Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - February 6, 2012

Abysmal gender-parity score this week - 14%, the lowest it's been since I started keeping track. A mere three female bylines out of 21. What century is this, again?

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -9%

February 6, 2012

Total writers: 21
male: 18
female: 3
gender parity score: 14%

Last week's score
Total writers: 20
male: 15
female: 5
gender parity score: 25%

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012: year of the dragon

This is the year of the Water Dragon, to be exact. What is a Water Dragon???
Find your Chinese zodiac sign.
Chinese astrology calculator to Find the Secret of Your Life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brawndo's got what audiences crave

I was amused to suddenly think of a connection between the genius cult movie "Idiocracy" and the theatre of Mac Wellman - and others in the "Neo-dramatic Writing" school.

For theatre to work - for it to make contact with the audience, it has to have emotion embedded in some sort of narrative. The narrative can be absurdist, like WAITING FOR GODOT, or in bursts, like OUR TOWN, or across centuries like ARCADIA. But it has to have some coherence to be comprehended and to make the emotions resonate. So think of emotional resonance as water.

But the Neo-dramatic Writing school members have convinced themselves and/or critics and/or colleges that what audiences really crave - or what they should crave - is incoherent, emotionally arid word-salad. Think of the word-salad as Brawndo.

And like the citizens of the future, the Neo-dramatic Writers can't understand why audiences for their kind of theatre are fading. It's got what audiences (should) crave! It's got electrolytes!

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I received a response to my second post about the work of Mac Wellman. The commenter seems to think I'm wrong about something, but they don't say what exactly.

One of the points I made about Wellman's work is that because it elevates word-play over dramatic narrative, it is anti-emotional.

To continue along those lines - human emotions are not progressive. Unlike human intellectual endeavors, human emotions are not about innovation and novelty. People feel the same old shit. Emotions are stereotypes. And because the same old emotions are common to most people - possibly psychopaths and those with extreme cases of autism or brain-damage excepted - we can identify with the characters on stage. We don't have to be ex-kings and fathers of recently deceased daughters to be emotionally impacted by the last scene of KING LEAR. Now if we didn't know anything about King Lear's situation except with signage - a sign tells us he's an ex-king, a sign tells us she's his dead daughter, we would still respond emotionally to the spectacle of his mourning her death. But it's only through the coherent story, the dramatic narrative, do we really feel the full impact of King Lear's regret, remorse, anguish and mourning. That is what makes drama work.

I said in the previous post that I thought that Wellman's preferred text-centric approach to theatre was hostile to emotion. When Wellman says, in disparagement of "Aristotelian" theatre:  "we can all get together and celebrate some perfectly obvious and banal emotional or theatrical truism" he reveals his attitude towards emotion. Because emotion is banal. As the dictionary has it, banal is by definition:
lacking originality, freshness, or novelty
Yep. That's emotions for you. That's why we still watch The Trojan Women. Because we feel the same old banal shit that the ancient Greeks felt.

I'm not the only one who says this about emotion and Wellman's work. Consider this paper, "The Challenge of Neo-dramatic Writing in the Anglo-Saxon Theater" by Avra Sidiropoulou, from, amusingly, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

The paper provides a nice label for Wellman's postmodernist theatre - "Neo-dramatic Writing", the anti-Aristotelian approach to drama.

Neo-dramatic Writing is a true acrobat of all artistic disciplines. Sidiropoulou explains:
Essentially, in neo-dramatic writing textual primacy is restored, but done so after having been percolated through performance considerations, while simultaneously underlining the dangers of over-exposure to visuality and the limitations of empty formalism.
Sidiropoulou appears to be a fan of Wellman, but really, who, besides me, is not? And this is what he says about Wellman's work:
Traces of this tendency can be found in the plays of Mac Wellman. A poet, as well as a playwright, Wellman sometimes oscillates between the structures of poetry and theater in his dramatic work. As a result some of his plays display a portentous verbosity that actually flattens the characters, cerebralizing and ultimately sabotaging all sense of emotional content. For example, in Description Beggared; or the Allegory of WHITENESS (2000) one of the most characteristic speeches reveals the narcissistic trend of writers to over-verbalize, which is in theory similar to some auteurs’ image-saturated and as such, fatuous and heavy-handed performances:
Can you believe it? I am surrounded by

maniacs and idiots. It is hard to say
which is worse, the maniacs or the idiots.
It is hard to say which is worse, the
mania of the maniacs, or the idiocy of the
idiots. For if there is one thing I
cannot abide it is the mania of maniacs;
for if there is something I hate even more
than that it is the idiocy of idiots. (Wellman)
This observation, together with the readers’ and the spectators’ (re-vised?) quest for essence and meaning does by no means vindicate a return to the structures of well-made plays.  
As that last sentence indicates, the author doesn't consider the sabotaging of emotional content a bad thing. And as he soon after says:
...fragmentation of character, fracturing and distortion of narrative, and mistrust for conventional representation are key characteristics of the post-1980s dramaturgy, part of the inevitable development of dramatic writing towards the ambiguity and abstraction that express our twenty-first-century sensibilities...
Yes, those traditional aspects of theatre, like emotional resonance, must be jettisoned - inevitably - in order to make way for 21st-century theatre.

Like Sidiropoulou's paper, Neo-dramatic Writing is a creature of the well-heeled confines of Academia. And in order to show that it is worth keeping around, in order to maintain any kind of prestige, theatre can't do the same old tired, trite, emotional-narrative thing that Wellman disparages. It has to show some kind of progress.

After all, science is always coming up with new ideas, creating new paradigms. Surely art must do the same thing.  Audiences can come to Neo-dramatic Writing theatre and they can like it. Or not. It doesn't matter - either way there's funding available.

