Songs for the Struggling Artist


This Reboot Sucks
February 13, 2022, 11:15 pm
Filed under: American, art, economics, pandemic, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess I never imagined a dystopia would be so dull. Dystopian novels are full of marauding bands and dramatic battles. This is like sitting in the waiting room of a corporate marketing agency, waiting to join a focus group you really don’t want to join but are hoping they’re going to pay you enough to make the trip worthwhile. Just sitting here. Waiting for someone boring to call your name. In a mask.

When the pandemic hit NYC in March of 2020 – and all of the performing arts shut down, when nearly everyone I know here lost work, when everyone fled to the country or back to their parents’ houses in other states, I imagined this decimated arts landscape might be radically reconfigured when we got back to it. I thought we might experience the good parts of the post-pandemic life, like in the novel, Station Eleven, with fewer horse drawn carts. I thought – oh – maybe the city will return to its kind of dirty, gritty, scrappy, sort of affordable form like in the 80s. Sure, there might be a parallel crime surge or something – but I did start imagining a future like in After Hours or Madonna’s life in Desperately Seeking Susan – but in theatre, of course. Downtown would rise again. We’d put on wild buffoon shows or cartoon craziness like we used to. It wouldn’t cost a year’s tuition to just put on a little something, so we’d get out there and make some old fashioned passionate cheap art.

It’s not like that. I mean, the pandemic is, for sure, not over – but even from here I can tell we’re not going back to a more artist friendly time. We’re already leaning harder into all the things that sucked before. Some shows came back but only the giant machine sort of shows can afford to run in this environment. So mostly that’s all there is. When and if I did get back in the game of producing shows, I would now have far fewer venues to choose from and the spaces for rehearsal would also be much diminished. Will they be cheaper to rent? I doubt it. Every single one of these places has had to endure total shut downs for nearly two years, without any significant support from government. They couldn’t possibly be cutting prices in that kind of environment.

It feels like everything that sucked about the performing arts world has not only remained – but gotten much worse.

And it’s not just theatre, of course. The wealth gap has widened enormously, not just because the poor have gotten poorer but because billionaires have gotten 62% richer. And we get a new billionaire every day. This was a problem before but now it is much much worse. I’m guessing this is true for most things.

Are the arts elitist and only for the most privileged to find success in? Now more than ever. Were there few opportunities to pry open the closed doors before? There were very few before and now those are even fewer. Was it hard for artists to make a living before? Yes! And now it’s ten times as hard! And might you need a day job, my sweet artists? Well – Teaching Artist jobs are almost non-existent. Food service is a highly risky dangerous environment. Many of the fantastic, affordable restaurants frequented by nice people have closed because it’s mostly assholes out there at the tables now. Your favorite little home away from home is probably gone but that asshole factory is doing great! Offices don’t tend to hire temps to work from home. I would imagine that dog walkers have lost business because their clients are home and happy to walk their pets themselves.

Our current mayor ran on beating back the crime wave he felt was happening and I guess others agreed with him because he won. Maybe this is naïve – but I wouldn’t mind this city getting some of its old school crime back. Everyone just seems too comfortable to me. I saw a guy put his computer in the back of his car, leave the hatchback OPEN and then walk way to get something in his apartment. He left a COMPUTER ON the STREET in New York City and you know what? It was fine! Nobody stole it. I was tempted to – just to prove a point, just because – you SHOULDN’T leave your shit out if you don’t want someone to take it. We apparently now live in a city where people don’t know that anymore and I don’t mean to be a cranky “back in my day” kind of person but I don’t really like this version of New York.

Because all this “safety” is of course, an illusion. And the people in need have been pushed by this city’s fucked up economics farther and farther to the margins of the place in more ways than one. The more divided our classes become, the more likely it becomes that actual violence will break out. The fact that someone could leave a computer on the street here without consequences suggests to me that we have too uniform a population where I live. No one would steal that computer because we all have our own at home, which is nice for us but terrible for those who can no longer afford to live here and who certainly don’t have a computer at home.

Is there more crime? Maybe? A little. I mean – the drugstore locked up the toothpaste (and the soap and the deodorant) the porch pirates are active and my local gourmet corner store now has a security guard peering over folks’ shoulders at all times – but these are all signs of economic strife, more than anything. People are mostly stealing hygienic items and food. Maybe if folks could get a little economic relief out there, those things would even out. But what do I know? I’m just an artist who hasn’t set foot in the place of my primary art in almost two years.

Back when I had a band – and this was 20 years ago so take this with a grain of salt – we sometimes rehearsed at one of our band members’ studio apartment in the East Village. We couldn’t imagine how he managed to afford to live there because the rents were so high. (I tremble to imagine what they are now.) But on the street were also the Hell’s Angels’ headquarters, numerous old school grandmas and grandpas and families that had grown up there. Our bandmate was the anomaly on that street. The street’s culture was old and established. I haven’t been on that particular street in a while but I know, as a whole, the atmosphere of the place has changed dramatically. A young person from elsewhere is the norm there now, not the families or the Hell’s Angels. Now the norm is for people with money to burn, now the culture is for the new arrivals, most of whom wouldn’t think twice about leaving their computer on the street. All I’m saying is, I’d trade the safety of that computer for a richer culture and more affordable living for everyone.

Could we have both? I don’t know. I guess that would be nice?

I guess I was hopeful for a minute that the crisis would lead to a beautiful rebirth and now I’m looking at a world that is putting itself back together with all its worst features. Not a horse drawn performance stage in sight.

