this as a place for us to write about our music and theater projects. The most popular search terms used to find this blog are as follows:
Only one of the search terms used to find this blog was phrased in the form of a question, and it’s a good one. I’ll try to answer it.
I am 16 do I need pat smear
Pat Smear is, of course, a guitarist in the ubiquitous Foo Fighters, and was occasionally an additional live guitarist for Nirvana. Both bands are and have been among the most popular music in America, and I’m sure that if you turn on any rock or college radio station in America and wait a few minutes, you’ll certainly hear “Learning To Fly.” I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, it’s just that it’s everywhere. So since you phrased your question in terms of need, I’m not sure that they answer is yes.
Could you benefit from Pat Smear? Sure. But do you need to seek his work out, like a signed first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird?
If you’re going to do that, I recommend starting with work more indicative of his particular style than the latest Foo Fighters album, or Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York album. I think it’s time that you catch some Germs.
Okay, you’re sixteen, which means that the Los Angeles punk scene’s heyday was long before you were born. The Germs, however, are widely considered to music historians as one of the most influential bands in punk. Pat Smear played guitar, Lorna Doom played bass, Don Bolles was the drummer and their lead singer was Darby Crash. Joan Jett produced their one studio album, (GI), in 1979. Despite critical acclaim for this album continuing to the present day, the band broke up following Crash’s suicide in 1980. You may want to get your friends together to watch Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, as well as the biographical film What We Do Is Secret.
As you’re watching this, take a look at how these individuals were able to rebel against corporate capitalism without using the Internet (to say nothing of cell phones or Pitchfork), as well as how women presented themselves as agents of their own fortune and/or victims of male rebels. Ask yourself, what is victimization, and what is power, and how do these individuals make use of these systems of domination and control? Do they win or lose? How and why? Then pick up a copy of (GI), and congratulate yourself on confusing the hell out of your parents by embracing an important part of American history.
At age sixteen, do you need Pat Smear? Yes, but you also need Joan Baez. You need music that will fan the flames of your adolescent curiosity and ambition and fuel you to make the most out of your life. Go for it.
I realize that it is entirely possible that what you meant to write is “I am sixteen do I need a pap smear,” in which case, that is a personal decision you should make with a doctor or nurse practitioner.
However, if you are really concerned about cervical cancer, here are some resources which may be helpful.
Earlier this summer, I was browsing through different lists of playwriting opportunities, and I found one that reached out to me like a beacon in the dark.
TEATRO MOZ, sponsored by Real Women Have Curves Studio, is sponsoring a short play contest. Do you have a dramatic memoir about the first time you fell in love with this Charming Man? Do the lyrics or title of a Smiths/Morrissey song inspire a story in your soul? Submit a short MOZ-themed play for a chance to win prizes and a staged reading of your piece by professional actors later this year!
I thought, that sounds so crazy it has to be fun. I know next to nothing about Morrissey, but I bought “You Are The Quarry” when it first came out, and loved “Irish Blood, English Heart.” I listen to The Smiths’ older hits quite a bit, and the sense of desire and longing, maybe desire for desire itself more than fulfillment, speaks to my inner gay man. Usually themed play contests and showcases are about heavy topics, but I’ve never seen anything like this before. I thought, I love this.
So, I sent a quick e-mail to my friend Rhienna. She is a DJ and creative connector (as DJs tend to be) in Portland, and every year she runs the annual Morrissey Mobile Disco bike ride as part of Pedalpalooza. Basically, a lot of people get together and ride a pre-planned course, with decorated bicycles, Morrissey look-alike outfits, and, of course, music, music, music. I thought if anyone knows anything unique and fun about the phenomenon that is Morrissey, she does.
