Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Summer of Camp Spike Draws to a Close...

Mixed Media Masterpiece by VV: Toilet paper roll, gold spray paint, macaroni, glue, attitude!
You know, I can't even remember when I first started hosting summer camps. Maybe seven years ago? Maybe ten? Funny thing is, I remember waaaaaay back, in the nineties, trying to get a kids' writing group started. I made up fliers-- I think it was called Write On! This must've been pre-Internet because it was hard getting the word out and not a single taker materialized for my proposed program.

I tried again a few years later, hosting my first Writing Camp at BookPeople. That time I fared better-- I had kids show up. But the funny thing was, my "plan" involved having them write for three hours straight-- the full duration of each session. I had been projecting my fantasy onto these kids and the idea of having three uninterrupted hours of writing excited me to no end. Not so the kids, who quickly grew bored. And so I had to come up with other activities.

It's been so many years now that I can't even remember the precise evolution of things. I know some summers I just skipped camp altogether. And I know many summers I wrap up the sessions swearing Never Again! Not because it's bad, just because, as an introvert (it's true), by the time I host 3 or 5 or 6 weekly sessions, I am absolutely desperate to get back to my normal schedule which usually includes at least 8 to 10 alone hours each day (not including sleeping hours). Too, there's always going to be a tiny part of me that, when I am out pursuing other income generating-endeavors, thinks, "Why aren't you home writing?Weren't you supposed to be a full time writer?"

Apparently not. In 1988 I met a fabulous intuitive who told me, among other things, that in addition to being a writer, I was a teacher, that this was a calling to be heeded. I didn't love the idea when he brought it up. I came from a place-- both geographically and historically-- where "being a teacher" was one of the few things women were "allowed" to do. I resented this idea and fled from it. I wanted "more." (Funny aside-- that same guy told me I'd be working in something that looked like TV but that wasn't-- that it would be an interactive medium. Please note, I said this was 1988 long before the Internet would fall into the hands of the general population. How right that guy was.)

Over the years, the role of "teacher" just kept banging on my door until at last I answered. Warren is forever telling me I should be a kindergarten teacher and I am forever telling him to shut up with this idea. I don't want to be a full time teacher. I like leading my weekly writing workshops for adults, and I have a good amount of fun at summer camps. But then I need lots of big long breaks from teaching because for all of the crazy fun we have, I have to admit that I do get burned out sometimes-- being responsible for the lives of kids is a pretty big deal. So when, as happened this summer, I turn around to see a kid with a bag over his head, I can get a little freaked out. (In that moment, I turned on a dime from cheerful camp counselor to Crazed Mom Mode, snatching the bag away and saying in The Voice, "That is NEVER Okay!!" The kid then cried for a good half-hour or so while I apologized repeatedly and tried to explain that my tone of voice had been one of concern that he was going to suffocate, not Disappointment in Him as a Human, which seemed to be the message he took from it. Oh the lessons I learn in camp.)

This summer, to test out a theory I had that grown ups really do want to do kids-style camp, I offered a four-week session of Arts and Crafts for Big Kids or, as I prefer to call it: Wine and Potholder Weaving! Tomorrow night is our last meeting and boy did we have fun. Every Thursday night I lugged all my crafting supplies to our space and every week I was astonished at what creative things the campers came up with.

This astonishment happens at the kids' camps, too-- in Writing Camp, Arts & Crafts Camp, and Fashion Camp I see and hear so many amazing ideas. Below are more pictures from the various camps. But first, I want to share just one piece of writing from one of my students, Lilli H. I wish I could take some credit for inspiring this, but I have to tell you that based on our conversations and Lilli's astute observations about life, I'm going to say that she gets 100% full credit. I merely supplied paper and pencil and just happened to have been lucky enough to have her in my Teen Writing Camp:

Attempting to describe human behavior is one of the most challenging things to do as a writer.  When a writer describes something such as a flame or a drop of water, there is comfort in knowing the object's predictability.  You know the color of the flame of the feel of water.  It is the object's unwavering consistencies that make it describable.
However, human behavior is not a flame nor a drop of water.  It holds no rhyme or reason.  It has no intentions of bending to the laws of logic.  The most one could hope in trying to recreate it on paper is to find the very few patterns hidden beneath the surface.
--- Lilli H. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Am So Psyched-- My Friend Dr. Kate on NPR!!

