"oh what a tangled interweb we weave..."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I repeat therefore I am.

I’m a repeater. Fo’ serious. I repeat things. I repeat things. I repeat things.

Whenever I say something cute or clever or hilarious (!)—in my own opinion, of course—I have to say whatever it was again. Like several times. Like usually six times even if no one else is around. It’s a compulsion. Ask Justin. I honestly can’t help it.

The same is true of my music listening. I will listen to the same song for weeks. One song. Over and over and over again. Literally thousands of repeats. And every time—every conscious listen—I will hear something different, something new.

There are songs that I will listen to repeatedly from start to finish for just two seconds of breathtaking instrumentation or a single beautifully sustained note or a specific heart-wrenching lyric.

Some of my favorite moments—

2.50 into “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” by Sufjan Stevens

0.59 into “This Is What It Is” from Wild Party by Michael John LaChuisa

0.44 into “Full Fathom Five” from Twelfth Night by HEM

First 20 seconds of “Under Pressure” by Queen (!)

3.35 into “Get Right” by Jennifer Lopez

4.50 into “At The Ballet” from Chorus Line with lyrics by Edward Kleban and music by Marvin Hamlisch

I’m not sure what it says about me on a deeper level—my habit of repeating things. Probably not much. In fact, you could probably learn more about me from my response to the question, are you a dog person or a cat person—a question that I will not be answering, well, not in this blog entry anyway. That would just be too revealing.

They say that human beings need to hear new information at least three times before it registers. Perhaps my repetition habit is simply confirmation of this, my humanity. I repeat therefore I am.

Something to think about. Something to think about. Something to think about.

The Petrus Pomerol Rule

On Christmas night I was alone thinking about Jewish things like Chinese Food and Action Movies, when my good friend Josh called me up and invited me to his family dinner.

(For more info on Josh and the wonderful farm he runs, go to www.fishkillfarms.com. The best eggs you'll ever have in your life.)

Anyway I was being really indecisive about going for some reason until I heard those 4 magical words: "We're Drinking Expensive Wine." His Dad had just retired and received a fancy bottle as a gift. I was invited to mooch. I felt awkward. I asked how expensive it was. I figured if it was under $100, I'd go. Over $100, I wouldn't. But over $500, well that's crazy, I'd go. "The average bottle goes for around two thousand. Auction bottles can reach five."

I sprinted to the subway, pushing an elderly couple out of my way to catch the train, and flew uptown. I got there and looked at the most expensive bottle of wine I had ever seen: a 1971 Petrus Pomerol.

I was curious to the point of insanity. What does $2000 taste like? How many different flavors does it have? How drunk will it get me? Will my tongue ever be the same? Will I suddenly be able to speak French? Will all women now find me irresistible? The suspense was killing me.

Josh poured me a glass. I took a sip. Swished it around in my mouth. Looked like an idiot.

And swallowed. It tasted so...simple. There was only one flavor. One incredibly simple flavor. Whereas most wines have hints of this and hints of that, this was the same consistent flavor from first sip to last. Like a perfectly ripe cherry. And it was mind-blowingly good.

In that way it reminded me of truly great art. Of how simple it seems. How effortless. When I listen to a Beatles song or watch Back To The Future or think about that great Eve Best production of The Homecoming or the David Cromer Our Town or my recent favorites The Starry Messenger and Circle Mirror Transformation, they all seem so completely, obnoxiously effortless. Like those artists just happened to spit up one day and this thing was born.

Of course that's not what happened at all. Those people toiled for months, years even to make it seem effortless. Tennessee Williams wrote draft after draft of Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley was originally named Ralph. And for your viewing pleasure here is a sample from one of those drafts. It takes place the morning after Stanley has had his way with Blanche:

Blanche and Stanley are groggily awakened by a telephone that rings seven or eight times. Stanley picks it up.
STANLEY: Yeah? Good.
He hangs up.
BLANCHE: What was it?
STANLEY: I have a girl, a daughter.
Blanche gasps.
BLANCHE: How very, very unfortunate. Poor little girl!
Stanley notices fingernail scratches all over his shoulder. He shoves Blanche away.
STANLEY: Christ!
BLANCH: (laughing) Remember you took me. It wasn't I that took you. So if you got somewhat more than you bargained for, Mr. Kowalski...if you hadn't suspected a lady could be so awful...violent...could give such a wild performance when aroused...try to remember the way it started, not I but you, putting dynamite under the tea kettle. Ha ha!

(And yes, Williams really did write this dialogue. You can see for yourself if you visit the University of Texas in Austin where several of his drafts are kept.)

