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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

STAGED READING OF "UKULELE LAND"

Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA is staging a reading of my musical comedy "Ukulele Land" this Sunday February 28 at 2 pm. Admission is free.

I will be there. The artistic director is staging the reading and I'm only showing up on Sunday. I do know that any musical element will be pre-recorded.

"Ukulele Land"
was first presented as a showcase in Manhattan under the title "Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ukuleles for Peace in Israel

My dear old friend Paul Moore has for several years now run a program in Israel that brings Arab and Jewish children together to make music. He does it on a shoestring, often supplementing the program with his meager earnings as a full time novelty musician. His program is called Ukuleles for Peace. If you click the words "Ukuleles for Peace" anywhere in this post it will link to the website.

This year Ukuleles for Peace was invited to bring their orchestra of children to Vancouver for the Olympics. Unfortunately, the financial crisis made getting the funding impossible and the group was unable to participate.

I just sent $20 to Ukuleles for Peace from my PayPal account as a donation. Join me, please.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Songs this week

So, I've been playing guitar again. To challenge myself I've been playing tunes out of "The World's Greatest Dixieland Fake Book." I couldn't find a link. Mine's a photocopy a tenor banjo player gave me.

I put in 2 or 3 hours each day. Here are the titles I practiced this week on guitar ( I already knew them all on ukulele):

ALABAMA JUBILEE
ALL OF ME
BALLIN' THE JACK
BLUE SKIES
BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME
BYE BYE BLUES
DARK EYES
FIVE FOOT TWO EYES OF BLUE
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW
SOMEDAY YOU'LL BE SORRY
YOU'RE NOBODY 'TIL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU

Now, when I say "practice" what do I mean? I pick the notes of the melody of each song three times, sometimes four if I'm still really lame after three. Then I chop the changes thru several times. I did this for 5 days this week, and will likely do it again tomorrow.

Some of the songs I can now sing while playing with the music in front of me. Some I know instrumentally without the music. "Ballin' the Jack" still wants some work to make it smooth.

I'm glad the guitar is back in my life. I love this reso (not surprisingly, since my main ax is a reso uke I had custom made in Australia). I used to be a solid rhythm guitarist. I forgot how much fun it can be. I love making music!

-- Uke Jackson

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Guitar and tattoo

So, I've been spending a lot of time practicing guitar on the Regal reso JJ Deluxe found for me. I chose a dozen old trad jazz tunes to get up to speed. The complexities of the chord progressions are challenging, and I like that. The whole idea is to get my guitar chops beyond the level they were at when I took a hiatus to become ukulele purist.

Meanwhile, I have this blown up picture of the hula girl from the Sailor Jerry's Spiced Navy Rum bottle (click for link) that I've been contemplating for a couple years now. I was promising myself to get it tattooed on the outside of my left calf, the day after "Ukulele Land" (fka, "Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!")opens in a commercial run. Now I have no idea when that will happen. (A vid of highlights from the show can be found below.

Anyway, I'm tired of waiting, and now I want the image tattooed on the inside of my left forearm. So don't be surprised if one day soon there's a photo of my new body art on this blog. And please don't tell me I'll regret it when I'm old. I waited until I passed the mid-century mark to start collecting tatts.

Meanwhile, here's the vid.



-- Uke Jackson

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Worthwhile reading

The Night I Met Einstein by Jerome Weidman

Please click the above link for a wonderful story about Einstein and music, by the late Pulitzer-winning playwright. It's on Derek Sivers' blog.

Good Riddance to Evan Bayh

Bill Maher speaks the truth here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

THE FINAL THREE


“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekov
translated by Laurence Senelick


“The Truth”
by Clyde Fitch

“The Great Divide”
by William Vaughn Moody


Okay. I had a gig yesterday. It was a job that came in since I pledged to read every play in the book my buddy Spats gave me for my birthday by Valentine’s Day. So, I gave myself an extra day and I cheated – a bit.

First the cheat – I’ve read “The Cherry Orchard” before. I’ve read a lot if not all of Chekov’s plays and short stories. Chekov and I share the same birthday. Lauren Bacall once compared me to Chekov on national television. (Boy, those were the days.) Anyway, last year some one gave me a copy of “The Complete Plays” translated by Laurence Senelick (W.W. Norton, 2006) and instead of reading the cramped print in The Book, I read the new version. Senelick’s is an excellent read. (I skipped all the footnotes.)

