What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Agents of Change

A few days ago Jeff Sensat, artistic director of The Slightly Off-Center Players emailed me a very interesting and poiniant article/review of Chance Theater's production of Steel Magnolia's in Anaheim, California. Here are the main parts of the article by Mark Jones:

Go to any big city in America, and you'll find a strong theater scene. Every night, genres fight for your attention: Shakespeare, improv, domestic realism, musicals, absurdism, queer performance art ... it's a real salad bar.

In the suburbs, it's meat and potatoes by comparison. In too much of suburban America, there's only one kind of theater on the menu: the theater of comfort. Comfortable theater is what community theaters across the country produce: drawing-room theater that affirms preconceptions about certain kinds of people, and about the way people should react and think in times of crisis. Comfortable theater is ruled by what playwright Mac Wellman calls "the tyranny of the already known."

Suburbia's desire for comfortable theater explains the enduring appeal of Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias". The huge 1987 hit is now at Anaheim Hills, CA's Chance Theater, a deeply suburban venue that proclaims its dedication to original works but also obviously needs to make money from time to time.

Let the register ring.

To most people, "Steel Magnolias" is familiar. Since its story is already widely known, it is thereupon comforting. And there is nothing as comfortable to people who secretly dislike theater as a known story. Several seasons ago, one large Southern California theater (I can't remember whether it was the one north of the 210 or at the end of the 133) advertised a holiday play with the eager claim, "You know the story!" Well, if we know the story, why don't we just rent it?

Click here for the rest

If this article is to be taken as a condemnation of "comfort" theatre then some cynics may scoff that there is a place for Steel Magnolias and Neil Simon as well as Rogers and Hammerstein and Grease and who is this critic to tell them that these types of feel-good or familiar tales are unchallenged and without as much worth as the work of say Albee, Shakespeare, Chekov, or more modern playwrights like Paula Vogel or Sarah Crane. Surely, Mr. Jones isn't suggesting that plays about things we know and situations that make us cozy are devoid of value and must be stuffed away to make way for the heavy, uncomfortable plays.

I don't think that this is what the article is saying. Jones makes it abundantly clear that he knows that in order to do good theatre a company has to have money, and sometimes that means doing plays that are "safe."

This is certainly a concern for all of us who dabble in community, educational, as well as professional theatre. Having been a part of all of these I can say for a fact that the problem of money and balancing a season of the gritty with the gooey never goes away. For example, this year I will be directing the musical, Grease with my students at school. Now, Grease is not my favorite musical, by any means. Many "theatre" people, in fact, find the show quite disgusting and difficult to take. "Why?" you say? Let's just say that poodle-skirts, summer love, and teen angels aren't exactly the stuff of thought provoking theatre. It's pretty much escapism. To put it in terms of movies, many of us want Momentum while Grease is...well...Grease. Or Frankie and Annette, or Blue Hawaii, or Sixteen Candles or any teeny-bopper flick that is supposed to "take you back to a simpler place and time, etc." I'm sorry if you feel I just dissed your favorite flick of all time, and all of these movies have artistic merit of some kind, but the point is they are comfortable. You aren't really being challenged when you view them. In the same way, theatre can be non-threatening. The most pinioned blurb from this article was, I believe, "...there is nothing as comfortable to people who secretly dislike theater as a known story." I don't know how many people I've talked to who like going to see plays the same way they like going fishing. It is a nice night out.

That's all well and good, but playwright Arthur Giron said, in a workshop I took earlier this year, "Playwrights are agents of change; truth tellers." If we, dramatists are going to be "agents of change" then can we write comfortable material that just reaffirms that which we already know? Sometimes the truth is ugly and unfortunate. Sometimes the truth makes us uncomfortable, and truth makes change. I believe that change is good, and not simply for change sake. Change keeps us moving, keeps us fresh. Change and truth will not allow us to go stale or calloused to the evils in the world that will not go away.

When I was a student at Abilene Christian University the chair of the theatre department was very careful when he chose his plays to pick something that had substance and took a bold stance on some issue. Sometimes the plays we did at ACU were what most would consider comfortable theatre. But Adam was always very careful to direct the play in a way so that, even if someone knew the story, they had never thought of it the same way before. When I was in Adam's production of You Can't Take it With You I was amazed how he took a play that was general, traditional theatre, and not only made it accessible to the Abilene community, which isn't known for being a sophisticated theatre going crowd, but he also planted in them a seed of knowledge about what theatre can do. He used light and sound as well as non-traditional casting to help the audience immerse themselves in this tale of a family that was not interested in material wealth, nearly as much as they were interested in relationships, happiness, family, and following one's own path to knowledge. Many people in the audience remarked to me how justice had been done to the story without it being redundant, or typical.

To me this is an example of good theatre. The play is quite important, to be sure, but the director can make a "comfortable play" less comfortable without even really letting the audience know that they are less comfortable. The next year Adam directed the Chekov play The Three Sisters. Once again I was cast in this beautiful play about three sisters living in a small, lonesome, boring town in Russia, with nothing to do but hope for a move to radiant Moscow. It was decided that this play would only play one weekend instead of the usual three or four, because it was assumed that with such a daring and "uncomfortable" play, we wouldn't be able to sell more than that. The play was beautiful. Adam melted together sights and sounds as well as metaphor and character in a way that even the least savvy patron could feel the pain and boredom that plagued the characters of The Three Sisters. I was greatly encouraged by the response to the century old play, that we thought was out of reach for our usual crowd. While we may not have been able to pack the theatre for 8 performances, the three that we did have were not only sold out, but we were bringing in chairs, and turning people away. It was truly inspiring to see the response.

