Songs for the Struggling Artist


Charmed Again
February 21, 2020, 12:05 am
Filed under: TV, Witchery | Tags: , , , , ,

You may remember that I owe a debt of gratitude to the show Charmed. When I last wrote about it, the new Charmed, the reboot, had not yet come out. I had no idea if I would like it or hate it or if it would make me miss the old one too much.

Turns out. I love it. Is it great TV? Nope. Just like the old Charmed, there’s a soapy quality that prevents it from being really great. It’s on the CW and it feels like the network sort of automatically layers everything with a teen soap opera varnish, much like the WB tended to do back in the day. But I love it. I don’t know if I love it in spite of the varnish or because of it but I love it.

Does the show take some totally nonsensical turns between and during the seasons? Yep. (Why do they suddenly live in Seattle instead of the mythical college town they were in? Why did they lose all their powers that they just got only to get new ones? New location? New powers?) I don’t care, though. I really don’t. I find the show incredibly comforting, even as the Charmed Ones face apocalyptic circumstances every week. There’s something about watching those three young women defeat evil over and over again that makes me feel less hopeless about the state of the world. If Macy, Mel and Maggie defeat an evil demon cult, then maybe we can defeat the forces of darkness out here.

Contrast that to my absolute anxiety while watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where there has been nary an evil demon cult, not even once. The problems that Mrs. Maisel faces are real life ones, the cheery optimist getting a comeuppance type ones, and having had a few of those myself, it does not make me feel comforted to watch Midge get her metaphorical ass beat at a theatre. But the Charmed Ones kicking high stakes demon ass is very relaxing. There are a few jump scares every now and then but I can easily recover and rest easy at night knowing the only real drama in The Charmed Ones’ lives is their relationships and I have very little invested in whether Maggie gets back together with Parker or not. I’m pretty sure I felt similarly about the Leo/Piper relationship on the original Charmed (though I may have had some feelings about the Phoebe/Cole storyline). I care about the demon fighting mostly.

Sidebar – the first season was rather delightfully woke. An MRA guy got punched in the face in the first episode and I was HERE for that. They’ve stepped away from the overt feminism this season (is it because they’re in Seattle now?) and I miss it – but they’re still kicking ass, so, fine. The show is definitely not made for me. I’m the age of the guy who played the father on the show and stories about frat parties and such are of zero interest to me, nor were they of interest when I was their age, frankly.

In my search to figure out what happened between Seasons 1 and 2 that made them seem so different (answer: new showrunners) I discovered that there had been some controversy at the beginning among some of the original Charmed Ones actors. A couple of them were upset about the reboot and fans got a #StopCharmedReboot hashtag going – which could be a little bit racist, given that the new Charmed Ones are Latinx so #Yikes. But I suppose I understand why some of the original Charmed Ones might feel insulted and put out to pasture. Why can’t we have middle aged witches? I mean, seriously, why can’t we? I think they felt as though they were being replaced. But honestly – given that the different versions of Charmed don’t seem to operate in the same universe – they could easily co-exist and heck, I don’t see why we couldn’t have them both.

We can have the middle aged witches, who don’t spend nearly as much time at the P3 club as they used to and whose romantic drama just isn’t that dramatic anymore, and these new young witches as well.

Then maybe one day we could have a little crossover and instead of the witches getting their advice and support from a male authority whitelighter, they could consult with each other.

Or maybe we could have baby Charmed where really young witches are taught by the previous two generations of Charmed Ones. We’ll call it Charmed School. Did I just pitch a show? Checks payable to me, please. It’ll be so relaxing to watch when those child Charmed ones start kicking child demon asses.

Photo of the Charmed Ones by ColliderVideo – ‘Charmed’: Melonie Diaz, Sarah Jeffery and Madeleine Mantock on The CW Reboot via WikiCommons

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What I’m Built For
February 16, 2020, 1:54 am
Filed under: art, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The experience of being back onstage after many years away has not been quite what I expected. I’m not getting the major highs or the “Do they like me?” lows. The major feeling is a sense of being built for it. In performing again, I feel a sense of relief at doing what I’m built for. It’s a strange feeling actually, because I have largely set acting aside to focus on other lanes of theatre, as well as other arts – and to suddenly realize how much I am still made for performing is disruptive.

