Saturday, May 26, 2007

Complex Sentences

A significant part of the latest script is culled from travel writing that I've done over the past couple of years. I've done a little bit of this before, particularly in Libertarian Rage -- directly adapting blog and journal entries into something to be staged -- but never to this degree, and I'm struggling a lot with converting one style of writing to another.

The greatest obstacle, I'm finding, is probably my fondness for complex sentences in blogging. To a degree this has characterized my scripts as well -- but generally the dialogue is more streamlined, at least slightly more naturalistic. (Which is ironic, since blogging is probably the venue that matches most closely my speaking voice. My natural delivery isn't naturalistic at all, apparently.)

Thing is, when I blog, I'm happy to just chatter away, piling one prepositional phrase on top of another (not to mention throwing in multiple parenthetical thoughts) -- liberal use of hyphens -- thought fragments -- that kind of thing, and sentences never really seem to end, they just go on and on and on and then after that they go on some more -- and this style is a lot of fun to write, and a lot of fun to read (at least for me) -- but it's extremely difficult to *deliver* onstage.

Ah, well. No one ever said the job was supposed to be easy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Two Quick Thoughts

-My father is the absolute stereotype of the Asian tourist, eagerly photographing all of the tourist traps that are pointed out to us. This seems to me to defeat much of what makes photography attractive -- why photograph something that ten thousand other people already have, and better than you? What appeals to me is the use of photography to capture things that people *don't* see.

-I brought a lot of work and writing to get done, and progress has been slow. It's a funny thing, about writer's block -- I can churn out dozens of blog entries before breakfast, but I'm terrified at the prospect of sitting down and working on a script. I think it has to do with the impermanence of blogging -- it's low-pressure, because I know there'll always be another one; whatever I write is going to be completely forgotten by next week. A script requires alertness and artistry and stuff like that.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Graveyards of Culture

Poor Dad -- travelling with me inevitably means getting dragged to any number of museums. (I am, predictably, less interested in geography than I am in the human response to it.) These places are like kryptonite to his hyper-accelerated attention span.

Looked at a lot of aboriginal artwork, though, which is utterly opaque to my untrained eye -- the plaques tell stories of incredible, epic battles, and all I see are collections of dots arranged in elaborate patterns. The style's interesting enough, though -- reminiscent of mandalas, assembling fairly detailed images from much smaller pieces -- and something else it took me a minute to identify: comic books; Andy Warhol's blown-up images of comic book panels are arranged in much the same way. I wonder if he was aware of the similarity. Probably. He was a pretty smart guy.

Was talking with another director a while ago, about my frustration with how audiences seem to be so much more preoccupied with stuff they're *supposed* to like, rather than stuff that they *do*. He made a good comparison with gypsy music and Johannes Brahms; that Brahms took what the dirt-poor guy on the street was playing, removed the improvisational elements, arranged it for a European orchestra -- in other words, removed everything that made it gypsy -- and suddenly it was a European phenomenon. People couldn't groove on it until everything unique was gone.

Similar thing here, with aboriginal artwork: their greatest painter was European-trained, and did his work in watercolor, removing the broad, symbolic strokes of tribal storytelling with western realism and detail. The form couldn't be taken seriously until it wasn't the form anymore. Bizarre.

Not that his work was bad, by any stretch of the imagination. It's hard to imagine *any* artist here producing work that wasn't compelling, with this landscape for inspiration. Speaking of comic books, all of the paintings here look like every sci-fi world I've ever seen -- that strange, barren, alien environment that characterizes Krypton or H.G. Wells' Mars. No wonder deserts are where religions are born.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Minimum Verbosity: Relections on Production

So the show is closed now, and how do I feel about the experience?


I've always had a weird love-hate relationship with this particular show, more so than the others -- for predictably pompous reasons: that I feel that I can defend all the others intellectually, that they're all trying to do the lofty, ambitious things that I went into theatre to do. That if they fail, I can point at them with pride and say that I was undertaking something worth doing. That if I failed, I failed from over-reaching myself, and ultimately, I can live with that knowledge.

This one? Not so much. It's a silly farce, skating aimlessly from one gag to another under the barest semblance of a plot. It's utterly inoffensive, utterly unchallenging, and...

...and it's a good show.

Anyone who knows me knows what a big deal it is for me to say that about anything I've done. But, yeah. It's not perfect. There's scenes that don't really hang well together, transitions between thoughts that are abrupt and awkward. But overall? It's funny. It's *funny*. And part of its virtue *is* its inoffensiveness -- it's the one show we've done that I feel like I can invite anyone to. (It's the one show we've done that doesn't drop the F-bomb -- and the one show we've done that doesn't contain references to rape. What the hell do I have floating around my subconscious, anyway?)

