Sunday, May 31, 2009


I have no intention of seeing "The Hangover"--a new comedy opening soon--but I have to admit that I did a double-take upon seeing the display ad in the New York Times this morning. For the record, I have no children, and my sunglasses are much cooler than ones pictured here.

Even so, I admit I experienced a weird moment of disassociation upon seeing this picture of Mr. Zach Galifianakis...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Doing the Twist

Of late, I've found myself taking "genre" forms--such a film noir--and twisting them into...well, something else, as theatre pieces. I don't know where this has been coming from...maybe I've been running out of ideas of my own. Anyway, the last half year, I've been laboring on "The Rewrite Man" which takes on the spy genre (kind of a Bond pastiche of a Phil Dick story as written by LeCarre...which bends my mind and I wrote the mother). It's been fun, but I can't remember writing a piece in so many fragments; so it's likely a mess. What the's always vaguely satisfying to finish something, even if you know the work's just started. It was also kind of nice to dedicate the play to my gently dashing father, who worked rewrite for Associated Press in the, coincidentally, does the play's gently dashing protagonist. I kind of felt like I had him watching over my shoulder, a vaguely bemused smile on his face.

This one's for you, dad.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wherest go the NEA?

Bob Hicks is fostering a spirited discussion about the NEA over on Artscatter: check it out here. Yours truly even said something geeky.


By God, this is ART...

...or something. Anyway, enjoy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Enigma that is Followspot

Here in Portland, we have a blog/website dedicated to theatre known as followspot

It's a cool thing. Theatre companies send in their info, get listed, snag a bit of PR, and followspot (or one of the followspot minions) reviews their shows with about 50 words. It's a great way to both get the word out on a production and keep track of the bewildering number of shows Portland produces. Though we only have two full Equity houses--Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre, and a couple more Equity-waiver theatres, there's a ton of small companies--theatre troupes, community theatre, weird gypsies that come and go...and despite the economy, there seem to be more every day. I think the last count I heard, through the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, was something like 100+ companies, and, though they're not all producing at once, it's not unusual to have a dozen plays open in a single weekend.

Anyway, followspot is interesting and fun. And then...there's the comments.

That is, unlike, say, this blog (which is run as a benign dictatorship), anyone can post anonymously on followspot. And they do. Boy, do they. At times with amazing vitriol.

Which is funny because the theatre people I've had the pleasure to work with in Portland are some of the nicest folks I've ever met. They really care about the work, and I've seen them go so far above and beyond the call of duty that it's blown me away. A number of them I've worked with years and have become my best friends...and the years have a way of adding up. Recently, I was talking with an actor about a show we did in the middle 90s, and I realized it'd been 13 years ago. How the hell did that happen? A couple of them go all the way back to 1991, when I started Third Tuesday Theatre, a monthly new play reading series, and I'm happy to say that I gave early gigs to folks like Lorraine Bahr, David Meyers, Scott Coopwood, Denise Wallace, Rebecca Becker, and Michael Fetters. Obviously, I've been lucky.

So I just have to wonder who the heck these anonymous furies are. They usually gang up on Northwest Children's Theatre or Blue Monkey--both theatre for youth, but they also sometimes kick Lakewood Theatre around, and, of course, delight it slinging stones at PCS and ART, our Goliaths. Once in awhile they make a point, but much of the time they end up making themselves small rather than their targets, which is a drag.

I sometimes wonder if they're young and full of piss and vinegar (and, like me when I was fresh out of college, absolutely convinced I was right and the world was wrong), but I think that sells short the many fine, dedicated young artists that have made Portland their home, and who often jump show to show, working impossible hours, making new, cratively crazy work because, in addition to having energy, they carry a passion for the art. And I note that the people who do comment on followspot with their actual names tend to be gracious. Which says something.

Who knows? Maybe they're people I know who, behind the mask of the Internet, reveal the Hyde that lurks behind their Jeckyl. But I doubt it. Because, of course, my friends are all handsome, witty, and brave, and have far too much integrity to cower behind false faces.