Friday, January 27, 2012

John Lennon liked cats

I knew Lennon liked cats, although I won't go so far as to call him a "crazy cat lady" as this article does. The image above is a drawing by Lennon.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The US system of mass incarceration

The literary style of the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik gets on my nerves, but some of his articles are very good and the one in this week's New Yorker, The Caging of America, is one of the best ever. This is the most important New Yorker article since Elizabeth Kolbert's profile of the Koch brothers.

This is some seriously important stuff:
The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
And one of the most important causes of next decade is ending the for-profit prison industry:
No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.
More at the New Yorker.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - January 30, 2012

Gender parity status is up three points to 25% - one quarter of all the New Yorker by-lines are female in this issue, which is pretty much the New Yorker standard - I've been keeping track since November 14 and the average gender parity score so far is 26%.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +3%

January 30, 2012

Total writers: 20
male: 15
female: 5
gender parity score: 25%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 17
female: 5
gender parity score: 22%

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

more thoughts on Mac Wellman

Someone commented on my recent post "poor Mac Wellman" asking "who are you, again?"

I suspect it's Wellman himself. After I wrote the post, someone doing a search for "Mac Wellman" visited my web site several times. And nine times out of ten the person Googling a name is the person themselves.

But no worries - as the commenter, with the use of "again", is pointedly saying, I am nobody. My opinions are not a threat to the hermetically sealed perfection that is the career of Mac Wellman. For unlike other playwrights, like say, Tennessee Williams, William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Wellman does not get bad reviews. I am not kidding. Here is an interview with Wellman from  BOMB magazine from 1995:
LY You always get good reviews.

MW I know.

LY Always.

MW I know. At least, most of the time.

LY Your plays make up-to-the-moment points that you don’t get from a newspaper. Why isn’t there a Mac Wellman play going on in every neighborhood every night?

MW That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing—two, three plays a year for the past five, six years. I’m worn out.

LY I don’t know how you can turn it out like that.

MW I don’t either. I am slowing down, I know that.
It doesn't strike the interviewer or Wellman as odd that he always gets good reviews. Rather they find it inexplicable that those good reviews don't translate into vast public acclaim.

Just who do these nobodies in these neighborhoods think they are, anyway? How could they not be begging him to give them more of this?
The overall thrust of the piece seems to be about the impossibility of meaningful communication among people. Assuming that’s the case, the play totally makes its point.
And that was written by one of his admirers.

Almost all his reviews mention the communication issue, mainly the impossibility of meaningful communication. If there is any drearier topic for a theatre production, I can't think of it.

Lately Wellman has been working on  an  idea to fund CUNY MFA students.  The concern over the cost of education and the crushing debt that entails is an important issue and by no means one just for students in arts programs. It would be nice if we could just give all American students a bunch of money to continue their educations, even into post-graduate studies. And so...
...Wellman and his colleagues on the CUNY Affiliation Committee have a plan. They’ve recently launched a campaign entitled “CUNY Creative Writing MFA: The New Bohemia” that would fund a full tuition abatement for all creative-writing MFAs. If it succeeds, this initiative will render tuition entirely free for the programs at Brooklyn, City, Hunter, and Queens colleges.
But how important is it, really for a playwright to have an MFA? Instead of money to complete an MFA, why not give them money to do productions - or offer to produce their work?

That wouldn't do Wellman much good though - other playwrights receiving productions would be competition for Wellman, but more importantly, without MFA students, Wellman, the Program Coordinator of the Brooklyn College English Department Master of Fine Arts Program, Playwriting would be out of a job. So for Wellman to come up with a plan to raise five million dollars to fund this program, with the Newspeak-inspired subtitle of "New Bohemia", is a smart career move. Wellman has no trouble whatsoever with meaningful communication when it counts, whatever his plays might say about the impossibility.

Of all the reviews of Wellman's work, I think this is the most clarifying. It's a rare, bad review. However, the reviewer is certain of Wellman's titanic genius:
Wellman is a playwright of considerable merit, an icon of American experimental theater, if not its guru. He has written more than 40 plays; has received three OBIE awards (including a lifetime-achievement nod); and is, by all accounts, a brilliant, thoughtful, amazingly talented writer. But you wouldn't know from this miserably failed piece of experimental theater.
But based on the ensuing description of the work, it sounds exactly like every other play Wellman has written:
A press release... quotes Wellman as saying Hyacinth Macaw is one of "four plays that . . . taken together, [tell] a story about a young woman adrift and alienated in a world essentially gone mad. . . . Populated by corporate thieves and religious maniacs and desperate losers of all kinds." He goes on to disclose that he doesn't "write psychological plays. . . . I'm interested more in plays about the 'big picture' rather than little intimate studies of a presumably sacrosanct inner life."
That sounds reasonable and important and compelling; unfortunately, it doesn't manifest in Hyacinth Macaw. It's as if the play were afflicted with Tourette's syndrome, continually convulsing in a stream of gibberish.
The basic storyline: a mysterious stranger shows up in a family's back yard. He calls the teenage daughter an orphan and tells the mother he has a letter for her husband. She gives the letter to her husband, Ray. It informs him he is a fake and the mysterious stranger is a duplicate of him. Dad has to leave his family forever. No one really seems to mind, least of all Dad. In Act 2, the mysterious stranger gives Dad a snake because that's apparently a gift where he comes from. Dad leaves, as the other characters sing the chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The stranger is now the new dad; he says the contract calls for him to stay 99 years. The daughter feeds him bugs. Mom runs off with Mad Wu, a vagabond from China. The daughter goes with dad to bury the moon; she caw-caws like a macaw. New dad says we are all orphans. Play over.
The critics all agree, Wellman is a genius. But how, I wonder, do they distinguish a "good" Wellman play from a "bad" Wellman play? I think this paragraph in the same review gives the game away:
To not "get" a play like this opens one up to feeling as if one's a Philistine, someone who lacks the intellect to wrestle with highly stylized "art." But it's also possible there really is nothing to get in Wellman's play. And that's fine. Plays that stubbornly refuse to give answers and are instead devoted to making the audience ask questions are absolutely worthwhile.
That's what Wellman's perfect career is all about. The worry of theatre reviewers and academics that to dislike the work of Wellman is to risk being thought a stupid Philistine. And so they err on the side of caution, and heap on the praise for yet another inscrutable piece of anti-emotional, anti-narrative incoherence.