It’s like I’ve realized I’m one of those Lego kits that are designed to make one thing. I’m the set that makes, say, a helicopter and when I’m in helicopter form, it all makes sense. I know what those blade pieces are for and where all the window panels go. It all goes together. Like just your regular Legos, you can put the Legos in a set together in unexpected ways, but really, they’re created to do one thing. The Legos in a helicopter set are built to make a helicopter.

It occurs to me that when I’m doing other things – things like writing or directing or podcasting or whatever – I’m still a helicopter set. I’ve just rearranged the Legos into some other form. The blades aren’t helicopter blades, they’re swords or skis or something. I’m just a deconstructed helicopter. I’m an abstract helicopter. I’m a director, sure, but I’m a director made out of performer Legos.

There’s something unsettling about realizing how built for performing I am, how much of a helicopter. It makes me wonder if I ought to return to it. Should I get headshots taken? Start combing Backstage again? And yet – as built for performing as I am – as much of a helicopter I am – I am not built for the business of performing. It’s like, I’m built to be on-stage and in a rehearsal room but not built for any of the mechanisms that get actors there. I’m a helicopter – for flying through the air of performance and rehearsal – but auditioning and marketing all take place under water and I am not a submarine Lego set. My helicopter set doesn’t rebuild for submarine shapes. Those blades that serve me as a helicopter cause big trouble on the submarine.

I learned I wasn’t a submarine a long time ago – but I’d forgotten how natural it is to be the helicopter I was built to be. It is easier to be a helicopter in helicopter form than to be the creatively put together expressionist helicopter in some other form.

I think this is probably true for many artists – that there are things we are built for – and even if we do other things, we are still made for the art. Most actors are built to be actors and even if they quit, because they’re not submarines or whatever, they’re still actors – just an actor Lego set in a lawyer form.

What I’m pointing at here is something much more fundamental than enjoyment. I feel like – outside of the arts – people think we do these things because they are fun and we enjoy them. Sometimes that’s the case, sure – just the way a pilot sometimes finds it fun to fly a plane – but doing something you’re built for is not as simple as doing something you enjoy. It’s feeling like all your pieces align into the thing you were made for. Sometimes it’s not even fun. But when you’re a helicopter Lego set, that blade is to get you off the ground. Each piece is there for a purpose – and that is to fly.

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Beautiful People Wearing Glasses

We were watching a streaming show wherein one of the heroes wore glasses. He looked like a model but they dressed him like a nerdy bad boy, in dark framed glasses. We cracked up every time his glasses came off. “Who’s that hunk? Where did that hunk come from? There was a nerd there a minute ago!”

And then he’d put the glasses on and we’d say, “There he is! He’s back! But where did that hunk go all of a sudden?”

We could play this hunk/nerd game all day. It never got old. (The show did, though. We gave up in the middle of the second season.)

In film and TV, they do this all the time. They cast someone preternaturally beautiful and throw some glasses on them to make them seem smart. Occasionally, if the actor is gunning for an Oscar, the beautiful actor will also gain or lose some weight and have a make-up artist make them look normal. Or even a little ugly. But for the most part, our screens are full of extraordinary attractive people pretending to be normal.

I started to think about this after reading a Hollywood Reporter piece featuring Charlize Theron talking about the box women had to be careful not to get stuck in at the start of the careers. It’s the beautiful woman box, where you just play girlfriends and wives and try and stop your man from doing that dangerous bank heist or whatever. And I am very sympathetic to that box and how demoralizing the trap of it must be. But it made me think about how few people could even qualify to be in the box that they need to break free of. I mean, Charlize Theron is stunning and also incredibly talented but it is her stunningness that opened the door to the box in the first place. She resisted the box from the beginning and took on roles where she did a lot besides standing there looking stunning. I admire her work and her choices.

But I was thinking about how rare it is in America to see just normal looking actors in leading roles. Take Monster – the film in which Theron plays a serial killer. For that film to be made, it needed someone like Theron to do it. It would have never happened with an unknown normal looking woman. For the American cinema to recognize acting, it seems to require an unusually beautiful person looking less beautiful. It is the nerd glasses on the Vogue model.