Whatever. It makes for lively reading, even if sometimes it's unnecessarily waspish and cruel. But I still can't help but wonder if, when I go to the Drammies in a couple weeks (kind of our local Tony awards), I'll look out on that sea of happy, slightly sloshed faces, and think: could it be...that one?

I know one thing: they probably won't say it to my face. Which is just as well--I prefer to think of my colleagues as enlightened beings, until they prove otherwise.


Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing to do with the followspot Web site, but they did do an extensive interview with me last year, which was very flattering indeed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day, Addendum

A couple of veterans....

Memorial Day

They leave, and they never return. The reasons they do it are as different as each of them, but, for today, let's say they do it for us.

For those have given everything, both gone forever or back to our pale, dopey civilian life, let us simply say: thank you for your service. Those five words cannot balance the scale, but what they lack in depth, they attempt to compensate for in quiet humility.

We can't know.


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Writing Life

Long stretches of your work involve doing nothing. This is hard to explain to others, who think you're goofing off. Sometimes you are, but goofing off is part of the job. It may look like you're just sipping coffee, listening to music, and staring into the middle distance, but, in actuality, scenes play in your head. Characters speak, laugh, argue, die. Whole worlds appear and disappear. A pen moves across paper. The paper gets crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket. All this in your head. Your family worries about you. You've just been sitting there for hours....

A routine helps. You carve out this little chunk of life dedicated to sitting quietly and appearing to do nothing. Often, that's what gets done. Failure makes up a large component of what you do, but you have to keep trying and keep failing to make anything happen. When things are dead and nothing comes, it's blindingly frustrating, painfully boring. Your words are colorless, inert. Repulsive. You want to get up, walk away, do anything else. When it's completely hopeless, that's about all you can do, but you keep at it anyway. You hate what you're doing. You curse that you ever got into this thing. You're never going to have another idea, never going to write a decent word.

Then something happens, a glimmer...and suddenly it's four hours later, your hand's cramping, and you feel like you've been tripping your brains out as you flip through a dozen pages and wonder where they've come from.

The mail carrier is not your friend. Most of the time, he or she brings you envelopes you've typed and stamped yourself, and, though their contents may vary in form, language, and tone, they usually more or less say: no. You teach yourself not to care, but you do, and any writer who says they don't care about rejections is lying to you or themselves. You do learn to keep going; there's no choice, really. But once in a while, you'll let your guard down and let yourself hope--really hope. This movie begins to play about how this'll happen, and then that, and then another thing. How the doors are about to burst open and welcome you in.

Then the rejection comes, and it hurts the hell out of you. You have go sit by yourself, unable to be with people. Sometimes, frankly, you just fucking cry. A tiny part of you wants to die and be done with it all. Sometimes it takes a couple days to get over, sometimes a couple of weeks (occasionally, never...though the intensity lessens with time); and, all the while, you have to deal with the voices that tell you: you're wasting your time, you suck, it's pointless, nothing's ever going to be produced or published again. This is not a condition solely of beginners; your favorite author faces the same thing because there's always another level to rise to and, usuallly, fall short of.

Other times, the bounce comes, you shrug, move on. There's no telling how you'll feel. Sometimes, the big ones have no effect. Sometimes, the little ones snap your bones.

Perversely, you have to hope. When you drop an envelope in the mail or click "send" on an e-mail, there's one part of you urging "yes, yes, yes...this time" and another going "forget it, no way, never happen." The "yes" keeps you going; the "no" keeps you armored. The only thing that stops the strobing between poles is more writing, more submissions. Like planting a perennial, submitting a manuscript is an affirmation that there will be a tomorrow. And, like a perennial, those manuscripts have a way of coming back year after year. Submission means you're in the game; being in the game means, most of the time, you lose.