The point is not how bad this is, but how much Williams slaved away to make his play seem like it could never in a million years include this dialogue. He worked his butt off so it would seem like he didn't. So that everything would feel more organic. More believable. And simpler. Because that is the goal after all. To make art that seems like it exists by itself, created by no one, only syphoned through some lucky conduit.

And so when I struggle to finish a play (and believe me, I'm struggling up a storm as we speak), I think of those hard-working French feet mashing grapes for months in 1971, crafting a single amazing flavor that for a mere $2,000 a bottle, we can taste today. And in thinking about that single amazing flavor, I remind myself of the Petrus Pomerol Rule of making good art:

When in doubt, simplify.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Speaking of Greeks...

Bobby in the below post mentioned the Greeks and what does a Greek do when they hear the word “Greek”? GO BONKERS!! Or in case you don’t know what that means…we flock like wild birds with large open drooling mouths blurting out all kinds of things about Greece, us Greeks, GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEECE!!!

Yup, we go bonkers.

Because us Greeks have this very weird “thing” about us – we are drawn to Greeks, eat at Greek restaurants even if we live in Greece but are somewhere else travelling, acknowledge a word being said that comes from Greek (which is everything!!), mention that person’s name sounds Greek – pretty much we go bonkers with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING GREEK….we can’t help but bring it to the attention of others around us (or even to ourselves if we are alone) that whatever we just saw, heard, witnessed is/was Greek!!!!!!!!

And, I used to laugh at my family when they did this….all the time….and it’s even funnier that my mother who is Australian now does it more often than my father (but won't fully admit it)….and what’s even funnier is that now I DO IT ALL THE TIME!! Although, to be honest, I always used to do it too – I just was never the first to get it out among the family in time, or I would secretly congratulate myself that I was thinking that too, but I did/do it.

The fact that I am writing a blog in response to seeing a mere reference to Greeks in Bobby’s blog might give you a perfect example! :)

I know the world knows about all this from such references like the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” or all kinds of Greek sketch comedy geniuses on YouTube at the moment, and it’s funny to anyone because it’s absurd, right? But, I’m telling you, to a Greek, it’s REAL LIFE!! And, we laugh at it because we get the inside joke of watching reality right in front of us and thus can relate…not that the material of the humor IS actually absurd, embarrassingly so. We are just simply proud to be on the map if you know what I mean! We look at it like we must be important to be mentioned, to be acknowledged – whether Greeks know that the joke is on us, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t even think that matters.

It’s like we play the “Greek Card” so to speak.

On the flip side though, regardless of all this and also how proud to be Greek I am and why, there is an element of this absurd behavior that even though laughed at, can be an asset to a Greek artist. There is such a strong community feeling in general in Greece, amongst Greeks…we stick together, we support each other – the island I am from called Spetses is like a huge extension of my family – it’s beautiful to be a part of that. They all genuinely care about me and my welfare and my success as an actor. Maybe they want me to be the next Jennifer Aniston, Olympia Dukakis, Tina Fey because they want another Greek up there to take over the business, and shine a light on Greece in the headlines…and if you read into that as selfish or nationalist then you are wrong – but, regardless, all their attention is on me and helping me get there – who wouldn’t love that!!

Which is why I felt so lucky, and emotional, to receive two emails today from my godson’s mother in Greece listing contact info of potential connections to NY Greek Acting communities…and then also of course have Bobby mention Greece in his blog…all in one day!! Ummm….it’s a friggin’ great day!! (even though its friggin’ freezing outside!!)

If Greeks flock to Greeks (I’ve seen my father get new best friends all over the place just having that common thread of being Greek to talk about), and want to help fellow Greeks accomplish their dreams, then it truly IS something to be thankful for and not just pure mock-able behavior.

I do play the I-Am-Greek-Card all the time (apologies to those who are close to me and not Greek and get an earful) but I like the idea that as an actor it’s on a different level, an almost important level, an acceptable level, an encouraged level…a level that can bring me one step closer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Oh, great, it's time for another Stupid Bowl."