Hey Y'all,

I recently read a book that I just love, love, love! It's called Twelve Breaths a Minute and it's an anthology of essays about end-of-life issues. The book was brought to my attention by my friend, Dr. Kate, who contributed a piece to the book and-- in addition to being a pediatric surgeon-- is a damn fine writer. You might think end-of-life essays are a downer and, to be honest, a lot of these pieces have their troubling moments. But that'd didn't put me off, it pulled me in-- the frank look at how things are. I love the honesty and guts of this book. In the West, far too often we deny the facts of death and the circumstances that surround end-of-life. This book tackles those facts and circumstances head on. I was so swept away by the writing that I wrote a review which is supposed to show up in the Texas Observer soon. So I am not going to go further into my thoughts here, not yet anyway. But I will tell you something so great:

Dr. Kate's essay was selected to be excerpted at the NPR website! It just posted here and you can read for yourself how outstanding her work is. 

Congratulations Kate, MD! Nicely done.

Y'all-- get this book. It is such an eye-opening and so beautifully written by the essayists and arranged by editor Lee Gutkind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Blue Period

Extreme Blue Makeover

For a long time I entertained a fantasy in which I transformed the entire interior of my house to blue. I can trace the roots of this dream back to a long ago evening spent at the home of some friends. They set me up in their guest room and the walls were painted a deep sky blue. My eyes were so instantly happy at seeing this color, and again at waking up to it, that when I bought my house in 2006, the first thing I did was paint my bedroom blue.

In memoriam triptych of Satch by Linda Sheets. Scratchboard, paint and collage.
In 2007, some roommates moved in and took over that bedroom and for reasons I will never understand they painted is a muddy shitty brown. I moved into the spare room on the other side of the house and painted it bright blue. The minute the roommates moved out, I reclaimed my old room and again painted it blue, this time an electric blue. The color was so bright, in fact, that my friend Ann-- who did the painting for me since she's a pro-- wanted me to really stop and think if my eyes could handle that level of saturation. Well it's been three years now and I have yet to weary of the intensity.

After paint, before conversion to sitting room.
Having two blue rooms did not feel like enough for me. I got to thinking that if I painted all the rooms blue it would feel like being in a swimming pool at all times. Ever since I got over my aquaphobia and learned to swim in my late 30's, I have been a huge fan of pools. Add into this mix that I live in a concrete house-- essentially a waterless above-ground pool-- and the idea made more sense.

Portrait of Satch (RIP), Bubbles and Tatum commissioned by Henry for my 40th birthday. I love the lack of proportion.
Last year, I converted what had been my office into a meditation and yoga room. A big part of this transformation involved painting the walls and ceilings Sparky Park blue. If you haven't been to Sparky Park, please go. The blue is actually purplish, so it's not totally in following with the swimming pool rule, but it's still blue so close enough.

Sparky Park

Portrait of my old kitchen in Hyde Park by Kristen Scott. 

Passion Flower by Ann Woodall 
This past month, Ann came back and painted the kitchen blue. She also painted the little eat-in "dining room" blue. I was so psyched by the transformation in the "dining room" that I went ahead and converted it to a sitting room (pictured at the top of this post). And the sitting room is now entirely decorated in original works by friends and my son. Much of this work is dog-themed. The passion flower was painted by Ann, who also crocheted that groovy blanket on the couch. (Ann is so damn multi-talented-- you should check out her website-- Ann Woodall Studios--  and her Etsy shop.) The rug on the floor was crocheted by my friend Janice. Really, of all the joys the makeover has brought, I think the biggest has been stopping to remind myself just what a ridiculous number of outrageously talented friends I have.

