Friday, April 09, 2004

Arts and Politics-o-rama


Thank you to Dan Trujillo, Laura Axelrod, Rob Matsushita, Mac Rogers, George Hunka, Noah Smith and everyone else that I might not know about who has weighed in on this conversation!

Something that's coming up in multiple posts is preaching to the choir, something which I hope to try to explore my own feelings about sometime this weekend.

More on Art and Politics

I thought I’d respond to George Hunka, Noah Smith and Dan Trujillo, all of whom have posted plenty of food for thought both on this site and outside of it.

The argument that I was trying to make (albeit not very well) is that you cannot escape politics, so you might as well embrace it and ask yourself a few political questions while examining your work. As Hunka points out via David Mamet, politics and political correctness can often get confused. To me, artists should ask themselves questions of representation. This matters because, as Mamet points out, telling the truth is one of the basic jobs of theater. How you represent people (And groups of people) on stage is an issue relating to telling the truth. At the same time, Mamet is right, getting bogged down in questions of representation is a pointless PC exercise that, at the end of the day, will keep you from doing any work. My problem with Mamet is not his representations of women, it’s the dramatic fall off in quality of his projects starting with Oleanna, in which he finally seems to embrace the reactionary within himself and get further isolated from anything real or true.

My example of Angels in America was not, perhaps, the best one to use. I was holding up Millennium Approaches as a good example of what is possible in terms of overt political conversations within a play. Why it works for me is that Louis and Belize have this intense political conversation that manages to illuminate them as characters and stay related to the dramatic and thematic events of the play. It’s a fairly Herculean task to try to do this, and I think Kushner deserves some kudos for it. It’s one of the reasons why Millennium works so well, Kushner manages to cram discussions of politics and a very real debate that is going on in the world into these characters’ mouths and make it believable.

The far better example from Kushner’s oevre would’ve actually been “Hydriotaphia or the Death of Sir Thomas Browne” but considering I’m one of 5 people I know who has ever read that play, I decided to ignore it in favor of Angels.

(I’m curious, George, as to why you “loathe” Tony Kushner. Is it his art, his politics or both? I think exploring why we dislike certain overtly political writers and like others would be a good way to guide the conversation. I love Kushner, although I don’t think him flawless. I think he writes bloated, messy madcap plays that contain enough moments of lyricism and clarity and real brilliance to keep them together, most of the time. “Bright Room” and the second half of “Homebody/Kabul” both suffer from a kind of didacticism and sloppiness that can occasionally intrude on his writing, but Hydriotaphia, Angels and Caroline Or Change are all wonderful and deeply moving theater pieces. And PS: I know Dan Trujillo and I both love Caryl Churchill, I was wondering what other people thought of her and why they thought it.)

And but so anyway… (to quote David F.W.) what is the place of politics in theater? Perhaps where this conversation is starting to go (especially via Noah’s highly entertaining post on this) is what is the writer’s job? What is the director’s? How do these two jobs relate to politics? I’m beginning to become of the opinion that the questions about politics and art change depending on what your role in the theatrical process is and what kind of play you’re doing. Certainly, politics is going to have a different place in Richard Foreman’s work than it is in, say, Neil Simon’s. It’s interesting that Foreman is so much a part of this conversation, considering his latest work. If one reads the reviews of Foreman’s “King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe” one will see a major debate: does the overt anti-Bush content finally ground a Foreman show in something beyond his own (often sexual) neuroses, or does it corrupt what is essential about Foreman’s work? I tend to come down on the former side rather than the latter. For me, this was the first Foreman show I saw that I can clearly say that I enjoyed (rather than learned a lot from, or I’m happy I had the experience of or whatever) because for once there was something approaching a point in his madcap world of funny noises and deadpan vaudeville.

