Friday, February 25, 2011

Allison Orr's Trash Project's Triumphant Return! Please Help!

Please, please listen up. In 2009, Allison Orr-- the genius behind Forklift Dancworks-- presented the Trash Project out at the old airport. This was not my first chance to see Allison's amazing choreography. Previously I'd seen, to my tremendous joy, her SKATE! project, which took place at a roller rink. Allison's deal is this: she works with both trained dancers and everyday folk to put together unforgettable shows. If you were lucky enough to see SKATE! or the Trash Project or 200 Two Steppers at the State Capitol, you already know what I'm talking about. But if you haven't seen her stuff yet, let me try to explain.

For the Trash Project, Allison spent countless middle-of-the-night hours riding routes with City of Austin sanitation workers, interviewing them about their jobs, and then putting together a series of dances that included 26 employees of the Department of Solid Waste and 16 huge trucks. Yes, the trucks "danced." I wrote all about that show over at the Austinist. I wept throughout it-- me and everyone else in the audience--  and even just remembering seeing it I again find myself weeping. I mean, it was STUNNING. Allison's interviews were incorporated into Graham Reynolds' amazing score, some commentary totally uplifting, other stories so sad, all of it giving much insight into the lives of some of the most under-appreciated workers in the city. Oh, and to see THEIR faces as thousands of people cheered them on and rushed them afterwards to get pictures taken together. I'm serious, people, I am crying over here as I recall this. It was one of the most special shows I've seen in my life, and I have seen an awful lot of shows.

As it happened, the event got so much pre-show buzz that they wound up turning away hundreds, maybe even thousands, at the gates. I was, literally, the last one to get in, and that only happened because I begged and had to resort to using my press credentials (not a trick I am fond of, especially not when there are several hundred other people around me who can't get in). The night of the show it poured rain, and then stopped right before the dance, which had the added wonderfulness of turning the old tarmac into sort of a reflecting pond for the big trucks big lights. OMG it was SO FANTASTIC!

Allison has been wanting to do an encore performance for some time, one that will allow for far more people to see the show. Now the dream will be coming true on August 27th and 28th of this year, and the goal is to allow 4,000 people (2,000 per night) to see the show for free.

Of course there are expenses involved in this production. Forklift Danceworks has a Kickstarter page up to help defray some of these costs. They are aiming to raise $10,000 by April 1st. They need more than that to make the whole thing happen, but for now, $10k is the goal. Already they are nearly halfway there. The minimum pledge is $1. That's right-- just One Single Buck. If every one of my FB friends chipped in just $1 today, Forklift could easily surpass the 50% mark. And, on top of that, if you donate one dollar, you are a bonafide supporter of the arts-- very nice.

So please pretty please pretty please pretty please-- mark your calendars for the shows. And throw a couple of bucks (or even just one) into the hat. You will be so glad you did. Plus, if you go to the Kickstarter page, you can see a video clip of the original Trash Project and read, in Allison's own words, all about why she does what she does. She is truly one of Austin's finest treasures. Let's show her we appreciate all she does.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

St. Nicholas at Hyde Park Theatre: A Must See Performance

Oddly, at some point during the play St. Nicholas—a one-man show written by Conor McPherson and currently playing at Hyde Park Theatre, starring Ken Webster—the Bronte sisters popped into my head. I will attempt to explain why, though I make no promise of being sensical. (Please note: nonsensical is a word, and technically sensical is not, but today it is.)

Even though the only Bronte sister I ever read was Charlotte, I have this ancient recollection of being taught that the Bronte sisters lived a very holed up existence and that they created tiny little books that demonstrated massive imagination. On its surface, St. Nicholas appears, at least initially, to be a small thing. One man—a drunken Irish ex-theatre critic—tells us a story in two acts, for a total of maybe 80 minutes. During the story, a number of concepts come up, some of which seem like smallish ideas, just like those Bronte books were so small. But then, your brain latches on to the little thoughts, and you realize the bigness contained therein, and before you know it, your mind wants to race off down different paths, to explore on its own the ideas McPherson raises in the moment they are being raised.

