Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Outfest 2014 - David Wojnarowicz


Wojnarowicz in a photo by Marion Scemama
My Outfest weekend started at REDCAT last night with a couple of David Wojnarowicz short films. This was a must-see for me, as I just finished reading his great bio by Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly.

Here's a favorite quote from it--
In the last entry in the journal of rough notes...his handwriting is ragged. He wrote, "My life is no longer filled with poetry and dreams. I can smell rust in the air. Sometimes the fact that we can't deal with death, our mortality -- it's the same with cultures -- anything that doesn't reflect our faces and soul. We wish to annihilate things when we fail to see ourselves inside it. 
Even here, in what I think of as the last journal entry, he felt compelled to connect his situation to the wider world. That had always been his style. His writing, his neo-Beat prosody, was built on the long breath that leaves one body to engulf the endless world and, returning, sees the universe in a single action. Call it a Howl.
You heard that Howl, that long breath in Listen To This, a film by video artist Tom Rubnitz that is primarily David playing the role of the TV talking head, lecturing the viewer on how media brainwashes the masses into complacency. Check out a clip here. It's mostly a tirade -- I learned from Carr's bio that he was prone to those -- but the rantings soften at times to marvel at why the world doesn't stop, why buildings don't collapse outside the hospital room window of his friend who just died of AIDS. At times the rantings rev up, get focused, and the picture goes black, almost as if it shorted out by the rage in his voice, saying things like--
I imagine what it would be like if friends had a demonstration each time a lover or a friend or a stranger died of AIDS. I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to Washington D.C. and blast through the gates of the White House and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps.
It was fitting that the second of his two films in the screening was the loud one. The first film, Beautiful People, an unfinished short from 1987, was all imagery and no soundtrack at all.


It has a Super-8 charm that initially reminded me of the fun Ron Rice / Taylor Mead collaboration, Queen of Sheba and the Atom Man; I saw that at Outfest in 2012 and wrote about here. In Beautiful People, David's friend Jesse Hultberg starts his day in his shabby NYC apartment with a cigarette and some comically made coffee for his Abba coffee mug. Then he dolls up in adorably sloppy drag costume, walks out and hails a taxi.

As Carr points out in the bio, it needs some editing, but it has its pleasures; Hultberg looks great, especially when he throws open the door and struts down the street in wig, gown and elbow-length gloves, and he's reliable with the occasional campy Crawford-style mugging. After he leaves the city for the country, returning to nature and running a hand over the surface of a wooded lake, the movie roughly shifts from black-and-white to color in charming surprise.


David wrote about the effort that he wanted to see "drag queens as true revolutionaries who fuck with visual codes of gender," which is all well and good until Hultberg wades into a lake and disappears into the water. Maybe it's a baptism, but it feels more like oblivion.

I knew there was a Youtube clip of it online but hadn't looked at it until just now. Jesse Hultberg posted it as a 7-minute edited version with a score, saying that he and David performed it at La Mama with a live accompaniment. Both the edits and the score reduce the film's interest and power (and possibly watching it on Youtube instead of the huge REDCAT screen), although some of the nature sound-effects towards the end are charming. I'd embed below but it's disabled, so check it out here. You can mute it if you feel so inclined.

Friday, July 18, 2014

This whole Sierra Mannie

white gays are stealing black female culture business is bizarre to me, mainly because I must've missed the point at which Time Magazine was reduced to looking for op-ed material from college newspapers. Kevin's response to hearing about the article was, "I want to write an article called, 'Dear Internet, Stop Telling People to Stop Doing Things.'" What is this meme of "Dear___, stop___." and where did it come from? It's not cute. Enough, y'all.

Anyway, there's a fun response by Anthony Michael D'Agostino on HuffPo that makes some good points. He's a little hard on her, spending a little too much time on whether or not she understands how to use the word "bottom" correctly as a verb (She does, and she also knows where to put a preposition, which is what D'Agostino must've missed, but who cares?) (Although he'd suggest my responding with "who cares" suggests that I care.) (Seriously. I don't care.). He also cheaply suggests she's just jealous of white men stealing the attention of black men from black women. But hey, he does call his response "slightly angry," and it's not like her piece took the high road, exactly. Overall, D'Agostino does a righteous job of schooling her.

