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Thursday, December 31, 2009

B-Ironic

Okay. So I avoided top tens and looks back at the decade. I feel too new to blogging to start all that. Check back in 2020 for a round up.

Meanwhile, though, there is one thing that I must put to bed before the year ends.

Summer of 2009 I wrote scripts for 2 shows. One is the moving-forward-by-leaps-and-bounds Cafe Lysistrata.

The other is Byron in Hell -- a dramatic monologue for a young actor. The monologue revolves around the Romantic poet as he wiles away eternity. One thing that still upsets him is that his sexual memoir was burned by his publisher before it was ever printed, shortly after he died. Byron, of course, was the consummate bisexual and I had a lot of fun with that aspect when writing (and re-writing). I sent it to my literary agent in Hollywood and asked him to get it to Rupert Friend.

After reading it, the agent dumped me as a client. It must be quite powerful. Or maybe we really have entered neo-Victorian times -- for the stage, not cable tv. (Ironically, Friend is in the new Victoria and Albert biopic.)

Anyway, it was the strongest negative response I've ever had to a script -- and I've had some doozies. Maybe I did something right. I'll have to re-read it in the New Year.

Out with the old and in with the new. Happy MMX

The Homeless

My friend Farmer Frank was saying the other day that when the weather is as cold and nasty as we've been experiencing here in the PA countryside, he always is reminded that there are homeless folks out there. Then, today, I found this link on the Guardian theater blog:

Cardboard Citizens are a UK theater troupe of homeless people


Happy MMX. Let's all work toward a society where hunger, homelessness and rapacious inadequate healthcare are no longer the norm for far too many people.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

HAPPY MMX

A happy healthy productive MMX to all!

Regular blog posting will resume January 4.

I've been devoting my blogging time to reading every word of "Free For All" about Joe Papp, the man who invented diversity in American Theater, because he truly lived the life. I will write more in depth when I've finished reading.

Meanwhile, have a safe happy celebration.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy MMX

I'm putting away my soapbox for a few days. Merry Christmas and Happy MMX!
Thanks to Scott Walters for posting this video on his Theater Ideas blog.


Betrayal, in Obama's own words

Sunday, December 20, 2009

THE BIG LIE

The Big Lie being promoted by the White House these days goes like this: "Seven presidents tried and failed to pass health care reform. This is the closest we've ever come."

Okay. So what do these bozos call Medicare and Medicaid? Both of those programs are better than the corporate giveaway being promoted by Team Obama. Of course, M&M took leadership to get through Congress.

And what's the big rush to pass this? Is this like the Wall Street / AIG bail out? Remember the original meaning of TARP -- Troubled Asset Relief Program. Remember when Paulson was saying if this wasn't passed -- so he could buy back all the bad bets by his cronies -- there would be martial law. So, when he got the money, what happened? He decided to do something else with it. It really wasn't necessary to buy the bad bets at all.

Is this health care "reform" just another corporate bait and switch? Take a look at the Big Lie again and then answer.

GENERAL STRIKE!

Friday, December 18, 2009

GENERAL STRIKE JULY 6 and 7, 2010

I just started a new blog -- http://generalstrikeusa.blogspot.com/

Please check it out.

Please become part of the effort to take back this country, nonviolently.

Let's demand an end to bankrupting our country on behalf of the military industrial complex and Wall Street.

Let's demand real health care reform, not a gift to the insurance industry.

Let's demand full employment. Let's shut this country down for 2 days by adding to the Juky 4th weekend. Let's be free again!

Let's show the "powers that be" that we the people have power, too.

http://generalstrikeusa.blogspot.com/


Please check out the new blog. (Someone is sitting on the name GeneralStrike here on blogger, so I used GeneralStrikeUSA.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CLASS WARFARE AND CORRUPTION IN THE PENNSYLVANIA ARTS “COMMUNITY” AND BEYOND

Today I received a letter from the director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts stating that the grants for artists were to be discontinued this year. The members of the arts council, a bunch of rich bozos and wives of rich bozos who fancy themselves “cultural”, voted to end grants to artists. This is after artists – this includes playwrights – were assured in emails last summer that the budget cuts only meant that each discipline would now be eligible in a three-year application cycle, rather than a 2-year cycle as was previously in place. Artists were encouraged, courted even, to apply.

The costs of applying are worth noting. As a playwright, I had to submit 4 copies of a script, 4 CDs of the music that went with it, and ship them to Maryland where the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation administers the grants. Everything else was submitted electronically – application, resume, artists statement – and this process was touted as the new, up-to-date system that made the process easier for administrators and judging panels. So, it probably cost me about $40. You can bet the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation is getting paid for receiving the materials, which are, presumably going into the trash unless one included a self-addressed stamped envelope. (I did not. Who wants a script, or 4, back after those mutts have had their paws all over it?)

Now, let me make my position clear. Based on my personal experience and observations, I think Pennsylvania has no business underwriting any kind of arts. (I will explain why a little further on.) However, since the money was there, I applied. Why not? The script and music had already been favorably reviewed in a Manhattan production and that’s one of the things I do – apply for grants. I’ve even received a couple of small grants over the years. $1500 here, $500 there. It came in handy and was always a pleasant surprise. However, I’ve never received a dime in Pennsylvania. Interestingly enough, every project that was turned down in PA went on to some sort of success or acclaim elsewhere.

Ten years ago, when I first moved to my present abode from Miami, Florida, I was returning to the state after I got downsized out at the Miami Herald Sunday magazine. We moved to a different part of the state from where we’d lived previous to Miami. I was the new kid in town, so to speak, and it wasn’t all that long since one of my plays had been picked up and adapted as a General Motors Mark of Excellence production for television. I met a few people here, among them a woman who claimed to be a producer and casting agent. She asked if she could see a copy of the script for Avenue Z Afternoon, the play that I’d adapted for TV. The woman was also the secretary for the local arts council, which receives its funding from the state. ( I was unaware of this when I gave her the script.)

I forgot about the “submission” until, almost a year later, a neighbor congratulated me for getting a production grant. He’d read about it in the local daily, the Pocono Record, a rag I’ve since come to regard as about as corrupt as anyone can imagine an American newspaper to be. Apparently the grant was being administered by the Pocono Arts Council. I called the council office and inquired as to what was going on. I was told the grant had been awarded to the woman who had asked to read my script and I was told to contact her directly.

I did and she told me she’d forgotten to tell me. She said she wanted to get together with me and talk about the “reading”. I asked what portion of the grant money -- $1500, I’d learned -- was going to be apportioned to me. None of it, I was told. It was all for “production” – production of a staged reading that her husband, who I subsequently learned is a produce worker in a local supermarket, was going to direct. I have nothing against bad puns, unless they are being used in the course of ripping me off. I said she had no authorization to produce my play, to use it to raise money, to hire her husband as director. Her response was, and I remember it well because I heard it repeatedly from other bad actors in this story, “You just don’t understand how things work around here.”

The same words, almost verbatim, are what I was told by the director of Pocono Arts Council. Likewise, when I wrote a letter to the editor of the Pocono Record, the editorial page editor told me the same thing when she said that this wasn’t a matter for a letter. A reporter was then assigned to interview me about the goings on with my script, and after two weeks and no story appeared, I called and she told me the same thing. “You just don’t understand how things work around here.”

The Pocono Record was the big local cheerleader at roughly the same time for The Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts, one of the biggest arts rip offs I’ve ever heard of anywhere, which was engineered and executed by Tom Ridge, former PA governor and former Homeland Security Director under George Bush, and by his successor, current governor and uber fat cat in the Democratic party Ed Rendell. $30 million taxpayer dollars went into building this white elephant. In the course of building it more than 600 publicly owned pristine, wild acres were turned over to private developers, for a fraction of its actual worth. A landmark on the National Register of Historic Sites – the summer camp for the New York chapter of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union -- was obliterated. The Mountain Laurel Center's only known current use is to house the graduation ceremonies of a nearby high school, when it rains on graduation day.

I got a further eye-opener of how things worked locally when the Pocono Record became a de facto political party and got the husband of the editorial page editor elected to a million dollar judgeship (10 year post X $100,000 plus salary). Reporters and editors worked the polls on Election Day, and the slant against other candidates was blatant throughout the campaign. (I do have to say that he was the best candidate in the field, which says even more about Pennsylvania politics, I suppose.)

The Pennsylvania Arts Council should be disbanded and its funding cut off entirely. Instead, the political appointees – all friends and supporters of Rendell and his wife --- get to continue on in their bragging rights positions. They voted not only to de-fund artists, but to continue to fund the salaries of arts administrators at various arts institutions around the state. In other words, their pet projects where their children and the children of their friends run the show – who, after all, but the untalented scions of the rich can afford to get degrees in the field of arts admin.

