A Problem of Translation

Is there a voice for the junkies and the homeless and the lost in contemporary literature? In theatre? And not a patronizing middle-class “oh look at the poor folk” voice, but one that takes the time to live in that world, to respect the lives of those in the streets and trenches that make up our war on drugs and who live the poverty that makes wealth possible?

Is our contemporary theatre anemic, in part, because we write and produce only for a middle- to upper-class demographic? Would they be interested in seeing something that is not a reflection of their world or a perspective on other worlds (ethnic, economic) that serves to ease their conscious and make them feel like they are part of a solution through voyeurism?

I don’t think so.

I sit here in a bus station, listening to fragments of lives that are full of pain and anger and fear and resignation and a strange strength that is both alien and frightening to my middle-class, highly educated, white and male privileged life, and I wonder who writes for these people? Is it even possible to tell their stories without exploiting them, without stealing them?

Our culture fantasizes, in books and movies and comics and tv, about various post-apocalyptic scenarios. All the while ignoring that many people are already living in a world that is constantly hostile and where each day is a battle to merely survive and who understand that the smallest joys can be the biggest of victories, but that victory is a perishable commodity and there are no guarantees it will come ’round again.

I sit. I do not listen to my music through noise-isolating earphones. Instead I listen to the people around me. I wonder. I have no answers, no solutions, only questions. I have learned nothing. But I have heard, if only in snatches and only for an hour, the language of another world.

In the end, I also wonder just how much privilege and pretension is apparent in these wonderings and questions.

Interactive Version of Samuel Beckett Story

Nothing to say but wow, I really, really would love to see an installation of this.

UNMAKEABLELOVE is a revisioning of Beckett’s initial investigation that focuses and makes interactively tangible, a state of confrontation and interpolation between our selves and another society that is operating in a severe state of physical and psychological entropy. UNMAKEABLELOVE advances the practices of algorithmic agency, artificial life, virtual communities, human computer interaction, augmented virtuality, mixed reality and multimedia performance to engage ‘the body’s primordial inscriptions’. It locates Beckett’s society of ‘lost ones’ in a virtual space that represents a severe state of physical confinement, evoking perhaps a prison, an asylum, a detention camp, or even a ‘reality’ TV show.

While in UNMAKEABLELOVE the inhabitants of the cylinder remain oblivious in their condition, and we the viewers of their world, with our probing torch lights and prying gaze, are positioned as the ‘other’, forced to experience the anomalies of a perceptual disequilibrium that implicates us in this alienated narrative. The resulting ambiguity and complicit agency in UNMAKEABLELOVE reinforces a perceptual and psychological tension between ‘self’ and ‘other’ generated by the works’ mixed reality strategies of embodied simulation.

Check out the website for more information and images

Via IO9

Writing Contests

Any LtL readers who are writers might be interested in these:

  1. Kaleidoscope Arts Festival: “a regional arts festival hosted by Slippery Rock University, seeks submissions for new works to be produced in April of 2012. Winning submissions will be performed as part of Brave New Plays, a festival of world-premiere drama under the auspices of Kaleidoscope and the Slippery Rock University Department of Theatre.” I can’t seem to find information online about this so here is the email I received:

    Submission Guidelines One-Act plays of any style or genre. Plays should be 45 minutes to an hour in length, with 4-5 roles suitable to college actors. Manuscripts should be formatted in Times New Roman 12 point font with 1 inch margins. Each script submitted must include 2 separate cover pages: Play Title and Casting Breakdown. Do not include Name of Playwright. Play Title, Casting Breakdown, Playwright Name and Contact Information. Eligibility The mission of Kaleidoscope Arts Festival is to bring free or low cost, quality programming to an underserved region. There is no submission fee. Eligible playwrights must be residents of Western Pennsylvania. Manuscripts not selected for awards will be returned to the playwright. Awards 1st Prize – A fully-mounted production at Slippery Rock University in April of 2012, which will subsequently be toured by the SRU Department of Theatre to the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Playwright will also receive a $1000.00 honorarium. 2nd Prize – A fully-mounted production at Slippery Rock University in April of 2012. Playwright will also receive a $500.00 honorarium. Deadline September 1, 2011 Please send a hard copy of each submission to: Brave New Plays Search Committee c/o Colleen Reilly, Director, Kaleidoscope Arts Festival 300C Miller Auditorium Slippery Rock University Slippery Rock, PA 16057

  2. “The Robot Felt . . .” Science Fiction Story Contest: “Start your version with “The robot felt…” Finish with “In the end, the robot felt nothing. He wasn’t programmed to.” The up-to-2000 words in between are all yours.” More information at PaulMalmont.com

UPDATE: I just noticed that the winner will be selected only after writers get friends and family to vote for them – the top five with the most votes will be considered. Not worth my time, so I’m not even going to make an attempt.

  1. Amazon Studios: New contests with awards totaling $430,000 for filmmakers and writers, including a horror-specific script award and two awards for dialogue tracks, which are a key building block for test movies. The awards are: >Three $100,000 Best Test Movie Awards (July, August and September) >Two $5,000 Best Dialogue Track Awards (in June) >Five $20,000 Best Script Awards (two a month in July and August; one in September) Amazon Studios Blog

I am planning on entering a new one-act called “The Dreamscape of Young Silvestri” in the Kaleidoscope Arts festival and I’m going to work on some ideas and hopefully get a story in for the science fiction contest by the end of this month.