I could go on about Peter Brook’s production of “The Cherry Orchard” at the BAM Majestic Theater twenty odd years ago. But I won’t. I’ve forgiven him. Actually, I forgave him that night – for the memory of The Mahabarata in that same space was still fresh in my mind, and that was a brilliant time at the theater, one of the most brilliant ever.

So, next up is “The Truth” by Clyde Fitch. Wikipedia describes him as the first American playwright to be taken seriously. He once had five shows running at the same time on Broadway, and he made a pile of money for his time. He wrote thirty six original plays of various genres, and twenty four adaptations from other literary material.

“The Truth” is about a woman who tells lies as second nature. She’s implicated in an affair she isn’t having. Her husband and she part ways and she goes to her father’s lodgings, which is a big step down. Her father sends a telegram to the husband with the lie that the daughter/wife is dying. The husband rushes there. She refuses to cooperate with her father’s lie, which endears her to her husband even more than the love that arose in his breast upon hearing that his wife was dying. They are ruinted.

It starts out as a pretty snappy comedy and then sort of devolves into moralism. I hope it wasn't meant to be funny after the first act.

Clyde Fitch died at the age of forty four.

Finally, there’s “The Great Divide” by William Vaughn Moody. It’s a classic sort of melodrama, which starts out West with gold mines, desperadoes, a kidnapped woman who strikes a bargain for her life and becomes the wife of her strongest captor. It ends in Boston. The whole story is obvious in retrospect but moved along as I read it so it wasn't noticeable.

Plays read from "Chief Contemporary Dramatists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea" J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous" by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe" by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero

"Michael and his Lost Angel" by Henry Arthur Jones

"Strife" by John Galsworthy

"The Madras House" by Granville-Barker

“Know Thyself”by Paul Hervieu

“The Father” by August Strindberg

“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekov

“The Truth” by Clyde Fitch

“The Great Divide” by William Vaughn Moody

And there you have it -- 20 plays by the chief contemporary dramatists of 95 years ago, if you don't count Shaw and Ibsen. Some of them I'd never heard of before. So, I read them all and now I've made a big deal about. That's kind of strange. I'm a playqwright. Reading plays -- isn't that something I'm supposed to do?

-- Uke Jackson

Friday, February 12, 2010

TWO CHEATERS

“Know Thyself” by Paul Hervieu 1908
Translated by Barry Cerf

“The Father” by August Strindberg 1887
Translated by N. Erichsen

Bullying military officers getting their comeuppance at the hands of cheating women bind these two plays together. Both pieces are moralistic, priggish, and more than a little misogynistic. This last is little surprise with Strindberg, of course.

Both are dated and reading them dragged down my energy, particularly the Hervieu. I began to feel that this blog slog through the book would never end. At least Strindberg’s play was unintentionally amusing, with its obsessive theme that men cannot claim paternity. I couldn’t help thinking “John Edwards would have liked living back then – no paternity tests.”

One thing that I’ve realized is how fleeting a playwright’s fame is. These are the “Chief Contemporary Dramatists” of 1915, according to the title. Less than a hundred years ago – and I’d never heard of nine of the twenty playwrights in this anthology. Likewise, I’ve seen a production of only 2 of the 20 plays included (“Riders to the Sea” and “The Cherry Orchard”).

Three more to slog and blog -- Will I make it by Valentine’s Day?

Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea" J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous" by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe" by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero

"Michael and his Lost Angel" by Henry Arthur Jones

"Strife" by John Galsworthy

"The Madras House" by Granville-Barker

“Know Thyself”by Paul Hervieu

“The Father” by August Strindberg

-- Uke Jackson

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SCOTT BROWN -- The musical

Here it comes -- "You're a Good Man, Scott Brown"

Improv Asylum is excited to announce the opening of a new musical “You’re A Good Man, Scott Brown” at their newly renovated theatre (216 Hanover St., Boston, MA). The show will premiere Sunday, March 21st at 7pm and will continue to run on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Monday, February 8, 2010

THREE MORE PLAYS

MICHAEL AND HIS LOST ANGEL by Henry Arthur Jones 1896

Well, at least I still have some acuity left in my political sensibilities. When reading this play I kept thinking how right-wing and priggish it seemed. Then I read in Wikipedia about Jones’s attacks on G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells for their politics.

