Monday, December 07, 2009

December Daze

The year is winding down. (The decade is too, and good riddance to it. But that is not what I'm writing about.) I have a hard time concentrating during December. The weather has taken the season's first real turn toward unpleasant. I have to adjust my wardrobe accordingly. I have to worry about shopping for Christmas gifts. I worry about my plans for New Years. I worry that I don't see enough of my family during the holidays; then I worry that I won't find a reason NOT to see my family. And I have to weave my day job and theater schedules through it all. And now I've got a head cold and feel like crap.

Bah. Humbug.

It's not all bad, of course. I've got some great stuff going on. I'm the fight director for perhaps the most ambitious project I've ever been a part of: The Building Stage is doing a 6-hour adaptation of Wagner's Ring Cycle. The project is being co-directed by Joanie Schultz and Blake Montgomery, and features none other than my lovely wife Mandy. It will be Mandy's and my first theater collaboration in a really long time.

I'm also doing fights for a cool one-act called "Under Ground," written by Jessica Wright for this year's Rhino Fest. The story is awesome. It would fit perfectly in an issue of Weird Tales.

Beyond that, of course, is Neverwhere. I have begun working out. I'm trying this kettlebell program I found. So far so good; each workout leaves me with a full-body soreness the next day. I kinda like the feeling.

It's been over a month since my last post, but quite frankly I can't think of much else right now. Must be the Sudafed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Neverwhat?

As I mentioned before, I have been cast in a stage version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere at Lifeline Theatre, to be produced next spring. Our illustrious director Paul Holmquist, who also directed me in Lifeline's Busman's Honeymoon, has decided to embark on a busman's holiday of his own by turning a vacation to London into a research trip. He will be documenting his travails on a new blog, Neverwhat? I, for one, am looking forward to some enlightening entries.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Sharp End of the Sword

On Saturday I and fellow Treasure Island castmates Patrick Blashill, Rob McLean and Sean Sinitski along with fight director Geoff Coates sat down for the Talk Theatre In Chicago podcast to discuss our show and the art of staged violence. It was a huge thrill for me as I've never been interviewed before. The interview took place in Lifeline Theatre's rehearsal space, and you can hear the El going by the window every couple of minutes.

We followed this interview with our first two-show Saturday of the run. By the time I got home that evening I was so tired I couldn't even sleep. I've lost twelve pounds since we started tech. And if we can maintain audiences like these for the next few weeks we'll probably extend the run into November. By the time we close I should be lookin' GOOD.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Don't Mean to Toot My Own Horn...

... but BEEP BEEP, people! The reviews for Treasure Island have been rolling in, and it looks like we're a hit! I've linked below to several of the reviews, and included a few choice excerpts here and there.

Chicago Sun-Times - Dig up 'Treasure' at Lifeline show - "The ensemble is terrific, with Chris Hainsworth, Christopher M. Walsh, Ezekiel Sulkes, C. Sean Piereman and Eduardo Garcia as a fine bunch of battered and battering gold-diggers."

Chicago Theater Blog - Lifeline creates an all-hands-on-deck winner - "Chief among equals: Christopher Walsh as the rum-and-rickets-infused Billy Bones, a rogue whose “thundering apoplexy” proves the catalyst for the story’s rollicking treasure hunt."

Chicago Tribune - Full-blown 'Treasure Island' sails into Lifeline: Prepare to be boarded - "Thanks to the inventions of designer Alan Donahue and a slew of deliciously droll performances from the likes of Robert McLean, Christopher M. Walsh and young Warren Weber, this is an engrossing adventure that Kauzlaric unfolds at break-neck pace."

Chicagoist - Shiver Me Timbers! Lifeline's Treasure Island Is Explosive - "This show is as close to perfection as they come, and if you have a thing for pirates, it’s just that much better."

Dining Chicago - Fabulous coming-of-age classics: ‘The Fantasticks’ and ‘Treasure Island’ - "Along with Sinitski, Christopher M. Walsh, as Billy Bones, and Patrick Blashill, as Dr. Livesey, deliver exceptional performances, and director Robert Kauzlaric’s staging is impeccable."

Gapers Block - A Pirate's Life for Me

Newcity - Review: Treasure Island/Lifeline Theatre


I am tired and bruised, but immensely proud of this show. Yar.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dead Men Don't Bite

I am sore and exhausted and it feels fantastic. Lifeline Theatre's Treasure Island has occupied all of my free time for the last month and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks. We have this brief respite tonight and for the next twenty-four hours. I'm not sure if we have the day off because it's Labor Day or because the designers have more work to do or just because they thought we'd need a break right about now, but whatever the reason the respite is more than welcome. This just might be the most physically challenging show I've ever worked on. Defiant's A Clockwork Orange was a beast but I was five years younger and I think that makes a huge difference. Plus, Clockwork didn't have the crazy costume changes that TI has. I'm sweaty and out of breath in the first five minutes.

