31 January 2009

Obsession du Jour

I caught part of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood today. He was in Negri's Music shop, playing toy piano with Negri on guitar and some dude playing this:

(This is not the guy from the show.) The Stumpf Fiddle. I remember seeing these things when I was a kid, but I only have a dim memory of them:

Looks easy to build. I'd like to see Mr. Buddy playing one.

It strikes me as a "deceptively easy to play" instrument, similar to the ukulele. There are two approaches with such an instrument:

1. Take it serious and make music
2. Fart around with it and make noise

So I want one of these things! I guess I'll add it to my musical wish list.

25 January 2009

A Secretary of the Arts?

I know that quite a few of my fellows and friends in the theatre community are quite excited about the prospect of the President appointing a Secretary of the Arts. There is a petition online for people to sign with the hope that enough people can persuade the President to create a cabinet-level post for a Secretary of Art. However, it's a prospect that is far from certain; President Obama has far more important matters to attend to.

I haven't felt the need to speak out on this subject myself. I should probably keep my fool mouth shut on the matter. As this touches on an area near and dear to me, I feel that I must throw my two cents out there for the seven people who read this blog to consider. (Hi, mom!)

I do not think President Obama should appoint a Secretary of the Arts.

Art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.
-- JFK (emphasis added)

I place a high value on art. It borders on religious expression for me, as many of my past collaborators may attest. I don't expect art to change the world, but I have known it to change the lives of individuals, if only for the moment. I know that in my own life, the right song at the right moment has roused me from the depths of depression. Whenever I feel washed-out emotionally and physically a trip to the Getty Museum recharges my batteries.

I found the above quote from President Kennedy in the body of a speech entitled "The Separation of Art and State." This speech was delivered by David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute to the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts in 1995. It sums up my feelings on the matter of a "Secretary of the Arts" with near perfection. Actually, the title sums it up nicely.

Imagine for a moment that someone were proposing a Secretary of the News Media or Secretary of Peaceable Assemblage. It's a no-brainer, right? Freedom of expression, as well as the freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble is guaranteed by the first amendment. Why would we want to petition for bureaucratic centralization of the Arts? There is a quote from the above mentioned speech that speaks to this very issue. It's kind of long, but worth the read:

The latest newsletter from People for the American Way identifies a lot of threats to free expression. Some involve an actual assault on private actions--such as censorship of the Internet, a ban on flag-burning, a denial of tax exemption to groups that support ideas some congressman doesn't like--and fortunately the First Amendment will protect us from most of these. But most of them involve restrictions on the way government funds can be used. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger, now a member of the Clinton White House, warned recently that such rules are "especially alarming in light of the growing role of government as subsidizer, landlord, employer and patron of the arts."

Keep in mind that this speech is concerned primarily with the National Endowment for the Arts, and was delivered during the Clinton presidency -- a very arts-friendly administration! Multiply this scenario by an executive department on par with the Department of the Treasury, the Justice Department, the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce ... are you beginning to see the problem?

Bureaucracies must create work for themselves to justify their very existence. This means regulation. Don't get me wrong, some regulations are good. Protect the little guy against entrenched power -- please! I'm that little guy. But I also believe, "That government is best which governs least." In short, if they don't regulate it, they can't take it away. Fewer cages means more freedom, plain and simple.

"But this is the Obama administration," you may say. "President Obama would never allow something so diabolical as regulation of the arts to occur!" True, but Obama will only serve at most eight years in office. Are you willing to run the risk that the next president won't regulate the arts? What if the country swings hard-right and elects a Pat Buchanan? What if it swings hard-left and elects a Tipper Gore?

So that's worse case scenario: a government agency which regulates art. It's not the likeliest scenario. But how likely was it that torture would become a sanctioned approach to interrogation?