Fortunately, Webster is such a fantastic actor that it wasn’t hard to choose between staying in the moment and hanging on to his every word or allowing the brain to give into the temptation to wander. I picked the former, saving the latter for post-show mental mastication.

What makes the writing so excellent is that it is super-meta. As I’ve said 10,000 times, I’m not one for spoilers in my reviews. But I’ll give you a hint of an example: early on Webster’s unnamed character explains just how despicable and power hungry theatre critics can be. This called to mind a bit of commentary I wrote last year about a particular youngster in Austin who fancies himself a critic, but who apparently lives to simply bash the shit out of any show that he himself is not personally involved in producing, perhaps because it gives him a false sense of power. With this introduction by St. Nicholas’s sole character came my mind’s first temptation to wander— to wonder about critics who first saw the play, knowing that if they chose to condemn it they’d be demonstrating just the point McPherson makes about self-important critics.

What makes the performance so exceptional is that Webster holds the audience utterly spellbound. He makes the storytelling seem effortless and extemporaneous, not at all like a memorized piece rehearsed by an actor. Not only that, he fully inhabits the character. I’ve said this before about watching actors I know in my real life—when they are able to get me to forget I know them, well that’s a pretty amazing trick. I’ve known Ken for years, worked with him when my own show played at HPT, and yet I completely forgot during St. Nicholas that this man onstage was Ken Webster in reality. Oh no, not at all. He was instead a troubled man who was learning some lessons the hard way, courtesy of some vampires. (Yes, I said vampires. I’m not saying anymore about that aspect—just go see for yourself.)

Toward the end of the show, I did again start to let my mind wander as the strength of the piece and the performance of it pushed my brain to overload. There was just so much to think about that it was getting hard to maintain my resolve to hold those thoughts until post-show. When I did momentarily cave, my head went in two curious directions. At one point, I started counting. If, in fact, Webster was wearing underwear and a belt (a fact he will have to confirm or deny) then we had a total of twelve things onstage besides the actor himself: two shoes, two socks, pants, shirt, vest, underwear, belt, table, chair, cup. Just a dozen things, not set changes, no fancy lighting, very little movement even. And yet, somehow, the story and delivery are so compelling that there seems to be so much more.

And the other thought I couldn’t fend off—the show concludes with some heavy thoughts about relationships. I won’t tell you what they were, just repeat that, as with much of the monologue, these thoughts seemed pretty basic on the surface, but felt profound in the end. I giddily decided to challenge folks to attend the show as a first date, because it would take balls to do so, and give plenty of fodder for conversation afterward, perhaps not all of it easy or comfortable, but certainly a way to gauge if a second date is in order.

That in turn got me thinking about a first date I went on to HPT back in 2007, which happened to be another one-man show starring Webster. The date in question turned out to be a total sociopath, and I later learned that he took ALL his first dates to HPT, which is how I came to host my show, The Dick Monologues, which was dedicated to that guy, at HPT. Thing is, even though that dude was a total ass, and as much as I hate to give him any credit, he at least had the sense to know that one way to impress a date, to demonstrate intelligence and foster instant appreciation, is to take that someone to watch Ken Webster perform. And so, in the end, while any appreciation I had for that scoundrel fast faded, my appreciation for Webster only continues to grow.

Such a little show, this St. Nicholas. Little like a Bronte book. You could hold it in the palm of your hand. But look closer, think about it. Because between the opening and closing lines, as between the covers of those little books, lies a universe of hard thinking, a mental workout that will leave your brain sweating and buzzing long after it’s over. 

Blue Man Group at Long Center: Like Burning Man for Round Rockians!