Moreover, it contains material that Siarde and I have been touring for over a year now. It's solid, if not polished. Part of the advantage of doing a remount -- and I'm sold on them now, incidentally -- is that they're a lot more *fun*. For the most part, we've spent our time in the trenches, finding which gags didn't work. The ones we have now we can deliver with ease and confidence. We're free to be a lot more playful than we are with a premiere.

No, it's further than that, isn't it? All the shows play to different parts of my personality, and most of the others play to the sophisticated urbanite that I like to pretend that I am. Whereas this one -- this is not that. This is a show by the geeky little Chinese kid who used to run in circles for hours being chased by invisible monsters at recess. And I've tried to distance myself from him -- but I am him, too.

And that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Minimum Verbosity: Reflections on Process

So, my ambitions of a carefully documented process have -- to the surprise of absolutely nobody -- largely fallen by the wayside; the combined stress of production week with a recurring illness left little time, energy, or inclination for meaningful reflection. Come to think of it, I've seen a number of these production blogs floating around (hence my desire to jump on the bandwagon), but they've rarely been compelling. Part of the reason for this is obvious: when you spend all day working on creating something, you don't want to come home and write about it; you're far more likely to want to curl up with a bottle of Guinness and DVD episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Y'know, hypothetically.

It runs deeper than that, though. Process fascinates me; but I don't really like talking about my own, at least not regarding a project that I'm in the middle of. Some of that's paranoia: I'm reminded of the fable about the centipede who, upon being asked how he was able to walk with so many legs, promptly fell over, unable to move anymore once he actually stopped to think about what he was doing. Some of that's superstition: every artist is Daffy Duck walking off the edge of the cliff, knowing that he's fine until he looks to see how far he has to fall. Some of that's insecurity: I've always been wary of people who seem to spend more time talking about art than creating it. (And it stings -- a lot -- that I've become far more well-known for my writing about other people's work than I have for creating my own.) A lot of it's just a desire for the work to speak for itself.

But it's something that I see among a lot of other artists, particularly comedians, this reflexive dismissal of self-analysis: every comic has a stock response to blow off those stupid questions "What is funny? Why do people laugh?" But they're not stupid questions: in fact, they're damn good questions. And nobody goes into show business without pausing at least once to ask themselves why they're doing what they're doing.

And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that good comedians are a lot like magicians, and a good joke is a lot like a magic trick: it relies on surprise and misdirection, and explaining it to the audience is a pretty surefire way to guarantee that it won't produce the desired effect. As E.B. White once put it, "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."

(He then proceeded to discourse at length about what makes humor work. Some of us just can't resist.)

So I'm uncomfortable with it, and I find myself wondering what the purpose of a production blog is. Is it worthwhile, for example, for the audience to know that, halfway through the rehearsal process, I realized that our developing storyline was nearly identical to that of Parzival, an obscure middle German epic that's been the central obsession of my life? Probably not -- and, even worse, such knowledge might transform the performance itself, turning it into something ponderous and affected.

And yet, I know that I devour all the background information I can get on entertainment I enjoy. If I hear a song I like, it's not enough for me to listen to the song: I want to hear the whole album, to get a sense of the environment the work emerged *from*. Exhaustive, even invasive probing for background has actively enhanced my enjoyment of the work it produces: it seems somehow absurdly hypocritical for me to then want to be able to remain an invisible part of my own process.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I Am the Punchline of God

Oh, motherfuck, I am sick again.

I'm actually starting to get concerned about this -- since February, I've been sick more often than I've been healthy. Aside from the fact that I can't afford to be sick this often, it plays into a lot of paranoia related to my dysautonomia -- after all, my entire life changed overnight because of a single viral infection. It took me three years of unemployed self-loathing, feeling that my body had betrayed me, before I was able to pick myself up and start living in the world again. So I get a little nervous when I don't feel like I can rely on my basic biochemistry.

Chaos theory is the study of complex systems -- systems so complex that the scientific method -- taking it apart to examine its component parts -- no longer works. So our study of these systems largely revolves around mapping trends -- while we may not understand the underlying mechanics, we can become statistically aware of certain emerging patterns. The theory's been particularly useful in fields such as studying weather. Some fringier experimentation has been done with gamblers, seeming to indicate that lucky and unlucky streaks aren't just psychological, but quantifiably exist.

So, these are some of the things that I'm thinking about as I muse on the fact that my car, my computer, and my body seem to be breaking down on the verge of opening a show which relies on my access to all three items.

But then, this always happens, doesn't it? Sometimes I think it's a miracle that anything gets produced at all. Just got to turn on the blinders, keep moving forward, and remember the advice of the Red Queen: "Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop."

As long as you can do that, you have a show. The rest isn't up to me to judge.