Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Importance of Nothing

The Infernal Ewok woke me up at 5:30 this morning for his morning constitutional. As usual, reason had no effect and emotional appeals were likewise ignored. A self-centered monster of willfulness with a piercing little bark, he gets me to do what I know I should but have no desire to do.

As a result I saw the dawn sky this morning. It reminded me of the cover of the Hotel California album and that got me thinking about a bunch of things.

These things are all jumbled up in my head but they all point toward space.

Making space and appreciating spareness in creativity.

Letting the silence be.

Allow the blank space to speak.

I really want to go on and on about this but I don't have to. My message is getting through to me even as I write it.

The point is that there's a connection between a well crafted song, a well written passage and a well lived life.

I wrote down what I think the connection is but then I erased it.

It goes without saying.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On the Excruciation of Bad Theater - Part 2

It was gratifying to have someone ask me what show I was talking about in my last post. It's nice to know that someone's reading. This person (Allen Lulu) encouraged me to write every day, so I will try to.

I didn't want to mention the title of the show because the show was so friendly in it's awfulness, so sincere and appealing, that I grew to like the performers despite their complete lack of talent.

But the short run is over and I'm pretty sure they won't read this.

On Friday night, I went with Zander, Apollo and Yogi to Anaheim to see a Rock n Roll version of A Midsummer Nights Dream at an outdoor venue in a park. The ride down was nice. We played 20 questions and the boys really loved that. We got there in safely and in good time and found the park and the venue to be lovely.

Then we walked in the venue.

The show was a mercifully truncated version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with some fifties Rock n Roll songs thrown in. The band was a four piece (piano, guitar, bass and drums) and when we walked in, they were playing. They were pretty terrible. I didn't think it was possible to do a passionless version of Great Balls of Fire until I saw them do it. Then there was a speech from the Anaheim Performing Arts Center. I didn't think it was possible to talk me out of building new facilities for the artistic expression until I saw them do it.

Then the play started.

With a few exceptions, the acting was mostly terrible. The band was awful, as I said, but they shined in comparison to the singers. During several numbers a random collection of ballet dancers from the Anaheim ballet would come out and do balletic swing dance. This was atrocious. During one of these excruciating numbers Zander leaned over and apologized to me. It was his idea to go.

By that time, however, I was enjoying it. I realized I was watching a fiasco unfolding. It was as fascinating as a train wreck. The performers were all well intentioned people who were doing their best. They couldn't sing or act but they were giving it the old college try in a friendly, unpretentious way. The boys enjoyed it and it was free.

Then the fireworks started.

In the middle of the play we started to hear the boom of fireworks from Disneyland. The experience had gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. The lights started misfiring and the wireless microphones started acting up. The only thing that didn't go during the performance was the set. It wasn't a problem until a tree fell over during the curtain call.

By the end I was weeping tears of joy. Actually, not really but the production was a quick two hours and it didn't get too cold. We ate some buttery, salty popcorn after intermission. We had another kick ass game of 20 questions on the way home.


Something about the whole experience wasn't as horrible as bad theater usually is. I think it was the lack of pretense and the casual nature of the venue. I felt like I could leave at any time if it too awful and Yogi had no problem asking me questions during the performance. I think I didn't feel trapped and punished.

And the lady who played Puck was good.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On the Excruciation of Bad Theater - Part 1

Last night I saw a terrible show. It was so bad it was sublime. It approached perfection in it's awfulness.

But it wasn't a horrible experience, which was surprising given the fact that watching bad theater is a wretched ordeal - close to dental surgery - that explains why this red-headed stepchild of all the arts is always reported to be dying. It's not that theater is really dying. It's that bad theater is killing it's audience. Seeing bad theater is often a "well-I'll-never-do-that-again" kind of thing so bad plays reduce the audience of theater in general.

The wonderful thing about theater is that it's a living, breathing, communal experience. An ephemeral connection is made and a short-lived community is born out of the common emotions and ideas. It's not private but it's intimate. It's a shared experience that's also unique and personal. There's nothing better than a space filling with swells of laughter, applause or quiet tears. It can be an intense, passionate and mind-altering experience.