The hall and bathroom also turned blue during the interior overhaul. I am so close to my all-blue goal now-- only the living room and laundry room remain. Have I gotten sick of the blue, decided it was a bad idea, come to have painter's remorse? HELL NO. I LOVE swimming around the house. So, then, in conclusion: Blue. Consider painting your entire house that color. Or any color. Monochrome -- it's the new polychrome. If you ever decide to sell your realtor will shake his/her head in sad disbelief and demand you convert everything to beige. But until then who gives a crap what the experts say, right? You want blue, people? Then have blue already.

Cows by Ethan Azarian
Dante and Tatum are smiling because they love electric blue in the bedroom.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

And a Few More Pictures from the Office of Good Deeds Garden Project!

We put in a couple of additional days after our big weekend rally to get the garden/play area installed. Here are some shots of in-progress (including sod planting-- what a cool process, and muscle-building, too) and some AFTER shots. Thanks again to everyone who helped out!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Big News: Spike Gillespie (that's ME) and KUT Welcome You (that's YOU) to WHIM CITY!

The Eiffel Tower of Austin
I think at least four out of the six of you know that I sometimes do commentary for KUT, mostly in the form of Sonic IDs during which I talk about things like performing CPR on beagles or baking a constant stream of cheesecakes in December to fend off holiday-related suicidal depression (you know, keep the oven full so there's no room for your head). During the last on-air fund drive, they even invited me (with some thinly veiled pleas to leave my potty mouth at home) to participate by sitting in on Matt Reilly's show.

Well you know, give her an inch... I so love being on the radio (and listening to the radio) that I started pestering the folks at KUT to let me do more, more, MORE! This was, I suppose, partly ego driven. But I swear it was also related to my adoration of that station. A brainstorming session was called with Rebecca McInroy and Hawk Mendenhall-- those folks responsible for the Give Us Your Car Or Else spots-- and a plan was made. It took us longer than expected to execute that plan, but at long last, TA-DA!! Welcome to Whim City. The goal is to make this an ongoing series where I get to tell you-- in words, sounds, and pictures both moving and still-- all about why I LOVE AUSTIN, TEXAS. Added bonus: Mike Lee, aka Mr. Sonic ID, has added his super animation powers.

Here's a video of the first episode-- my trip to the top of the old Air Traffic Control Tower. You can read my accompanying mini-essay right here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: The Good Thief at Hyde Park Theatre

You know how some people used to watch Oprah and Jerry Springer to feel better about their own lives? As in: Well, shit, at least I’m not as fucked up as those fuckers so I must be doing something right! If such twisted optimism colors your world, you’ll have plenty to feel good about while taking in The Good Thief, a one-man show starring Ken Webster, playing through August 6, 2011 at the Hyde Park Theatre.

The unnamed Dubliner played by Webster is your basic, garden variety, low-level thug. He plays yes-man to a (perhaps only slightly) mightier thug, one Joe Murray. As the character tells his tale, we discover that life was going pretty well for him just shaking down sundry folks for protection money, scaring the shit out of others here and there, more bark and less bite. Until, that is…

And here comes into play my no spoiler rule. I will tell you that the tale that unfolds is not linear. Oh, there’s an arc to it, to be sure. But I’d like to chalk it up to Irish storytelling magic that this one-hour monologue, delivered by Webster in a brogue, goes wandering all over the Irish countryside both literally and figuratively. Things have gone wrong, very wrong for our main character, who bumbles what was to have been a simple job. And with this, a Rube O’Goldberg device is set into motion, pulling into the tale all manner of characters, each of them—save perhaps for the wee little children and their wee little cameos—flawed in his or her own way.

McPherson also penned St. Nicholas, another one-man show recently staged by HPT that also starred Webster. Hold St. Nicholas up beside The Good Thief for a good comparative view and you will find similarities. The stripped down set. The sole narrator. A man who gets sucked into a place of darkness and seems surprised by this, despite the fact that he’d been lurking on the edge of that place long before fully falling in.

