26 September 2007

Don't Fear 2012:

From the always interesting Tim Boucher:
Even if the Mayans did have some kind of fancy-pants calendar bullshit going on, are you Mayan? If you’re not Mayan and you adopt the arbitrary significance of this one timestamped moment, why stop there? Why not abandon the Reason of the Roman Empire and its cultural heirs in favor altogether of the mystically-soaked blood-baths of the Mayans? Few 2012-fluffers mention that this once-mighty people fed their calendar directly with human souls; if we’re really going to do honor to whatever shift these people lived and died for, how come noone is lining up for the sacrificial altar?

"2012-fluffers". Gotta love it.

We're going to be treated to a non-stop barrage of airy-fairy new age nonsense the closer we get to 2012. It's bound to be worse than all that "Planet X" crapola of a couple years back.

My question: If the Mayans were so advanced that they were able to predict the "End of Days" or "Dawning of Enlightenment" or whatever the hell is supposed to happen, where are they now? It's like the old joke picture of a store-front psychic with an "out of business" sign.

Sure. The Mayans could predict the galactic alignment of interstellar bodies and spiritual awakening, but they couldn't predict (and prevent) their own collapse.

25 September 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 2 of 3
"You had better pray that I never again sit where I belong."
- Juana, Juana II:4 by Paul Casey

Juana is a woman of the future surrounded by the patriarchal trappings of the past at the dawn of the Renaissance in Spain.

We will take a somewhat expressionistic angle on this, presenting the world as Juana would see it: a mad house, full of monsters.

The fuel for this living nightmare will be the prominent forms of art from the period, specifically religious paintings, stained-glass, and liturgical drama. This is the art of the structure, her parents, the establishment.


The chiaroscuro is primitive and somewhat harsh. The perspective simple. The muted palate of religious paintings is augmented by the saturated primaries of stained glass.

Liturgical drama (pageants, festivals, etc.) continued to grow and develop in Spain throughout the Renaissance. We will draw upon this tradition as well. (See how nicely this fits with the pageant puppets?)

The story is grand. The locations are grand. Juana is an epic play. Yet it shall be important to exercise great economy in the design of the play -- the set, costumes, lights, sound and puppets. At the heart of this massive story that stretches over thirty years, from the Iberian peninsula to the Austrian Empire, is the very simple story of a woman who was betrayed by her husband, son, and father. The heart of this play lives in The Room Without Light, an impenetrable darkness that ultimately could not overshadow Juana herself.

24 September 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 1 of 3

An epic play, a pageant that reveals the hidden truth behind history's most maligned and misunderstood monarch -- this is the story of Juana. Labeled "Juana the Mad" by her captors, this propaganda line has dogged her true story through the ages: That the death of her young husband drove her insane; that she inherited this madness from her grandmother.

Paul Casey's play reveals quite a different reality: A strong-willed, intelligent woman who was seen as a threat to the established patriarchal structure of post-Medieval Europe; an opponent of the Inquisition; and a champion of the common people. Juana embodied the spirit of the Renaissance in a country that was desperately clinging to the last vestiges of the Dark Ages.

This November, we will tell Juana's story. Sixty-plus puppets, brought to the stage by twenty talented performers shall take the audience on an epic voyage through three kingdoms, over turbulent oceans, through the darkest of nights, and ultimately to the truth.

The puppet count is at 69, not including any toy theater or shadow puppets. We will be using a variety of rod-based puppets (pageant puppets, westernized bunraku-style puppets, etc.) performed out in the open (i.e. after the fashion of Julie Taymor/Avenue Q.)

Paul's play is very cinematic. We cross continents in the blink of a scene change, cross vast amounts of time in mere moments. To help handle these transitions, I'm utilizing toy theater. (As it so happens, a few of these transitions involve large crowd scenes. Yet another reason to utilize toy theater.)

Paul has postulated that Juana was able to keep up with what was going on outside her prison walls by way of extended or remote viewing. At the same time she was in Burgos, a group of Christian mystics were studying this phenomenon. In our play, Juana experiences two visions. We will play out these visions with shadow puppets, a form of puppetry uniquely suited to dreams and visions.