Rendell is a pugnacious politician. You’ll often see Chris Matthews licking between the governor’s legs on the aptly named “Hardball.” Rendell is about as openly crooked as one can be in political office without getting indicted. Maybe, someday, he will be indicted. This year, for just one example, Rendell gave – as in a grant -- $37 million dollars to a department store chain owned by one of his big supporters. Gave, not loaned. On virtually the same day he cancelled the state governor’s school, a program that allows talented youth in the state to take a summer course on par with the expensive programs that the children of the rich take, at substantial cost, to beef up their resumes to get into college. Rendell, like most elected corporate lackeys at the state and national level in this country, is carrying out the policies of class warfare on behalf of corporations and the rich against the middle and lower classes.

In 2010, a revolution could begin in Pennsylvania. Electric companies in the state have been granted the right to raise rates by 40% per cent – yes, forty percent – in January. This is going to happen during the worst economic downturn in recent history. Old folks and the unemployed, already strapped, are going to really be pummeled by electric companies that were deregulated under Ridge. Where I live, while it is a place of great natural beauty, is suffering some of the highest numbers of foreclosures in the country already. Homelessness is rampant. Hungry children attend classes at local schools after spending their nights sleeping in cars. NOTHING is being done by government to help these people.

There is unmitigated class warfare being waged by corporations and the wealthy, against everyone else. I hope that when the revolution comes, it is nonviolent. Then, I will surely be part of it. Not because I am personally hurting but because it is the right thing to do. Nonviolent overthrow of the status quo, confiscation of the ill-gotten wealth of the upper class, and the establishment of a democratic socialist state must be the way of the future. The alternative, as it is being played out, is repression of the many for the benefit of the few.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

GET ME REWRITE!

5 hours of rewriting Cafe Lysistrata today.

Tonight rewriting a short story.

The woodstove is chuffing out the heat.

Time to play some music.

Happy Holidaze!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Got Blogged!



I got blogged twice today! I exist in the blogosphere! I'm serious. It's good to exist.

First Kevin Lee Allen blogged about meeting me at Ken Davenport's party last week. Kevin is a set designer and his blog is now in the blog role.

And Trav S.D. blogged his response to coming to see the Cafe Lysistrata reading last night, in his blog Travalanche, also in the blog role. Trav S.D needs no intro to the NY indie theater world.

Thanks, Kevin and Trav!

And a big thank you to everyone who turned out for last night's reading. Thanks for laughing in the right places! Thanks for the sustained applause. Thanks for being an audience. And thanks for being lots of new faces!

And a HUGE thank you to the cast and musicians!

Now I'm going to do some serious re-writing and get this show ready for the next phase, whatever that may be. Thanks again, everyone!

Happy Holidaze!

Monday, December 14, 2009

CAFE LYSISTRATA -- tonight @ 8 pm




Tonight at 8 pm we will have our second and final staged reading of my new musical comedy "Cafe Lysistrata" at Theaterlab, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan. Plenty of seats still available.

5 singers, 3 musicians.

The entire presentation runs about 65 minutes.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

FULL CIRCLE?

Let’s begin with a premise – it is nigh impossible to work in musical theater and be a homophobe.

Now, with premise in place, let me recount an exchange I was part of the other night. I was at a party, speaking with an actor who is a woman. (Beginning this story would be slightly less convoluted if the word “actress” hadn’t been banished from the vocab of enlightened theater workers.) A young man named Cedric joined us mid-conversation. The actor’s day job is working in “social media marketing”. Her boss is a woman who designs websites in addition to serving the online interests of corporations. Cedric said, “You should start a website called benefactor.com. It could link young women in the arts with older men who want to underwrite their careers.”

The actor made a reference to the “sugar daddy” site. Cedric insisted this would be only for women in the arts. I said, “What about men?”

Cedric replied, “Gay men have no problem identifying their benefactors. Not in this part of town anyway.” (Meaning, I guess, the theater district.) The actor said, “Straight creative men are under-represented in that idea.”

Cedric laughed and said, “There are no straight creative men.”

“Oh, I’ve seen some,” replied the actor.

Cedric laughed. “You’ve seen some. That’s funny. Really, you do know there are none.” He was dead serious. I handed him a card announcing the reading of “Café Lysistrata” and said, “You’re talking to one, darling.” He took the card and we all said good night.

So, here’s my question. Have we come full circle? Is it completely acceptable for gay men to make disparaging remarks about straight men? How far does this prejudice go, especially in the theater? Is this why I've supported civil rights for everyone all my life? Is prejudice okay now, as long as it’s a minority being prejudiced against a perceived majority?

Comments?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Great Party

Yesterday evening I drove into the city to attend Ken Davenport's holiday social for producers and other followers of his blog The Producer's Perspective (of which I am one). It was upstairs at Hurley's saloon on West 48th Street, and it was a lot of fun. Great people -- some of them actually producers! -- finger food, booze, and general conviviality. Ken gave away a bunch of prizes, including theater tix, and a top prize of a Kindle. Thanks, Ken!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

QUESTIONS

If President Obama had no problem stiffing the King of Norway, and eschewing all the other attendant rigmarole that goes with the Nobel Peace Prize, why did he accept it? Does he, in his cloud of Ivy League lawyerly arrogance, think he has done anything but make a joke of the prize? Well, Kissinger did get it, so maybe that’s the whole idea – the prize is meant to be a joke? Or is the idea of peace on earth the big joke?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

After the Reading






Well, of the 2 dozen folks who showed up last night for the first reading of "Cafe Lysistrata" only one nodded off. Unfortunately,she is the creative development director for one of the producers I most admire these days. It's an advantage and a disadvantage playing with the musical ensemble. I got to see the entire audience but one enjoying themselves. Of course, I focused on the one. Oh well.

I'll get into more details next week after the second reading. One thing I will say now -- I skewered virtually every aspect of today's society, and went home and skewered my own shortcomings as a writer. Reminds me of Ben Jonson's poem "An Ode to Himself"

Where dost thou careless lie
Buried in ease and sloth?
Knowledge that sleeps, doth die
And this security,
It is the common moth
That eats on wits and arts, and that destroys them both.

Are all the Aonian springs
Dried up? lies Thespia waste?
Doth Clarius' harp want strings,
That not a nymph now sings;
Or droop they as disgraced,
To see their seats and bowers by chattering pies defaced?

If hence thy silence be,
As 'tis too just a cause,
Let this thought quicken thee:
Minds that are great and free
Should not on fortune pause;
'Tis crown enough to virtue still, her own applause.

What though the greedy fry
Be taken with false baits
Of worded balladry,
And think it poesy?
They die with their conceits,
And only piteous scorn upon their folly waits.

Then take in hand thy lyre;
Strike in thy proper strain;
With Japhet's line aspire
Sol's chariot, for new fire
To give the world again:
Who aided him, will thee, the issue of Jove's brain.

And, since our dainty age
Cannot endure reproof,
Make not thyself a page
To that strumpet the stage;
But sing high and aloof,
Safe from the wolf's black jaw, and the dull ass's hoof.
—Ben Jonson

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cafe Lysistrata -- TONIGHT @ 8




We rehearsed all weekend, and we have a fine presentation for our purposes at this point.

Cafe Lysistrata -- reading tonight at 8pm, Theaterlab, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan.

5 singers, 3 musicians, a bunch of cool new songs. Hope you can make it!

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Like this Video!




I saw this on Matt Freeman's blog, and decided to use it as my post for the day, too. It's fun!



Remember, please! Monday December 7 is the first reading of Cafe Lysistrata, at Theaterlab, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan 8pm.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

With Apologies to Whichever Anonymous Wrote "The Twelve Days of Christmas"





The first staged reading of Cafe Lyistrata is fast approaching, and 70% of the seats are already reserved! You can help fill the house. Reserve a seat on Face Book:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=179461638219&ref=mf

Or leave a comment on this page saying how many people and which date.

CAFE LYSISTRATA
2 staged readings of a new musical comedy by Uke Jackson
Monday December 7th and Monday December 14
8 pm
Theaterlab
137 West 14th Street (between 6th and 7th Aves)
Manhattan
Admission is FREE
Running time is 80 minutes.

Now, with apologies to whomever wrote the carol "12 Days of Christmas", and assurances that the songs in Cafe Lysistrata adhere to meter more than this silliness does, here is "12 Cafe Lysistrata Facts"

12 CAFE LYSISTRATA FACTS

12 new songs
11 bawdy jokes
10 political laughs
9 vampire bankers (skewered in song)
8 pm it starts
7 December (and December 14th)
6 porno stars (not really, but there is a song making fun of porno)
5 women sing
4 days to go (until the first reading; 11 days ‘til the 2nd reading)
3 musicians playing
2 chances to see Café Lysistrata
1 funny new musical comedy

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CRITICAL THOUGHTS

JUMPING SHIP

“Jumping ship” is an old maritime term used to describe the action of a crew member who stays behind, usually in a foreign port, when the ship that brought him there sails away. It developed into a catchall phrase used to describe the action of someone leaving a position, often when circumstances surrounding that person’s business or occupation became dire. In this sense, it seems to have merged with the phrase “rats deserting a sinking ship.”