No, this is totally fine. Just leave your computer anywhere. No one will take it. Perfectly safe apparently.

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

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It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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My Pandemic Guide to International TV – Part Two

Last week, I took us (mostly) to Spain, Italy and Turkey.

And now it’s on to France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and beyond.

France gave me some quality TV and Netflix gave them all silly titles in English. (I get the sense that the folks at Netflix thinks Americans are dumb and need dumb titles.) One of the few shows set in contemporary times that compelled me was Call My Agent which I really wish they’d called its French title, Ten Percent (Dix Pour Cent). But no one asked me. So. One of the benefits of watching this show full of French stars was that when one of them appeared in the next French show I watched, I was very excited.

That show was The Bonfire of Destiny (French title: Le Bazar de la CharitéThe Charity Bazaar – which is much more descriptive as this is an important setting/event of the show). It was harrowing at first, since it begins with a lot of people dying in a really terrible fire (at a Charity Bazaar!) but then becomes a really intriguing look at class and gender and culture in 1897. It felt like an adaptation of a classic novel from the old days that never actually existed, with some really complicated romances. There is, I have discovered a Turkish version of this show and now I’d very much like to see that, too.

Then, there was the cold war era comedy delight called A Very Secret Service (in French: Au Service de la FranceIn Service of France, once again, a much better title!) It’s got fewer women in it than I prefer but its bureaucratic idiocy made me laugh a lot. I sing to myself a line from it occasionally for no good reason except that I enjoyed it so thoroughly – “Tamponné. Double Tamponné.”  (Stamped. Double Stamped.) In a giant global crisis, they are most flummoxed by which stamp to use for a form. It was a delight. A sexist delight but I didn’t care. And you know when I don’t care it must have been worth it.

On to Germany!

I started with Babylon Berlin last year. I’d avoided it for a while because I was afraid it was going to be too violent for me and it was too violent for me but my brother was living in Berlin at the time and he liked it so I watched it anyway and I wasn’t sorry, even if I did have to cover my eyes and ears more often than I’d like. I’d been curious about the Weimar era in Germany pretty much ever since Trump got elected so this show successfully brought me into those pre-Nazi times and helped me understand a few things. Also – a lot happens! Stylishly!

I also got hooked into Charité which is a series about a hospital in Berlin, based on historical people and events. The first season takes place in 1887 and deals with doctors’ attempts to cure and/or vaccinate against tuberculosis and diphtheria. It is a very interesting moment in time where some doctors are pushing for cleaning and sterilizing the hospital and the nurses and other doctors are skeptical. It is a fight that has a clear winner but in these times, is interesting to watch play out. Their second season takes place during World War Two and I have to say, watching a World War II show from a German hospital staff’s perspectives was hard but illuminating. Watching well meaning doctors look away from eugenics happening right in front of them or claiming that the harrowing tales of their government that made it to their ears was all propaganda. I guess I understand now how folks like that fooled themselves. I’m seeing people do that now.

But I haven’t just watched shows from Europe.

I’ve told you about Mexico’s House of Flowers already and I’m in the middle of The Five Juanas, which is very silly, soapy and kind of trashy. It’s about five women (named Juana! Surprise!) who discover they all have the same birthmark and therefore the same father. Ridiculous though it may be, it is super interesting to realize that I can sometimes distinguish between accents in Spanish now, after having watched so much TV from several places. I can hear that the Juana from Colombia sounds very different than the one who grew up in Spain, who sounds different from the three from Mexico.

There was a lot of pleasure in Colombia’s Always a Witch, even though its premise was off the charts problematic. (A slave woman in love with the master’s son is set to be burned at the stake for witchcraft but is saved by going to the future where she spends all her time trying to get back to her boyfriend. {Yes, the boyfriend whose family owned her.} Oh, Honey, no.) But the music was great and the witchery was fun and they realized their mistake by the second season but it may have been too late. I’m pretty sure it’s been cancelled. It is fascinating to watch a show screw itself up so badly.

On to Brazil!

One of the most unique shows I’ve seen on this kick I’ve been on was No One’s Looking which is about these bureaucratic angels who start to break the rules. It is an odd odd world and I admired the quirky design a lot. My favorite part may have been when the angel middle manager takes his team to go see some “stand up comedy” and it turns out to be a very sincere motivational speaker talking about angels. The angels watch from the balcony laughing their wings off. If you’ve ever wanted to watch office worker angels dance, take drugs and generally explore being human, this show is for you.

The other Brazilian show was called The Girls from Impanema (in English – in Portuguese it’s Coisa Mas Linda, which is a line from the song “Girl from Impanema”). This show falls in line with my usual interests by being the story of women at work, trying to make things work. The story is of a woman whose husband leaves her and so she starts a club and becomes the center of the Bossa Nova scene in Rio. I almost quit watching the show at the top of season two when they brought back her husband and he took over her club. And I guess this is a spoiler but I know I would have appreciated knowing that she and her girls would turn it around and send him packing again within a couple of episodes. The women in the show are all pretty amazing and do remarkable things. The biggest flaw is that the writers seem to subscribe to the “All Men Are Trash” school where even the good ones do some very bad things. I found all that pretty tiresome but the music and the cool dames kept me going. You’ll want to get out your bossa nova albums after this show.

Other shows I tried:

The Egyptian version of Gran Hotel (Hmmm. Nope. Didn’t do it for me.)

I tried to watch Cathedral by the Sea (Spanish) but if you start your show with repeated sexual assaults, I’m out.