Juana was was a threat to the establishment, and was removed from power. She was placed in the room without light "for her own good," and every attempt was made by her captor (the devious Marquis of Denia) to drive her insane. It was a nightmare scenario, and one that Juana briefly emerged from in 1520 when she presided over the legislative assembly in Spain, demonstrating a soundness of mind and intelligence as she attempted to transform Spain into a democracy.

The use of puppets in this production will enable an expressionistic take on her story. The audience will experience the mad house in which Juana found herself: surrounded by monsters who meant to do her in. In the case of Fernando, he will be a nine-foot-tall pageant style puppet. (This particular point, how Juana perceived those around her and how this works with the puppets is a point I discussed with Paul. He was rather excited about the idea, and took a copy of my initial sketches to show around.)

Furthermore, we will be designing the puppets and creating an environment informed by the sort of things that would have served as nightmare fuel for a much younger Juana, growing up in the castles and cathedrals of the Catholic Monarchs. Specifically, Late Medieval and Early Renaissance religious art.

21 September 2007

Come one, come all!

I play Moonshine (nee "Robin Starveling.") Pamela rocks the house as Peasblossom, and choreographed the fairy dances. She actually put her fairies through the nuevo stripper paces. Read all about it on her blog.

03 September 2007

Seth on cheap advertising:
Mysteriously, when the ads are cheap (think banners, or cable or AM radio), the content is lousy.

A SuperBowl ad costs a few million dollars to run... so the beer companies and the dot com companies spend millions creating the ad, even if it runs only once. [...]

There's no economic reason for this. You can run that banner ad in a thousand places. You can run that radio ad in 200 cities. If the media is cheap, it might just be a good value. And if you can run an effective ad, you can run it far and wide and turn a profit.
I don't think it's that mysterious at all. When it comes to a Super Bowl Ad, there is much more money at stake. With banner ads or AM radio ads there's virtually nothing at stake.

This is true for entertainment, as well. Compare your run-of-the-mill improv show with Broadway's Wicked. It costs virtually nothing to put on an improv show; very little is invested so oftentimes you literally get what you pay for: an hour or two of diversion. Meanwhile great piles of cash are shoveled into a BIG-TIME BROADWAY SHOW. A huge investment! Also a better bet than your local run-of-the-mill improv show.

It's not just the investment of capital, and here's where the mystery truly vanishes: The artists involved understand the scope. The improv show is playing to friends and family or die-hard improv fans or folks too broke to cross the street to see Wicked at the Pantages. A small pool. The artists involved in a BIG TIME BROADWAY SHOW know that there will be lines around the block. The artists have more at stake with a bigger audience and so bring their "A" game. As for the group playing to a dozen people, half of them comped ... there is a difference.

(HOWEVER, the Broadway show could be a crass, mediocre piece of crap performed by jaded jerks. The little improv show could have more heart and sheer talent on display than all the theatre palaces in the world. These are the exception to the rule. Not every improv is "The Kids in the Hall" back in the day, and not every Broadway musical is "Annie 2.")

The thing to do is to bring your "A" game regardless, to not settle for mediocre, to be remarkable. There was a little show in Hollywood that opened earlier this year titled "All About Walken." It's eight actors doing Walken impersonations in scenes and monologues. The show went up the the Gleason Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard -- I've performed on stage there myself, in a show that averaged five audience members each night. Just a hole-in-the-wall storefront theatre. Certainly not the Pantages.

This play -- a play that cost next to nothing to produce (i.e. no flying monkeys) that features eight people doing Walken impressions for crying out loud -- got major media coverage. The show was consistently sold out. These same eight actors could've just done a mediocre improv show, but they didn't settle for that. They brought their "A" game, and they flourished.

So that's the lesson to take away from all of this: Don't throw away any opportunity to be remarkable, no matter how "low rent" the venue.

[Also posted at www.madtheatrics.blogspot.com.]