The show is coming together swimmingly. We had one casualty: An actor dislocated his kneecap during a fight scene last week and now his understudy is doing yeoman's work getting up to speed. He's doing a great job, and we'll get the original actor back in a few weeks, but the whole thing has served to focus the cast as a unit. Today we finished our cue-to-cue and accomplished the first full tech run of the show. We avoided a clusterfuck because we were able to dig in as a group and look out for each other as we made our mad dashes from one entrance to another while scrambling out of one costume and into another. There was a fair amount of rough spots but nothing beyond what one should expect from a first run. It's gonna be a good show.

To add to my fun, I may have a small fight choreographer gig coming up as well, which I will discuss when I know more details. It's for a group I'm fond of, and a cool script, so I'm keeping fingers crossed. Scheduling is tricky, so it's not a done deal as yet.

As much as I'm loving keeping busy in theater, I must confess I am looking forward to my self-imposed break after Treasure Island ends. I'm not committing to any more acting jobs that start rehearsal before next January 1. If the itch is there I may try to get a show that starts around then just to keep busy until Neverwhere begins. Oh, did I mention that I got cast in a stage version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere? Hmm. Well it's true. As you can imagine I completely jazzed about this development, but we've got a while before we start work on it. After my Treasure Island experience, however, I do feel like I may want to consider some real physical training to get ready for it. I play several parts, most of whom have some serious violence work attached to them. Should be fun, but I don't want my ass kicked again the way it is now.

We shall have to see about that, though. I want to join a gym but I'm not sure where yet, and we are having some apartment issues that may have us moving sooner than we had planned, so we shall have to see. Until then, Treasure Island is giving me about all the workout I can handle.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

... And Knowing is Half the Battle

If Star Wars was my Number One obsession as a youth, then GI Joe was close enough behind that it could be considered a statistical tie. As I grew older I never forgot my fondness for the toys and comics and cartoons. The toys came first for me, but they all went together. I had the Headquarters playset, which was awesome, but my favorite toy was the Cobra Rattler. That thing was badass.

Once I reached my 20s and learned that it was possible for a nerd to find acceptance in a worldwide community, one of my favorite nerd time-killers was choosing the fantasy cast of a live-action GI Joe movie. The cast changed often depending on my mood or my latest film obsession. I'm pretty sure Brad Pitt was supposed to play a significant role. I don't remember if I ever found a suitable Scarlett, but there were several worthy candidates for the Baroness. Michelle Forbes was one of my better choices.

The point is that I was a big GI Joe junkie as a kid, and my biggest fantasy was to see a live-action GI Joe movie. Last night my wish came true. I have to say that the new film GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is probably exactly the movie the nine-year-old me wanted to see. Sadly, that doesn't do much for the current thirty-five-year-old version.

I wish I could describe anything specific about the movie and explain what I thought of it, but I cannot. I know that I had a big stupid grin the whole time, but in hindsight I cannot for the life of me figure out why. The movie is poorly written and not particularly well-made. The effects are cartoony -- not in a clever way, but in a shoddy CGI way. The acting is all over the place, with a particular thumbs-down to Channing Tatum who, as a supposed leading man, really needs to work on his whole inarticulate mumbling problem. The action has its moments but is too busy to really get a feel for what is happening.

As a fan of the toys there were a lot of moments to enjoy. In particular I loved Scarlett's crossbow, and I loved all the vehicles with hidden guns and rockets coming out of everywhere. And I loved the appearance of the USS Flagg aircraft carrier at the end. As a fan of the comic book I enjoyed the fact that they called the GI Joe base the Pit. However, also as a fan of the comics, I hated the reworking of the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes rivalry, and I particularly hated the perfunctory reference to the Snake Eyes/Scarlett relationship only to have it completely disappear without a word so that Ripcord could have a love interest. But then, I am a purist.

I will say this: I got my money's worth in the first ten minutes. Duke and Ripcord (still regular soldiers at this point) are escorting a package in dangerous territory using standard military equipment. Out of the sky comes this crazy-ass futuristic flying craft carrying the Baroness and a bunch of Vipers. They swoop in with these awesome energy weapons and blow the shit out of everything trying to get the package, but then here comes the Joes. Fuckin' Snake Eyes drops in out of nowhere with his ninja sword, and then you see Scarlett take a Viper down with a laser-guided crossbow bolt. They save the day and the Baroness is forced to escape empty-handed. That sequence is what I'd waited to see on screen for twenty years. After that the characters actually start talking and the whole thing goes to shit.