Postmodernism was a disaster for anthropology, for example. Marvin Harris discusses the postmodern hostility towards science in his last book "Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times":
...postmodernists associate science and reason with the domination and oppression of totalitarian regimes. Since science searches for a "best answer" it it precludes diversity and leads to intolerance. In postmodern eyes "reasonable" ways are always brutally unfair to somebody... Pauline Rosenau explains that abandoning reason "means for post-modernists, liberation from modernity's preoccupation with authority, efficiency, hierarchy, power, technology, commerce (the business ethic), administration, social engineering... It means release from modern science's concern for order, consistency, predictability."
Mac Wellman, in this interview from BOMB Magazine reveals himself to be a complete postmodernist when it comes to theatre:
The failure of a lot of theater is that it’s Aristotelian, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end: Now we’re in the conflict part, now you know the conflict is going to be resolved, and then we can all get together and celebrate some perfectly obvious and banal emotional or theatrical truism in some meaningless way. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but that’s not the only kind of work. I think of theater not just as propositions but propositions put in a specific context. Take Bad Penny — that was the best thing I ever did. You couldn’t tell where it started or stopped, and it picked up its special lunacy from the setting. I’m interested in the whole problem of text against context and the interplay between them. That’s what makes something theatrical or dramatic—a complex relationship between the dialogue and the setting. Basically, I’m trying to argue for a theater that’s a little more interested in ideas and texture.
Mind you, he's not saying celebrating some perfectly obvious and banal emotional or theatrical truism in some meaningless way is wrong. Like all postmodernists, Wellman will let you draw your own conclusions.

Now postmodernism isn't quite as pernicious in the arts as it is in anthropology or other scientific endeavors - amusing the upper-classes with cachet-ridden nonsense is pretty harmless, and diverts them from insider trading or any of the many other ways they maintain their economic dominance. But still, what this passage indicates is that Wellman actually hates theatre. He doesn't say that though. Instead he posits that there are two different kinds of theatre: the old-tyme, Aristotelian kind, with a beginning, middle and end and conflicts to be resolved; and his kind, where you can't tell where it stopped or started and the interplay is between text against context. 

In actuality Mac Wellman's theatre is anti-theatre. Because theatre is about human emotion and Wellman and his fans are much too intelligent for human emotion. And really, where is the glory in representing emotional content on stage that just anybody can understand? We can establish a hierarchy based on intelligence - some people are smarter than others. And there is the economic hierarchy - people low on that hierarchy can't really afford to see experimental "theatre" can they?

But what kind of hierarchy can you establish based on emotions? Both dull people and smart people, both those who can afford the time and money to attend experimental theatre and those who can't feel love, sadness, fear, joy. And they've been feeling these things since the beginning of time. What's the point of doing theatre if you can't innovate it far beyond human identification and commonality,  beyond those "banal" done-to-death emotion-laden conflicts-to-be-resolved scenarios, into the heroic realm of word salad?

In 1996, Alan Sokal demonstrated the absurdity of postmodernism by submitting nonsense to Social Text, a journal of post-modern studies. After it was accepted, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as
a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics
The opening of Wellman's "Speculations" demonstrates how it's done:
The STRUCTURE of a play ought not be viewed as a fixed thing, but as a mutable one.

I mean, the structure of a play conceived of as a moving point:
ππππππππ . ππππππ

passing over– or through– time, from inception to end point; so that what it is relation    of    part    to    who(o)le    [Oh Mereology!]    changes    continuously    and continually;

changes because space is filled with invisible lines– as theatron. (Da Vinci) This is why vertical narrative is possible.

This is why monologue is inherently demonic.

This is why only the wicked walk in circles. (Augustine)

Drama takes place in phase space. The continuum of phase-space is to time as time is to space.

Theatricality    takes    place,    as    it    were, perpendicular to time, along the phase-space continuum. We do not know what we are doing.

Thus neither theatricality nor drama takes place in time, although of course they do.

Time (clock time, I mean) is of the essence only in appearance, not in APPARENCE. Time is only apparently an expression of space; the reverse is also true. (Einstein)
Real thinking as well, lies outside time, occupies an    outside-time,    “that    eternal    moment    that medieval philosophy approached in the nunc stans of the mystic”. (Arendt)
Since postmodernism does not recognize traditional values like structure and coherence, the editors at Social Text had nothing against which to evaluate Sokal's submission, except on the basis of impressive turns of phrase. This is the very essence of the "theatre" of Mac Wellman.

I'm not saying that's wrong.

If you find value in Speculations you will certainly find much value in this Postmodernism Generator. Enjoy.


Update: once again, someone Googling "Mac Wellman" has visited this site - from the same URL as last time - and once again, they've posted a response. As you can see in the comments section they seem to be channeling an insulting Snagglepuss suffering from aphasia. If this isn't Wellman himself, it's someone doing a spot-on impression of what I think Wellman would sound like in a pissing contest. But since the commenter is too cowardly (different lion - Snagglepuss may have been an effeminate thespian but he was no coward) to sign their name, I can't say it's Wellman for certain. The commenter thinks I'm wrong, but about exactly what they don't say, so I can't address the  disagreements.

But then we all know about the impossibility of meaningful communication, don't we?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Krugman is modestly optimistic

Well you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw that Paul Krugman expressed "modest optimism" in his Monday column. I might actually believe the economy is recovering now.

But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money. Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better, but we’ve already had several false dawns on that front. More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing.

More at the Times.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Honey badger don't care!

The crazy nastyass honey badger. Why has it taken me until now to find out about this video???

Honey badger T-shirts!

Know your memes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I know Astoria - the beer garden

Although the line that made me LOL was "Do you smell maple syrup?"