And, of course, what both have in common in our town is Ken Webster. As he always does, Webster manages to bring to vivid life the character he portrays with just the faintest twinkle hint in his eye and the sort of quiet charisma required to make The Good Thief’s protagonist sympathetic. Funny, you’d think getting an audience to cultivate such feelings for an admitted scoundrel would take hard work. Webster makes it seem effortless. We know the story we’re hearing is from the perspective of the thug, and by virtue of this fact should easily leave us skeptical, or at least on the lookout for holes in his tale. Instead, in a peculiar way we wind up if not totally rooting for him, at least feeling something other than the condemnation his actions probably should unabashedly merit. That, people, is the wonderful one-two punch of Ken-Webster-meets-Conor-McPherson. This is the sort of part Webster expertly sinks his teeth into, making it his own.

The Good Thief plays at Hyde Park Theatre Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through August 6, 2011. Thursdays are Pay What You Can night. Show starts at 8 pm and runs about an hour (no intermission). Order tickets online or call 479-PLAY to reserve seats. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trouble Puppet Theater Company: I Have Many Things to Tell You All!

So, back in early spring, I went to see Trouble Puppet Theater Company's production of Upton Sinclair's, The Jungle-- you know, that upbeat novel about Chicago slaughterhouses at the turn of the last century. As I told Trouble Puppet founder, Connor Hopkins, post-show, the piece was so powerful it made me want to go home and kill myself. Okay, okay, not really. But the presentation was naturally incredibly dark, given its seed material. Hopkins had a laugh when I told him my thoughts-- he said lots of people greeted him enthusiastically after performances, shook his hand and cheerfully declared, "That was TERRIBLE," by which, of course, they meant that it was wonderful how Hopkins' puppeteers so carefully and eloquently captured their characters.

That wasn't my first experience with Trouble Puppet. In 2010 I saw their astonishingly fabulous co-production of A Most Unsettling and Possibly Haunted Evening in the Parlour of the Brothers Grimm. So I knew going in The Jungle was going to be good. A couple of weeks after the show, I visited Connor's workspace and chatted with him and Caroline Reck about the show in particular and puppetry in general. Reck, who participated in The Jungle, also has her own puppet company, Glass Half Full Theatre. These two are very tall and very talented and very brilliant. After we got the preliminaries out of the way-- for example concurring that King Friday and Lady Elaine Fairchild aren't exactly the gateway drug to an adult puppet passion-- they fielded a bazillion of my questions. I captured their answers the good old fashioned journalistic way-- audio recording. And, because I am trying to master video blogging (I have a very long way to go) I also shot some footage. Below you'll find both a YouTube link and the print version of the audio interview. But First!!

Before we get to that, I must tell you that Trouble Puppet Theater has a fast approaching fundraiser that promises to be most thrilling. Let me hit you with those details now so you can order your tickets. I am definitely going to this one. Details:

WHO: Trouble Puppet Theater Company Get Yourself into Trouble: The Apocalypse
WHEN: July 20, 2011, 7:00 pm.
WHAT: Trouble Puppet’s annual party and fundraiser: Get Yourself into Trouble: The Apocalypse
WHERE: Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road.
COST: $15: includes food, drink, and a raffle ticket.  Tickets available online.  
WHAT to EXPECT: As we have each year for a thousand years, since the Great Collapse and the dark days of Bad Time, Trouble Puppet unites the tribes of the wastelands at our annual party and fundraiser, Get Yourself into Trouble! Join a tribe and compete for prizes and glory, or survival. View part of Doomsday Machine, hosted by Cinematic Titanic’s own Mary Jo Pehl; watch Aileen Adler serenade exploding puppets; and shake it to the swing and jazz of the Shivers—the White Ghost ShiversIn the games, you may win theater tickets, puppets handmade by your Troublemakers truly, including a special portrait puppet of whomever you choose (be they friend or nennimy), and 3-day ACL Music Fest passes. The end of times will be fueled by Dripping Springs Vodka, Spec’s, Brick Oven on 35th, Chef Sandy Bowie,, and others.Tickets, $15, available at the door or at Advance (online) tickets receive an extra raffle ticket.

Okay, now that you've got that on the calendar, here's the YouTube snippet (pardon the parts where I accidentally can be heard talking but I just got SO EXCITED) and the interview with Connor and Caroline:

Spike: What brought you to Austin?