Simply put, unless you really loved the toys and comics in the early '80s there is just no reason to see this movie. It is loud and pointless. But if you did love these things as a kid then you will probably have fun -- at least until the plot kicks in. So now you know...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sundae Bloody Sundae

I just ate a sundae from Baskin Robbins. It was made of chocolate oreo ice cream covered in hot fudge, caramel and topped off with whipped cream and crushed oreos. It was glorious.

There are very few fast food options around my day job, and fewer still that can be considered "healthy." There is a Whole Foods store about half a mile away, but I really value my lunch hour and want as much time as possible to sit and read and not think about work. There's also a Pockets which makes all kinds of salads but the problem there is I don't like salad. I could do Jimmy Johns, which is stretching it as far as the "healthy" idea goes. And of course the ubiquitous McDonalds. My trough of choice usually ends up being the Boston Market about two blocks away. I like the food, and as long as I steer clear of the mac-n-cheese I can convince myself that what I'm eating won't increase my chances of a coronary too drastically. The downside here is that the Boston Market is located right next to a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins combo. I have to pass it to get back to work. It calls to me. And today I succumbed to its siren song.

I walked back to work with the sundae in my hand, eating with the pink plastic long-handled spoon as I walked. Between bites I scolded myself, but the voice in my head wasn't really committed to it. It was eclipsed by the blooms of happiness and sunshine that accompanied each bite of ice cream. I told myself I'd earned it. When it was finished I felt ridiculous. I'd earned it? What exactly had I done to earn a sundae? A good report card in second grade might earn me a sundae. I'm thirty-five years old. What does a grown man do to earn a sundae?

Here's the weird thing: Eating bad food makes me feel great. During the time I am actually eating I feel good physically and I feel good about myself mentally, spiritually, whatever. I feel prepared to take on any task, overcome any challenge. Bring it on! I'll get it done -- just as soon as I'm done eating. Once I am done eating, however, the real physical effects of all that sugar, or grease, or whatever, actually kicks in and I feel like shit. And I tell myself that next time I will have more self-control. I tell myself next time I'll get a salad, or just some chicken and mixed veggies. While I'm at it, I'll start doing push-ups and crunches in the morning, ride my bike more, start running. I should look into a yoga class. Don't I know a trainer? When does that gym open? And so on...

... until the next morning when I realize that I'd have to get up a whole hour earlier to go for a run or a bike ride, and push-ups when you're carrying an extra eighty or ninety pounds of flab are almost a non-starter. Weights are heavy and make me sore. Cardio makes me sweaty and tired. And none of it works fast enough to make me feel like any of it is worth the effort. But you know what will make me feel better right now? Donuts. And one or two of those croissant sandwiches with ham, eggs and cheese. Lots of cheese. And that ineffectual voice in the back of my head will keep his fingers crossed that this candy bar isn't the one that pushes me into the realm of borderline diabetes, and this hot dog isn't the one that sends my cholesterol over the edge of a heart attack.

But you see, I only drink diet soda, so that makes it all okay.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Home Again

Vacation is over. We flew back to Chicago yesterday. I find myself viewing my hometown with new eyes.

I loved Seattle. It's just a beautiful town. The atmosphere was night and day compared to Chicago. This was most apparent as we were on our way to the airport yesterday morning. We were in a cab, and an SUV pulled up alongside of us. The window came down and a voice asked our driver, very politely, if they could merge in front of us. Our driver waved them over, and all was well. We took a second cab home after landing at O'Hare. As we approached our exit our driver flicked on his turn signal and began to switch lanes. Another car sped forward and cut us off. That car's driver then stuck his head out of his window and yelled, "A turn signal doesn't mean you can just merge, motherfucker!" As we got closer to home I looked at people out on the streets and they all just looked pissed off. Everybody hates each other here. How did I not notice that before?

Seattle doesn't have the same kind of theater scene as Chicago. If it did, I would be making plans to get back there right now. As it is, such a move is just plain unrealistic. But, I plan on getting back there as soon as possible, even if it's just for a weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seattle, Washington

We have arrived. It was a long last day of driving through some scenery I wish I could have paused to enjoy, but we're here now and we have a room with a great view in a hotel with a hot tub. Mandy and I had dinner with my parents and youngest siblings tonight at a seafood restaurant right on the water. Tomorrow is the rehearsal for my sister's wedding, and so there will be plenty more family and eating and all that great stuff. O Happy Day!



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Butte, Montana

Gettin' tired. It was a long day in the car today, and we've got another one tomorrow. We did, however, get to see the battlefield at Little Bighorn, where Custer made his famous last stand. I must confess I really knew nothing about it before. We took a short bus tour and then rode through on our own. There is not a whole lot out there, but the story is fascinating.