All right people, Super Bowl Sunday is almost here! You know what that means - those of us who work in the arts, and actually appreciate the grandeur, the drama and the beauty of professional sports will be subject to the unending commentary of our unenlightened colleagues.
"It's just a bunch of big guys smashing into each other."
You're absolutely right, and Baryshnikov was just a skinny Ruski who pranced around the stage in tights. The physical precision required to play sports at a professional level, and play it well, is at the very least admirable, and at it's best, can be astonishing. The grace of running backs dancing through their competition, twirling on the head of a pin to avoid collision. The balance on display as a 225 lb. linebacker tiptoes along the sideline after an interception, narrowly staying in bounds. The control and body awareness when a wide receiver times a perfect leap to catch a touchdown pass, and knows, within fractions of inches, where he will place his feet upon landing. Not only is this athleticism a joy to watch, but excellence in these traits is something towards which all great actors should strive.
Not to mention that all of the action in question is specifically motivated by one objective. To score. To stop (the other team from scoring). Sound familiar? How many times have you broken a scene down into it's simplest terms by determining what you wanted, what your obstacle was and how you were going to get it. Wow, wait a minute. You mean I can actually watch all of the theories about finding action from intention and changing tactics unfold in real time executed by real people. Yes, you can. It's called football.
"How can you be interested in something so pointless?"
I don't know. How could I invest so much of myself in something that provides absolutely no tangible return on m-oh, hold that thought, 30 rock is coming on. Listen, I'm not an unreasonable man. I understand that at the end of the day football is just another form of entertainment. The thing is, like any long-running television show, if you invest enough time, it becomes very entertaining. The wild personalities of TO and Ocho Cinco, the heroic stoicism of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the evil genius of Bill Belicheck. Take it even further and we can find the epic. Willy Loman becomes Brett Favre, the aging man holding on to his youth for one last chance at his legacy. Eli Manning is Eliza Doolittle, evolving from an uncultured youth in over his head to the poise of a man who knows how to carry themselves to success. Drew Brees, too short to be drafted, replaced by his first team, the ultimate underdog, leads a team to revitalize a city.
It's no accident that when the Greeks created what we now know as the theater, they were also inventing the Olympics. Sports and drama go hand in hand. If only our artists friends were open-minded enough to see past the surface of something and fully investigate it.
Or, at least very least, please, please, please just let me watch the Super Bowl in peace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where we come from

The older I get, the more pride I have in the multiple and strange places I come from. Born in Boston, I was raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with frequent trips to Atlantic City, NJ (where my mom came from) and all over Texas (where my dad came from).

The above picture is Lucy the Elephant, historical wonder native to southern New Jersey and something that I frequently climbed. It's weird. It's needed repair every year since it was built. It's ungainly and strange and awesome.

Now I live in Chicago, which is not - and I'm sorry if you thought for one second it was - New York. New York is great, but Chicago is where I've chosen to live because life can be stranger there without being nearly so expensive. And in Chicago, I can write plays about elephants and Atlantic City and Texas and I don't have to try so hard to be fancy.

I like strange. I like Chicago.

And P.S.: 1100 square feet for $1100 a month doesn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Reading of Drama Plays

Hi, it's me, braindead. I'm workshoping a play I wrote for Naked Angels all this week. End of day one, and I am already a sad, dumb, helpless feeling puddle on the floor. I think I will have some wine, and pontificate upon reading Plays.

With all of the writing / directing / acting / doing / making we do, it's oftentimes hard to find adequate time to do something so simple and fulfilling as reading a play! That of an establishing writer or that of a new one. I definitely don't do enough of it, for time reasons, and also for narcissistic reasons. When you are pursuing something, it's too easy to block out the others who are doing the same thing - or, more importantly, those who have been doing it before you, better, and for years. There is something intrinsically selfish about what we do, sometimes: like: NO! I am the only one who does what I do! Which, to an extent, is true. Our voices are what are unique to us. But: this year, I am definitely trying to make myself read more plays. When I am struggling with a play that I'm working on - INSTEAD of banging my head against my wall, or cat, I'm going to try and think about a play that I've seen or heard about or read in school that somehow relates, structurally or thematically, and make a nest in Drama bookshop and read the crap out of it. This is my promise to thee (Bekah)! And to you. After all, I'm not really re-inventing the wheel, I am discovering my own interpretation of it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hi there. I don't know where to begin with a blog. I have never blogged. Here I am. Blogging. Teehee.

I suppose I will begin my blogging career with a shout out to this play: Goodbye Cruel World

It's been a long time since I guffawed in the theater, but this saturday night I GUFFAWED. I giggled voraciously. I accidentally spit into the hair of the audience member in front of me.
Go see this, you don't have much time (and yes, I have friends in it and no, I wouldn't plug it if I didn't cry joyfully into my program)


Go, go, go. There is one thing that this review forgot to say, which is that the ENTIRE cast (Cindy Cheung, Curran Connor, William Jackson Harper, Tami Stronach, Paco Tolson, and Aaron Roman Weiner) is a pleasure to watch. Oh, the nuance. Seriously, Go.

I can't go on. I'll go on.

