Be a Hero

When I was in high school, one of the first stories I wrote - the one that started the creative-writing ball for me in earnest, as a matter of fact - was one set in a not-too-distant future. Now-a-days the half-finished story would be an easy fit into the all-too popular "dystopian" niche, but at the time I wasn't thinking of it as such. I just imagined a world in which priorities had aligned a bit differently. It was about a reporter who goes to live amongst a secret leper colony, established on an island off the eastern seaboard, but the thing that sticks with me the most these years later was an idea I had about the culture of the city from which he came.

The idea was that everybody smoked.


smoked, indoors and out, and they did so because the popular opinion was that air pollution had gotten so bad that it was safer to inhale through a cigarette's filter. Something like: the smoke conditioned one's lungs to handle the much-worse stuff in the air, and inhaling through the filter helped keep the majority of that worser stuff out. I justified it by suggesting the "doctor recommended" smoking ads of the '50s had won out, but it worked for me as the storyteller by making everyone a little distant, a little coarse and plenty short-sighted.

[Update 12/19/13: I was right! Kind of!]

Now occasionally I wonder if I just got the wrong orifice. Ray Bradbury, may he rest in peace, in 1953 imagined these far-fetched tiny "seashells" the folks wore in their ears to hear entertainment anywhere. These were all a part of an imagined, self-isolating technology that we were irresistibly drawn to, which included wall-sized television screens and self-prescribed medication, and I'm ashamed to admit that I willingly use so-called "ear-buds" as such every single day. Nothing's so good an excuse to avoid survey-takers and the homeless - heck, even normal people! - as those handy, dandy ear-buds. And just look at how pocket computers help with eye contact!

 I indulge in this side-effect willingly. I'm grateful for it. Thank God, say I, for my iDevice, and its music and pod-casts and games and even occasionally sometimes if I can be reminded of it connectivity to productive tasks. Furthermore, I'm not writing here to lament this turn in human interaction. True, there are plenty of trade-offs. Yes, I fantasize about a badminton racket reserved solely for knocking the device from the hand of anyone trying to walk and tweet simultaneously. Yes, I'm reading less and have a shorter attention span. And, yes, I want more people than just the local lunatics to hear me if I scream for help. But also: Music! Games! Blocking out the God-awful continuous hammering of street construction! I am fervently all-for the critical resource of my mobile device.

However. There is a finer point of urban etiquette for which I make exception to my electronic enthusiasm. It has to do with a naturally artificial social situation we call The Subway.

I am not going to tell you to turn down your salsa music. Blare it out of the vibrations of your skull! I am not going to tell you to stop hugging the pole to maintain balance while playing Draw Something. Get that palate enormous, and three coins for Gryffindor! I am not even going to tell you to start taking your seashells from out your ears. Leave your seashells in. You are a beautiful mer-maid/man, and you glisten with the rapture of this week's

Epic Meal Time


I am going to tell you this: Open your eyes. And one more thing: Especially if you are fortunate enough to have a seat.

The Subway is a miserable solution to a miserable problem. No one - apart from the aberrant tourist - is pleased to be there when they're on The Subway. The best solution, the only and final solution, is to zone right the heck on out. ZONE, SON. You can get miles away, especially if you have those magic ear-shells. And maybe you are on there at five in the morning, and your hour-long commute is going to make the napping difference between a good day and an impossible one. And maybe you are coming off a fourteen-hour nursing shift, and the only thing that makes sense is bending your legs, just for a few minutes. And maybe it's just the stress (God, the stress) that makes you want to hold yourself and rock during the one period of your day when no one expects anything from you. I get it, and I'm with you, and I'm in the ZONE.

But open your eyes. This isn't the zombie apocalypse, despite what you've heard on the news lately, and the dog-eat-dog world isn't applicable to mass, underground transportation. Here is where the humanity is needed most. Here is where you can toss a token (so much more poetic than a MetroCard) and it will be quickly caught by someone looking longingly at something about the bounty of your position. Because we're all lucky to have what we have, and we're all here for one another. It shouldn't take a catastrophe to remind us of that - just a little gratitude, held in your heart for these moments when you have a chance to help.

So, please: Keep your eyes open. For the nurse, if you're a napper. For the napper, if you're a caffeine addict like me. For the guy on crutches, who'll argue with you for a little while about it. For the lady in heels (maybe she


to wear them for some reason). For the elderly. For the family. That makes you a hero, for the littlest while. But who knows? It may also help you reconnect a bit before you go back to conquering the world on your cell phone.

