Songs for the Struggling Artist


Gen X and the Deadly Virus

There’s an article about Gen X thriving in these pandemic times that came out back in March when the lockdown started and has been making the rounds again recently. I haven’t read it since it came out but I remember it as “We’ve been training to sit at home alone eating pop tarts our whole lives. We’re built for this!” If I remember correctly, it spoke to Gen X’s ability to stay home and keep ourselves busy. Our time to shine! At home! With pop tarts!

But I’ve been thinking about this and thinking about this silly tweet that the city of NYC put out last summer where they admonished Gen X for the numbers of cases going up, when it was clear that they did not know who Gen X was. Did they confuse Gen X with Gen Z? On the chart, Gen X lines were sharply going in the right direction. Gen X Covid cases were the lowest on the diagram. I haven’t seen a lot more evidence in this territory but anecdotally, it would seem that Gen X generally has not been hit quite as hard by Covid as other generations, both older and younger. If it’s true, I’m sure the reasons are complex. Maybe we have more of the kinds of jobs we can do from home. Maybe we’re in a weird safe age bubble. But I suspect that Gen X just, generally, does a pretty good job of staying the fuck at home. Why? Why do I think this?

I think we heard there was a deadly virus and the way to beat it was to stay home so we stayed home. You don’t have to tell Gen X how to beat a deadly virus twice. And I think the reason you don’t have to tell us twice is that we came of age during the AIDS epidemic.

When people talk about generational markers, I’ve heard lots of folks claim that the Challenger explosion was a big one for us. That seeing that space shuttle blow up while we watched in our classrooms left a generational imprint on us. And, sure, that was a terrible tragedy – but for me, the deaths of those astronauts didn’t have nearly the impact that the death of Ryan White had on me. I was twelve when the Challenger blew up and I was already terrified of a nuclear holocaust – but the Challenger seemed to me like a dangerous situation that led to a logical conclusion. Going to space seemed risky – of course you might die!

But Ryan White was a kid about my age who had AIDS and – while word on the street was he’d gotten it from a blood transfusion – there was still a lot of confusion about how a person might contract the awful disease that was shaking up the country. We sort of knew we couldn’t get it from touching someone – but we couldn’t be sure. And maybe kissing was dangerous? I mean, maybe not. Probably not. But it could be! And while Ryan White fought just to be able to attend school, I think my generation, or at least a percentage of my generation in the USA, had the bejeezus scared out of us.

It was quite some time before the facts came in on how AIDS was transmitted and I suspect, as a generation, a lot of our nihilism or cynicism is probably connected to our responses to the AIDS crisis. Some lived fast and died young. Some lived fast and survived. And a lot of us just stood off to the side and made fun of everything because that is a lot safer. We are Beavis and Butthead. We are Mystery Science Theatre. We are the footnotes in Infinite Jest. We are Daria. We are Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and in Heathers and in Reality Bites. Actually, we’re more like Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites. It’s not her story. She just makes fun of it. I mean, reality bites for us, in part, because we were formed by the presence of a deadly virus – so we are particularly primed for this new one.

That’s why you don’t have to tell us twice to stay home. That’s why we look at crowded gatherings of younger and older people and shake our heads.

You don’t see us out there trying to dodge the restrictions. We’re not throwing parties or “socially distanced” festivals that are really just people hanging out in pretty normal ways. We’re not going out to restaurants as soon as they open. We’re at home. Where science has told us it’s the safest place to be.

It’s not like Gen X folks are generally rule followers. Believe me, we are not. Dumb rules are made to be broken and we break them when it makes sense to. It’s just that when the rules are clear and clearly there to protect everyone – those are good rules and we follow the guidelines. (With some exceptions, of course. You can read about those here.)

Yes, we know how to stay home, entertain ourselves and eat pop tarts (though most of us don’t eat pop tarts anymore, I’d wager) but more than those things, we came of age in a moment dominated by a deadly disease.

I watched a few minutes of the Geraldo show from 1990 where he brought in the Club Kids from NYC’s night life and they were explicit about their fashion being a direct response to the AIDS crisis. They say something like, “We can’t have sex, so we wear crazy clothes.”

Before now, I didn’t think much about the impact AIDS had on Gen X but I do recognize that defending against an epidemic is a familiar feeling and it would explain why Gen X has been more vigilant, on the whole, than other generations. We have practice, actually. We came of age with a deadly virus. We will all try very hard not die of one now, having made it this far.

The Mona Lisa is not Gen X but she does have a very Gen X look going on over that mask.

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It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Snot Acting
January 13, 2021, 12:40 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process, movies, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m going to talk about snot today. I’ve been trying to formulate thoughts about this abhorrent coup attempt that just happened but snot is a lot less disgusting so I’m going with snot right now.

Why am I writing about snot? Well, I was reading an article about the best movie performances of 2020 and they were talking about Viola Davis’ work and said, “Davis has never been hampered by vanity, as past scenes of snot-dripping emotion attest.”

I have thoughts. Not about Viola Davis. (Aside from she’s amazing and we’re lucky to have her and she came from the stage so, also, we miss her.) I have thoughts about these kudos for snot acting.