Rocco Landesman is a former Broadway landlord and producer. Like pretty much anyone who made money on Broadway from the mid-to late 1970s until fairly recently, Rocco Landesman rode the coattails of the late great Gerald Schoenfeld. Broadway was in a pickle during the early 1970s. Mr. Schoenfeld, and to some lesser degree, his partner the late Bernard Jacobs, stepped into the breach and by whatever means necessary made Broadway a thriving community again.

Rocco Landesman is a former Wall Street guy who took over the Jujamcyn Theater organization. He had a background as a theater educator at the elite Yale School of Drama. He was listed as a producer on three big Broadway hits – “Angels in America”, “Big River” and “The Producers”. He was also the landlord for these productions. It is customary on Broadway to list the landlord as a producer, as well as large investors. I don’t know how involved Landesman was as a creative producer. I do know he often seemed more interested in the world of thoroughbred horse racing than theater. I suspect that Landesman was more interested in the business side of things, since Broadway under Schoenfeld’s guidance, was booming.

Four things happened and the combination led to Rocco Landesman jumping ship. The stock market crashed due to Wall Street bankers bleeding the country dry, Gerald Schoenfeld died, Broadway went into a (perceived?) slump, and Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Landesman lobbied for, and got himself appointed to, the position of the head of the National Endowment for the Arts. He jumped ship, in other words.

From Landesman’s acceptance speech when he was appointed, this phrase jumps out: "This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists."

Sorry, Mr Landesman. If you really think that one more rich gambler with Wall Street ties going to Washington D.C. makes me feel better because you compare the president to an ancient, brutal dictator, you got another think coming. By the way, in my anything but humble opinion, a writer's power ought to come from his words, not the office he holds.

Monday, November 30, 2009

PARTAYYY!

NYC Theater people -- Ken Davenport is throwing a party for readers of his blog "The Producer's Perspective" (I am an avid follower.) You can read about it, and how to RSVP (quick action suggested) here.

Weekend of the Stars, and Kitcsh


So, I had two incredible encounters this weekend. The first was Saturday night at the Deerhead Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA, just a mile from my house. I got to see the lovely and extremely talented Nellie McKay in this intimate club, and after the show we sat together for awhile and talked about her performance as Polly Peachum in Brecht's "Threepenny Opera" on Broadway a couple years ago, as well as my plays and musicals. Nellie was as enchanting in conversation as she is rollicking-ly and delightfully entertaining onstage.

On Sunday night the truly beautiful and fabulous Loretta Swit gave a wonderful presentation on what it means to her to be an actor, at the Gene Frankel Theater on Bond Street in Manhattan. Afterward, we had a tete a tete about my show Cafe Lysistrata. Please keep your fingers crossed for this project.

Sunday afternoon I saw Trav S.D.'s "Kitsch or Two for the Price of One" at Theater for the New City. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Trav and his cast and director created a neo-Brechtian feel for this ambitious merged update of Plautus' The Twins Menaechmi and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (which also drew from Plautus).

It's the story of 4 sets of twins, separated by the Berlin Wall after the second world war. The endless mix ups and send ups kept me laughing, and I had just driven there from Pennsylvania and was still unwinding from that effort. The second act zipped along at a lightning pace. For more info, I refer you to Martin Denton's excellent review on nytheatre.com, as yesterday was the last performance in this run.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Holidaze Is Upon Us



Working with the cast and musicians this evening via email.

Here's a great interview with playwright Johnna Adams from Zack Calhoon's blog.

http://zackcalhoon.blogspot.com/2009/11/people-you-should-know-johnna-adams.html

Happy Holidaze!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Theater, Music, Food

After blowing off posting last night, it occurs to me this morning that throughout the holidaze the idea of writing in the evening is a nonstarter. Perhaps as a result the entries here will be less or more of something – though I’m not certain what. Today I’ve begun writing immediately after my morning meditation. That will be my strategy through the New Year holidaze.

If I were actively writing a new play, or if I had a magazine assignment, that would be the first order of writing each day. However, as I commented yesterday in an email to administrator at the Sewanee Writers Conference, where I was once Horton Foote’s teaching fellow, this is a very strange time to be a writer. Magazine assignments seem to be a thing of the past, at least for me. No one even responds to my queries.

I did finish reading Stoppard’s “Arcadia” yesterday. (I could have saved $5.50 buying it on Amazon.) It is a brilliant piece of writing and the first chance that arises to see a well-cast production, I must go. The Byron connection was what drew me to the piece originally. Upon reading, I discovered it is a tenuous connection indeed. The architecture of the play fascinated me. It is so purely theatrical.

The language of "Arcadia" as with all Stoppard plays, is lush and astute. I sometimes fear that audiences today are losing their ear for great dialogue. If Hollywood has its way, we will only hear gunshots and screeching tires in all entertainment. Words will be a form of punctuation between fusillades.

In my last post I mentioned a lively discussion that Joe Papp and I had about the end of The Real Thing”. Upon finishing “Arcadia” I quickly perused the character list for “The Real Thing” and realized it wasn’t that play at all that Joe and I discussed. It was David Hare’s “Plenty” starring a luminescent Kate Nelligan.

I also got in an extended music practice session yesterday. I played through all the tunes for “Café Lysistrata” except the anti-corporate anarchist rap number. (We likely will not include that as part of the reading, as it could take up an entire day of rehearsal to do properly.) Our plan for the reading is to have the pianist, JJ Deluxe on bass clarinet, and me on ukulele, backing up the women singing. I’ll be running the tunes everyday between now and our rehearsal sessions. It’s sometimes hard learning one’s own songs.

Is it wise for me to be part of the presentation? Who knows? The audience should enjoy it more, though, with a musical trio. It will give a fuller sense of what the show will be like, as well. I want a small musical ensemble on stage during the full production. However, like the cast, I want the musical ensemble in production to consist entirely of women. So this will be a unique opportunity for me as far as being an accompanist for “Café Lysistrata”.

It is appropriately grey and cool outdoors. Thoughts of food are unrelenting. I’ve chosen my recipe for my first ever from scratch pumpkin pies – and I do mean from scratch, or seed, since I grew the pumpkin. I’ll bake the pies tonight, after starting my dough for the loaf of bread I’ll bake in the morning.

With the oven nice and hot from baking bread, I’ll pop in half a fresh organic, locally raised turkey. (The other half will be frozen until Christmas. Once that is gone, my year long experiment as a carnivore will have ended. Beginning in January, I will return to my almost vegan vegetarian diet.) While the turnkey is roasting, I’ll go out and harvest radicchio, Swiss chard, and escarole so that we have a bowl of sautéed fresh greens as part of the meal, with my own grown garlic and some garlic vinegar from Rolling Hills Farm. It won’t be an entirely locavore meal. I’m making stir fry yams, too. I made them the same style last year. The dish is almost like Thai mikrob when it's done. There will be chestnut dressing, and potatoes from the farm. I’m getting hungry for everything but the turkey. That’s just me – always getting ahead of myself.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Of Banjos and Books

Saturday I was in the city all day until late in the evening. I sold a 1920s Washburn banjo ukulele, of a size that is often called a “tango banjo”, to a very nice woman who contacted me through Face Book. I got $500 for it, the majority of which is going to pay for the readings of “Café Lysistrata” – though the major part of $500 is less than half the cost of the presentations. I was sort of sad to part with this instrument but I know it’s found a happy home, and I’m going to be giving the new owner a few lessons.

My first stop after selling the banjo was Barnes & Noble. I wanted to pick up a copy of Jerelle Kraus’s new book “All the Art That’s Fit to Print (and Some that Wasn’t)”. The book is an insider’s look at the machinations behind the scenes at the New York Times Op Ed Page. Jerelle was the art director for the page for many years, so she has a unique perspective. I should have bought the book on Amazon.com. It’s $25.91 there, which qualifies for free shipping. At Barnes & Noble it was $34.95, and I had to lug it around with me.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful collection of illustrative art from the golden years of American newspaper editorial art. It’s also full of funny stories of the reactions of editors to certain illustrations. If you have any contemporary art fans, or newspaper buffs – who soon will occupy their own niche in society, much as railroad buffs do – on your holiday gift list, then this book is a must buy. (Full disclosure: Jerelle came to some of the Plexus art operas back in the 1980s, and I got to know her a little at that time. We recently reconnected on Face Book. I was also a regular contributor to the Times back then, in the form of light verse that frequently appeared in the now-defunct “Metropolitan Diary” column.)

