Existential Dread

On Sunday I had a previously-taken-for-granted treat: a day hanging out with Sister Virginia. It was Pride Day, but we didn't have terribly exciting plans. Just a little browsing around SoHo, visiting old haunts and generally enjoying one another's company. It was sweltering day, humid as it gets up here in NYC, and we were deep into conversation as we got on the subway platform at my stop, Astoria Boulevard. Can't recall what we were discussing. What I can recall, is being insistently spoken to by a stranger. You know that feeling, when you've recognized somebody wants somebody else's attention, but of course it couldn't be you, because you don't just

run into people

, but then - oh, wait - yes. Yes, that person is talking to you. And what they're saying, is this:

"Excuse me. Excuse me. Woman in the orange? Yes, I just want you both to know that I don't appreciate you following me."
"I don't appreciate you following me onto the subway platform."

And she marches past us, down to the far end of the platform.

So: Fine. Another New York crazy person. True, she didn't exactly bear the marks of the typical NYC loon -- she was very clean, small, well-dressed (as though for yoga or the park) -- but she did have that sheen to her glare that suggested a certain intensely unkempt morale. So: All right then. Jenny and I continue our conversation, veering only momentarily into "that was odd" territory.

And then, a few minutes later, our sudden enemy crosses back the other way.

"I guess you must be Team Shawna, but I'm Team Natalie, and you better stop bothering me." (Ed. - I can't remember what she said verbatim, but I'm pretty sure the name Shawna was mentioned.)
"I'm sorry. We don't know what you're talking about."

And she was gone again, this time the other way up the platform. So now I'm keeping a bit of an eye on her, because I'm fascinated, and she's got my fight-or-flight instinct up. I'm suddenly aware - for no particular reason - that we're on a platform suspended twenty-five feet over traffic and surrounded on either side by electrified metal rails. But, this woman walks on up in the other direction, beyond the bench and entrance stairwell at the middle of the platform, to where I can no longer see her. Me: "That is so strange." Jenny: "I just figure - crazy people, New York." And we try to move on in the conversation, but I have to admit that I'm now utterly puzzled and intrigued and somewhat scared. Chalk it up to reading too much Kafka and Pirandello. But the train comes, and there's no more sign of our little tormentor, so we gratefully garnish ourselves with air conditioning and grab a seat.

From there our conversation continues into more personal, important stuff than it had been, and I get engrossed enough to let go of trying to wrap my head around what is apparently the most dire "Team _______" conflict since


. The benches on the N train run along either wall, and I'm turned facing the direction in which the train is running so I can talk to Jenny on that side. It's a fairly crowded train, but not jam-packed as yet. We proceed a few stops, nearing the tunnel that swoops us underground and into Manhattan, and I happen to turn to my left for a moment.

And there she is again. Staring daggers. In our car, not five feet from us. She was not, to be perfectly clear, NOT in our car to begin with. She was not, as far as I can tell, in fact able to monitor us from where she had been positioned on the platform when the train arrived. No, the woman who was accusing us of


her had seemingly traversed moving train cars to find the one in which we sat.

All this I realized as I instantaneously swirled back into Jenny's eye contact, not wanting to give Ms. Antagonist any (further?) reason to suspect we were passive-aggressively pursuing her whereabouts. She momentarily thereafter strode past us on down the car. I'm not even sure Jenny noticed she was ever there. And I never saw her again, for the rest of the day.

But I sure as hell kept


for her.

How could I not? I was half-convinced that I would run into her again, totally randomly, thereby inadvertently providing her with the final evidence she needed in order to prove her theory of our antagonism. I even - of course, though I tried to resist it - wondered if she might not be following us. That is to say, I resisted this thought because it would essentially mean that she had successfully transmitted her disease to me, the germs of her paranoia turned airborne and plague-like. The terrible likelihood is that I will indeed see our mysterious interloper again soon. She probably lives off the same subway stop as me, and will mistake Megan for Jenny some coincidental day and presume the whole espionage has begun all over again. To be totally frank . . . she didn't look unfamiliar. Maybe it was just the openness of her naked hostility, but I thought, maybe, I knew her somehow.

