New York, NY

Hurricanes are threatening to become passé. Last year we had one, plus an earthquake. Of course, we're now hearing that Hurricane Sandy may be followed up by a nor'easter (which, in my head, is already named Annie - as in, lil' orphan). Just imagine if that proves to be a repeat of "Snowpocalypse," the storm that rocked the whole of the east coast not that long ago. At this rate, weather systems seem increasingly likely to cause another enormous blackout, like the one we had back in 2003. And even if they don't, with the pressure they've been under lately I suppose it's also possible we just might have another transit workers' strike before the end of 2013. But I don't mean to be pessimistic! Over the past decade or so, our police force has successfully foiled under a dozen proven terrorism attempts. Sure, they also clashed with our own citizenry over the Occupy Wall Street protests, but.... Hey! At least no one's flown any planes into any buildings here, lately!

I'm not aiming to make light of any of this. I'm just tired.

I used to consider it a cliché, the way that movies concerned with monumental American events (including, of course, disasters) so frequently feature New York as a landscape. After living here for over a dozen years myself, it seems more apt than anything else. Even when we set aside the iconography so necessary in film, wherein a subset represents the larger culture, the fact is that a lot befalls our fine 'burgh. Manhattan is set on some ley line intersection of fortune and desperate fate.

This event-riddled lifestyle of living amongst "the five boroughs" used to be a way of life I relished. As a kid, I used to run outside when it was windy. I wanted the world to be an exciting place, dramatic and narrative, swirling and swift. I still do. I still entertain survivalist fantasies and pursue the occasional unnecessary speed. It's just that last Monday night, as I prepared to huddle up for the night with Darling Wife and Tempestuous Twelve-Week-Old on an air mattress in the most central room of our railroad apartment, bags packed and boots by the makeshift bedside in case of a sudden evacuation, it all seemed suddenly a bit too ... well: disastrous.

And not a moment later, it seemed too familiar. I'm tired.

We've fared among the best of all the locations where Sandy laid down her land legs. We're in central Astoria, and though not five miles hence our friends in Long Island City have a quasi-war-zone on their hands when they step outside, here plenty of people are having food delivered and getting far more drunk than they generally would on a weekday. Personally, the storm has had the following effects:

  • A paid week off from work, for the most part (OK: I have worked, but from home, and as the email server went down so did the list of tasks I could reasonably accomplish);
  • Hours upon hours of more time with my family than I could've otherwise expected;
  • Clean laundry and apartment; and
  • More Facebook, Google Reader and Tumblr than any one man ought to have thrust upon him.

There are people whose lives are at risk, and those who've lost their lives already over this latest storm. I have nothing to complain about. The spookiest thing about our Halloween was that we're hardly exercising enough these days to justify some peanut-butter cups. Instead of power failures or looting, we've had to confront the fact that we were just too baby-encumbered to do anything adventurous for our four-year anniversary last night. We're incredibly fortunate, and I'm very grateful.

And I'm tired. Tired of the risk, the threat, the struggle of living here. I'll always love New York, and always miss it once we've had enough and moved on. I'm sad even now, with no special deadline for leaving, at the thought of no longer living here. I have been sad for years - when I happen to think of it - years over which the option of leaving NYC for greener (but NOT by definition more lovely) pastures has grown increasingly practical. I've been subliminally preparing myself for the day, because in the midst of the uncertainty involved in calling this city my home I've had complete certainty about how I will look back on it: with little else but longing.

But just maybe we should get going before the Mayan calendar ends. After all, we've already got our "go bags" packed.


"A word with a long pedigree in English is 'triskaidekaphobia,' which comes from the Greek phrase meaning 'fear of the number three and ten.' A fear of Friday the thirteenth adds the name of the Norse goddess Frigga, who was the wife of Odin and the mysterious, sometimes scary queen of all the gods."

~The Word Origin Calendar, Friday, January 13, 2012

I'll explain carefully to

Wife Megan

that her new nickname of "Frigga" is an honorific, but I can't promise I won't occasionally use it as a quasi-homonym in times of frustration.

