Today in perspective

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“In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots — Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.

It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.”

For more about these pictures of earth taken millions of miles away in space, visit NASA

back to the drawing board

After a whirlwind of work the last few months (six produced shows in seven weeks I know I am crazy I know!), I am back to staring at things again, waiting for my next story to start to make sense.

For the last few months, I’ve been obsessed with questions of civic responsibility, revolution, the ability of “the people” to have an impact on the seemingly immovable wall of power and wealth.  I think living in NYC has really impacted my perceptions of power and influence, especially since my assorted employment life that leads me to work for really powerful people in a    w  i  d  e    range of industries.

Right now, I am casting a wide net on the issue.  Everything from media responsibility to Snowden to reading a Tale of Two Cities to buying political graphic novels to watching documentaries about Lincoln…I am in hot pursuit of a fuzzy issue and I am anxious to see it click into place.

It’s funny cause the last couple of shows have been either a) uncomfortably personal or b) about romance.  Not that those are easier subjects to write, but it feels good to get catapulted away from dramas of the personal to dramas of the public.

That is my artistic check-in.  In the meantime, this video seems to add fuel to the mysterious creative fire that is bringing me back to the keyboard.  It also reminds me that my bohemian style and crazy hair will never quite fit in with the sophisticated lines of those trying to stay in line and that is just fine.

Lorca Lorca Lorca

My observations, then, have to be lyrical. Superhuman architecture and furious pace, geometry and anxiety. But there is no happiness, despite the pace. Man and machine live the slavery of the moment. The rooftops rise to the sky without seeking glory or to become clouds. Nothing more poetic and terrible than the fight of skyscrapers against the sky that covers them.

From a newly translated interview with Federico García Lorca by Luis Méndez Domínguez from 1933 about his book of poems Poet in New York.

Reasons to Sit on the NYC Sidewalk in the Rain: Notes from a Director

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By Lillian Meredith, director of my solo show The Unfelt Wonder

Picture this. You’re the director. Your friend, collaborator, and former boss Angela Santillo takes you to a diner in midtown Manhattan after work one day and says “Remember that ten-minute solo show I did years ago at that theater in Chinatown?” (you do). “Do you want to help me develop it into a full-length one-act piece?”

You say yes. Maybe it’s the fond memories you have of that original performance, or the power of the metaphor of the untouched woman for the way you feel about your life at the moment. Maybe it’s the fact that Angela’s writing has a grace and poetry to it that few others playwrights can access, or the way her work is intensely personal without ever being confessional, the way you understand it through your gut rather than through your head. Maybe it’s the epic fish tank directly to your left, or the mediocre mezze plate in front of you. It doesn’t matter. You’re in.

What follows are months of conversations and rewrites. Angela sends you a script. You read it. You meet over wine in the cafe at the Signature between shows, or at Pony Bar on 10th Ave in the late evening after a long week of day jobs and interviews and rehearsals, and you chat about what works, or what doesn’t. Angela pitches ideas, and you listen, and you say “that sounds or awesome,” or “OK, but what about this instead.” You write things in your notebook and on your script. Then you talk about your lives, and then go home, only to repeat the process the following week.

The thing about directing a solo show is that it is intensely collaborative, extremely personal, and weirdly lonely at times. It’s just you and your playwright/performer, talking about a script that either does or does not exist, or exists in part. This isn’t unique to the solo show – that’s often how you develop a play with a writer – but what’s odd is that when you finally get into the rehearsal room, it’s still just the two of you. Which is incredible – I mean, the sense of ownership you have over a solo show you direct is something that I think is hard to appreciate. You’ve been there, providing your artistic eye, your sense of staging and theatricality, your editing abilities, the things that make you a director, to that script, just like the writer provides the words. A solo show is not a single person’s property. It sounds weird and sort of narcissistic to say “yeah, that’s my solo show, too,” but it’s true.  It’s how you feel. If you’re me. Which right now, you are.