The rest of the day we rode into the mountains, crossed the Continental Divide and arrived in Butte around seven o'clock local time. The four of us (Mandy, my parents and myself) are getting pretty tired, but the whole trip has been worth it. Tomorrow we embark on the final leg of this cross-country jaunte, and then spend the rest of the week exploring Seattle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gillette, Wyoming

Today was a full day. We started off with Mt. Rushmore, which was far more impressive than I imagined it could be. The monument itself is extraordinary; the view from the monument is stunning. This is the kind of thing that future civilizations will uncover and they will wonder who these deities were and what could they have meant to the primitive creatures that worshiped them. It is worthy of Lord of the Rings or something just as epic. There is also a gift shop.

We moved from there to the Crazy Horse monument, still under construction. This was something of a let-down. The story behind the monument is amazing but the thing itself is just not there enough yet to really hit you where it counts. If it turns out anything like the drawings it will rival Mt. Rushmore's mythic qualities, but right now there is just this apologetic vibe to the whole thing. And you can't get within a mile of it without shelling out a lot of cash.

And then there was Deadwood. I'm glad I saw it. The frustrating thing is that besides the cemetery everything that made Deadwood famous is gone, covered up with casinos. There was something about seeing the graves of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock that gave me a thrill, though. Bullock's grave requires some serious effort to get to, but it was worth it. And again, the views are unbelievable.

Tomorrow we hope to get a look at Little Big Horn in Montana, but we have a lot of distance to cover by Wednesday so we shall see.



Addendum: If you ever find yourself in Gillette, Wyoming, I highly recommend Humphrey's Sports Bar and Grill. We had some fantastic steaks, and the bread comes with this cinnamon-butter thing that was a religious experience. And they have something like forty different kinds of beer, if you like that sort of thing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Big Rapids, South Dakota

We spent most of the day checking out the Badlands of South Dakota. Absolutely gorgeous. Hotter than hell, but worth it. It is so quiet out there.

We're a little behind schedule. Tomorrow: Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fairmont, Minnesota

Mandy and I are accompanying my folks on a cross-country trek to Seattle for my sister's wedding. We spent most of today on I-90, and have stopped off in Fairmont, Minnesota, for the first hotel stop. This is my first time in Minnesota. While the parts of the state within two miles of the Mississippi River are quite scenic, the rest of the place is dead flat and smells like manure. That said, we just got back from a restaurant with the friendliest waitstaff I've ever experienced. That Minnesota dialect is no joke, people. You will succumb to the niceness.

Tomorrow we'll head into South Dakota, and hopefully have time for Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood. I'm itching to see Deadwood. Cocksuckers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Keith Olbermann Can Be Kind of a Douche Sometimes

There is an ad campaign on New York buses encouraging atheists to come out of the closet. I suppose it is ironic, a little, that the donor who paid for the ads has chosen to remain anonymous, but I think calling him one of the worst people in the world is beyond harsh.

Greta Christina has already succinctly argued why a person might want to maintain his or her anonymity in such a situation:

Coming out as an atheist can have serious real-world consequences. Parents get denied custody of their children for being atheists. People get harassed and vandalized by their neighbors for being atheists. Teachers get suspended for being atheists. Teenagers get harassed and suspended from school for being atheists. Politicians whip up anti-atheist fear to try to get elected. (And that's just in the US. I'm not even talking about parts of the world where atheism is a crime, punishable by imprisonment or death.)

I like Keith Olbermann, probably for the same reason that conservatives love Limbaugh or O'Reilly. The man knows how to rile up the base. And perhaps I am being hypocritical; would I have noticed - or worse, agreed - if he were discussing another group? I don't know. It's possible.

The Olbermann segment is below:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Clown Stigmata

Clown Stigmata is the name of my fake band. I got the name from my friend Liz, who told me a story about a class she took in clowning. One day after class she discovered that she had an intricate pattern of bruises around her body. She mentioned it to her instructor, who congratulated her for receiving her first case of "clown stigmata." Upon hearing this story my first thought was, "That is a perfect name for a band!" And for some reason it stuck with me.

I call it a fake band because there is no band; there is just me, my guitar and my computer. It's a hobby. Were I taking it more seriously I might say that I am to Clown Stigmata what Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails, except that I have never played a show or sold a record. And I suck at writing lyrics - the vocal distortion is partly to cover the embarrassing lyrics, and partly because I think it sounds cool.

I've had a MySpace page up for a while now, but I had refrained from spreading it around too much until now. Why the change of heart? Dunno. I'm just proud of the new batch of songs I posted, and I'd like people to hear them, and I'd like to get some feedback.

So, If you're in the mood for some industrial rock with a metal edge to it, head on over to myspace.com/clownstigmata. I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So Method

Busman's Honeymoon at Lifeline Theatre has been extended to July 26th. I'm having a fine time playing a Scottish douchebag named MacBride. It's a small part, but fun. I show up and act like an asshole. It's pretty great.