Warhol Screen Tests as Screen Saver

I recently came across the film 13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests on Netflix and was captivated by the simple beauty of what I consider to be living portraits (sort of like those moving pictures from the Harry Potter movies). From the distribution company:

Between 1964 and 1966, Andy Warhol shot nearly 500 Screen Tests, beautiful and revealing portraits of hundreds of different individuals, from the famous to the anonymous, all visitors to his studio, the Factory. Subjects were captured in stark relief by a strong keylight, and filmed by Warhol with his stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film. The resulting two-and-a-half-minute film reels were then screened in slow motion, resulting in a fascinating collection of four-minute masterpieces that startle and entrance, mesmerizing in the purest sense of the word. – Plexifilm

I recommend you check check it out, either on Netflix or through some of the Youtube excerpts from the film. Here are a couple so you can see what I mean:

Immediately, I starting thinking about how cool it would be to turn these films into a video wall display of 13 panels, with each one looping continually. The movements would be minimal enough not to force focus, but would provide a fascinating and moving piece of art. Since I don’t really have the ability to make such a piece right now (I have neither the equipment nor the rights), I started thinking about how I could create this as a screensaver or moving desktop for my computer. For my first test, I simply downloaded one of the Youtube versions and created a screensaver using Quartz Composer I can then, using Wallsaver turn that into a desktop that runs constantly in the background. Currently I don’t have it running because my computer, a 2007 Macbook Pro, chugs away a bit too hard when processing video and to have video running constantly would be a bit to much for it. My next step is to see if I can use Quartz Composter to take multiple videos and create a screensaver that is made up of multiple panels running concurrently. If that works, then I will buy the dvd and get better copies of each segment and then, whenever I get a new computer (probably either this fall or next fall if I can hold out for another year) I will at least run it as a screensaver if not experiment with it as my desktop background (realistically, even small amounts of movement are going to be distracting running it as a desktop would use resources that I probably don’t need to even if the computer can handle it with ease – still, the idea is cool even if I don’t end up using it as my background setting on a regular basis).

May 2011 Reading

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Infrared by Mac Wellman
The Blacks: A Clown Show by Jean Genet
Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean by Ed Graczyk
Ajax (por nobody) by Alice Tuan
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock
A Thought in Three Parts by Wallace Shawn
The Vomit Talk of Ghosts by Kevin Oakes
A Universal History of Iniquity Jorge Luis Borges
American Notes by Len Jenkin
Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams
In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks
Interim by Barbara Cassidy
Silence by Moira Buffini

Standing Ovations Suck

One of the most annoying things about attending mainstream plays at big, mainstream, regional theaters is the tendency for people to give standing ovations on the merest excuse. I know, I know, I’m way more critical of theatre than most people considering I’ve been involved with making and/or studying it for the better part of twenty-six years and my tastes run to more challenging and esoteric styles and structures anyway. But I can guaran-damn-tee you that not a single one of the people who stood up last night and gave a standing ovation to the Public’s production of God of Carnage had their lives altered, had their minds expanded, or had an experience that would stay with them for, if not the rest of their lives, at least for months or years. I don’t care how much they laughed at what the Hollywood Reporter called an “impeccably accessible comedy” and I don’t give a flying fuck that the play won a Tony, the show is facile, crude (and not because of the vomit, but because Reza’s characters and situations have all the humanity and subtly and complexity of a three-year-old child’s attempts at architecture with Toddler Legos), and is rife with shallow observations that pose as witty insights. 

All that aside, I would not challenge the fact that many people seemed to enjoy the show. Fine, so you can look past the bad writing and one-dimensional characters and facile jabs at the hypocrisy of “cultured” people. Fine, so you can get beyond the mugging and one note acting that was on display. Fine, you laughed, you enjoyed your night out, you had fun. I’m not saying that people were necessarily wrong to enjoy themselves, that’s not for me to say (even if it is for me to lament). My point is that the standing ovation has become cheapened to the point where it literally means nothing. It no longer means that the audience witnessed extraordinary talent, or that the performance was one that would resonate within the audience member’s memory for a long time, or that what they experienced was important. No. A standing ovation now means nothing more than “I was amused.” 

Rewarding mediocrity with standing ovations is ultimately most harmful to the theatre practitioners. It lulls them into believing that their work is more meaningful than it is. It makes them accept their mediocrity instead of striving for excellence. It misleads them into thinking that they don’t earn standing ovations but merely deserve them if they show up and do their job competently. 

Theatre practitioners should also lead by example (especially when seeing shows with friends or family who are not theatre people) and never participate in standing ovations for anything less the than sublime and the truly affecting. If a performance is executed perfectly (this is rare) and makes a profound change in your understanding of yourself or the world (even more rare), then a standing ovation might be appropriate. If you “just had a fun time”—and I would bet all of my stipend for next year that nobody in that theatre had anything more profound than just a fun time—applaud all you want, hoot and holler if you must, but please, please, do it from your seat.