Possibly not everybody remembers the Manhattan maple syrup mystery. It was finally solved in 2009:
The city revealed on Thursday that the culprit was the seeds of fenugreek, a cloverlike plant, which are used to produce fragrances at a factory across the Hudson River in North Bergen, N.J. It turned out that the city had never given up trying to determine the aroma’s origin. It had quietly created a crack maple-syrup team that remained on the case. The North Bergen factory, owned by a company called Frutarom, used the herbal seeds to manufacture food flavors, releasing a pungent, generally pleasant smell in the process. Under the right weather conditions — high humidity, no rain — the aroma drifts across the Hudson onto the West Side of Manhattan.

Krugman: "call me peculiar"

If Mr. Romney is telling the truth about his taxes, he’s actually more or less typical of the very wealthy. Since 1992, the I.R.S. has been releasing income and tax data for the 400 highest-income filers. In 2008, the most recent year available, these filers paid only 18.1 percent of their income in federal income taxes; in 2007, they paid only 16.6 percent. When you bear in mind that the rich pay little either in payroll taxes or in state and local taxes — major burdens on middle-class families — this implies that the top 400 filers faced lower taxes than many ordinary workers.

More Krugmany goodness.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

poor Mac Wellman

That's what Akiva Fox, writing in an academic organ The Thread calls him. "Poor Mac Wellman."

It seems to me that Mac Wellman is doing pretty damn well for himself. Not alot of people get paid to masturbate.

You think that's harsh? Check this out and try to tell me that isn't the most egregious example of wankerage you've ever read.

Wellman doesn't just get paid to wank it, he gets awards, he gets accolades for it, as his web site bio will tell you. So why does Akiva Fox feel bad for Mac Wellman? Apparently because he isn't as well-loved as Shakespeare. Here's the context:
Shakespeare... like every great writer, a person who used language in unexpected ways to show other human beings themselves in all their inexplicable fullness. He was not a god; he was not perfect; he was not a genre; he was a writer who strung words together around the time Modern English was coalescing. He was in the right place at the right time. Had he been born in our time, like poor Mac Wellman, he might have fallen on deaf ears. Shakespeare was lucky and good, which is what all geniuses seem to be. The danger of undue reverence is that it leads to vagueness, generality, and every other fatal enemy of art. We tend to think it’s enough to say the words in the right order. Any other playwright, directed and acted the way we approach Shakespeare’s work, would have his work savaged by every critic within scribbling distance.
Apparently only reverence of Shakespeare is dangerous. Reverence for Mac Wellman seems to be an acceptable risk.

The fact that both Akiva Fox's essay and the essay he is responding to, Adam Sobsey's Shakespeare Problem both look to Mac Wellman for some kind of guidance on the subject of Shakespeare is bizarre in the extreme.  I can't think of a playwright further from William Shakespeare, in approach, in affect, in audience-orientation, than Mac Wellman.  But I'll let Wikipedia tell it:
Wellman is best known for his experimental work in the theater which rebels against theatrical conventions, often abandoning such traditional elements as plot and character altogether.
While Shakespeare's language was often innovative (and also, often long-winded and tiresome) he certainly didn't abandon plot and character. He was enough of a traditionalist that plot and character were critical - in fact one of the reasons for his standing as a genius is the way he improved on the character and plotting of his original source material.

I took a workshop at the Flea Theatre with Mac Wellman over ten years ago. It was a two-part workshop and he gave us homework in the week between part one and part two, and I thought the homework was so ridiculous, so far from the nuts and bolts of crafting a play, that I just dropped the hell out. I don't remember now what the homework entailed -  I just remember being filled with the pointless futility of it all.

It wasn't a good portent during part one when Wellman explained that while he was interested in the pagan philosopher/mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria, it wasn't because she was an atheist heroine martyred by a Christian mob. He wasn't interested in the dramatic aspects of her life and achievements, the fact that she was a sort of atheist Joan of Arc. In other words, he wasn't interested in the bits that Shakespeare would have been interested in.

I haven't seen Wellman's play, HYPATIA, but I strongly suspect that the NYTimes review is honest and accurate, and it does not surprise me a bit:
Hypatia, played by Sophia Fox-Long with the self-involvement of someone hearing inner voices, is mostly at center stage, engaging with various folks as she passes ethereally through the ages. Meanwhile a variety of narrators, who are never identified but whose costuming and locutions place them anachronistically outside the basic time frame, are spotlighted and blacked out as they take turns speaking.

One has the manner and dress of a television newswoman, another a businessman speaking in Brooklynese, a third a nightclub torch singer. A fourth emanates from an electronic device. Their echolalic repetitions as they puzzle over the legend of the main character are perhaps a suggestion that the mysteries that so appealed to Hypatia -- the nature of zero, for instance -- have remained symbolically in force through the ages. But perhaps not.
Why have an atheist Joan of Arc when you can have Hypatia the flower child in lah-lah land?

No, the plays of Mac Wellman are pretty much the opposite of the plays of William Shakespeare, and I don't think Wellman has any insights into Shakepeare's works that are at all useful. The poor man will just have to get by with getting paid to wank-off for his usual audience of academics. I'm sure the people working at Foxconn pity the hell out of him.

Fortunately someone was interested in telling Hypatia's real story:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy birthday Schroeder

Like many American children, I'll wager, the first classical composer I was aware of was Beethoven, and thanks entirely to Schroeder, the musical prodigy character in Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts ensemble. I don't think I knew who Mozart was until a teenager, at least. Thanks to Schroeder I had heard the name Beethoven by the time I was in first grade. And according to Wiki it could have been Brahms:
Schulz once revealed that he had originally planned to depict Johannes Brahms as Schroeder's idol, but decided that Beethoven simply sounded "funnier."
And today, January 18, also according to Wiki, is Schroeder's birthday. I learned this quite by accident. Yesterday I was listening to classical music during work and noticed I really liked the music and then discovered it was Beethoven's seventh symphony and it occurred to me that I didn't own all of Beethoven's symphonies and immediately bought an album on iTunes containing all of them - it was a bargain at $6. More about Beethoven's symphonies in a future post.