Here’s the thing about snot pouring down an actor’s face when they’re crying. It is NOT a lack of vanity on an actor’s part. It is bait for awards. Because of responses like that article. It is, in fact, a kind of showmanship – an expression of pride in one’s ability to cry real tears and snot real snot. One might call that a sort of skill-based vanity. Or maybe it’s just something encouraged by those watching.

Anyway – the reason I am not impressed by it is that I have seen people cry in real life and have also cried myself, believe it or not, and real people generally do not let snot stream down their faces when they cry. Children do, up to a point – but grown-ass adults will almost never just sit somewhere with snot on their faces for minutes at a time. Likewise, most people watching someone cry are unlikely to just sit there watching snot drip all over their face without handing them a kleenex or a handkerchief.

To snot is human but only an actor will leave it there on their face as a sort of trophy of their tears. Most of us wipe away snot and tears when we cry. Not because we are vain or even ashamed but because….we just do!

Why do I care what those screen actors do to earn their awards? I don’t know. I suppose I chafe a little at the way actors on screen are praised for realism when things like snot acting are not, in fact, human behavior. It is a choice. Maybe it’s the actor’s choice, maybe it’s the director’s, maybe it’s the awards committees, maybe it’s a ploy for Oscars and Emmys – but it is a choice, a stylistic choice and I feel like it should be acknowledged as such. In my house, it’s become a performance category and we laugh every time we see it. While someone is acting their snot out, trying to show us tragedy or pain or something, we can’t help giggling and saying, “That’s some high-powered snot acting right there.”

I’m not saying an actor can’t snot on screen. If you’re crying and you snot, that’s normal – just, you know, treat it like you would if you snotted in real life. Pull out a kleenex or something. Use your sleeve! The back of your hand! Anything.


We don’t fetishize crying in quite the same way on stage so it’s not something I’ve encountered in the theatre. Actors crying on stage just try and clear their faces so they can keep acting. They’ll get it done any old way they can so the show can go on.

But on screen, they’re probably waiting for someone to call cut before they can deal with tears or snot or whatever on their faces.

Hey – being an actor ain’t easy. Crying for a living isn’t a walk in the park. I’m not trying to make it harder for folks. But critics and awards people might want to slow down their praise for snot acting or we are going to be looking at a lot of people’s snot for years to come.

You know what this crying girl in Pietro Rotari’s print would do if her nose started dripping? She’d use that handkerchief, of course!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me identify new trends of acting?

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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4,500 Teaching Artists (Predictably) Fall Through the Cracks
January 8, 2021, 8:02 pm
Filed under: art, education | Tags: , , , , ,

In the comments on the Gothamist article about 4,500 Teaching Artists losing work, someone said “Do you mean Art Teachers?” Here was a major publication addressing what was once my profession perhaps for the first time and the comments all suggested a complete and total lack of awareness of what the job was. One comment suggested all these out of work artists go join the army. Nice. Nice. And also hilarious. Can you imagine the guy at the recruitment office if 4,500 visual artists, musicians, actors, composers, directors, writers, filmmakers, puppeteers, dancers, cartoonists, choreographers, clowns and more (who can all teach killer workshops) showed up to join the army? That recruiter would not know what hit him. Believe me, 4,500 artists would not be a benefit to an organization that values obedience. If the organization was in the mood to shake things up, re-evaluate, maybe use their resources differently than, say, shooting people, then 4,500 artists might not be a bad idea. If you want an army of creativity instead of an army of soldiers, it’s genius – otherwise? Total disaster.

Anyway – I used to talk about teaching artist stuff quite a lot here on the blog, back before I quit doing it. I had a lot of worries about where the field was going and what was going to happen to the veterans of it as well as the new ones joining the ranks. I was worried about the professionalization of a profession that had no security. I was worried about people investing a lot of resources into programs to certify them that would never give them secure jobs or a safety net.


And here we are. I mean. Everyone is in crisis. Teaching Artists are not the only ones. A lot of Arts Administrators who had secure jobs don’t have them anymore, so it’s not just Teaching Artists in the Arts and Arts Education who are now in dire trouble.

But – most Teaching Artists I know were generally living right on the edge, picking up work when it was available, piecing together a living out of a class here and a workshop there. There is no net for most of them. They probably have no savings account nor a house they bought.

The thing I keep thinking about is how Teaching Artists were invented as a stop gap measure when the arts were cut in the 70s, here in NYC. With no actual arts classes in schools anymore, arts organizations stepped in to supply the one thing there is always an abundance of: artists – to teach at least a little bit of art in little chunks of time. It was not a solution. But decades later, it was what everyone was still doing and the stop gap measure grew and grew and no one complained because schools were getting world class artists for cheap, artists were getting flexible work that utilized their art making skills and organizations were raking in grant money. The job got more and more formalized and yet never more secure, with no benefits or guarantees of work, depending on the whims of a (rapidly) rotating cast of administrators. And the arts did not return to the public schools in a meaningful way. There wasn’t, say, recruitment from the Teaching Artist ranks to join the faculty at a school and be the drama teacher, the art teacher, the music teacher or run an arts program in-house.

Now the arts budget that brought Teaching Artists in and sent students to Broadway shows or to see the symphony or a museum have been reduced to almost nothing. There is almost no reason to bring a Teaching Artist into your Zoom classroom. The stop gap is now just a gap. The gap reveals all the ways this was all just built on sand. The degrees and certifications that people went into debt for to do this job, the job itself, the investment arts organizations made in these programs. It’s all just – gone. A part of me just wants to shout, “I told you so, I told you so!” But that would be a real jerk move given that everyone involved has probably lost their entire livelihood.