In one pivotal scene (pivotal because I am in it. Also, because it is the scene in which they discover the dead body) I have to sit on a couch and write some notes to myself in a little notebook. For about thirty seconds I amuse myself on stage by thinking of stuff to write. There are, I suppose, a few things that would be easier to understand if you were familiar with the show, which is why you should get down here and check it out.

I thought I might share a sampling with you, so that you might better appreciate what goes on in the actor's mind as he performs:
May 1
Holy crap. People here.
So far so good.
Butler = raccoon
What else today?
Lots of laughs
Missed a line.
Dead = Lame

May 10
Totally fucking up my
lines. What the hell?
Stupid press opening.
Still had trouble finding
notebook in case

May 11
Opening Night!
Pretty good so far.
Good house.
Working the briefcase better

May 15
I've got "Suicide Jag" by
Chemlab stuck in my head.
Opening reporter scene sucked
a little.

May 30 #1
WTF? Feeling weird on
this one. Timing's off. I
blame this diet. I'd kill
for a candy bar. I really
need to use the bathroom.

May 30 #2
Better this time. Almost
missed an entrance during
#1! Scared the shit out
of me.
Somebody brought cornbread
for dinner. Good stuff.

Fascinating, no? It's almost like haiku. Except, you know, not at all.

In other theater news, we had our first read-through for Treasure Island last week. I cannot wait to get started on this thing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Will Schutz

Chicago actor Will Schutz died today after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I had the privilege of acting alongside Will in a couple of shows, and saw him perform in many others. He was a gifted actor, a complete professional, and a great guy to grab a beer with after the show. He was one of the people who defined, for me, the meaning of Chicago theater: Honest, fearless, and a little silly.

Good show, Will.






(My apologies to the photographer. I stole the picture from Will's Facebook profile. It's my favorite shot of him.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coming Soon to a Bus Stop Near Me...

Courtesy of the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign, we'll soon be seeing this lovely poster emblazoned on the sides of CTA buses:


Catchy, clever, and sure to piss off a whole lot of people. I cannot wait.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Night With the Fights

By Mary Shen Barnidge, reprinted from Moulinet: An Action Quarterly - Number One - 2009

SHAKESPLOITATION!

A punch whose knap follows several seconds after the swing, but several seconds before the receiver registers the impact, establishes at the outset the tone of author Andy Grigg's three Shakespeare spoofs, modeled on popular action-film genres -- the ghetto-and-car-chase Grand Theft Othello, the makeup-and-body-parts Apocalypse: Romeo and Juliet, and the chop-socko Ninja Hamlet: Burning Fist of Denmark. But fight choreographer Chris Walsh's biggest problem isn't living up to the show publicity's assertion that "The Bard is Baaadaass", but doing it on the Gorilla Tango storefront cabaret's stage -- an arena barely larger than a hostess-waitstation with front-row tables and customers' knees marking the boundaries of its apron.

Zombies of the Hollywood variety being uniformly big and hulking, the menacing creatures of Apocalypse are kept offstage (specifically, in the general region of the playhouse lobby -- a tactic not uncommon to low-budget Blair Witch Project knockoffs), while Grand Theft relies on hand-to-hand spectacle choreographed in the patently artificial manner of the evening's aforementioned opening sequence. Ironically, Ninja Hamlet presents the most ready solution to the safe-distance problem, thanks to the conventions introduced in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon dictating that magic, not muscle, decides the battle. Thus, blows and kicks launched on opposite sides of the stage (with appropriate vocal accompaniment) are understood to be fully as efficacious as those connecting at close range. This full-cast (and most extensively-conceived) of the three sketches finishes with a burst of adrenaline to send us home -- or off to another Bucktown bar, anyway -- happy and exhilarated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

That Is All, Campers

Another show is in the books. Camp Freedom! closed Sunday after a lengthy workshop and rehearsal process and a seven-week run. It was a rough one. The reviews were decent but not great, and we had a hard time pulling in audiences. We had to cancel a few performances due to a lack of paying customers. However, I was proud of my work, I think we had a pretty good show, and I got to work with a great group of people. In spite of the problems we encountered, this ensemble had enough fun working together that morale never wavered for a moment.

I pulled double-duty on this one, working both as an actor and as stage combat choreographer. I also contributed about eighty seconds of original music to score the big knife fight at the end. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned on this show was this: Never choreograph your own fights. This may not hold true for every choreographer, but it does for this one. I had a couple of problems with the experience: First, I went too easy on myself. My part was made up of fairly simple moves that just required me to be big, which I do without thinking about it. By way of comparison my main scene partner, Krista, had to do a cartwheel and flip over a table. She was a gymnast, so she was up to the task, and it all made sense in context. But I never really challenged myself, and I worry that I got lazy in performance as a result.