My point is that, yes, we do have to do theatre of comfort in order to gather a crowd. But does that mean that we have to do that well known story in the same way it has always been done? And, as theatre artists, let us not underestimate our own creativity or that of our audience. Sometimes it is we who must bring to the masses of Suburbia something that they have not seen before. But when we wrap it in a box that it inaccessible to them, when we are bringing it to them simply to show them how intellectual and pretentious we can be, we are only setting ourselves up to complain about "the idiots in this crappy, little town." Maybe some people wouldn't know good theatre if it bit them in the ass, but I guarantee they will see it and acknowledge it, and even perhaps be changed by it if we gain their trust, and if we put in a container they can hold. The mission of theatre isn't to go and change audiences who are looking to change anyway. As dramatists and theatre artists we should be in the business of changing the skeptics and the stubborn. We should be for educating the ignorant, touching the untouchables, asking questions that haven't been asked before. No matter what, every play that is performed should be a blessing of some kind. Actors, directors, playwrights and technicians are in the business of gift giving. If we are not than we are only serving ourselves at the end of the day. Sometimes the audience need to eat cake. But, many times, they need their veggies and protein. Let's provide them with protein, but let's not forget the cake.

Monday, August 29, 2005

No Baby

Okay, my mother-in-law is really angry with me. No, we aren't having a baby. I realize that it was a cruel trick to use our future (way future) child as a publicity tool. I promise that if you are related to me you will hear it from us first hand before you read it on my blog.

I want to give my friend Brock props for giving me the idea. His latest post is about how people are always pressuring newlyweds to have a baby. He and his wife have only been married for six months and he's already getting it. Maybe it's because he's a youth minister, people expect him to be fertile.

That initial questioning has died down, so now we are in a place where people generally expect that we know what we are doing when it comes to the baby thing. I imagine that if we aren't pregnant in the next five years people will start to question again.

Again, Kathy, I'm sorry to have given you a heart attack. I hope that you know you would be the first person we call. And we aren't trying so you'd know about that, as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I'm Not All Politics and Liberal Bias

I've gotten word that some people are gettin annoyed with my political and serious postings. In an effort to not lose readers to the Great Blogs of Fire Boycott, I will try to be less controversial for a while.

So here is one that is purely celebratory and not so much like a sermon or testamonial. I'm really excited because I've gotten my teacher certification classes completely finished and I am now eligable to apply for full certification. That is once I've paid the State Board of Education Certification $77. So, there will be no more school for me for a while. That is until I decide to get my master's degree, which I intend to do. I never liked school that much, and yet I keep going back. Maybe growing up is just too hard.

The Astros are making me cry. Roger Clemens is amazing, but the bats have slowed down so much it's starting to look like April and May again. It's very depressing. I don't think, however, that I will be able to really care about football or the Texans until baseball season is over. Even then I might not really care. I used to love football when the Oilers were going to the playoffs every year. Even though they couldn't make it to the Super Bowl, I was a fan of Moon, Drew Hill, Jeffires, Ray Childress and the rest of the "run-and-shoot" gang. It was a magical time. Since then football has not really been much of an interest to me. I'd like to change that. Maybe some tickets to a game would help. Unfortunately, the only tickets I could buy would cost over $150, and not even all games had those available. Amanda really wants to go to a Rockets game this year, so that will be something to really try and do. It shouldn't be too difficult. I've been to the Toyota Center once and it was a really nice place. Our tickets were great and only $20. Not too shabby.

Here is something to keep you coming back. Are Amanda and I or are we not expecting a baby? What do you think? I will post again in no less than three days with the answer.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"We Love Death"

I know that I said that I was going to write about the Inside 9/11 documentary, but I still don't think I'm up to it, yet. Here's a short bit that will get it out of my system. [author's note: I guess I was up to it after all.]

The program that aired Monday and Tuesday nights on National Geographic detailed the background of the hijackers and motives for those who carried out 9/11, or as they called it, "The Planes Operation." The first night focused on the years and then days leading up to the attacks. The attack on the WTC in '93 was the work of man who eventually came up with the idea to use commercial airplanes as missiles. It described how he watched a plume of smoke rise from downtown Manhattan and thought to himself that it had been a failure because the buildings were still standing. They accounted for how he then dedicated himself to finding out how to take the buildings down and how he was arrested before he could ever do anything about it. His uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who we all know as the hairy, fat guy from that photo in a stretched out, white, undershirt, vowed that he would bring his nephews dream to reality.

The program also documented how Al-Queda came into being. How Osama began as a freedom fighter in Afghanistan fighting back the powerful Red Army of the Soviet Union. His work there gave him the support and reputation as a military leader for the Islamic extremist's cause. During the 90s Al-Queda began spreading out, planting and recruiting in all areas of the world including America. The most disturbing quote from Bin-Laden is his affirmation that he makes no distinction between those in military uniforms and civilian. He says in a post 9/11 interview, speaking near heavy U.S. fire in Afghanistan, "This place may be bombed, and we will be killed. We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us." Osama Bin-Laden is set on the establishment of the faith that he believes in to the point that he values no life, even his own. His allegiance is to Allah and to the nation of Islam. His value system is very much about the bigger picture, rather than earth and humanity, and his world is black and white. I can't help but see a lot of Judeo-Christian tradition and similarities in Bin-Laden's mindset. While Christians don't go around blowing themselves up, history has certainly proven that Christians can go completely askew from the true teachings of Christ and begin killing in his name. Also, those who find themselves reading the Bible with a stern, word-for-word, literal and unmoving interpretation of the Bible are going to find themselves reacting in ways that Jesus would have not only condemned, but considered counter to what his purpose on earth is.

Another chilling moment from Inside 9/11 was when a teacher in Brooklyn recounted the week before as one of her student's peered out the window across the river at the towers. "Those buildings won't be there next week." he said. "What do you mean?" "Seriously?" "My God, what's going to happen? You have to tell me." These are not things that teachers say when students say crazy things like, "Those buildings aren't going to be there next week." No, we say "Okay, open up your books." This also so creepy because you start wondering where are they? Are they still here? Why did that kid know what was going to happen and were there many more. You have to kind of assume that they did.