The ACTion COLLECTIVE: ACT V, scene ii - Personal Character - Find Your Voice

"Everything you create comes from here."

Last night The Action Collective held our second in a series of workshops focused on character building, and our first to be led by a guest artist:
Raïna von Waldenburg. Raïna is a teacher of Andrew's from NYU's experimental theatre wing, and we met with her a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of leading a workshop with us, one based on her I Am One Who program of workshops. You can read more about her and her program on the Facebook invitation for the event, but here's a snippet of a description of the approach and goals:
"In a series of improvisations that require the actor to exist in the (power of) now, he/she will be faced with judges, habits, blocks, quirks, and latent talents that he/she has pushed aside. By literally inviting these undesirable parts of him/herself into the work, the actor suddenly has access to impulses that are alive, surprisingly truthful and emotionally resonant. The actor will learn to channel these impulses into acting that is present, open and honest, not forced, pushed or fake."
So: important and intimidating stuff. I was reminded, by her description of the technique and at times in practice, of the initial work Friends Heather, Todd and I did with Grey Valenti learning red-nose clowning. It involves that kind of sheer vulnerability and sincerity -- the very sorts of things I've been working rather hard (though somewhat subconsciously) to avoid in the past year. It also, however, has some important distinctions from that Lecoq-esque clown work, as I was to discover in the course of the evening.

An important part of the process has to do with identifying personal "judges," or voices of criticism within our own hearts and minds, and understanding them as characters. Raïna led each of us from theorizing what these individual, major judgments may be, through exploring them as people and finding a dialogue with them, right on to turning our judges into very promising characters in their own rights. She was incredibly present and listening and, though the work progressed very evenly over the course of three hours, you could tell that she was constantly responding to what was happening in the room, adapting our direction based on the "conversation" between students and teacher, or seekers and guide. Moreover, she did it all in such a way that we really had to give ourselves over to the work, because that was all we had to work with. Yet it was never strict, or forced. At least, not forced by her; there was plenty of forced work going on, whenever one of us got defensive or confused in an exercise.

A personal example: After some discussion of our personal judges, we began the exercises with practicing being open and available--present--with an audience. No need to do anything in particular, just don't retreat inward as you maintain eye contact and connection. This gradually developed in our observations and discussions into an informal rating system of 5 to 1 for how open we felt, 5 being not at all, 1 being as open as possible. One exercise along these parameters that she gave us was to start at 5 with everyone, and at some point in the course of 30 seconds flip into a 1 state. I found this really, really difficult (never really did get it) and in the course of my efforts, Raïna encouraged me to give voice to whatever impulse was preventing me from doing something so simple (my words, not hers). Eventually in the course of another 30-second attempt I twisted up my right elbow and neck in some abstract expression of frustration and sneered, "F@#$ this...." And that was good. And that was what we needed to move forward. Admitting my judgment of the exercise was how I could develop further into the work.

I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone last night learned something close to the level of a personal revelation or two (or, in my case, about a half-dozen). We were all working very hard, bravely, vulnerably and sometimes even without personal constraint. By the end, we were one-by-one improvising entire scenarios comprised of just us, and all the judges and judged that battle daily within us. Here was one of the important distinctions from the clown work that I've done, and the one that very nearly made me too defensively to effectively do the work: the naming of our judges. This requires a level of discussion and reflection that I believe actors tend to resist, because we're conditioned to -- afraid, aptly enough, of being judged as narcissistic and cerebral. And we resist it because it's frankly terrifying to acknowledge, to encourage, our judgments of ourselves. Adam Laupus made a pretty concise observation about it last night when he said that by naming one's judges, you begin to take their power back from them.