Anyway, Beethoven made me think of Schroeder and I became curious if he had a last name, which apparently he does not. Although Schroeder is a distinctive enough first name that he doesn't really need a last name. Apparently Schroeder made an appearance on South Park and one on The Simpsons.

Schroeder first appeared in the Peanuts strip in 1951, as a baby. Presumably that would mean he was born January 18, 1950 which would make him 62 years old today. And he still has all his hair.

PLEASE NOTE: the Wikipedia links will not work on January 18, 2012 because Wiki is conducting an anti-SOPA blackout.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - January 23, 2012

Exact same gender parity status as last this week - or if you want to get technical, down by 1 female writer because Ariel Levy gets two separate pieces this week. I counted her once for each .

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: 0%

January 23, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 17
female: 5
gender parity score: 22%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 17
female: 5
gender parity score: 22%

Monday, January 16, 2012

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

The rest of King's letter

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Things that could have happened 50 years ago, technically...

Via Facebook today I saw two examples of some really cool things being done with technology that existed for at least fifty years:

Five people on an accoustic guitar:

"Inflatable street art":

Acoustic guitars have been around for centuries and video cameras for decades, but for some reason with all the years of entertainment on television, nobody has done anything like five people on a guitar, as far as I know.

And as far as the street art, well plastic bags have been around for at least fifty years and subway vents for a hundred years, but nobody ever thought to put them together like this until now.

What was needed to make these things into public phenomena - and thus worth doing - were smart phones and Youtube.

Thanks to smart phones, millions of people are walking around with simple-to-use video equipment on them at all times, and so this kind of art will be recorded. Combine that with Youtube, where the videos can immediately be shared with the world. Probably it has occurred to others that you could have five people on a guitar, but it wasn't important enough to carve out ten minutes of television time to show such a thing. But the bar to performance of one-off neat stuff like this is much lower now.

Please note that even though New York Magazine created this video profile of the street art, we are watching the piece via Youtube.

The New  Yorker has an interesting profile of Youtube this week - check it out, the entire article is available free: Streaming Dreams.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

time buy Girl Scout cookies!

I had no idea the Girl Scouts were this cool. Things have certainly come a long way since I was a Brownie.

Time to carb out for a good cause.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Riding the Edwardian wave

Well unlike "Larkrise to Candleford," the currently showing "Downton Abbey" is also being shown in the US, not just the UK, and according to today's New York Times is a phenomenon: If You’re Mad for ‘Downton,’ Publishers Have Reading List:
The British melodrama “Downton Abbey” is already the darling of American public television. Now it has become a marketing tool for booksellers and publishers hoping to tap into the passion of the show’s audience.

Publishers are convinced that viewers who obsessively tune in to follow the war-torn travails of an aristocratic family and its meddling but loyal servants are also literary types, likely to devour books on subjects the series touches.

And as I predicted yesterday, I did identify another actor in Downton who appeared on "Larkrise to Candleford" - Samantha Bond, who played a sugar momma on Larkrise plays the sister of the leading character Lord Grantham. That didn't take long.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Downton Abbey

I discovered Downton Abbey via the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum complaining about Laura Linney's 10-second talking head.

It seems to be a sort of counterpart to the late, lamented Larkrise to Candleford. In fact one of the leading actors of Larkrise, Brendan Coyle who played the main character's stone mason dad left that show to be one of the leading actors on Downton - according to Wiki the part, as a Downton Abbey valet, was written just for Coyle. I haven't seen any other Larkrise actors on Downton, but it's just a matter of time. One of the amusements of watching British shows is playing "where have I seen them before." So far I've noted that Jim Carter, the head butler at Downton, was Juliet's nurse - in drag - in "Shakespeare in Love" and the cute Scottish doctor, played by David Robb, played Laertes to Derek Jacobi's Hamlet in 1980.

Downton is a good show, although I do prefer Larkrise, mainly because I loved the postmistress character, Dorcas Lane, played to perfection by Julia Sawalha, currently reprising her role as Saffy Monsoon on Absolutely Fabulous.

David Robb as Laertes

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - January 16, 2012

The New Yorker's gender parity status is a smidge down this week - same number of female writers as last week, but one more male writer for a total of 22 writers.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -1%

January 16, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 17
female: 5
gender parity score: 22%

Last week's score
Total writers: 21
male: 16
female: 5
gender parity score: 23%

Monday, January 09, 2012

HELP! - an appreciation

I always had a prejudice against the Beatles' HELP! album. For a few of reasons - first because it was the soundtrack for the movie HELP! which isn't a very good movie, especially compared to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. And second because the American version has a line-up that is not as good as the British version.

Luckily the version you get now via download, etc, is the British version. Here is the lineup:

1.      Help! 
2.      The Night Before
3.      You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
4.      I Need You
5.      Another Girl     
6.      You're Going to Lose That Girl
7.      Ticket to Ride 
8.      Act Naturally
9.      It's Only Love   
10.    You Like Me Too Much
11.    Tell Me What You See  
12.    I've Just Seen a Face
13.    Yesterday
14.    Dizzy Miss Lizzy

This brief review says it pretty well:  "Help! may not be their greatest album, but it contains some of their greatest early songs."

This is the best line from the review: "Their sonic range is expanding as they start to get comfortable in the studio, Harrison riding a volume pedal on his pleading I Need You and in the drone of riffing, proto-heavy-rock song Ticket to Ride driven by Ringo’s heavy tom tom beat."

Bonus for mentioning "I Need You," more about which in a moment.

Another problem with this album is that I've heard the better songs a million times so it's hard to appreciate them, and the lesser songs, well, let's deal with them first:

2.      The Night Before
5.      Another Girl     
8.      Act Naturally
9.      It's Only Love   
10.    You Like Me Too Much
11.    Tell Me What You See

That's six out of 14, not good odds for a Beatles record.