It is not lost on me that the appointment of a Secretary of the Arts would be a largely symbolic gesture. Why in God's name should we pay $193,400 a year for the highly symbolic job of Secretary of Art? And that's just the salary for a cabinet-level position. It does not include the expenses of such an office, including the staff and overheard. It would certainly cost more than the budget of the NEA, which will top out at just over $144 million this year. The Department of Education is the smallest cabinet-level department, and it has an annual budget of nearly $69 billion. You can figure a Department of the Arts would have a budget somewhere between those two numbers, which would be a lot to pay for symbolism.

This is a matter of politics, and I understand how passionately people may feel about this. I am open to differences of opinion, and would be happy to hear other points of view.

14 January 2009

The Crocodile Puppet

I built this for Red's "Crocodile Rock" number. The idea was to encourage the audience to "sing along" and then stalk her around the stage, ripping her clothes off. Here's the original video of Elton John's appearance on the Muppet Show for reference:

And for my Mom who can't watch YouTube videos at work, here's a screen capture:

I'm going to jump ahead to a photo of the final look of the act:

Photo by Shannon Cottrell, snagged from LA Weekly. They posted a review and slideshow of the evening, Monday Night Tease's Muppet (of Burlesque) Show. (The slideshow includes pictures that may not be safe for work.)

Not too shabby. A burlesque act is impressionism. The goal is not to create an exact duplicate. The goal is parody. Red does this extraordinarily well in her costuming.

I didn't wish to build a replica of the Muppet croc, but rather a recognizable croc silhouette with a Muppet "look".

As always, it started with sketches:

(The little guy in the middle was an idea for the "mini crocs". More about them in a bit.)

I did some visual research on crocs (thank you Google image search!) but pretty much winged the construction. I started with the head, figuring that was the most crucial thing to get right. We're visual creatures. I've heard it said (though I can't recall the exact context) that the first thing we become aware of as babies are our parent's faces. In particular the eyes. We gravitate to faces, hence the importance of getting the head right:

The eye and nostril ridges are temporary, just to give myself a better idea of what he's going to look like when finished.

I started with the mouthplate, covered it in felt, and built up the head. The cranium is the same "wedge" style of construction I learned from Andrew Young of Puppetvision. I cannot pimp his Tumbles P. Bear Project tutorial enough.

I made and kept paper patterns of each foam piece that went into building this puppet on the off chance that I have to build another. I doubt I will, but you never know.

I draped the fabric on the foam body and cut and stitched it into place. (I secured the fabric to the foam with a bit of hot glue.) Here's the finished puppet:

I should say "sort of" finished. There is a lot of surface detail I would have liked to add, but I ran out of time. The eyes are yellow ping-ping balls mounted with this really neat trick I learned from Russ Walko. (I don't want to give away any of his secrets.) The teeth are uncovered foam, snipped into shape and painted white. The legs were machine sewn by my wife who has far more patience than I do.

We also put together 35 "mini crocs" and distributed these to the audience for the "sing-along" portion of the song. Three pieces, built like oven mitts, and hot glued together. We took them all to "craft night" and encouraged whoever felt like it to give these puppets their finishing touches. The results are as wild and varied as the ladies who worked on them:

So popular were these guys, we didn't get one of them back at the end of the night. Which was exactly as intended.

By the way -- if you haven't already, please VOTE FOR RED SNAPPER! She's running for Miss Viva Las Vegas 2009, and the opportunity to dance for close to a thousand people in Vegas! If you have voted, please pass the link along to your friends. Only the top six have guaranteed slots in the competition! In order for your vote to count, you must receive a confirmation e-mail that includes a little link to verify your vote. If you don't receive this confirmation e-mail [and it may show up in your spam filter] please let me know!

13 January 2009


So I'm flipping through the Daily Trojan today -- did I mention that my day job is at USC now? Anyway, I'm flipping through the Daily Trojan, and my eyes landed on something that has completely renewed my faith in the younger generation. Check this out:

Yes, under the "worst" category of 2008 fashion, the wise-beyond-his-years fashion genius Brett Malec lists both Uggs and Crocs. As you may recall, I have strong feelings about these "shoes" myself.

