Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Before I relate the story I want to tell this morning, I would like to take this moment to say how proud I am of myself. Each time I strike a set at Hunger Artists, I end up feeling a little bit more like my dad. I did the usual cleaning and painting that I always do, but this time I measured, marked and - without the aid of gloves or safety goggles - cut pieces of wood using a circular saw. I know the old man would be proud. Now I just need to learn how to make the secret family spaghetti sauce.
Anyway, on to The Great Water Cooler Debate! It is, of course, a cliche for office employees to talk around the water cooler. But at my work, one of the hot topics IS the water cooler. In an attempt for our office to "get with the times", they are testing out a new water cooler. Our previous water cooler was of the large bottle variety, which of course requires the constant purchase of new bottles, not to mention the changing of said bottles.
Unbeknownst to many, the changing of the water bottle is a test. A test of one's strength and precision. For after taking the top off of the large bottle, it must be turned over, and the nozzle end of the bottle must be placed within the hole at the top of the cooler, much in the way that you would see in the refueling of an airplane or in a sex ed video in health class. The only trick is to do this all within the course of half a second, since you only have momentum keeping the water from spilling on your "Nightmare Before Christmas" tie.
So, in an attempt to relieve the tension that comes to whoever is bestowed this task, the office purchased a new water cooler that simply connects to the building's water supply, and simply filters it using what they say is a revolutionary ultraviolet purification system. The only problem is...it still tastes like tap water. If this cooler is supposed to sell us on the idea that the same technology used to turn human skin brown is just as effective in eliminating chemicals from our water, it failed.
Well, on top of the cooler is a sheet of paper with two columns: "Good Idea" and "Bad Idea". We have been encouraged to check the column that we feel best represents our thoughts about the new cooler, and have been assured that comments are welcome. So, to get the ball rolling, I checked both sides, just so that no one would have to be scared of being the first.
Later that day, there were three other checkmarks on "Bad Idea", and one of them was accompanied by the message, "There's an aftertaste". So, to make the debate more even, I put another checkmark under "Good Idea" and wrote next to it, "YOU'RE an aftertaste!" The debate was on.
More checkmarks and more comments have been added, with "Bad Idea" getting twice as many votes. And all the time, I've been invisibly helping to fuel the debate, checking both sides and offering comments like "Ewww" and "I can't tell the difference". My favorite moment came when someone wrote "Tastes like well water". Then someone wrote under that "Tastes like tap water". Then someone else wrote under that "Tastes like chicken". So I wrote under that "Smells like Teen Spirit".
Normally, when it comes to the petty subjects that my co-workers are obsessed with (the Michael Jackson trial, the new Pope, what that one girl was wearing), I get livid. However, here I am joining in the banal discussions.
I think the reason for this is my sympathy for the water cooler. It lives its life serving a vital purpose, giving freely without any sort of reward. And yet, it spends its days listening to shirt-and-tie'd yuppies prattle on about Star Wars, weight training routines and the latest reality television episodes. But finally, the water cooler is now the central topic of the Water Cooler Chat. So I want to get the most out of it. Now that people have had the more advance but less fulfilling cooler, they now realize the wonderful things that our Yosemite Water cooler does for our office.
So congratulations, water cooler. Welcome to the world of mainstream conversational topics. You can take a seat right next to Robert Blake and Jamie Foxx.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Obviously, I do acting so that I can escape myself. This seems to be the motivation behind a lot of my favorite actors. They get to leave themselves for a couple of hours and do things that they would never willingly do in public (because for an actor, the stage is not public. It is a very intimate, private place that allows us to reveal our desires and secrets). One of my favorite local actors has been described as "the kind of guy who gets his face pixelated in 'Cops'."
But then he stands on stage and immediately commands your attention. When he recites Shakespeare, it's like he's been speaking it his entire life. Then he steps on stage and you say to him, "That was really good," and he replies, "Your MOM'S really good!"