Anyway, I also just wanted to briefly touch on Aristotle, since Noah brings him up in his posting on art and politics. Why are we so beholden to Aristotle? I understand that he’s an important voice, and I’ve read Poetics plenty of times, but he really isn’t the alpha and omega of what theater can be. He’s a guy advocating a specific vision of drama that didn’t really exist even in his own time, to fit a very specific cultural/religious function over two thousand years ago, and his writing on comedy is lost forever. Furthermore, audiences and artists both seem to hunger for the more ambiguous Euripides, who was the least Aristotelian (and least well liked) playwright of his age. To me, it’s like when I read critical essays written in the 1990’s and all they talk about is Freud, as if no one has bothered to try to understand the human mind since then, or like Freud solved everything and Hamlet really is an everyman only because he wants to bang his mother. In other words, his theories form the foundation of a kind of theater, but theater’s come a long long way since then, often in spite of Aristotle.

(Noah also has lots of good points about satire and getting audience to see theater, both conversations I definitely want to be having sometime in the near future here on Parabasis. As per usual, your thoughts are welcome in my lonely comments section.)

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I stall for time by watching John Kerry

There is so much that I want to write about art and politics, that I don’t even know where to begin (I have a rant on my computer that I’m halfway through and then going to revise etc.) so I thought I’d turn to just politics for a moment:

I was watching some of John Kerry’s town hall meeting in Wisconsin and I have to tell you… this Presidency is really Bush’s to lose, not Kerry’s to win. I mean, that’s always to a certain extent true with incumbent Presidencies, but Kerry is just not very good at making the case that Bush is bad and that Kerry would be better.

A large amount of this is, unfortunately, purely stylistic. My dog Ramona napping next to me was far more interesting than the lockjaw up on the screen, and his audience knew it. They stared like zombies until he said something that was supposed to get applause, and then they passionately applauded and settled back in.

Personally, I just feel like Kerry needs to fire some of his staff and get people who can write great speeches out there. His speech today, what I heard of it, anyway, was at least 45% about a speech he made three days ago. He’s day “I was talking three days ago about pudding pops [or whatever], and I was giving this speech and you know what I said at that speech? I said `President Bush should spend more time looking at the economy and less time doing what Bill Cosby tells him to do [or whatever, usually by the time he got to the punch line, I had forgotten the set up]”.

I’m sure any of the playwrights out there who read this blog will recall somewhat at some point someone saying that one of the first rules of drama is show it don’t say it. In other words, Kerry, don’t reference the time when no was paying attention but you were pithy and passionate and wise just be pithy and passionate and wise and a good leader. You don’t have to be “one of us” to be a good leader—that’s W’s (and America’s) fallacy, you can be John Kerry and still be a good leader, you’re just choosing not to.

I wish they'd hire a director to take him through his laborious monologues, is what it basically comes out to. They should hire some good writers and a good director and just rehearse him non stop. Take him to some Alexander classes, or have him study Balinese mask work with Per Brahe, or some Suzuki method or biomechanics or even Bolislavsky and Meisner I don't care just get him to do something so that it looks like he's a human being and that he's worthy of our vote.

Luckily for us lefties, W could easily lose the election just based on (de) merit alone. Kerry could easily craft a strategy of getting surrogates out there in the mud constantly pointing out Bush’s total failure to do anything worthwhile. Let’s hope, however, that Kerry can paint a picture of why he deserves the job, not why W doesn’t.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Some more on Condi

From Sidney Blumenthal in

"n January 2002, Rice launched a serious effort to restart the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. She hired Flynt Leverett, who was a professional foreign service officer on the policy planning staff of the State Department, as director of the initiative on the National Security Council. Rice told him and those assigned to work with him that she understood that the absence of peace process was hurting the war on terrorism and that Leverett should propose any and all measures he thought necessary, regardless of potential political controversy. "She told us we should go for the long bomb, using a football metaphor," Leverett recalled to me.

Leverett then developed a plan on final status dealing with security, Palestinian political reform and Jerusalem; the core of the plan was essentially the same as President Clinton's ultimate proposal. Rice rejected it; her own mandated team had come up with something she judged as "unworkable" and politically untenable for Bush, who would have been forced to confront Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to enact it.

On April 4, Bush delivered a speech calling for a "two state" solution, but without any details, and sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region. Leverett traveled with him. Powell gained agreement for the basic outline of the original plan, but just as he was to announce his breakthrough in a press conference Rice intervened, instructing him not to discuss any political process and that the whole burden of accountability must be put on the Palestinians and none on the Israelis. In private, Powell seethed but did not fight Rice."