We had a cross-country confab. Oddly enough the deadline for the play contest was immediately following the next annual ride, so she had plenty of fresh material. We talked about Morrissey, his cancelled tour dates, loving him from afar, how his appeal transcends boundaries of sexuality and gender, and how the ride is a really fun time. and how riding bikes with a group on a gorgeous summer evening is a fun young and in love or in love with love thing to do. Their course’s goal was the Joan of Arc statue in Coe Circle, and since it’s beautiful and Philadelphia also has a Joan of Arc statue, I had to work that in.
She gave me a lot of information, helped me sort through ideas, and I typed it up and sent it.
Today, we got an e-mail from Teatro MOZ that Pretty Petty Things was picked as one of ten finalists! Which means it’ll be in the showcase!
Not only am I excited about this, I’m excited about what this means. Basically:
Someone in LA loves the phenomenon that is Morrissey and his music to say, “let’s put up a short play festival about this thing I love.”
And a professional theatre said, “Sure. This is new, this is different, yes, we’ll back it.”
And they sent a call for entries out.
Meanwhile, in other cities in other parts of the country, two women said, “You know what, that sounds like fun and it’s something I know a little bit about, I’ll work on something and send it in and if they like it, they like it.”
Basically, once again, as Lorna Howley said, what is theatre but a big party?
I love the idea of people getting positive ideas and putting them together to make something bigger and better. which, in my opinion, is what theatre is all about.
and I can’t wait to find out why the celebrity judges are. I’m secretly hoping for Thomas Lennon.
Come see my show, come see my show, come see my show, eh? Oops, I just got fined a million dollars.
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:
“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.”
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.
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.
“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?
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?”
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.
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.
This morning, my friend Clarence Wethern posted on the Internet that listening to the Doctor Who Season 5 soundtrack made everything seem much more urgent and important.
When I read this, I was sitting in a 7-11, waiting to be let into the library so I could start my lonely early morning work shift. Because, when you ask yourself, “what does a dangerous, destructive thug look like?” automatically, you think of me. And, that’s why the security guards want nothing to do with me before 9 on a Saturday. I thought, heck yeah, I could use a sense of importance and urgency. Also, not only is Clarence one of my favorite actors, he’s one of the kindest, funniest, smartest people I know, so how can any advice from him possibly be a bad idea?
I mean, where could it possibly leave me? In a library basement in North Philadelphia, trapped while the rest of the city enjoys its one breath of Spring before another blast of Winter?
So, as I went into the library (apropos) I cued up Clarence’s link to Spotify, and “Honey, I’m Home” by Murray Gold and The BBC National Orchestra of Wales started playing. It starts out light and airy, pleasant, but gradually increases its minor key to become more threatening. As I turned keys in locks, logged into the computers with pass codes, turned tumblers for secret combinations and unlocked the door to the room where the DVDs are shelved, the suspense was palpable enough that I sincerely questioned the silent, staring eyes of Media Services Bear, sitting on the trolley in the darkness.
And the piece of music is exactly the same length of time that it takes to open the library’s Media Services desk. So, that was fun. I kind of wished that Christopher Eccleston would suddenly grab my hand, look deeply into my eyes and say, “Run,” as an alien creature hatched from an egg laid deep inside Media Services Bear’s stuffed tummy.
Of course, once the alien invaders have been vanquished (probably via my secret skill of getting lost or being late*), that means inevitably that I’d have to explain to him that I can’t possibly go travel through all of space and time with him, because of course he’d want me to, duh.
LINDSAY: I’m married.
THE DOCTOR: I’m not the marrying type.
LINDSAY: I have cats and dogs to take care of.
THE DOCTOR: They’ll never know you were gone.
LINDSAY: I have a thesis to write.
THE DOCTOR: What’s it about?
LINDSAY: Georgia O’Keeffe’s break from painting between 1932 and 1934.
CAMERA TRACKS IN CLOSE TO THE DOCTOR’S WIDENING BLUE EYES AS THE CLOSING THEME BEGINS
THE DOCTOR: Oh yeah?… You want some help with that?
MUSIC: DOONKETA DOO, DOONKETA DOO, DOONKETA DOONKETA DOONKETA ooo-WEE-ooo!
