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Friday, March 19, 2010


Mental health break from the internet through the end of March.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Ancient Laws of Glitter

The New York Times finally noticed that H.Hm Koutoukas passed on March 6. One nice thing about the Times, though, is that when they publish an obit, it is thorough.

That's why this is worth a read.

H.M. said to me on one occasion that I should have attended his School for Gargoyles. When I tried to ply more info from him, he told me to keep being outrageous and I would do fine. I gathered that the school was no longer operational and must confess I wondered if it was some cosmic idea Harry had for the future.

Pay attention now, kids.

He never mentioned any of the alumni. The Times did: Gerome Ragni and James Rado (those guys who wrote HAIR), Tom O'Horgan, and Harvey Fierstein.

The Times also included Harry's last request: “Please bury me on a spit,” he told the arts magazine Bomb in 1983, “so every time there’s a bad theater production I’ll turn automatically.”

R.I.P. Playwright

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Penny Arcade

This 5 minute interview with performance artist Penny Arcade is well worth a click.

Here's the "money" quote, in case you're too busy:

"For an artist like me, the times have always been lean. I do not receive grants that even people who have created work for five years receive. I do not depend on people to give me money to make my work. I make it anyway. When I am not given theater space, I rent an empty hall. I create work that the public wants to see whether or not I am in favor with arts administration. I create theater to break down self isolation and to assuage sorrow. That is never out of style. Be pro-active. Never take no for an answer. Accept full responsibility for yourself and your work."

This Is Not a Review

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a well-staged reading at Ensemble Studio Theater in Manhattan. What a pleasure to see something done properly, and what a change from my recent experience here in the country.

For a reading to merit praise, it requires two things: a good script and a good cast. J. Holtham, the playwright of last night's offering at EST, had both. His cast, led by Scott Sowers, Seret Scott, and Michael Louis Wells, did an excellent job bringing Holtham's well wrought characters to life. Manifesto is the title of the piece.

Now, to indulge in a bit of heresy and to prove that I, too, suffer from the theater's most prevalent disease -- the desire to rewrite someone else's play (some call it "development") -- I think J. Holtham should turn this into a musical. It's all set up for it and much of the dialogue could be cast in verse and set to music, it seems to me. Then all he needs to do is add an exclamation point and call it Manifesto!