Also I'm not getting into You Make Me Dizzy Miss Lizzy - not a Beatles song, although Lennon's singing is typically great.

The Night Before/Another Girl - both McCartney tunes, but mediocre although I do appreciate them because McCartney sounds sexier than usual in both and also he looked very nice in the Another Girl sequence in Help! in a tight black t-shirt and jeans. There are surprisingly few pictures of the Fabs in t-shirts and jeans.

Act Naturally - not a Lennon/McCartney tune, it's corny and it's the obligatory Ringo song. I listened to it all the way through once. That was enough.

It's Only Love - this actually has an excellent guitar riff going on, and Lennon's high note for the finale is great. Also the way he rolls his R when he goes "very bright."


But the lyrics are awkward, especially the opening, so, no.

Tell Me What You See - again, awkward opening lyrics. And the refrain "Tellll meeee whaaat yoou seeeahhh!" just doesn't work. And even the singing isn't good. A definite lesser Lennon/McCartney.

You Like Me Too Much - a lesser Harrison song, and I don't have a high opinion - but with some very notable exceptions - of Harrison's oevre. The singing is typical Harrison just-OK, and the lyrics are awkward and in that weird minor-key ambivalent Harrison mode.

However, I love I Need You. The review I quoted nails why it's so good - the awesome echoey guitar work that might have been a first in rock and roll, an early harbinger of the guitar pyrotechnics of the hard rock era. Listen:

The video clip is the "I Need You" sequence  from Help! They are being protected from the bad guys, led by Leo McKern (#2 in two episodes of The Prisoner!) because Ringo was sent this ring and... nevermind.

Also points for judicious use of cowbell, and great guitar reverb to finish off.

Yeah, I don't like most of Harrison's songs, not even the ones everybody loves like "Something" (zzzzzz!) and "Here Comes the Sun" but when I love them, I love them alot - his "It's All Too Much" is an underrated gem and one of the Beatles' best, in my opinion.

Harrison must have been pretty proud of "I Need You" - he gives it a shout-out, twice, during the wacky credits of Help!

You're Gonna Lose that Girl - this is right on the border between lesser and greater Beatles. The subject matter is strictly old-school Beatles, with nothing new or innovative. But on the other hand, it's the old school Beatles musicality - Lennon's singing and the call-and-response harmonies - that make it really good. I love the way Lennon bites into the opening line. And his high notes on loooooose that girl.

Here's the sequence from Help!

Damn, Ringo, you sure like to smoke. But bonus points for the bongo playing.

Actually, there's one thing that's not old-school Beatles: Harrison's unique, eccentric lead guitar. You can hear it at minute 1:16 and it repeats.  It goes perfectly with the song, which is why you don't realize it's so out there until you focus on it.

Ticket to Ride/Yesterday - these songs have almost nothing in common - the first is apparently a rare 50/50 Lennon and McCartney effort, the second all McCartney - except a. both are great songs (although I prefer Ticket) and I've heard both of them so many times I can't hear them any more. They've both just worn completely out for me.

If you want to learn about why they are special songs check out the Beatles Bible:
Ticket to Ride

Although the movie "Help!" was very impersonal, the opposite of "A Hard Day's Night," Lennon has said that the song Help! was very personal:
When Help! came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it's just a fast rock 'n' roll song. I didn't realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he - I - is very fat, very insecure, and he's completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.

Help! still retains its power for me, somehow.  Perhaps it's the singing, perhaps the melody, possibly the drumming.


You've Got to Hide Your Love Away was also a personal one for Lennon:
...It's one of those that you sing a bit sadly to yourself, 'Here I stand, head in hand...' I'd started thinking about my own emotions. I don't know when exactly it started, like I'm A Loser or Hide Your Love Away, those kind of things. Instead of projecting myself into a situation, I would try to express what I felt about myself, which I'd done in my books. I think it was Dylan who helped me realise that - not by any discussion or anything, but by hearing his work.
This is the best music sequence from the movie. Pretty song, pretty Beatles, a little Harrison/McCartney sexual rivalry and the best, pinkest pants suit in the entire world - WITH matching pink hat and boots. What's not to like?

Even though I discovered the Beatles via Paul McCartney's solo career, and have always been a defender of McCartney in Lennon vs. McCartney arguments, it's a fact that I've always preferred Lennon's songs. Except for "It's All Too Much" my favorite Beatles songs include "And Your Bird Can Sing", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey", "Mean Mr. Mustard/Polytheme Pam", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Rain", "Bungalow Bill,"  "Ballad of John and Yoko, " "A Day in the Life," and "I Am the Walrus." I actually might prefer McCartney's solo songs (Band on the Run, Jet, My Love) to his Beatles songs.

However, Yellow Submarine is in a class by itself.

And it must be said that every song on Sgt. Peppers owes its existence to McCartney making everybody else get into the studio to do it. Word is McCartney wanted to get it done by April 1967 so he could be with Jane Asher, who was touring in a play in the US, to meet up with her in time for her birthday.

But one of the best, maybe THE best song ever recorded by the Beatles, is McCartney's I've Just Seen a Face. I blogged about the song last October. It's one of McCartney's own favorites, and deservedly so.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

play pet peeves

I just perused the Doollee.com database and on a quick spot check noted that the following play titles were given to more than one unique play:

10 plays entitled HAUNTED
11 plays entitled STUCK 
12 plays entitled UNDERGROUND
14 plays entitled AFTER THE FLOOD
15 plays entitled MOTHER’S DAY
16 plays entitled LOVE
16 plays entitled BAGGAGE
36 plays entitled HOME

I kid you not - thirty-six plays, written by thirty-six people, named HOME.

I noticed the unoriginality of play titles because I do calls for plays periodically, most recently for the NYCPlaywrights January play of the month.