My other problem arose during performances. I was so distracted every time I was onstage and there was stage combat going on. I couldn't concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing because a part of my brain wanted to observe and critique the other performers. They were doing my choreography, after all, and I wanted to make sure they were doing it right. Never mind the fact that I was onstage with dialogue and choreography of my own for which I was responsible. And the music was just an added layer of distraction. Every time the opening chord of my piece kicked in I couldn't help but wonder if it should be louder, or if the drums were too bright, or if the guitars were too low in the mix. The next thing I know, there's Krista coming at me with a knife.

There is no such thing as a typical theatre experience. No two shows are the same. No two performances are the same. Every script, every director, every company and every ensemble bring their own gifts and their own sets of challenges to be overcome. We grow as artists by finding ways to combine our gifts in order to face those challenges. Rarely if ever is every problem completely solved, but that's half the fun. You work around it. You roll with it. You take what you've learned and bring it to the table when the next project rolls around. I learned a lot about myself as a theatre artist while working on Camp Freedom! As an added bonus, I had a lot of fun, too. Perhaps in the near future I will post my contribution to our little cast song competition. It was... something.

There is, as they say, no rest for the wicked. This weekend I dive into tech for Busman's Honeymoon at Lifeline. By comparison this should be a nice, easy run after Camp Freedom! We start previews on May 1st, and open on the 11th. I have a lot of free time backstage on this one, so maybe I'll get a little writing done for once. We shall see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So Say We All

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I Scene V

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of The Future



The best TV show I have ever seen is over. I am a little bummed, but a story is not a story until it ends, and on Friday Battlestar Galactica came to a grand ending. However, a quick search through my Facebook friends reveals that not everyone agrees with me. The word "cop-out" comes up a lot. There is this insistence that the writers chose to chalk up all of the unanswered questions to "God did it." Accusations of lazy writing have been made. I would counter that with an accusation of lazy viewing.

The technical details of, say, Starbuck's resurrection are not what the show is about. If made-up tech-speak floats your boat then go watch one of the shittier Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. On the flip side of that coin, I would argue that BSG made a specific effort to avoid any sort of definitive "God did it" answer to everything. The only thing the show would admit is that there is something going on that is beyond our current capabilities to comprehend. But BSG did not argue that we should stop learning, stop exploring, stop seeking the truth. Quite the contrary.

From the beginning, Battlestar Galactica has been populated by characters who held strict and unchanging views. Sometimes those views were religious. Sometimes it involved a faith in military discipline. Sometimes it involved assumptions about human nature. Much of the conflict in the show arose when one character would insist, perhaps even force, his views on others. But at the resolution of the series, the survivors had reached a place where they could accept the fact that they did not have all the answers. A pivotal moment in the final episode is a speech made by Gaius Baltar. I will admit that on the first viewing the speech rubbed me the wrong way, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Baltar was not arguing for God. He was trying to get everyone to admit that their lives were influenced by forces at work in the universe that they do not yet understand. I will concede that it the dialogue is couched in some religious-sounding overtones, but the important part is that he is not arguing for, say, the Cylon God over the fleet's pantheon deities. He is arguing against the idea that any of the characters have a claim to the One Right Answer.

Some might argue that the fleet's decision to give up their ships and technology was an advocation of Luddism, but I think it was more an acknowledgment that what they had been doing wasn't working, and it was time to try something else. The whole series wrapped around the line, "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again." Our heroes won, in a way, because they managed to put off a repetition of the cycle for at least 150,000 years.

There were some things that I would have changed. The discovery that the Earth they'd found burnt to a crisp halfway through the final season was not in fact the real Earth was a bit of a fake-out, and there was probably a better way to do it. Whether it was planned in advance or not, it felt a little convenient. However, I loved the idea that the "Earth" they had searched for was not a real place but a Utopian ideal, and that the fleet would have to create it for themselves.

And the robot montage at the end was not great. I got the joke with the first glimpse of Asimo on the TV screen. I didn't need to be beaten over the head with it.

All that aside, I was very satisfied with the resolutions of most of the characters' stories. In particular, Baltar stating that he knew about farming was heartbreaking. And the end of Boomer's story was certainly appropriate. And I particularly enjoyed the moment when Tyrol, linked to the rest of the Final Five, discovered what Tory did to Cally - and then all hell broke loose. It was almost a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Really, the whole first hour of the finale was non-stop action and nerd awesomeness. The second hour was more somber, but in a good way. It was like the Grey Havens at the end of Lord of the Rings. A lot of goodbyes to be said.