Now look: I'm not peering continuously over my shoulder or anything (not


, anyway) and I don't think there was anything profound to this woman's mistake. Odds are that she is simply going through some tough stuff in her life about now, and that has made her paranoid and/or quasi-psychotic. In fact, I feel bad about not being able to convince her that we at least were not out to get her. HOWEVER: Holy crap. Was I about to be in a




movie? Was I targeted for some

Improv Everywhere

prank, that just had yet to get joyous and un-terrifying? Was it performance art and, if so, who would think Pride Day a good day to have such a thing noticed?

All this has given me an idea that I don't think I'll get around to any time soon, so I'm putting out there for you, The World, to do with as you please. Friend Nat is frighteningly good - pun intended - at creating a sense of dread on stage, and his efforts at such effects along with some of my more hypothetical conversations with other friends about theatrical horror have me thinking that this might be a good, simple scenario for really creeping out an audience. The trouble as I see it with most staged "horror" is that it too-easily falls into a similar trap as many stage comedies do. That is, the burden of catharsis is often placed upon effects, or gags, rather than on human behavior. This results in camp, which has its place, but often doesn't


its place. It can creep in anywhere, like the annoying neighbor finding your dinner party. Before you know it, it's arguing politics and complaining about the wine and all your guests feel cheapened, like some terrible, overwrought and distended simile.

So: my behavior-based scary stage-play scenario thing: I imagine it starting with a romantic couple (A & B) meeting somewhere public, possibly a restaurant. One of them (B) is late, and by the time he or she gets there, they find their significant other (A) rattled by something. A explains that they just had the weirdest series of "coincidences" (see above) with this stranger. B listens, tries to calm down A, and gradually A relaxes to the point of laughing at him or herself a bit. B excuses him or herself to use the restroom, and as A sits there, he or she is approached by someone (C). Though seemingly relaxed, A shouts at the introduction of C: a waiter. A apologizes, making meaningless excuses, orders something, etc., and C leaves. B returns and A doesn't share what just happened. A gets a call he or she has to take, and steps away to take it. As B sits there, he or she is approached by someone he or she knows somewhat (i.e., though work - D) and D takes a seat. Of course, on A's return he or she recognizes D as his or her antagonist, and it all goes quietly haywire.

It's a sketch of a beginning (with lots of sex-generic alphabetical confusion, for which: you're welcome) but from there I see it getting more and more tense and scary, no idea of an ending yet. It starts out as a Pirandello-esque conflict between A and D, with B as something of a helpless arbiter with some interest in reaching a resolution, and C occasionally interjecting to keep the conflict from exploding into the public space. Which is to say, A and D have completely irreconcilable stories about their relationship that they each feel a growing need to convince B of. Cell phone usage should figure prominently, so long as it doesn't start to irritate; I imagine texting under the table, faking calls, etc. Personal revelations should be used


, so it doesn't become all about what the audience doesn't know about their respective and interrelated pasts. That having been said, there should certainly be one or two revelatory twists, one preferably just prior to the act break. And in Act II...well...

In Act II, all are in a private space, and some time has passed. I'm imagining that our sympathies lie largely with A in Act I, and in Act II we begin to question that emotion, possibly because A forced one or more of them into this new, private space (his/her storage space?). Even if that didn't happen, A certainly turns cruel in his or her attempts to extricate him or herself from the conflict. Possibly physically cruel. Relationships change drastically, the stakes continue to mount, until it ends in a seemingly hopeful way. Seemingly, because there's also some tag moment at the very end, some bit of information that sets the whole conclusion into a teetering sense of doubt. That's what the audience leaves with: a sense of profound uncertainty.

There you go. Write me a play, The World, as close or as far from this scenario as you are so inspired. But please, The World, one request? Whichever of you was that antagonistic yogi -- stay away from me. Thanks bunches! Hugs!!!