Then there's my favorite actress on the local stages, who is a remarkably sweet woman. Her speech is very quiet and her manner is shy and introverted. She constantly doubts herself and kindly apologizes for the smallest things. Then you put the lights on her, and it's a complete transformation. Her voice booms and her eyes are wild, psychotic and near-hypnotic. Then when she exits the stage and you compliment her, she quietly says, "Oh, thanks," then shyly puts a hand to her face and leaves.
That kind of switch does not surprise me. What surprises me is how little it takes at times for the personality to change. Today, I was reading Eric Bogosian's "Talk Radio", a brilliant play from the 1980's about a talk radio host who hates his callers almost as much as he hates himself. The lead character of Barry Champlain is loud, brash, vulgar and unsympathetic.
I was reading this play in ten-minute increments while retreating to the bathroom at my work, and suddenly I found myself returning to the desk, listening to the Sex Pistols and using the phrase that I almost never use: "Whatever." I wouldn't be surprised if one of my supervisors came up to me with a special project and I replied with, "Life's too fucking short, man. We're all gonna die, anyway, so get that shit out of my face. Next caller!" I wanted desperately to be Barry Champlain, telling people off to their faces while giving a hard middle finger to the rest of the world.
But then a few minutes ago, I passed by a window and looked at the reflection of myself. Yes, my hair is a little messy (as per usual), and my shirt is wrinkled, but I have all of my buttons buttoned in the right places. My tie is well-tied and held in place with a tie tack. My slacks are cleaned and pressed. I'm not Barry Champlain. More like Barry Manilow. I pushed my hair down a little and returned to my desk, being good ol' Jeremy again.
Why the obsession for us actors to leave our personalities? Why is it that we do not like to be ourselves, and scoff at those who simply recreate their personalities on the stage? Why do I give the name "Lance" when ordering a Jamba Juice? Why did I used to create fake people on MySpace, then kill them off? Should I just enjoy myself (enter your own masturbation joke here)? Perhaps that's what acting accomplishes. It helps me appreciate my own life. After doing a show, I can say, "Well, thank God I'm not THAT guy," and then enjoy the life in which I lead.
My afternoon break came, and I walked out to my car in the parking lot. I spotted the BMW SUV parked next to me and, for a brief moment, wanted to knock the fucking windows out of that gas-guzzling, abbreviation-heavy monstrosity made by a company that still has yet to apologize for using Jewish slave labor to make their vehicles during World War II. Then I took a breath, went into my car, curled up in the driver's seat and slept for fifteen minutes while listening to public radio.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
While driving to work this morning (which is sort of a lie. You don't really "drive" to work any morning in Orange County. It's more of a slow coasting down the freeway while staring at the lame bumper stickers on the car in front of you), I was listening to the radio, as I am wont to do.
A commercial came on for a guy called "Mr. D.U.I.", an attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases. He was bragging about a recent case in which a man's blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit, and Mr. D.U.I., in all his glory, was able to clear this man's name in court and return his license to him. He then said, "If you had a blood alcohol test taken against you, if you had your license taken away, or especially if you refused to take a test, I can help you."
Now I know that I should be practicing the Christian laws of forgiveness (although I don't have a religion, but that's another story for another time), but shouldn't we, you know, punish those who, you know, commit crimes? Not to say that I am holier than thou (whoever thou is), but if I was driving under the influence and I was caught, I would expect to get punished, and I would take my punishment with a smile (well, maybe not a smile, but probably at the very least a 50's sitcom "Who me?" kind of shrug).
I'm am getting increasingly tired of this society where people refuse to take responsibility for their actions. A friend of mine recently said, "I can't wait to become famous so I can get away with killing people," and it's sadly true. Robert Blake was acquitted, George W. Bush hasn't been tried as a war criminal (and never will be) and I recently had to turn my back to two former friends of mine who, in what I can only assume is a state of jealousy, have been hurting someone I love through their unfair lies and manipulations.