Apart from all that personal benefit, however, is a benefit of pure acting technique. This is an amazingly wonderful practice that bridges that strange divide between practices that help prepare for rehearsal and ones that are actually useful in rehearsal (for example, you would not [should not {yes; I'm judging}]) pull out the Meisner repetition exercise in the middle of rehearsing the last scene of The Glass Menagerie. This I Am One Who practice gives us a way to connect better with ourselves and our audiences, but also adds a powerful tool to the character-creation toolkit. It's genuine and impulse-based, breaks us out of habit, and it literally creates powerful characters for an actor to use. It's not often these days that I feel that sense of my perception of the acting process expanding, a feeling that I came to expect regularly in my studies at college. Last night, I felt that again, and I'm grateful to Ms. von Waldenburg for that.

In this sense, last night's event was a tremendous success for one of the goals of The Action Collective -- to provide actors with a space to do the work for which there is little time (or, in some cases, too much judgment) to accomplish in a typical rehearsal process. To enrich actors, instead of merely offering support. We may soon be making changes to the way the AC works, and what kind of work it takes on, but I'm encouraged by this latest workshop to maintain that priority. It's too important and too rare to neglect.

The Horror, The Horror...

Do you think anyone has yet mashed up Brando's famous delivery in

Apocalypse Now

with shots of men in traditional Jewish garb dancing traditional Jewish dances? If they haven't, the Internet is a failed experiment.

Sunday last I participated in a staged reading of

Friend Nat

's latest playscript:

Pierce, or, A Ghost of the Union

. The story


a ghost one, surrounding the presidency of Franklin Pierce. Nat excels at creating these unlikely mash-ups of supernatural tropes and (supposedly) more lofty and academic material; he's a smart guy who loves Japanese horror films and the work of Stephen King, and his previous plays have included

Any Day Now

(kitchen-sink drama and zombies) and

The Reckoning of Kit & Little Boots

(classical tragedy and time-bending magical [sur]reality). So as unlikely as the combination may seem, it really rather works in the hands of someone who can encompass all the contributing factors, such as Nat.

It reminds me of Friend Geoff, who is lightly obsessed with the hope that a stage play can be genuinely terrifying, and not just existentially, but immediately as well. I've seen two shows that scared me rather well: one was

The Pillowman

, the other a smaller-scale production but awfully well done from Friend Avi's group, Creative Mechanics:

Fall of the House of Usher



served up a series of shocks, in effect, that cumulatively broke my sense of trust in the narrative, whereas


was all-around creepy, seeping into me throughout by way of some incredibly weird and committed performances.


is fascinating to me because it seems to adhere so directly to the rhythm of a horror movie, the way such movies often function like roller-coasters, undulating and setting you up over and over again for bigger and bigger drops. This is a far more delicate feat in the theatre than on the screen, though. It takes pitch-perfect balance. It's almost like comedy in its daring: Nowhere to hide or obfuscate your intentions -- you are there, and everyone knows this, to make people laugh. Or in this case, shudder with fear.

Theatre used to do this, you know. Theatre used to do it all, even with equivalents to the glorious orangey fireballs and computer-rendered creatures. It did it all, because it had to. It was all we had, and then just as now we liked being scared, made sad, laughing, and all the good junk in between. Somewhere up the line there started to come these other vicarious, verisimilitudinous experiences, and somewhere not too far beyond that theatre started to place a priority on distinguishing itself. By and large, I think this was good for theatre; I love exploration and a pursuit of specificity, and one of my favorite admonishments I received in college was to, damn it, find what theatre can do that no other medium can. That has served me well, and I'm still making discoveries in that vein. However, it irks me somewhat when specificity leans its way into limitation, and anyway movies do not have exclusive domain over anything having to do with entertainment, with the possible exception of having made and spent astronomical figures on it.