Coulrophobia: A Voice of Dissent

Now, I don't agree entirely with the below, but it made me laugh:


People Who Claim to Be Afraid of Clowns

"These people (and they are numerous) are attempting to cultivate a cute quirk, but they are really just aping a cute quirk cultivated by thousands of cute-quirk-cultivators before them in a giant, gross, boring feedback loop. Yes, clowns can be mildly creepy. But come on. Among the many things that are scarier than clowns: fire, earthquakes, a guy with a knife, riding the bus, colon cancer, falling down the stairs (it could happen at any time!), rapists, people who just kind of look a little rapey and are standing too close to you in line at 7-Eleven, Marlo from

The Wire

, influenza, and scissors." -- Lindy West @ the Stranger



] The whole article is generally hilarious and true, though with coarse language by the consumption of which some of our less-jaded readers may be forever altered.

See my (potentially wasted) ruminations on coulrophobia heres: 1/28/08 & 7/18/08.

Post script: The above image may take some figuring to associate with this topic, but fans of horror fiction and 80s miniseries should be all set.


Last Saturday was the day of celebration for

Wife Megan

's 30th anniversary of the day of her birth and she, being the woman I married, wanted to go see some good, wholesome burlesque. You know burlesque, right? It's that quaint throw-back to a more innocent time, when men were men, women were women, and occasionally they all agreed to meet somewhere with dim lighting to reveal their knees to one another. One of the things I love about living in New York is being somewhere that such nostalgia for the frilly sins of the past exists. Any town that's a friend of anything remotely related to vaudeville and old-timey fun, is a friend of mine, as I always say (or will, henceforth). Furthermore, I specifically love burlesque. It's theatrical, it's joyous, and it usually incorporates lots of humor and props with its boobies. What's not to love?

So we went to

The Slipper Room


We stayed for many acts and several hours.

We left late, and they were still going strong.

Most of us will never be the same.

So from a theatrical perspective, it was a roaring success. I mean, if I can perform in something that really evidently changes people, I consider that a pretty big success. The specificity of that change is something that's even trickier than the change itself, given that all live performance is by its nature collaborative and interpretive. So personally, if you got something out of it, I got something out of it too. This reflects my attitudes on a lot of things. Like . . . dance. Or . . . board games. Or . . . other occupations of one's quest for joyous experiences. Let's not be judgmental about anyone's pursuit of happiness, even if they spell said pursuit "happyness." Hey: Rock on. It brings you joy and, on some level, that makes me happy.

Now there were some things I witnessed Saturday last that did not, per se, make me happy. The responses I had were more along the lines of being made to feel surprised, or confused, or scared. Very, very scared. But others really enjoyed some of these things, and no one got hurt or maligned beyond repair (though of course some audience mockery is part of the idiom), and so we can all look back on it and laugh. Sure, some of us may have gone home and gone directly into the shower, do not pass "GO!", do not bother removing one's clothing. But here we all are, scarless, and with a generally broader view of our fellow man, woman, and all others.

A broader view in a smaller world, I should say. I knew one of the performers -- had performed with her before, in fact. Her stage name is

Miss Saturn

, and she is a dynamite hula-hoop artist. She is also, it turns out, somewhat uninhibited in her display of God's gifts. When I performed alongside her, it was at

a benefit


Friend Melissa

's company,

Kinesis Project

. She hooped it up, I clowned around, and afterward she suggested we work together again some time, but I never followed up. Now I'm left to wonder if following up would have led me to The Slipper Room. It would not have been an entirely unwelcome opportunity, assuming I would have been able to stick to my personal preferences for the content of my act. During Saturday's experience I also had the unexpected mystery of feeling I recognized another performer: one "

Harvest Moon

." As it turns out, I don't. She's not who I mistook her for, but she has nevertheless reminded me that secret identities are as common in this city as free newspapers.

Some may view my appetite for nostalgia with disdain, but what can I say? I like sentimental sweetness in my indulgences, and could have used a bit more at The Slipper Room. After each break, the acts grew progressively more risque and shocking, and I grew less and less interested. Of course, if I were to run a contemporary burlesque show in New York City, I've no doubt I'd have to make similar allowances. After all, what we saw was probably closer in overall effect to us as the burlesques of old were during their time. These shows were shocking, titillating not just in sensual ways, but in visceral ones. The atmosphere should be one of reckless abandon and in this sense there was nothing inapt about my experience Saturday night. It was just that I had walked into a circa-1930s Berlin burlesque, when I had been hoping for a circa-1889s French one, I suppose. C'est la vie! I regret nothing!