And just one final and specific point I'd like to make in closing. Some might argue that it is the entire purpose of my meandering exposition, and some of those same may accuse me of out-dated modes of thinking, but I will have my point made regardless. If you are male, between the ages of 13 and 60, and of reasonable fitness, and have the benefit of a seat when a pregnant woman enters the subway car, give up your seat. Right. The fuck. Now.

A Little More Inside

Because I know you diligently read every single item I post with great fervor and admiration, Dear Reader, you'll no doubt immediately reference from this title my post of May 13, 2010. Just in case you need refreshing:

An link

. Just in case you fear linkage: I'm in rehearsals for an original comedy called

Love Me


an link

[you see what I did there]) in which I play the central character's inner monologue embodied bodily on-stage. Wacky? Oui. Fun? Often. Challenging? No question about it.

Over the course of two weeks, things have progressed rather nicely. Because of various conflicts I have and the general nature of my role, I haven't been to about half of the rehearsals so far. Now things are gearing up and scenes are stringing together, so I'm called all the time and finding myself grateful for that. It helps me create connections with these fellow actors with whom I share stage time, but not necessarily any real scene work. The big exception to that is of course


-- the real "me." Even he isn't allowed to look at me whilst on stage together, but I'm finding the tennis game of playing the same role from different perspectives growing more and more simpatico with him. There's a nice give-and-take, and we continue to find new techniques to make it work.

It's kind of funny, actually, how little I can solve these challenges by any kind of logical approach; it is far more productive to proceed instinctively. It seemed like such an artificial trope, this inner monologue (I.M.) incarnation, that I was inclined to set some ground rules as a first step. Address audience in this case, address Charlie in that, don't manipulate objects, etc. As with regular ol' acting, however, my instincts prove much smarter than my rational brain. The most important thing is to keep a flow of ideas (no matter how ragingly inappropriate) coming so more can catch in the sieve. This is an old acting lesson--and one I just have to keep on relearning, it seems--but particularly important when one is playing someone else's id or super-ego.

Of course, some conventional acting wisdom is less helpful, if not downright disruptive. For example, staying in eye contact with your scene partner as much as possible. Also, in many cases, we want to see an actor fighting his emotions in order to achieve some goal; this is the idea behind crying on stage, the point not being the tears, but to keep working through that crying. However, when you have an alter ego playing out your practical or scenic obligations, the best thing you can do to tell the story is flat-out show his hidden or outwardly controlled emotions. I jump around and shout a lot in this play, and I just have to keep reminding myself that such no-nos are exactly and precisely what I'm there to do.

There are a few scenes in the play when we get to blur these rules in entertaining ways. For example, Aaron and I come a lot closer together in a scene in which he's hammered drunk, to the extent that we are literally back-to-back, holding one another up for our elaborate drunken swaying. At this stage of rehearsal, the ensemble is getting comfortable enough for more physical choices and choreography in general, and this is of course a favorite stage of things for yours truly. From the start we are now establishing that not only do I have physical control over Aaron, but sometimes he over me as well (when he's particularly using his imagination, for example). There are also three or four moments in which I get to initiate some of his subconscious gestures by directly operating him like a puppet. There's great fun to be had in these moments when they're more adversarial. At such times, Aaron has to justify in the "real" world why he tripped or bit his nails at a particular moment, and heck: that's just fun stuff.

In terms of my off-stage work, I really should be jogging and stretching more. I'm not in the worst shape, but my exercise for a while now has been predominantly silks work with the amazing

Cody Schreger

, and there's not a whole lot of shimmying involved in

Love Me

(pity, really). What there is a lot of is running around and contorting and falling. The trouble is that this all happens in rehearsal until 10:30 or so, and so, when I wake up at running for me. Must get on it now, because June 10th is just over that hill...

Hate the Player, Not the Game

The other day I had an especially trying one at el jobbo del day, the details of which we needn't repeat, even in my imagination. (Today is looking up; I already had to kill a mammal with nothing but my cunning and a serving spoon.*) Luckily, Friend Adam had already extended an invitation to join him for some recreational activity that evening. I dutifully tromped over to the outer limits of Queens, where many n00bz were pwn3d (read: many inexperienced players had their digital avatars removed from the game by force). Of course, by "many n00bz," I mean "me, over and over again," and by "were pwn3d," I mean "trounced, most likely by 'tween boys with a 100-word limit on their available vocabulary." It was my first time playing XBox Live, you see. In spite of my adamant liability to my fellow teammates -- something I really do feel quite bad about -- I did feel considerably happier after my little adventure.