It's hard to narrow down what to quote, so here's a healthy chunk of it.
What's at stake when you talk about "woman-hood" isn't so much the social identity or experiences of women. It's femininity, in your own words the "language," "stereotypical mannerisms" and culture (you make reference to the "appreciation of Beyonce") we associate with women but encompasses a category of gender performance. Gay men (you aren't only talking about the white ones here) are ok until they start acting like women, stealing their feminine culture. Because femininity is yours.
You're wrong, though. The idea that only people born as women generate, and therefore own exclusively, femininity is probably one of the more outlandish of homophobic ideologies. Genderqueer, m-to-f transsexuals, and feminine gay men exist in their own right, Sierra. Feminine gay men don't, as you say, merely "adopt" or ape women's behaviors and mannerisms. The truth of the matter is that some men are as authentically feminine as some women. And some feminine men who are white grow up around black people who are feminine, so, yeah, their femininity might seem a little "black" to you. Really not their fault. Really none of your business. This is to say, your heterodominant feminist fantasy of owning "womanhood" is not the reality of queer people or feminine men. Femininity is theirs also and it is not for you to allow or deny their gender expression. 
I say "heterondominant fantasy" because your gender normative moralizing flies in the face of facts. For instance, when you position black women (with Beyonce as the exemplar) as the original producers of black feminine culture, creating "our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, [ and] our hairstyles [which] ... are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for ... [the] consumption," of culturally parasitic white gay men, you aren't just nastily defaming gay men, you are asking your reader to believe the impossible, namely, that Beyonce's hair, fashion and choreography are authored wholly by black female artists. 
Read the rest here.

For Elaine

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The one caveat to all that

Fringe vs. Institutional Theater business is that the Fringe is itself an institution, with leadership, community history, community standards, a marketplace, best practices, authoritative voices, in the Hollywood Fringe's case a paper-of-record and team of tastemakers in the form of Bitter Lemons (which, for the record, I had intention of joining but had difficulty publishing so kept it on my own page instead). The gates may open wider and let more people in, but there's a lot of negotiation (financial, critical, political, etc.) that happens, both on your way in and once you get inside. People can talk romantically about community-building all they want, but that community's still going to be full of strengths, weaknesses, and paradoxes. I was keener last year to write about it and mull it all over. This year I felt better prepared to navigate it all more thoughtfully and successfully. Overall I've had great fun for two Fringes in a row. And far better luck than I've ever had in any other type of institutional theater, that's for sure.

I don't know why I'm bringing all this up, except to say that we can never really escape this shit. It's part of what I was getting at in The Last Temptation of Paula Deen, however obliquely. Civilization's a bitch, but I guess we're stuck with it. 

The Fringe and the Institutions

Some New York theater folk were talking on Twitter about this write-up of shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival by Kelly Nestruck, and he makes some interesting points--
It occurred to me around my fifth show this year: Before Netflix or Napster, there was the Fringe Festival. I think we can only really begin to understand how forward-thinking and disruptive Canada’s unique Fringe circuit has been to theatre now that we’ve seen similar innovations undermine traditional cultural delivery systems on the Internet.
 Thirty-two years ago, the first Canadian Fringe was started in Edmonton – and today there are at least 17 official ones across the country (more than any other country in the world), serving every province except Newfoundland and selling hundreds of thousands of tickets every summer.
What these Fringes have in common is this: Participating theatre, dance and comedy shows are selected by lottery instead of being curated with an eye to quality or artistic experience. Anyone who can pay the relatively cheap entrance fee can get a slot.
What the accessible Fringe movement did and continues to do is eliminate the theatrical gatekeepers, whether the artistic directors at the subsidized theatres or the impresarios with the cash to back a commercial run. It blurred the lines between “professional” and “amateur” in live performance and allowed everyone to compete on an equal footing long before digital did the same for journalism or music.
And of course Hollywood Fringe is even more of a free-for-all, since there's not even the lottery system that other American festivals have (I think San Francisco is a prime example.).