The second part of the program focused on the day of the eleventh. It is a day that I remember very well. I got a phone call from my girlfriend [Amanda, now wife] but I didn't answer because I was sleeping in. We were opening a show at the Dallas Theatre Center that night and it was my first day to sleep after having had to wake up early every day to finish rehearsals and then preview performances for Hedda Gabler. But the message alarm wouldn't stop ringing so I listened to it. Amanda was saying that missiles had hit the twin towers and that I needed to wake up and turn on the TV. I put my phone down and went back to bed. I began thinking about what I'd just heard. You know when Elmer Fudd is searching for Bugs in the rabbit hole, and then Bugs shows up behind him to hand him his gun, and Elmer just turns, thanks him and continues looking. But then finally it hits him what he just saw. This is what it felt like. So I hopped up as fast as I could hop and called Amanda. She corrected herself. It was planes, not missiles. I turned on our TV that didn't have cable or bunny ears and got one very fuzzy channel. It was CBS. As I watched the towers burn I wondered, how many people. How many is this going to take? Then as I watched the buildings plummet to the ground I realized that my feelings were being guarded, because I felt nothing. I didn't know what to think.

Inside 9/11 seemed to make up for my lack of emotion on that day. It was so surreal, and I had no clue what was going on. It seemed more like a movie than real life. But this week I finally grieved for the 9/11 victims properly, the way I should have on that day. I cried. I cried as I listened to first hand accounts of heroism high above the ground in skyscrapers. I cried as photos of devastation and horror filled people scrawled across the screen. I gasped and cried as the camera panned the smoky structure not long for this world and witnessed a person who had lost hope leap from the building and flail about as if a ragdoll or someone's airborne G.I. Joe toy. The merciful producer felt it prudent to stop the camera on a still image before having to be witness to the inevitable horror that occurred only seconds later.

Most of all I cried as I heard the wives of those men aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who attempted to overtake the hijacker and in doing so saved lives. I wondered what I would have done if I'd been on that flight. Would I have joined Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick in their bravery or played it safe. How could I have so calmly told my wife and kids back home that I'm going to be okay, when she know as much as I do what lies ahead if I don't risk my life. I cried at the thought of Amanda having to endure such horror. In short, I grieved and as I grieved I celebrated those lives that were there and were able to rise to the challenge and overcome insurmountable fear. And to a lesser degree, but still a present one, I grieved for the men who thought that this was a necessary and honorable way to serve their God and their families. The hijacker who piloted flight 93 was different from all the rest. His story, as they all were, was reported and I was surprised to learn how educated they were. They were just as intelligent and knowledgeable as any young college student. The difference was their unwavering belief and devotion to this radical form of Islam. The man who flew flight 93, Ziad Jarrah, was different than the rest. He was married to a women who lived in Turkey. A Muslim also, she was not all that observant of her religion, and for that matter, neither was Jarrah, until he was in college and began associating with the other men who would become his fellow hijackers. I am enthralled by what would possess a man with so much promise and potential, a close family, loving wife and an "easy-going and friendly demeanor" as Inside 9/11 describes him, to commit suicide while taking possibly hundreds of others with him. In my world, in my understanding of life, humanity, and what the spirit of goodness does for people, with everything that I hold dear and true people who love people, and are loved in return do not wish to kill other people. It makes absolutely no sense to me, whatsoever. But then I remember the words of Osama Bin-Laden himself. "We love death."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Filler Post

I'm going to post an article soon about the documentary Inside 9/11 that appeared on the National Geographic Channel earlier this week. I watched it and it had a profound effect on me, but I want to gather my thoughts a little more before I delve too much into it. Plus, it's late and I need to get to bed. I'm not sleeping as well lately because of a few things. Number one I think is that the recent weight gain (I think I'm heavier than even last year when I went on Weight Watchers, which is coming soon) is causing me to snore louder and more violently than ever. I'm told that I've always been a snorer, which some have said will not allow you quality sleep. But now I wake up every morning, practically, with my throat sore at the back from snorring. I can even feel my throat closing up at night as I start to fall asleep.

I'm also comming down with a little cold, probably from being back at school with all the kids and germs, and that is hindering my sleep even more. I'm really bad about taking medicine. For some reason it never occurs to me to take something for what ails me. Usually, I just ignore it until it goes away. Sometimes it will become more of a problem that I can't ignore it, at which point I take care of the problem. I'm just glad I'm not the one having to be responsible to remember the birth control.

So anyway, more to come later. I've been too tired to post much lately. Plus, yesterday I wrote a long comment on my friend Marcus's blog. I figured that counts as one. My comment is a response to his post that was a comment to my Rush letter.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Shell Fish Story All About Me

While I was eating dinner tonight I had a sort of existential thought. Amanda and I had prepared one of those Bertolli bags of pasta for two. We really like those little bags. They are very tasty and allow us an easy dinner without anything left over that doesn't ever get eaten anyway. Just sits in the fridge until one of us decides it's disgusting enough to throw out. I finished my portion, and as is our usual fashion, Amanda handed me what she couldn't eat. Suppose we had too much bread. As I am a human garbage disposal, I had no problem finishing it off.

The sauce was a creamy cheese/tomato sauce the color yellow. I had no more bread for sopping and did not want to waste this tasty sauce. As I was alone at home and not confined to the typical rules of decorum of a public restaurant, I decided it was more than within my rights and abilities to begin licking the plate clean. I had not shaved since Thursday, so ensuring my chin of prickles didn't graze the gooey goodness, I commenced my inauguration as President, nay emperor extraordinaire of the Clean Plate Club. I had relieved the entire porcelain disk of any excess sauce save for one little triangle shaped portion of the plate that had miraculously been preserved. It happened to be the exact width of my tongue and so I went in to rectify the situation with one fail swoop. Alas, the plate was clean, I was full and...and...What was this? There was something in my mouth that did not appear to be pasta sauce at all. Was it a spare piece of asparagus or shrimp that had been neglected earlier during the main event? No, it was textured like an asparagus or a shrimp. Or at least the edible part of the shrimp. I pulled out of my mouth what seemed to be the shell of a shrimp that had not been peeled away properly. I put it on the plate and moved to the kitchen to begin the dishes.