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

And when you combine the two - you might as well ask me to trudge uphill in ankle weights carrying you and your living room sofa strapped to my shoulders.

^ Those first two lines have been sitting on my computer screen for the past 4 hours. It's not just because I got really slammed at work. I was fighting even writing anything else because of the awful broodiness the morning commute put me in.

Something about today... Today I feel more like a sculpture still trapped in its marble slab. For example: I started this blog at 11am and it's now 7pm. Chipping away.

Once the sun is down, I turn to Johnny Cash and June Carter to keep me going through the evening. There's a video (thank you youtube) of a performance from At San Quentin 1969- California's oldest prison and America's largest death row for male inmates. Directly below it is a performance from the Grand Ole Opry (Not sure anyone from the north really remembers what that is...). And I started thinking about Beckett. Stay with me here. I promise not to get all Absurdest on you.

I remember doing several research papers on Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot throughout high school and college (nerd). Partly because my fascination with it kept transforming as I got older, and partly because I'd already done the research... Godot is notoriously a difficult show to perform - a poor production of it is like watching bad Shakespeare - unbearable.

But one of Beckett's favorite productions in how it was initiated and received, was at a German Prison in 1953, months after it's premiere at Theatre de Babylone. I think it's obvious why this piece would have such an impact on this audience, a mass waiting...waiting... for what? But it was this performance that inspired him to produce his plays in prisons for years to come.

Specifically - San Quentin.

This is the part I didn't know: Waiting for Godot was performed in the old Gallows room, a converted space of 65 seats, in San Quentin in November 1957 - inspiring inmates to form the San Quentin Drama Workshop in 1958. As stated on their website SQDW was the first prison theater company in America, and the founders of the modern movement of theater in prisons. They are also the only American company to be directed by Samuel Beckett.

Are my facts totally off? Or is that totally awesome?

There are many stories like this, where theater has the ability to change perceptions and give rise to creativity in unexpected contexts. Referencing back to Josh K's post - not everyone is going to like what you do, but your audience will. I'm not saying that the only people that like Beckett are in prison - that would be absurd - but that it was one of the more unexpected audiences. And as long as you are creating something that you think is important, it will find its following.

It happens that, in this instance, for Samuel Beckett he was just as moved by this specific audience as they were by him. I believe that's the ideal dialogue between artist and audience.

I promised myself I wasn't going to close with a quote from Godot, because that's too kitschy... But this one I couldn't pass up. As I'm encouraging dialogue and two sided conversations - I echo the following:

Vladimir: "Come on, Gogo, return the ball, can't you, once in a while?"


Sunday, January 24, 2010

I take a breath.

Good thing breathing is involuntary. Because if it was left up to me—you know, to remember to breathe in and out on a day to hour to minute to second by second basis—my system would have failed long ago.

When I was a kid one of my favorite games (was it a game?) was to try NOT to blink. I never liked staring contests (I don’t like competition… winners or losers), but when I was by myself in my room or especially in the bathroom in front of a mirror, I would NOT blink for minutes at a time.

Back when I used to take baths (I seem to only take them now when I am sick), I used to submerge my head under the water and pretend that I was a fish. I attempted to breathe circularly—I think that was the term I used to describe my training (who knows where my little seven year old self heard that term).

I think it was David Blaine who set the world record for NOT breathing in 2008. I remember it was on Oprah. Not that I watch or watched Oprah, but I do read all of the online sites that report on shows like Oprah. He didn’t breathe for like 17 minutes. I remember reading that he used a technique called “lung packing”. Basically you breathe in filling your lungs to capacity and then you swallow thereby “packing” your lungs with up to a quart of “extra” oxygen. Extreme, right? And I remember thinking, WOW—you know, at the time. That’s pretty awesome! What an accomplishment!

But now I can’t help but wonder, what was the point? I mean, I guess it’s pretty awesome to be the “best” at something, to be listed in a book as having done something that no one else has ever done, but… for what? What was all the training and the physical pain for really?

I mean, breathing is involuntary for a reason. It’s involuntary because we need oxygen to survive. Thank God I wasn’t entrusted with the responsibility of constantly monitoring my own oxygen intake. Smart smart move.

I saw a show at the 45th Street Theater last night. An evening of B-Sides and Mash-Ups, new collaborative experimental work presented by Creative Destruction (www.creatived.org), a collective dedicated to the creation of political, diverse and electrifying drama. And there was a piece, the final piece of the night actually, entitled Requiem in the Key of H performed by Lanna Joffrey and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart.