While in the book store, I decided to check out the drama section. I was sorely tempted to buy a copy of the Joe Papp biography “Free For All” that just came out. However, at $40 I decided to wait until my local library gets a copy of it or it comes out in paperback. Or maybe I'll buy it on Amazon.com for $26 and change, after the "Cafe Lysistrata" readings.I did buy a volume of 5 Tom Stoppard plays. I really love Stoppard’s writing, though I have to admit I’ve not been privileged to see all his plays on stage. One piece that I neither read nor saw and had a hankering to check out was the play “Arcadia”. (I started it this afternoon and should finish it tomorrow.)

There was a copy of the play in its own volume for $15.95. For $17.00, there was a collection of 5 plays that included “Arcadia” as well as another of my Stoppard favorites “The Real Thing”. I saw that play when it was first on Broadway. Joe Papp and I had a lively discussion about the play’s ending, one night when we co-hosted a party for Paul Davis, the illustrator who created all the great show posters for the Public Theater for so many years.

Anyway, I bought the volume with 5 plays. Both were paperbacks. It was baffling to me how anyone could buy “Arcadia” in its slender solo volume but I’m sure they must sell some copies. Buying books is becoming like comparative grocery shopping – and check the price online first!

Fifty six dollars lighter, I made my way through the Union Square Farmers Market. Just that walk kept the pot on the back burner bubbling, as I got several interesting ideas for “Green Market” -- my next stage musical.

All in all, it was a great day in Manhattan. Someday, somehow, I’m going to get a home there again. This country house is close enough to the city to be part of the perfect life for a playwright.

Would that someone of Joe Papp’s caliber come along again; someone who cares about playwrights and theater as much as he did. It’s a bleak world where a playwright must sell his possessions to hear his new piece sung and read in front of an audience. Oh well. At least I have some possessions to sell. Anyone looking for a quality ukulele?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seattle? Who knew?



It's strange the blinders New York-centric artists often have on. I'm certainly guilty of it.

“Two really interesting things I learned about Seattle when I moved here were, this city has fewer churches per capita than any major city, and more bookstores per capita than any major city,” said Mr. Manning of Seattle Rep. “You get on a bus and everyone has a book. It’s a wonderfully literate town, which is fortunate for us in the theater.”

The fact that the New York Times has this listed as a travel article, rather than in the Theater section says quite a bit:

http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/travel/escapes/20seattle.html?hpw

I think a trip might be in order in the new year.

And speaking of holidays, Happy Thanksgiving. Unless you know the farmer, here is where your meat comes from:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIjanhKqVC4


"One can measure the greatness and the moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animals” Mahatma Ghandi

+++++++++
I'm happy to announce that the staged readings of Cafe Lysistrata, December 7 and 14 at Theaterlab, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan, will include accompaniment by a trio of musicians.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FEMININE ENERGY




The blues suddenly lifted and today even the rain seems like a blessing. There are energies in the universe, and whether you assign deity personalities to these energies or not is your business. The existence of these energies, however, is undeniable to anyone with a natural sensitivity to life and its rhythms and patterns.

All this is to say that I let go of my angst and accepted an energy that’s been missing from my life for some long years. The last time I gave myself over to it totally was quite a ride. I was studiously absorbing the poet Robert Graves’ book “The White Goddess” and ended up following that energy to the island of Majorca, where Graves and his family and followers lived. I’ll post about that trip one day soon.

While writing this musical, I had many false starts with the story but did write what seem to me to be some worthwhile new songs. Finally, I threw out all the male parts (appropriate for a Lysistrata take off) and “Café Lysistrata” came together immediately.

All sorts of wonderful people are coming into my life, some again some for the first time. Other projects are suddenly catching on. “Café Lysistrata” seems to be good luck.

So, the whining and wailing and begging is over. You can be part of this journey if you wish. The energy is coursing through me as I write. It’s going to be quite a ride once again. And that’s what it’s all about.

Mark your calendar: Monday December 7 and Monday December 14 staged readings of “Café Lysistrata”, with accompaniment by a trio of musicians, and 14 new tunes, 6 wonderful women, and an audience studded with stars and literary lights – all at Theaterlab, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan. The presentation will take 80 minutes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The New Production Blues


Production, even production of something as simple as a staged reading, can become all-consuming. There are so many details, and without a producer, they all fall on my shoulders. Finding a pianist; booking rehearsal space; booking the space for the reading; emailing all the women in the cast their scripts and songs; sending out begging missives in the hope that family, friends, or even complete strangers might take an interest in the show and send some money to help defray expenses, or at least come to see it. Then there are announcement fliers to be made. And don’t forget parting with some treasured ukuleles to fund this entire venture beyond what people send me, which now is less than meager. But it is something – one person reached out to help, so far.

Oh, poor unknown playwright! Your life needs monetizing!

Oh, poor unknown playwright! Your life needs monetizing!

It becomes a major exertion of willpower to practice music every day, or any day while this is going on.

And the end result of this rushing and moaning will be what? Will anyone like the show? Will someone step up and produce it in an Off Broadway run? Or even Off off Broadway? Will anyone even show up? The thing that keeps me going is the fact that deep inside I believe – I believe the show is timely and I believe it is the best thing I’ve ever written. I believe for the first time ever I’ve really hit my stride. I believe in me as a dramatist.

Am I delusional? Possibly. But what does it matter? I’ve put every iota of my knowledge of theater craft and music into this piece. The fact that it gets done at all in any form whatsoever – that has to be my reward, or at least my greatest expectation. I’ve surely learned not to expect hits, and to know that even a critical hit means nothing if the theater bigwigs and/or their minions, whose parents bought them an education so that they can sit in judgment over the efforts of creative people, if they don’t come and judge it worthy, or judge it all. Not being judged, whatever the outcome, is the worst. Audiences loving something is the best, but the best is not always enough.

Has the theater in America become a herd of scared sacred cows?

Writing a new piece is out of the question until “Café Lysistrata” is begun to be realized. Even writing a blog post dwelling on one or more of my past efforts becomes a seemingly insurmountable task, for the moment anyway. That’s what these upcoming staged readings are about – realization.

Oh, poor unknown playwright, sing the blues but keep your all chips on the table.

Oh, poor unknown playwright, sing the blues but keep your all chips on the table.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Name Is Uke Jackson. Or not.

My name is Uke Jackson. My name is Steve DiLauro. I’m actually able to maintain both these personas without being schizophrenic. That doesn’t mean I’m not crazy; just that I’m not certifiable. So who am I and how am I both these people? I’m back in the country and full of questions it seems.

Uke Jackson started out as a joke character when I was rhythm guitarist with a string band out of Philadelphia back around 1999 going into 2000. I would switch hats and instruments and become Uke Jackson and play and sing a novelty tune I wrote (but oddly never recorded) titled “eBaying at the Ukulele Moon”. Then I was walking along the sidewalk one day and somebody rode by in a convertible and shouted out “Uke Jackson! Uke Jackson!” It later turned out to be my next door neighbor but the name was starting to stick.

I started using the name online and then it just took on a life of its own, or my own. I used to say that Uke Jackson got loose with too much money one day and got some tattoos to prove that I was him. Or he is me. See, it gets kind of confusing. The tattoos are real enough, though.

Jackson is my long suffering wife’s maiden name, so there is at least some basis in reality for me using it as my own. Non-traditional, to be sure, but a basis nonetheless. Uke comes from the fact that I play the ukulele. I used to be much more obsessed with the instrument. Now, it’s just something that I do.

I used to be mildly well-known, at least in literary and journalism circles, as Steve (or Stephen) DiLauro. Sometimes I think the name change was nuts. Other times, it seems like I chose a course that was part of a perfectly natural progression. At Elaine’s recently, watching the Yankees win the Series, I introduced myself as Steve to some people at the bar. I think it was the nostalgia of Yankee baseball. If the conversation blossomed, I informed them that I’m also p.k.a. (professionally known as – my showbiz attorney came up with that one) Uke Jackson.

For awhile I continued to write as Stephen DiLauro – op ed essays and book reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer – but then I launched a public radio program as Uke Jackson and it all became too much for my editors to get their heads around and I got no more assignments. The money was a pittance anyway. Then I started the annual NY Uke Fest and for sure there was no going back.

Josephine Baker once said “It’s very easy to become famous again.” “Again” being the operative term in this ramble. I certainly don’t think of myself as ever having been famous, and certainly not rich and famous, but my mild celebrity as a writer was quickly surpassed as the recording and performance artist, and broadcaster Uke Jackson. At least it seemed to be. Somewhere on this blog page is a link to my bio. A lot of my credits are listed there. I’m not sure what fame is anymore but I know I’m not it. I really would only like to be famous if it was accompanied by huge sums of money, and hit shows.

I wonder if the name change came about as a result of a series of events that I had no control over – medical problems, working for the Miami Herald Sunday magazine when it got downsized out of existence and finding myself and my family stranded on the beach, and a subsequent period of deep-seated depression that lasted for several years. I really have no clue other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I mean, hey, I used to be an ardent vegetarian, too, for years and years. Suddenly I got bored with fake meat and wanted the taste of blood in my mouth, I guess. That’s a whole other topic, though.