I'm gonna miss this show. I wonder if Caprica will even come close to the quality of writing, acting and technical achievement reached by Battlestar Galactica. They've set a very, very high bar.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This Can't End Well

I left the house at one o'clock today and headed toward the bus stop four blocks away. Halfway there, I approached a corner and saw a gentleman up ahead crossing my path. He was some distance away and did not notice me but it was hard not to notice him. His back curved a bit so his head thrust forward and his face angled slightly downward. He took long strides, ungraceful but full of purpose. His arms swung haphazardly, out of rhythm with the rest of him. The crown of his head reflected the sun, but the rest of his hair hung in long greasy strands down past his shoulders. His beard was gray and unkempt and grew as low as his sternum. He wore a navy blue vinyl jacket, unbuttoned, with a dark-colored shirt beneath. It had some sort of faded yellow lettering that I could not make out. His jeans were almost shiny with grime, and from the calves down both legs were tattered and frayed. He wore no socks, and his sneakers were probably white once but had traveled a long way down the gray scale.

And he carried a drill.

If I knew more of the story I would certainly tell it. No doubt it is a fascinating one, but my part of it ended there. I paused for a moment when I saw the drill and watched him pass and then continued on toward the bus. I would love to know where he came from and where he was going and why. But I wasn't about to get close enough to ask him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Kings

It's got Ian McShane being imperious and conniving. It's gorgeous, and the story is Shakespearean. Well, technically it's Biblical, which might get annoying. I feel I can let it go a little farther though because it is essentially an alternate-universe fantasy. I'd kind of like to see a map of this kingdom. The capital city of Shiloh is obviously New York, but after that the geography is pretty vague. The history, too. I'd also like a timeline.

I give the two-hour premiere episode three and a half stars out of four. Enough to make me watch the next one. Besides, Battlestar Galactica wraps up after this week and I will need to find something to fill the gaping hole in my life. It's too bad the show is on network TV; I'd really love to see the old Al Swearingen call somebody a cocksucker one more time.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Busy Busy Busy

Writing has taken a backseat for me these past several months. You may have noticed by the diminishing number of posts on this here blog. I have often (too often) lamented my lack of motivation when it comes to writing, but this time I shall spare you my infernal whining. I do not apologize for my silence because quite frankly I have been too damn busy. I have not had a theater-free week since August 2007, and I have been having the time of my life as a result. The work has begun to overlap, which thrills me - although I will confess I miss the lazy evenings on the couch watching television with my wife. Right now I have her penciled in for late June.

While I have not written anything of note in many months, I am nonetheless satisfied with my creative output. This coming weekend I open Camp Freedom, a project I've been working on since the beginning of the year. I am proud to say I contribute to several aspects of this production: I am a member of the ensemble; I choreographed the stage combat; I even contributed a short piece of original music for the score. Also, I shaved my head. This week will be spent in tech. Tonight, Monday, is the one night the actors are not required. We'd really just get in the way. I suspect that most designers believe we do that anyway.

So, I have tonight off, right? Of course not. Tonight I begin rehearsals for Busman's Honeymoon at Lifeline Theatre. This will be my second show with the good folks at Lifeline, and I can't begin to tell you how flattered I am that they asked me to participate.

So I have little to complain about right now. I've got a day job I actually almost look forward to, and the theater work has been steady. If you folks are in town, come see Camp Freedom! running March 8th through April 19th, or Busman's Honeymoon from May 1st through June 21st. I will do my best to get some writing done between now and then, too.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

And My Folks Wonder Why I Never Visit

A letter from my hometown has struck the internets:

On the Feb. 8 "60 Minutes" program, we were captivated while viewing the Katie Couric interview of the crew and passengers of Flight 1549.

However, we were struck there was not one mention of God, who directs pilots of planes and secures the safety of passengers.

We have written CBS and asked them for more realistic programming. Help protect our freedoms. Write CBS about this.

I would be embarrassed if I were remotely surprised. But I lived there for about ten years; the place is lousy with folks like these. On the plus side, most of the comments seem to be from people with their heads on relatively straight, so it's not all bad.

What cracks me up is that this is the news this lady is talking about. I mean, I will criticize the level of realism in, say, one of the bazillion cop shows CBS has, but how much more "realistic" than the news can you get? If the flight crew didn't mention god, then they didn't mention him, and it would be UNrealistic to bring him up in that instance.

Besides, I'm pretty sure that if the G-man had gotten involved it would have gone much, much worse. That guy can be really clumsy with airplanes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dedication

I've got a show opening in a couple of weeks. Camp Freedom! is set a few years in the future and tells the story of Jack, an average slacker who gets sent to a concentration camp for the crime of losing his job while being in debt. I play the villain, the commandant of the camp, who also happens to be a well known politician from our own era. (I won't tell you who it is. That would spoil the fun.)

I had to make a minor lifestyle change for the role.



