Crashing after the Sugar House

Oh, boy.  I was doing so well.  Made all 14 other Ma-Yi Labfest Readings and still managed to finish my play, rehearse it and get it up with the wonderful actors.

And then the next day I crashed.

Teaching has been especially hard this week because my energy has waned, I am fighting the dumb flu that everyone is sneezing and coughing around, and Teaching Artistry is a highly energetic, highly creative job.  Today was a good day, though.  I got to help some students at Flushing International HS scribe and rehearse plays–their “What happens next?” or “What other adventure could Jason go on?” in response to Jason and the Argonauts, the wonderful two-man version by Visible Fictions.

And then, I realized why I love theater–the rehearsal is really the fun part.  And, as Visible Fictions does, they were charged with using props, minimal costumes, action figures, to fill out the world.  Two fellows in two different classes built full dragon tail regalia.  There were sword fights with homemade swords.  Heroes who stood up to tyrants and brave princesses who defeated monsters.  I just tried to remind them to use what we learned, transforming our bodies and voices to become the characters and inventively using props and space.  Being students recently arrived, many are shy about using their English, but today, one girl I’ve never heard speak until today, powerfully spit out her lines.  Perhaps because it was “play,” the stakes were lower and she was able to engage in front of a crowd.  Joy.

All in all, a good day of play.

A Room of One’s Own

Good thing I have good walking shoes.  And an Unlimited metro card. Run around time has begun.

Started the new Pace class yesterday.  They are an awesome group.  I introduced Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (thanks to Unlocking the Classroom for putting my eyes on it) as I’ve been not 100% pleased with how feedback sessions go in creative situations. I wanted to practice on work that wasn’t theirs.  I asked them to choose a play we were all familiar with.  Perhaps it’s a sad state of theater that we couldn’t find a common play.  I went to film.  Someone suggested Star Wars, but not everyone had seen that either.  Somehow we ended up with a certain film about a man who overcomes his disabilities, class and a single-parent up-bringing to become an influential–albeit, haphazardly so–figure in history.  Yes.  That movie.    But that’s not important.  What’s important is that we practiced the process, with them taking turns as the writer and responder while I facilitated and they got quite good with it in a short period of time–giving and receiving feedback in a meaningful way.  And it really made a difference that the artist drives the conversation with their own questions about their work.  We will see how the semester goes, but I am quite hopeful and so glad to have found this new way of workshopping plays right off the press.

Started at Teachers and Writers yesterday.  I am meant to assist with their programs this year and to work on my own writing.  I am so excited. When I was taken to my new office, I almost started to cry.  A lovely little room, filled with light.  A red wall, two other walls of glass and the third wall with a window, from which you can see the Hudson.  A little red hand-painted public school chair that was apparently found on the street.  I have never had a room of my own in which to write.  It does make all the difference.

I am familiarizing myself with their programs and am astounded at how far reaching they are and what a lovely history they have, being founded by many, but Herbert Kohl and Muriel Rukheyser, who are two personal heroes.  Much to do.  Much to learn.  Much to look forward to.

Found Objects and Harold and Kumar

The folks over at Significant Objects are bringing a whole new meaning to the words, “found objects.”

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The curators find a bunch of objects (for under $2) at garage sales, thrift stores, on the street, etc., then commission a writer to invent a story about the object–giving it a history, a life, a past, a “significance.”

Then, the objects are sold on e-bay. 

I like it.  I’ve sort of always loved found things.  Re-appropriated, re-made, re-contextualized.

In other news, Harold and Kumar are both respectively, well, in the news. 

John Cho is featured in Asian Pacific Arts and talks about how he used to be an English teacher during the day and act in plays at East West Players at night.  Kal Penn quit his sweet gig on House to work as Associate Director in the Office of Public Liason for Obama’s administration.

It seems to be our imperitive as Asian Americans to be overachievers.
Or to die trying.

Me, I’m more of an underdog than an overachiever.  But my nose, oh yeah, it’s to the grindstone.

Oxtail Soup

I have been working on a play where one character is making ramen in the kitchen.  Another fellow walks in and they start talking about the soup and what makes a good soup.  What goes into it.

I want to model this soup off the broth of a beloved New York noodle shop and scoured the web looking for the broth recipe.  Nowhere that I can find.  I am bummed because I can’t finish the scene until I get the soup right.

I finally found this recipe for oxtail soup which he was willing to give away.  My mom used to make a soup like this when I was growing up except she put peanuts in hers (Chinese style) and she cooked it in the pressure cooker.  It was one of my dad’s favorite things.  But, I wouldn’t eat it because it was, well, an ox tail and it freaked me out.

Now, I am a vegetarian of 17 years so I’ll probably never know what it tastes like.

But the characters in my play do.  And it’s delicious.

