30 June 2009

My Top Ten Entertainment Experiences of 2008

This is waaaay over due at this point. Believe it or not, this post has existed as a draft since January 5th. What has taken me so long to finish it? "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," man.

A refresher on the rules:

This encompasses not only the source of the entertainment (i.e. movie, burlesque show, concert, etc.) but also -- and more importantly -- the experience surrounding the event in question.

For instance, I really enjoyed Role Models, the movie starring my twin brother Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott. One of my favorite movies of 2008. However, the experience of going to see the film was average. Compare this to when we caught Revenge of the Sith a couple of years back at the Arclight in Hollywood, and representatives of the 501st legion of Stormtroopers were in attendance with Darth Vader. That was an entertainment experience to write home about!

So I realize this is a bit late, but here goes (in no particular order):

1. Kubrilesque

There were so many good burlesque shows in 2008, it is truly difficult for me to pick just one. But Kubrilesque was an incredible experience for a number of reasons. First, it was pretty early on in our journey into burlesque. We were still meeting people, getting to know the scene. Red performed in a couple of group numbers, as Alex in the tribute to A Clockwork Orange (and she's the hottest Alex ever) and in the Busby Berkeley-inspired 2001: A Space Odyssey extravaganza. So we were right in the thick of it, meeting new people.

Kubrilesque was presented at Cafe Fais Do-do, one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles. (I wrote glowingly of it in my review of Sound and Fury's Sherlock Holmes and the Saline Solution.) Red and I cajoled a large number of our theatre family to attend both nights, so there was that social aspect of the thing, the opportunity to share something we enjoy with people we love.

The Eyes Wide Shut number really hit on the second night, and was a transcendent experience for me. Crystal Swarovski's emergence towards the end was made all the more dramatic by the stark, flat lighting in the main ballroom.

2. Underbelly screening

Princess Farhana is a rock star, and to be invited to this screening was a distinct honor. The documentary is fantastic. We also met up with Celeste, one of Red's buds from the belly dance scene.

Putting on the sports jacket and driving out to a Hollywood landmark (The El Cid was reportedly built by D.W. Griffith) for the L.A. premiere of documentary film ... there was a moment there where I thought, "Wow! We've arrived. This is the sort of thing you do in Hollywood!" What a great night, schmoozing with friends and fellow artists and enjoying the belly dance acts that Farhana presented after the screening. That's what I call a night out on the town!

3. Xmas Smackdown

Kismet. That's how I describe this evening. Red had the opportunity to fill in for Penny Starr, Jr. for one night of this fun show. It was an evening of music and comedy with the very funny Mike Nutter and Cynthia Carle, featuring the Smackdown Singers, and storyteller Cindy Caponera. Red stripped to "Silver Bells" as performed by the Singers.

This all took place at Hallenbeck's General Store in North Hollywood, and I hope I get the invite for the next go 'round. I've since seen Nutter perform his twisted song "Baby Shredder" at Penny Starr, Jr.'s Victory Variety Hour. He's my kind of nut.

4. John Mayer

Yeah, I'm cheating. There were three John Mayer events this past year, and it's impossible to pick just one for this list. They did have one thing in common: The Fans.

First was the screening of Where the Light Is, his latest concert film. In December 2007, John Mayer played a concert for Toys for Tots. Three sets: John Mayer acoustic, the John Mayer Trio, and John Mayer with his full concert band. A remarkable evening that we missed due to a holiday office party. Naturally, when the opportunity presented itself to watch the concert on the big screen, we jumped at the chance.

The screening was at the Bridge multiplex, a cinema down towards Long Beach. Maybe it's in Venice ... I'm a little fuzzy. I know it's to the south and west of where we live. Great place! Some of the theatres have wait staff to fill your popcorn and soda orders. But they serve "real food" as well, and sell adult beverages. Very classy!

This was a fan club event, so we saw the film with John Mayer die hards. Met some really cool people that night!

The second morsel of John Mayer awesomeness came in the form of his Irvine concert. Fan club seats, and we were close to a fan club member who we've run into several times at concerts. She's great! It's so cool to make that kind of friend. The only thing you have in common is this one interest (John Mayer) and that's reason enough to be effusive when you see them again.