The thing is – if, instead of building these haphazard arts programs – the city had rebuilt its arts programming in schools, things would be a whole lot less precarious. It’s easy to let 4,500 artists fall through the cracks because they never really existed for the schools or even a lot of arts organizations. Not in a meaningful way. When I was doing this work, I had to consistently explain to multiple people who I was and what I was doing there just to get a key to be able to use the bathroom. That’s both in the schools and at some arts organizations I worked for. But what if, instead of a teaching artist doing a 12 day residency once a year, the school had a drama teacher? That person is a lot harder to get rid of. The people in the school would know their name and would at least throw them a party if they got fired. And the union would certainly have something to say about it, if it were a public school. I’m not saying I would have liked to have been a drama teacher. I 100% would not. Popping in once a week was exactly the right speed for me. But I know a lot of Teaching Artists who would have loved to be invited to teach in more secure circumstances, who would have appreciated the opportunity to get health insurance, a pension, etc.

I imagine there’s around 4,500 of them who would especially appreciate that now.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help keep me from falling through the cracks?

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Searching for the Seams

After I became obsessed with Cable Girls, Netflix suggested a show called High Seas (Alta Mar) to me. It was by the same team, I came to discover, and I was quickly hooked. (Sisters solving murders on an ocean liner in the 1940s? Are you kidding me? Yes, please!) I got curious about the making of this show after watching the third season in which a deadly virus was brought on board – like, is this timely by accident or on purpose? When did this air and who made it? (Aired 2020 – made in 2019. What?! And the thing that stretches the bounds of credulity the most is not the ghost, no, it’s how quickly they make a vaccine.)

This all led me to another earlier show made by the same team – Gran Hotel. It features actors from both the other shows I watched and it has been a very nice distraction from this pandemic world. It takes place in the early 1900s and features various fun encounters with such new technology as electric lights! Film! Gramophones! Fingerprinting for criminal justice! It’s not as full of women being fabulous together as the teams’ other shows but it does feature the Gold Knife Killer and a satisfying forbidden romance.

Anyway – I’m not here to sell you on a show from 7-9 years ago. It’s actually highly possible, depending on where you live, that you’ve already seen it. It was HUGE, folks. Aired around the world and re-made in Egypt, Mexico, Italy and France. There was even one here in the USA just last year! Did you see it? Probably not. They canceled it already.

Gran Hotel was a global phenomenon that I entirely missed before. And I found out about its global hit-ness when I went searching for an answer to a question that I didn’t really know how to ask.

See, the show is finely crafted. The production values are high. Think Downton Abbey in Spain. The acting and writing are artful and yet the episodes seemed to finish in the weirdest places. They seemed to have been edited by someone who’d never seen episodic TV before. I was trying to understand how a show that was so high level could have such clumsy endings. I started to wonder if my sense of what makes an episode was cultural. Like, does my desire for a cliffhanger or a button or a conclusion make me particularly American? I thought – maybe in Spain they film their TV like one super long movie and then just chop it up wherever.

But none of that seemed right. After all, I’d just watched two OTHER Spanish shows that shaped their episodes just the way I’d expect them to be shaped. There was something UP with these episodes and it was starting to bug me.

You know, an episode would seem to end mid-conversation. Or there would be an enormous jump in time 15 minutes into the episode. I had to know, so I risked the possibility of stumbling on spoilers to research and find out.

Do you have a guess about why this was happening? I feel like I should have guessed it but it was so weird, I did not come close. Here it is.

When the show was MADE for Spanish TV, the episodes were 70 minutes long. When Netflix put the show on its platform, it cut those episodes into 41-44 minute episodes. This makes for some very weird episodes, story-wise.

And I cannot get over this choice. Netflix has gotten a reputation among film and TV people for being supportive of artists, for fostering artistic growth, for diversifying the field. At least that’s what my reading of the Hollywood Reporter would have me believe. Didn’t they have some ad campaign about stories being first a while back? But it’s clear here, in the case of this global hit, that the story didn’t matter nearly so much as their optimal episode length. (If I ever pitch a show to Netflix, I will be sure to pitch 42 min episodes.) They clearly have the data on the length of a show that people watch the most and so they hacked Gran Hotel into that length – endings, cliffhangers and dramatic tension be damned. It is really something.

Now, as I’m watching the show, I find myself trying to piece together what the makers meant to do. Instead of just watching the show, I’m trying to work out where the seams are, where the original endings and beginnings might have been. I’ve considered trying to watch it at the show’s act breaks – like – stopping the episode where it would have stopped and watching through the breaks Netflix has clumsily inserted. But that’s a lot of trouble. Instead I find I just sort of watch as much as I feel like and note the real changes when I see them. Some of the shifts are so big, I can’t believe I didn’t realize this was happening before. Each time it happens I become more shocked that Netflix decided to do this.

I keep thinking of the editors that Netflix hired to hack up this show. There they are, the business of beginnings and endings and arcs in the middle being their very bread and butter, and they are tasked to turn it into chunks. It just feels like a vet hired to carve up horses for dog food. I imagine Netflix paid them well – but their souls! Their little editing hearts!