I think the idea of not owning up to something that you did is absurd. Do these people really want to live in a lawless society, where anyone can sneak their way out of all of their mistakes and mishaps? Do they think that they can get away with this for the rest of their lives? The two aforementioned former friends are in a high school environment, so while they can use their "tee hee, who me" popularity and charm to get what they want now, they are going to have a rude awakening when they get to the real world and find out that their lack of ethics (combined with their poor planning/working skills and their unique ability to burn bridges) will only get them so far (especially if they continue to be in the world of theatre, where reputation and work ethic are huge factors toward success).
I think that the idea of confession is something that should be put in a secular environment. I think that the 21st century should be the Century of Confession. I know that asking for complete honesty is hand-in-hand with asking for world peace, but call me an idealist. I just hate seeing our society go down the toilet.
In other news, me being a Worrying Wally (or Fretting Freddy or Scaredy Sammy, whichever you choose) about "Marat/Sade" turned out to be unfounded. With each rehearsal this week, the show has been getting tighter and more focused. It still needs work, but with two weeks to smooth everything out, I think it will get there. Long live the Revolution!!!
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
"...I got the big cups from the other break room because we were out of big cups here, so that should be enough for everyone, and the coffee in that pot is strong because I like it strong, so I made it strong, I don't like seeing transparent coffee, so those Yankees won last night, huh, I couldn't believe it, oh and Sam Mills died, but it's not showing it in the paper, I'm not seeing it so maybe, oh, here it is, Sam Mills, oh, intestinal cancer, that's too bad, that's too bad, so I was at the ninety-nine cent store last night and it was all for Mother's Day, and..."
Being someone who really doesn't need input from a second party to hold a decent conversation, it's really nice when I meet someone who's the same way.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Just before I left for work this morning, I had the talking picture box tuned in to the morning news so that I could find out the traffic report (not that I can really change my route, but it's just nice to know for once what lies on the road ahead of me).
One of the stories that was reported (after they had already made two bad puns about a lettuce spill on the freeway. That already had me on edge) was a fight in a South L.A. high school that involved over one hundred students (back in my day, we called that a "clusterfuck"). The reporter said, and I quote, "The fight involved over one hundred Latino and African-American students."
Now I have to question why they felt they had to mention that the students were Latino and African-American. Having been a journalist for a brief period, I know that what you report in a story needs to deal directly with the subject at hand. Stating that the students were Latino and African-American gives me no insight into the story, and instead left an uneasy feeling in me.
It irritates me that we still live in a society where we feel we have to make a distinction between the races. I don't remember during Columbine anyone saying, "Two white students opened fire on more white students." And yet they felt the need to tell us that the school fighting was by "Latino and African-American students", and the only reason I can see why is so that those of us watching can go, "Ohhh, so THAT'S why they were unable to arbitrarily resolve their conflict. Splendid!"
Guess what? Kids fight. People kill other people. Cars are stolen. Convenience stores are robbed. And every day all over the country, people of all races are put into prison for these crimes. Murder, theft, rape, assault are not Latino crimes or African-American crimes. They're human crimes. If you're going to point out the ethnicities of those involved, you should also point out other random facts having nothing to do with the subject at hand. I present to you how the story should have gone:
"Violence broke out at a high school in South L.A. yesterday, when over one hundred Latino and African-American students started fighting. Five of them were gay, though two have yet to come out the closet. One student was wearing a really cute top. Cheese squares were on the school's lunch menu that day. I bet Julie Fowler caused some damage, because that girl's nails are sharp! I wonder if this means Robbie isn't going to be available for prom now. I need to do my taxes. Who wants ice cream?"
And now I jump (BOING!) to a new topic, because I have to tell you about "Sin City", which I saw last night. This, my friends, is why both the motion picture and the graphic novel were made. This is an epic story taken to its visual peak. It is a complex web of stories that is visually stunning, dramatically compelling and has an entertainment value rivaling that of the "Kill Bill" films.