Last night Warren and I saw the Blue Man Group at the Long Center and let me begin this ramble by saying that if you have a chance to see them while they're here this week: GO GO GO! My joke is that the show is like Burning Man for folks from Round Rock-- i.e. it is somehow both radical and "safe" and a glance at the packed house, which included plenty of seniors and little kids, shows how often enough that which once was cutting edge is now pleasantly mainstream. But don't take this mainstream proclamation as judgment or dismissal. I love it when great acts get the recognition they deserve. And, for my part, getting to see the troupe is a 16 year-old dream come true. They are so smart, so funny, so utterly silly and so completely joyful that it would be impossible to have a bad time. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if the Blue Men were my roommates-- waking up to them would mean with all certainty that every day would be a very good day.

BMG first came on my radar back in 1995 during the SXSW film festival when I saw a short documentary called Picasso Would Have Made a Glorious Waiter. In the doc, we get to watch the staff of the Glorious Food Catering Company wait on a lot of chi-chi high society people, some of whom are shot in very slow-mo wolfing down food that had been carefully prepared. The film appealed to me because I did food service for 15 years. And I really loved how it followed some of the staffers around in their "other" lives-- as performers struggling to make it in NYC. This included the Blue Man Group back before they became international stars. (And these days, the Blue Men you see are not the original founders, but actors that have taken on their roles.) From the moment I saw them in that film I wanted to see them live. I'm not sure why it took so long, but never mind that, I finally saw them and even though having expectations often leads to disappointment, this show was a delightful exception to that rule. I knew-- I mean I KNEW-- going in I was going to have fun. Boy was I right.

I don't want to give away what I saw-- the element of surprise really is a major part of the thrill here. But I can't resist revealing that BMG manages to incorporate a serious Andrew Wyeth painting in a most hilarious way. You could actually hear me laughing a sustained, giddy laugh above the rest of the crowd during this part, as that Wyeth painting holds a special place in my heart. Wyeth as comic element-- who would've guessed it?

The show runs through Sunday, February 27th, and you can get tickets online right here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Summer Camp Early Bird Discount Ends 2/21-- Sign Up Now

Rebound is ready for Arts & Crafts Camp!

Hey Y'all,
If you head over to Camp Spike you can get all the details on my upcoming summer camps for kids. I know, I know, this weather doesn't really make you think "summer camp" BUT... sign up now and get the Early Bird Discount. I'm actually extending the discount to 2/21. If you would kindly help me spread the word, I'd sure appreciate it.

This summer we've got:

Added incentive-- Anyone who signs up by 2/14 gets an additional $20 off if you mention this blog post.

Email for details.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grainy Dog Porn: My Secret Hobby

I first thought about using a Hula Hoop to get fit back in the late '90s when, unable to afford a gym membership, I decided that dropping $20 on a cheap hoop and a copy of ABBA GOLD held the promise of a tight booty and daily endorphin rushes. While that didn't quite take at the time, a couple of years ago, I got a very cool hoop, bigger and heavier than the toy Hula Hoops, and I started working out with it. Again, I put it down. Do we see a pattern here? But this past NYE, one of my resolutions was to start hooping again, every day, and save for one day so far I have kept that vow daily since January 1st.

It's got a built-in bonus, one that dovetails nicely with another resolution. I'm so addicted to audiobooks that I realize I had been neglecting my substantial (by my standards) music collection. I wasn't making time for music even though music is more than an important part of my life, it's crucial to my mental well-being. (I think I just read an Oliver Sacks' piece about how the brain processes music. I'll let you go dig up that link.) So now, for at least 20 minutes every morning-- sometimes longer-- I listen to excellent tunes and hoop it up. It's a serious workout. I let shuffle do must of the deejaying for me, though sometimes I will skip ahead if a song isn't conducive to some hard swiveling. M. Ward has a couple of excellent hoop tunes (Chinese Translation, Never Had Nobody Like You). The White Stripes (My Doorbell), Elvis P. (A Little Less Conversation, Viva Las Vegas), Elvis C. (Indoor Fireworks, Uncomplicated), Mickey Avalon (My Dick, Jane Fonda), The Wainwrights (Rufus and Martha), The Who... and the list goes on and on-- Magnetic Fields, Southpaw Jones, the Carpenters, the aforementioned ABBA, Modest Mouse, and-- maybe my two favorite hoop tunes-- an old Arcade Fire tune I don't know the name of but which was the triumphant anthem of my last divorce and Big Audio Dynamite's Medicine Show.