It felt good to be Steve DiLauro watching the Yankees. I mentioned this to a friend a few days later during a phone conversation. “You’re lucky – you can be both,” he commented, then added “You are both.”

Should I have kept “Stephen DiLauro, serious journalist” a functioning entity? Could I bring him back, like Prince became the artist formerly known as Prince, then became Prince again? Do I even want to? Walk past any newspaper building and you can hear the screams of the dying. Would I have to have the tattoos removed if my name was re-changed? Should I have kept Stephen DiLauro as my name as a playwright? Why? Does anyone even care what my name is?


Is this blog post the definition of narcissism or madness? Or both? If it reads like the ramblings of a lost soul, I assure you – I’m not lost. There’s just no map.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Call This Wisdom?

For a playwright, as for any artist, life should be about the journey. If your focus is always the money story, you might get rich and you might not. If your focus is the ride through life and art, you’ll always be exactly where you should be. This lesson comes to some easily and to some it is a struggle to comprehend.

PLAYWRIGHT: Why am I broke? Why ain’t I rich?

REALIST: Because you’re a playwright and not a scumbag Wall Street banker.

SELF HELP GURU: Think positive. Focus on success.

PLAYWRIGHT and REALIST (in unison): Go fuck yourself!

If you want to think positive, play music. That way you’ll be thinking about the music. The rest is bullshit.

If you think you can’t play music you probably can and are responding to some childhood episode. That’s okay -- sing.

If you’re not living on the edge, you’re probably taking up too much space.

If you’re behind in your credit card payments and you still have a land line, cancel the land line and don’t answer 800 calls on your mobile phone. You’ll save $1,000 a year on the land line. In a year the usurers will offer to settle for 20 – 25 cents on the dollar. You can pay everything off then if things are better, or just continue to ignore the calls. Eventually they will stop. I’m right. That’s why I’m not a financial guru.

Your credit rating is your report card as a slave to the corporations. During slavery, the difficult, rebellious slaves got shipped to Jamaica. There’s good weed and rum in Jamaica and it’s always warm there. A good credit rating means more debt and more payments. Which you would rather have? Weed, rum and sunshine? Or more debt?

If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

Fight back. Cook the wealthy. (Not really – you’ll probably get the gout.)

Every guy who wears a hat isn’t bald. A baseball cap is not a hat but the same probably holds true.

About 10 years ago I was at a friend’s loft playing guitar and there was this young guy hanging out and he said “I play guitar in a punk band.”
I replied “Lots of 3 chord songs, right?”
He said: “Oh, if I knew 3 chords, they’d think I was a genius.” Musicians will chuckle at this.

In the future all of us, and everything about our lifestyles, will be considered primitive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Still in Manhattan

So, here it is a week later and I’m still in Manhattan. Now I’ve got meetings through the end of the week. And tomorrow night Robert Bery, my host while I’m in town, is part of a tremendous group show opening at Art Next Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, in Chelsea. The exhibit is titled “Over the Walls” and it’s a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, with very political art. I got a preview yesterday evening and I can’t say enough good about this exhibit. Alexander Melamid is one of the other artists. There’s some excellent photography from China as well, by Ai Weiwei and some of the prominent Chinese performance artists.

One piece in particular tickled me. It’s this Chinese performance artist (must get his name) who appears in his photos with his back to the camera and the ass ripped out of his pants. The number 123 is written across the back of his t shirt. David Rong, who is the curator of the exhibit, told me 123 is a way of saying “fuck you” over there. Anyway, this particular photo shows Mr 123 standing in front of a line of policemen, in his usual garb, in front of a red wall. He’s holding a staff with a large dildo sticking straight up. The looks on the faces of the cops are priceless.

Speaking of photography, the other night I was at the opening for the Bruce Davidson exhibit at Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea. Davidson’s photos have been blown up to the large art format that’s popular today. This approach really serves the originals quite well. Davidson is our Brassai.

And last night, further speaking of photography, we’re hanging out at Robert’s loft when this friend shows up with a young woman from Columbia named Andrea. We’re all sitting around talking and having a couple cocktails and Robert picks up his camera and tells Andrea to take her top off. Next thing I know she’s doing acrylic finger painting on her naked torso. I’m beginning to think the absence of a need for artists’ models may be a major shortcoming in the playwright career path. Oh well. Too late now. This morning when I woke up, Andrea was still here, still covered with paint. Don't ask.

Casting for the readings of “Café Lysistrata” is making some progress.

Monday, November 9, 2009

CAFE LYSISTRATA

CAFÉ LYSISTRATA

Café Lysistrata is a bawdy, irreverent, political musical comedy for 5 women on one set. There will be 2 staged readings at Theaterlab on West 14th in Manhattan. The purpose of the readings is to get audience reaction to the songs and story, and hopefully to find some backers for a showcase and eventual Off Broadway run.

The dates of the readings are December 7 and December 14@ 8pm.

There will be a $10 suggested donation at the door. 20% of the door will go to Mothers on the Move, a group that works for food justice in the South Bronx. (MOM is a very worthy organization. They do a fund drive once a year at this time, and if you want to check them out, and maybe make a monetary contribution, their web page is mothersonthemove.org ) The balance of the money will go to the actors for car fare and to help defer the costs of the presentation (rent, fliers, etc). A spirited seasonal punch will be served as part of the evening.

Here’s a character break down of the roles:

GENERAL: Every role has singing parts. Many of the songs are racy and challenge societal mores.

LISA – a woman in her 60s, she is the owner operator of Café Lysistrata. She is the central figure in the story. Lots of singing, including “Internet Granny Porn Star”

CALI – a young woman with dreams of becoming a vampire. Her big number is “Vampire Luck”

GRETCHEN – a young woman who is a political activist. Big number is “Bigger Better God”

JOAN – a young hat designer. Her big solo number is “3rd Wave Feminist”

BARB – is in her 40s, a friend of Lisa’s. She’s a cougar who gets downsized out of the contemporary corporate culture. Her big number is “Cougar-icious”

BUSKERS/CHORUS -- There are 3 doubling roles. These buskers (street musicians) serve as chorus figures and have a number of songs to sing, solo and together,including "Thick Stack of Hundred Dollar Bills", "No Oil Bluz", and "Give It to the Bankers"

If you or someone you know would be appropriate for any of these roles, and available and interested in working on this piece, please contact me by email or through Face Book. ukejackson (at) ukejackson (dot) com

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NEW YORK, NEW YORK!

Tuesday night JJ Deluxe showed up at my door and asked if I wanted to go see the late set at Django Fest at Birdland. Being more than a bit skint on the cash front, I explained that the show was beyond my means at the moment. However, I would take a ride into the city, as cabin fever was setting in and my last visit was the Warhol event at the Chelsea Hotel in September. I threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed a uke and left with $10 bucks in my pocket.

On the ride in, JJ offered to cover me for the Birdland event and let me pay him when the money story gets better. The music was tremendous . The gipsy jazz guitars and fiddle, a real solid bass player, and an awesome French accordion player – I can’t praise it enough. The Django Fest is on thru November 8 and if you get the chance GO. Here’s the link http://www.birdlandjazz.com

After the show JJ dropped at my front door in Harlem. The next morning I called a few people to let them know I’m in town. A music promoter I know invited me to lunch at a French restaurant in the theater district. He wanted to bounce some ideas off me. We ended up talking for 3 hours, and at the end he took out his wallet and handed me a C note, saying, “That was really helpful. This is for your time.”

So, with a hundred bucks in my pocket, I went to Elaine’s == my favorite saloon on the planet == and watched the4 Yankees win the World Series for the 27th time in history. A great crowd of Yankees fans was there, and a beer there is the same price as pretty much anywhere else in Manhattan. What’s weird about this is that last week I woke up in the middle of the night after the Yankees won their first game and said to myself, “If you go to Elaine’s next Wednesday, you can watch the Yankees win the Series there.” And I did and I was right. Now, if my promise to myself to come up with some serious dough works out as well as that, I'll feel golden again.

I’ve got a couple more meetings over the next couple days, then who knows? New York, New York -- It’s the city of possibilities.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

SOME MIGHT SAY IT'S A MIRACLE

Some might say it’s a miracle that I’m a playwright, let alone a writer. I’ve actually had people express shock that “they [whoever that is] let you become a writer” upon learning the following fact. On my 18th birthday, I quit high school and enlisted. It was the height of the Vietnam war. It’s funny, in retrospect, that this was also the day the SAT results were announced. My guidance counselor told me I had the highest scores in the history of my high school and tried to talk me out of my decision. My mind was made up, though, and soon I was in uniform.