Besides being incredibly moved by this quiet rumination on the unimaginably horrific situation in Haiti, I was reminded, while watching Tiffany move about the stage, illuminating Lanna’s words with alternately soft, elegant, disjointed, furious and frantic motions, of the importance of breath, of its power.

Good dancers know how to breathe. Good singers know how to breathe. Good actors know how to breathe. And good writers and directors know to USE their breath to punctuate words and action. Good writers and directors know that the sound of someone breathing is the most natural human sound there is.

Breathing may be mostly an involuntary action, but it doesn’t have to be unintentional. It shouldn’t be really. Intentional breath can calm, soothe and heal. Intentional breath can stir the heart. Spark change. It can remind us of who we are.

There is a lot going on out there. A whole lot of crazy. I know I have a tendency to hold it all in. My advice: Don’t wait to exhale. Do it now.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Sooooo, what are you working on?"

2008 and 2009 were pretty great, career-wise. I was flown to London for a week to direct a reading and got to stay in a fancy hotel.  I worked on plays and projects that I believed in, with people and companies that I believed in.  At Play was formed and suddenly I had my own insta-community and support group.  And thanks to The 24 Hour Plays, I even got an AD credit on ibdb.com!

Yep.  Five years out of undergrad, sensing that my directing career was really going to take off, I took a giant leap of faith and quit my day job.  Just quit it.  Without looking back.

And I was rewarded—the amazing opportunities kept coming!  Without me even asking for them, it seemed.  I always had a “next project,” something to promote on Facebook, to tell family and friends about.  I always had a really good answer when someone asked “What are you working on?”

But then, a couple months ago, I wasn’t working on anything.  The well ran dry, as they say.  And horror of horrors, I returned to the exact same job that I’d quit.  I felt sorry for myself.  I felt like I’d failed, somehow.  I didn’t know what happened, where I’d gone wrong.  To continue with the well analogy, I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for water.

On New Years Eve, someone, again, asked about my next project. And I heard myself saying that I was “just waiting” for the next opportunity.  Immediately, something clicked.  Wrong answer!

Why was I waiting? 

Why was my life, my career, my self-worth resting on the possibility that someone else was going to GIVE me an opportunity?  Why couldn’t I TAKE for myself? 

Over two very busy, super awesome years, I had grown to expect work, without putting in the work.  I'd grown lazy, and lost my own agency.

And this realization has completely energized me! 

Always the Virgo, over the past three weeks I’ve made a spreadsheet of every possible fellowship and grant that I can apply for, listing the deadline, relevant website, and whether or not I need a recommendation to apply.  I helped start this blog.  I’ve resurrected an idea for a play that I had YEARS ago, and am in the process of figuring out how to get it done.  Now.  I’m letting myself take creative risks that I don’t think I was ready to take two years ago, one year ago.

2008 and 2009 were great, but I have a feeling 2010 is going to be a whole lot better…

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

Consider keeping commitments.
Yo, colette. I checked out our new blog last night. It's cool. Can I get some? I'd love to write something.
Great, she said. Here's the link. How's thursday, she said.
Cue wednesday. Fade in on the alarm clock in my ear. Fade out to the snooze button. Fade in to the alarm clock again. Fade out to the snooze button. I should get up soon because I made a lot of promises to myself and once this day starts it's not gonna stop. But this pillow feels nice, and that snooze button is so damn accessible. I should have hid that shit before I went to sleep, and in the scramble to find that buzzing shook myself awake. But I didn't. Ten spin cycles later I roust my soul.
The soul that was smiling to make plans for the morning, but reluctant to execute them. Why do I consistently write checks that I know I will not cash? When aiming for the basket, great jump shooters perfect the follow-thru, not the wind up. Drive to the end of the line, say those who teach Shakespeare. But here I am again, draggin an ass that's trailing the dreams of productivity that danced in my head when I laid down in this bed. Forget the cart, forget the horse, for starters, let's just get to the market.
Cue my father at the front door. We're meeting for lunch today. He wants Chinese, but we only have time for pizza. We're discussing whether or not he and his brothers and sisters should tell my grandmother that hospice is an option. That, in all likelihood, she has no need to make plans for the spring. Life is short. We only have so much time. And the snooze button is further away from my finger.
Cue a brisk walk from Herald Square. This wind doesn't like my face, and the feeling is mutual.
But I don't have time to waste, because today must be run on a tight rope. Rehearsal starts in five. Yesterday I was five late. I get there on time today. In time to begin a workout that should have started in December. You're soft, I'm told, it's time to step it up.
Damn, I wish I wasn't so....I'm gonna start hitting the gym and eating right...seriously, tomorrow, I'm gonna....Life is short. We only have so much time. And the snooze button starts to blush.
Cue a subway ride down to Dumbo. The rehearsal was food for thought, and I'm sitting down to a plateful of what the fuck are you gonna do about it. At this point, nothing. I've made a commitment to come support my girlfriend's after school arts program. Urban Art Beat. They've brought their teenage students from the Bronx down to Brooklyn to showcase the work they've created this semester. It's an amazing program. They use hip-hop, an art form the kids are constantly surrounded by, to teach, to build confidence and to create a home for an underserved, disenfranchised community. The kids rock the house. They cannot vote, smoke or defend out country, but tonight they bless the mic and savor the energy passed between crowd and stage.
They get this opportunity because a group of artists took their time and passion and passed it on. Life is short. We only have so much time. And the snooze button is a distant memory.
It's time to stop typing. It's time to stop making commitments and start keeping them. I am not an ideal. I am a reality.
Cue the present.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