Because, obviously, I have had a hole in the space-time continuum tethered to me since birth. Every now and then I fall into it and have to find my way back out again. Or other things fall into it. That’s why I’m always late, lost, or losing things. Or early. Sometimes.
SEE HOW WELL I AVOID WORKING ON THE SHORT PLAY, AT WHICH I AM TEMPORARILY ANGRY, TODAY? I’ve just set up an entire season of Doctor Who. BAM. Hire me, Moffat.
And then we go to 1960s London because Harold Pinter also has a hole in the space time continuum tethered to him, except he sucks whole lives into it and spits them out again as plays (because The Homecoming is scary). But Pinter doesn’t know it (because after it becomes a play, all memory of the life having ever existed disappears. QED). At the end of the episode, he’s inspired to write Betrayal. For some reason. To be determined.
A weeknight in February is not when you most want to be standing on the side of a road, in the dark, alone, in Minneapolis. Local temperatures were less than a respectable grade point average and nearing a blood alcohol count. For the first time, I opened the compass on my phone and used it for its intended purpose. It might seem strange, but for a playwright, I was in the best place I could possibly be: on my way to the Theatre Pro Rata play reading series. How does a cheesefake-eatin’, “yeah-yeah” sayin’, angry young Philly Playwright end up waddling like a penguin through the hip-high snow canals of Minnesota?
Theatre Pro Rata is the company which produced Traveling Light back in 2010, in Layman’s Cemetery, as noted by American Theatre Magazine. To this day, in Minneapolis, it’s known as “that play in the cemetery.” So, yeah, they know me there. Artistic director Carin Bratlie and I met through an online craft community. We bonded over a shared love of knitting. I stalked her because she was working on a production of Quills, and I was fascinated with her process of building a distressed corset. Over time, she saw what and how I write, drafts were exchanged, and the rest is full-cemetery history.
That 2010 trip whetted my appetite for the Twin Cities. Vince and I fell in love with the mild July weather. The mosquitoes they complained about didn’t seem like much. The food, architecture, and intelligent small businesses in Uptown were all enough to make the city great on its own, but the people were what really lured us in.
One evening we were standing in front of a public map looking for the nearest bus stop. A woman in a floral print dress walked past us, stopped, came back and asked, “Did you need any help finding something?” My jaw practically hit the ground. I blubbered, “Wh-wh-wh-whaaat?” I did notice that around her neck was a silver St. Christopher’s medal, so maybe she had a particular need to assist travelers. Maybe I’m jaded and need to look into a softer suit of armor. But, in general, the kindness and politeness of Minnesotans is humbling.
Theatre Pro Rata has a history of creating thought-provoking theater with a high standard of excellence. They are what I think most people would call a small-budget theater company, but they pack tremendous impact onto the stage. Their mission indicates that they create plays which cause you to think about and discuss them long afterwards. I loved working with them so much that I keep trying to crack the code of “what is a Pro Rata play,” because the work they do is the kind of things I want to write.
The commonalities are that the conflict is specific and immediate, with resonance in the present, even if the play takes place long ago and far away. The plays they choose seem to be ones that show the best and worst about the human condition, and how these two are often interchangeable.
For example, in their most recent show, Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant, the joy and dazzle of a circus is contrasted with the simplicity and pragmatism of small-town life. However, the hunger for artifice and desire for spectacle, inextricable from the human condition, fuels but ultimately undoes anything beautiful about either side. Director Amber Bjork placed Brant’s script in a minimalist arena, where the characters, conflict and language are the entire show. Two musicians played tunes created by music director Theo Langason on a platform, echoing the heat and pulse of Tennessee in the summer. One string of lights showed the glitz of the circus tent. Julia Carlis’ subtle and powerful lighting design caused many people to think, at times, that they saw the actual elephant (never onstage, but certainly felt). Every other element of this heartbreak was brought in by the performances of the excellent cast and the flawless costumes by Mandi Johnson. By the end of the play I felt like I’d been punched in the sternum, had the breath sucked out of my lungs, and then had taken the front seat of the roller coaster straight down hill; like I’d just fallen in love. This is exactly how theater should make you feel.