This 41-44 length must be almost a religious number for Netflix for them to have chosen to undertake this work. I mean – it is so much more complex than just cutting a 70 minute episode in half. That might actually be a bit less destructive, in that at least episodes would end well every other time. But 41-44 must somehow be so much more optimized than 35.

I’m sure they have all the data – the way 41-44 may lead people to binge watch more than 35 or 70 would. I start to question my own watching. Am I more inclined to watch something that is 41-44 min than 35 or 70? I might be. It’s long enough to feel like you’re getting into a story but short enough that just going ahead and watching another episode might be okay. I hate that I might be as predictable as anyone for Netflix’s optimized algorithm.

And I think of Cable Girls and High Seas, the two subsequent Spanish shows made by this team, and realized that they were made WITH Netflix so their length is Netflix-optimized already. And I imagine their storytelling had to adjust to this change as well. There is a sprawling relaxed quality to Gran Hotel that is very different from the later shows.

It is a disquieting experience to realize that around the world (literally, as Netflix is having a profound influence internationally) our viewing options are being optimized for Netflix’s algorithms. This makes me nervous. Like, what if a country has an extraordinarily long attention span? What if people raised on Indonesian shadow puppet shows that last all day are suddenly expected to create work in 41-44 minute chunks? Does this effect balloon out? Do podcasts aim for the 41-44 minute mark? (Actually I know the answer to this. No. They don’t. They aim for 20-25 minutes as most podcasts are listened to in the car and that is the average commute time.)

I’m just so troubled by a giant corporate entity with so much global power cutting up well crafted artistic work. In a way, I’d understand it if it were a Broadcast channel. If ABC wants to air the original Gran Hotel, it doesn’t have 70 minute time blocks. It would have to trim it to fit into the structure that they have. Because the news is always at 11 and everything has to fit into their schedule’s model. It sucks for the work – but I get it somehow. But Netflix doesn’t have the evening news coming on at 11. People are literally watching whenever they want. There are no restrictions. And yet they have made some. It feels like a weird and scary amount of power – to collect the data of the length of show people are most likely to watch and then not only make their shows to exactly that length but to even edit previously made work to fit these specifications.

I love that they’re bringing me the world. While stuck in my apartment during this pandemic, I have been to Spain at the turn of the century, at the dawn of the telephonic age, and on a transatlantic ocean liner, as well as a few seasons in the Weimar Republic in Berlin and witch-hunting in Italy in some mythical medieval past. That is all an enormous gift. Each gift has been between 41-44 minutes.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Is There a Gen X Aesthetic?
December 19, 2020, 7:03 pm
Filed under: age, art, Gen X, podcasting, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

Prior to my deep dive into Gen X-ery, I honestly didn’t think about our generation much at all. It was one of the last things I considered in my identity, particularly in my artistic identity. I have a very particular aesthetic and, I’m given to understand, an identifiable one, as well. I would have called that MY aesthetic, not a Gen X aesthetic.

Then the stats for my audio drama podcast (The Dragoning, listen wherever you get your podcasts) started to roll in and it was absolutely clear who my audience is for that. In case you can’t see this graphic, it’s a chart of listeners by age, where each column is a different collection of ages. To me, it looks like a hand with its middle finger extended and that middle finger represents people who are 45-59 – that is, most of Gen X. This has not shifted as time has gone by. The graphic looked the same when we had twenty listeners and now that we have 200. If I have a demographic for this podcast, it is clearly Gen X.

Meanwhile, on the podcast version of this blog, where I directly discuss matters pertinent to Gen X, my listeners actually skew quite a bit younger. The tallest column is people who are 28-34. They’re squarely Millennials. (Though surely not square, they’re my listeners, after all!) I have no idea why this is but it is so and has remained fairly consistent over the years.

This whole mystery of the Gen X middle fingers of taste has made me wonder if my artistic work is more Gen X than I thought and made me wonder, too, if there is, perhaps, an aesthetic that I’m a part of that I’m not even aware of. I mean, speaking generally, there are style choices that can be made that are obviously Gen X. If it’s got graffiti scrawled across it or if it looks like a John Hughes film or a video by Run DMC or Bananrama, or even if it just sounds loud and angry – those are some Gen X red flags right there. But I swear, as far as I know, I have inserted nary a Gen X cue in my podcast about women who turn into dragons. There isn’t a Nirvana or Digable Planets soundtrack. No one finds anything grody to the max. There is nothing obviously Gen X about it that I can see.

And yet. The middle finger of statistics suggest that it is a work for Gen X.

This makes me wonder if some of my struggles to find a foothold in many of my artistic exploits are a generational problem. Like, if my appeal is primarily to my generation and my generation is the smallest, and dwindling all the time, am I just dealing with a numbers problem? I have, historically, had a very hard time getting people to come to my shows. Gen X Theatre isn’t really a thing. Has never really been a thing. Yet here I am, a Gen X-er making theatre that maybe mostly appeals to Gen X and Gen X won’t come out of their apartments to see it. (In the times when there is theatre and we’re not supposed to be staying in our apartments, of course.) But it’s possible that Gen X WILL listen to a podcast, if they feel like it. If it’s for us.

I don’t know. Statistics are funny and could change at any moment – but I am so intrigued by this clear preference for this thing I made, among many things I’ve made. What about it specifically appeals to Gen X? Did I make an accidentally hyper Gen X world? Do we have an aesthetic? And is my aesthetic our aesthetic, too?