This is basically a play about the desire for redemption versus the desire for love, I think. A pastor has written a book which attracts the attention of a rich woman. She secretly underwrites his rebuilding of a shrine on an island. The plot seems cunning and contrived to present the author’s viewpoint. There was very little I could relate to.

Now, I’ll quote Oscar Wilde (per Wikipedia): "There are three rules for writing plays," said Oscar Wilde. "The first rule is not to write like Henry Arthur Jones; the second and third rules are the same."

I would say those rules still hold true.

STRIFE by John Galsworthy 1909

Galsworthy is best known, I believe, for the BBC/PBS presentation/adaptation of his novel The Forsyte Saga. It was the inception of the the PBS series “Masterpiece Theater”.

This book of plays was printed in 1915. The play was written in 1909. The author eventually went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932, just six weeks before he died.

Strife takes the position of unions being the best route to peace between labor and management. Again, it’s such a huge cast as to be almost dizzying to a dramatist today. As with all of these plays (well, with a couple exceptions) I would enjoy them more with a good cast performing the piece.


THE MADRAS HOUSE by Granville-Barker 1911

A playwright submitting this play today would be considered insane. There’s an entire cast of characters introduced at great length in the opening stage directions of the first act, and a lot of them make their brief appearances and are never seen again.

It’s an oddball comedy, for sure. High fashion takes some lumps. There’s a Jew who converts to Islam so he can have a harem. It’s sort of feminist and sort of pro-marriage, and basically all over the place. I guess it would be called a comedy of manners.

It just seemed like a big mess to me.


Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea" J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous" by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe" by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero

"Michael and his Lost Angel" by Henry Arthur Jones

"Strife" by John Galsworthy

"The Madras House" by Granville-Barker

-- Uke Jackson

Saturday, February 6, 2010

THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE

The Roots of Violence
Wealth without work,
Pleasure without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Commerce without morality,
Science without humanity,
Worship without sacrifice,
Politics without principles.
Mohandas Gandhi

This is worth reading

This article is worth reading. It's a fascinating take on what's really happening in America. Click here.

Saving the theater?

I posted most of this as a comment on Scott Walters' Theater Ideas blog. I think it can stand on its own and am posting it here in case you miss it there:

I believe young people would be more interested in theater if they could walk up to the box office, plunk down $10 or $12 (same as a movie), and see a show.

Right now we're asking young people to drink the kool aid AND go broke to see a show they really know nothing about (in the case of new plays, and likely the classics, since we're talking about young people in America).

In order to compete with movies and other entertainment, of course, advertising budgets would have to be larger or some other means of getting folks' attention would have to be devised, like a circus parade or some other public spectacle announcing a show's existence.

The fact is that the people who are having children these days aren't theater goers. They can't afford the habit. So how can we expect their kids to grow up liking theater? It sometimes seems the only people who like theater are those working in it or planning to work in it (and that's a pose with manty of the latter group, as they see theater as the minor leagues leading to a real career in TV or film).

Meanwhile, we're asking young people to spend 10% of their monthly rent for a night at the theater. And don't tell me about the price of restaurant meals, please. These kids are eating fast food on the cheap when they go out.

A couple years ago, Broadway had the biggest grossing year in history. What was the response? Raise ticket prices and institute "premium pricing". That's greed and that's become the biz.

Right now there's a lot of fear out there in the entertainment biz. Record companies fear downloads. The movies fear streaming. Book publishers fear Kindle and other devices. TV fears the fractional-ization of the audience due to 500 (crappy) cable stations. All these fears are about money, profits.

So, what are theater people worried about? Well, according to the blogs I've read, there's a lot of concern that people aren't making a living as playwrights. Or enough new plays aren't getting done. This is some of the silliest blather I've ever read. Who ever told these people that they would make a living as playwrights?!? Have they never read a biography of a playwright? Were they so sheltered growing up and throughout the education process that they have no idea how to live the life of an artist?

So, get the capitalists/corporatists out of the theater. Make theater about something other than profit and cash flow in the real world.