That’s how many anagrams can be formed from my name.

No, seriously.

I just wasted over AN HOUR trying to figure out the meaning of life, the world, existence, answers to the unknown – who I am, what I am, why I am…so I could find something inspirational to pass along to those of you reading.

That’s not really true.

Don’t ask me why, but I wrote “atplayproductions” down on a piece of paper, and thinking I was clever, tried to figure out a cool anagram using all the letters. I quickly realized that’s IMPOSSIBLE! So, when you have a problem, what do you do? Google - I googled anagram generators. Picked the first one. Entered “atplayproductions” and nothing happened. Apparently, it’s too long. Great.

Somewhere along the way, after maybe the third link I tried, I lost interest in “atplayproductions” – apparently I am more self-absorbed than I think (my good intentions were there though, that’s got to mean something). So, I input my name “zoeanastassiou” and low and behold I got a whole friggin’ list!! Thanks to Brendan’s On-Line Anagram Generator (http://www.mbhs.edu/~bconnell/cgi-bin/anagram.cgi).

I started to scroll down the list, jokingly, and realized that all kinds of words kept popping up, repeating over and over that struck something in me to start writing them down – perhaps, I thought, there was indeed something to why you have the name you have, and maybe if we look closely, it could mean something…

And, so went a whole hour.


At first, I was actually kind of intrigued and excited (mock all you want). There were words within the anagrams that actually meant something to me being half Greek half Australian:

But then, I got worried because the following also kept repeating:

And, of course, (shaking my head), both ASS and ANUS.

In the end, I have nothing to report to you – no wise words about our names dictating something relevant to pass on – I truly did look for it though (I’m a geek, I know). I ended up getting obsessed looking for a whole phrase that my name could anagram into that meant something. I actually went through ALL 2908 of them. And, do you know what the best I came up with was? What wise words I spent over an hour searching for to share in this blog to you all?


Well, any Greek knows that.

How this relates to me, I don’t know.

Truthfully, I was secretly hoping for the word ACTOR or ARTIST or AT PLAY PRODUCTIONS (hmmmmm) or even just a word that related to art.

The truth is, we don’t need a sign, or an explanation, or a reason. We can read into anything and everything looking though. All 2908.

Inspiration, Listening and Walking on Water

I was criticizing every movie I have seen recently the other night when the person I was talking to looked at me and said, “Wow, you are just so uninspired right now, huh?”

So, forgive the regurgitation that follows but one of the most best books I’ve read for uninspiration is called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeline L’Engle who wrote A Wrinkle in Time.

A summary of some of the things that I learned from this book:

*As an artist, my act of service is to the story. I had always thought that my act of service was to the audience but in reading this book I realized I cannot control what the audience thinks of my work and therefore I should make my greatest priority telling the story to the best of my abilities. This also takes enormous pressure off of worrying about the very objective ways people will view my performances.

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays but the artist must be obedient to the work whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a child. I believe that each work of art... comes to the artist and says 'Here am I. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.'"

*Art (similar to prayer) requires listening which is a discipline.

"The artist must be obedient to the command of the work, knowing that this involves long hours of research, of throwing out a month's work, of going back to the beginning, or, sometimes scrapping the whole thing. But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect."

*The best work occurs when I listen and die to myself.

"To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self. If the artist is able to listen to the work, he must get out of the way; or more correctly he must be willing to be got out of the way, to be killed to self in order to become the servant of the work."“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work and so he often wrote better than he could write…

*Creating art requires not only a leap of faith but also a relinquishment of control.

"The challenge is to let my intellect work for the creative act, not against it. And this means, first of all, that I must have more faith in the work than I have in myself."