I first noticed this phenomenon because many years ago I saw Jessica Goldberg's STUCK. Wow, did I hate that play. It was definitely a play during which I wanted to rip my own head off. And then I kept seeing other plays also named STUCK. Naming your play STUCK is not a good sign. Chances are it's about your characters being stuck. Which means utterly boring. In the case of Goldberg's characters, they were so bored that they decided to exchange underpants. Yes, they did. Apparently that is something that we are expected to believe two human beings would actually do. I suppose Goldberg thought it would be titillating or something. Maybe for some people. As for me, it made me want to puke.

Although without a doubt the worst play I ever saw - I went to see it to support Synge Maher, who was directing a play of mine at the time, is Mr. Cupcake. I don't think I've ever seen such a putrified conglomeration of crass ugliness and treacly sentimentality in my entire life. The only reason I was able to save myself from ripping my own head off was by bailing out during intermission. I still have nightmares about that play.

Another thing I've noticed from years of reading other people's plays - the frequent obession with very exact character ages. They can't say "30-something" or even "mid-30s." Many playwrights have to state the exact age.

This is especially true of plays dealing with heterosexual relationships. In fact, you can tell immediately if a male and female character in the character list will be in a relationship just by looking at their ages: if the man is between 1 and 10 years older then they will be in some kind of romantic/sexual pairing. I assume many playwrights are afraid that if you just say a man and a woman are “in their 30s” you might cast a 30 year old man and a 39 year old woman. Apparently this is viewed as an offense against God and Nature.

I read a play today that had these characters listed:
JAKE... a 33-year-old baseball player

MARIE... a pretty, 35 or so mother of a Little Leaguer, a lawyer

I found this very strange. Normally the man would be two years older. Certainly this looked like a potential romantic pairing, since the woman is described as "pretty" - the appearance of the man in a romantic pairing is never described, especially if the play is written by a man.

So I read the play, and found this:
JAKE: (Pause) He's too old for you.

MARIE: You were too young for me.

Ah. Mystery solved. She's too old for him. Because she's TWO FUCKING YEARS OLDER!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Subway fun

So the next NYCPlaywrights play of the month call for submissions is "subway plays" - the plays are to be set in a subway and then we're going to do the recording in the subway.

This isn't original, others have done things along these lines in the subway, but not so many as you might expect. There's the Darth Vader Subway Ride:

And this one, which seems way excessive for a subway situation:

Who could forget the Sesame Street subway production?

The Taking of Pelham 123 - the hijackers want ONE MILLLLLION DOLLARS! Mwah hah hah!

Friday, January 06, 2012

On not ripping one's own head off

David Lamberton and Lorenzo Scott do a nice job in this reading of the December play of the month, especially considering that they only read through it once together before I recorded this and because I had them doing a bunch of stuff, like lying on the floor, in David's case, and considering it's a long "10 minute" play.

I normally would have rejected this play, the submitted script was just over eleven pages and usually I'm pretty strict about rejecting anything that is over 10 dialog pages. But most of the plays sent for this contest were quite bad, especially because so many people sent plays from the "Evil Santa" genre. Once I disqualified those plays there was almost nothing left and of that, almost nothing that was bearable. And this isn't just my judgement - I had five actors performing the semi-finalist plays and the response after each reading was at best "meh." This play was the only one that got a better than lukewarm response.

When I sent the author a link to review the recording, he responded with a long critique of the actors' performances. He seems to have forgotten that this is a script-in-hand reading, with no pretensions of being a polished performance. The play is certainly no gem, it needs some serious editing and reorganizing of the material - it's got quite a few redundancies. He admitted that this is basically a first draft - it really shows.

I never bother to give the winning playwright a critique of his or her play, since for the most part they don't want to hear it anyway. In my long experience running NYCPlaywrights I've discovered that most people are virtually incapable of editing their finished script in any meaningful way. Pretty much the first draft is the final draft, with perhaps a few minor negligible tweaks. People just want to hear how great their play is. But if a play is selected for the NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month, it doesn't mean it's been judged as a great play - it just means it beat out the competition and it didn't make me want to rip my own head off.

"Made me want to rip my own head off" is an expression I got from an ex-boyfriend. I have that response often to theatre productions. The first time was the second time I saw a live performance of a Shakespeare play - Rutgers University's production of AS YOU LIKE IT. The said ex-boyfriend was with me as a matter of fact and I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the stage. It was bad enough that instead of Elizabethan or other pre-20th century costumes the cast was dressed by L.L. Bean, but I could have lived with that. But the part that made my hands start reaching to separate my head from my neck was the section where a character called First Lord is describing the death of a deer:
Indeed, my lord,
The melancholy Jaques grieves at that;
And, in that kind, swears you do more usurp
Than doth your brother that hath banish’d you.
To-day my Lord of Amiens and myself
Did steal behind him as he lay along
Under an oak whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along this wood;
To the which place a poor sequester’d stag,
That from the hunters’ aim had ta’en a hurt,
Did come to languish; and, indeed, my lord,
The wretched animal heav’d forth such groans
That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat
Almost to bursting, and the big round tears
Cours’d one another down his innocent nose
In piteous chase; and thus the hairy fool,
Much marked of the melancholy Jaques,
Stood on the extremest verge of the swift brook,
Augmenting it with tears.
You know this is the big moment for the actor stuck playing "First Lord" but instead of letting him be the center of attention they had a young woman in a fawn-colored body stocking doing some kind of impressionistic pantomime to convey the deer's agony. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this. I was nineteen and still pretty new to Shakespeare and I wasn't yet aware of all the many ways that directors have made Shakespeare their bitch. Although even if I saw it today I believe I'd have the same appalled reaction.

I am convinced that Shakespeare is the reason why stage directors take such liberties with the work of living playwrights, on the grounds that if they can do whatever they want to his plays, why should they think twice before screwing with the work of a mere mortal, starting with throwing out all the stage directions.

I'm sure the director thought, well, nowhere in the script does Shakespeare actually SAY "don't have a pantomime of a dying deer during this monologue."