I also got to meet Brett Dennen when he autographed his cd for me. I have a newfound respect for people who ask for autographs.

Finally, we got to attend the second annual John Mayer holiday show. It was just Mayer onstage, no band, keeping us entertained for a couple of hours. It was our first journey to the Nokia Center and the new LA Live. Very slick place, completely and utterly disconnected from the rest of the city.

John Mayer, onstage alone, for a few hours. Really, no description would do it justice, but it was a bit like hanging out with that friend (or brother, or cousin) who's insanely talented at something and just watching them play through a set list. Very low-key and casual. The fans were incredible; I found myself chatting with complete strangers before and after the show like they were old friends.

5. Weezer Hootenanny

For a few hours, Pamela and I, along with dozens of other geeky Weezer fans, were members of Weezer. It's true: Rivers told us so.

6. Polly Peabody's show at Tangier

This was a stand-out event for one reason: Jewel of Denial. She's an English language teacher by day, and invited some of her students to the show. They were incredible; supportive and proud of their teacher. Burlesque can be so heartwarming at times!

7. Toy Puppet Theatre day at Disney Concert Hall

I got an email from a puppeteer friend telling me he was performing as part of a Maya Angelou poem-brought-to-life at this festival. That was enough reason to go. When I saw that Chicago's Redmoon Theatre would be performing "Once Upon a Time (or The Secret Language of Birds)" AND Laura Heit would be performing with her matchbox circus, the deal was sealed. Toy theatre is magic. The Disney Concert Hall is a beautiful place, and a wonderful setting for these miniature masterpieces.

8. The Bernini exhibit at the Getty Center

The last time I saw Bernini's work, it was summertime in Italy. The time spent examining these gorgeous marble sculptures was meditative and refreshing.

9. Tarantino Night at the Monday Night Tease

This is sort of cheating, but not quite. Although I was a part of this evening, I was able to enjoy most of it. It was my first introduction to the comedy stylings of Michael "NSFW" Schmidt, aka "The 40 Year-old Boy."

10. Pin-Up Girls

Without a doubt, the most incredible entertainment experience of 2008 for me. It's not that I wrote and directed it. Sure, that was cool. It was watching the show every night (I missed Act I twice) and watching the cast grow into their parts. It was seeing the faces coming and going from the house.

So that's that. Really freaking late, but done.

08 June 2009

Tracing Sonny Photos

Sonny and Luci share a moment.

Dad is making the calls while Sonny tries to carry on a conversation with Luci.

They just won't let up! Mom and Dad make their presence known to Sonny, while Luci struggles to understand what he's going through.

Why the argyle sweater? Since Dad and Mom are really manifestations of parts of Sonny's personality, and they tag in at different times during the play, I needed a shorthand way of tipping off the audience. At the time I was writing this, Pamela bought me a smashing argyle sweater: Above you see Theatre Unleashed treasurer Gregory Crafts and myself, after a reading of "Torrid Affaire" back before TU was so much as a twinkle in our eyes. *sigh*. We were so young and naive back then.

So there's the sweater.

As I worked with this choice, something became clear to me: Los Angeles isn't exactly a sweater-friendly town. Oh, we have our cold nights, our overcast days, but most of the time a sweater is a bad choice. "Tracing Sonny" takes place in Los Angeles over the course of a year. And Sonny has that damn sweater on non-stop.

But this works. One of the themes of "Tracing Sonny" is how useful tics, habits and traits picked up from others can become hindrances in the wrong situation. For instance, a firefighter's full regalia including oxygen tank and mask is incredibly helpful when rescuing people from a burning building. But imagine if that firefighter didn't remove his uniform at the end of the day, and tried to go bowling in it! Sometimes it's helpful to use learned behavior; sometimes that learned behavior overrides personal judgement and self-determination.

So the fact that Sonny wears a sweater on a hot, summer day at the Los Angeles Zoo is a "real-world" nod to his psychological state. Or, in short, "I meant to do that."