I didn’t get more than 15 minutes into Bolivar (Colombian) or The Last Bastion (Peruvian).

The first episode of Paquita Salas (Spanish) had a quality. But I feel like I’ve seen that quality elsewhere and better in other shows.

There are a lot of cultural holes in my watching that I would like to fill in. I feel like I’m really missing a lot of good things from Asia and Africa. I tried Giri/Haji – which was just too macho for me and I’m interested in Kingdom but just can’t ever seem to face it. Anyone who can point me toward the Korean feminist period drama section of the video store will get a big thank you.

I realize, too, that I am constrained by the limitations of the streaming services. They only show me what THEY want to show me. I’m subject to Netflix’s tastes as much as my own. I may have to investigate alternative international streaming services. After all, Netflix has cancelled a lot of my favorite shows – and removed some great ones from the platform. (Gran Hotel, The Time in Between and I never got to see it but I heard The Ministry of Time was amazing.) I did just read that Netflix has started to open up to the African film and TV world so I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges there.

If you have international favs, please tell me about them, especially if they’re period dramas about women working. I may have exhausted Netflix’s Spanish TV resources and Amazon’s Pantaya service tends to not have English subtitles so I gotta branch out! Or get better at Spanish! At some point, I suppose I’ll want to watch more than a couple of shows in English again but for the moment, I’m just much more interested in the worlds far away from here.

Goals: To see TV from all these places.

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 iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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My Pandemic Guide to International TV – Part One

My guess is that international TV got its hooks into me these last two years because there’s something about getting so far away from the world I live in, they don’t even speak my language. Or maybe the extra “labor” of reading subtitles kept my attention when it was inclined to wander? Or maybe it’s like traveling in a period where I mostly just saw the kitchen table? Whatever the reason, the various streaming platforms have afforded me the opportunity of diving into international TV shows galore. Just in case you’ve been wanting to branch out, I thought I should write up some of my favorites and bring you into my international orbit.

I’m going to do this in a Two Part series as there’s, um, a lot here and I think it might be too much to sort through in one sitting. This first part features: Spain, Italy and Turkey

As you may know if you’re a regular reader of the blog, this journey began with Spanish TV shows. I’ve talked already about Cable Girls, The Time Between, Gran Hotel, 45 rpm and Velvet. I believe I’ve also made mention of High Seas (a show on which there is the world’s fastest vaccine development). Missing from this list are:

The Cook of Castamar – which was an absolutely lush period drama set in an estate in the 18th Century. It features an upstairs/downstairs love story, a few Dangerous Liason-y sort of love affairs and some royal batshittery. The ending is really abrupt, like they ran out of film and just had to hurry up and wrap it up. But other than that, this was one of my favorite shows of the year. The cinematography was like a Vermeer painting sometimes and the performances were extraordinary.

Morroco: Love in the Time of War which takes place at a military hospital in Morocco in the 1920s. It is full of strong lady nurses in crisp white uniforms having complicated affairs with handsome doctors. It also features some really impressive racism – and I don’t mean it’s good, of course, just kind of fascinating in its awfulness. I get the sense that Spain hasn’t quite grappled with these things yet. My favorite part of this show is something I’ve nearly written about multiple times but just never found the way.  It’s this love affair one of the Spanish nurses has with the Moroccan handy man. Everyone on the show is baffled by it. They just cannot understand what she’s doing with the uneducated Moroccan guy! And they never mention the fact that he’s just preternaturally handsome. Like, the man is an Adonis and not one single character is like: “Listen, I get it. He’s nice to look at. But – you should keep in mind he can’t read your letters.” The whole scenario made me laugh a lot. I mean – look at this guy:

“What do you SEE in him?” they cry, incredulously!

Oh, and Jaguar – a period drama about a spy ring who are trying to bring down Nazis who are harboring each other and helping one another escape in Franco’s Spain. It features the stars from Cable Girls, Velvet and 45 rpm so of course I had to watch it, even though there aren’t enough women in it. It’s a rough ride. But spies! Fighting Nazis! In the middle of a fascist regime!

One of the few shows I’ve watched that ISN’T a period drama is The Neighbor, which is a very boring title for a very eccentric and fun show. It’s a superhero story – but the man given the superpowers is kind of a shithead and he cannot figure out how to use his powers appropriately. The show goes to some extremely unexpected places. Never once have I been able to predict where it was going. It’s also very funny in a delightfully wacky way. I can’t figure out how to tell you the best parts of it without spoiling it, so, you know, watch a trailer.

Other contemporary Spanish shows I’ve watched:

Valeria which is a sort of contemporary Spanish Sex and the City. Watch it if you want to watch Spanish millennials pretend to have sex with each other in colorful apartments and to get a glimpse of some good looking Spanish Tortillas.

Money Heist which features actors from many other shows I’ve watched so though I tried to resist it (as it seemed like it was going to have too many guns and explosions for me) ultimately I succumbed and joined the rest of the world in being mildly obsessed with this show for a while. If there’s a Spanish show you’ve heard of, it’s probably this one. It has a dumb name in English, but its Spanish title translates to The House of Paper, which is much better. I only just finished watching it so I’m still digesting. I may have more to say about it later.

I believe I’ve already told you everything about the Italian shows I’ve watched: Zero, Luna Park, Luna Nera and Generazione 56k. I also watched An Astrological Guide to Broken Hearts which was a charming contemporary love/work story.  

