20 August 2008

From Across the Room

A tender, sweet love song with a dark twist. This is the song that I performed to the delight of the Theatre Unleashed Presents: Theatre Unleashed! Starring Theatre Unleashed audience last May, now available in a very downloadable mp3 for the low, low price of $.99! That's right: Less than one-fourth the cost of a gallon of gas!

All profits from the sale of this song benefit Theatre Unleashed. So for those of you who enjoy my creative output but can't stand me as a person, here's your big chance to consume said output without supporting me financially! It's a win-win-win situation!

Did I mention that this song was professionally produced? That's right! So if you're familiar with my lame-ass MySpace music site, you'll be happy to know that actual professional grade equipment was used for this recording, rather than the broken computer mic that I typically use for this sort of thing. Also, someone who knows what he's doing did the mix, using software far more advanced than the crappy freeware I use. Play the 30 second preview ... see what I mean? Class! But you'll have to buy the song if you want to hear the punchline.

And boy howdy, is there ever a punchline.

So download your copy today while supplies last! And be sure to comment your praise and adulation below. Just don't spoil the punchline for anyone!

19 August 2008

It's time to shake things up around here. Burlesque is not just about the ladies ... well, the important parts are ... but there are some dudes on the scene as well. So fasten your seat belts, because you're about to meet ...


photo by Chris Beyond, swiped from Gary's MySpace site.

(hint: he's the one in the middle.)

Gary Shapiro is a nut. Fortunately, Gary is in one of the few fields where calling someone a "nut" is a compliment. If you recall from the last one of these things, the first L.A. burlesque show I attended was Victory Variety Hour's Super Nova a-go-go, which was hosted by Msr. Shapiro. That night, he set the bar for what I expect from a burlesque host.

Because, you see, Gary Shapiro is also a comic genius. His sense of humor is pointedly dark at times, and he gets away with saying the most horrible things. His delivery is such that you know that he knows what he's doing. So there's safety with Gary, even when he's careening dangerously around taboo subjects. That safety creates the space in which we laugh.

But enough dry, logical analysis. Let's watch a video. This is definitely not safe for work:

Another thing about Gary -- and this is just delightful -- for me he recalls the great Jewish comics of the past. There's a showmanship there that reminds me of those guys: Jack Benny, George Burns, Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis, et al. There is a richness of American culture that we are missing in this day and age. I mentioned something about this when I wrote about Lili VonSchtupp back in June. There's a classiness about Gary, a professionalism that elevates his strictly-for-adults comedy to the level of art. When I say Gary reminds me of the greats, that's what I mean.

Gary Shapiro can typically be found hosting Victory Variety Hour at the El Cid, unless you're a process server, in which case I hear Gary moved to the Caymans. So good luck with that. You can read his bio and see a picture of his son at Burlesque411.com, or read his insightful and ponderously philosophic blog on MySpace. But you should really catch his act live!

18 August 2008

Book Review:

Historic Photos of Los Angeles
text and captions by Dana Lombardy

I've heard it said that converts are the most devout. You have seen this old saying in practice if you've ever caught Huell Howser's local PBS shows, and heard him gush over "California's Gold" in his Tennessean accent. I know it to be true in my own life, as every year that passes since Pamela and I moved here, Los Angeles feels more and more like home.

For me, turning the pages of Historic Photos of Los Angeles feels like I'm cracking open a grandparent's photo album. Just like those photo albums, I see pictures of Los Angeles when she was younger, and I marvel at how many of the main features are the same -- she's recognizable, parts of her, a hundred years ago -- and I'm curious about what life must have been like for her, astonished at all the wonders she's seen.

Yes, I'm talking about a town. what can I say? I'm devout.

This collection of photographs, many of them by amateur photographers through the decades, paint a picture of a vibrant city. A city with problems, a city sprawling out of control, but a city full of life and ambition. There are the shots of prominent architectural features back when they were new, and it can give the reader a warm shot of nostalgia to look at these pictures (I got one such shot when I turned the page and found a 1920s photo of the Bullock building on Wilshire Boulevard near Vermont; I drive past this building every day), but this book offers much more than a tour of famous structures.