This choice was not born of patriotism. I’m not going to talk about my family or my parents, other than to say that I was leaving a household that seemed utterly chaotic to me. My parents and ten siblings were living there. Lillian Hellman once wrote that the best preparation for a writer is an unhappy childhood. So, maybe it’s not such a miracle that I’m a writer. My parents are still alive and, in any case, this is about me as a writer, and that’s a career choice they have seldom expressed a positive opinion about, or much of any opinion. In any case, enlisting was a sure fire route to get away from home.

Today is November 3, 2009, which happens to be Anna Wintour’s birthday. In checking on her background, due to my wondering why the president of the USA appointed a Brit (not to mention the editor of Vogue) to his council of art advisors, I came across the fact that Wintour is also a high school drop out. Of course, her father was the editor of London’s Evening Standard, so she had a bit of a helping hand breaking into the world of print journalism. However, her resume did provoke me to take the leap today and reveal a few pertinent facts about my life.

I went off to war and served without distinction or any acts of great valor or cowardice. I got through it and was glad when it was over. Upon my return stateside, it soon became clear that veterans were being greeted with scorn, for the most part. The baseball great Ted Williams was the only person who ever shook my hand and thanked me for my service. It was in an airport on my way home and I was still in uniform and bumped into him at a stand of paperback books in a magazine kiosk. One day many years later, I wrote a short story for the Miami Herald Sunday magazine about the possibility of cloning a baseball great. I hope that wasn’t a factor in Williams’s son’s choice to have his father’s head frozen in case he could some day be cloned, though both Williams and his son lived in Miami at the time that story was published, about 25 years after my encounter with the Hall of Famer.

Anyway, I shed my uniform, hitchhiked around the country for a few months, grew my hair long, and became a hippie and antiwar activist. I knew the war was a complete waste of everything that mattered, just as I know the current wars are. Eventually I moved into a commune that had been founded in the 1950s by the late great pacifist David Dellinger. Dave no longer lived there but his son Danny had been a friend in high school and welcomed me into the household.

A short while later, I was set up by another vet and busted for possession of marijuana. I still wonder sometimes if the bust was politically motivated. Thanks to the Dellinger family, Leonard Weinglass, one of the lawyers for the Chicago Seven (or Eight if you count Black Panther Bobby Seale) agreed to represent me. We talked about taking the case to the U.S. Supreme court in an effort to get pot legalized but that idea never went anywhere. We struck a plea bargain and I was supposed to get probation.

Between the bust and my court date, I went to Kansas City to see a girlfriend and try and keep out of trouble. The girlfriend was attending classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. It was there that my fascination with art and artists took hold. For awhile I lived in a communal household of students and artists, sat in on lectures at the nearby university of Missouri campus, and met Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, after he gave a poetry reading. The poet and Peter Orlovsky came to the house where I was living and Allen encouraged me to start writing when I showed him some free verse I had written. Over the years until his death, I saw Allen socially a number of times, in California and New York, and he always reminded me of our first meeting. He seemed proud that I had become a writer. That evolution was in the future, though.

First, I had to do time in the cell that was previously occupied by Bruno Hauptmann, who was convicted and executed for the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Until O.J. Simpson came along, that was the trial of the 20th century. My plea bargain, obviously, didn’t wash with the judge. He was up for re-election and the local paper ran an editorial saying he didn’t deserve his seat on the bench if I didn’t do time. I hadn’t even brought a tooth brush to court.

So, it was off to Bruno’s old cell. I wrote in notebooks and drove the guards nuts by doing yoga exercises in the nude. We were locked in our cells most of the day and the only people who saw me were the guards and the trustee who delivered meals. It was the trustee who brought me a clipping from a newspaper announcing a one act play competition sponsored by the Street Theater unit at McCarter Theater in nearby Princeton, NJ. “You’re always writing,” the trustee said. “Maybe you should send something.”

I had just finished a short story in one of my notebooks, and decided to make it into a play. The trustee made sure the final manuscript, which I printed by hand in block letters, got mailed. A couple months later, in a letter addressed care of the warden, I received notification that my play was one of three scripts chosen for production. The letter also informed me of the performance dates, which fell within my time left to serve. I began a daily letter writing campaign addressed to the judge who sentenced me. It worked and he called me before the court and agreed that I should be released to see the production, only to return the next morning.

I was in culture shock sitting outside the stone façade of McCarter Theater on a clear, warm summer night with some friends who picked me up and drove me to see my first play performed. The play was an absurdist fantasy with an anti-war theme. At the end there was complete silence. Then a young actor who was master of ceremonies for the evening jumped up on the stage and announced the next play. I never heard any applause or saw the actors take a bow. To this day I have no idea if people liked the play or not, as I didn’t see any of the subsequent presntations. It did not matter, though. I was hooked on writing, and writing drama in particular.

It may have been a cruel joke on the part of the universe, for it was never so easy again – and returning to jail the next morning was tough. But, I only had two months left on my sentence and an escape would have really fucked things up for me.

Shortly after my release, I met a newspaper editor in a bar and he hired me on the spot. Soon, I was a stringer for the Daily News. Purely by chance and happenstance, I built up a good resume and eventually wrote for the top papers and magazines in the country – NY Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Smithsonian, etc.

I’ve never told this whole story to anyone, and that’s not the half of it. It feels rather cathartic. Thanks for reading it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

RATSACK

Today I had a visit from Ratsack www.ratsack.com. He wants me to direct him as he polishes his one man show. The guy is funny, professional, and very talented. He's got a great look, too. He was a long time court jester to the poetry slam scene in Atlanta, which led to his appearance on HBO’s Def Poetry.

Ratsack and his lady, Sharon, were on their way to Syracuse where he’ll showcase his act in front of college bookers. My bet is he picks up at least a few gigs. He’s doing a hilarious riff on toes and another on how he was conceived thanks to the film Nosferatu. His final “number” is going to be the Sad Gladiator.

He also wanted to talk about adding music and dancers to the show. My advice was simple – keep it a solo act, at least for the time being. In this economic climate – and with the various other factors impacting theater and performance, which I will address when the World Series is over – a genuinely entertaining one man show is much more likely to be successful

My friend Spats White SpatsWhite.com has created a superb dramatic monologue that he delivers as the late 1960s/70s era entertainer Tiny Tim. Spats grew up in show business. All the greats – Groucho, Uncle Miltie, Sid Caesar, and the one and only Joe Franklin – befriended Spats when he was young. Anyway, enough blathering of someone else’s resume. My point is this – Spats says he’s never seen anything like the current climate in showbiz. “”If you can’t pack up your show in a valise and move on to the next appearance, it’s going to be very tough. These are not normal times.”

Not sure what that bodes for me, what with operas and musical and all, but we do what we do. I did write a dramatic monologue “Byron in Hell” earlier this year. My agent is currently flogging it and hopefully we’ll have a deal in London soon. However, there’s no way I could play the great Romantic poet, not without some serious plastic surgery anyway.

And so, I’m now going to devote myself to watching the game. This time of year baseball is an overwhelming distraction – when the Yankees are in it.

Go Yankees!

Friday, October 30, 2009

THE MISSIONARY POSITION

Maybe this is one of those evenings when I should skip blogging. I just got back from the Deer Head Inn down the road a mile from my house in Delaware Water Gap. http://www.deerheadinn.com (click for their web page.) The Deer Head has been a jazz club for going on 60 years. It’s a kooky shaped room but it works. I played several gigs there with the Radio Aces, back in my ukulele broadcaster daze. Tonight JJ Deluxe called me around 8:30 – just as I was settling down to write a serious blog entry – and said I had to come hear this vocalist. Her name is Stephanie Nakasian. She was very good, with excellent control and a real jazzy delivery.

Today was a gardening day. I got the final patch of ginseng planted in my woods; then in the kitchen garden the garlic went into the ground. It’s very late for me to be getting the garlic into the ground. Tradition has it being planted around Columbus Day. I noticed the beets and carrots needed a final thinning. For dinner I wrapped some goat cheddar from a farm about 65 miles southwest of here, wrapped in young chard and escarole leaves from the garden, along with some fresh bread. I picked up the cheese last week at the Allentown Farmers market.

Usually the planting of the garlic is the sign for me to start heading into the city more and more. I’ve been missing the city but hunkering down here and doing some more writing seemed essential. Now it’s time for me to start getting out more. Which I guess is why it was so easy for Deluxe to coax me out.

I was reading on Salon today about what a comer ginseng is as a crop. The Chinese are pouring all sorts of millions into ginseng farming in Wisconsin. What really interested me though was the account by the Jesuit whose observations set off the ginseng craze in North America, which eventually led to the extraction of all wild ginseng. I’ve always said that before getting into drying I want to try the fresh root. This priest made it sound like the fresh root had properties akin to coca leaves. Anyway, the upshot of it all is that woods grown ginseng is still the most sought after in the world, and in 4 more years I’m going to start having ample mature roots every year. Did ever I mention that ginseng is my 401K?

