About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sobbing My Guts Out (Or: Observations in Storytelling and Catharsis)

Here's a thing that happened to me during the Lab, that I meant to write about but didn't, because, you know, my life had been swallowed.

On the evening second day off, after nearly 13 days straight of Lab insanity, I made a curious and altogether uncharacteristic choice: I watched Boys Don't Cry. It's a movie I'd been meaning to watch for ages - essentially since the movie came out - because I felt it was an important movie. But it didn't seem like a fun movie; it certainly wasn't a movie I wanted to watch.

Boys Don't Cry is a pretty extreme film by anyone's standards, but for me? Let's just say I have exceedingly low-brow taste when it comes to movies. I don't like sad movies, or intellectual movies, or movies that are too deep or two slow. Oh, and I don't really like any of that mushy romantic stuff either. I used to, and I still make the occasional except for a supreme piece of cornball [crap], like the remake of Sabrina or Love Actually, but basically when it comes to movies, I like to watch people make jokes and blow stuff up.

So why, why on earth would I, in the middle of this blisteringly intense creative experience, want to drain myself even further by watching, OF ALL MOVIES, Boys Don't Cry?

Well, I can't quite explain it, but even so, I think from an artistic perspective it's worth noticing, and remembering:

During that time, I was so tightly wound up, so tense, so stressed from the Lab experience, that I needed a release. I needed, basically, to sob my guts out, and either couldn't or wasn't ready to do it in response to my own inner life.

That's fine; that need for catharsis is understandable and, as an artist, familiar territory. But what interests me is that, while I almost never go for a movie like Boys Don't Cry, I do crave release when I watch my low-brow stuff-blowing-up usual fare. But it's a different kind of release, in response to a different kind of emotional life: I want to get swept away in the adventure and the excitement of an experience that bears no resemblance whatsoever to my everyday life. In July, in the Lab, for some reason I craved the opposite - it's like I needed a sort of adrenaline drain.

So why is it that in one particular situation I craved a certain kind of catharsis, and in another I feel I need a different kind? I don't ask because I'm interested in parsing out the tangled layers of my psyche. I ask because, as a storyteller, I think it's interesting to take note of the different kinds of catharsis that a story can offer. And I wonder: If I can maybe understand better the kind of emotional release that is sparked by a Boys Don't Cry story, as opposed to a, say, a Die Hard story, if I could know more intimately why and when and how people crave release, maybe I could serve them better; maybe I could be a better artist.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Leaving on the Midnight Train. Or More Probably, an Early Morning Flight

This afternoon, I told my sister news which I've known to be true for almost a year, and still the telling of it made me want to double over and breathe into a paper bag.

Yes, I'm leaving New York.

That I am leaving New York has been common knowledge since I stepped foot on its concrete terrain; the idea of living indefinitely so far away from my family - especially my sisters, one of whom the self-same of the above conversation - was too difficult to even consider. I made never made any pretense about making New York my permanent home; I always knew eventually I would have to go back to the southwest, to them.

And that I am leaving soon - like SOON soon - is common knowledge among most of those close to me. Including - not that it mattered - my family:

And so, somehow, more than knowing the lease on my apartment is going to be up at the end of September, more than figuring out what to do with my cat, more than creating and systematically checking experiences off of a "New York bucket list," more talking frequently with friends and colleagues about what will happen "when I go back," this - giving my family if not an exact date then a fairly narrow range of when I'll return - makes it real.

Because, the thing is, everything else I can back out of. I can tell my friends here in New York that I changed my mind! I can find a new apartment on Craigslist! But I cannot, cannot tell my family I'm coming home and then not come home.

I've been avoiding talking about the move on this blog (and with many of my theater colleagues) for similar reasons. I want to pretend that all those shows that are coming up in the winter? I'll get to see them. And all those amazingly cool theater people I've met online and in real life? I'll get to work with them all.

But I won't. (At least not soon - there's nothing to say I won't ever come back for a project.)

I'm leaving the first week of October. It's time to make it real.

I'm excited to move to a smaller community and start putting into action some of the ideas about local theater than I've been reading about and ruminating on for the past year or so. But I'm also devastated (and maybe terrified?) to be leaving a place where the mind-blowing theatrical experiences and brilliant theater-makers and collaborators are infinitely at hand.

I'm feeling an immense pressure to make the most, artistically speaking, of the time I have left here. Which is somewhat difficult and paradoxical, given that I don't actually have a show that I'm working on. But I am still trying to make the most of it.