The print is fuzzy, and I can't find this online, so here's what wunderkind Brett Malec has to say:

Ugg Boots

Especially when it's not even cold out; we're in LA, people!


No matter how "comfortable" ther are, nothing that ugly should ever be worn on the human body.

I would add that Uggs make the wearer's ankles look huge and crocs look like what inmates at an asylum might wear, but that's just me.

Cheers, Brett Malec. May you have much success in life.

Just go along. You'll start happenning too. Oh the places you'll go!

-- Dr. Suess

09 January 2009

The End of an Era

Requim for a VHS, photo by moneboh (some rights reserved)

I don't remember exactly what was the first VHS tape I owned. It may have been Chaplin's The Gold Rush or Danny Kaye's The Inspector General. But I do remember vividly the first thing I ever taped off of television: 1986's Dom Deluise and Friends Part 4. It was lame.

Harry Knowles points out an old (in internet years) article about the last manufacturer of pre-taped VHS tapes closing his business. This has sparked a wave of nostolgia in myself and many others, including Harry:

God. VHS changed everything. The ability to play and own something you loved when you wanted to was a miracle.

I grew up in the Nazarene Church, a relatively conservative evangelical denomination. I understand that the rules have softened (thanks to a current Nazarene minister who was kind enough to comment the last time I brought this up), but in my childhood, going to the movies was strictly verboten. I imagine few Nazarenes actually kept that rule -- heck, we had cable television and listened to rock music in the privacy of the parsonage, also against the rules -- but if a young preacher and his family had publicly flaunted the church's rules, it would have caused no end of trouble. I saw exactly two films at the movies before my ninth birthday: Popeye in 1980 and The Legend of the Lone Ranger in 1981.

As a side note, and so you really grasp the depth of what this means, here is a partial list of movies I did not see when they were released to theatres:

  • Superman
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Superman II
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Ghostbusters
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Gremlins

... and perhaps the most depressing of all ...

  • The Muppet Movie

This isn't a plea for pity, although you have to admit, if it were, it'd be a pretty spectacular and effective plea! As a child, I read a lot of novelizations. So much so that even after my mom said
"enough's enough!" and insisted we be allowed to consume popular culture like normal kids, I still boght and read novelizations. My friends in Chicago were aghast that I was reading the paperback adaptation of Batman in the days leading up to that film's release. I am proud of the fact that I got through all 246 pages of E.T. The Extraterrestrial at age six. Not so proud of reading Spaceballs during recess.

Like I said, we had cable. This was an infrequent hook-up, as A) we lived in rural places most of the time (i.e. no cable service) and B) basic cable was pretty much all we could afford on mom & dad's salaries. (Oh! Free HBO weekends. How I miss you!)

Now when we got our first VCR, the film education of Andrew Moore began. Don't ask me why walking into a video store was less sinful than walking into a movie theatre. Perhaps one could cover and say "I was renting Billy Graham movies" when in fact the big plastic cases contained Porky's, Revenge of the Nerds and Zapped.

As Harry points out, the quality of videotape is atrocious. But at the time, the ability to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark every day after school was freedom most sweet. Who cares about a fuzzy image!

Those first tapes were damned expensive. $80 or so for a new release! So the real market was in bootleg tapings, either the "TV version" (I first saw Police Academy this way) or the pay-cable/video piracy method. The latter was obviously preferred, although copy-protection methods at the time could blur the top 1/8 of the picture. Kind of annoying, but we weren't as interested in the picture quality as we were the story.

And this brings me to the true sadness the death of VHS holds for me: The inevitable end of video stores. Yes, they've been sliding away into non-existence for some time now. Thanks to the compact and lightweight nature of DVD, NetFlix has managed to leverage the USPS (who'd have thought?) against brick-and-morter stalwarts such as Blockbuster. If DVD had never come along, this wouldn't have happened: Mailing VHS tapes would be far too expensive and problematic.