When theater fails it's a lot like bad sex. Embarrassment, resentment and recriminations follow. The thing with bad sex is that you can talk it over or leave the room when you realize it's bad. In theater the show must go on and it's not appropriate to talk during the show. It's often difficult to leave. As an audience member you have been cheated. You came to have a good experience, to be entertained or moved or enlightened. Instead you're trapped in a room with people who are doing something terrible, if not too you than at least toward you, and you have almost no recourse. You can't even ascertain if the rest of the audience feels the same way.

You're alone in hell and you have to wait until intermission at least before you can pee.

Last night was only like that for a short time, however. There were some mitigating factors that kept me from clawing my eyes out.

Yogi is awake. I will continue this later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Drilling Into Gooey Blocks of Story

A big part of storytelling, and for the purpose of this essay let's assume that all creation is storytelling, is revelation. I don't mean a revelation from god, I mean the way an author reveals the details of setting, character, theme and plot. The way the argument unfolds.

I always visualize a story as a four dimensional block, floating in idea space. The four dimensions might be time, characters, point of view and plot. To express the story you need to unravel this block into a linear line or maybe drill through it to uncover the details.

The point is that writing is two-dimensional. It's a line that moves in one direction from left to right. (There have been experiments with multiple lines like Jeffrey Jones' Night Coil or the footnotes of Infinite Jest or The Widow's Son, but for the most part simultaneous linearity is too confusing to effectively communicate much.) On the other hand, the true source of the story is holographic.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and other parallel works are great examples of what I'm talking about. Hamlet exists somewhere as an ideal block of information, emotion and experience. Shakespeare chose one way of presenting the material while Stoppard chose another. Telling the story from Gertrude's point of view or about Gertude would require a different route through the four dimensional block and would reveal different things. (Maybe very interesting and heartbreaking things. Has this been done?)

The choice of how the story unfolds or, to continue my poor metaphor, to choose the route through the holographic block of story, is the real work of writing. They say there are no new stories to be told and that may be true to a certain extent, but how those existing stories are told is still a wide open field.

A big block of uncooked story (I'm thinking that it's more like a lasagna than a block) has no suspense, sentiment, humor or excitement in it. It's a bunch of information. Those things come from the unfolding. Suspense and humor, for example, are based on timing. The timing of when information is presented. It's in the execution of the storytelling that truth, wisdom and laughter are revealed.

Final geek note:
A great example of how the unfolding/revelation of a story affects every part of it is the Star Wars saga. I think of the story in the order I saw it. Episode 4 came first, followed by 5, 6, 1, 2, 3 and the Clone Wars. My son and his whole generation will always think about the saga starting with The Phantom Menace. That's hard for me to imagine. First of all you have the issue of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones being pretty terrible movies. Then you have the big reveal in Empire being no big deal. "Luke, I am your father!" (yeah, so?). Finally the whole thing becomes about the tragedy and last minute redemption of Anakin Skywalker rather than, as I see it, the heroic journey of Luke.

Then you have the Clone Wars which is so great in itself and makes the final film (or the third film if you're younger than 15) so much better by piling in a bunch of backstory.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our New Dog

We have a new dog named Minuit. That's french for midnight and it's pronounced (by us) Minwee. I won't go into the charming reasons my teetering-on-pretentious eight year old chose the name. Suffice it to say that Minuit is a boy dog with a strangely feminine name and demeanor. Small, mostly black, looks almost exactly like a four-legged Ewok.

This dog is determined to improve us.

First of all, he demands to be walked every morning at dawn. This is, at first, terribly annoying since I'm the one groaning out of bed to doing the walking at the crack of my ass. But every time I do it, I end up profoundly grateful to the cute little monster. The mornings are beautiful and a walk is a great way to start the day.

I could go on and on about the advantages but I won't.

Secondly, Minuit chews stuff. Only expensive, important stuff such as MacBook Pro power cords. The only way we can survive is to make sure that there's nothing valuable on the floor. I'm sure that your mothers taught you better than me but don't worry, Minuit is taking up the slack.

Thanks dog.