As I concluded the dinner portion of the evening I began to think about this rogue shampoo shell. I began to think about the process by which a company like brutally would shell the shrimp that went into their frozen dinners for two. I wondered if the shrimp were shelled by hand or if done by a machine. It would seem to me that doing such a tedious thing by hand would be extremely costly in man hours. I could just see hundreds of women (I don't know why I only see women, but I do. I'm thinking Les Miserables) working at a table of shrimp for hours shelling and tossing. Shelling and tossing. Shelling and tossing. Surely such primitive methods for shelling had been done away with at some point in the last fifty to one-hundred years. After all, they have millions of shrimp to shell. When I shell just 12 it might take me 15 minutes. Of course I'm not a professional. (By the way, why is uncooked, unshelled shrimp more expensive at the store than shelled, precooked shrimp.)

Then I started thinking about Bertolli's business integrity and that they probably wouldn't have liked that even one shell made it into one of their frozen bags and consequently into my mouth. I wonder if I would get a refund if I called them. That's not my kind of thing to do, after all the most harm it did was cause my readers to be subjected to mindless dribble.

What I mainly started thinking about was coincidence and fate. I did not find that shell until the very last bit of sauce. Not to mention that I was partaking in the dreg of my wife's meal because I'm a shameless pig. Why was it that, of the entire bag of pasta only that one little square inch of pasta sauce contained a shell that likely only resided in one out of every five bags at the most. I am guessing this figure based on our previous purchases and consumption of brutally products. Why was I destined to find this shell? Did the previous owner of the shell make it into my bag of pasta or another. Was the shrimp from whose back my shell was peeled even part of the Bertolli family or had the journey taken the shell from the peeling machine/lady to a truck that took the shell miles away to the Bertolli company, perhaps on the back of another shrimp. Was the original shrimp then shipped to a different company and perhaps some celebrity in Hollywood is eating it right now as a part of an expensive dinner at a posh L.A. restaurant? Or maybe a drunk Girls Gone Wild chick is puking the shell's original wearer out after having partied way to hard on Burban Street in New Orleans. Her girlfriends told her not to order the gumbo, but you're not in he French Quarter every day, you know.

So, who am I, through this seemingly inconsequential shrimp shell connected to? It made me start thinking about people and how we are all connected on an even larger scale than frozen foods. We are all a part of the universe and of the human race and in acknowleging that we can be at greater peace. A person can kill his or her own brother, but somehow it's considered more of a sin and more taboo than killing a stranger. Maybe if we considered everyone our brother most of us would be incapable of killing at all. Wars would be diminished and suffering would die out. Who among us would not take in our brother or sister if we found them lying in the cold, hungry and sick?

As we passed the men and women of Houston's homeless community today on my walk from my parking spot to the Astros game Amanda turned to me and said, "That's sad." I just said "yeah." and I kept walking. Not that I can cure the world, but maybe if we were all as interested in helping the poor, who are our brothers and sisters, as we are in seeing our sports team win we could make a much bigger dent in the lives of those who suffer under the bridges and on the sidewalks.

By the way, when they ask me if the Astros won and I let them in on the end result, they glow with delight or playful disappointment, depending on the outcome, just as any fan. Well, there's another connection.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Please Don't Send Me a Bumper Sticker, But...

Dear Rush,

As a liberal I guess I'm not supposed to listen to your show. But during my lunch half hour I find that the other radio is nothing but crappy top 40 music and commercials. So I find myself sitting in my classroom or car with the radio turned to the talk radio station with a perpetual sneer on my face. Mostly saying things like, "No, no, no." Or, "You're such a jerk." or perhaps making hand gestures to the radio that in my solitude are only seen by myself and God, who takes that moment to remind me that I'm a nice person and shouldn't be making these gestures and to pity you, Rush, instead. So I end up pitying you.

But every now and then, like today, I do something that, as a liberal, I really shouldn't be doing and that is, agreeing with you. Yes, Rush, I sometimes agree with what you say. I may not agree with the reasoning behind it or the way you say it, or even the implications, but I agree with probably 20% of the words that come out of your mouth. For instance, when you said that Howard Dean was the last bastion of passion and purpose in the Democratic party, and when he dropped out we had lost our chance to win the election, I sort of had to hang my head and agree with you. You said something the other day that I also found myself going "Dang it, he's right." I can't remember what it was. Probably, "Ice cream is really good," or "Puppies are cute" or something like that. Today as I was listening to you, Rush and disagreeing with everything you were saying, you eventually said something that I agreed with. What you said in your trademark glottal slurp that sounds like Kermit the frog's older, fatter brother chasing down a Route 44, was this (I couldn't find the transcript online, so this is a paraphrase):

These liberals, these people on the left who blame America first say that Iraq is an unjust war. Of course they think every war is an unjust war. These people are so liberal that even mainstream Democrats want to distance themselves from this fringe left group. Mainstream liberals aren't the one's out there with Cindy Sheehan. Now, there are some former Democrat office holders out there in Crawford, Texas, but there aren't any current senators or congressmen out there. And why? Because they would like to distance themselves. This fringe left says that it is unjust because those in the senate and congress don't have sons or daughters fighting in Iraq. They say that if George Bush thought that dying for this cause was so important why aren't his daughters out there doing something for the war, and volunteering for the war. First of all, there are men and women in office who have kids in Iraq, it's not many but some. But to say that they should be signing their children up for war? It's volunteer. Cindy Sheehan's son volunteered, there is no draft. George Bush can't make anyone volunteer. [And then you went back to being a tool.] And what Sheehan is doing out there in Crawford is a complete disgrace [you may have said "dishonorable" or "disservice"]to her son's memory and service to this country.