Is that a hunk or a nerd? Oh it’s a hunk acting like a nerd! Give that man an Oscar!

And you know, film and TV are not my medium – very possibly because of this quality in most of it – but it also happens in theatre, which is my medium.

I recently heard about a group of a young people auditioning for agents in order to get some feedback from the professionals and apparently most of the discussion was about the appearance and sartorial choices of the young actors. This is absurd. Acting is one of the few jobs that exist in which someone else makes those choices for you. Not many jobs will design your costumes, hair and make-up. This is one of them. Whether or not an actor wears heels or a skirt or glasses or whatever to an audition is of no consequence to the work, to assess those choices is to worry over the plate at a cake tasting contest. And yet it continues to happen and actors are selected for work (often by gatekeepers and middlemen) based solely on whether or not they can afford an expensive haircut or a well-fitted suit. It also selects for the surprisingly beautiful, just like film – despite the fact that folks beyond the first few rows will not really see the details of their faces.

The people who can get into that beautiful person box are few and it means that the exciting variety of humanity is rarely seen on screen or on stage. It’s a real shame.

I wouldn’t mind beautiful people playing ugly people if ugly people also got a chance to play, not just ugly people, but beautiful people, too. It’d be great if anyone could play anyone – but we are so far away from that reality. I think of Scarlett Johansson saying she should be able to play anyone after she drew criticism for taking on non-white characters and a trans man. I mean, in another world, sure. Play anything. In a world where a trans man has as many opportunities to perform as a preternaturally beautiful white woman, she COULD play anything she wanted. But we really don’t live in that world.

I’ve got no beef with preternaturally beautiful people. Preternaturally beautiful people are people too and deserve to be as free from the box as anyone. But we need to see more than beautiful people all the time. Let a nerd in a show be an actual nerd for a change, not a hunk wearing glasses. Let the frumpy librarian be a frumpy person, not just Charlize Theron wearing glasses with her hair up in a tight bun.

It’s a good thing I find the hunk/nerd game entertaining because I fear I will continue to have a lot of occasions to play it unless we see a real radical change.

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The Other Currency in Theatre Economics
February 4, 2020, 1:07 am
Filed under: advice, Creative Process, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

When I write a new play, I’ll usually gather a group of friends together, give them wine and snacks and we’ll read it. It’s a great way for me to hear what’s on the page and for us all to see one another. Every time, someone says, “We should do this more often.”

Because a large portion of my network has largely left town to go raise their kids or whatever, I am always trying to add new people. Those people will go on to be the people I recommend when asked for actors. They’ll become the people I ask to join me if/when I get stuck into a bigger project. Fundamentally, it’s a way to get to know one another in a low stakes, pleasant, creative atmosphere – which is, of course, the way I like to work. It’s not a financial transaction. I make it clear I can’t pay anyone and people self select for the experience.

I am not alone in this sort of methodology. Almost no writer has the resources on their own to fund a paid developmental reading in a living room. And even if they could, there are reasons not to. Those reasons have to do with the alternate currency that flows alongside money in the making of theatre – and possibly in the other arts as well. The alternate currency is essentially Good Will and it is just as easily lost and gained as money. It’s not explicit but it can make all the difference in the world between getting a gig and not.

I started to think about this when I invited an actor to join me for one of these living room readings. They said they were interested but that they could no longer do things for free and would need some sort of payment. This message made me feel bad. It also means that I will never approach that actor again – first, because they made me feel bad and second, because they clearly do not understand a fundamental truth about the theatre business.

Now, let me pause to say that I am a fierce advocate for artists getting paid. I am sympathetic to the need for money and a desire to be paid for your work. I understand that there are a lot of people out there trying to avoid doing the right thing and I know that sometimes folks have to agitate to be valued. The need for money prevents artists from being able to do their work and if their art is not paying them, then they lose double. But I actually do fight to pay artists on every rehearsed project I do. I am transparent about what is possible, that I will fight to pay them and then I do. That’s just policy. It’s important. I do try like hell to put my fundraising money where my mouth is.