So that was the first time, but I can't count the number of times I've felt the desire to rip my own head off during a performance or reading of a play. I don't know why I respond so viscerally. Maybe I'm just more discerning than most.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mysteries of IKEA

Thanks to Stieg Larsson I've been thinking about IKEA lately. Some intriguing IKEA facts via Wikipedia.

Founded in 1943 by 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad in Sweden, the company is named as an acronym comprising the initials of the founder's name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd), and his home parish (Agunnaryd, in Småland, South Sweden).

IKEA products are identified by single word names. Most of the names are Swedish in origin. Although there are some notable exceptions, most product names are based on a special naming system developed by IKEA.

Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames (for example: Klippan)

Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names

Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names

Bookcase ranges: Occupations

Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays

Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names

Chairs, desks: men's names

Fabrics, curtains: women's names

Garden furniture: Swedish islands

Carpets: Danish place names

Lighting: terms from music, chemistry, meteorology, measures, weights, seasons, months, days, boats, nautical terms

Bedlinen, bed covers, pillows/cushions: flowers, plants, precious stones

Children's items: mammals, birds, adjectives

Curtain accessories: mathematical and geometrical terms

Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions

Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks: colloquial expressions, also Swedish place names

For example, DUKTIG (meaning: good, well-behaved) is a line of children's toys, OSLO is a name of a bed, BILLY (a Swedish masculine name) is a popular bookcase, DINERA (meaning: (to) dine) for tableware, KASSETT (meaning: cassette) for media storage. One range of office furniture is named EFFEKTIV (meaning: efficient, effective), SKÄRPT (meaning: sharp or clever) is a line of kitchen knives.

A notable exception is the IVAR shelving system, which dates back to the early 1970s. This item is named after the item's designer.

Because IKEA is a worldwide company working in several countries with several different languages, sometimes the Nordic naming leads to problems where the word means something completely different to the product. While exotic-sounding names draw attention, e.g., in anglophone countries, a number of them call for a snicker. Notable examples include "Jerker" desk, "Fukta" plant spray and "Fartfull" workbench.

Also, the most recent new product, Lyckhem (meaning bliss). The products are generally withdrawn, probably after someone pointed at blunders, but not before generating some news. Similar blunders happen with other companies as well.

IKEA's founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was once a Nazi:
In 1994, the personal letters of the Swedish fascist activist Per Engdahl were made public after his death, and it was revealed that Kamprad had joined Engdahl's pro-fascist New Swedish Movement in 1942. Kamprad had raised funds for and recruited members to said group at least as late as September 1945.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Random recent pix

My daughter's domestic partner is an amazing chef.

The last rose of summer - with rose hips.

Adorable kittehs

Downtown Hartford Connecticut on a Saturday afternoon.

Bizarre fog formation in the middle of the Hudson.

Another view from the giant sundial.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - January 9, 2012

The New Yorker's parity nudges up 3 percent this week.

The New Yorker Parity Report
A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +3%

January 9, 2012

Total writers: 21
male: 16
female: 5
gender parity score: 23%

Last week's score
Total writers: 20
male: 16
female: 4
gender parity score: 20%

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The girl with the dragon tattoo who played with fire and kicked the hornet's nest

I finally finished all three "Millenium" books by Stieg Larsson, and now I can see the American movie version of Dragon Tattoo. I saw the Swedish version and while I thought it was pretty good, I hear the American version is closer to the book and that's a good thing - I didn't like some of the changes in the Swedish movie.

One funny thing about the Swedish movie is that they often use English words - the number 66 is pronounced "sixty-six" and several times the characters, who normally speak in Swedish, will ask "Are you OK?" Not just "[Swedish words] OK" - they actually say "Are you OK?"

Several times in the book Larsson has the characters say something in English. Obviously I'm reading an English translation but it will say "he said in English" to let you know. One of the phrases was "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" which was funny, both for the choice of phrase and the fact that it's now sort of an obsolete one - how 2000s! There are quite a few others. Not a huge number, but how often are American characters portrayed as casually slipping Swedish phrases into conversation? The only Swedish word I recognized in the Dragon movie was "Skål."

As I mentioned before the Swedes are into IKEA - and one of the funniest parts of the book is when Larsson, who loves little details, lists a whole bunch of IKEA furniture purchased during Salander's shopping spree - all the familiar names are mentioned: KARLANDA, LACK, MALM, SVANSBO, HEMNES, etc. etc.

The web site Apartment Therapy actually has a post called "Lisbeth Salander's IKEA Shopping List"

And the last two books, like the first, do not stint on the lingonberries either. Larsson loves to tell you what his characters are eating. They're very big on lamb in Sweden if these books are any indication. I can't remember the last time I had lamb, although admittedly I'm not a big meat eater. They eat lots of sandwiches and drink lots of coffee - LOTS of coffee. But then I knew the Swedes were into coffee when I read Pippi Longstocking and Pippi and her friends, who are around eleven years old, are portrayed on several occasions drinking coffee, which I always understood was a grown-up drink.

I also learned that many Swedes have a little cabin in the woods that they go to for vacations, etc.  Several scenes take place in these cabins.

Larsson's domestic partner Eva Gabrielsson runs the web site  called "Stieg Larsson, the man behind Lisbeth Salander" at stieglarsson.com and claims to be working on the 4th book in the series,  based on Larsson's unfinished manuscript called "God's Revenge" -  there were supposed to be ten Millenium books altogether. But apparently there is an ongoing legal battle between Gabrielsson and Larsson's father and brother over ownership. In spite of the fact that Sweden has a high percentage of domestic partnerships compared to marriages, domestic partners are not granted the same automatic rights that spouses get, hence the struggle. Larsson wrote a will but it was not witnessed and so not valid. It's OK with me though, I think the third book ends perfectly and it's likely subsequent books would be a let-down.

Now I'm kind of jonesing for some lingonberries at IKEA.