One of my favorite shows of anywhere has been The Club, a show from Turkey that Netflix sold me on almost as soon as it came out. Sometimes they really nail it. (Most times they don’t. I find it hilarious how often they suggest shows I have already watched. Like, you know I watched that already. I watched it HERE!) Anyway – The Club mostly takes place in and around a nightclub in Istanbul, so it’s a show biz show and you know I’m a sucker for a show biz show. But it’s also about this period in the 50s where Nationalism and racism were on the rise. The Turkish Business Council seems to be gaining in power and targeting anyone who isn’t Muslim. Living in a country where Muslims are often the targets as I do, I found it very interesting to see these power dynamics reversed. One thing I learned from reading about it that wasn’t obvious in watching it, is that there are several languages spoken in the series. To my ear, it all just blended together, so I had no ideas folks were identifying themselves by their language sometimes. There’s one moment where a character speaks Greek to another who isn’t actually Greek and it condemns him. I’d love to be able to understand at least one of the languages spoken to catch some of these distinctions (or to have it noted in the titles which language was being spoken) but it’s just as thrilling with the subtitles as they were. And the musical numbers are both good theatre and good music. The story is complicated and I didn’t always trust where they were going but it made for some really interesting questions about redemption and loss.

The Club was so good, I instantly searched for other Turkish shows or movies but failed to find anything yet.

We’ll leave it here with my new taste for Turkish TV simmering.

Part Two will feature shows from France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and beyond.

Look! Somewhere that’s not my apartment!

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 iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Thrashing Acceptance
January 19, 2022, 11:47 pm
Filed under: pandemic, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As winter approached, I freaked out a little. The idea that we were looking down the barrel of a third pandemic winter just zorked my feelings up. (Yes, I know that’s not a real word. I had to make one up; That’s how zorked up my feelings were.) I wanted to run but there was nowhere to run to. The pandemic is freaking everywhere. You can’t escape it. It’s better in some places (a lot better!) but those places sure as hell don’t want my New York ass in their uncovidy environs. I had a couple of panic attacks. I freaked out. A friend who called to check on me got an unexpected sobber on the phone. It was a rough couple of weeks.

But somehow I turned some kind of corner. Despite everything being very bad and some things even worse than I could have imagined, I’m in a state of what I can only call Thrashing Acceptance. That is, I have accepted that this is my reality and with that acceptance is a kind of peace. Simultaneously, I hate it. It makes me furious and I occasionally have to flail my limbs around. That’s the thrashing part. It is a full body response.

I had some plans to get out of here. They’re pretty much shot. So much for getting out of here. And now is not the time to find that indoor swimming pool I was hoping to find. I accept it. I am at peace with the truth and sometimes I just need to shout and throw things.

It’s horrible. It doesn’t feel good. But I’m going on as if it’s all fine, even though it isn’t. It is what is it and Arrrggghhhh!

That’s Thrashing Acceptance.

It’s like I’m a shark, right? And some aquarium captures me out in the ocean and I thrash and thrash in their net, trying to escape and then at a certain point, I just get tired and take a break from thrashing. Then they put me in the tank in the aquarium and sometimes I swim around peacefully and sometimes I just thrash around for no particular reason because I may not be in a net anymore but I’m still trapped, really, and I can swim peacefully but sometimes I just have to thrash it out. It’s like that.

I can’t stop this pandemic. It’s continuing to happen whatever I do. I am told we are turning a corner but at the same time, every day, multiple people I know get a positive diagnosis. There may be hope. I hope there’s hope. But it currently still stinks. And it stinks even more because we’re basically on our own out here. No one will make the hard calls so all the schools and all the restaurants and a lot of shows are still open but there’s this shadow closure that’s happening, where shows are closing, performing artists, and all the people who work to make the performing arts run, are losing their jobs, having gigs cancelled or just no audiences, restaurants are going out of business and schools have to limp along without the necessary staff. There’s no relief to be had for anyone because everyone is expected to still be out there pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and toughing it out. People are having to make hard calls all on their own every day and it is painful to watch this car crash in slow motion. Most people I know are just planning for when they get Omicron, not for if. We’re not locked in the apartment this year but maybe we should be? Hospitals have been stretched thin again. This is all very very very screwed up. I’m making peace with it but it is a very noisy, very thrashy peace.

I don’t have much more to say about it, I guess. I just thought I should share the concept with you in case any of you are in a similar state. Somehow it feels good to have language for accepting what one cannot change but still having feelings about it. Thrashing Acceptance is my new way.

 

This shark make look peaceable but if it’s anything like me, it’s going to start thrashing ANY minute 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 iTunesStitcherSpotify 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 Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me get through this thrashing season?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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Waterworks at the Street Circus

When I walked up to check out the booths at Open Streets (the program that closes down/opens up a couple of blocks to give the neighborhood more public space) I wasn’t prepared for a show.

When I approached the second block, I saw a crowd and a truck and then I saw some clowns getting the crowd fired for their circus. Their performance style was so familiar, I almost just walked away – feeling an habitual “I know what this is. I don’t need to watch it.” But then I found myself not walking away. And then I found myself not walking away for quite some time – and halfway through their opening sketch, I started weeping and did not stop until I finally pulled myself away half an hour later.

Was I watching and crying because the show was so moving, so good, so remarkable? No. I mean, the show was fine. It was perfect for the venue and earnest and sweet. I’m almost certain that the river falling out of my face had very little to do with the content of the piece. There is nothing particularly tear-jerking about a Chinese yo-yo or a tapdancing ring master.