When it gets really bad, you'll go the files and take out old reviews, thumb through production photos, wonder if you're ever going to sit in the audience and see your work again or walk into a bookstore or library and see your name on a book's spine. When it gets really, really bad, it's time to take a break, pull weeds, play the guitar, do some art you don't have to be good at, see a movie, get together with friends and listen to problems refreshingly different from yours...if they are, because artists have a way of flocking together in solidarity. And, yeah, sometimes we pour a glass or flick a lighter or swallow a pill because, for a little while, it turns you into someone else--someone with a window between themselves and their self-inflicted suffering.

You learn humility, and not for show, at the same time you have to carry an ego sufficiently outsized to believe what you're doing matters and will somehow pay off. That people will actually come to see your play or buy your book, and that, incredibly, they'll like it...or at least remember it.

When success comes, it's surreal. You disconnect, not quite believing it's happening. And, in a strange way, you don't because you still have to protect yourself, and, when it's over, you realize you've missed part of the experience due to your wariness.

Truth? It's gets incredibly dark sometimes. Grim. Your own personal cloud follows you, and rains continually while the rest of the world basks in sun. On the other hand, you're one of the luckiest people in the world, and you can't imagine what it's like for everyone else.

In other words, you're a complete lunatic: a writer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

True cool? Fact-finding mission.


This is just a weird little notion rocking around my brain but I was trying to think of who, after experiencing the junkyard cool that is Tom Waits, who is or was the epitome of the coolness, and not some kind of popularity cool or new cool, eternal cool. A cool so blue that it transcends.

Your suggestions are welcome. No answer is right or wrong. Unless you say "Kool and the Gang." Here's my Top 10, in ascending order, but 10 could 1 and one could be 10, etc. Naturally, no names are necessary.










(And granted, if you have to ask what's cool, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, you'll probably never know.)

Below is a simple comparison and contrast of what is and what is not cool:
cool/not cool

Monday, May 18, 2009


In honor of adding Tom Waits to the list of Fellow Travelers. This one's for you, Deirdre....

Warning: Armed and Dangerous

If you see the two women above, be forewarned: they are extremely talented, ruthlessly funny, and frighteningly intelligent. They're also doing a show called Live Nude Fear! which runs for one more week at Portland's IFCC (the link below provides the details). I will admit that they've been friends of mine for years and we've worked together on several memorable theatre projects, but their poor choice in friends doesn't diminish that they've put together a terrific show that, from time to time, veers delightfully out into the ozone, where the air gets weird. Steve sez check it out:


Friday, May 15, 2009

Photographer who took famous Saigon photo dies

HONG KONG – Hugh Van Es, a Dutch photojournalist who covered the Vietnam War and recorded the most famous image of the fall of Saigon in 1975 — a group of people scaling a ladder to a CIA helicopter on a rooftop — died Friday morning in Hong Kong, his wife said. He was 67 years old.

Van Es died in Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, where he had lived for more than 35 years. He suffered a brain hemorrhage last week and never regained consciousness, his wife Annie said. Hospital officials declined to comment.

Slender, tough-talking and always ready with a quip, Van Es was considered by colleagues to be fearless and resourceful. He remained a towering figure after the war in journalism circles in Asia, including his adopted home in Hong Kong.

"Obviously he will be always remembered as one of the great witnesses of one of the great dramas in the second half of the 20th century," said Ernst Herb, president of Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondent Club.

"He really captured the spirit of foreign reporting. He was quite an inspiration," Herb said.

He arrived in Hong Kong as a freelancer in 1967, joined the South China Morning Post as chief photographer, and got a chance the following year to go to Vietnam as a soundman for NBC News, which he took. After a brief stint, he joined The Associated Press photo staff in Saigon from 1969-72 and then covered the last three years of the war from 1972-75 for United Press International.

His photo of a wounded soldier with a tiny cross gleaming against his dark silhouette, taken 40 years ago this month, became the best-known picture from the May 1969 battle of Hamburger Hill.