But – that said – a thing like a living room reading is not really part of that stream of economics. A living room reading is for social currency. It’s for building good will. Instead of running auditions, we can get to know one another in a creative context and relaxed social setting. The actors have done me a favor by showing up and reading the words I wrote down and I will return it the next time someone asks me if I know any actors who are a real pleasure to work with.

Conversely, if someone asked me if I knew the actor I invited who asked to be paid when I’ve explicitly said there was no money, I’d tell them that story since that’s all I know.

The sad thing about this is how this talented actor will never know this. As my friend said, they “probably read one of those books or listened to one of those entrepreneur gurus who told them to VALUE THEMSELVES and NEVER WORK FOR FREE and now they’re making their stand at a living room soiree read, where are all they’re doing is shooting themselves in the foot. Nobody pays for these things. No one. Tony winning actors read my stuff for free all the time. Only the novices don’t know that the building up of these experiences is how you actually have a career.”

I’m not sure I knew this back when I was acting. I very possibly could have made similarly self-defeating stands back in the day. Maybe I lost gigs because I didn’t understand what things were social currency and what were for literal currency. I wish someone had explained it to me. I wish someone had explained it to this actor. Actors get caught up in the world of agents and casting directors and can end up worrying only about who can get them an agent. They don’t realize that agents and casting directors can’t give them a job. Writers and directors give actors jobs. Agents exist to introduce you to writers and directors who are putting on shows.

Would you rather spend two minutes in front of a director whose eyes are getting blurry after seeing two hundred actors at an audition or three hours with them, doing a whole play and chatting over wine? I know which one I’d choose.

Is it all gold? No, of course not. You might have to turn up at 100 crappy readings before you find good work or people who you hope to work with in the future. But today’s writer of a crappy play, might be tomorrow’s writer of a hit play or TV series or whatever. You don’t know.

The not knowing is why the social currency is not as simple as the economic currency. It’s not transactional. It’s not quid pro quo. It’s not like, “You read a play for me, I recommend something for you.” And it’s not even like putting money in a special currency bank. It’s more like growing a garden of wildflowers than anything. You have to scatter the seeds in a wide variety of places in a wide variety of conditions to allow for the possibility of some growth. You don’t know what kind of seeds they are or what they need to grow, you don’t know if they need wet or dry soil – so you just need to scatter those seeds far and wide. Showing up at things like readings are a way to scatter those seeds. A guy who read a play in my living room a few years ago just had his face on the side of a giant building on 42nd Street for his hit TV show. Those things have nothing to do with one another, really, aside from the fact that I know how widely that actor scattered those wildflower seeds.

Life in the theatre may seem short and transient but if you’re lucky, it’s long and full of unexpected connections. The relationships you nurture now may have surprising results later in life. There are many people I never would have thought would find success but did (and vice versa, of course). The more you care for and develop relationships now, the more likely those people will be to go out on a limb for you or fight to have you be part of their payday gig. This is why you don’t fight for $25 from writers and directors now – so that they’ll fight to have you for much more than $25 in the future. You want your voice to be in a writer’s head, you want your cadence to be the cadence a director imagines when she envisions the show on Broadway or wherever. The writer and the director are the people who could, in the future, give you a job. People pay agents and casting directors to audition in front of them but those people cannot hire you. They can only put you in front of a writer or director who can hire you. Why not skip the middle man, read a play, drink some wine and show up as a hero for someone who might get you a gig in the future. You might not end up with your picture on the side of a building, but you’ll hopefully have a good time and meet some nice people.

That’s the best thing about theatre, really. If you’re missing the social currency, you’re focused on the wrong currency. Even the most successful writer who’s auditioning actors for their hit show still wants people who like them or their show enough to want to do it for free. At that point, of course, no one’s doing it for free anymore but beginning with social currency is always a good idea, even in the paying world. Have snacks with writers. Have wine with directors. Just go.

 

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There Will Never Be a Gen X President?!?