The photos represent moments in time, spanning from the late 19th century to the 1960s. There is much history between these covers. Sure, the development of the film industry is well represented, but so to are the 1932 Olympics, World War II, and the Watts riots. In his preface to the book, Dana Lombardy reveals an effort to offer a balanced picture of Los Angeles, rather than "a nostalgic tribute to a beloved city." He points out that over the past century, many writers have presented a negative view of the city. "These writers' words," Lombardy tells us, "and the photos in this book, combine to create a fascinating, if not always favorable, portrait of America's second largest city."

There are a couple of problems with the book. First, there's no index. With all of the history and photographs present in this book, a way to quickly track down a particular photograph is not just necessary, it should be an obvious thing to include. Second, all of the photos are presented in black and white, although many of the source photographs (particularly for the last few decades) must have been in color.

Historic Photos of Los Angeles is a wonderful chronicle of our city. Sure it's not always pretty, but family histories rarely are. Like any good history book, this volume gives us a context from which to view Los Angeles as she stands today. If you love Los Angeles, warts and all, you'll love this book.

Historic Photos of Los Angeles, text and captions by Dana Lombardy, published by Turner Publishing Company. Available at bookstores and online.

17 August 2008

(I am way behind on my commitment to one post a week. By my count, I need to do five of these things this week to catch up. So let's get to it.)

These little weekly postings are not intended to be thorough reviews. The whole purpose of the "Artists I Love" series is to feature "artists who inspire me, who challenge me, and who make me want to be a better artist myself." It's not my intention to write in depth analyses of these artist, but rather to touch upon aspects that "inspire me," etc.

I have to state my limitations very clearly, for this week's artist is truly a Jane-of-all-trades. I'm simply going to leave things out! It's an inevitability, when addressing a protean talent such as ...

Penny Starr, Jr.photo by Crazy White Lady Photography, swiped from Penny Starr Jr.'s MySpace profile

The first real burlesque show I ever went to in Los Angeles was Penny's Victory Variety Hour. It was the sci-fi show, "Super Nova-a-go-go," almost a year ago:

Ah ... memories.

There is something Thomas Jefferson once said: "Determine never to be idle ... It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing." I don't believe Penny Starr, Jr. has an idle bone in her body. She never seems to stop. What's more, she maintains poise and grace while facing deadlines, producing wildly diverse shows, dealing with production difficulties, hosting, dancing ... She's the embodiment of everything I love about theatre people, and she has a drive that I envy.

Penny really is the whole package put together. This is most apparent to me when I watch her dance. First we have the unifying concept behind the act. With Penny, I perceive a combination of a literate wit and a dirty mind. I love her Isadora Duncan number. Penny portrays the doomed early 20th century icon, who was strangled to death when her long, flowing scarf got entangled in the spokes of an automobile. The music is period perfect, the choreography revels in Duncan's dance. The striptease is coy and sexy, and the end of the act is perfection.

Next we have the costume. She builds what she wears on stage, and she is a costumer par excellence. From my unique vantage point as luckiest man in the world -- that is to say, husband to a burlesque dancer -- I have had the pleasure of seeing Penny at work, chatting with her about her theory of rhinestone deployment, and observing her costumes up close. From the cheap seats, you sometimes can't tell the amount of detail and loving care that someone has put into a costume. I'd say with Penny's onstage wardrobe you can, precisely because of the amount of detail and loving care present.

Finally, the whole thing put together. Here, watch another video (from Lucha Va Voom):

Better yet, catch her act live!

Penny (a.k.a. Augusta) produces two shows monthly: the aforementioned Victory Variety Hour ("L.A.'s own 'High Fallutin' Low Brow' variety show) and Club Schmutzig ("A Dark, Dirty Den of Bygone Debauchery.") You can follow her performance schedule on MySpace, and Burlesque411.com.

If you're interested in this whole "New Burlseque" scene, I highly recommend her excellent documentary The Velvet Hammer Burlesque.

07 August 2008

I owe you what, three "Artists I Love: Burlesque Edition" posts?

I do apologize. I'm working overtime this week to wrap up a draft of Pin-Up Girls.

(Pin-Up Girls is a World War II-era play about burlesque dancers in San Francisco. I'll be bringing it to the stage this October for Theatre Unleashed.)