Here's how it looks when I bust out the hoop. Bubbles, as ever, doesn't give a shit. Rebound gets a horror stricken look on her prehistoric fish face and huddles, often with her back turned, as if the swinging hoop has descended from outer space to kidnap her and express her anal glands with some Martian probe. Dante will lie, majestically and sphinx-like, watching unblinking as the hoop twirls round and round. And Tatum-- ah, Tatum. Curiously enough, Tatum likes to lie right AT MY FEET when I hoop. She seems to enjoy the hoop swinging around over her head. Or maybe it's just that she's getting old and very clingy and maybe her cataracts prevent her from even noticing the hoop.

Everything will be humming along, I'll be belting out the My Dick lyrics explaining to Dante how I am much better endowed than he is, when suddenly, there comes a shift. Bubbles, Little Miss Not Interested, will decide it is time for a round of Tatum domination. Bubbles does this fairly regularly-- hops on Tate's back and starts humping her neck wildly. But she is especially driven to action under two particular circumstances: when there is live theramin music in the room (more often than you might think) and when I am hooping. Recently, shuffle pulled up Marvin Gaye singing Let's Get It On and, as if she could hear the song and decided to take it as her cue, Bubbles mounted and some great dog porn ensued. Not wanting to break from my calorie burning, but yes wanting to capture the magnificence of this event for the six of you, I went ahead and shot this video while simultaneously hooping. I know, I know-- damn I'm good.

I call it Grainy Dog Porn and I think the bad lighting, shaky camera, and in-and-out-of-frame swinging hoop technique deserves some kind of award, don't you?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Anal Gland Update-- We Are (Literally) Breathing Easier Over Here

Today was a VERY exciting day for Rebound! Even though it is very, very, very cold (brrrrrr) and even though none of us really wanted to extract ourselves from the puppy pile we've been in since the cold snap started, well, sometimes life throws you clogged anal glands and you just have to get out of the house to get them expressed.

Which is to say that, sadly, my DIY attempts to milk forth from the periphery of Rebound's anus that which has been making my house smell like ungodly rancid liquid shit for the past week were not successful after all. Like some perverted variation on lipstick kiss marks left by your overzealous aunt on your chubby little cheek, every time Rebound sat down and then got up, there it was: the double milk chocolate parentheses of her leaking butt kiss, left upon pillow, blanket, rag rug, etc.

I broke down and called the vet, wondering how much it was going to set me back, wishing there was some kind homeless dude closer to home bearing a WILL EXPRESS YOUR DOG'S ANAL GLANDS FOR FOOD sign. No such luck. In the end (and I do mean that literally) it only cost around fifty bucks to have them really get in there and... well let's just say Lil Rebound is clean as a whistle now and amen for that. They even gave her a complimentary dusting of some industrial deodorizer so that now the smell lingering in my car is like one of those complex wines with fruity-tooty notes on top, and a sweet aftertaste.

Though Rebound was none too pleased to visit the vet-- even she, with her limited mental capacity knows the folks there are up to no good-- she was glad for a chance to don her little Red Riding Hood capelet, gifted to her by her Auntie Em and Uncle Bug. And, as a reward for her patience, I took her to see Big Red, whom she attempted to kiss through the back window of the car. Rebound is convinced that Big Red is her mother, since he was my roommate when I adopted her, and she imprinted on him.

Now we're all home, ready to reposition ourselves in a freshly sheeted bed as we wait for this freaking freeze to dissipate.