(The part in italics is the part I agreed with, but I wanted to put it in context. I think I got most of it right, or at least got the basic gist. I apologize if I misrepresent what was said.)

First of all, I think most true liberals and even office holding Democrats feel that this is an unjust war and that we've never been dealt a true representation of why we went in the first place. I even have a student in one of my classes who thinks we went for oil, an idea he got from his conservative father. But, he thinks that this is a good thing and can't understand that with all this control over the Iraqi oil why gas prices are rocketing. I can't explain, because I'm not an economist. Even many of those who consider themselves conservatives would agree that we haven't been given a real reason for being there in the first place. One part of the show that I left out was when you said that we can't leave now because of the rampant terrorism that exists in Iraq now. I agree with this also, but would like to point out that under Saddam's regime, while he was one of many horrible dictators in the world, he kept the kind of terrorism that destroyed the twin towers out of his country. My point to all of this is that I don't think that there is any fringe, uber-liberal part of the Democratic base. I think any true liberal would realize that the war shouldn't have happened. Not that I think we should abandon the people of Iraq at this point, but I think liberals and many conservatives simply are having some serious 20/20 hindsight.

Second, I'm getting sick of hearing people complain that liberals "blame" America and hate America. If any liberal hated America why would we work so hard to try and change things. Why would liberals walk the streets in protest, risking certain criticism and possible violence set upon them? I disagree with Michael Moore on a lot of things, (more on that later) but why would he risk all that he did and put so much into his work if he hated the very place he is trying to make better. Movies like Moore's are certainly not sure fire blockbusters, so if you think it's for the money, ask any production company if Moore was someone they wanted publicity from and you'd have a tough time finding a yes. Liberals feel like we should be accountable for ourselves first. Just like I love myself, if something is going wrong I'm probably going to wonder what I could do or change to fix the problem before I go blaming others. It's very juvenile to go blaming and creating scapegoats, which is what it seems the right like to do. Ironically, it's a very Christ-like philosophy to find and remove the plank in your own eye than to try and remove your brother's speck.

Finally, Rush, I did agree with your assertion that it is ludicrous to ask senators or congressmen or even Bush himself to send their own children to Iraq for the simple fact that it isn't their decision to make. In his movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 Michael Moore approached representatives outside the capital giving them literature, seemingly trying to recruit their children for the service. This was my least favorite part of the movie and did not support Moore's point in any reasonable way. I know there are many people who thought the whole movie was a sham, and to those people I would say to do some more research. (It is my understanding that Moore twisted one or two truths or took some things out of context, but no fact can be refuted.)I put myself in the position of someone being asked by Moore about this and decided that I would take the literature and say that I would give it to my kid, even if I knew full well that my son or daughter wouldn't want to go to war.

When it comes to Cindy Sheehan, Rush, I don't agree with you. I don't think that she is contaminating the memory or service of her son at all. Let's just say for arguments sake that we shouldn't have gone over there. Let's imagine a war that was unjust and was wiping out soldier after soldier and while it would be very difficult to leave, the mothers and fathers of the dead can't shake the feeling that these young men and women are dying for nothing. Do we then go in there with the attitude that we must make it about something, simply to honor the dead? All the while we are only creating more dead. It only makes sense that this woman wants some answers from a man who she feels sent her son to his grave for an unknown reason. If her son truly died for a noble cause, she wants to know what Bush feels the cause was. If he didn't she wants some explanation.

I'm racked with this question, Rush of should Bush see Sheehan? Should he let her in the ranch and sit down with her and allow her to ask him questions in a secure environment with cup of coffee and smile? On the one hand you could assume that her motives are simply selfish and she only wants to "catch" President Bush in a sling so that she can exploit her cause and further dishonor the President. If this is her motive I certainly understand Bush's reluctance to meet with her. But, it seems that he would give this poor woman who has been through so much and has given so much of herself to speak with him the benefit of the doubt by acting like any other civil person and say, "Okay, you've waited long enough. Come on in and let's talk." If then, it is true that all she wanted was to lambast the President and poor guilt over him, I would agree that she was in the wrong. But as the president, the highest office in the country, I would hope that we elected a person who would be able to answer her irrational ranting and name-calling and blaming in a compassionate, diplomatic, straightforward and truthful way. But, we all know why he doesn't let her in. It's for the same reason that he screened the attendees to his town-hall meetings during his re-election campaign. If he looks bad as the guy who won't let a grieving mother interrupt his vacation for a little chat, how bad is he going to look as the President who couldn't answer her questions, fumbled around with logic and proved her point for her without opening his mouth? We all know that's what would happen if he were to meet with Sheehan. He knows that she'd come across as getting one over on him whether she is in the right or not. He's a diplomatic train wreck at the end of the day and he knows it. So, to answer the question that started this paragraph, no, Bush should not meet with Sheehan if he knows what's good for him.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on some of the things that were said in your show today. I hope you weren't too offended that I called you Kermit the Frog's older, fatter brother. You know I only meant that in the kindest of ways. Hey, I could certainly use to cut a few pounds myself. Why don't we do it together, Rush. Meet me for racquetball once a week? Then we'll go get a salad or maybe we'll do the Jared thing and walk to Subway afterward. We'll talk politics, sports, whatever you want. I'm confident you're not nearly the ass that you seem on the air. It's all for ratings, right? Right?