It's interesting to see the fringe tradition's subversion of gatekeepers and institutions as an precursor to the internet's weakening of these things. I'd actually credit the way the internet has augmented the landscape around such things with helping me reframe my values around a DIY approach to theater.

Every time I start to question the value of self-production, I remind myself that opening channels of distribution are what the past 10 or so years have been all about. Self-publishing, self-promotion, music, blogs, webisodes, etc. Sure, I'd love a respected theater to do my plays, but why wait for them? Especially these days.

With mainstream commercial theater prices rising, maybe the fringe is the future of popular theater. The article goes on to suggest that low ticket prices and variable quality might be problematic for the form, but I find that much less troubling than high ticket prices and variable quality. There are things about the Hollywood Fringe that I often find crazy-making, but building audiences and generating excitement about affordable live performance isn't one of them.

So, it's nice to be reminded just how innovative, influential, and populist theater can be.

Thoughts on Fringe 2014


A little warm-up circle before our last rehearsal.
The second and less crazy rehearsal of that day.
I'm as proud of The Last Temptation of Paula Deen this year as I am of The Miss Julie Dream Project last year. Our show built on our goals of innovating the form, challenging ourselves and our audiences, and getting big houses and a lot of laughter.


Donuts and me on preview weekend.
Our writer Jennie Webb took this photo.
 As for all the rest of it, one thing I missed at this year's Fringe was the Open Fist space. Every show I saw in that venue last year was really well-served by it (save one, but I don't think anything could've helped that show). Of course I have other memories of that space, going back to when it was the Actors' Gang; I saw my first Sarah Ruhl play there. They were doing her adaptation of Orlando in what must've been sometime in early-mid 2003. I remember I took a date -- a stand-up comedian with a Napoleon complex. The only two places I remember going with him are that play and The Faultline. Surely we went to dinner at some point. We never went to my apartment; that's for sure.

Sorry, lemme get back on track.

The other thing I missed was last year's Fringe Central. I know I'm new to the Fringe and the space has moved around several times, but what's now that big paint store really was a choice venue. Discovering Eat This over by the Hudson did make up for it somewhat, though. That's a nice addition to the area.

The writer, dramaturg, social media maven
and indispensable Kayla Cagan with her husband Josh.

Two of these three gorgeous women were writers on the show.
Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko in the middle
and Michelle Meyers on the right.
My favorite production of the festival, The Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms, was the only one I walked out of. My companion stepped out towards the end because she wasn't feeling well; I got worried about her and followed soon after. But by then I'd gotten the show's gist, and what I saw I really enjoyed. The Vagrancy made another stylish, powerful show out of intense acting, spare set pieces and portable lighting with The Conduct of Life; it was an impressive, unpleasant experience. While I respected that work and appreciated the exposure to Fornes, I much preferred the feminine outrage of Riot Grrrl Saves the World. It was a pleasant surprise, considering that I walked up because I got stuck in traffic and missed the show I had intended to see that night. Jennifer Jasper's I Can Hear You...But I'm Not Listening was the most charming solo show I saw at the fest, full of funny details (my favorite being the neighbor lady who carried a Coors and a saltshaker at all times...shake, shake), although I felt bad for Jasper having to perform with some other show's sofa shoved against Theatre of NOTE's wall.


Our director Katie Chidester at the opening night party.
I only saw two musicals, but they both had reasons to recommend them. No wait, I saw three. I almost forgot that other one. Lemme go back to trying to forget it.

The Werewolves of Hollywood was one. It had all the ambition I saw in Orgasmico's Exorcistic last year and a wicked performance by Jim Hanna. We Can Be One, more a song cycle than a musical, had impressive singers and several simple, elegant moments, enhanced by Three Clubs' great cabaret space.