De Politics

I put in a call to some fellow culture bloggers to get their thoughts on arts and politics. Laura Axelrod has pointed me to a section on her blog where she’s archived such writing. Rob Matsushita wrote me an e-mail, and George Hunka, ever the good sport, wrote an excellent post on the subject. I promised I’d post my own thoughts on the issue, and here is where I am circa 4/7/2004.

Also, if you’re out there, Noah Smith, I’d love to hear from you on this subject!

One thing that Rob and Laura both make clear is that politics has it’s place, but aesthetics are of primary importance. Laura Axelrod writes about this subject passionately here in which she reacts to some anti-war agit prop installation art on display at a certain “Times Square Arts Complex” (I’m guessing it rhymes with Obama). She writes, “there was no sense of style. And that's what I find offensive about the exhibit. It's not the political message.” This was echoed in Rob’s e-mail to me, “As far as current theater, I think it always depends on the work itself. Personally, I think that it's too hard to write in a vacuum. When I start, it's usually because I'm pissed off about something, political or otherwise. But, at the same time, it's always story first with me. The story is driven by my feelings about some issue--even if the story has NOTHING to do with that issue, if that makes sense.” The emphasis on story, character, style, all of these are aesthetic issues as much as they may be political ones as well.

Meanwhile, Hunka talks about how politics should shape our art, arguing that politics must inform our art, but that our art must challenge, must ask questions, must avoid preaching. Illustrating the point, he quotes Richard Foreman, “The real politics of America, it seems to me, have to do with the conflict between people who can sustain ambiguity and uncertainty in their lives, and people who get terrified by it and want everything to be black and white and clearly defined, and so become reactionaries or conservatives. That's the political situation in America. I think my plays always deal with exactly that issue, and therefore are very political. But they're obviously not terribly political in terms of what particular political party you happen to belong to.” He then expands on this idea, talking about the metaphysical questions we should be asking, and arguing for an inherent link to the metaphysical and the political, writing “to convert, not to preach to the converted: this is the political challenge of American theater today, and a metaphysical conversion is what we should aim at.” Foreman’s sentiment is echoed by many an anti-naturalist playwright and director, that the political conflict is one between certainty and ambiguity, between simplicity and complexity etc.

To add my own 3.5 cents :

I think our gang discussing this is talking about many definitions of the term politics. The first (espoused by Axelrod, Matsushita and, when I originally framed the question, myself) is of the more bread-and-butter variety. This is the politics of issues, of how groups and people are represented on the stage, of voting, of social awareness and consciousness. I think it is fundamentally irresponsible of artists to think about themselves as totally apolitical or, as Rob put it, making art in a void. Art exists in the world, it speaks in communication with the world, and ignoring one of the major facets of our world is cowardly head-in-the-sand avoidance. It’s the kind of art that screams “please like me” and “don’t hurt Messers Helmes and McCarthy!” simultaneously.

It is also, fundamentally, an uninteresting posture to take, it kills a part of your personality off, and boring artists make boring art. We live in a world that needs our active participation, regardless of your profession, but that is ruled by people who want you to participate as little as possible. If anyone is going to challenge this, artists are. Get out of the bunkers and into the streets.

At the same time, Laura and Rob are absolutely correct, aesthetics matter. Character, plot, story, all of these things are just as important. We are creating theater, after all, not writing pamphlets, and there is a very important difference. Let us not forget that Shaw and Shakespeare were both intensely political (although the former was much more polemical and pedantic than the latter) and absolutely brilliant writers who gave us unforgettable stories, characters and lines.

So how do we synthesize this with the other definition of politics that George has so handily given us? As Foreman posits (and most anti-naturalist playwrights, especially folks like Mac Wellman concur) the fundamental mission of art (beyond being entertaining, a concern that’s fallen a bit by the wayside) should be to challenge the way we view the world, and to change our methods of perception. This is a political activity, and this speaks very clearly against agit prop. Agit prop seeks to answer questions before they are raised, great theater exists to frame the world in questions you never really knew were there.