Amber took me to the Minnesota Fringe Lottery, which was a huge affirmation of how theater can be done and something FringeArts could stand to learn. In exchange for an application fee of $25, you and your production company receive a lottery number. At an event in a theater space, ping-pong balls containing numbers are drawn, charted, and the entire festival, for all size venues, is selected.
If your number is selected, you pay a production fee, and get “venue rent for five performances, technical and box office staff, a listing in the printed program, a customizable show page on our website, lots of producing training and at least 65 percent of the box office receipts.” Essentially, they do the hard stuff. You do the fun things that are the real reason you went into making theater in the first place.**
That’s it. The playing field is level. It’s easier for audiences to find shows and plan their Fringe-watching schedule. The selection process occurred in a party atmosphere (Brave New Workshop Student Union, with a bar and a popcorn machine), and most companies tentatively titled their shows, “TBA.” That atmosphere of “let’s all get together and make a big experiment” seems to last through the summer into August; supportive and deliberately collaborative. Companies don’t have to compete for audiences, space, or reviewers’ time. It is true that in some ways it’s more restrictive; your show can not run longer than 60 minutes, your venue and performance times are assigned. But, if you want to do a site-specific Coriolanus in your local laundromat at dawn, they have an application process for that too. It honors the camaraderie and experimental nature of theater and provides structure to foster growth, while making it easier for audiences to experience.
The reading of Fox Haven was extremely helpful for me. Since its reading in last spring’s MFA Playfest, I’ve revised the end and beginning. While the reading last time was a complete success, in this case I was able to hear it with actors closer in age to the characters. The feedback they gave me was specific and clear, and, as always, working with them was not only productive but also a joy.
As a cultural haven, Minneapolis is just so seductive. The city manages snow and cold as well as Las Vegas manages heat. Indoor spaces are well-insulated, streets are efficiently cleared, and there’s a strong sense of hygge, the idea of getting together with others and enjoying social time to stave off adversity. This probably contributes to the strength of their cultural scene; they don’t hibernate at home, but go out to see shows, experience museums, conservatories and architecture. Their Uptown district has theaters in similar density to how most cities have Starbucks. Not only is there audience demand for the arts, but also there’s government and corporate funding.
The mind-blower for me was The Interact Centre. It’s an arts organization which includes a licensed day program so that people like my brother Ted can attend five days a week and work with artists on the art they need to create most. I know of no other program like this. It would be perfect not only for Ted, but for so many artists to work in. We know that arts and education make cities a destination and promote economic growth by leaps and bounds. Why this isn’t happening like this in more cities, I don’t know.
Getting back to the Shackleton experience. Needless to say, between, Siri, my compass, and my sketchy sense of direction*, I quickly found Theater Nimbus, the location which Theatre Pro Rata was using for their production of Elephant’s Graveyard, and joyfully stumbled into the welcoming warmth they provide. On the whole, the entire experience was an intellectual and emotional health spa. Prior to this trip, my seasonal affective disorder was turning me into a slug, but now I don’t feel so cold. My purpose is definitely renewed.
Now if I can do something about the seven pounds I gained from their terrific restaurants, everything will be fine.
*All right, I’ll admit it. My secret teenaged mutant ninja x-men power is getting lost. If Magneto ever captures me and demands to know where Professor Xavier is, I will hold up under torture as long as possible, and then gasp, “Fine… you win… I’ll take you to him…. we wanna get on the turnpike.” Thus providing a distraction long enough for the others to get through makeup and so on.
**I am wrong. I know some people really did go into making theater because they love sweeping aisles between bolted-down theater seats, running sales reports, applying for insurance, or calling cues. Those people should be saluted, honored, and the rest of us should get out of their way.