And here's one of Katie and me.
I guess Three Clubs (or performing there) is a third thing I missed, although The Lounge does have my favorite theaters on Santa Monica Boulevard and my show was pretty happy there. And I did make it back to Three Clubs for social lubrication on several occasions. Savannah-themed bar Sassafras was a natural fit for our show as well, so we spent a few nights and afternoons there. Katie and I also made a momentous trip back to the 70s through the refrigerator door of kitchy nostalgia bar Good Times at Davey Wayne's. There we learned that people who go to 70s-themed bars were not alive in the 70s. Or possibly the 80s. Except for us, of course.
The full house for our last performance.

My last visit to Three Clubs was our post-show celebration on the closing day of the festival, which caused me to miss No Homo even though I'd bought a ticket. I should've known I wouldn't have made that curtain, I guess. I'm sure the show was great and I intend to get to another performance if I can. But I think I was where I needed to be on that afternoon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

I've been a little obsessed with

these today.

This one's probably the best, as it has Bowie doing Heroes and Generation X starring a 21-year-old Billy Idol, plus Marc and Bowie getting a little silly in the last minute.


This one's worth sharing just because of the animation they used during the applause track, since it's so obviously filmed in an empty soundstage.


It's also worth a watch for the high waisted pants and the rolled-up sock bulges. Also his shoes, but they're uniformly fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Oh, and we finally got a review of

The Last Temptation of Paula Deen, and it's a good one. Sarah Tuft really gets what we're on about. Here's my favorite quote--
[T]his unique brand of co-authorship seems to encourage a layered vision that resonates with truth and crackles with biting satire. The resulting “bio-play” is specifically theatrical, relying more on implication and metaphor than facts and chronology. Kyle admits that although he initially envisioned a Citizen Kane-style portrait, as they worked with the pages, a Faustian theme started to emerge. And so Paula makes a deal with the devil, or maybe just with her African American imaginary enablers, The Butters, which leads to her inevitable meltdown.
Read the rest here.

The Hammer, Tony Greene, and Club Fuck!

Kevin and I spent an afternoon at the Hammer for the Made in L.A. 2014 exhibit.  We spent a fair amount of time watching this guy dance to Dionne Warwick.


 We were both big fans of Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess's ceramics. He makes them and she paints them.



One of my favorite things in the museum was the show-within-a-show, Tony Greene: Amid Voluptuous Calm, curated by David Frantz from the ONE Archives. I love that place.



The Hammer's show is an attempt to rediscover Tony Greene and put him in context of queer L.A. artists working in the late 80s and early 90s. Greene's paintings lack the obvious political charge of a lot of the AIDS-era work of that time, but then AIDS isn't a direct subject in a lot of his peers' art that's collected in the show. 

It's still political, of course, as in the video of Ron Athey getting dominated in front of an audience that I watched for a little bit. I guess he made it into a big show curated by Hawkins and Dennis Cooper back in the day after doing this sort of thing at Club Fuck! JW always brings Club Fuck! up when he talks about the good old days. 


I found this article online by Bhaskar Sarkar about the history of Club Fuck!, a recurring event that celebrated queer fetish culture, set to the tune of 90s industrial rock. The images are great -- lots of old flyers and photos -- and the writing combines a solid history of the scene with some academic analysis. I especially liked this description of the party's demise-- 
When Liza Minnelli turned up one night, many of the club regulars were noticeably starstruck, even though her presence underscored the club’s newfound status as a trendy hotspot. Soon after, in April 1993, an overzealous raid by the LAPD’s Vice unit, involving around thirty cops, ten cars, two fire trucks, and one helicopter, ended Club Fuck! on grounds of obscenity and lewd conduct.
I almost bypassed the Tony Greene exhibit altogether until Kevin mentioned there was CBT going on in there, so of course I had to go check it out. I didn't linger over the video of Bob Flanagan hammering nails into his genitals. (I think that's what he was doing.) But I did like this contact sheet of photos by Sheree Rose of him getting his nipple pierced at The Gauntlet.