It could be the audience. There was a big joyful crowd of people and the children did not hesitate what they were asked to repeat, “We want the circus!” I, for sure, was moved by that. Maybe it was also just seeing an audience at all? I’ve only seen one other show since March of 2020 so I have not been in many crowds, nor seen them. Maybe it’s the novelty, the preciousness of a people gathering together to watch some show people on a truck bed.

I kept trying to stop my tears, because it became a little embarrassing. My handkerchief got soaked. A man came out of the crowd and looked right at my dripping wet face and smiled a little bit. He had a knowing look about him – like he knew what it was about. Did he? Because I’m not sure I know what it was about. It wasn’t the girls pretending to tap dance in their sneakers, though that had its charms. I did not notice anyone else crying their face off at the street circus so this would seem to be a me thing.

I have been cautious about going back to the theatre, despite some really tempting offers for precisely this reason. I know that whatever I see in a theatre again for the first time is going to be seen through the waterfall of my tears and I’m being careful about what that show will be. I don’t want to miss the show itself because of my response to the experience.

The half an hour I spent at the street circus was about all I had the stamina for. The loud music was hard on my brain that was just emerging from a migraine and I ran out of tissues after a while. I’m going to have to ease back into performances it would seem.

I think it’s probably from love that I’m weeping. The thing is I love performance and performers. I love audiences and shows. I am show people all the way through and this pandemic has so thoroughly cut me off from that part of myself, I’m not sure there is anything for it but to cry.

The marketing team can declare “Broadway is back” all it wants but as far as I can see, it’s really out there, more or less by itself, with a few well-funded buddies. Small companies like the one I saw on the street in my neighborhood are much fewer and far betweener. This particular one has been part of the landscape of NYC performance as long as I’ve lived here and it is a relief to me to see them out here, still kicking and juggling. I may not recognize any of the people anymore but I know their history. I was there for some of it. I don’t really know how a small circus got themselves through this mess. I don’t know how I got my theatre company and myself through this mess. And I don’t expect we’re really through this mess so much as on a temporary reprieve. (I’m sorry. I know there is not a country on this planet who has opened back up and not had to shut back down right quick like.) Mostly, I guess, I try not to think about it – but sometimes the feelings about all that just make themselves known. The crying I was doing at the circus was very bizarre in that I did not necessarily feel sad or happy or moved. I couldn’t have told you what those feelings were.  I felt disconnected from my own emotional world. It’s like my tears were flowing without me.

As an actor who can sometimes be called upon to cry, I cannot help but interrogate this new style of crying. It felt so involuntary. It was like when a strong wind blows in your face and makes your eyes water. I guess these are my new “watching a performance” tears. I don’t have to work up my particular feelings, I guess, just watch someone giving their all to an audience and the waterworks will flow.

I want to go back inside and see shows again. I love the red curtain. I love the wooden O, the wooden arch, the wooden frame. I love a black box and a dance studio. I long to return to all of them – but I have yet to hear an epidemiologist recommend it. I feel like folks are doing shows indoors again not because it’s safe and we’re ready but because Broadway producers want to make some money. I don’t blame them – there’s no support for anything or anyone – to put folks back to work is the only way to put food back on a lot of people’s tables. It may be safe-ish since everyone’s theoretically vaccinated and the audience is masked. It’s not the least safe space to be or at least it wasn’t until Omicron kicked off. Now shows that just opened are closing again. There’s something about the place that I love most in the world becoming so dangerous that it had to be closed, everywhere – that makes me feel like I need it to be thoroughly safe now.

Stumbling on a show two blocks from my apartment in the middle of the street is my dream of NYC come true. This is, definitely, what I hoped for when I moved here – and twenty years later, it happened. But only because we all had our little performers’ hearts broken in a big way last year. Based on the major waterworks that kicked off at the neighborhood circus, mine is still in need of repair I’d say.

This photo is probably blurry because it was taken through my tears. But check it out! This glorious woman is balancing on bottles on top of a truck bed!

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2021 Year in Review
December 31, 2021, 2:09 pm
Filed under: pandemic | Tags: , ,

Happy New Year!

Last year I summarized 2020 because it seemed important for history. Like, 2020 was so significantly terrible it needed to be documented. Having now experienced 2021, I’m not sure quite how unprecedented 2020 was because it seemed to set a precedent and now we’re just stuck in this terrible lane and there seems to be no place to exit.

I did re-read the recap of 2020 that I wrote last year and it already feels very far away so perhaps there is some value in documenting our second pandemic year. By the way, I have now read several other folks’ years in review. They are mostly lists of their impressive accomplishments. This will not be that. (Unless mending my clothes is an impressive accomplishment?!)

January – I spend most of January writing at the Toast and Roast, feeling generally uninspired but also discovering that that was pretty normal for January for me.

February  – like January but worse because it’s February. I guess I spent it watching Spanish TV and listening to podcasts?

March  – I got my first dose of the vaccine! I was so full of hope! So much joy! Absolute euphoria. It was also my first ride on the subway in a year – which I took to go get the vaccine at Aviation High School. They shut that site down the day after I went because school was re-opening that Monday. It was a giddy hopeful time for everyone.

Also – I got obsessed with Lubalin’s Tik Toks and made two puppet Tik Toks based on his songs.

April – Got my second dose of Moderna and I was ready to roll!