On another note, I'm ecstatic. Blue flowers are bursting into bloom outside my shack here in Pennsylvania. This means the yellow flowers can't be far behind. The garlic is poking up. Wild onions are starting to fatten enough to pull some this weekend for use in soup. Spring is here, folks.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I began March with a post about this irksome experience (click). When first posted it included a couple paragraphs as to why this particular contest offends me so much. Within an hour or two of posting I went back in and edited out my thoughts about the contest. My reasoning was depraved, or possibly desperate. I cut the lines because I might lose a gig if certain people were to see them. I know how things work around here (click).
Ever since tapping away the existence of those explanatory words with my delete key, a sense of duplicity and collusion nagged at me. So here’s why I declined to associate myself with the Shawnee Playhouse Playwrights competition:
The Shawnee Playhouse is owned and operated by Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort. This was the third year of their competition for dramatists. It costs $15 to enter. Last year the competition was won by Rob Howell.
Rob Howell is the General Manager of the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort and sits on the executive board of the Worthington Players, which is the nonprofit amateur troupe at the Shawnee Playhouse during the off season. Let me put that in perspective. Other than the owners, this is the top executive at the resort which controls the theater.
Which is where my lost series of gigs comes in: The Shawnee Inn also owns the Gem and Keystone, a pleasant locavore eatery and microbrewery where JJ Deluxe and I got booked for a last minute Valentine’s Day gig a month ago yesterday. I was hoping to get more gigs there. It’s just not worth it, though.
I’m not trying to hold myself up as a saint. I have what used to be called a checkered past (and that ain’t the half of it).
Anyway, that’s why I felt so strongly about not being associated with this playhouse’s contest. I went in January to see Rob Howell’s winning entry. It was ten unconnected 10 minute plays. It was about as innocuous as one can get and still be called drama.
I don’t blame Rob Howell. The guy is a failed thespian. He’s a nice guy approaching middle age, with a nice wife and a good job. I doubt there was even any overt pressure from him to choose his submission. There didn’t have to be. He’s the boss.
Given this post and this post, (that's in case you didn't click them above) I don’t blame Rob Howell. Corruption is so endemic to the cultural scene here in the Poconos he likely did not even realize what he was doing.
However, Midge McCloskey, who runs the playhouse for the resort, as a paid employee, is not so long out of the professional theater scene, according to her resume, that she could have missed the impropriety of Howell winning the competition.
I take being a dramatist seriously. I may be self educated and a jail bird, but I still feel that, being lucky enough to have my plays and musicals produced, my efforts have to be as well-crafted and as honest as is within my power. I want the process to be clean and I want the business that allows the process to be clean as well.
That’s not going to happen for me as a playwright in Pennsylvania, though. This is the place where two governors – Tom Ridge and Eddie “Fat Cat” Rendell poured tens of millions of commonwealth taxpayers’ dollars into the sinkhole known as the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts; razing along the way one of the last vestiges of the great work done by the ILGWU – their summer camp, which was on the Register of National Historic Places; and finally giving the surrounding square mile of pristine forest and lake to developers from Philadelphia, after promising every which way to Heaven that the land would remain untouched. This last bunch are cronies of Fat Cat Rendell, and it happened on his watch.
But that’s the way it goes in Pennsylvania politics, especially with Fat Cat Rendell in the gov’s mansion. When the voters voted against casino gambling, Fat Cat signed it into law by virtue of executive order and backroom arm twisting. Here in the Poconos, that led to a mob-connected garbage hauling magnate getting the casino license. That process was so blatantly corrupt as to be laughable that everything is so open.
Two primary bidders wanted the casino license. One of them, a contractor from NJ, bought the abandoned former resort property on which he planned to build his casino. He also did a presentation of proposed gaming facility, including architect’s model, blue prints, environmental impact studies, the whole bit. He spent somewhere north of three million dollars. The other bidder bought a resort and went ahead and tore down the existing buildings and built his casino and hotel before the licenses were approved. I’m sure Governor Rendell would chalk it up to one guy being better at positive thinking.
Eventually, justice was served, Pennsylvania style. The garbage hauler was proven to have mob ties – a fact about which he lied during his application process with the gaming commission. (I’m surprised they even bothered to ask, given the way the rest of the process went.) As a result, he lost his casino license. His daughter took over for him and now runs Mount Airy Casino.
Stay tuned – table games are coming to Pennsylvania casinos. I’ll go out for one night to the Sands in Bethlehem to try my luck once cards start turning. It’s about 25 miles further but every time I drive past the turn off for the Mount Airy slots parlor, I think about how it came to be, and my mind naturally segues to the roulette table in Casablanca.
But I digress.
So there you go. I don’t think Midge McCloskey has to worry about a RICO indictment for ripping off some wannabe playwrights of $15. The Shawnee Inn and the Mount Airy Casino will survive my slings and arrows. In fact, they might even take the Lillie Langtry position that all publicity is good publicity. Rob Howell can still walk around and saying he’s the author of 10 – count ‘em: 10 – prize- winning plays. Eddie Fat Cat Rendell will probably be appointed the next chair of the DNC when he leaves Harrisburg. The ILGWU Summer Camp will be a housing development and the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts will continue to be ignored as the symbol of foolishness, corruption, waste, and hubris that it is.
I’ll still have what’s left of my integrity, for whatever that’s worth.
This will be my last post about the Shawnee Playhouse as long as no one from there sends me any more insane emails.
Have a Happy Ides of March.
-- Uke Jackson

Thursday, March 11, 2010

R.I.P. H. M. Koutoukas

I posted a notice on my Face Book page but forgot to post it here. (I've been sick in bed for the last 3 daze -- that's my excuse.)

Harry Koutoukas was a true original. The Village Voice called him the Godfather of Off Broadway. We served as judges of the TNC Halloween costume contest together. I saw him many times over the years and he was always charming and embracing, effusive and witty.

There was tribute at Judson Memorial Church on Thursday evening but I couldn't make it. (My doctor actually ordered me to stay in bed until Saturday.) Saturday afternoon there's a tribute at LaMama with the screening of a film about him.

He died last Saturday. I'm not an organized religion sort, but this sermon at Judson Memorial the next day is worth a click.

H.M Koutoukas will always be remembered with love. R.I.P. Playwright.

About that license

Patti Smith
Lanford Wilson
Sam Shepard
Edward Albee

All alive. All artists or entertainers of considerable stature (whatever your personal opinion of them may be, there's no denying it).

None of them graduated from college. Certainly none of them got an MFA.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Nobody had to buy either of these two an MFA, or even a BA. They were born artists, knew it, and went with it. It's an amazing, compelling read.(click)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I forgot to post this (click) here.

The article is really more about me and my music than me and my plays.

Don't know that I'd call myself a master of any instrument but then again, the writer did it, not me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


There's a benefit for Tuli Kupferberg, pacifist anarchist co-founder of The Fugs (click). . It's at the Bowery Poetry Club, 303 Bowery, in the East Village, from 8 - 11pm. Admission is $10.

Tuli is 86(!) now and suffered a stroke and is having problems with his medical insurance company -- big surprise that is. Anyway, it's only $10 bucks for a great cause. David Amram, Penny Arcade, Bob Holman, Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, and many other musicians, poets and performers-- yours truly included -- will be playing, reading and generally entertaining what is shaping up to be a crowd. The hat will be passed so that we can raise as much as possible to help Tuli.