This is why I love playwrights like Caryl Churchill, Chuck Mee and Tony Kushner. When they are at their best, they simply rock your worldview. When they are at their worst, they walk down the spiral staircase into the depths of pedagogy. Take Kushner’s wholly unsatisfactory Bright Room Called Day. The play is split into two separate narratives, one of which is a rather fascinating portrayal of a house full of dissidents during the rise of Hitler. It asks daring, bold questions about the individual’s place in the world and in relation to history, and never comes up with any kind of satisfactory answer. The problem with the play is the narrator character, who stomps all over the proceedings by comparing (at length and frequently) Hitler to Ronald Reagan (AIDS being the new holocaust, I suppose). Regardless of what you think of the comparison, it single handedly destroys the play by painting over all of this fascinating ambiguity with easy answers and trite polemics.

Now compare this to Angels in America. No one can enter that play and not have their worldview challenged. I know people all across the religious and political spectrum, and that play has a little something for all of us. This is most evident (for me) in the liberal Jewish character of Louis, in his ever-famous argument with Belize that forms one of the central parts of the Millennium Approaches. Kushner is clearly not siding with either character, he’s letting them duke it out and letting the audience live it and that is what is so powerful.

Kushner, Mee, Churchill and many others are making theater that, in Mac Wellman’s words “teaches you to think rather than what to think”. That is the boldest kind of art imaginable and it is what we should all be striving for. This goal demands of us that we experiment with language, that we create bold characters, that we do not lose ourselves down the rabbit hole of genre, and that we continually challenge ourselves to ask interesting questions rather than give the right answers. Part of this political mission is to constantly challenge theater (both the art and the institution) and how it is formed. As artists, we should care about who makes cultural decisions, whose voice gets represented on stage and by whom, and other concerns that shape the politics of theater itself.

At the same time that I am writing all of this, I am directing a delightful little romantic comedy that I am absolutely in love with. So where does all this political mumbo jumbo fit in? To me, the politics (and they’re there, mainly around issues of isolation and alienation vs. collectivity and connectivity) are one of the guideposts that I can use to figure out the play. They’re their with everything else—the language used, the tone, the motifs, themes, symbolisms, characters etc.—as a tool to help me create the world more clearly for the actors and audience. This might sound like a cop out, like I’m excusing myself for doing not-particularly-political art, but I believe that my political consciousness informs the play and helps create the questions we ask of ourselves and our audience. And hey, you can’t go around doing Caucasian Chalk Circle all the time, anyway, it’ll make you want to kill yourself.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A quick roundup, etc.

Busy busy day, production meetings, designer meetings, rehearsals, putting my dog in the day care (or kennel or whatever) for the day. Probably not going to really be able to post, so I thought I'd just write two quick things:

1) So you may have noticed a distinct absence on this blog of writings about the situation in Iraq.

Frankly, I don’t know what to say or what to write about what is going on in there except that there was a certain faction of the anti-war movement who were not opposed to taking out Saddam Hussein but thought there were non-military ways to do it that hadn’t been exhausted and that furthermore this group of clowns were the wrong guys for the job. I was one of those people. I rejoice at the greater freedom that Iraqis enjoy today, I think capturing and trying Saddam Hussein is a great thing. Programs like the Iraq Memory Foundation and important steps in the right direction. I also think that it’s a shame that I should feel it necessary to list all of those things in order to legitimately be able to make the point that the Bush administration was fundamentally incapable of handling this mess that they’ve gotten so many countries into. Hopefully, they’ll pay for that dearly, both on election day and in the annals of history.

As to the specific day-to-day, well, go read Daily Kos, Atrios or Talking Points Memo. They’re much more informed and much better writers on this subject than I am.

2) I put in a call to some fellow culture bloggers to get their thoughts on arts and politics. Laura Axelrod has pointed me to a section on her blog where she’s archived such writing. Rob Matsushita wrote me an e-mail, and George Hunka, ever the good sport, wrote an excellent post on the subject that you can read here.

