Past Experience to Innovation

I was filing old thoughts away and came across an answer I gave to a questionnaire.  Knowing the question isn't as necessary, so here's my answer:

"In 2005, The Hypocrites mounted Sarah Kane's "4.48 Psychosis" at the Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage (Chicago, IL).  I had learned about this play in college beforehand and this staging of it has influenced me to this day.  Built within a very large landscape, small stages or scene stations, were strategically placed to tell this morbid story of clinical depression.  If you're not familiar with Kane's personal story, she committed suicide a year before the first production of this play, and she had written it with no stage directions, which leaves it open for interpretation.  With such the dark content, the Hypocrites incorporated lots of vivid imagery & stage pictures.  By setting up each small stage with strong visuals and colors (blood red & black), the audience was led from one station to the next in following one character.  I had never experienced theater to this degree beforehand and was completely influenced to understand that scripts can be staged in such an innovative fashion.  This performance showed me how something that seemed like written poetry can be drawn up in imagination".

I still think about this production to this day.  Maybe it was the vivid images or my first time experiencing a more alternative method to theater viewing, but I always have it in my back pocket as my own reminder to break molds.  

Keeping standards and classics are great to learn your art.  It's important!  Know how to succeed by the history done by previous masters.  Then when you put those 1,000 hours in - play with your imagination and change the world.  

 

The Second City Mainstage Transitions to a New Era

"The Second City Mainstage Transitions to a New Era" - a review by Jonald Reyes

Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing."  Nirvana's "Nevermind."  The Second City's 105th Revue: "The Winner...of our Discontent." 

This is a list of poignant moments in performance art that exemplifies transitional progression reflective to the state of America.  The youthful voice that only later became recognized as important to a cultural evolution.   Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (from "Do the Right Thing") was controversial and uneasy to the conservative, much like Tony Kushner, much like The Beatles, and much like Malcolm X.  They were needed because America was changing.

But you don't see that.  All you want to see is a comedy show.  All you want to see is something to take your mind away from what's happening outside in the world today.  Social media hitting us left and right on Trump this, Hilary that, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, acceptable vs. unacceptable, etc. etc. etc. on people telling other people how you're suppose to feel and act.

"It is the job of the satirist to parody authority, and that includes the settled liberal orthodoxy. Even if it's the world view of the performers." --from a review of the 104th Second City Mainstage show "Fool Me Twice, Deja Vu 

To parody authority, it should be controversial.  It should be uneasy to the conservative.    If there's a sign that tells the audience that there's a zero tolerance policy of hate speech, then you're in the right space to be because controversy already hit in order for a sign like that to be necessary!

So in this new revue, the mindful cast does its job to "parody authority."  With scenes that show us Donald Trump's sons getting downgraded after winning the election, a game show entitled "Who Wants to be President?," and the prohibition of abortion under a Trump presidency, the performers take the necessary risk to tell the audience what is and will happen in a new era of America.

We must remember that comedy thrives at questioning ideas, surprising with punchlines, and connecting at relativity.

Director Anthony LeBlanc orchestrates a smart running order that starts the audience off easy and then never lets up in energy.  With an opening scene that uses overlapping dialogues to show us the parallels of a Cubs team winning the World Series and an assumption to Hilary Clinton winning the presidency, he and the cast set the overall tone to exactly what the title is, "The Winner ...of our Discontent." 

After an introductory line sequence, the next full scene is a strong relationship scenario between a grown-up son and his mother.  Reminiscent in tone of the sitcom Roseanne, we see mom smoking a joint in a car and her son joining her to talk about how they raise their kids.  Aesthetically a parent telling her child that it's a crazy world out there and we can only do as much as we can to prepare the child.  This is such fitting moral advice to the characters and the audience.  Then LeBlanc uses three blackouts in a row. 

If you're not familiar with "blackouts" - these are basically a one joke scene.  Very quick.  Why bring this up?  Blackouts are like cleaning the canvass and using these quick gags to reset the audience for a new thought.  LeBlanc uses three blackouts -- this is a like a hard reset.  The audience laughs at three blackouts and then the next scene is an exercise scene between female friends, which is tightly written with jokes.  Shantira Jackson, Kelsey Kinney, and Rashawn Scott are playful, invested to their relationship, and hit comedic timing.  The energy stays up and scenes that follow gradually fluctuate where needed.  Again - this is a smart running order.  The cast keeps its consistency and understands the ride of a comedy show, which is a strong foundation of Second City.

A little history - when Bernie Sahlins took over as Director at Second City after Paul Sills, he "had come to believe that you put a lot of your best and smartest and, if possible, most politically relevant stuff up front to establish the credentials of the show more than the actors." (pg. 104, "Theatrical Improvisation" by Jeanne Leep). 

"The Winner...of our Discontent" does exactly this.  The first half hits us with a lot of politics and then the second half hits us with a lot of heart.  We see scenes like a lesbian couple breaking up, a 14-year old girl not understanding why she's always sad, and even the hard life of being "Bat Boy." 

The cast also continues to display their improv chops as Martin Morrow, Paul Jurewicz, and Jamison Webb bring us to neighbors watering their garden and conversing over audience’s suggestions of (in this show) hockey and underwater drones in China.  The improv scene opens way for the performers to pick up the pace of the show within their own hands.  Webb shows an amazing feat with the ability to provide on spot monologues.  This performance by all three actors displays their experience in the spontaneous art form.                                                      

The 105th Second City Mainstage Revue “The Winner …of our Discontent” showed audiences what has transpired from an election year and with imagination, due to occur in years to come.  Presenting charismatic stage presence, witty dialogue exchanges, and strong scene premises, the overall content is foundation for future revues to take further as America embarks into a new era.