Connor: I did what I think a lot of people do—put my stuff in my car and drove down here and thought, “Let’s see what happens.” 

Spike: Were you into puppets before you arrived? 
Connor: I didn’t know anything about puppets. I v
olunteered to help on a puppet show to meet people and it turned out to be something I loved doing and I was good at. The first show I worked on was about this family run strip club with Greek Tragedy elements. Someone murders the father and he comes back as a transgendered stripper and works in the club and his gay son falls in love with him. None of that was my idea, but that’s how I got introduced to puppetry.

Spike: I was kind of surprised to hear The Jungle would be performed with puppets. The idea felt like cognitive dissonance to me.
Connor: One of the things that I’m attracted to about puppetry—a long tradition of being this subversive, red-headed stepchild of the theater world. There were years and years where theaters would be closed down because they were gathering places for radicals and subversives but puppetry you could still get away with. You could set it up, do your show and then be out of there before the cops arrived. It has a long history of being used as a tool of social criticism, mostly in Europe, not so much in the States. In the States people think of it as children’s entertainment whereas in other countries around the world it has a deeper tradition.

Caroline: That [misperception that puppetry is for children only] is also partly the fault of Victorian Era in England because that’s where they first started coddling children and having this idea that children should have special forms of entertainment just for them. And so puppet shows started to be created for children. Prior to that puppet shows were not necessarily for children. So the tradition got brought over to America based on that Victorian children version.

Spike: Have you studied puppetry formally or are you self-taught?
Conor: For the first five or six years I was making it up as I went along. As I got deeper and deeper into it and realized more and more what potential it had I started to read up on it and look into the history of it. Then I got all the more interested in it when I started to realize things like the Grand Guignol Theater in France – all about decapitations and spraying the audience with blood-- evolved from puppet theater. Then it has all of this interesting history. I started studying that on my own. Then about four years ago I went to the National Puppetry Conference and met other puppeteers.  That place is pretty amazing. I compare it to going to a convention of magicians who are all totally willing to show you how they do their tricks. Everybody is totally happy to be around other people who are just as big a freak as they are so it’s a really open and joyful place to be. The director of the conference always welcomes the new people and congratulates them on finding their tribe because that’s really what it’s like.

Caroline: I came at it a little differently. I had worked in theater for years and did physical theater and studied in France and was hired from there to do some puppetry in France. Because there it’s much more normal to cross between the lines of theatre and puppetry. So I worked for years as a puppeteer in France before I ever studied it. Where I studied it for the first time was at the Puppetry Conference. I had a similar feeling of, “Oh wow you can learn this from other people? You don’t have to make it all up as you go?”

Spike: How did you come up with the idea to adapt The Jungle?
Connor: We do a lot of sort of historical, political, satirical shows. So we’ve done How I Became a Catholic Suicide Bomber. We did one about the Haymarket Riots in Chicago. And did one about Zapata for the local Zapatista support group. We had a history of doing labor history related things and a lot of that happened around Chicago. During the course of reading about the Haymarket Riots and other things I got a broader view of Chicago labor history and it reminded me of The Jungle which I had read when I was younger. So I re-read it and I was just thinking about it in very broad terms like, How would you make a show out of it? Because it’s this huge sprawling novel that covers a decade and has forty characters in it and there are whole chapters where there’s no plot just him talking about this journalistic discussion of the way the meatpacking industry works. 

My first year at the Conference I made a participant piece- in your three hours of spare time you can put together a show that’s 3 -5 minutes long. I made this little paper butcher and this little paper cow and made a little hook and had them go through this repetitive thing where this butcher whacks it on the head and hooks it up to the thing and it swings over and he cuts its throat and it bleeds out. That was kind of the seed of the show, trying to find what is the most essential distillation of this whole book. I started with that and it grew and grew and grew over the years. I went to the Conference to do an emerging artist project where they actually give you a workspace and a cast and coaches to help you out. I did a workshop of it there and we got a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation to do an early version. Then they gave us a bigger project grant to do this last version, which was the fully realized version. We had everything-- the set, we had the life-sized cow puppet. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sarah Bird's New Book, James McMurtry Singing, and Spooky Good Synchronicity

Sarah Bird is a wonderful novelist and I've been reading her work since at least 1986. In fact, I used to read her essays in magazines and feel something like jealousy-- I wanted to be like her. Eventually, like Sarah, I did manage to find my way in the wacky world of publishing. At least as good-- let's say better-- I moved to Austin and became friends with Sarah who, to my surprise and delight, accepted my invitation back in 2007 to be part of the Dick Monologues.