May – When I was fully cooked, vaccination wise, I went to a café and sat inside to celebrate. It turned out to not be the relief and fun I was dreaming of, as I spent most of the time worried about all the people not in masks who might not be vaccinated. It was much more stressful than I expected. I think I’ve only tried it again once, in a place where I could sit facing an open window, which was basically like sitting outside.

June – They disbanded a lot of theatres. The one that really broke my heart was Kneehigh. But – I traveled! For the first time in so long! I saw my family for the first time in ages who I had missed a great deal. I managed to celebrate Father’s Day and my mother’s birthday in my hometown. I flew on a plane and it was fine!

July – Had a super fun time being in my friends’ movie for cameo part written for me. I think the last time I was in a movie I was in high school, filming a PSA sort of film for a non-profit.  I am such a theatre dork. I love to watch films but the making of them is still mysterious to me. I tried to make films myself in grad school but it mostly showed me what a theatre brain I have. Also saw my first live performance in over a year and wept through it, of course.

August – I traveled again! We got in a car with a hurricane right behind us – but it veered off somewhere so we were perfectly safe. We got some wild blueberries by the side of the road from a man with an oxygen tube in his nose. We got tomatoes and cucumbers from a farmer but we had to step around the goose poop to get them. I swam in the Atlantic. It was very kelpy in that spot. I swam with the kelp! (Like swimming with sharks but slimy.) Also – did some voice-over for another friend’s film. I’m grateful that this pandemic has made my friends creative in filmy ways. It has not had that effect on me.

September – My youngest brother was killed. Anything else that happened in September was obscured by a veil of tears.

October – I mostly walked around looking at Halloween decorations. Folks invited me to go see shows that were just starting to come back but I was worried about the combination of the emotional experience I would be bound to have walking into a theatre again combined with the unpredictability of grief. I didn’t want to be that person sobbing in the lobby of The Music Man or whatever.

November – I started plotting how to get the hell out of here because it is Pandemic City still (even when everyone’s pretending it’s fine).

December – I took the train to go see my family for Christmas just as Omicron was bearing down on us here in NYC. I tested both before and after the trip but was still very anxious that I would be bringing the bad news from somewhere.

When I got back, it seemed like the city’s wildlife got some orders from a vindictive city witch to come after me. Anybody got a spare house in the Caribbean?

Other stuff that I did in 2021 that I don’t really have a timeline for:

I got into Reddit where I have joined groups around crafting (the nicest places on the internet), period drama, Gen X and curly hair. Why did I join a subreddit about curly hair? Well, last year, my hair became something of a project as I grew it out in order to donate it to wigs for kids with cancer. I really just wanted to get this mass of hair into some kind of passable shape to donate it – so they didn’t feel compelled to instantly throw it in the sea. But I have now learned about porosity and curl types (a controversial possibly racist construct) as well as protein, sulfates and silicones. I know about plopping, squishing to condishing, praying hands, breaking gel casings and co-washing. And after many expensive product experiments, I’m not sure my hair is any much better than I started. My pre-pandemic self would be horrified that I have spent this much time and attention on my hair but the longer it gets, the more knots there are and the more time it takes. I said I would cut it when the pandemic was over and this shit is not over. I guess I’m starting to understand Rapunzel stuck in her tower with nothing to do but her hair.

I got into darning my socks. I mended every garment I could find with a rip, tear or a hole. I learned more about sashiko. I did some embroidery.

I wrote a bunch of blogs, many of which did not come easily. I recorded a bunch of podcasts and songs for the podcast. I made a few initial steps of raising money for Season Two of the Audio Drama I made last year.

I saw a handful of friends this year, bless them. Not as many as I would have liked – but so many more than last year.

I do not think I will think fondly on this year – but because it has been such a blur, it may be necessary to mark it. It was here. It mostly sucked and it was here.

Sashiko Goals

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 iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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The Face I Made Up
December 28, 2021, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Imagination, masks, pandemic | Tags: , , , ,

In the year or so of going to this café, I have only ever seen the owner in mask – until yesterday. Yesterday, he was outside working on his shed and he was without his mask. For the first time, I saw the lower half of his face and if he hadn’t greeted me warmly and started chatting, I would never have recognized him. I am fascinated by this trick of my brain.

Put a piece of fabric over this guy’s face, I could easily pick him out of a crowd. Without it, I think I’ve never seen him before. It’s clear that my brain made up a face for this guy, one that has nothing to do with his actual face. The face I made up doesn’t exist and I can’t really describe it but if I saw someone with it or something like it, I could have pointed to it and said, “That one.” It’s not just that I didn’t know what this guy looked like, it’s that I thought I knew and I was super super wrong.

The face he actually has is as good a face as the one I made up for him but it somehow tells a different story? I feel as though I’ve uncovered a strange secret of how my brain works in grappling with the discrepancy of what he actually looks like compared to who I imagined.

It turns out that I’m making up stories about people based on their faces. It’s not just that they might have a different face than I imagined, it’s also that I assume they must have a different story. Subconsciously, I’m going, “This person is like this. That person is like that.” based on nothing other than the shape of their chin or whatever. I can’t yet really unpack what my assumptions are or were – but they have to do with social class, geographic origin, personality, upbringing and who knows what else? Like – the guy I imagined was from Connecticut and the actual guy looks like he’s from New Jersey. What does this mean? I could not tell you. The only thing I know is that my brain cannot stop making up stories – both metaphorically, as in the story of the lower half of this guy’s face, and more literally – like what that face I made up means. I feel like this is where the root of prejudice must live – because surely I am not the only one making up stories, making up associations, making up characteristics, based on someone’s face. We do this, surely, for everything and do not know we’re doing it. It’s not just facial structure. It’s bodies. It’s skin. It’s hair. It’s a movement pattern. We think we’re being intuitive or sharp but really our brains are just imaginative chunking association machines.