Here's the Salon link:
http://www.salon.com/technology/how_the_world_works/2009/10/30/the_globalization_of_ginseng


The Ginseng Jesuit led me to thinking about Ignatz Pfeffercorn, the Jesuit who combed the Southwest region of North America in search of varieties of hot chile peppers. I guess all that missionary work did have some value.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Celebration or Power?

Here's a link to coverage of a recent, and spectacular, street theater piece in Berlin, celebrating the reunion of the city 20 years ago:


http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/10/the_berlin_reunion.html


Here's a link to an article on the most powerful people on Broadway:

http://www.broadwayspace.com/page/broadways-50-most-powerful

Celebration or power? Which is theater really about?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

FAILURE

Today I want to talk about failure. Reading about other people’s failures, and subsequent successes often inspires me. Dominick Dunne's career comes immediately to mind. There’s a YouTube video titled Best Motivational Video Ever that chronicles this thinking very well. (Click the title to see it.) So maybe talking about one of my own failures will help bring about some success.

Il Viaggio del Serpente (The Voyage of the Serpent) was the Plexus failure that almost made me write off the group’s activities in 1988. I would, of course, succumb to the allure of the group’s experimental opera/theater one more time in 1989 with the Italian tour of Columbus Voyages to the Planet Art. But in 1987-1988, we were all talking about “The Serpent”.

I really went to work on this piece with abandon. It had the makings of being the kind of spectacle that no one could ignore. I began to design the piece and meet with artists. My plan was to have the world’s first opera in the form of a parade. It was to be street theater on a magnificent level. My first play was produced by the street theater unit at McCarter Theater in Princeton. In the early 197os, I lived in Vermont for a year and one of my neighbors down the road was Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater. Their spectacles, albeit performed in a field as opposed to an urban street setting, further influenced my thinking about free public theatrical performances. My subsequent and tenuous – to say the least – affiliation with Theater for the New City in Manhattan also led to an appreciation of this métier. So, Il Viaggio del Serpente was to be my personal piece de resistance.

I drew up plans which included a serpent that could be assembled in the street, modular construction style, much as we undertook in Eve – which I promise to write about soon. Participating artists would each be given 12-foot lengths of canvas 40 inches wide, stenciled with a large set of musical staff lines. Each artist would then use whatever imagery, or abstraction, he or she chose to portray musical notation. Canvas carrying straps would be strategically sewn so that each length could be carried over the shoulder of three people. Grommets and ties at either end would serve as the links between each section. Thus, we would have a serpent with musical scales.

The serpent would have two sides and the singers/chanters would be 2 or 3 abreast in between. I also came up with a conical shaped hat design – hats are often important to my costuming concepts, as you’ll learn if you follow this blog or get a chance to see some my shows realized onstage. Everyone within the serpent – musicians, artists, carriers – would wear one of these hats, as well as a poncho-style piece of fabric. The wide part of the hats' conical shape was to be the top and obviously the crowns would be fitted to individuals heads at the bottom. Tops would be closed and painted different colors. The outsides of the hats would be painted with polka dots. This way, as the parade moved through the streets, the dots would undulate like the back of a serpent if seen or filmed from above, for example from a helicopter.

Eric Roberts, the movie actor, who was a friend of mine in those days, agreed to be the parade marshal. He would ride in a Cadillac with a papier mache serpent’s head over the hood. The music was to be all fanfares, and simple lyrics/chants would be created to suit the music. A raised platform on the trunk of the car would be for the conductor. The main body of musicians would follow right behind that. Depending on the final length of the piece, units of musicians would be strategically placed in various sections of the serpent to follow the conductor’s lead. These placements would facilitate the singers and the audience along the way hearing the music at the same time rather than having it waft back from the front.

Rudolf Pippei, the nightclub impresario, was running The Tunnel at the time. He loved the entire concept and agreed to help finance the purchase of materials.

Sandro, who was out of the country during much of my planning, returned. He didn’t like the idea at all. It was too much, too large an undertaking. He had something quite different in mind. Plexus was nothing if it was not Sandro’s effort first and foremost. I didn’t argue with him, though I was seriously disappointed. The artists who had previously been enthused drifted away from the project. I soon found out what Sandro had in mind.

One evening a few core members of Plexus gathered in the President’s Dining Room atop the Bobst Library at NYU. There I was given a gas mask and along with everyone else in the troupe we did a kind of line dance through the assembled audience of academics, to recorded music, as I recall. The Italian television network RAI, at Sandro’s urging, sent a camera crew. My big moment in front of the camera, I lifted the gas mask off my face and said “Save the rain forest.” This apparently got aired in Italy. The next year when I was in Rome, several people commented/complimented me on my “political performance.”

I found the final realization pathetic, no matter who covered it. When Sandro arranged for us to do a similar version in Dakar, Senegal a few months later, I declined to go. It was, for me, a failure. I had burned up some good will and energy to no avail. An interesting idea became a haphazard lurching happening staged for a handful of professors.

I was writing all sorts of magazine articles at the time and shrugged my shoulders at the outcome. Plexus was becoming something quite other than my vision for it, and no matter how much Sandro praised my efforts as impresario and dramaturge, I felt very frustrated. My grand idea – an opera in the form of a parade – should have been too big to fail.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weather or Not

The sky was suicide gray today and a cold rain fell. Winter is coming much too quickly. Then JJ Deluxe called and he was apparently unhappy about my proposed song list for the new band. The old cowboy songs really aren’t very 21st century, or medicine show appropriate, I guess. Yesterday the weather forecast failed to mention rain today. Do you think anybody feels bad about that? I get the feeling weather people are kind of like politicians - lots of promises followed by “oops” and “oh well.”

Some emails helped lift my mood, though. Guy Lockard, who last year was a featured player in my show “Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!” (soon to be “Ukulele Land”) sent me a link to his new Powerball commercial. I didn’t understand the commercial. You watch it and see if you can figure it out. (Guy is on the right of the screen in the elevator.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=-TUrRfJkSPo


It made me smile to see Guy working even if I didn’t quite get the chicken feathers. He’s a very talented young man and I expect we’ll all hear lots more from him. Best of all, however, is the fact that I play Powerball for a dollar twice a week and I felt luckier somehow after watching the spot. Maybe this will be my week!?! I’ve got a connection now, right? Anyway, I’d rather bet on Powerball than weather forecasts or politicians.

Then there was this article in the NY Times today about hard luck and a theatrical comeback. What a great story! http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/nyregion/27bigcity.html?hp

Enzo Capone, a friend of my Plexus collaborator Sandro Dernini, sent me a link to his evolving website about food and art www.tastearts.com. He lives in the 718 area code and reads this blog. He's got some interesting food items on his site. For example, something I didn't know, 2008 was the U.N. Year of the Potato.

Then at the end of the day I got an email from a producer responding to something I sent her about 10 days ago. She wants to meet. So, who knows? At least she’s not Ukrainian.

The weather didn’t change much but it did get dark.

I’m going to spend the evening reading Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson”. One of these days I’ll actually get all the way through this tome.

I’ve been getting a few Face Book communications and emails about this blog. (Nobody ever comments on the actual blog page for some reason.) It’s funny. People in the country who are reading want more about the theater. People in the city want more about farming and food. I want a cigar and will settle for a cheroot.

Tomorrow I’ll get started earlier. Today was a mental health day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

SNAKE OIL ELIXIR

Do I really need to start another band? My new script is starting to gel, even at this early stage. Ideas and hooks for the songs are flowing. I’m focused. Plus, I’ve got this blog to keep up. There’s three things I love that don’t make any sense, as they never made me a millionaire – writing alone in a well-lit room, working in a dark theater to get a new show up and running, and playing on stage with other musicians for an appreciative crowd. Today I talked it over with JJ Deluxe and he agreed to be part of a new band and that was basically enough for me to announce the formation of “Uke Jackson’s Snake Oil Elixir and 21st Century Medicine Show.”

Mr. Deluxe came by with a half bushel of hot peppers this morning and we talked while making some killer hot pepper relish. Deluxe played in two of my past bands – “Uke Jackson and the Radio Aces”, which was the home team for my radio show, and the “Delaware River Ukulele Guild” (do the initials). I also have to say that playing with JJ Deluxe over the years taught me more about making good music than anyone else. We also, obviously, share the hot pepper obsession.

One thing is that JJ Deluxe is first and foremost a trad jazz musician. My tastes tend to be a bit more eclectic. However, in our recent sessions playing tunes, he’s shown a willingness to go beyond the usual parameters (which include some of the best music ever written or played). Another thing, though, is that when playing with Deluxe the music comes from a place of relaxation and fun. So, I guess it’s not surprising that we’re off on another musical adventure.

I came across an old German proverb recently that, translated, reads: “Trees never touch the sky.” After mulling it over for awhile, its meaning became evident and it depressed me a bit, even though I recognize the truth in the statement. A band is a way to avoid being too rooted, I guess. So are theater productions. I'm the total of myself when collaborating to see a show realized on stage. How did I come to choose playing music as a fall back position to career as a playwright? I’m munching a handful of pistachios from a bowl while writing and another old saying comes to mind: “You are what you eat.”