I'll be responding to them (and anyone else that wants to write about the subject) over the next couple of days, but First You're Born beckons today, and I must answer the call.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Jabba the Hut Goes Back on His Word

So apparently Ariel Sharon has dipped a toe back into the assassinating Yasser Arafat waters, teasing us with some words about how his three year commitment to Bush not to harm or exile Arafat was no longer applicable.

Regardless of how you feel about Arafat, you really must ask yourself: how reckless is Sharon really? Here’s a good example, a salient quote from a Sharon spokesman:
"The important thing is to exert a stern warning: `Don't even try to use this to instigate more terrorist activity,'… It's more of a deterrent measure than an operational message."

In other words, we said this thing right before Passover to deter you, not to provoke you, so you better not be provoked. This shows the dehumanizing insanity of the Likudniks in Israel. Essentially it boils down to this: “We are saying X, and we mean Y and if you take it to mean Z, well, we don’t accept that”. Evidently no one in the Sharon government read “Death of the Author”. It doesn’t really matter how you want someone to take what you say, people are going to react how they are going to react.

Furthermore, since we clearly are in the realm of reverse-psychology between the Israelis and the Palestinians, saying to the Palestinians “don’t take this as a provocation” is a pretty good way to ensure that it is taken as a provocation.

Ariel Sharon clearly does not care about the Israeli people or their security, he cares about a particular reading of the Zionist mission. If he cared about their security, he would be working towards finding a safe end to this conflict. It is pretty damn clear that his government’s actions during this seemingly endless Intifadah have done nothing but perpetuate and worsen the cycle of violence. Sharon is a General, viewing his citizens as (occasionally unwitting) soldiers in an ongoing fight for the land promised his people in the Bible.

If you want evidence, look no further than his statements today. What kind of fool goes in front of the press and says “Hey, right before what is basically considered Wabbit Season for terrorists, I just wanted to say that we’ve got plans in the works to kill the closest thing you have a leader, even though he’s got a foot and a half in the grave already, just because, well, just because we can”. I’ll tell you what kind of fool, the same kind of fool who tells insurgents to “bring it on”. The kind of fool that wants carnage so that he can justify doing whatever the hell he wants.

Well, I guess there is another reading to the situation, but it's no more complementary. Maybe Sharon just has a final solution in mind for the Palestinians, moving them off into Jordan and other countries or killing them all, whichever is easier, but his hands are tied by the US and the possibility of global thermonuclear war. Perhaps by provocing the Palestinians into doing something even more horrible he can get what he wants. Either way, he's willing to put up with an endless amount of civilian casualties in order to fulfill the Zionist mission. (here's more good evidence of why zionism is bad for the jewish people, but we can get into that kettle of fish later).

What shocks me is that the Israeli people seem to persist in thinking that Sharon and the Likudnics have done anything to make them safer. There must be other solutions than collective punishment, administrative detentions, provocative threats and targeted assassinations. There are international law reasons why you shouldn’t kill Arafat, but there are also practical ones. How would killing Arafat make the situation any better? You think by taking him out a new, more docile Palestinian Authority is going to spring up in his place?

The Palestinian people need real leaders. Arafat is not a real leader for the Palestinian people. Arafat was a stooge, brought in during Oslo because the Madrid people were proving to be too difficult to shove around. Arafat was promised power on one condition, that he stop the first Entifadah. That accomplished, we were all happy to watch him undermine any chance of democracy in the occupied territories, because he was doing a pretty good job of being the enforcement wing of the IDF. Then he betrayed his Israeli and US sponsors by not agreeing to Barak’s peace plan and turned into the crazy, terrorist supporting, Parkinsons-riddled road block to constructive peace that he is.

The Palestinians need a leader who will represent their interests. They need a leader who is good on US television. They need a leader who will be tough to the Israelis and demand real concessions on real issues. They also need a leader who will find a way out of the spiraling and attractive blood lust that has gripped so many. Assassinating Arafat is not a way to find that person, assassinating him is a way of making sure that the Palestinians will never get the leaders they need.

Some loose thoughts on theater and politics

This is meant as the beginning intellectual wanderings in what will be an ongoing thing. I’m interested in the relationship between theater and politics, and I’m actually focusing on it this summer at Lincoln Center, so I thought I’d start to get some issues on the table and begin talking about here at Parabasis.