Looking back, it occurs to me that there's an awfully fine line between anticipation and dread, and that line is going to be set at different places for different folks. A friend of mine recently sent me some writing research that discusses the role of feedback loops in sexual experiences. The gist of it was that "healthy" sexuality involves a feedback loop of increasing focus on arousal, and "unhealthy" (or perhaps, unhelpful) sexuality involves a neurotic, self-evaluative loop. Both increase the focus, but one allows you to engage, and the other rather prevents it. If we accept that sexual feelings are erotic in the broader sense, this is a very interesting way of looking at what we as performers inspire in our audiences. Will we fill them with eager anticipation, loathsome dread, or something of a different ratio altogether? In my opinion, neither is bad, just a different effect. And whatever effect, it begs the question: What, if anything, will we make the payoff?

Ride the Snake . . .

I'm experiencing an interesting fluctuation of mood regarding

the upcoming reading of my play

. Maybe this is normal; it has been so long since I confronted the possibility of my creative writing being read aloud that I can't say I remember quite what it was like. I remember some anxiety, sure, but not this strange undulation of emotion. I never know how I'm going to feel when I think about it, one moment to the next. Sometimes I feel elated and excited, other times it seems like the stupidest idea I've ever had, and one bound to be my ruination. There's a variety of anticipatory strata in between. Compared to prepping for an audition, this should be a relief. For an audition, I usually feel less and less prepared as the date approaches, so experiencing alternating good feelings should somewhat compensate for the others. Yet I feel pretty unnerved. There is a very loud voice in me that's shouting, "Back out of this! Do it now!"

Yes, that voice often takes on the characteristics of early-90s Schwarzenegger.

I have had such a mixed bag of experiences in exposing my writing to the public -- even limiting it to theatrical writing -- that have happened over such different times of my life that it's impossible for me to predict my reaction, much less others'. One of the first theatre pieces I ever wrote has been well-received several times; people have loved it. And a piece from far more recently was excerpted in performance at a party a few years ago, and it stank up the room. I mean, hoo, was it bad. That's part of why I'm having the reading, quite honestly. I want to find out what happens and, if I can, keep up such exposure so that I


develop a better sense of how my writing is going.

Not that others' opinions are my yardstick for the quality of my writing but, you know: come on. I want it out there, else why would I write it (typed the 'blogger)? I'll be reminding myself left, right and center on Wednesday next (huh...I didn't plan for it to be on Odin's-day...weird) to consider my opinion first, but I won't kid myself so far as to say that I'm not calling my actor friends there for the purpose of their feedback. Revision, as I've said, is very difficult for me. I tend to hold the memory of the original draft and all that went into the process of creating it as sacred, and thereby fail to adequately re-evaluate it, much less revise.


is renewing its efforts to write more gooder too at the moment (and hopefully from now on), and we're having some very interesting meta-conversations about our personal challenges. Both of us, it would seem, regard involving other people in our processes as a necessary step to overcoming something. In my case, the something to be overcome is a quasi-mysterious barrier in the way of revision.

I think the emotions I'm experiencing these few days have to do directly with that barrier. I think that barrier (if I may anthropomorphize for a moment) knows I'm gunning for it, and it feels right at home. "Hey, listen," says My Barrier, "wha-what do you need


for? Huh? I mean, with me you know where you stand. Right? Who knows what will happen to you without me here...?!" Then My Barrier beats his chest twice and throws out his arms in the universally accepted I-


-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips-besides gesture. But it's too late, My Barrier. My Mind's made up, in spite of your emotional sniping, and I shall be resolute in my continued work after hearing the reading. I'm putting you on notice! I shall not be deterred!

: backs slowly away, maintaining eye contact, makes it through door before shuddering collapse to ground :

Just imagine next Thursday's post. Should be a doozy.