I’m not sure what we can do about it except perhaps to recognize that it happens and to wonder at how wrong we can be. I’m certainly not one to try and silver lining this pandemic. It sucks and I hate most things about it. I hate all the dark things it has revealed about a lot of humans. However, as uncomfortable as it makes me, I suppose it is a kind of gift to start to see the assumptions my brain makes – to see them in process and to question myself because of it. I can question my own notions of what someone from New Jersey looks like. I can perhaps assume less at the get go and try not to make up so many stories based on faces.

For some reason, I don’t make up faces for masks like this. Like, I literally have no theories about what any of these people look like but give me half a face and my brain’ll go bananas.

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

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Now Is the Winter of My Discontent
November 23, 2021, 7:36 pm
Filed under: American, masks, pandemic, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The temperature has dropped. I pulled my winter coat out of the closet. Our third pandemic winter has begun. Last year, I sat writing under the heat lamps outside at the Toast and Roast, grateful not to have to be at my kitchen table to write but dreaming of the day we’d get the vaccine and I could safely sit inside a café again. And here I am. Back outside at the Toast and Roast (the only coffee place with heat lamps in my neighborhood) despite the fact that I have been vaccinated and have been so since I last sat here in the spring.

Could I go inside somewhere? Sure. Despite the fact that sitting indoors to eat or drink is one of the riskiest things we can do, I’m sure I will at some point. But despite the fact that proof of vaccination is required to sit inside cafes here in NYC, very few places here have been diligent about asking, which does not give me great confidence about the vaccination status of those indoors. Especially given the signs on some windows proclaiming they “don’t discriminate” against unvaccinated people. I mean, at least those signs make it clear where I definitely will not be going.

The me who sat at this Toast and Roast table a year ago would be shocked to learn that so many people have been resistant to getting the vaccine. Didn’t we all go through this nightmare together? Did they not hear the ambulances screaming through the night? Did they not walk past the morgue trucks? Did they not sit, feeling trapped, inside their apartments, afraid of any passing contact that could be dangerous with a loved one or stranger?

When I last sat here at Toast and Roast, under the heat lamp, I would have chewed off my own arm to get a vaccine. But the thing of it is, it doesn’t matter all that much that I, as an individual, have the vaccine, if the community around me is not fully vaccinated. Like, sure, when a mass shooter decides to start spraying bullets, it’s good to have a bullet proof vest on but it won’t save your neighbors and you could still catch a bullet. Better to not have a shooter, number one, but barring that – it’s better if shields can be up for the whole community. (And yes, this is a very American analogy, isn’t it? Ay.)

I cannot understand why someone who can get the vaccine, would not. I start to wonder if maybe the pandemic just hasn’t been so bad for some folks – like maybe they just love Zoom and they want to stay on it forever? Not only would I have chewed off my own arm to get a vaccine, I’d have welcomed almost any side effect. Like, oh, we’re going to get you vaccinated but….you’re going to grow a tentacle. Fine. I’d like to introduce you to my new tentacle. It’s very useful in slippery situations. And if we all grew tentacles when we were vaccinated? Great. At least I’d be able to tell who the hell was vaccinated so I ‘d know If I could sit inside with them or not. I’d hang out indoors at the tentacle café without a care in the world. I’d never have to go to Toast and Roast again. (Sorry, Toast and Roast guys, I love you but your bagel shop café has now become a symbol of my winter sadness so it’s hard for me to keep going.)

At this point, I would welcome a tentacle if it meant I could safely sit in a café or a theatre or concert hall and know, for sure, that everyone is vaccinated and that break out infections would be rare. It would make buying clothes really tricky but you know, I can sew and I’ve learned a few new tricks while sitting in my apartment for nearly two years, so….Give me a tentacle! As this third pandemic winter bears down upon me, I’m not sure I can take winter’s punishments (but I could handle a tentacle).

All around me, things are returning to “normal.” People are pretending everything’s okay when over a thousand people (on average) are still dying every day in this country. And even the normal is not normal. I saw a video of a final dress rehearsal of a college production and all the actors were in masks. But not cool theatrical masks. They’re doing a naturalistic contemporary play in the masks we wear to the grocery store. Is this production going to be safer than most because of those masks? Sure. But it is hella not normal. It is apocalyptic.

The answer is not to adapt to putting shows on in masks, it’s to not need the masks anymore.

Or to put on a show where everyone has tentacles! I mean – what would you rather watch? Also – side note for any vaccine literalists who happen to be reading – this tentacle business is entirely a flight of my own fancy. You will not grow a tentacle if you get the vaccine. You might get a sore arm and feel kind of tired for a day or two. (I lost my appetite for a little while. People pay money for that kind of side effect.) But I’ll crochet you a tentacle if it’ll convince you to get the vaccine. It might help keep you warm in this wretched winter of discontent while we wait for everyone to get it together.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my favorite vaccine side effect!

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 iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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I’m Going to Have to Ask You to Not Silver Lining This
July 21, 2021, 12:16 am
Filed under: American, pandemic | Tags: , , ,

During my first post-vaccine trip away, I heard a few people talking about their positive experiences of the pandemic. One said, joyously, “There’s really a silver lining to all this!” I think she was talking about having time in her garden or space to be with her family but I can’t remember because my brain melted down in that moment. I don’t mean to imply that someone couldn’t have positive experiences of the pandemic or experience things as a silver lining. I don’t even mean to suggest that one can’t talk about the positive aspects one might have enjoyed.