And his shot of the helicopter escape from a Saigon rooftop on April 29, 1975 became a stunning metaphor for the desperate U.S. withdrawal and its overall policy failure in Vietnam.

As North Vietnamese forces neared the city, upwards of 1,000 Vietnamese joined American military and civilians fleeing the country, mostly by helicopters from the U.S. Embassy roof.

A few blocks distant, others climbed a ladder on the roof of an apartment building that housed CIA officials and families, hoping to escape aboard a helicopter owned by Air America, the CIA-run airline.

From his vantage point on a balcony at the UPI bureau several blocks away, Van Es recorded the scene with a 300-mm lens — the longest one he had.

It was clear, Van Es said later, that not all the approximately 30 people on the roof would be able to escape, and the UH-1 Huey took off overloaded with about a dozen.

The photo earned Van Es considerable fame, but in later years he told friends he spent a great deal of time explaining that it was not a photo of the embassy roof, as was widely assumed.

The image gained even greater iconic status after the musical Miss Saigon featured the final Americans evacuating from the city from the Embassy roof by helicopter. Van Es was upset about the play's use of the image that he so famously captured, and believed he was ripped off. He had long considered legal action but decided against it.

Born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, Hubert Van Es learned English from hanging out as a kid with soldiers during World War II.

He said he decided to become a photographer after going to a photo exhibit at a local museum when he was 13 years old and seeing the work of legendary war photographer Robert Capa.

After graduating from college, he started working as a photographer in 1959 with the Nederlands Foto Persbureau in Amsterdam, but Asia became his home.

When the Vietnam war ended in 1975, van Es returned to Hong Kong where he freelanced for major American and European newspapers and magazines and shot still photos for many Hollywood movies on locations across Asia.

Van Es, who served as president of the Hong Kong FCC in the early 1980s, was often found holding court at the club, his firsthand accounts and opinions sought out by reporters new and old.

"His presence there is really memorable," Herb said.

He covered the Moro rebellion in the Philippines and was among the horde of journalists who flew into Kabul to cover the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. CBS cameraman Derek Williams got through immigration but everyone else was stopped and held in the transit lounge.

"As they were then being shepherded back to the plane," Williams recalled, "Hugh saw an open door to his left, and just made a break for it with only his camera bag. He ran through the terminal and jumped into a taxi to try to get to the Intercontinental Hotel."

Afghan police arrested van Es, but the plane had taken off so they took him to the hotel. Williams said he and van Es spent three days in Kabul before being expelled. Van Es' still photos, for Time magazine, were the first to capture Soviet tanks rolling into Afghanistan.

He and his wife, Annie, whom he met in Hong Kong, were married for 39 years. He is survived by Annie and a sister in Holland.


Marquez reported from Hong Kong and Pyle from Washington. Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer in New York and Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Here She Comes

If anybody knows the chords or guitar tabs for the following Slowdive song off the album "Souvlaki," please send them to me. Thanks. Not the same as the Velvet Underground song, "Here She Comes Now."


It's so lonely in this place
So cold I don't believe

And as no one knows my name
It's easy to pretend
It's easy to believe

There's a shadow on my wall
It dances like my soul
Dances like my soul

It's so cold now
I swear it will be warm
Here she comes now

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Little Midnight

I've talked a little bit about "Bluer Than Midnight"--my play about the Civil Rights Movement, the Blues...and the Afterlife--a little bit here, but I haven't shared any of it. So, just for the hell of it, here's a sample. Virgil's trying to track down a missing Freedom Rider and aspiring blues musician...on the other side. Naturally, his quest leads him to the Crossroads, where he meets a Stranger. Try reading it while playing the Little Junior Parker tune in the post below....

What brings you to these crossroads on such a disagreeable night?

It’s beautiful this evening.

Flash of lightning. Thunder. This continues throughout scene.

Here to meet someone.

And who might that be?

Not sure. Thought you might know.

Me? I don’t even know you. How would I know your party?