Sincerely, Kyle Martin

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A New School Year, A Rant

Tomorrow is Friday after the first week back at school and I am pretty darn tired. The first week back is always difficult for a number of reasons. I'm not used to talking so much and so my throat hurts. I'm not used to standing so much so my feet hurt. I'm not used to teenagers so I am annoyed a lot more than I was over the summer.

Really, I'm pretty encouraged about the year. I think that I've got some good students, for the most part and I've already started off on the right foot by doing some small things that I had neglected at the beginning of the last two years. The first week seems long, I think, because we meet these students at the beginning of the week and by the end you kind of know them already. On Friday it's like "wow, that seems like a long time ago that I didn't know these kids." But it's not, people! It's not!

A couple of frustrations are taking their toll on me right now. Nothing major, major, but enough to have me thinking, "Hm." First, the small things. I am trying out desks like a regular class this year. Before I just had chairs that went around the room and a big open space in the middle. The open space was good for performances and games and things like that. Plus the students could easily move their chairs if necessary. The bad thing was that there was less structure and the students felt like they could not take things as seriously. The desks add structure to the classroom that I can already see is making a difference on behavior. The bad thing is that there is no room. Of course in a room like mine there isn't much to be done in the way of theatre anyway. I've decided that I'm going to take my acting classes to the stage as often as I can and just make do when I'm kicked out. So, my first frustration is that I'm not sure if I like my new class arrangement.

A bigger problem is that of scheduling. Some of my best theatre students weren't given theatre this year. It seems that they took my theatre tech kids from last year and drew a lottery as to whom would get in to my class this year. Some that I wouldn't have minded not being there are, and those that I'd rather not do without had their schedules messed up. I can't help but shake the feeling that this would never happen to a star running back with football class.

Lastly, and the biggest frustration of all is what to do with the current show whenever the contractors who are supposed to renovate the auditorium decide it's time to start. They were supposed to be in and out by the beginning of school but they haven't even started which has me thinking that they are going to be kicking us out very soon. Don't get me wrong, I want the new stuff (curtains, lights) but I wanted it over the summer. For all I care they can wait until next summer now. I'd much rather get our show season underway.

[WARNING: Rant approaching]

As far as I can remember without checking I've never disclosed the name of any of the people or school or even district that I work with and for, so I don't mind putting this out on the blogosphere.

Where I work cares little and supports the arts very little. While the choir, band, orchestra, and art departments surely feel my pain, no other department at my school has been crapped on like the theatre department. Let me make my case.

Nine years ago when I was starting my senior year (it may have been my junior year) in high school work began on an addition to the building behind the band hall. The orchestra was growing and had not had a space to rehearse in for some time. If I remember correctly they met in a large room across from the Band hall, or if there was no band period, in the band hall. So, as one could imagine the orchestra program was due. The art department was also housed in less than ideal circumstances being spread all over the school from the "arts wing" to portables behind the vocational building. When an addition was built about three years ago there were classrooms custom tailored to the needs of the art department, and they were all right there, together, where they needed to be. As far as I know, the band and choir have always had facilities that were sufficient for their needs. Plenty of storage space, practice rooms, acoustics and offices. So when there was an allotment in the most recent bond passage for fine arts facilities at our school my first thought was that it was coming our way. A new black box theatre or perhaps a renovation of a different space for that purpose. Nope, they are creating more space for the choir and band and orchestra. Practice rooms, I can only imagine, because they have everything else they need, it seems. But the theatre department has nothing what they need. We have two small rooms that are attached to the auditorium which we are kicked out of on a regular basis for anything from assemblies to open house to outside groups renting out the space. We can use the auditorium however much we need it, but when someone else needs it, which is often, we are brushed aside, expected to be cleared off the stage. There is no where, besides our measly little classrooms that we can call home. Anyone who has worked on a theatrical show knows that building the set for a play can sometimes take weeks or months. Last year I was forced to move a set piece that wasn't built to be moved so that parents wouldn't see it on open house. Is that a slap in the face? I don't think it was intended as such, but it felt like it.

We also have a set shop backstage that is connected to my classroom. Unfortunately, everyone who has a key to the auditorium, which is a lot of people, can get into that room, and it is treated like a storage closet full of free goodies. Cords go missing, brooms, hardware, you name it. It's not a great set shop, but it is something, and the stuff inside was bought with theatre funds, and I'd like to keep it for our use.

The whole thing is just disheartening, sometimes. When it started becoming crystal clear that the auditorium was not going to be ready or even started by the beginning of the school year and that the possibility existed that we would have to figure out somewhere else to go to perform our first show, I began thinking, "this would never happen at the stadium, never." Of course, I've heard it before, and as much as it hurts me to say it, no one cares about theatre. Not here, not in Texas. I love football as much as anyone, but nothing is more irritating. I work as hard and love what I do just as much.

I guess that is why I decided to direct the musical that I did this year. It is Grease. It's not my favorite, but hopefully a lot of people will want to be a part of it which means a lot of people will want to see it, which means that maybe the theatre department will be noticed afterward. It looks as though Grease will be the first show under the new lighting system and behind the new curtains. That's exciting, but they aren't doing it for us. I'd like to think that we had something to do with it, but I doubt it. I'm encouraged about this year so don't take this rant as a sign of pessimism. It's just a rant.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Arizona Rising to the Occasion

Hoorah! Caloo-calay, I've done it! I've finished that play I was working on. The play is tentatively title Arizona Rose, but I hate that name. But that's not really important. The important thing is that this is my first full length play, that is a play more than one hour in length. This is a huge weight off my sholders as I've been trying to finish this play for a long time now. I say "finished," a play is never finished until it's up on the stage. And even then it can be altered. But, I've gotten the play to a place where I am generally happy with the plot and the flow of the primary story. Most of all I think it is the best ending to a play that I've ever written without becoming crazy or outlandish.