Never mind that there are some indications video games can be helpful in alleviating depression; games that conference in other live players can have a decidedly social aspect to them, not to mention the sheer teamwork involved. In the games of Halo I played the other night, our team never could have won the rounds they did without talking through what was going on. It was better communication, in many cases, than I experience in a given day at el jobbo del day. But I write not here to draw insinuations of insults by comparing a fictional war game to a real-life office environment (not here, anyway) but rather to discuss the prejudice against games.

What prejudice? You may well wonder. People love games. They watch reality TV for the games people play, and football for the games titans play. We even have fantasy football, in order to play a game outside of the game. Gambling is a short-form game, and driving is a rather high-stakes action game. Games abound. Even video games are getting a great deal of respect these days, comparatively speaking. Gaming consoles are bleeding cool into what was once a domain of the ubergeek, and even housewives are getting excited by the Wii whilst stock brokers eagerly anticipate the next Call of Duty installment. Heck: "Gaming" and "gamer" have been appropriated into terms associated almost solely with video games, as far as the mass audience is concerned.

In spite of all this acceptance, imaginative gaming (and I'm coining a phrase here) continues to get a bad rap. Perhaps it's because of all the acceptance; I think it's an ingrained habit for we humans to define ourselves by what we reject, what we do not believe in, and if we're accepting all this other gaming, maybe we need something to point a finger at and say, "Bleargh!" I don't understand it, frankly. I never have, and that inability to understand has resulted in countless awkward social predicaments from about age five on up to now. However, it's also resulted in some of my most rewarding experiences in life. So I stick with being a little different in this sense.

What do I mean by "imaginative gaming"? I mean improvisation. I mean games that are relatively free from conventional constraints. I mean role-playing games (RPGs), but I don't mean the kind that can be played on a computer (as of now, that is) nor do I mean only RPGs. I perceive a unique category of games that spans a bunch of different categories, yet has very much earned a distinction in being rather more openly creative than the rest. I'm basically naming something here that I like, personally, but I'm inclined to believe that I'm not alone in this specific preference. Expatriate Younce outlined some categories of RPG play for me a couple of years back (gamist, narrativist and . . . and . . . LOOK, A SEAGULL!) but these are more styles of playing than descriptions of the game itself. Imaginative gaming is any game in which the players are the ultimate authority over the rules. It is a play in which the sense of play is more important than any other element -- meaning the game itself is based on how well it is played, not how well it is won. Moreover, if this scares you or sounds ridiculous, imaginative gaming is as applicable to buying groceries as it is to making up stories around a table. Movies can be written with it, and difficult negotiations can be compromised with it.

We've all been in the position of working with someone whom we don't particularly appreciate or enjoy, and in some ways playing with such people is much worse. (And I'm perfectly comfortable admitting that I have been just such an undesirable player on more than one occasion, for more than a few people.) Memories such as these make us cautious, and resistant to new experiences. We want to be able to control outcomes, or at least be supported in the belief that control is a factor at all. But the beauty of a game is that we get to be surprised by what occurs, and we get to test ourselves against adversity of all kinds, within a contained environment. Maybe learning to play well with others is one of these challenges. I personally believe that anyone can be a welcome addition to play, if only you can find a good way to play with them.

All this is just to say: Try not to hate the player but, even if you can't achieve it, find a love for the game. It's all some kind of game, after all, and the games that are most true to life are the ones in which we create our own rules.

*My cunning is less lethal than the spoon; luckily (for me) the little guy had run across the wrong side of a glue trap.

Organ I zatioN

Lately I've been paying some attention to things like the collaboration, productivity, administration and general logistical aspects of work. By "work," in this context, I mean any effort geared toward a specific goal. But I also mean my day job. So, rehearsing a play, yes, revising a short story, yes, and figuring out how to order toner cartridges with great efficiency: yes. This is part of my newish strategy of looking at my life as more interrelated than disparate, but that perspective is also coming pretty naturally to me just now. Recently I've had to take on extra responsibilities at el jobbo del day, due to the laying off of others who were far more experienced at said extra responsibilities, and this has been a drain on my time and energy for other ventures. However, it has also yielded some surprising rewards ("not more money--that's just what he'd


us to do...") and the main of these has been a discovery that I'm really rather interested in questions of leadership, organization and procedure.