So I’m reading this back issue Lincoln Center Theater Review from 1999, and there’s a great interview with Stephen Daldry. Daldry is most famous in the states for directing “An Inspector Calls”, but he’s also been the director of the Royal Court Theater, and is a trustee of the Old Vic. He’s also a film director (Billy Elliot, The Hours and the I’m-almost-positive-it’s-doomed-to-a-noble-failure Kavaleir and Clay).

Anyway, the interview is great. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got a really fascinating perspective and, being British, he cares deeply about the relationship between politics and art. There’s one concept, however, that I’d like to debate him on. Here’s the key graf:

“The theater that I would want to be a part of needs to be at the center of dissent. I believe that most serious theater is a form of dissent of one sort or another. By that I don’t mean party-political, but simply questioning and challenging and upsetting and exploring and investigating the role of society. If a theater’s not doing that, it’s part of a different sort of tradition, and entertainment, which is also important and vital and useful and theaters are very good at it. But you do need to choose your theater like you choose your church, to quote George Devine. Different churches have different uses, and the church that I want to be a part of is a theater that is engaged, heavily engaged, within a questioning society.”

I agree with Daldry about the kind of theater that I want to be a part of, although I wish he’d choose his films like he chooses his theater, I mean, boys can be dancers is hardly a message of dissent. What I question is this dichotomy: we have political, dissenting theater, and we have apolitical entertainments. I think every play has at its center some questions, issues for explorations, whatever, that are political in nature. Sometimes (most of the time, probably) these questions are engaged in a form of dissent. Sometimes they agree with the national consensus.

I once had a professor who, in my freshman drama survey said “All plays are political, if you don’t see it, it’s just reinforcing the status quo”. I think this is also overly simplistic. There’s a politics at the center of just about any play, and if you don’t see it, maybe you aren’t looking hard enough.

Anyway, I also think that if you focus solely on a script’s politics, you’re really limiting your options. First of all, you run the risk of running straight into agit-prop land, and great theater should ask more questions than it answers. You also come up with a simplistic world-view. Characters aren’t (in general) solely extensions of their political and historical conditions, and focusing on how they’re representative of this or that phenomena isn’t particularly helpful to getting a specific detailed nuanced and truthful performance out of the actors.

These are just a few of my thoughts. I’m still trying to figure out what I think. Because, as you can tell, I’m a pretty politically active person. And I’m also an artist. And I tend to direct not-overtly-political plays with a political consciousness. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so e-mail me at, or post in the comments section, and I’ll try to use that to build this discussion further.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Lifting Up The Curtain: Elmo Sings the Blues

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted about the ongoing (mis)adventures of First You’re Born. This is mainly because I’m incredibly busy with the play, and it’s easier for me to toss off some thoughts about a political nugget of the day than it is to sit down and try to compose a (semi) interesting story about My Life In Art. Maybe this says more about me than it does about theater… like, maybe it says I should be going into politics or something. Actually, what I think it says is that I live/think/do theater a lot right now, and I’m using this blog to occasionally get away from all that.

But no more! Or at least, not tonight! Tonight, I will give you an update and tell a brief story about overlapping space usage.

As I wrote earlier, I’m forcing myself to change some of my habits and do things differently, specifically related to staging the show. Instead of blocking things fairly minutely from the get go and then gradually refining and rethinking the details, I decided to restrain myself and block things very generally, allowing the actors to play around as much as possible, and then after the first run thru start getting specific. Let me just say that development is painful. Really painful. It’s hard to just let it go and actually collaborate with people, knowing they won’t give you what you want (because you haven’t told them what it is), and banking that, in not getting what you want, together you can create something better. That’s tough, and it tends to leave me feeling like I haven’t gotten anything done.

That is again our good friend the ego talking (and my ego, boy is it ever super) screaming “if the show isn’t an extension of ME than it is not worth it!”. I have to continuously remind myself out loud that this isn’t about me. Me is not the reason I got into theater; love of the art is. That, and theater’s one of the few things I’m any good at.