Look at the photos of the Royal Deluxe street theater troupe some time. Look at the streets filled with people. Go see a folk play in Freisland (northern Holland) sometime, where entire towns turn out. Then tell me people don't hunger for theatrical spectacle. It's not that they don't want it. It's choosing between a new pair of shoes and a night out that bugs them.

Of course, getting the money out of the equation will be hard in country where investors expect to make a return on health insurance and Humana hospitals, and where war is a never-ending profit stream for the elite. Make life about something other than money and the theater will follow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A VALENTINE'S DAY SUGGESTION

So, the inimitable JJ DeLuxe and I have been booked to play on Valentine's Day from 4pm - 7pm at the Gem & Keystone in Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, PA.

Locavores, please note: The Gem and Keystone makes its own beer on premises, and most of the food is local in origin.

If you're thinking of a ski trip with your Valentine, Shawnee Mountain is right down the road (literally).

Though the Shawnee Inn, which is next door to the gig. doesn't have champagne glass shaped jacuzzi in the rooms, it would be a great place to snuggle your sweetie for the weekend. You still have to eat. So come by the Gem and Keystone on Sunday afternoon/early evening February 14.

JJ DeLuxe will be playing saxophones and I will be playing ukulele. Our set list is comprised of jazzy love songs.

STOP MONSANTO!

Please take a moment to sign this petition. Let the USDA know that business as usual for Monsanto MUST STOP!

Then check out some of the trailers for the movie FRESH, with one of my genuine contemporary heroes Michael Pollan.

THE SECOND MRS TANQUERAY by Arthur Wing Pinero

THE SECOND MRS TANQUERAY by Arthur Wing Pinero 1893

Hmmn. I’m going to reserve judgment on this Pinero until I get a chance to someday read a comedy or two of his.

It’s odd to me that I can relate better to the mores of the times portrayed by Shakespeare or the Greeks better than the society and times of this play. Add to the script's bourgeois concerns some of the most unappealing characters imaginable – for me, in any case – and you’d think it enough to raise my ire.

However, the writing was quite good and I gained a notable realization reading this. I’ll pose it as a question: What is a philosophy but an attempt to define and codify that which allows people to get along with each other?

Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea"
J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous"
by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe"
by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande"
by Maurice Maeterlinck

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero

-- Uke Jackson

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck


Pelleas and Melisande by Maurice Maeterlinck 1892

I feel like a personal cultural landmark was passed by reading this play, and I have no idea why. I’m familiar with the title Pelleas and Melisande from the various operatic and classical music treatments it has received. Maeterlinck is a name that somehow was awe-producing without knowing much about him, other than the fact that he was Belgian and a Symbolist and won the Nobel Prize (1910). The play and the author, however, weren’t really connected in my mind. So, my education was advanced. 

The play is full of Symbolist portent. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as somehow consciously and unconsciously evolving from this movement, particularly in plays like “Monster Time”, "Radio pi" and “The Secret Warhol Rituals”.

I was re-reading Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing” over the weekend and couldn’t help but think about this play in terms of his theory of premise being the underlying force that moves a drama forward. (I try and re-read Egri every year or two.)  The premise in this case is right out of the book – “Great love defies death.”

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable read. It makes me want to read more of Maeterlinck. One reason for further reading would be to see how his style of storytelling and use of  Symbolism vary from piece to piece. I’ve been wondering about this with other playwrights in this book: how good a picture of someone’s work can I get from reading just one play? The answer is: A better picture than I had before, since with most of these playwrights I’d not read anything they had written.

Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon"
by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea"
J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous"
by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour"
by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers"
by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content"
by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe"
by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck

-- Uke Jackson

Monday, February 1, 2010

BEYOND HUMAN POWER

Beyond Human Power by Bjornstjerne Bjornson 1883
Translated by Lee M. Hollander

This is a very interesting play. I'm going to have to read it again. It turned out differently than I expected by the first act curtain. The final (second act) curtain scene blew me away. The structure is very modern. The story of a rural mystic pastor miracle healer who wants to save his dying wife, who has lost her faith.

The cast is huge and it would take a couple weeks of table reading to figure out the questions about/problems with the first act.

Bjornson won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903, with an asterix. He was on the committee that chose the winner.