As time evolves, the comic book is becoming more and more accepted as a legitimate form of storytelling. Surprisingly, for something commonly associated with children, the modern comic book is gory, sexy and often unsettling. Recent film adaptations of comic books ("Daredevil", "The Hulk", "Elektra", "The Punisher", etc.) have failed to capture the edginess of a drawn image on a glossy page (the differences between the film and the book of "The Mask" are staggering). Previously, the only movie to faithfully adapt the tone of its graphic novel source was "Ghost World", which introduced its audience to a very low-key kind of humor. However, "Sin City" is extremely faithful to the original Frank Miller books, and nothing is lost in the translation. This is how a graphic novel would look on film, and it is truly glorious.
Plus, you've got Rosario Dawson firing an automatic weapon, Alexis Bledel looking really cute (as Alexis Bledel is wont to do), Devon Aoki wielding samurai swords, Mickey Rourke giving Hellboy a run for his money, Elijah Wood as one of the creepiest characters I've ever seen in a movie, and at the top of the heap, Jessica Alba looking hotter than hot can be. I don't care what gender you are, that shot of her on stage, dancing and twirling a lasso, makes you go "Whoa!" Oh, and I feel obliged to state that the director is Latino, and one of the actors, Michael Clarke Duncan, is African-American.
And now if you will excuse me, I'm going to retreat to the bathroom and read the script to "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" for a second time. Damn, that's some good stuff.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Last night, coming out of a rehearsal of "Marat/Sade" (with a new adaptation, premiering at the Hunger Artists Theatre in Fullerton, CA on May 6th...shameless plug), I was drained. The character that I play has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and as such spends the entire show making sure everything is in order. And since we have still have three weeks until the show opens to refine and focus all of its many moments (and the director has been giving the actors a great deal of freedom to explore their characters), it is at the moment a chaotic mess.
This causes a problem on two levels for me, as both my OCD-suffering character and the real life me who provided the adaptation of the piece (did I forget to mention that earlier? Yeah, I wrote it) are freaking out. I have no doubt that the director (who I know to be quite understanding of both the piece at hand and the rules of theatre in general) will be able to tone down the more distracting elements of the play. But at the moment, there is a severe lack of focus going on.
So anyway, the point is, I was physically and emotionally exhausted coming off of rehearsal (not in a bad way, just in a factual way). And I decided to, for once, actually get to bed early. As I went to bed, the numbers "9:32" were staring at me in red LCD display (which was freaky. I haven't seen anything close to that time when going to bed for many a month). I went to sleep and proceeded to have a dream that I actually remembered (dreams worth remembering do not often happen to me, and when they do, I still forget them).
In the dream, I was in a one-man show (I have developed an unhealthy obsession with one-man shows since doing "The Gog/Magog Project" last fall. Now I constantly immerse myself in the world of Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and Will Eno) that was being directed by my friend Darcy (whose play "The Land Southward" is currently having its world premiere at Hunger Artists Theatre...second shameless plug).
However, it wasn't really a show. It was taking place out in the woods, the only people present were myself, Darcy, Brey, and Darcy's fiancee Jason, and it was more of an endurance test that had me completing various physical and spiritual challenges.
I don't remember most of them (see, even the really interesting dreams I have trouble remembering), but the two that I do remember are "Take a long, slow walk" (which I had decided to save for last) and the most difficult of all of the challenges.
It involved me standing in the middle of a humongous abandoned shed, and my challenge was to not only have "an eternal death of the soul" (whatever that means. Maybe that's what happens when you watch too much Fox News), but to somehow get my soul back (which defeats the purpose of an "eternal death", but never mind).
Now again, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I remember my having to battle a kind of spirit that was not entirely good, but definitely not evil. I lost my soul and gained it back, and the experience was both physically and emotionally grueling (uh-oh! Similarities abounding!). The spirit left, the wind stopped blowing, the ground stopped rumbling and I found myself standing in the middle of the shed exhausted and naked (apparently in our society, losing your clothes goes hand-in-hand with losing your soul. Sounds about right).