There are generational markers, for sure. Millennials have pink and the whoop. We have…I don’t know. Torn up black clothes? And Mix Tapes?
And maybe a dragon dystopic/utopian world I made up.

I find myself both baffled and interested.

Is there a Gen X aesthetic?

What is it?

Do I have it?

Do you?

Stats for The Dragoning

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help support my aesthetic?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



2020 Year in Review
December 13, 2020, 11:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I thought I should sum up this bananas year as I might want to remember what it was like for me, being all historical and everything. So I did a little month by month re-cap to finish out the year.

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Happy New Year! Cheers! It’s 2020! What a nice round number this is! Maybe this’ll be my year!
Twenty Twenty, so exciting.

Oh yeah, January and already things are looking up! I’m back in the rehearsal room, getting back on stage next month. It’s looking good.

Oh, February – the joys of being in a theatre full of people, pressed into a tiny dressing room with way too many actors and some unidentified randos, trying to warm up in small corners, whispering backstage so close to one another.

Oh hey, March – what’s up?
What? You want us to what?
But I can still take the subway to go see a show, right?
And hugging my friend is okay, right?

They wouldn’t shut down Broadway. They’ll never shut down Broadway.
Oh fuck, they shut down Broadway.
They shut us all down. No more theatre. Anywhere. Uhhhhhhhhhhh.

This is just a moment. It’s just a moment. We’ll be back to normal lickety split.
Let’s have those margaritas we were going to have in person on-line! So novel! So crazy, virtual drinking via Facetime.

And now it’s April and now the invitations to Zoom shows roll in. And they are all equally terrible, regardless of theatre size or reputation. Zoom is the great equalizer. Theatre on Zoom is not theatre and I should definitely write something about this but I can’t figure out how to because Zoom just fills me with existential despair, like every time, not just for theatre either. Why does every encounter with this app end with me in tears on the floor of the living room?

Tiny apartment. Tiny apartment. Terrifying trips to the grocery store. Walks past the freezer morgue trailers.

It’s May and the only thing keeping me going is my weekly on-line theatre watching “with” my friend via text and jigsaw puzzles. Thank goodness I have a silent scream practice.

June – Argggh! Arggh!

July – Arggh! Arghh! But outdoors. I’m staying at my friend’s place with grass and trees and flowers so it’s nice. But I’m on my own, which is good after being pressed together for so many months but also, I get so desperate for hugs that I start hugging trees.

August – Argh! Argh! It’s my birthday. I saw a friend. It’s my first time in 5 months. Also before I come back to the city, the power goes out for ten days from a Tropical Storm and I go full Laura Ingalls Wilder.

September – Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

October – Arghhhhhhhhhhhhh but colder and with Halloween decorations.

November – A one day celebration in the street on the day the election is called. A day of euphoria and a lot of cars blaring YG & Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT” – which frankly we should have been blaring for the last four years but it was very satisfying to hear everywhere on this day. In fact, it’s how I found out the election had been called. Our downstairs neighbor started playing it at top volume and then I heard some cheers and I knew what all that meant.
Later in the month, a neighbor has dressed his scary chainsaw wielding psycho dummy in a turkey suit and just like that Halloween décor becomes Thanksgiving décor.

December – Time to collect the year’s best into the yearly zine and sum it all up and it’s…argghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

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It’s been a brutal year. And we are the lucky ones, just by virtue of surviving it. May we all have a better year next time around. Thanks for keeping me company through it, lovely readers.

I searched the photo sharing sites for 2020 and it’s all happy new year images from last year. Ah ha ha ha! This one LOOKS like it’s someone hanging the moon up for a delightful two moon New Year’s Eve but I think we all know that the moon has some horrible moon disease and so this person has to take it down ASAP before the other moon catches it.

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Howard Dean Came for Gen X. It Did Not Go Well for Him.

Well, well, well. Would you look at that? Howard Dean decided to come for Generation X on Twitter. He claimed we were a moral shipwreck and as evidence, cited all such examples as the recent additions to the Supreme Court, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Well, yes, those people are all Gen X, sure. And Dean deleted the tweet after Gen X roasted him soundly – but of course, as your Gen X blogging source, I cannot let this go by.

Generationally, all the conservative dirtbags Dean namechecked, are kind of anomalies. They’re highly visible but they are also exceptions. They are the kind of exceptions the rest of us made fun of in high school. Like, seriously.

And I think it may be important to think about this systemically. Let’s take the two new (horrible) additions to the Supreme Court, who are, yes, Dean, I agree, moral shipwrecks. These two are not judges because they are exceptional jurists. They were groomed, from the get-go by the Federalist Society, when these two shipwrecks were young (unpopular) conservatives.

As a Generation, we pretty roundly rejected these sorts of people. They’re corporate tools, lame, uncool posers who we would never invite to our parties. Also, Brett Kavanaugh was a creep who would definitely drink all your beer.

But you know who DID invite these people to their parties? Conservatives in your generation, Howard Dean, and the generation before yours. These folks were welcomed and trained and welcomed and made to feel like conservative kings. They were raised up, supported, given mentoring and jobs. And here we are, with these lame corporate tools in office and on the Supreme Court.