Heh. I shaved my head once before, in college. It was harder this time, but still kinda fun. Anyway, you should come see the show. It's gonna be big fun!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

For a Friend

According to Ron Kuzava, Will Schutz is one of Chicago's two greatest living character actors. The other, according to Ron, is Ron himself. Apparently they pass the title back and forth. Ron is a very silly man. However, I cannot argue with the idea that Will is indeed one of the finest actors in the city, and simply an awesome guy. I first saw him in Defiant Theatre's Action Movie: The Play as one of the most over-the-top ridiculous Blofeldian villains I have ever seen on stage.

I finally met Will (and Ron, for that matter) in 2004 while working on Defiant's production of A Clockwork Orange. Will had a small role in the show, but it was the kind of part that you loved to watch from the wings because it was so damned hilarious every time.

I next worked with Will in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 2007. I could not help but admire his stamina as Watson. He never left the stage for the entire show and as the narrator carried at least three-quarters of the total load of dialogue. And his dialect was dead on.

A few weeks ago Will was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Like so many of us, Will does not have health insurance. He is keeping positive and has vowed to fight this with all he's got. He could use, and certainly deserves, all the help he can get. A fund has been started online for Will, and a few events have been planned around the city to help out with expenses during this difficult time.

If you have a few bucks to spare, please go to willschutzpancan.chipin.com to help out.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The In-Blog-uration

Barack Obama has been President for 78 hours now, and I am neither as rich nor as good-looking as I should be. What gives?

It seems to me that, as a person with a blog, I have some sort of responsibility to write something about the inauguration. I have put it off for a few days partly because I was busy, but also because I had little to say about it that has not already been said by faster if not more eloquent parties. Did I watch it? I did. Did I feel pride? Yes. Hope? Check. Relief? A little. And I must say that the headlines - from closing Guantanamo to loosening restrictions on stem cell research - make me feel better day by day. But again, you can read this stuff anywhere.

There was that one moment during the President's speech where he made reference to "non-believers." That gave me a bit of a thrill, I must confess. It seemed like a huge step. And it ruffled a few feathers, too. Joy Behar of the horrid "The View" made a weird joke about "you pathetic atheists out there." The Friendly Atheist has been trying to give her the benefit of the doubt - that she was in fact trying to be funny - but I frankly don't see the humor. As Friendly Atheist points out, the line would have caused a riot if she'd said "pathetic Christians" or "pathetic Jews" instead. The President's line even, according to some reports, drew boos from some parts of the multitude witnessing the event. Now that is impressive, to be the one thing that gets booed during Barack Obama's inauguration speech.

Of course, those few voices of dissent really had very little to complain about. As Greta Christina pointed out, the inauguration was saturated with god-talk. It required no less than two ministers to see the thing through, plus two Bibles (one each for the President and Vice President), and more references to the Christian God than you can wave a cross at. Granted, Rev. Joseph Lowery's closing benediction was a hoot, but it was still full of Lord this and Almighty that.

But what did I expect? This country is full of Christians. Our new President is a Christian. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who believes in the Abrahamic god. Our brief, token shout-out was more than any of us could reasonably expect.

Now before you go thinking this is another whine-athon, please know that that one phrase was not the only thing I took away from the President's speech. What has stuck with me the most, what has been rolling around in my brain for the last few days, is this idea of responsibility. I will confess, responsibility is a thing I have striven to avoid. It always sounded like way too much work. There's something different about it now, though, and I can't put my finger on it. "Responsibility" has always, in my mind, seemed like an anchor preventing me from doing what I really want to do. There seems to be more to it now, though. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to hearing this stuff from a truly gifted orator, but there is suddenly this sense of nobility surrounding the idea of responsibility. There is a sense of community about it. You want to go out and make it your own. It's a good feeling, really.

I don't know. The truth is, I've been busy. I started a new job, I'm working on a new play. I haven't truly processed everything that has been going on. To use a cliche, it has been a blur. All I can say is that things feel different, and I am really very curious to see what happens next.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In Arabia is Jeff Recommended

My most recent theatre gig was as fight choreographer for Steep Theatre Company's production of In Arabia We'd All Be Kings, directed by the amazing Joanie Schultz. This is the tenth show Joanie and I have worked on together. (I think I miscounted when I wrote my program bio and said it was the eighth show. My bad.) In Arabia is a great show with a fantastic ensemble working from an excellent script. You should all go see it - but don't take my word for it. The show is also Jeff Recommended.

Congratulations, everybody!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Wheelchairs, Walkers and Peg Legs

About a year and a half ago I and several other local fight choreographers took part in a round-robin interview with Mary Shen Barnidge for an article about disabilities and stage combat. The interview originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of the stage combat quarterly newsletter Moulinet, which sadly does not publish online. This particular article, however, has found its way onto the website Total Theater. It's an interesting discussion, and the other choreographers, all wiser and more experienced than myself, had a lot of great input into the subject. For those of you who are interested you can follow this link to read the full article.