And some random quotes she gives which I love:

"Far too often today children are taught, both in school and at home, to equate truth with fact. If we can't understand something and dissect it with our conscious minds, then it isn't true. In our anxiety to limit ourselves to that which we can comprehend definitively we are losing all that is above, beyond, below, through, past, over that small area encompassed by our conscious minds."

“There is no denying that the artist is someone who is full of questions, who cries them out in great angst, who discovers rainbow answers in the darkness and then rushes to canvas or paper. An artist is someone who cannot rest, who can never rest as long as there is one suffering creature in the world….Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well every night, to eat anything without indigestion, to feel no moral qualms, to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death…. But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through and must find means of expression.”

Inspiration: check.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to deal with critics (when you're an emerging artist)

Since uber-women Bekah, Colette, and Kelcie have already expounded brilliantly on topics of love, diversity and creativity, I thought I'd be the first one to talk about something more neurotic:


Yes, for all of us "emerging artists," the c-word can be as alluring as it is ulcer-inducing. After all, which of us hasn't secretly pined for one of those laudatory reviews of our play to be printed on oversized poster-board and placed prominently in the theater's lobby for all to see?

The problem is most of us are so busy getting numerous rejection letters from the most-esteemed theaters to the most-fumigated theaters alike, that when we actually do get to put a play up and celebrate with the kind of reckless abandon a madman feels when he escapes from the asylum, we forget that much of our success rests in the hands of these peculiar people.

No, this post is not going to be filled with zingers. (For that I direct you to Jon Robin Baitz's article about Captain Complement himself, Charles Isherwood: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robbie-baitz/all-the-views-fit-to-prin_b_72637.html)

Instead, it'll be filled with my personal experiences.

You see, At Play is a wonderful company. So wonderful, in fact, that it produced my play Al's Business Cards this past July/August. A theater was booked, a press agent was hired, and then starting a week into the run, the reviews came pouring out.

Was I prepared? I thought I was. But I was not. Not because they were 'bad.' Not because they were 'good'. But because they were SO different from each other, that it was as if they had all seen different plays. And I had no idea what to make of it all.

One reviewer praised my "twisty plot." Another said I "needed to go work on plot." One reviewer favorably compared the play to the classic La Ronde. Another called the play a "mediocre sitcom." It was called "sublime" by the New York Times, where it was a 'Critic's Pick' and yet Time Out New York called it "faint and unfinished."

(The most confusing critique of all came when a reviewer attacked the plausibility of the main character -- an Indian man who looks Hispanic -- by saying "the script states that he is dark skinned, but [the actor] neither looks Spanish or Indian." On the contrary, the script states that he is "light-skinned," because I wrote it for my friend, the wonderful Azhar Khan, who is in fact 100-percent Indian, but gets mistaken for being Hispanic all the time.)

So how does one make sense of all these contradictions? Well in my case by re-reading what William Goldman said about critics in his book The Season (a MUST read for any theater fan). Commenting on the belief that drama critics are "not very good," Goldman retorts, "This is simply not true. They are putrescent." Pu*tres*cent [adjective]: undergoing the process of decay; rotting. In other words, much much worse than "not very good." (He then analyzes why. Read away at your leisure.)

If that seems excessive, here's a story: When I was a student in Columbia University's M.F.A. playwriting program, the course 'History of Theatre' was taught by a prominent New York theater critic. His version of that 'History' consisted of him reading his reviews of well-known plays out loud in their entirety, but that's beside the point. The point is that for his final assignment, he asked the students to write an epilogue to any Shakespeare play and encouraged us to try it in Iambic Pentameter. I chose the tragedy Titus Andronicus. I passed the course and thought nothing more of it.

Fast forward to six months later, when a fellow student randomly said that he had an email to show me. He had invited this same critic/teacher to a show of his and received this response: "Thank goodness you're not Josh Koenigsberg. For one forgetful moment I thought you might be. But then I realized, of course, that you don't write tragic monologues about someone who speaks in rhyming couplets." The critic/teacher then declined the invitation.

Believe it or not this story is both entirely true and meant to alleviate any fear of critics. Because hopefully it illustrates that critics are just people like all of us -- people who are powerful, sure, but also strange, flawed, and unpredictable.

Sure, a critic may seem more likely to forego the appropriate critique of "this is not MY cup of tea" for the more forceful "this is NOT a cup of tea." But ultimately that's irrelevant to those of us who want to be artists.

Because if I learned anything in getting my work reviewed it's that there's no way to accurately predict what another person's taste will be all of the time. The only person whose taste you can safely predict is your own. So it doesn't matter what critics think about your tea. If you like it, then keep brewing all the same.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We Like eachother.