There was no one doing this on the left, Howard Dean. There were no lefties welcoming passionate leftist politicos when we were young. No one was waiting anxiously for Rashida Talib to grow up so they could give her a judgeship. I’d wager no Young Democrats association gave Ayanna Presley a scholarship. No one escorted Julian and Joaquin Castro to the Yale Club to get them some funding.

If you don’t see a lot of leftie Gen Xers, Howard Dean, it’s a) because you’re not looking, because I just named four of them and b) because leftie Gen X-ers were left to fend for themselves. We are, in fact, famous for this skill at fending for ourselves. We were known as the Latchkey Generation for a while before Gen X stuck as a name. Leftie Gen X has always been pretty anti-establishment but if anyone had bothered, I bet we could have organized. We’re a bunch of Billy Bragg fans. We’d fight for the union. If conservative Gen X is more visible, more morally repugnant, more famous, it is because older generations boosted them up the ladder in a way that they never did for more liberal Gen X, who are, I think, in the majority.

You made this moral shipwreck, Howard Dean. You did. You were in a position to lead and support and mentor Gen X and you let it slip by and so we are left with a bunch of Gen X corporate tools in positions of big power, that none of us would let in to our parties. You could try to blame us, the way conservatives try to blame the kids who didn’t befriend the kids who became school shooters. Like maybe we should have been nicer to those sociopaths in high school – but ultimately – the lure of money and power would have won them. Even if someone had given Amy Coney Barrett a punk make-over, it would not have been as powerful as the internships, the scholarships and the job that the Federalists had in mind for her.

There is no Generation that is as obsessed with cool as Gen X. Every Gen X-er was judged by how cool or not cool they might be. Would you say Ted Cruz was cool? How about Amy Coney Barrett? Is she cool? Brett Kavanaugh? Cool guy? Not by our standards, my friends. These are not cool people, Howard Dean. They are not the best of our generation and the fact that you think they represent us, suggests to me, Mr. Dean, that you don’t know us at all. You may know our might now that you’ve come for us. I don’t know what my generation mates may have said to you on Twitter to get you to delete your tweets and back down but I know it must have been fierce. Gen X is cool like that.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Brilliant Theatre and the Pit

If you don’t work in the arts, it might be hard to understand why a really brilliant piece of work might make someone more depressed than a bad one. Sometimes, I find it baffling, as well. I mean, bad theatre can be instructive and liberating, if also infuriating, when you realize that it is not the quality of something that brings all the funders to the yard. And good theatre usually checks a box for me. I see something that was good and I say to myself, “That was good. What excellent work everyone did. I might steal that bit they did with the plates one day.” But a brilliant theatre piece has the power to move me, to make me weep and/or laugh and then, not long after it’s over, drop me in the pit of despair. This is particularly likely to happen when the brilliant piece in question is close to my interests or skillset or aesthetic. The more it feels like something I might have made if I had the resources, the more likely I am to end up in a deep hole that I have to write things like this to dig my way out of.

This doesn’t happen very often. There are not a lot of shows that have the proximity to my aesthetic to trigger a trip to the pit but lately, due to the on-line access to work I’d not have otherwise seen, there have been a few. The most recent one was Emilia. It was available to watch on-line and I leaped at the chance to finally see a show I’d heard a lot about. And it was all that the hype suggested. It was expertly crafted, written, staged, performed, designed – all of it. It was created by a team of extraordinary women and flawlessly executed by a cast of women. It was a feminist theatre maker’s dream come true.

As a feminist Shakespearean, I have been waiting for this show all of my life. It’s so aligned with my values and aesthetics, I could have written it. And that, my friends, is where the pit starts to slide open. Because I have written in this weird feminist classical theatre lane my whole writing life. Like, my WHOLE WRITING LIFE. I started writing my first play while working for a Shakespeare festival and it was inspired by one of the plays I was performing in. This is my lane. I veer out of it occasionally but I started as a classical actor and it is always in there somewhere.

I don’t want to diminish what the writer of Emilia has done by saying I could have done it but I have come somewhat close and given the chance, I think I could have made something quite similar in spirit, energy and focus. But I wasn’t given the chance and I could not have conceived even anything near it on my own. And this writer didn’t have to create this piece on her own. She was commissioned by The Globe. She was given a team and a production. Circumstances placed her in their awareness and moved them to select her for this idea about the poet Emilia Bassano Lanier. And they were right to select her. She did an amazing job. It is a truly glorious piece of work. There are some parts of it where I thought, “That shouldn’t work” but then it absolutely did, even when I could have given you ten reasons it shouldn’t have. It was expertly done. I say this to you from the bottom of my pit.

This morning I was listening to the podcast made by some theatre makers I have long admired. It is a series of interviews with the Artistic Directors of Cheek by Jowl and today it was a moment with Declan Donnellan that kindly reached me down at the bottom of my pit. He was talking about ways to harm an artist. The first was to “absolutely criticize and rubbish the artist’s work.” The more harmful method was “to totally ignore the artist’s work. It’s more passive aggressive and it’s more silent and deadly.” For the most part, the world has been entirely indifferent to my feminist classical theatre. Like, entirely.

Some days I feel that indifference more than most and ironically, the play Emilia is actually about that very thing. It is the story of a woman more or less forgotten by history. (Though not entirely, of course, otherwise there’d be no one’s history to imagine!) It is a story of battling to be heard, acknowledged, respected and recognized. It is a story I saw myself in in a way I have never seen before and I wept through it in really weird places because of that strange recognition.