Last summer I obsessed for a while over a Flash game called

Fantastic Contraption

. The gist of the game is to use common elements to engineer a machine to achieve some transportation goal. I was not especially clever at it, but got a great sense of accomplishment from overcoming successive failures until the goal was reached. In a sense, it was reminiscent of a good, difficult rehearsal, in which I try everything and become more and more dedicated to solving a problem the more failures I experience. In a rehearsal process, there's a philosophy of which I'm a fan that says that there are no bad acting choices; not really. Only good, or better. (Or, as I believe to be grammatically better: gooderer.) The idea being continual improvement in effectiveness, not to mention nurturing an environment in which people can be free to experiment creatively, without fear. It creates constantly improving solutions, and really big mistakes -- the kind from which you learn more, and quicker.

Of course, when it comes to most office work, big mistakes are terrifying things. They involve large sums of money, or people's legal statuses, etc. Yet it seems to me that there is too significant a dichotomy between those who keep their heads down and follow procedure, and those who innovate within an office environment. Is all that negative reinforcement directed toward getting people in line with procedure helping, or in fact hampering the work process? I'm not trying to make a sweeping statement here (horribly inefficient: sweeping) about the rules of the theatre lending insight into the process of the office. The current flows both ways. Much of the administrative structure in an office makes better sense and allows better allocation of resources than your typical theatre process does, and it's ridiculous to argue that structure can't apply to artistic endeavors. Structure is, of itself, an artistic endeavor.

There's been a lot of discussion recently on new forms of organization in corporate America and -- almost as though


been reading this here 'blog -- the comparative value/cost of multitasking and single-focus effort, amongst other process notions. I don't claim to have a significant contribution to make to these debates (though multitasking is




) but every so often I'm excited by the idea of getting things done in a new way. It's oddly satisfying to me, at my day job, when I feel I've made even the smallest change that helps the whole contraption move better. Such ideas for change usually come about because I'm sitting still, thinking about the situation, and unafraid. It's a state that reminds me of the moment-to-moment pauses in my writing process. Does a conventional work environment allow for much of this? I'd say not. I'd also say, it ought to.

The funny thing is, I'm good about gradually organizing things at el jobbo del day, but in my life -- not so much. The first explanation that springs to mind is laziness, the second, lack of motivation (read: money). Yet I question these responses, precisely because they spring to mind. They're motivated by an energy similar to what administrators typically imagine will motivate their employees, stress, and I wonder what the response might be after a little time taken to sit quietly and mull over the situation. In fact, perhaps it's difficult to do this in the rest of my life because I relent to the stress more outside of the office, rather than carving out those moments to ruminate on it all.

Managing others is a skill; managing yourself is a hard-won talent.

Burnt Foliage

I know that you've been fervently checking in on Odin's Aviary to find out how this week's adventure in last-minute original work turned out for our intrepid hero. Hourly, nay -- minute-ly, you direct your browser this way, hoping for some whiff of report on last night's show, the final follow-up to this week's chain of entries charting the development of my earth-shattering new work:

Whoopsie Daisy.

Well, I've news indeed, and thanks for tuning in: I'm not going to write about


yet. It consists of two performances, we've had one, and I'll tell all after the last opportunity everyone has to see it for themselves, this Sunday evening. It's my Aviary. I can do whatever the hell I want.

Plus, I'd be surprised if anyone reads any 'blogs on purpose over the weekend. Apart from yours truly, that is.

I do hope my readership will return to this entry on Monday, however, because I'm here to finally write a bit about another big event in my work this week; specifically, the closing performance of my second staged reading of

Burning Leaves

. I wrote briefly about having the first of two readings of this play on


, before the incipient madness of my creative process for

Whoopsie Daisy

had taken root. Thereafter, I've been understandably preoccupied, but that isn't indicative of any shortage of effect that

Burning Leaves

had on me. Rather, I wanted to get the other piece of work on its feet so I could turn my full energy to evaluating my latest experience with

Tom Rowan

's play; may it not be the last.