Oh hello! I didn't see you there.

As this is a new blog for us, and my first time posting, I thought I'd be bloggy about the grand idea of Community, and how crucial it is to the sanity and success of any theater person. There are few things I feel so strongly about.

At Play was assembled by the Old Vic / New Voices for a 24 hour play festival Summer of 2007 at the Atlantic - nearly 3 years ago! So how and why are we still managing to work together, to make things? Simply put, we like each other. Friendships and subsequently strong working relationships have been formed. Laughter, tears exchanged, cocktails consumed, plays written, meetings had, all fueled by mutal respect, admiration, and, well, Like.

I have always struggled with 'meetings.' Weird, forced meetings that are like bad first dates, in which you all of the sudden have no idea who you are, or how to express yourself - strange words coming out of your mouth that sound like lies or someone else's words entirely. Not that taking meetings with casting directors, literary managers, artistic directors, etc, can't be hugely beneficial - it's just so much easier to organically get places through the friendships that you make. I've already seen this happening through At Play members and it's just really exciting. Cause at the end of the day, we're oftentimes insecure and and nervous about our crafts - surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and what you do is imperative. Friendships give us confidence and make sane, happy theater people, and enable us to do our best work!

Okay, enough cheese for today.
Mmmm. Cheese.

Til next time!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Putting At Play on the Map

#1 Reason Why I Love At Play:  

We are as diverse artistically as we are geographically. We grew up in 3 countries, 18 states, and 31 cities.  See for yourself.  Click on the map to zoom in.


So We Begin.

Hello friends of At Play -

Happy MLK Jr. Day.

Welcome to the At Play Blog and I'm feeling quite the pressure with the first post of the week. But here we go! Thanks for coming along.

My head is still spinning a little because last night I witnessed Hip Hop History in the making. Thank you to Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jay Electronica - and briefly P. Diddy - for an amazing experience that I'll be talking about for months. But only if you want me to.

I will mention this: Last night, Mos Def said, "If you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe you are the light."

That one statement sent my mind into a spiral of so many applications. So often we find ourselves stuck, seemingly without options - in our careers, our relationships, our art/creativity, our country, our industry. There is so much hope and optimism in that one simple statement that I feel it offers those who listen the courage to breakthrough what holds you back and be at the forefront of the change you want to create.

As artists we want to be visionaries.
We want to be the next big thing - have the next big show - be the next revolution in the theater community or (insert applicable industry here). But feel like we can't compete with what we're up against. Kevin Spacey once told our company, and I paraphrase, look around at each other - the people next to you are going to be the people you grow in this industry with. They are going to be the next Artistic Directors of the next Big Theater. We should realize we are not competing with the current theater community - but that we are the next generation of the theater community. So that's what we work to build - a foundation of up and coming artists that respect each other and their talents, and have a strong desire to work together and collaborate. We create the industry we want to be a part of.

If you want to see the foundation that At Play and friends are building, or want to get involved, I hope you'll keep following along - also check out our At Play Facebook Page for regular updates on what our members are working on.

Speaking of hope and optimism... This Wednesday Jan 20th marks the 1 year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration.

To commemorate this event, At Player Julia Grob is organizing The People's Inauguration: Poetry & Dialogue on the one-year anniversary of Obama's Inauguration.

About the Event:
kahlil almustafa, The People’s Poet and author of From Auction Block to Oval Office leads an interactive event combining performance poetry and critical dialogue commemorating the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration.

When:January 20th, 2010
Where: The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space
44 Charlton Street(on the corner of Charlton and Varick)New York, New York 10014
Time:Doors 6:30pm, Poetry & Panel 7pm
Streamed Live: www.MVMT.com

Panelists include:
Rosa Clemente -2008 Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate
Cindy Sheehan -author of "Not One More Mother's Child"
Michael Skolnik -Political Director to Russell Simmons & Editor for GlobalGrind.com

$10! Click Here For Tickets

Also, I'm sure you all have your charities for Haiti, but a fellow At Player Laura Savia has asked us to check this one out as well: Partners in Health - "have been working toward sustainable healthcare in Haiti for several decades and are now at the forefront of the earthquake relief efforts there. They are working literally around the clock to provide much needed aid to thousands." Check it out if you have a chance.

That's it for me. Hoping this is a welcome beginning to your week and that you'll join us again tomorrow for words from one of our amazing writer and blogger extraordinaires: Bekah Brunstetter.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

*at play loves you!

Thanks for reading our shiny new blog!
Meet our members and get the scoop on exciting *at play events.