So I step out of the shed, and I just start walking. I plod past Darcy who says to me, "You're taking The Walk?" And I reply, as if it were the last line of the greatest cinematic epic ever filmed, "I'm taking The Walk." And I begin to slowly drift toward the horizon.
And........SCENE! I wake up. I asked Darcy about it, and she said, "I guess there must be some big changes in store for you."
I always hate when I get a dream that "means" something. I prefer not to know the future. I just like to let the future happen, and that my reaction to it be spontaneous and unplanned. So when I get a dream that could potentially be telling me the future, I get worried. I start overanalyzing everything in my life that could possibly be an explanation for my premonition. Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to finally gain success in the entertainment industry? Is that Ben Affleck film going to suck (actually, that one's a given)?
So to get my mind on other matters, I'm distracting myself. I'm writing a new play (and I might actually finish this one), I'm reading Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" (I can only imagine the dreams that he has...but then again, he can only imagine them, too), and I'm listening to The Arcade Fire's album "Funeral" (which balances its musical complexity and edginess with a beauty that calms me without being sleep-inducing or intelligence-draining).
Perhaps these will help me in the battle for my soul. I'll keep you updated on how that goes.
Monday, April 11, 2005
I have to question my own artistic integrity. Yesterday, I was at Disneyland, celebrating a friend's birthday and testing out the new Buzz Lightyear ride at Tomorrowland (it's an amusing interactive ride that distracts you from the unoriginality of its content by having you shoot various targets placed throughout. It's pretty fun and warrants repeat rides).
While walking by one section of a park, they had a band performing. They weren't famous, nor did they seem like the type of band that ever will be. I immediately had my usual thought when seeing a band performing at a theme park or for a commercial: "Way to go on selling out! Who needs artistic integrity, huh?"
But then another thought popped into my head. What if, as an aspiring playwright who works an office job to support himself, the Disney Corporation came up to me and said, "We'll pay you various moneys to write the book for the next unbelievably cheesy musical that we're going to put up at the Hyperion Theatre in California Adventure. What do you say?" The first thing I would say would be, "Did you just say 'various moneys'?" Then my next reply would probably be, "Where do I sign?"
At what point does one "sell out"? Does it count if you're unknown to begin with? I know several serious actors who started off performing at Disneyland (I don't mean to say that I "know" them, but know of their existence. I don't have Steve Martin's home phone...so stop asking). If you don't really have a celebrity status to sell, wouldn't those early transgressions count as just a job, especially if you were fully aware of their creatively-draining capabilities and made an effort to rise above such projects?
After all, Lawrence Fishburne was Cowboy Carl in "Pee Wee's Playhouse". And George Clooney was in "Return of the Killer Tomatoes". And Leonardo DiCaprio did what I can only imagine was fine work in "Critters 3". I don't hear anyone complain about those actors taking those roles, because they have done better work since.
So where does one lose their artistic integrity? When they become the spokesman for shampoo in Japan? When they phone in their supporting role in "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous"? When they do (gasp! shudder!) network television?
I think of the people and places that I know of that have held a firm grasp on their artistic integrity, only seeking out the best projects to lend their name to. The Hunger Artists Theatre Company, David O. Russell, Rufus Wainwright, etc. These are only a few examples of artists who have a vision that they hold on to, and it has paid off for them. However, will I be able to make that balance between fiscal responsibility and artistic quality? Only time will tell...
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
I haven't had much in the way of subjects to write about (I could write about the overexposure of Terry Schiavo and the Pope in the media, overshadowing news in Iraq, but any discussion beyond that statement is simply just blowing hot air), because life is generally good (when you've got rhythm, music and your girl, who could ask for anything more?). So, what do you do when you can't come up with a topic to talk about? That's right, boys and girls, you make a list!