After about four months, you finalize the script. And then you start to film. That’s right! You thought you were a single medium kind of gal, but here you are, flip cam in hand, traipsing around the city following Angela-in-make-up-and-costume, filming scenes to be projected on the walls of the Dixon Place Lounge. Why? Because it’s awesome! Because doing a solo show in a low-stakes situation means you can try shit out that you’ve always wanted to try out (like the over-laying of video and voice to augment live performance). Because you, in a moment of directorial brilliance, suggested that the audience should experience the play the way that Wonder experiences her life – inside a single room, with only streamed media to hint at what the world outside is like – and now you have to deliver.

And frankly, being a fan of site-specificity and sort of a weird person in general, there are few things you’d rather do on a Thursday night than sit on the sidewalk outside of an underground bar and film Angela in smeared make-up, or camp out on a rainy Saturday afternoon on 54th Street near the Hudson Parkway with big signs and ignore passersby who are trying to avoid your crazy.

But in the end, with the performance approaching, you realize that this project, in its own weird and wonderful way, has set an example for how you want to continue to work. Purposefully, directly, involved in the process of creation over a long period of time. The Dixon Place performance will happen, and even after almost six months, it’s only the beginning. This is just the first iteration in what this piece could become when it ceases to be just the two of you, as you open up this incredible strange little world you’ve created together, and invite an audience in.

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Yes yes yes!

Many people see artists as shamans, dreamers, outsiders, and rebels. In reality, the artist is a builder, an engineer, a research analyst, a human relations expert, a project manager, a communications specialist, and a salesman. The artist is all of those and more–combined with the imagination of an inventor and the courage of an explorer. Not a bad set of talents for any business challenged to innovate in a world of volatility, uncertainty, and change.

 

From Is an MFA the New MBA? in Fast Company

The creation of “Love in a Heat Death Universe”

The Big Bang of "Love in a Heat Death Universe"

The Big Bang of “Love in a Heat Death Universe”

Origins of the Heat Death Universe

There is something fascinating and infuriating about online dating.  And I will be the first to admit, I am no good at it.

In my few attempts to find “love” on OkCupid, I found myself in awe of the ways people described themselves.  Whether they were honest, sarcastic, or clearly only after one thing, I would sit back in my frustration and think, “What if these people are really what they say?  What if these people are just what they write about?”

Late fall of last year, I was trying OkCupid again while performing with Benjamin Stuber in foolFURY’s premiere production of Sheila Callaghan’s Port Out Starboard Home.  During that run, I wrote the fated Facebook status that started it all. (As seen above.)

Benj is an amazing performer to work with.  I wanted to collaborate with him on something and we had talked briefly about solo shows.  During the last week of performances of Port Out, Starboard Home, we were stretching on the LaMama stage and I said, “You want to do a devised solo show?”  He said, “Um, yes.”  The next day he said he wanted to do the online dating idea I had posted about.  The rest, they say…is a scary intense leap down the rabbit hole of OkCupid.

Cue scary music.

Creating Our Universe

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Devising a one-man show was uncharted territory for both of us.  We both had devised pieces in ensembles but to remain in the roles of performer and playwright while creating side by side was an interesting challenge.

When it comes to writing, I am always mindful of what makes my plays theatrical.  I want my work to have a reason to be on stage as opposed to say television or film.  The thing I knew from the beginning was I had to write a piece that rested on what was most theatrical about Benj as a performer: his extreme physical theater skills.

The other thing I knew was this piece had to be rooted in OkCupid at every turn.  Nothing that went on the page could come initially from us, everything from character creation to plot had to be inspired directly from text and images found on people’s profiles.

We set up our dropbox and stuffed it full of screen grabs of text and pics from OkCupid.  I  would filter through those and send Benj a list of questions based on each jpeg.  I would ask things like, “What music you think is playing in the background of this pic?” or “How do they order their favorite Mexican dish” or “What is the song that reminds them most of their ex?”

In addition to those first impressions, we had many long emails and coffee meetings where we shared our own OkCupid horror stories, various theories and philosophies about intimacy and what it was like to date in a maddening city like New York.  From issues of loneliness to the pressures of never-ending busyness, those thematic discussions merged with his response to certain screen grabs led to the creation of 8 characters.

Since we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, we also picked apart our own online dating profiles.  Which of course had gems of ridiculousness in them.  Eager to join the theatrical shaming of online dating, we created a Benj/Angela hybrid character.  So that left the cast list at 9.