The play’s marketing features many famous women proclaiming their identification with the title character. There are videos of them all saying, “I am Emilia.” And they are. They are, more than me, because these famous women have some name recognition. They have achieved some kind of notoriety in the public eye. Will history remember them? Only time will tell. But for now – certainly a lot more people know Caitlin Moran’s name than know mine. And I don’t want to be Caitlin Moran. I admire her work but I wouldn’t want to be anyone but myself. I am not Emilia either, grateful though I am for her story.

I am wrestling with myself, in my pit, over the joy I felt watching the show and the abject misery I feel at the unlikelihood of ever receiving the kind of opportunities that would allow me to make something like it.

The difference between watching an amazing show I wish I’d made in my 20s, and watching an amazing show now, is that in my 20s, I could imagine a future in which I could make or be a part of the inspiring thing I saw. Here in my 40s, I understand more about how things work and once again reckon with the unlikelihood of such resources becoming suddenly available for me. And in to the pit I go.

It’s not just that I’ve become more cynical over the years (though that has certainly happened) it’s that I have a pretty thorough understanding of how the theatre has worked in the past and will likely work again when we get it back. Which is why, intellectually, I know, that despite my time in the pit, this show is nothing but good news for me. I know that it opens up a space and a pattern that will make space for so many women in the future, including me. The fact that Emilia was a giant hit and had a successful popular run at a West End Theatre is very good news for any future feminist plays, for any future modern classical works. If that way becomes more open now, it is good news for a woman who has been busy writing such things for years. My brain knows that very well. But it is not just my rational optimistic brain here in the pit with me.

The less optimistic part of my brain is overwhelmed by the obstacles that stand in the way of my ever receiving such an opportunity. They are things like: the country I live in, the country I was trained in, the accidents of mentorship, the relationships that place one in the right place at the right time, the development of one’s work in a context wherein it can grow, one’s proximity to the pipeline.

There’s been a lot of talk of the pipeline ever since that panel discussion where an artistic director defended not producing women’s work because women were not in the pipeline. The pipeline sounds like it’s just a supply line that women need to find their way into but it’s so much more than a stream that leads to production. The pipeline is where you went to school and when. It is the internships you could afford to do and the debt you could afford to take on. The pipeline is who you happened to room with at summer camp.

But the pipeline is also much more subtle stuff than just who you know. It can go as for back as a childhood. I watched the TED talk of a much-admired choreographer, and he mentioned how his childhood dance teacher told him, when he was goofing around, that he was really a choreographer. And so he became one, one who was encouraged and affirmed at every stage, one who likely walked into his first rehearsal of his first piece with no question of his right to be there. If you’re not busy defending your right to do what you do at every turn, you sure can get a lot more art made. That’s when the way is paved for you, so you can travel with confidence without running into lots of bumps. That’s the real pipeline.

One of the things that feels complex about being an artist in a marginalized group of any kind is that it can be really easy to blame any lack of success on the prejudice that limits so many. It is better to blame sexism and economic prejudice than to blame myself. I can always assume it was sexism that closed the door for me. With a show like Emilia in the mix, I can celebrate that sexism does not always win – but it also complicates my narrative about why so few people care about my theatrical work.

I got an extraordinary thrill from feeling represented in Emilia but I fear that I am not Emilia like all those famous women. I’m not the character who stormed the stage to take her rightful place. I’m not the one who had her poems published, before becoming a footnote in men’s history books. Not yet anyway.

But I will try to access my twenty something self who still had hope of making brilliant things on stages like that and listen to my more optimistic brain and I will pull myself out of the pit to write another something, even if those somethings are never seen by anyone. A world with Emilia in it is more likely to have space for me in it than the world without it ever did. And, of course, if I have to, I am fully prepared to, as Emilia says to startling effect at the end of the show, “burn the whole fucking house down.”

possibly an image of Emilia Bassano Lanier

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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It’s Really Nothing
November 23, 2020, 10:30 pm
Filed under: TV | Tags: , , , , , ,

On the latest season of Pose, a group of the women go to a beach house. The star of the show stays out late and when she comes home at dawn, there’s a shot of her opening the gate from the beach to the house and despite the brilliance of the rest of the show, it is this moment I cannot stop thinking about.

Why? Because the gate has a Magna Latch on it. This is a lock that you have to lift at the top to release the gate. It does not look like others locks. I first encountered one at the gate of my friend’s pool and I swear I stood there for ten minutes trying to figure out how to get in before my friend came to rescue me.

This was only a few years ago.

I don’t know if it’s just that I run in different circles than places that usually have Magna Latches but to me, it was a marvelous modern invention.

So when this lock showed up at the beach house on Pose, I had a relationship with it, I fully expected Blanca to be as baffled as I was by the magna latch but instead she just lifted up the top and walked right in as if she’d been unlatching gates like this all her life.

But I think the likelihood of a character born and raised in the Bronx, who had never been to the ocean before, being familiar with a magna latch is almost impossible. This character, like me, when confronted with a magna latch, wouldn’t have had immediate facility. It felt like a false note in the show when she just popped it open.