So: Fear. It makes for some pretty powerful catharsis. That's what all the scary movies are about, after all -- inciting some kind of visceral, emotional response from us that we somehow find comfort in (or at least afterward). As with any play or movie, the catharsis needs a good story on which to hang its hat, even if it's a very simple one (such as, mildly troubled family stays in hotel, gets stranded and violently disintegrates) and


achieves that with a variety of contextual details such as slavery and impending secession, government and politics, and the strange evolution of the idea of "the media." Perhaps most satisfying, absolutely every character is changed by the events that unfold. In that sense, horror could be called a curious combination of comedy and tragedy (perhaps the eleven-fingered love child). It progresses with a comic rhythm of set-ups and deliveries, yet results in a tragic change, a horrible finality.

Then again, my favorite horror movies have that coda in which it is implied that the horror, the undeniable lack of control, is inescapable and cyclical and bound to repeat itself. Human behavior, at its most horrible. Now who wouldn't cast politicians in such a story?

Collecting Work

It's a little bit funny (this feeling inside...?). I wrote

on the 7th

about the madness brought about by not having acting work. That was a post I had actually begun some time before, but was a little too busy to complete for a week or so. The irony of such circumstances did not strike me at the time, focused as I was on just getting the dang thing out there. The distracting business was not largely of a theatrical nature -- though there's always the odd assignment




-- and so I was full up on the madness of which I wrote. There may be no money in it, but an empty acting roster can apply a similar pressure as that of an empty wallet. Incidentally, John Malkovich is famous for (among other things) having said, "I've always felt that if you can't make money as an actor, you're either incredibly stupid or tragically unlucky." John, I hope I never have the chance to discuss this little pearl with you.

Right here and now I can officially state that I am beginning to feel overwhelmed with theatre work. Not


work, mind you. It is looking increasingly as though October's posts to the Aviary will not escape the single digits (again; we haven't done that since May) and though the primary culprit for that remains el jobbo del day, lots and lots of theatre work has officially chimed in on the effort to rid me of free time, with a cheery "hihowareya?!" The change is a result of a combination of factors, everything from

the new phone

to the approaching holidays. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but it feels a like a drastic switch of mental state, which is generally how I've come to expect these things to occur.

The primary occupier for the past month has been a very new and exciting venture with

Friend Andrew


The ACTion Collective

. Tomorrow night we are hosting a slew of our favorite people to work with, who will be coming together to perform short readings of material that they themselves provide, and that we cast in the room. The idea is to gather actors together in a social setting in which they can also enjoy and explore their work without the pressures of a rehearsal process.

Friend Patrick

, who accepted one of our invitations, compared it to how jazz musicians get together to play music when they're not "working." That's the short-term goal. In the longer term, we hope to keep doing events such as this, with similar priorities placed on the acting, but also to build a very functional community (not just network) of theatre artists who enjoy learning from one another. We've done a lot of groundwork in the past couple of weeks on the supposition that ACTion Collective has a future beyond Thursday's event, so it's an exciting time.

In addition to that, a couple of directing possibilities for yours truly. I can't be very explicit about these, since they are rather nascent and involve other people's work, but both involve shorter works the which I will be taking no small amount of creative control of. Hopefully, they will prove less complex than that last sentence. It may seem odd that I would suddenly not only be directing, but be directing two projects. And it is. However, it's also partly because the projects are linked in interesting ways, and one affords me the opportunity to gear up for the other. The current work aspect of both at this point involves meeting with people and bouncing around ideas and philosophical opinions related to theatre. It's pretty great. It's also coming up on pretty important that I make serious headway with them both, so I'm glad Thursday's event is Thursday, and not, say, two weeks from Thursday.

I don't know what all this will lead to. I have a plan, of course, a course in fact that I'm hoping the work at least weaves in and out of, but if experience has taught me anything it is that man plans, God laughs. I usually feel most at home and fulfilled when I'm absorbed in theatre work, and now there's the added benefit of it being exactly the sort of work I want more of in the world. There's also the risk of putting my money where my mouth is, of which I am not unaware (read: completely freaked out). And the strangeness of acknowledging that it isn't acting work. Yet it's wonderful stuff. Gathering work means you're gathering people, bringing together a lot of talent, and a lot of just great people. And right now, I'm not sure that it gets any better than that.