A few months ago, a friend sent me an article about Gen X and the presidency that was in the Financial Times. (Write a whole series on Gen X, people will send you Gen X articles.) In the article – the millennial writer expresses his admiration for Generation X while simultaneously declaring that we are about to miss our shot to have one of our own become president. I started to write something about it but then I let it go. It seemed to just be a fleeting inconsequential opinion piece in the Financial Times. I can’t catch every single bit of silly Gen X-ery that floats by!

But then this idea came up again in a Gen X themed interview on the Brian Lehrer show. The guest host asked Ada Calhoun (author of Why We Can’t Sleep, a book on Gen X women) about this idea that we’ll never have a Gen X president and I got mad. Not because we won’t have a Gen X president. I don’t really care about that one way or another. But what I did get upset about is the weird ageism or bias that’s built into that assumption.

I also got mad because I bought it for a second. For a second, I thought it was real. That we really had missed our Gen X presidency shot. I mean, sure, I can see how Beto O’Rourke would be a classic Gen X president. Cory Booker was a little more corporation-friendly than the typical Gen X-er – but he literally ran into a burning building to save someone back when he was mayor of Newark. I liked his chances of saving us in burning country. And I was very very sad when we lost honorary Gen X-er Kamala Harris in this race. (She’s just on the cusp being born in 1964.) I had no idea that Julian Castro was Gen X until just now and now I’m doubly sorry he’s left the race. But this election is not our only shot.

I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve got a lot of old folks running for President these days. Who’s to say some Gen X-er won’t win the presidency at age 80? We’ve got decades to deliver a presidential candidate. I mean, before I float this next idea, I need you to know that there is no world wherein I would like for this to happen – but Ted Cruz (a Gen X-er, I’m a sorry to say) could run for president in his 80s and in a cockamamie enough world, people could elect him. (Please, no!) What’s this assumption that it’s all over about? Is it the fear that we’ll be skipped again? That we’ll have a millennial president before we get a Gen X one?

Yeah. Sure. We could. But – whatever, you know? I’d be delighted to have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before Paul Ryan. Go on, Ilhan Omar, Lauren Underwood, Xochitl Torres Small and Katie Hill. Step on ahead my millennial goddesses!

But… the door isn’t closed for us. I mean – Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Katie Porter are all Gen X mega-stars and I’d love to see any one of them with a shot at the presidency at some point. (Maybe we can get Julian Castro next time?) I get that we’re all in the middle of a pretty brutal U curve and it really does pretty much feel like this is the end for us. Gen X men are knocking themselves off in droves and Gen X women can’t sleep. I see why this bias exists. Most of the dominant voices of our generation are dead – so of course it’s hard to imagine ourselves as old.

But we don’t have to be president right now. I’m guessing most of us aren’t interested. Given the current one in office, I’m not sure the presidency is quite the pinnacle of accomplishment it once was. But maybe, if we can survive past this year, we can prepare for a Gen X presidency in the year 2032. Or, you know, whatever.

Really, though, I give no shits about whether or not we get a Gen X president. The position has been a bit devalued these last couple of years and I’m not sure it’s worth the wanting. But the conversation around it matters because of the ways it reveals our thinking around stuff like this.

I think a lot of us think the game is over because a) we have some kind of intense generational nihilistic tendencies and b) we grew up in a youth culture, not unlike every other generation still alive. Ever since The Who hoped to die before they got old, we’ve all seemed to think that was a reasonable position to take. The culture glamorizes youth and sends the old out to pasture and here we see the evidence that somehow if we fail to elect a Gen X president in 2020, we will have missed our shot.

Now – the nihilist in me can fully understand that 2020 may in fact be the last election we ever have at all – but in that case, all the generations have lost – not just Gen X.

But like I said, this isn’t really about the presidency. This is about counting us out across the board. It’s not over just because our youth is over. People can accomplish great things in their 40s and 50s just like they could in their 20s and 30s. And they can go on to accomplish great things in their 60s and 70s and even their 80s and 90s and on. This notion of having missed our shot is incredibly damaging. It sneaks in to most of us, this sense that it’s all over now. We are vital. We are potent. We can do whatever any other generation can do. Come on now.

There are decades to come for the Gen X-ers who can hang in there. One of them could be president. It might mean less or more by then but it could happen. Don’t count us out yet. We’ve got decades until you can say there will never be a Gen X president. Talk to me about this again in fifty years. That’s when I’ll concede the point.