This has been my ongoing mission with First You’re Born: to force myself to let go of the ego investment. Directing, as many have pointed out, is it’s own ego fulfillment. The show needs to have a piece of myself in it, and my personal interest and passion is important, but all of those things have their place. That place is most certainly not “sole basis for creative decisions”. This is why I’ve created some constraints for myself, to encourage collaboration all around and allow everyone’s impulses to develop to the point where we’re making some really interesting choices. So far, it's been rewarding but tough, and I'm happy I'm doing it and I'm getting a lot more out of the actors than I have in the past. So all is for the best.

Anyway, that’s where I am, now for the anecdote of the day.

The funny business with the children. First You’re Born opens in a park, where Axel and Bimsy are sitting on a park bench, celebrating their one year anniversary. Little does Bimsy know, but Axel has come to break up with her, here in public. The scene begins with an exaggerated sound of birds. Then the dialogue:







(birdsong stops)

AXEL: Bimsy!

Now, surreally enough, there was a fortieth birthday party that had booked space adjacent to ours at Playwright’s Horizons. Theater people tend to reach financial security at a later year than most other people, and thus tend to have kids later in life. So this fortieth birthday party was filled with screaming under-five-year-old kids. Running up and down the halls, playing twister, shoving their faces with cake, throwing a beach ball into our rehearsal room door etc. I have no real beef against kids. I don’t want them, but I don’t resent people who do. The main problem was the huge distraction of having a playground outside the door.

So we’re running through the scene. Axel and Bimsy are on the parkbench. They hold glasses of bubbly, trying desperately to think of something to say to each other. And there are the exaggerated birds. And as Alexa and Geoffrey sit there trying to “be in the moment” the same thought occurs to them at the same time: those screaming kids… they make a great substitution for the birds, don’t they? The thought flickers across their face, and everyone in the room is picking up on it. A little devilish, commentative smirk flickers across Alexa’s face and she says “STRANGE, STRANGE HOW THE BIRDS ARE SINGING” kids are now screaming outside the door, and Geoff has the same little grin and he says “SINGING? SEEMS TO ME MORE LIKE THEIR SCREECHING!”. And now we have on our hands one of those heartbreaking moments in rehearsal where a moment of magic is created based on conditions that are simply not repeatable. The actors took their frustration and the aggravation of focusing during a surprise birthday party and suddenly realized the solution was to embrace the external reality of the rehearsal room. The scene has never been funnier, and then we might have taken it a bit far.

Geoffrey does a lot of voice over work. He’ll be in the next Grand Theft Auto game, and he was many of the voices (including Walken) on Celebrity Death Match. Geoffrey notices that the kids are eating pizza. Geoffrey is starving, and he stares at the door of the rehearsal room and says “What if I go out there and get some pizza”

Alexa: “Hey, Geoff, how’re you gonna do that?”

“I’ll charm someone,” Geoffrey says. “You know, tell one of them she can be my girlfriend if she gives me some pizza”. Geoffrey meant this totally innocently, but innocent was not the direction it eventually went in.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that a as a group, our humor tends towards the tasteless. Like really tasteless. And the more we get comfortable around each other, the more the dark side of our humor comes out. I also want to add that the Sesame Street puppeteers are pretty famous for their rowdy holiday parties, where they tell blue stories and do weird skits involving their characters. And what he said was neither in the presence of nor overheard by children. I would also like to say that this is a lot funnier if you say it to yourself in an Elmo voice, as that was the voice Geoffrey was doing as he said the following:

“Hi kids! This is Elmo! I’m over here in the closet! Why don’t you join me? Oh, the closet is too small to fit your pants! Here, see that bucket of butter, why don’t you bring it over here!”

The entire room bursts out laughing. I step out of the rehearsal room and run smack dab into the woman organizing the party. She tells me we’ve been so sweet and cooperative and understanding about the noise, can she do anything for us? “Well, um, Geoff really wants some pizza. Can I take some? It would really make his day”. She tells me of course, and I run and grab him some, and after a good fifteen minutes of time wasted making fun of small defenseless little kids, we stumble along back into the scene, birds and all, trying to make the end of a one-year relationship truthful and hilarious at the same time.