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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!