After that we headed back toward the car, passing by that dancer, who had incorporated blankets and Laura Nyro.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Just finished a little post-Fringe

staycation, as Kevin is in town and we're running around doing touristy things like getting sunburned on the Channel Islands (well, just one...Santa Cruz) and going to museums and the like. I should've taken more pictures, but I always feel that way.

I do have some pictures of the trip to Santa Cruz Island, though, along with some great pics of dolphins I got on the ferry ride back. We even saw a blue whale raise up its tail, which was spectacular but I didn't have my phone ready to snap a photo when it happened.


Speaking of which, JW likes to joke about how the LATimes seems to follow us around, as they just published an article in the Travel section about Santa Cruz Island

Here are some pics of dolphins I got on the way back.



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Support or enjoy? (with a little Fringe thrown in)

Colin's post about supporting theater was fun for me because it took me back to the waning days of the theater blogosphere -- or "theatrosphere," as Parabasis' Isaac Butler used to call it, surprising us all with his coinage of a word more hideous than "blogosphere." (Sorry Isaac, but I feel like we've got some distance from those heady days and I can be frank about such things.)
A first attempt at a viable Fringe schedule.

Getting back to the point, Isaac hashed this out in 2009 and had a mostly supportive (sorry) comment thread below it. Even those who took issue, such as playwright August Schulenburg in his blog for Flux Theatre, did so to describe the dissenting viewpoints as "one of the existential crises facing the theatre today." Then Isaac chimed in, further explaining himself and saying they don't really disagree that much. That was pretty much how it used to go -- lots of thoughtfulness and interest in respectful dialogue. That is, unless race, gender or sexuality got thrown in a little too casually and all hell broke loose.

I must not have been terribly moved by the discussion back then; in 2009 I posted on Frank's Wild Lunch about watching Gossip play through a power outage at Amoeba Records and seeing a newly fame-kissed Chris Colfer at a sushi restaurant down the street from my apartment. I'm not all that worked up about it now, either, but I can relate to Colin's thoughts. That's not because I'm offended by people asking me to support them (I like to think I'm pretty supportive in general), or because I want to discuss theater's existential crises. It's because I've been going to small theater in L.A. for over 10 years now and I just can't do it all.

One point Isaac made back in 2009, in contrast to Colin's suggestion of a "victim mentality," is that there's an artistic entitlement in appealing to an audience member's sense of obligation to an artist, the work, the organization or the art form by casting attendance as "support." Whether or not that's intentional, it works on me so hard it can be overwhelming. If I hear about a show involving a friend or acquaintance, my knee-jerk response is "I should probably see that." I've tied myself in scheduling knots and gotten even more tied up in crosstown traffic trying to see everything. I'm constantly having to remind myself that no one's really making me feel obligated other than myself.

So these days I compare the value of my attending any event with the impact on my time and my schedule. Sometimes that has to do with interest in the show, or how well I can anticipate how satisfied (or how miserable) I'm going to be. It can also be about maintaining a relationship with an artist or organization, or merely about remaining an engaged theater artist. Of course this is all in the event that I'm not swamped or too preoccupied to realize it's already closing weekend and I let the dates get away from me. To me this isn't about victim mentalities or existential crises. It's about time management. Being supportive will always be just one of several factors determining my attendance.

All that said, I saw three Fringe productions in one day during preview weekend just for kicks. I knew no one involved and felt no obligation to support anything other than the Hollywood Fringe itself. I was pretty much miserable in all three shows and had to check myself again about making thoughtful choices about the shows I see. There is far too much work in the Fringe for me to choose blindly based on schedule or interest or marketing. I actually feel like the best use of my time in this festival is to see shows involving theater folk I'm even a little acquainted with. That way, in the event that I don't enjoy the show, at least I've been supportive.

P.S. - I co-wrote and am producing The Last Temptation of Paula Deen for the festival; please support it, me, the theater, and civilization with your attendance. Or come because you think it will be fun. Or don't come. See another show. Have a nice meal somewhere. Stay home. Hang out with your kids. Enjoy your life.