Sarah's newest book, The Gap Year, dropped on Tuesday and I set aside my agoraphobic tendencies to attend her book release party at BookPeople. Yeah, me and, like 5,000 other Austinites. It was delightfully packed and I was thrilled for Sarah and also thrilled for this reminder that, no really, people still do love and buy books.

In her introductory remarks and then in a passage she read from the novel, Sarah talked about the time travel phenomenon particular to us empty-nesters who find ourselves running into ubiquitous triggers that remind us of the vanished childhoods of our young adult children. In real life, Sarah, like me, has a fine young man for a son. In the book the parent-child relationship involves a single mother and her daughter. As Sarah described the sensation of how the simplest sounds and sights can set us off down memory lane, I didn't have to work to get into the moment. I was right there with her. I adore my grown up son-- I could not be more pleased with the funny, compassionate, beautiful human he has become. But I am also visited at times by wistful moments when I so miss the little guy he was that I get an ache, like a brain freeze, only it's a heart freeze.

Hearing Sarah's reading and seeing her deserved adoration from the crowd would have sufficed that evening, giving me as it did an emotional boost. But then I decided to follow through on part two of my plan. James McMurtry was playing an acoustic show at the Continental Club Gallery, a little upstairs room in the space adjacent to the official club. James has been playing these early shows for sometime now, but aforementioned agoraphobic tendencies found me coming up with many last-minute excuses over the years to "wait until next week." But since I was already out, why not go for broke, right?

The tiny room was warm and already packed when I arrived. I spotted James right before he headed for the stage and shared a brief hug. Then I settled in on a spot on the floor, fished out my knitting, and proceeded to have an experience nothing short of holy as he played and sang nearly two solid hours of some of the best guitar and lyrics in... the world? the known universe? Have you heard James play? This is not hyperbole-- his insights and observations are unparalleled.

But wait, there's more. See, James and I are old friends. Not tight buddy-buddy, see each other all the time friends. Not FB friends. But our boys grew up together from around the time they were four years old when they met at Little Stacy Pool. They had sleepovers and adventures. And when they hit their teens, both of them took up the guitar and both have had a decent measure of success already. (Curtis also plays a mean saxophone and writes great lyrics, too).

It had been literally years since I'd heard James live, and the montage of images that crashed in as I listened to him overwhelmed me in the very best sense. It dawned on me, as I mouthed the words to so many songs, that his music had, literally, been the soundtrack to Henry's growing up years. When we weren't seeing James play live, we were blasting his CDs in our falling down rental in Hyde Park. Proust can keep his madeleines. Give me a single opening lick of a McMurtry tune and I am right back in that dumpy house with little Henry whizzing around the warped hardwoods on his razor scooter.

And then other images rushed in. James is a very quiet person, and not one for big attention-calling gestures. But sitting there, so close to him, and hearing that voice, I recounted endless kind gestures he had extended to Henry and me over the years. I remembered the time we showed up at the Saxon Pub for a late show and the doorwoman looked at Henry, then around 7, and shook her head no, I couldn't bring him in. Then I said we were on the guest list. She looked and James had listed Henry plus one. Suddenly her attitude changed, she ushered us into a reserved table, and treated Henry like royalty.

I remembered walking around Town Lake one day, and looking into the water, seeing Henry and Curtis and James and Curtis's mom in a canoe, Henry situated on the boat's floor, nestled at James's feet, and how good that felt, seeing Henry so happy like that. I remembered James gamely agreeing to be part of the NAKED Calendar project and then, as if taking it all of for the cause weren't enough, playing a private concert and going on KUT to promote it. I remembered the day I left my first ex-husband and beat a hasty retreat over to his house, where sanctuary was offered, along with a cold beer and a long nap, no questions asked.