There was a time when you could spend an hour or two browsing the video aisles. Picking up boxes, marveling at the artwork and reading the back. NetFlix is lightning-fast interactive, but it lacks the real-world weight of holding something in your hand and turning it over. There was a time when you ran the risk of your preferred rental not being there when you got to the store. This made that rental far more precious. There was a time when you'd have to go by the video store before work or school to ensure you'd have a copy of that new release to watch later in the evening.

I wouldn't trade my NetFlix subscription for all the free rental tokens in the world. Video stores were notoriously limited in their selection (well, some of them were. Some video stores were run by cinemaphiles who followed their bliss when placing stocking orders.) But it saddens me that you can buy disposable DVDs of New Releases for a few bucks, watch them a couple of times and throw them away. It cheapens what was once an experience that bordered on sacred.

As it so happens, there are movies in existence that have not made the jump to DVD. One such is the next VHS on my list to buy: Penn & Teller Go Public. Yeah, I could go the torrent route and burn it on DVD, but this is the first taste of Penn & Teller I had as a young boy (back in 1985) and I'd like the nostolgic value of owning "the real thing" on VHS.

I leave you with the preview trailer of Penn & Teller Go Public as a reminder of what life was like before the age of disposable DVDs:

The one and only ...

T I G G E R !

Gary Shapiro wasn't joking when he introduced the last act:

"The most wonderful thing about Tigger! is he's the only one!"

He is indeed a singular individual; an iconoclastic boylesque performer who both challenges striptease conventions and pays homage to the very meaning of burlesque, a word that means "comedy" and "parody." His performance last night was extraordinary. Every inch of it.

Last night was the first I've seen him perform live. His reputation and a few YouTube videos precede him; I have never met the man, and I'm intimidated by him. I've heard nothing but accolades: Tigger! is a consummate performer, an athletic extrovert who goes all out (pun intended). He is an incredibly talented and riveting performer with oodles of aesthetic taste and artistic savvy.

He created a character last night. It was a character as well flesh-out and rehearsed as one may find on any so-called "legit" stage. It was a captivating character, a funny character. In its own over-the-top, presentational way, it was a very real character. Tigger! didn't just dance, he put on a mask and imbued it with life. That's good theatre, and he accomplished more in a few minutes than some companies could ever hope to accomplish over the course of an entire run.

Tigger! is performing again at the Monday Night Tease on January 12th. Do not miss him. Money is tight, but you owe it to yourself to pony up the greenbacks and catch this guy in person. I'm co-hosting that night with the verbally vibrant and diligently dapper Patrick the Bank Robber, and it will be a profound honor to share the stage with Tigger!

05 January 2009

It's Official ...

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Drama Nerd

You sure do love the spotlight and probably have a very out-going and loud personality. Or not. That's just a stereotype, of course. Participation in the theatre is something to be very proud of. Whether you have a great voice for musicals, or astounding skills for dramas/comedies; keep up the good work. We need more entertainment these days that isn't television and video games (not that these things are bad, necessarily.)

Social Nerd
Literature Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

04 January 2009

Back When I was a Hippy ...

Well, playing Jesus in "Godspell" at any rate.

These pictures snapped by Scott Black. I wonder whatever became of that guy? He was pretty cool. I've done a Google search, but "Scott Black" is a pretty common name, and it doesn't help that Ridley Scott directed a little movie called "Black Hawk Down." I get a lot of "Directed by Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down is ..." returns.

01 January 2009


Once you're on the webpage, click the "vote" button under Red's picture. Enter your e-mail address, and check your e-mail! (The confirmation e-mail may pop up in your spam filter.) Click the little confirmation link, and your vote has been cast. Now go tell two friends to do the same!

Only the top six get into the competition! Help send Red Snapper to Vegas to dance before what will be her biggest audience yet!