Editorial note:  I write this piece because this show needs a real review.  This show is very important to the state of where America is now.  This is a transitional show that not only parodies authority, but pushes the notion to even criticize the concept of whiteness.  And when that criticism is erroneously taken personally instead of objectively, then sensitivity hits and a blindness forms over the art.  Art is activism.

The quote at the top of this piece from the review of the 104th Mainstage was written by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune.   His recent review of the 105th was not a review.  It was a sensitive reaction.  It was a personal viewpoint of what a comedy theater should and should not do to cater to audience members who want to remain uncritical to the way in which bigotry has manifested in our society.  Aren't theater reviews suppose to tell us what the show is about?  
 

Show MUST Go On

It's been almost a week since the election results have arrived.  The comedy theater community has found it difficult to return to performing -- rightfully so.  People have asked "how can I be funny at a time like this?" or "what's the point?" or "who cares?"  People are fierce to comment and judge at how other people are taking the news, which creates more conflict. 

It feels like a bad bad break-up but the worst part isn't the initial shock, yet rather the long term emotional process of getting over it (in 4 years).  Protests have already been a daily event this week alone (not that protesting was never around - this is daily at a more nationally recognizable level).   

Now, 5 days after, some are recognizing that #Art is #Activism.  We need art more than ever now!  This is something I've preached about since I started creating media & performance art.  It's interesting that people don't think it's true, but the artist's voice is one of the most powerful weapons we have.  There's always been a deeper appreciation of art.  And no, this isn't some elitist intellectual point of view on cultural perspective.  Art hits all levels - all economics, all cultures, all parts of society.  And remember that art comes in different masks, which is why there's the deeper appreciation.  

This is an opportunity for theater to speak to where it hurts.  Instill metaphoric layers as to not handhold nor spoonfeed the audience, yet to rather have open for interpretation and thought analysis.  It's also therapeutic to the performer AND the audience.  It is escape at an unknowing effect.   We need theater to tell stories of now.  To protest in dramatic fashion and rally people to fight.  Art has the power to get people motivated and determined.  

Personally - from a Director's perspective - it's been difficult.   I've had to go into rehearsal spaces and performances to set a tone of comfort.  I've had to hold my composure and keep my head-up for the good of the art.  But I also wanted to extend my compassion in the way that I knew well.  I wanted to be a strong leader and let my casts know that my rehearsal space is a place for them to be safe, succeed, and play with their imagination with no interruption.  

My fear is that it will only get harder as time continues.  I've had to come home to decompress and find ways to attack a new day.  I will not tolerate racism, sexism, and bigotry in all aspects of my lifestyle and if it enters my theater space, I will do even more to fight back.  You cannot touch my art! 

Where to begin?

Helicopters have been looming over the city of Chicago and each new day that's recently passed, I've been restless in paranoia and lost control.....

I've wanted to start up a blog about my thoughts in arts, theater, and world overview for some time now but what's always held me back from starting is the thought of 'where to begin.'  This most likely stems from preventive measures because it's like - who am I to say what's right or wrong in what we do?  Who am I to tell you how art is suppose to be because it's an indefinite measure of interpretation?  And who am I to tell you how to think about the world?

But that last question is exactly where I'd like to begin.  Exactly who am I in this world?  I'm a single male, Asian-American, in my late 30's who earns wage to the middle economic class, with a college degree, who performs / directs theater, while holding a day job in corporate America in Chicago, IL.  Why did need to know this?  Because from reading this, from looking at me, you have automatically created status & preconceived thoughts.  You've already added more things to my story.  Assumptions.  Judgments.  Maybe stereotypes, maybe compliments, or maybe nothing.  But these specific things I noted are my rich characteristics that make me who I am.  This is my fingerprint.  Now take away my fingerprint and I become nothing.  The same.  A mindless drone.  

It has been 3 days since the results of the 2016 Presidential election in the "United States of America."  (sarcastic emphasis on 'United') It has also been 3 days of a country in mixed disarray where voices were not heard.  And then when yelling came to push the unheard, the loudness turned into cynical ignorance and ugly hatred.  We're about to embark in unpredictable waters and instead of accepting and fighting while in it - we're punching before we enter.  And it's because we don't want to be mindless drones.  We don't want to have rights taken away from us.  We don't want hate to rise.

In some beautiful la-la land where liberals have thoughts of "deal with it and move on" or "give it a chance, cause ya never know" is a giant bubble that needs to bursts by the woke megaphone to say that "WE JUST ELECTED A GUY WHO THE KKK IS CELEBRATING AND HAS OPENLY MADE A FOOL OF US TO OUR FACE BY BEING A MISOGYNIST RACIST."  Our country canNOT be "just fine" with this.  And do NOT say "well, what can I do?" because there's SO MUCH that you can do.  If you don't care - you're selfish or afraid.

Do not be fooled by the assumption of election tactics - Donald Trump has strengthen the voice of a powerful hate that was brewing.  Even if he was putting up a front for this reality TV show of his campaign, his actions activated these assumptions/stereotypes/negative inequalities to be acceptable.  In only 3 days, his actions made it okay for young kids to put blackface on and hang confederate flags.  The US was disrespectfully built on Native land where white people brought over slaves to (yet again) be mindless drones.  This is not an anti-white post but more of a respectful protest that to be unified, the other voices need to be heard.  As a minority, people fought for my rights before me and now it's our turn to fight for my rights after me.  (...if you have them, think of your kids)

I understand the concept of acceptance.  I'm not a soar loser.  And I know how to listen.  BUT THIS is UNACCEPTABLE.  We are smarter people than what this guy is saying as right or wrong with the world today.  

I'm writing because it is part of my art.  Written words are historical records of moments.  "They" will not take my words away from me, but I also won't stand idle as people deface it.