Thought you might be the guy.

Is that so? What’s your name?

Virgil. What’s yours?

Can’t you guess? Call me.... Well, what difference does it make? Let’s suppose, for conversation sake, I’d be the person you’re looking for. What would you want from me?


Oh? I can provide many kinds of information. The thing is, for the information to be of any value to you, it would have to be of value to me. I’m just as helpful as I can be, but I’m not in the habit of giving things away. One must get by, you know?

Got about a hundred bucks left. You can have that.

A whole hundred dollars? That’s gracious. But I’m hesitant to traffic in currency. It’s so uncertain. One day, everybody wants it. Time passes, it’s just paper.

If I had gold, I’d give you that. I don’t.

Gold is so...heavy. And basically I’m very, very lazy.

What would you suggest?

Sir...I don’t make suggestions.

This hippest thing ever...

Sorry there's no actual video, just a still picture, but it's the cover version of the song that counts. The artist is Little Junior Parker. For my friend Mead, who I think would dig this....

...if at some point I snag a production for my play "Bluer Than Midnight," this song would come up at the first production meeting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


You ever worked in an office where they have those motivational posters up on the wall? You're, like, stuck in the copy room, making page after page of copies of, say, a huge book where it has to be reduced and held by hand, and every other copy comes out cut off, requiring the book to be repositioned, and you're making 120-page sets of 20, and the machine regularly jams at 17, and you're pulling bits and pieces of shredded paper out of the machine and burning your hand on the fuser, and you're cursing--quietly--while thinking: "For this I went to journalism school?"

And just about when you're beginning to revise your resignation letter in your head, you look up to check the clock you're trying to beat, and you see on the wall some goddamn picture of some goddamn crocus forcing its goddamned head through the goddamned snow, and it has a caption in bold serif saying something like "FORTITUDE" or "COURAGE." Yes? And there's that awful split-second where, in your mind's eye, you can see that beautifully framed print flying out of the copy room like a rectangular frisbee and, with a shattering boom, showering the reception area with glass.

Well, someone's been clever with Photoshop and made motivational posters for the rest of us, featuring a man who got fired from LIFE magazine for kicking a candy dispensing machine to death.

Inspiration! Courage! Bats!

Good morning, good morning, good morning....

Hunter S. Thompson on The Meaning of Breakfast:

“Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch and Dinner. I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas or at home — and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed — breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert…. Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours and at least one source of good music…. All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another Modest Proposal

So the catchword these days is "transparency." Obama's going to put the budget online so taxpayers can look it up, to see how their tax dollars are spent (provided they have time to search through all 700 pages or so). The bank "stress tests" will show which banks are healthy and which need to capitalize to survive tough economic. We're all striving to be as transparent as ghost shrimp.


Here's my suggestion. Theatres, large and small, should post on their Web sites a breakdown of how your ticket's spent.

I'm not saying actual amounts. That's proprietary information, affected by private salary and contract agreements, and so on. I'm just saying percentages. Whether you buy a ticket at Huge LORT Theatre Productions or at Hardscabble Basement Productions, you can see what percentage of your ticket goes to pay for facilities, marketing, insurance, management, and, most importantly, artists--meaning actors, designers, techies, directors, and writers. What percentage does the playwright or actors get of each dollar you lay down? This isn't to say artistic directors aren't artists--there's an element of art (or at least craft) in pulling a season together. But in a time when CEO's salaries are coming into question, I think it's fair to separate management's percentage from the rest of the artistic staff (though artistic directors sure as hell aren't pulling down salaries comparable to, say, Wall Street brokerages).

What difference does it make? Well, maybe you'll find out huge LORT theatre grants a handsome percentage to the artists, and, if you think artists should be recognized, that's just one more reason to go there. Or you might find that a larger percentage of your ticket paid to low-overhead, tiny theatres charging you $12 or $15 actually goes to the people you see performing or pulling the lights up and down. The way it is now, who knows?