See, currently at Hunger Artists, I am involved in two incredible productions, one that opened and one that is to open.
One of these shows I am very proud to be a part of, as it is the world premiere of what I feel is an important work, one that is destined to go far. I have no doubt that it will go to other theatres and be seen by a lot more people than are seeing it now. But in a small 40-seat theatre, people are witnessing its greatness for the first time.
The other is "Marat/Sade", a familiar show (it won the Tony for Best New Play in the 1960's), but completely reimagined, and has been an absolute blast to rehearse. It is a remarkably inventive, original show that in this reincarnation has become more concise, more concentrated and much, much funnier. It is a production that has never been seen before, and will probably never be seen again.
These two shows got me thinking about productions that I will never get to see. Having heard of their greatness, I can only imagine what it must have been like (that is until I get the flux capacitor working on my DeLorean). Any description I give of the production is merely from what I've heard. So without further ado...
THE TEN PRODUCTIONS I WISH I COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO SEE:
1). "Angels in America" - Mark Taper Forum - Los Angeles (1992). George C. Wolfe's inaugural production of what is my favorite play (written by Tony Kushner) was an epic piece of art: funny, moving and utterly original. Both parts of the play were seen here before moving to Broadway.
2). "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - Royal Shakespeare Theatre - Stratford-upon-Avon, England (1970). Clive Barnes of the New York Times had this to say about Peter Brook's circus-like production of Shakespeare's brilliant comedy (which featured Ben Kingsley and Mary Rutherford): "This is without any equivocation whatsoever the greatest production of Shakespeare I have ever seen in my life-and for my joys and my sins I have seen literally hundreds."
3). "The Importance of Being Earnest" - St. James's Theatre - London, England (1895). This Oscar Wilde play is my favorite comedy, and I would have loved to have seen the premiere production, when it was actually modern and controversial.
4). "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" - Billy Rose Theater - New York City (1962). Edward Albee's masterpiece debuted with Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill in the roles of George and Martha, and caused such a controversy that the Pulitzer committee refused to award it a prize for Drama. How can you not love that?
5). "The Seagull" - Moscow Art Theater - Moscow, Russia (1898). Any production that brings the playwright out of retirement has to have something right about it. That's just what Stanislavsky's production did with Chekhov (who had vowed never to write again after the first production of "Seagull", which was not well-received). Although I wouldn't have understood a word of it, I still would have liked to have seen it.
6). "True West" - Circle in the Square Theatre - New York City (2000). One of my favorite plays is Sam Shepard's tale of feuding brothers, and this production had the highly effective gimmick of employing two phenomenal actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly) who would switch roles from night to night. It made for two completely different productions, both equally good.
7). "Sweeney Todd" - Hunger Artists - Fullerton, California (2003). While I was doing a mediocre production of "Into the Woods", the theater company I would later go on to fall in love with was doing a much-better production of a much-better show. It was minimal and intense (O.C. Weekly said it was "one of the best-directed plays on a local stage. Ever.") and I constantly kick myself that I was not involved with it.
8). "Rhinoceros" - Longacre Theatre - New York City (1961). Zero Mostel was great in the film version of Eugene Ionesco's brilliant absurd comedy, so I can only imagine what it must have been like to have seen him turn into a rhinoceros live on stage (with Eli Wallach complementing him). Plus, it had to have been an improvement over the film simply because Karen Black wasn't in it (why was she famous? Anyone?).
9). "Hair" - Biltmore Theatre - New York City (1968). This was a show that broke all the rules. A free, energetic musical that actually served as a mirror to the changing current of society. Nowadays it's a period piece, but at the time, it was extremely relevant and much-needed. It was also Diane Keaton's Broadway debut.
10). "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" - Town Hall Theatre - Galway, Ireland (1996). Martin McDonagh is one of the most exciting theatrical voices to emerge in the last ten years, and to see his first play in the country where it takes place would have been quite an experience.
Ahhh, if only...