And then there was the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Houston, we have a plot

Houston, we have a plot

I knew from the beginning that this piece wouldn’t be an obvious spoof on OkCupid. (So many of us live it and to see it outright on stage…my dating wounds are too fresh for that.)

Staying committed to our OkCupid inspiration roots, I became fascinated by this man who spends time thinking about The Heat Death of the Universe AND burritos (among other things).

So I flew into research mode, figuring out what exactly heat death was and what it had to do with our universe.  (I already knew about burritos.  I am from California.  And as to not confuse you, burritos didn’t end up playing a huge role in this piece.)

I spent hours watching YouTube lectures from MIT, trying to get to a point where I could share with Benj, in my own words, what heat death of the universe was.

Many hysterical emails and confusing conversations later, I found our plot, rooted in ideas of entropy and chaotic systems.  Two ideas that were relevant to what it felt like to date online.

I had to make the idea active so I turned it into a super epic weather system, rooted in mind blowing chaos, which would threaten the well being of all the characters.

Bum bum BUM!

On Yo Feet!

Throughout the drafting process, we had a handful of studio rehearsals so Benj could play with the characters and also share with me more of his abilities and interests as a performer.

Now with the workshop performance at Dixon Place fast approaching on May 28th, the first incarnation of the script is locked down and we are ready for rehearsals with director Randolph Curtis Rand.

It will be exciting to see the madness we created on it’s feet.  It is a solo show of endurance to be sure.  Or as Benj said, “A real fucker here, an evil little gem.”

I can’t wait to keep working on this thing.  If you around NYC on May 28th, come by Dixon Place and check it out!

Afterwards, we can all get a drink and exchange online dating horror stories.  We all have them.  Let’s show off our sweet sweet battle scars.

Early studio time:  Benj as "Hank"

Benj in the studio, deep in heat death contemplation

How I got to work on CatherineMarie Davalos’ “Oh, the Moon!”

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Oh, the Moon!, my collaboration with choreographer CatherineMarie Davalos, opens this week at Saint Mary’s College as part of their annual spring dance concert, Terrain.  The piece is 3-4 dances that include various styles of text, all riffing around the subject of the moon.  While I have written scripts for movement heavy ensembles, I’ve never written for modern dance.  To create text that would act as a score and inspire movement was an experiment not in how to tell a story but how to link words and create drama through a sonic landscape.

So, how did I get this job?

Let me explain.

The moon was full over the Chrysler Building, which I can see from one window in my Queens apartment.  I was on edge of a long day.  You New Yorkers know those days, when you feel like you lived four lifetimes, equally horrible and amazing.  You think, “I am so glad to live here” while at the same time thinking, “This place is hell.”

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CatherineMarie Davalos

Cathy and I have history.  She used to be my professor back in the unsure Angela artist days.  Then she became my boss.  Now she is my colleague.   So she sent me an email and in it she asked, “What do you know about the moon?”  She was looking for poetry to inspire her latest moon-based piece.

So at 1am, sitting in my bed, with my hair piled on top of my head, the day still jolting my bones, my eyes falling but still refusing to sleep, I responded.  It was a crazy list of all things moon, bullet pointed and written in a haze.  At the end I told her, “I could make you a pop culture/ myth/science poetry jam thing.” Took about ten minutes to write and I was basically asleep when she responded in glee at my rambling late night brainstorm. (She later told me she was at a dance concert with her dancers and in her joy, her phone with my email was passed along to everyone.  Awesome!)

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was reading the entire transcript of the Apollo 11 mission to create a sonic landscape for a solo dance, I was writing couplets about Moon Pies and I was workshopping drafts via Skype as Cathy sat in her colorful patio in Oakland.

Moral of the story is…perhaps it is wise to send out spastic late night emails after exhausting NYC days.  They might get you gigs.  Like this one.  So stay up and answer your emails!  Do it!

I hope this piece develops into a full evening of dance but for now, if you are in the Bay Area go and check it out!  Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, May 9–11, 8 p.m.  For more details visit SMC.

And read the transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission.  The space program is goddamn goddamn goddamn cool.  I am serious.  It’s the subject of my next play.  Mark my words.

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