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Charting the Journey of a Creative Ship
January 24, 2020, 12:18 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

Even as I wrote the piece that shortly follows, I knew it was going to be true only for the moment. I knew that whatever happened before, I would feel differently after. I just didn’t know how. I wrote this about a month ago before a reading of my work and you can be in the future with me and know that it went as well as it could go. I saw very clearly what needed to change, as well as what format it should probably take and this story has a happy ending. But I thought it would still be worth sharing for those of you who might be standing at that precipice I was standing on when I wrote this.

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Tomorrow I will hear actors read the piece I’ve spent the better part of this year working on. I’m weirdly nervous. I’m not worried about what the people there will think or what they might say. I’m worried that I might discover that it’s not what I think it is – that it’s terrible.

As I wrote it, I never thought it was terrible. I was excited about it, actually. I never tell people about what I’m writing but this one, I blabbed about to several people. It evolved from what I thought was a short story into a novella or maybe a play. I’ve been with it all the way and never questioned it. It’s flowed the whole time. The other piece I’m writing right now is a different feeling entirely. I sweat every scene. After I finish one I think, “Wow. This is terrible. This play is garbage.” I write through that feeling because I’m convinced enough by the idea to suffer through some garbage drafts. I hope that by writing some garbage, I will find some jewels. There is no one way to be in a creative boat, trying to get somewhere and I suppose there has to be a “It might be terrible” moment, no matter how well the piece has gone from the top.

Coupled with the fear that my work will be terrible is an excitement around it. Being engaged in a creative process is the best feeling on earth, as far as I’m concerned and that good feeling also includes the terror that it will be terrible. The best part is when it’s really cooking and you’re in the middle of something exciting, when the piece is full of possibilities.

There’s a real possibility that this new thing the actors are reading tomorrow won’t translate – that what I imagined I created isn’t what’s on the page. In forms I’m more comfortable and familiar with, I have a clearer idea of how a thing will go down. I am more or less able to predict how the comedies I write will go down. This new thing is a new form for me – so I don’t know for sure. I think it’s gonna be good but it’s possible I’m wrong. Standing on that line in the middle of wondering is part of the joy of creating as well as the terror. Where’s it going to fall?

And how much work will it need to salvage it? Will it be a total overhaul or a little fix up? Or will it be unsalvageable? This is unlikely – though certainly a possibility. But even if it is unsalvageable – it will have been worth it. The pleasure and excitement I felt while making it were more than I’ve felt in a while and for that alone, it will have been worth it.

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Terry Gilliam in the Toaster Oven

“Mum! Dad! It’s evil! Don’t touch it!”
This is the final line of one of my all time favorite movies, Time Bandits. I loved Time Bandits as a child and in the many subsequent viewings of it, as an adult, it has not diminished in my estimation. It is a delightful film made by one of my favorite filmmakers.

And I didn’t just love Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, no. I also admired his Brazil, The Fisher King, and even his relatively unknown and under-appreciated, Tideland. Tideland is a deep cut in the Gilliam oeuvre and I was a big fan.

After reading his interview in The Independent, to say that I’m disappointed in him is a massive understatement. I’d heard he’d said some pigheaded garbage before but this was sustained pigheaded garbage. This was relentless pigheaded garbage.

As a feminist, I found it pigheaded enough to never want to hear from or see him again. I’d honestly prefer to have read his obituary than to have read his opinions on #MeToo. If it had been his obituary, I’d have cried and mourned the loss of his brilliant mind. As it stands, I guess I have to re-evaluate everything he ever made. Why, Terry Gilliam, why?!