And I remembered one of the funniest moments I ever shared with him. James has a line in Levelland, one of his best known songs, about a small town band doing the best they can to play Joy to the World. We were at a high school football game together one night when the band really did break into that song about Jeremiah the bullfrog and as I recall it, I tried to feign ignorance, though inside I was giggling like mad, a moment like this being on par to, say, hanging out with Lennon and McCartney when a walrus just happens by.

Other memories visited me, too, as I sat there on the floor listening (in fact, I recalled how James referred to the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being as The Unbearable Hardness of Sitting). Catching him play in Bandera at a Dance Hall. Watching him help out with the Teen Rock Shows that Henry and Curtis used to play.

And then it all came back around to Sarah's reading, that whole time travel thing. The synchronicity of the evening was so splendid and I had some very personal Joy to My World riding the waves of memories, and reveling in my friends' success. Thank you, Sarah. And thank you, James. Really, you make me almost think I need to get out more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Dick Monologues Invites You to a Tea Party!

Hey Y'all,
It's been a couple of years since we retired the beloved Dick Monologues, but for those of you who can't get enough dick I have great news. A number of us Dickies will be joining forces on Wednesday, August 3rd, Year of Our Lord 2011 to present a NEW SHOW called :


We'll explain the concept more at the show, but I figure you can kind of guess where we're heading with this. It was inspired by two things-- 1) Something ridiculous that happened to Rudy and 2) The upcoming Day of Fasting and Prayer for Our Nation's Challenges. This prayer/fast thing is the brainchild (I use the word "brain" very loosely) of Governor Good Hair, Rick Perry, who seems to think it's a great idea to mix church and state as he asks everyone of us to partake in this CHRISTIAN prayer meeting. 

In his press release, Perry-- the archetypal dick if ever there was one-- says, "Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel. I urge all Americans of faith to pray on that day for the healing of our country, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of enduring values as our guiding force."

In short, we are being asked to contemplate what is wrong with America. Oh boy, do we have some ideas about that! 

If you can stomach it, there's a video of the Guv talking about all this event, called The Response, while standing in front of the requisite American and Lone Star flags. Above all, he asks us to pray. Those of us in the Dick Monologues pray you will join us for a Tea Party as we pre-respond to the call. 


The Dick Monologues Presents: You're What's Wrong With America!

Wednesday, August 3rd  7 pm til we're done ranting

Hyde Park Theatre, 43rd & Ave A in Hyde Park

Tickets: $10

Limited seating. To reserve your place, email today!

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Okay to be Fat and/or Black!

Last week Big Red and I went to see Zach Scott's production of HAIRSPRAY and, as is overwhelmingly the case at Zach, we had a super swell time. I cannot believe it's been 23 years since the original John Waters' movie, HAIRSPRAY, came out. (Dang. I could've sworn I saw that in Austin but I didn't even get to Austin til '91.) I loved loved loved loved the original-- I'm a big JW fan. But I never did get around to seeing the musical film version that came out in 2007, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I went to see the live show.

Well, well, well. HAIRSPRAY-- not surprisingly-- really holds up. I'm guessing most of y'all know at least a bit of the story by now, so it's not a huge spoiler to hit on a few plot points. Overweight Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad and her best friend Penny Pingleton are nerdy teenagers who long to be on the Corny Collins Show -- very similar to American Bandstand. That's where all the popular white kids appear. Tracy gets a chance to live the dream, only to discover evil racism dominating the set, which she decides to do something about.

Photo copyright Kirk R. Tuck 2011

Okay, the above doesn't even qualify as barebones, but don't worry about that. Point is, the show is witty and hilarious AND it manages to touch on stereotypes and isms that pervaded society in the '50s and continue to pervade today. Namely, the popular skinny white kids frown upon the black kids and the overweight kids (and anyone else perceived to be an outsider).