Additionally, these locks were invented in the early 90s when this show takes place, so even if this house was at the vanguard of latch installation, it would be unlikely that a woman from the projects would have knowledge of them.

Does it matter? I don’t know. I can imagine in the moment of filming it made sense to get a shot of her opening the gate and being done with it. Maybe MJ Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, had seen many magna latches before and just opened the gate and walked in, cut, print, next scene. In the world of filming, speed is of the essence and probably no one was worried about the authenticity of a gate lock. They probably didn’t think it mattered.

But it mattered to me. It took me right out of the show and then I kept thinking about it, this detail that didn’t matter at all – but somehow did. I thought of it every time I lifted the magna latch when I returned to my friend’s pool where I first encountered it. I suppose it concerns me because it makes me think of all the details I brushed aside when I’ve made things, the details I was sure no one would notice, the trivial moments I just let go. What this experience showed me is how there’s always someone who will notice, for whatever reason.

I also can’t help trying to imagine how I would have solved this if I were making this show – and I think it’s as simple as just skipping the gate opening shot. I’d show her approaching the gate and cut to her walking in. No encounter with modern gate technology necessary. It could have been easily solved. But maybe everyone on the team had extensive magna latch experience and could not imagine a person who might be baffled by it. Or maybe they had no experience of that latch at all and so their brains just glossed right over it.

None of it matters. The show is great regardless – but I’m pretty sure they’d have preferred me think about it for different reasons than an anachronistic gate lock. Feel free to contact me with all future magna latch consulting issues.

This is a magna latch. Do you know how it works? Also, I stole this image from a fencing company. I’m linking back to them with some hopes that it somehow makes up for the theft. But weirdly, there weren’t any images of magna latches on the photo sites!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The S*** My D*** Party
November 15, 2020, 10:57 pm
Filed under: American, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Warning: Extreme crude-ness witnessed on the street which led me to explore the extreme crude-ness and expand upon it. Be forewarned. There is one crude phrase in this and you’re going to see it a lot.

The day they called the election for Joe Biden, (What are we calling this day, by the way? It wants a name, the way there was V day.) I ended up at the spontaneous party on a random corner. People danced. They cheered. They clapped. They shouted exuberantly at passing cars that honked their horns in reply. The street was vibrating with joy. It was an ebullient wonder to behold and participate in.

Then suddenly, from up the block, came a man shouting angrily. He shouted “suck my dick” over and over again as he walked straight into the heart of the festivities. I heard him before I saw him and was surprised to discover a young Latino man where I had expected an old white one. Why was THIS man so mad at the celebration of the triumph of democracy in the street? How could a young man whose interests and family would likely have been destroyed by Trump’s party be drawn to them and mad about the defeat? What could the appeal possibly be for him?

And that’s when I realized that a man who shouts “suck my dick” as he walks down the street is, of course attracted to the “suck my dick” energy of the current manifestation of the Republican party. He’s into the “suck my dick” GOP. He likes the combative, inappropriate, rude, rule breaking vibes. He likes a president who’s open about sexual assault. Grabbing women “by the pussy” is part of the appeal. He likes Senators who make up new rules and break them after they make them. Those senators might not actually SAY “suck my dick” after they flout all the rules but they have HIGH “suck my dick” energy.

Oh, the country needs relief from a Global pandemic? Ha ha. Suck my dick. At eight months before, it’s too close to the election to confirm a Supreme Court justice. Suck my dick, Merrick Garland! And now, eight days before the election, we’ll just go ahead and confirm this patriarchal handmaiden that hardly anyone actually wants in the position because – Suck My Dick! Voting Rights? Suck my dick! Equal justice under the law for everyone? Suck my dick! Medical personnel need PPE? Suck my dick! Democracy? Suck my dick.

The yelling guy at the party is attracted to the cruelty and nihilism of the toxic waste dump of masculinity we’ve been living in. He doesn’t know what nihilism is, of course – but he recognizes “suck my dick” energy when he sees it. I have really been struggling trying to understand how so many people could vote (AGAIN!) for the walking violation in office and somehow this kid who wanted a street full of happy people to suck his dick, and not in a fun way, has shown me what’s at play for a lot of people.

The clues have been there. All the talk of joy at liberal tears and derisive laughter at tragic family separations and covid deaths? It’s all just “suck my dick” at its heart. I didn’t want to believe it. I don’t like to think of my countrymen as being purposefully cruel, even when they are racist and sexist and terrifying. But I think, if it’s not all of them, it’s an awful lot of them. An awful lot. They see us having a good time, enjoying each other in all our beautiful diversity and they just want to shout at us to suck their dicks.

They look around and they find a group of people and a political party where that sort of behavior is not only tolerated, but is celebrated and so they band together and have a good time leaning into insulting and attacking all the people they find fun to hate. That’s what binds them together. It’s the suck my dick grand old party and it can’t be nowhere near as fun as the party on the street, but somehow it appeals to them.

What I am comforted by, though, was how, on the day the election was called, the party on the street responded to this guy shouting. That is, it didn’t. The party took absolutely no notice of Mr Suck My Dick. No one gave him even a look. Mr. Dick wanted a fight and absolutely everyone was too busy enjoying the day to notice him at all. He passed through the party like a wind and was gone. I hope the entire Suck My Dick GOP passes similarly.

The spontaneous party felt like this but was not quite this starry.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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