Listen, he’s never been a particularly woman-friendly artist – but he hasn’t been actively terrible either. Sure, there are only a few women in Time Bandits but the main ones are Shelley Duvall and Katherine Helmond and they are remarkable. I didn’t mind that Time Bandits was a boy’s story. I really didn’t. It was perfect. The battle between Good and Evil, a test of the system, as it were, featuring an adorable kid and six hilarious thieves. But now that it’s clear that Gilliam has no idea that women are human, I’m going to have to sit in some discomfort. I don’t think I will love Time Bandits any less but I have to love it knowing the man who made it thinks that MeToo is a witch hunt, that Weinstein’s rape victims chose to be assaulted and that white men are the real victims here. The man who made some of my favorite films is basically an MRA. (Men’s Rights Activists are not actually activists for men. They’re the folks who bring us many violent acts against women and some incredibly toxic thinking.) Gilliam’s become like the chunk of pure burning coal sitting in the toaster oven at the end of Time Bandits. Poisonous and Vile. I’m finding it particularly difficult to reconcile.

It’s not as if I haven’t had to reconcile this sort of thing before. I could probably still recite whole Bill Cosby routines from his albums. I was a fan of Louis CK. I have appreciated some Roman Polanksi films. And, unlike those guys, we have no actual terrible deeds from Sir Terry. We just have his terrible thoughts. And his terrible thoughts suggest that he thinks my entire worldview is ridiculous. His terrible thoughts suggest that he has never thought of women as anything more than sex objects or archetypes. His terrible thoughts suggest that he thinks the systemic oppression of women and people of color are a joke. It breaks my Time Bandit loving heart.

It also strikes me as impossibly stupid. Because I am his fan base. I am his audience. And he just lost me. Who will go see his movie now? All of 4Chan? The darkest reaches of Reddit? The incel chat boards? Is that who he wants for his audience? I’m sure as hell not going to see his movie now and I’m sure I’m not alone in being suddenly very disinterested in what he’s made.

It matters what he says and thinks. If I’m going to go sit in a movie theatre and spend a couple of hours in the world someone created, I want to trust the mind of the person who made it. I wouldn’t go see a Brett Ratner or Bryan Singer movie. I no longer want to sit through the work of Woody Allen. The writer/director’s thoughts are intimately connected to the work they make. I know because I do those things onstage. If you don’t like how I think, you won’t like my creative work. How I think is intrinsic to how I make things. That’s true for most artists.

The upsetting thing about this Gilliam situation is not that Gilliam said some dumb shit and may now be canceled, it’s that he’s revealed himself to be the opposite of what I imagined him to be. Instead of a hero of creativity and bold imagination, he’s a stinky old dinosaur reinforcing the patriarchy. And he must have been all along, in such subtle ways, even I, who am very vigilant about these things, failed to sniff him out.

I have found myself re-evaluating much of his work through this newly revealed lens of his. I’m looking for the dark threads of misogyny and racism that must have been there all along before he laid them bare. I’m also working hard to somehow explain what feels inexplicable. I think, “Oh, he’s just trying to be funny. He’s enjoying being provocative. He’s purposefully sounding like an asshole because he enjoys making mischief. He is doing that classic buffoon style of clowning or something.” This is how I’ve explained away countless other asshole clowns but I don’t think it’s an in-the-past explanation that can fly anymore. I mean – it may explain the why but the why doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter why, in Time Bandits, Kevin’s parents reach in to the toaster oven after they are warned by their son not to. It doesn’t matter if they ignore his pleas to not touch the evil because they are contrary or because they always ignore him or because they think it’s funny. They reach in and touch the evil and the consequences are predictable.

Gilliam has surely been warned not to touch the evil in the toaster oven (he’s said some dumb things before) but in the end, he just couldn’t resist. To predictable and sad results.

But what does it matter? Why not just enjoy the films I used to like and forget about the man that made them? Well, it’s actually important that I look at this and not just forget about either Gilliam himself or his work. I have to dig in to some reflection on it because his work was so formative for me. I can draw a direct line from Time Bandits, from Gilliam’s sense of humor, from his aesthetic, to my own work. I can see the threads of his influence in a lot of my plays and fiction. I may have unconsciously interwoven some of the threads of his misogyny or racism along with his aesthetic. Unfortunately, learning what he really thinks about things means I have to be extra vigilant about the foundations of my own work. He was important to me when I was a child and has continued to be important. I can’t just brush off this development. It is a great loss and it will be a great project of reorganization. Even though it’s evil, I still have to look at it. I will not touch it, though! I know better than that!

Mum! Dad! It’s Evil! Don’t touch it!

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