I've been rather quiet about Tracing Sonny on this here blog. Well, I've been rather quiet in general on this here blog. Facebook and Twitter have become my more mainline attack on the internet, and I just haven't felt the same need to blog. (And maybe I feel a little guilty that nearly half the year is over and I still haven't finished my "Top 10 Entertainment Experiences of 2008" post. Yikes!)

Opening weekend has come and gone for Tracing Sonny, with three weeks left in the run. I would have been happier with a longer run, but the economics of doing theatre on the small scale is an ass-kicker. We need to wrap up our IRS tax-exempt paperwork posthaste, so we can begin reeling in juicy grants and sponsorships. The silver-lining to taking our time is that we've amassed an incredible body of work over the past year and a half that we can point to when applying for the big bucks. The list is impressive:

Theatre Unleashed - "mainstage" productions since founding:

  1. What We Should Have Said: An Evening of One Acts for Los Angeles
  2. The Tempest
  3. Pin-Up Girls
  4. The Way of the World
  5. Tales of an Unsettled City: Beginnings
  6. Tracing Sonny
  7. Tales of an Unsettled City: Encounters
We've also done sketch comedy shows, variety shows, fundraisers and performance art:

  1. Theatre Unleashed Presents: Theatre Unleashed! Featuring Theatre Unleashed
  2. Dead Beat Poet Society: 80's Night
  3. The Holidays Unleashed!
  4. Die Gruppe in "Last Night's Appetizers"
  5. Attraction/Logic
  6. Die Gruppe in "Kiss My Butt"
  7. Acting Our Age
  8. The World's Smallest Renaissance Faire
Still yet to come this year, five, count 'em FIVE more "mainstage" shows (two of which are originals penned by company members):

  1. All in the Timing
  2. 4.48 Psychosis
  3. Landscaping the Den of Saints
  4. Tales of an Unsettled City: [to be named]
  5. Friends Like These
And that's not all! An animated short fest later this week, and another performance art event. Also, we're likely to do another winter variety show fundraiser. And a Halloween meta-event:

  1. Something Awesome Animated Short Fest
  2. Metamorphose
  3. Untitled Halloween event
  4. Untitled Winter fundraiser
Friends, that's 24 major events completed, ongoing and scheduled in the first two years of our existence as a company. That's one major event a month, if you break it down that way, but we typically do more than one thing at a time. It saves on space rental. Not taken into account is the incredible amount of promotional and marketing work we do for each event, including the production of web videos and an enormous amount of wed marketing spearheaded by our webmaster.

I'm reminded of that episode of the Simpsons, where the yellow-skinned family is trodding through Africa and Bart and Lisa keep repeating, "Are we insane yet? Are we insane yet? Are we insane yet?" in a sing-song, "Are we there yet?" fashion.

Fairly insane, yes.

01 June 2009

Don't Do Business with AT&T

If you can absolutely avoid it, do so. In particular, their internet service.

Here's my tale of woe:

We're in the middle of rehearsals for "Tracing Sonny," Pam's producing the fundraiser for the Burlesque hall of fame, and I'm building a set, pulling together multimedia elements, etc. Tuesday night Pam's like, "Shit! The phone bill!" Sure enough, we have a disco. notice. Not for the lack of ability to pay, mind you, but for the lack of attention while everything else is going on. Besides, we pay the damn thing.

One hand at AT&T doesn't know what the other hand is doing, and two days later they disconnect our internet. No interruption in our phone service -- like I said, we paid the damn thing. We catch the lack of internet immediately on Friday morning and call up AT&T. The best they can do? "It'll be back on next Thursday before 8pm."

I talk to a customer service gal on Saturday, trying to get them to expedite it. I point out that in this day in age, I could call up Time Warner Cable and have an installer out on Monday or Tuesday. Why should I wait until Thursday?

Her response: "You certainly could. Would you like me to go ahead and cancel your service?" I ask for a supervisor. She tells me they're all out to lunch. If you ask me, I'd say AT&T is out to lunch, and we'll be moving our business elsewhere after the play opens.

I've blogged about AT&T once before. Here's a refresher on one possible source of their malevolence as a corporation:

My guess is, they're run by Sith Lords.