The Rest is (Busy, Noisy) Silence

{This entry is a continuation of 11/20/08, 11/19/08 & 11/18/08...}

I'm sharp enough, gang. I'm sharp enough. I'm about to be sharpened down to a nub.

Yesterday the management agency I work with called to submit me to an audition taking place this morning, for what sounds like a potentially big commercial. They got it from an agent; like, a really real agent, who I guess shops work out to them occasionally when he can't fill it. So. Why did they call me -- who's only done one industrial for them to date -- for this peculiar assignment? Well, the casting director needs someone who can do an Italian dialect, and that's what it says, right there on my resume.

Ahhhhhh. Ah.

I could have said no. I could have said, "Oh well, you know, I mostly do a comic Italian, which doesn't actually sound anything like an actual Italian person. You know, it's all, 'I'ma gonna to tella you somethin'.' Like that." I could have said that, and I didn't, and it's either because I'm greedy, or insane, or a little of both. The audition's at 10:40. I'll write more after.

Perhaps needless to say, some of my valuable time last night was spent downloading and listening to an Italian dialect sample, over and over again.

* * *

Well. That was . . . not at all worth the stress under which I put myself. Me and a camera, slate, two lines, spoken twice, and that, as they say, was that. The director wasn't even a nutter. Not remotely, and they warned me about that. I didn't even have to wait, and there was no one there. I mean . . . COME ON! <--This addressed to myself, for being such a stressed-out goob.

I have absolutely no way of knowing how well I did. Even if I thought I did particularly well, I wouldn't know, there was so little interaction. But enough of that.

One lucky upswing from this is that it sort of temporarily released my stress over tonight's work. (Oh right! I'm performing tonight!) Similar to electroshock therapy, the possibility of facing a director furious over my crap-tastic Italian dialect has zapped an interruption into my ongoing rhythm of stage fright. It is welcome. I figure I've got a good hour or so of feeling this intense relief until my anxiety back-up generator kicks in and starts running the show, and that's good enough. I can get to 3:30, when I'll be back working on the show, on this reprieve. Thanks, Powers-That-Be!

Apart from training to open my As and turn my Is into Es, last night was spent very similarly to how I imagined it yesterday. Which is a hell of an accomplishment, because I feel I'm at that level of stress that gets disruptive to my entire being. I'm sure most of you can relate; particularly the air-traffic controllers in my vasty readership. I'm talking in my sleep, getting awoken by cramps, having trouble focusing on one thing for an extended period and generally losing my place all over. It's silly, I know. I'm working on it, but in the meantime, I managed to rig my props and cobble a costume together and dub my sound effects and music last night instead of running around my general neighborhood, clucking like a chicken and clawing at litter with my sneakers. I didn't run the piece at all, and it wasn't until this morning that I played with my new props a bit, but there truly wasn't time.

A lot of this stress has been self-generated. Yes, it's a last-minute, original performance, but it's also all of ten minutes long and I've no idea who will actually see it -- likely no one who will have an immediate and profound effect on my creative and professional life. Plus I do exactly this kind of work ALL the TIME. Some could handle this with greater panache, and some wouldn't even feel stressed at all. Not THIS guy, though. (sigh...) Without getting self-aggrandizing, some of it has to do with how important the work is to me. Without getting self-deprecating, some of it has to do with a finely honed sense of insecurity. Add a dash of general excitement at being allowed to make stuff up and show it to people, and you've got a giddy stress souffle just ripe for voracious consumption!

A lot is waiting on today's pre-show tech time and run. It had to. There was just little way for me to work things out without the space itself and all its quirky accoutrement. So this afternoon will tell the tale, and adjustments will likely be numerous and made as I go. I think I might even be able to relax into it a bit, if I try hard enough. Er, uh: if I don't try hard . . . enough. Wait. Oh, to hell with it. A relaxed person, I am not. But I do enjoy good, hard work, and I've plenty of that to do, which is always better than just waiting for curtain.

Of course, the end of the tale isn't until the fall of that curtain...