Now, this wouldn't be a perfect measurement as it doesn't take in scale: the LORT theatre may pay a smaller percentage to artists than the little theatre but it turns out that percentage is substantially more money, and, similarly, the little theatre may be able to pay artists a bigger percentage because their percentage of overhead is so much lower. And that percentage can't be directly linked with artistic far as we know. If we actually had that information, we might be able to deduce relationships that are currently...opaque.

In other words, right now, we don't know. And if we care about artists getting compensated for their work--and unless we're going to the theatre to impress a hot date or get invited to parties--art is the reason we go to theatres, then I think it's fair to ask.

Isn't it?

Advertisements for Myself

This morning, I was listening to U2's "Miss Sarajevo," and I felt a sudden surge of affection for "Liberation"--a drama I wrote about the Bosnian War. I'm not saying it's the best play ever written, blah blah, but I think I can say without exaggeration that it's a defiant, uncompromising bastard that challenges theatres and their audiences, running hard right to the edge of what's bearable, and it would be a joy to see it up on its dark, evil feet again.

So, what the's the info. Please pass it on if you know a theatre company that specializes in, without apologies, kicking ass:


And while I'm at it, kudos to Origninal Works Publishing, Stark Raving Theatre, and Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company for having the balls to take the ride.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Keep your friends close....

I think this story speaks for itself, except to say there's an object lesson to be learned here: lay off the absinthe when you're fencing.


Vincent van Gogh's fame may owe as much to a legendary act of self-harm, as it does to his self-portraits. But, 119 years after his death, the tortured post-Impressionist's bloody ear is at the centre of a new controversy, after two historians suggested that the painter did not hack off his own lobe but was attacked by his friend, the French artist Paul Gauguin.

According to official versions, the disturbed Dutch painter cut off his ear with a razor after a row with Gauguin in 1888. Bleeding heavily, Van Gogh then walked to a brothel and presented the severed ear to an astonished prostitute called Rachel before going home to sleep in a blood-drenched bed.

But two German art historians, who have spent 10 years reviewing the police investigations, witness accounts and the artists' letters, argue that Gauguin, a fencing ace, most likely sliced off the ear with his sword during a fight, and the two artists agreed to hush up the truth.

In Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, published in Germany, Hamburg-based academics Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans argue that the official version of events, based largely on Gauguin's accounts, contain inconsistencies and that both artists hinted that the truth was more complex.

Van Gogh and Gauguin's troubled friendship was legendary. In 1888, Van Gogh persuaded him to come to Arles in the south of France to live with him in the Yellow House he had set up as a "studio of the south". They spent the autumn painting together before things soured. Just before Christmas, they fell out. Van Gogh, seized by an attack of a metabolic disease became aggressive and was apparently crushed when Gauguin said he was leaving for good.

Kaufmann told the Guardian: "Near the brothel, about 300 metres from the Yellow House, there was a final encounter between them: Vincent might have attacked him, Gauguin wanted to defend himself and to get rid of this 'madman'. He drew his weapon, made some movement in the direction of Vincent and by that cut off his left ear." Kaufmann said it was not clear if it was an accident or an aimed hit.

While curators at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam stand by the theory of self-mutilation, Kaufmann argues that Van Gogh dropped hints in letters to his brother, Theo, once commenting : "Luckily Gauguin ... is not yet armed with machine guns and other dangerous war weapons."


Postscript: Years ago, I was visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York for the first time. If you love art, losing your MOMA virginity is an act of sensory overload; every time you turn a corner, another iconic painting or sculture greets you in the flesh, so to speak. Up ahead, I could see Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and I was patiently waiting for two older ladies to move on; so I could see one of my all-time favorite paintings up close, when I overhead a conversation that went something like this:

Woman #1: You know, that was the view from his hospital window.

Woman #2: From the asylum?

Woman #1: Yes. Isn't that amazing?


Woman #2: It's too bad he didn't have a better view so those trees wouldn't be in the way.