But it might be important to keep in mind that everyone has had every different pandemics and there are a lot of people for whom there was no silver lining or there is no silver lining and there is unlikely to be a silver lining before this is over over over. 

As things start opening back up and people start to touch back in with one another, it might be worth being a little careful when talking about the great times you’ve had this last year and a half.

I’m super glad that not everyone was traumatized by the traumatizing event we all just went through. I’m glad folks had gardens and space to stretch out in. I’m glad people enjoyed Zoom cocktail hours and on-line exercise classes. I’m glad that for some folks this whole thing was mostly just a little inconvenient and not that big a deal.

But that’s not the case for a lot of people. For people who got sick or lost someone to COVID, for people who lost their jobs or their field or their hope, for people confined to small spaces or in unsafe conditions, a silver lining is just not in the cards, particularly when they’re still dealing with the repercussions of the storm clouds. This thing sucked for me. And it sucked much more for a whole lot of other people. The silver lining is that we survived. I honestly don’t want to hear about any other silver linings. I don’t want to hear the positive spins and I categorically do not want to be asked to make a positive spin.

No one here in NYC is really doing that. I think, as a city, we’ve still got after-images of those morgue trucks parked outside our hospitals burned into our neurons so we’re just not inclined to try and put a positive spin on anything. With the possible exception of the city administration. They’re trying to do that hard. But for the people who live here? It feels like everyone just assumes that we’ve been through hell and we’re not really going to talk about it for a while.

But elsewhere, where maybe the realities of this pandemic weren’t quite as up close and personal, there’s a classic American attempt at turning of that frown upside down happening. And smiling is a good idea! For sure! But I beg of you, please, unless you know for a fact someone had a really easy time of it this last year or so, don’t go looking for the silver lining. There may not really be one for the person you’re talking to.

Most people who have a yacht have at least a cursory awareness that not everyone has access to a yacht and so the nicest ones don’t tend to go on about it. The clueless, of course, will not shut up about the yacht’s amenities but the nice ones will not bother non-yacht people with their yacht stories. Think about your silver lining like a yacht. If you find another person you know for a fact has a yacht, please enjoy all the yacht talk you want – but if you’re talking with a non-yacht owner, maybe talk about the weather instead. And maybe just start with the assumption that the person you’re talking to does not own a yacht.

Look at all these silver linings! Right over my yacht!

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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Here Comes the Wave

When I was in grad school, I brought the guest director from England to see a Moliere piece made by Theatre de la Jeune Lune, on tour from Minneapolis. I’d seen Jeune Lune’s work in their home when I was on tour and fell in love with their production of The Kitchen. If you saw this production you’ll know why. (Plates!) So I knew this visiting director would find something of interest in their Moliere piece. She was very impressed and we talked about that production a lot, even later that year, when I came to assist her on a production in London.

Not long after that, Jeune Lune, after thirty years of innovative work, had to close. Word on the street was that financial troubles had sunk them and they had to disband. Every time I saw this director I’d brought to the show after that, she’d ask me, “Darling, how could this happen? How could they let this wonderful company die? What is wrong in your country that they don’t know they need to take care of extraordinary artists like that?” She was greatly troubled by the loss. I was too – though a lot less surprised, as I’ve come to expect a terrible survival-of-the-financially-fittest in the arts in this country. It’s not the best art that survives – just the stuff that generates the most financially stable footprint.

I think this is backwards, of course. Personally, I don’t need my great artists to be financial wizards. If they’re not great at managing their money, I don’t think that should be a death sentence for a theatre company. I want a company to make great theatre; I don’t need it to make great investments. Anyway – Jeune Lune died and it was a tragedy for their community not to mention theatre in general, and its reverberations were felt everywhere, even across the ocean to a director who’d seen their Moliere once.

Now, here in 2021, a beloved and cherished English company has died. It is one with a similarly storied history, aesthetic chops and full touring schedule. If you saw Kneehigh Theatre, you know you saw something special. And they survived through the pandemic! They made it through the eye of the hurricane! But they could go no further. It’s heartbreaking. I want to call up that director who used to bemoan the loss of Jeune Lune and say, “Darling, how could you let this happen?”

But of course – this is only the first of many beloved companies hitting the rocks, I expect. I expect this is about to happen around the world. There will be companies that quietly folded while we were all at home. There will be companies that held on throughout but could not pick up the pieces here at the end of the road. It’s about to get very sad around here for the performing arts and it’s been sad for some time now but it’s somehow going to be a whole new wave of closures and sadness. Darling how could we let this happen? There are a lot of positive developments in process. Broadway will be back in the fall. The Public is doing some Shakespeare in the Park this summer (featuring one of the actors from the Dragoning! Go see him!) But Jeune Lune is long gone. Kneehigh is shutting down.

As things start to open up, many other companies we love will discover that their futures are unsustainable. Darlings, do we have to let this happen?

It’s probably too late for most of them but if you have a company you love – maybe let them know now, maybe drop them a donation, before they’re gone forever.

This is from Kneehigh Theatre’s Brief Encounter. Waves feature quite prominently in this production. That might be one coming up behind them in that boat. Also, I don’t have the rights for this photo but I hope as it’s in tribute to the great loss of this great company, they might not object to my using it.

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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