You don't have to have grown up in a racist town on the east coast to appreciate HAIRSPRAY, but if, like me, that was your fate, I think you'll get a bonus level of satisfaction. Listening to Tracy declare that "Every day should be Negro Day," I flashed back to a moment in my thirties when it dawned on me that I was free, free, free at last! See, I fled my racist hometown in my teens eventually landing in liberal Austin. And that epiphany brought me the realization that I could do ANYTHING I WANTED, including-- gasp! -- get it on with a black dude if I so chose (and was so chosen). Now if that sounds like a strange, immature, or maybe even racist-in-its-own-way kind of thought, bear with me. The notion itself might've been off, but what spurred it was realizing that the one thing my father most feared for his daughters was that we'd bring home a man of color. Or rather, that we'd stop coming home knowing that he'd kill us (so the threat went, I recall) if we did show up with a partner that varied from the white-male model he designated as appropriate. It's been so long since I spent much time thinking about the time and place I grew up in, and HAIRSPRAY reminded me of those very real racist conditions that shaped my childhood.

I want to wash this man's car. (Photo copyright Kirk R. Tuck 2011)

It also reminded me of the movie Citizen Ruth, which is a great comedy about abortion starring Laura Dern. Yes, I said a comedy about abortion. As someone who has both written and read my fair share of earnest, righteous, and outraged commentaries on topics like abortion and racism, I have to admit nothing tickles me more than when a writer can shine the light of absurdity on polarizing subject matter through the deft use of humor. HAIRSPRAY does this consistently and throughout. You're sitting there laughing but you know this is comedy born of some pretty unfunny shit.

Zach's creative director Dave Steakely has brought many pieces to the stage that examine racism and the black experience-- Keeping it Weird, Porgy and Bess, The Book of Grace, the list goes on. I imagined him taking extra delight in staging HAIRSPRAY which allows him to keep true to his clear devotion to making the world a better place and having pure fun via the glories of putting on a musical. It was so nice to see a cast featuring amazing talent, black and white, and to see an appreciative audience that also broke the mold of Austin's more-often-than-not sea of white crowd.

Now, about the cast, costumes, choreography and set-- call me a broken record but I'll say again what I so often say about Zach productions: Steakley and company: boy do they know what the hell they're doing. HAIRSPRAY hosts a substantial cast of mightily talented singers and dancers and there are so many standout performances among the actors that I might as well just cut and paste the program here to cover all my bases. Instead, I'll just assure you that you'll love all of the characters, and say that I was super delighted with Brian Coughlin as Tracy's mother, Edna (big shoes to fill-- the original movie featured drag diva Divine), Warren Freeman as Corny Collins and, be still my beating cougar heart, Joshua Denning as Seaweed J. Stubbs. I confess I actually lurked in the lobby post-show hoping to get a picture taken with Denning (not my typical style to stalk performers) who also was beyond astounding in Zach's RENT-- there is something so charismatic about this gorgeous, talented man that watching him perform makes me want to beg him to be my friend, or at least let me wash his car. Brooke Shapiro is an utterly adorable Tracy Turnblad and Christine Tucker as her sidekick Penny really tickled me. Jill Blackwood played a wonderfully wicked Velma Von Tussle (her run is finished now with Amy Downing taking over) who conspires with her equally wonderfully wicked daughter Amber-- Sara Burke-- as they futilely attempt to thwart Tracy's plot to make every day Negro Day. And I am not exaggerating when I say that Janis Stinson as Motormouth Maybelle brought down the house (well, brought the house to their feet) with her show-stopping rendition of I Know Where I've Been.

Photo copyright Kirk R. Tuck 2011

Heading over to Zach to see HAIRSPRAY, I admit I had some reluctance which had nothing to do with the show. I happened to have tickets for a Saturday night that marked then end of an absolutely ass-busting week of work. I was so exhausted I didn't know if I could stay awake long enough to sit through the whole production. Five minutes into it I was revived and excited enough to be glad I hadn't backed out of attending. The show whizzed by, not a draggy moment in it, and I exited absolutely delighted.

HAIRSPRAY plays at Zach Scott Theatre through August 28th. Click here for tickets.