Maybe starting a new band is nuts. But the whole world seems more than a little crazy right now, so what the hell. Live music makes life better.

Soon we’ll be folkin’ around on a stage. I’ve got a guitar player wants to play, and a gal fiddle player who will play with us when her schedule allows, though I’d entertain the idea of another fiddle player as first seat on that instrument just because this gal is so busy. I got a bag full of tambourines, maracas, shakers, bells and whistles for the young actress/singers who will be joining us for back up vocals. There are a couple nominees for washboard. We’re looking for a harmonica player, if you know someone, and a keyboardist might work, too. And, being a 21st century medicine show band, we have an expert on playing musical iPhone apps.

If you know any documentary maker who might want to make a film about a 21st Century medicine show band from inception at least thru the first gig, please send that person my way!
Soon!

I’m designing the label for the Snake Oil Elixir. It will be sold from the stage and have a secret ingredient. There will be 2 sizes – large and small – and the bottles themselves will be collectible works of art. The Snake Oil Elixir will be better than Viagra, when topically applied and orally removed. It will only be available at gigs and maybe through my website. It will also cure neuritis, neuralgia, dog flu, and poverty. It will provide pep, vim and vigor to every minute of every day, and make you sleep better at night. Best get yours as soon as its available.

Fuck Big Pharma their endless TV commercials! Those touts of 4 hour erections got nothing on my 21st Century Medicine Show. We be live!

So, here’s a probable song list in no particular order, with one more quote first:

“The night before he swung
He sang to his mandolin.”
Willa Cather

King of the Road (Roger Miller)
Dang Me
Do Something (by Morton Downey Sr.)
Kansas City Kitty
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Take Me Home, Country Roads
When You’re Smiling
eBaying at the Ukulele Moon (by Yours Truly)
John Hardy
Round A Western Water Tank
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)
Ja-da
Tin Roof Blues
Struttin’ With Some Barbeque
Frankie and Johnny
Jack o’ Diamonds
A Cowboy's Life
Midnight in Moscow
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of This Jellyroll
Love Is Just Around the Corner

Limehouse Blues
16 Tons
Thick Stack of Hundred Dollar Bills
Back in the High Life (Steve Winwood)
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
Will You Love Me Tomorrow
All of Me

And more tunes yet to be nominated by band members and decided upon collectively. We might never make any money but we’re going to have some fun!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ah, More Food!

Ah, the best laid plans of playwrights and other sentient beings. I promise to get back to writing about theatrical endeavors, disasters and personalities soon. Meanwhile, I’m still here in the country and music and local food keep me occupied. This is a good thing, as both these elements will play a big part in my new show. I made the first scratches on paper yesterday – so the beginnings of the script and one of the songs are in existence.

After writing in the morning, I went out to my buddy Frank’s farm to make paprika. On the way I picked up a 20 pound bag of organic potatoes from his next door neighbor, who farms some of Frank’s fields. I’d stopped by there the day before yesterday with my friends Madi and Mike, as they wanted to take some farm food back to Manhattan with them. They were flabbergasted at the price -- $9 for 20 pounds – compared to what they pay at the Union Square Green Market. I wasn’t exactly flabbergasted but did note that Roger raised the price a buck from last year. Oh well.

Anyway, I got to Frank’s and he had the smoker going full bore. Frank lost a leg due to a botched operation three or four years ago. He zips around in an electric wheelchair. His farm is a classic. It reeks of authenticity. Everything has its place and is utilitarian, no matter how colorful it all looks in the aggregate. Yesterday Frank was smoking sweet red peppers using apple, hickory and oak woods.

This is our third year making paprika in the autumn. Frank orders the plants to be started at a local greenhouse, using heirloom seeds and in the spring Roger and some part time farm hands and volunteers put the seedlings in the ground when the danger of frost is past. Frank always grows a few hot pepper plants, too. Everything gets smoked and then dried in an electric unit that he uses. I show up with my food processor and pulverize the dried smoked peppers. Then I separate the powder from the seeds and coarser flakes using a strainer and a wooden pestle. The result is an exquisite smoked paprika that you can’t buy anywhere at any price. It’s incredible in soups, on cut roasted potatoes and in all sorts of other dishes.

We get two basic grades of paprika – the fine powder and “pizza grade” – which has the consistency of crushed red pepper you find in pizzerias. We also make the tastes vary by using hot peppers with sweet red mountain peppers. We call this our zesty paprika. Everybody who works on the peppers, from spring through the final product, gets a jar of fine and pizza grade for their own use.

And speaking of pizza, that’s one way Frank gets people to volunteer to work on his farm. He makes the most incredible, thin crust homemade pizza and serves it to you for lunch. It’s a different topping every time, always delicious, and always, always, zestily spiced.

Frank is unusual character. On the one hand, he’s a bachelor farmer in the classic mold. On the other hand he’s an educated litterateur. He taught journalism at Columbia, worked at Rodale press as the editor of Organic Farmer magazine, and he was a night editor at the local daily until he lost his leg. These days his editorial efforts are limited to writing copy for the ever changing labels on his garlic vinegar. The garlic vinegar you can get by searching for Rolling Hills Farm on LocalHarvest.org

Frank invited me to come out this Sunday for a special tasting. Ten years ago, we made several barrels of organic hard cider from apples in his orchard. (Frank was an organic farmer before it became stylish, way before.) Needless to say, a lot of the cider got drunk. Or should I say a few of us got real drunk. I vaguely recall one time drinking so much down in the cider cellar that I ate fresh smoked venison – even though I was a vegetarian at the time – before napping on the dirt floor for several hours.

Anyway, Frank being Frank, he put aside 15 glass carboys (5 gallon jugs) to age. So, this Sunday, he’s having an open house. Every person has to bring 2 gourmet sandwiches. We’ll be siphoning pitchers of the 10 year old cider and tasting it. Some will be vinegar, of course – which is a good thing. But some of it is sure to have mellowed into something truly worth quaffing. I suppose a blog report will be in order.

Speaking of quaffing, though – last night I had pumpkin ale that was brewed locally at The Gem and Keystone in Shawnee on the Delaware. It was an excellent brew made with pumpkins grown right in the restaurant’s kitchen garden. It was the grand opening last night. The menu is “locavore” and I’m looking forward to going there for a meal soon. Last night they were serving an array of Pennsylvania-made artisan cheese.

The Gem and Keystone is the brainchild of Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood, who own the Shawnee resort (and the Shawnee Playhouse, a charming little theater less than 5 miles from my house. Fred Waring used to broadcast his radio show from the theater, and Jackie Gleason owned a home on the resort grounds.)

Now that I’m warmed up, I’m off to work on my new show.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Doctor Said Give 'em Jug Band Music


Today I have guests from the city. Our friends Mike and Madi came out yesterday afternoon. And then JJ Deluxe, saxophonist and hot pepper farmer, showed up with his curved soprano sax, and we broke out the washboards. Madi doubled on washboard And baritone ukulele, Mike doubled on washboard and iPhone apps. (Note the iPhone in his hand. I had to ask him to stop when he was playing the iPhone cymbals.) I played my Gibson tenor uke, of course. Sara cooked and snapped the pix.

Please note the nearly empty whiskey bottle on the windown sill. Madi's elbow is pointing at it. I was drinking wine but that bottle didn't make it into the picture. The smile, however, is totally illegal.

We played some blues, some old jazz standards, and my own original "Thick Stack of Hundred Dollars Bills". The last song was a request from the teenagers who were gathered in another part of the house. I played it solo for some of them recently. They wanted to hear the "band" do it and we gave them a rousing version.

It was a real jug band/string band kind of evening. Afterward, we went across the street to the neighbor's house and drank up some of his booze while watching the Yankees clobber the Angels (!!!!!) and talked til 1 am.

Back home, I went outside on the deck once everybody was in bed and all the lights were off, wrapped in an overcoat, and watched for the Orionid meteor shower. I saw a couple smudges, then one brilliant large meteor shot across the sky and the clouds rolled in from the other direction. I'll try again tonight if it's clear.

I'm taking Mike and Madi to the top of Camelback Mountain today to see the foliage. Then we're going to Hallet's -- a country lunch counter right out of days gone by. From there we'll pop by Farmer Frank's place, where I'm going to plant a few ginseng seeds on his wooded north-facing slope -- as part of my personal Johnny-Ginseng-restoration-of-this-native-species-to-the- Delaware-River-watershed project.

From Frank's we'll take the back roads home and drive through Cherry Valley -- America's newest US Fish and Wildlife preserve -- right to my house, which is grandfathered into the preserve. Mike and Madi came out to see the autumn foliage. Well, today they will see it in blazing glory.

Tomorrow I'll get back to topics more theatrical. Peace.