I really want to have a party and have people over to read through the play. This is so that I can get an idea of how it reads, and most of all, see if other people like it. The last version of this play had a reading of this kind, and I got some great feedback that I used, and I believe made the play a lot better. Also, the comments that were made here by all of you were very helpful and I think that I was able to accomplish what I wanted based on the comments here.

I will be emailing people I want to play what parts, but if there's anyone here in the Baytown/Houston area who would like to read with us, let me know. I want to make a whole night of it. The cast list here at the end of the post.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Crunchy Bitterness With a Chewy Nugat Filling

School starts on Monday. I am a teacher. I teach theatre arts. This is my third year as a teacher, and it is my second year at Sterling High School. I must admit that it's the first time that I've ever actually felt like a teacher and not a imposter or an outsider. Teaching was not my first choice as a profession. I think in the back of my mind I always imagined teaching in some capacity, but the further into college I got the more I was caught up in the idea of being a professional theatre artist. Then I fell in love with writing plays and imagined that it would be my life. But the real world can hit a guy like a ton of bricks. I loved college. I wasn't even the best student, but I graduated in four years because I didn't want to leave what I had. If I'd not been in school I was coming home. I really think that this is the a major reason that I was able to muster up the tenacity to stay in school even when the course load and the rehearsals and the extra stuff all seemed to pile on top of me at one time. I loved it there and I wanted to stay. Even after four years I wanted to stay. But there was nothing for me in Abilene anymore. For one thing, my girlfriend was in Fort Worth, but also most of my friends were moving out. It would have seemed wrong and pointless to stick around after I'd finished. I needed to move on to the next natural progression in my life.

That next year was a tough one. Probably the toughest year of my life from an adult mindset. I really missed my friends and my life as a college student. Even though many of my friends were still within a twenty minute drive, or less, I worked a lot, they worked a lot, and none of us worked within the safe, family professional company that we had within the ACU theatre department. I hoped that I would be able to capture some of the same friendship and camaraderie with my fellow interns at the Dallas Theater Center where I was employed during this year, but that didn't happen. I had less in common with those people than I would have thought I could have with other people who loved theatre as much as I did. I realized that I had something very special at Abilene Christian University and with the friends I had made throughout the theatre department. The more time I spent with the people at the DTC the more I wanted back. I was homesick for the first time in my life, but not for Baytown, and not even for Abilene or ACU, but I was homesick for my friends.

I quit the internship early telling my boss that the final performance of A Christmas Carol would be my last day. I sited money as the primary reason for leaving, saying that I just couldn't afford to get paid minimum wage. That was actually just a lot of bull, seeing as that I've gone into debt or accepted near poverty to do things that I love in the past. I've never cared about money. I just didn't feel like I was doing any good there and I didn't feel like my experience there was doing me any good. Which, I see now, is a complete falsehood. I learned an awful lot about professional theatre while at the Dallas Theater Center. I met people and made relationships that, while not lifelong, were helpful at the time and positive. But, I had to leave and began existing. I knew less of what I wanted to do at this point than I ever had before. I began substitute teaching because I had heard that it was a good way to make money and still have the flexibility to do other things. I thought that it was a great opportunity to begin my writing career and audition at local theatres. But, I dropped the ball. I did write some things, and even won my first playwriting contest, but I sat around doing nothing much more. I auditioned at the largest and most prestigious theatres in Dallas and of course, didn't make anything. I had a lot of time on my hands. Time I could have auditioned for plays at community theatres, just for the experience, but my arrogance told me that the degree in my back pocket meant I had to get paid. I could have been writing everyday and getting an agent and subbing everyday instead of just whenever I felt like it.

The best thing that happened that year was my engagement to Amanda. While this was a very happy time with many happy moments, I was pretty sad. I lived in Dallas and she lived in Fort Worth, which is not a long distance to travel, except it might as well have been a different continent because I couldn't just pop over or she couldn't see me every day. It was torture to the lovesick young couple that we were. The attempt to move to Fort Worth was thwarted by an evil landlord and and the matter of several incompetent roommates. There was my buddy who abandoned me with the smokers and the potheads and the 43 year old deadbeat, and.... Well, I don't really want to get on that rant.

So the question and the point of this uncharacteristically sloppy post is how did I come to teach in a high school. The idea was planted by the prospect of a job in Mesquite that fell through and then a certification program that ended up being a waste of time, while working two low paying jobs, which meant better pay, and being sick and tired of not being able to pay credit card payments, or take the burden of my car payments from my parents. Or maybe it was the fact that I had not practiced any theatre besides the few rusty auditions or writing in the dark of my own place dramas that reflected my disengagement from that old life that I had such fond memories of. The sheer knowledge that with a theatre teaching job came the theatre was really all it took to convince me that I could do this.

Some of my readers are educators and right now they are thinking, "What about the kids? It's all about the kids and if you're not in it for the kids then you shouldn't do it at all." There is a lot of truth in this but there is also some myth behind it as well. Teaching pays really well for a kid just out of college, or more specific to my own situation, a kid who subs in the day time only to rush over to a restaurant at night to hope for decent tips. The truth is that I didn't know if I liked working with high school students or not. I knew that I cared about education, but my experience as a sub was not sufficient evidence because I wasn't teaching theatre, or teaching at all really. It was babysitting and it was easy. The kids didn't bother me and I didn't bother them for the most part. I now realize that I was more nervous than I should have been, seeing as though most teachers expect that their students aren't going to work much when there's a sub. That's just laziness all around, to be sure, but it's the truth. I was not into subbing for the kids anymore than I was waiting tables for the rednecks who took up my section for 3 hours and sent me running rampant for food they didn't like and wouldn't pay for and then didn't tip me because I wouldn't let their minor friend drink alcohol. I think that the kids aspect has to grow on you. And it has.