What am I doing? Well, first (and foremost, I suppose) I'm trying to organize a sort of weekly space for experimentation where directors can bring scenes they've been working on or ideas they've been hatching for work, or observation, or commentary from the group. The idea is in structure a bit like Flux Sundays but geared more for directors than playwrights. The motivation for creating this group is almost entirely selfish: I'm itching to explore some of the ideas and techniques I learned in the Directors' Lab for one, and for another, I still have this hatchling of an idea for a production of Taming of the Shrew that I want to play around with and see where it goes without actually committing to a production. And I want to do both these things with collaboration and advice of some of the people I've met in New York - those amazing and insightful artists I was talking about earlier.

Secondly, but not unrelated to the first, I, along with some other Lab alumni, have been noodling around with the idea of creating some sort of collective, a little along the lines of 13P to basically confront the problem that the only way emerging directors have to do work in the city is to self-produce, and to find an efficient way of offering producing support to one another. This is obviously less selfishly motivated, as I won't be around to see the fruits of my labors, but for some reason I can't quite explain, even to myself, it's really important to me to do this. To feel I had some hand in creating a more sustainable way for young artists like me to do their work - to think that I might have had this support if I stayed.

And then, of course, just seeing LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of theater. I'm determined to be so diligent that I will consider any week that I didn't see at LEAST one show, preferably two or three, a wasted week. This past week I saw Purple Rep's Ampersand at the NYC Fringe and the Drilling Company's Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.

So there it is. Guess it's real now.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

I saw Cowboys and Aliens last week at the drive-in movies in New Jersey. It was my first drive-in movie experience, and despite the beautiful immensity of the movie projected in front of dark shadows of trees from the encroaching forest, the fireflies jumping in the field beneath the screen, the soft underscore of crickets and cicadas, the cool air smelling like the mountains and summer, and the thrilling novelty of hearing the movie through our radio in the privacy of our own car -

I have to say I was disappointed.

I'm sorry, but Cowboys and Aliens just did not hold up to the awesomeness of the title. During the climactic action sequence, my companion turned to me and said, "How are you not in total suspense right now? A kid just stabbed an alien! And you're texting?" (Um, I was tweeting, thankyouverymuch.)

But no, I was not particularly invested, even at the penultimate moment. Despite being called COWBOYS and ALIENS, a name that just screamed of imagination, there was not much original about this movie. The characters were stock characters and (the worser sin, in my opinion) the aliens were stock aliens. Nothing unique or inventive or dimensional or developed about any of them. And the sad thing is, I don't think you even need both to have a good movie. You can have stock characters and interesting, original aliens, OR you can have rich, highly developed characters and standard, run-of-the-mill aliens, and the movie would still work. You would simply get, respectively, an alien movie with cowboys or a Western with aliens. (I wanted the latter, which why I mourn the loss of the good aliens more.)

Sadly, Cowboys and Aliens had neither. And you know what the REALLY sad thing is? This movie, this unoriginal, formulaic waste of a great idea, was written by five - count 'em, FIVE - people.

Which makes me wonder: is this the Hollywood equivalent of a a play that's overdeveloped until it has no teeth? It kind of smacks of another face of the same beast. At the same time, I really, really want to believe that had this been a play, at SOME POINT in the development process (as flawed as it may be) somebody would have said, your characters are all stock characters, there is nothing about them that makes me understand or identify with them as individuals at all, and your aliens are equally by-the-numbers and uncompelling. Right?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

That's Art For You (Richard Avedon, and Failure)

On Sunday afternoon a friend and I traveled out on a whim to the Nassau County Museum of Art. The museum is currently displaying the work of photographer Richard Avedon, much of which quite lovely and striking.

One particularly lovely and striking piece was this photograph:

Which, I think you'll agree, is pretty awesome.

Except that there was also a video presentation that provided information on Avedon's life and work. My friend and I happened to catch a portion of the video in which Avedon was recorded talking about this photograph:

"Every time I look at the photo," he said (I'm paraphrasing), "I don't know why I didn't pull the sash all the way out to the left to complete the line.

Because of that sash, to me, this photo will always be a failure."

To me, this photo will always be a failure. That's art for you, isn't it? You can create something as distinctive and beautiful as this picture is, and yet every time you look at it, to you, it's a failure.


(Oh, and, parenthetically -- the museum also featured a sculpture and photography exhibit by Robert Hite called "Imagined Histories," which had me completely capitivated - so creepy and haunting, like a memory from a childhood dream.)