And if you can't make it, you can watch live on the web:

-- Uke Jackson

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My dear old friend Paul Moore started Ukuleles for Peace -- a program that brings together Israeli and Arab children to make music together. An Italian film maker made a documentary about the program. It was sponsored by Aquila Strings, maker of the planet's finest ukulele strings (FULL DISCLOSURE: Aquila was a sponsor of New York Uke Fest when I founded it in 2006. The company also sponsors my band the NY Ukulele Ensemble -- meaning we get free strings.)

Anyway, these two YouTube videos present the project. Not certain if this is the entire documentary or just a taste. Either way, it's excellent.

The Ukuleles for Peace orchestra was invited to perform at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver but couldn't find the necessary funding to get there. However, there is the future. If you have a PayPal account, there's a link for you to donate $5 or $10 or $20. Click HERE to see see the website.

Please help Paul keep Ukuleles for Peace going. Peace through music is a great idea. Check out the vids below:



Monday, March 1, 2010

Fool me once, shame on you

Okay. It’s been twenty four hours and I’ve cooled off some since seeing the “staged reading” of my musical “Ukulele Land” at the Shawnee Playhouse. For most of my life, and much to my detriment as a playwright, I’ve given people second chances. My attitude about that changed a couple years ago and yesterday confirmed that “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is the best policy. My first action upon arriving home was to send the “artistic” director, Midge McCloskey, an email withdrawing the show from consideration for production

Have you ever gone to the track and watched the jockeys do a foot race, with horses nowhere to be seen? That’s what yesterday was like for me. The reading, which was a cold reading in front of an audience, HAD NO MUSIC WHATSOEVER. The unrehearsed actors did their best.

The “artistic” director told me beforehand that the reading might have no music. At that point I told her there was nothing for me to gain by such a reading. The show was produced and reviewed in Manhattan. What could such a reading possibly do for me, as a playwright, or for the reputation of the show?

The “artistic” director then said that she would include some recorded songs from the original production. I was still opposed. Then she played her trump card.

“I’d like to have the reading so I can hear it to help me decide whether to produce it here,” she said. Well, she didn’t even bother to show up for the reading. Not only that, her assistant pointedly stayed in the lobby throughout the entire reading, and told me she didn’t catch any of it.

That’s not the half of it, though. I was told there would be one 10-minute play staged with mine. There were four other plays, all of them longer than 10 minutes. Mine was staged last.

First, the mercifully small audience had to sit through a series of poems delivered as unconnected monologues; a somewhat interesting but inchoate piece about a priest who got caught with a naked woman in the rectory; a clich├ęd attempt at comedy set in a therapist’s office; and something called the “Scranton Poetry Opera” which was disconnected poems from a seniors’ poetry workshop and a children’s poetry workshop that someone – the instructor, I guess – mashed together. And I do mean mashed.

All weekend long there were staged readings from the Shawnee Playhouse playwrights’ contest. Ginny Kirkwood, who, with her husband Charlie, owns the theater as well as the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort where the playhouse is situated, asked me to submit something to be considered for production there. Originally, she mentioned this playwrights contest. I told her I don’t enter playwriting contests. She then had me contact McCloskey, said “artistic” director. Again I was invited to enter the contest and declined. At this point McCloskey asked me to send her something anyway, which I did.

Anyway, I agreed that my musical could be read as part of the weekend so McCloskey could hear it. I made it quite clear to McCloskey that in no way was I to be considered in competition with the poor playwrights who had paid to be part of this contest.

So, imagine my dismay when on Friday in the Weekend section of the local paper there was my musical (title misspelled) listed as one of the entries from the contest that would be read over the weekend. The unsigned piece was clearly a press release reprinted pretty much verbatim (standard procedure at a lot of papers). It was already in print so there was no point in raising a ruckus.

Sunday afternoon I went to the theater and sat through the other offerings. Finally, the woman who was running the show and reading stage directions stood up and announced the reading of “Ukulele Land” and said that there was “no music” (there is/was but someone decided it was too much bother to include it). As I said, this appeared to be a cold reading. The mistress of ceremonies/stage reader even said something about no rehearsals.

I must say the actors who read my script seemed to be having a ball. The audience, which of course was comprised of mainly of the other playwrights who entered the contest, seemed a bit dismayed – as though a ringer had been slipped in (which of course it had). Several times in the reading the stage manager cut off actors in the middle of song lyrics and made jokes about how long the lyric was/is and/or the subject matter of the rest of the song. Stage directions were almost non existent in this reading.

Fortunately, this script is well constructed and presents it own theatrical reality (a comic dystopian world at the end of the 21st century) so tightly that even this dishonest presentation of the material could not hide its merits. Not that I think anyone was trying to hide its merits.

Since McCloskey didn’t bother to show up, I have no idea why this abuse of me as a working artist took place. The Kirkwoods didn’t attend either.

So, there won’t be a production of “Ukulele Land” here in the Pocono mountains any time soon. It’s sad because the playhouse is a sweet little theater (about 200 seats) with a great history and tons of potential.

Am I the only playwright who has these kinds of pathetic experiences? Do I attract this sort of abuse?

-- Uke Jackson