Imagination

In an interesting confluence of events:

I saw Crystal Skillman’s reading of The Sleeping World at Rattlestick this week, on the set of That Pretty Pretty with one of the actors from That Pretty Pretty in it.  So, I was watching this deep, sad, funny play about four friends coming together to read the unfinished play of their friend who took his own life the year before.  But at the beginning, I show up and I’m in  the hotel room from That Pretty Pretty.

And the ghost of Jane Fonda was in the air.  And I’m half waiting for jello wrestling to begin.  But, the actors are insistent, Crystal’s words are good, and I am lucky enough to have seen a lot of plays, so I know that this is the part where I turn on my imagination.  And so I close my eyes and shift my brain and the hotel room melts away and instead, we’re in The Sleeping World.  On a cold, snowy night at New Dramatists. And I’m in the world of the play.  And I’ll follow them anywhere.

I had to ask my students to do this today as well.  We brought a performance to their school.  There was but a stool, a desk, a chair, one costume piece and a pair of shoes.  And they had to believe we are in Chicago, on Mango Street and Esperanza is about to share her journal and her dreams with us.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/ec/MangoStreet.jpg

They did pretty well for the first theatrical performance for some of them.  They were a little squirmy.  I think they found it challenging to sit for more than an hour and focus.

The beauty of theater is that it can happen anywhere.  With very little.  But what we ask of our audiences is hard.  To be in the moment.  To imagine.  To believe.  But, when all the magic is in order, we are all there, imagining, together.

I am trying to figure out how to make it easier for people that aren’t regular theater goers.  Children and adults.  How do we get them to lean in and believe?

The Good Negro, Joe Turner’s and That Pretty Pretty

Been a busy couple of weeks teaching.  One of the benefits to what I do for a living is that I get to see some great theater for free, sometimes things I wouldn’t afford to be able to see on my own.  Working for TDF,  I saw The Good Negro, Tracy Scott Wilson’s new play about the civil rights movement and loosely based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  She brings the man down off his pedestal and humanizes him for sure.  And in these Obama days, it’s an interesting reflection on the power of rhetoric.  I was also blown away by the magic and craftsmanship of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Lincoln Center’s new production with Ernie Hudson (Yes, that’s right.  Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson.  I think he’s great in this.).  A forgotten song.  A missing woman.  A shower of gold.  A magic man who binds people together.  It’s 3 hours long and it seemed like a mere moments.

It’s the kind of play that makes a playwright envious and awestruck and hungry to see it again and wondering if she’ll ever get the mastery and imagination necessary to build something like that.  I am ashamed to say this is only the second of his plays that I’ve encountered.  Now I have to read the other 8.

Also saw, That Pretty Pretty at Rattlestick.  Man.  She broke all the rules.  I was telling my Pace kids this week that if you’re going to be artmakers, you need to be seeing thing as much as humanly possible.  I had them read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Address.  It is sort of all over the place but he talks about the real and the unreal, chasing the truth in artmaking, but more than anything, being aware of the world around you and the implications of the deeds being done.  I think the thing about Sheila Callaghan’s play is that she’s somehow capturing the way that we are thinking right now.  She deals with gender and the mess of making art, stealing and borrowing other people’s stories and messing with people because you are stronger.  The narrative is fractured, but I think it reflects these times of piecemeal narratives and stories told, then re-told, then reinterpreted, then broken and re-ordered and turned into bricolage.  Pretty cool.

On another note, some success yesterday with a class in a long term residency that I have that had not really taken to writing or performing so much yet.  But, I did some Teacher in Role work with them and let them ask questions of the character and suddenly, all they wanted to do is be involved and give the character advice on how to be an agent of change in her own life.  It really stunned me and affirmed the power of this kind of work.  It just works.

Oh, and have you seen Electric Company lately?

Keeping the Arts in Public Schools

The top ten ideas will be presented to President Obama and will have grassroots campaigns started around them by the good people at Change.org to bring the ideas to fruition.

Check out the below.  Throw in your two cents before midnight tonight and we usher in 2009.  Let’s put the buzz in Obama’s ear that the arts are crucial to build the capacity for imagination and creative thinking that will be necessary to build the corps of young citizens to help move us into the future. 

The first round of voting for the Ideas for Change in America
competition will end this Wednesday, December 31 at midnight Pacific
Time.

Please vote for this one:

Support the Arts in Public Schools (currently in 6th place):
http://www.change.org/ideas/view/support_the_arts_in_public_schools

You can see all the ideas here:

http://www.change.org/ideas/your_ideas

The top three ideas in each category will make it to the final round.

Also note that the final round of voting will begin next Monday and
end just before the Presidential Inauguration in mid-January.

The top ten ideas will be presented to President Obama and will have grassroots campaigns started around them by the good people at Change.org to bring the ideas to fruition.