The second and final presentation took place under strenuous conditions for me, and I don't just mean its coincidence with my other process this week. It wasn't until 9:00 pm Wednesday, which was an altogether long day anyway, with a full day of work, then a rapid introductory rehearsal for


on the upper west, a dinner with friends, and finally the night was freezing and the theatre wasn't all that much better. So there felt like a lot to overcome; which isn't necessarily a bad thing for us actors, but there's always some question about whether that obstacle will add to the performance, or override it. All-in-all, I was actually more satisfied with the climax in the second performance, but prior to that I felt a bit flat. It piqued my desire to work on the play under a longer rehearsal process. My character, Matt, has a such a complex inner landscape at the point in his life with which the play concerns itself, there was very little chance of my getting a credible handle on it for a reading. Unless, I suppose, we do six or seven more of them.

There was a very interesting range of ages and experience in our cast, and I was a bit preoccupied by it throughout the process. I suppose that has as much to do with my recent rites of passage as with my comrades-in-arms.

In addition to Tom and

Gaye-Taylor Upchurch

, my fellow collaborators for this process included

Kevin Confoy,

Abigail Gampel


Allison Goldberg


Hana Kalinski

, and

Alexander Paul Nifong

. I was a little thrown at first, to be honest, by the sheer impression of youth Alex gave as the high school boy with whom Matt becomes involved. It's completely appropriate to the age of the character, but it also made me rather automatically a little more defensive in performance. In my previous experience, the actor playing his character, Jesse, brought a sense of control and intention to it that allowed me to accept with more ease the depth of affection Matt might develop for him. With Alex's Jesse, at first, I worried about what was to be made of my character falling for someone so obviously naive. We found a balance through rehearsal, but that balance really paid, off, I thought, in Wednesday night's performance. I can't say what caused it (which is a little frustrating) but I thought Alex gave a very grounded, nuanced and intentional performance of Jesse that night, one which pulled the whole thing together for me in a lovely way. His work was good throughout, but Wednesday it was great.

There was much discussion of acting "technique" during this process, and more than a little breathless excitement over this and that from the younger actors of our cozy tribe, all of which I found to be very interesting and, speaking frankly, a little funny. Not to say anything against these actors! Indeed, they were an inspiring reminder of how great it is to do what we do. What was funny to me was how distant from such discussions I have become; I don't think of it that way anymore. (I'll leave it to you, Gentle Reader, to determine if that's progress, or simply laziness.) Funny, too, was this kind of subtext or suggestion beneath the questions that there was some kind of answer to the question: Just what process makes for the best performance? When asked by the woman reading stage directions (she asked me twice, for unknown reasons) what technique I used, I answered that I use whatever works best moment-to-moment in the story, then mentioned that I found a lot of usefulness in Meisner work. I couldn't be sure how satisfied she was with this answer. There is, in my opinion, no concrete answer to the question. There is only good craft, well-applied -- a thousand paths to the same summit.

Plus, we're not all that freaking important. Actors are often, at their greatest moments, cyphers. It may seem like a somewhat hollow occupation, but I don't think so. I feel it's one of the most transcendent roles a human being can fulfill.

Tom has written a great line for Jesse, who is just starting a study of acting: "The words hurt, if you really say them." It's a moment of discovery for the character that we not only get to witness, but participate in, as we've just watched him connect emotionally with a text he's performing. This is what

Burning Leaves

is for me, one of those stories that I connect with, wherein the words hurt (and make me laugh, and make me think). I'm not remembering a long-lost love when I fight through the tears, nor am I imagining some other scenario, nor am I using psychological gesture. When I'm doing it well (not "right": well), I'm saying the words, and letting them work on me. I'm also feeling my audience's presence and allowing that to work on me, and I'm listening to my body, and my fellow actors, and my imagination, and its all just funneling through me. Is that easy? Hell no. Do you need to train for it, and use technique? Hell yes. But leave Stanislavski and Meisner and Hagen in the rehearsal room. On stage, you're not there for them, nor even for your craft, but for everyone who happens to be in that room, in that willing community of surrender and imagination.

Bleyargh. What am I doing up here? Where'd this soapbox come from?

So obviously


a little biased, but I think Tom Rowan's play deserves to have a hell of a long life. I hope he gets it produced soon, and have some ideas about spreading the word of it in my little way. Is this simply because I identify with it personally? Sure, but what other criteria shall we use for theatre? I'll leave the promotion of existential drama and Shepard plays to others (there are certainly enough of them to support it all). For my money, a heartfelt story that's clearly expressed is worth a dozen Bogart deconstructions. (At least.) This was a tremendous experience, and I hope to work on it again with the same people, theoretical discussions and all.

Give us a grant. A big one. That is all.