So, finally, I'm offered a position as a teacher in Channelview with a friend I'd known growing up in Baytown, Texas, a place I never thought that I would live again. But, now I was moving back home to accept my first job as a teacher. Did I like it? What I told people who asked me this over and over was that I did and I didn't. People think that theatre is like band in that the kids who take it know how to do something that most other kids can't do. Kids in band know how to play an instrument because they are taught how in Jr. High band. Kids in theatre are there because they have to take a fine arts credit. This is only true for 80% of the kids, but it was more than enough to make me dread going to work on some days. I am a very positive person, in that I truly believe that I can do anything if I work hard enough at it. Unfortunately, I am also a procrastinator and a tad lazy. I also don't have a great fear of failure or disaster. I generally believe things will work out in the end. Long story short, I'm a horrible planner and organizer. (BTW, if asked what one of your weaknesses is don't say organization, even if it's true. And if they ask about organization, lie, lie, lie.) The thing that teachers are taught over and over and over again is that planning and organization are key to good teaching and a well managed classroom. I believe it, too, because my first classroom was not well managed or very well taught, for that matter. Luckily, my strong suit is communication and forming those relationships that we are being told now are so important. So, I had half of the equation right. But, the main thing that I learned from that first year as a teacher was that, despite being able to dupe my appraiser, I was a pretty lousy teacher. My mentor was on to me, however, and she never pulled a punch. (Thanks Kathryn, btw.) She believed that I could be better, and I really did too.

The next year brought a new school and new problems and new classes to teach. It was certainly better than the previous year, due mainly to my resolution not to yell or lose my temper, but there was still that issue of organization and planning. So now it's the beginning of my third year of teaching and how do I feel? It may surprise you to read all of that bitterness and frustration and now hear that I'm really excited and happy to be returning to school. The truth is, I couldn't wait. At the end of the school year this last year, I was itching to get to this year. I so wanted to start over, kind of the same way I wanted to start over when I went to college from high school. I was excited at the prospect of students who don't have a preconception of who I am or what my class is, and I can correct the things that I had done wrong in the beginning that haunted me all year long. Will I still make mistakes, you bet, but I'm confident that this year is going to be my best one, and it even may convince me that I do like kids (all kids; some are easy to love) and I may want to do this forever. My mom has said to me time and time again that if a person thinks they might want to teach they need to give it at least three years. If they don't like it after three years it may not be for them, but if after three years the teachers wants to continue then they are going to do great. I want to be a good teacher now, even if I don't do it forever. So I challenge anyone reading this to pray for me to be a better teacher and to work as hard at teaching as I do at writing these blogs.

I discovered over the last two years that to be a successful theatre teacher you have to be a teacher first and a theatre artist second. I still think this to be true. Being an "artist" of any kind has an inherent selfishness to it and a teacher can be nothing if not selfless. I used to say, and still think to an extent that I am a theatre artist first and foremost. But I feel the teacher in me catching up.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Gift of Pumpkin

As you may have noticed I posted a picture of my cat atop my blog. You may wonder, "why?" Well, that is Amanda's cat Pumpkin, and I'm christening him as the "Great Blog Mascot." He was her wedding gift more than three years ago from me. I always knew that she wanted an orange cat named Pumpkin and so I set out to get her that very thing. I presented Pumpkin to her two day before the wedding when I arrived in Abilene. From the moment I first held Pumpkin I knew that he was a special cat. He would purr and rub his furry little head all over my face and would nestle into my arm as if it was the savest place in the world.

Some thought that a cat was a little odd to give as a wedding gift to your bride. After all, we both plan on living longer than Pumpkin (don't tell Amanda). Aren't you supposed to give a gift that can be kept forever? I'll admit that the cat was a bit unorthodox, but no one's ever acused me of being typical, so I thought it fit. Plus, there were many years and better paychecks to come with which I could purchase a diamond bracelet or necklace, or something like that. So I decided a cat was the best option. And I've never regretted it. Amanda is smitten with our cat. Pumpkin sleeps with us, he plays with us, he waits for us by the door to get home. He used to be mischievious, but he generally stays out of trouble. (Bonkers, our other cat takes that honor, now.) Pumpkin is a bit needy for a cat, however. You know how cats are supposed to be independent and apathetic? Most of the cats I've known you got the feeling that they didn't really care if you were their or not. So long as they got fed and scratched behind the ears every now and then. A lot of cats could do without the scratching behind the ears. Not Pumpkin. Pumpkin gets jealous, he demands your attention and he fights for it. When he was younger, if I was playing with Pumpkin and suddenly had to talk on the phone it was very likely that my leg would be attacked. It wasn't that Pumpkin was mean. On the contrary, he simply got angry because I was appearantly now more in love with this strange oblong object that I was holding to my face. It appeared that the phone was getting the attention that Pumpkin felt he deserved and therefore, as a cat, took his aggression out on the perpetrator: my thigh. This problem was solved when we got Bonkers, who now takes the brunt of Pumpkin's wrath.

So, I will never regret getting Pumpkin the unorthodox wedding gift for Amanda. One of the greatest moments of our time together was the joy and amazement that beamed from Amanda's face when I placed Pumpkin in her lap and told her she could open her eyes. She immediately began hugging him and smiling from ear to ear in a look of elation that has since only been matched a couple of times. One being two days later when I was finally able to make out her facial features as she walked down the ailse at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Abilene. The doors behind her had been thrown open casting sunlight into the santuary and silloetting Amanda in her wedding dress, creating a picture of an angel. It wasn't until she was half-way down the aisle that I could see that familiar smile accompanied this time with tears of joy. For those of you were there you know what happened next. Yours truly followed suit.

A week later we had ended our official honeymoon, moved into our new apartment in Fort Worth and, Pumpkin in tow, were ready to start a new life together as husband, wife and cat. A year and a half later we added Bonkers to that mix. We're happy now. Things seem to be running smoothly despite small setbacks and the typical stupid tiffs. As I hear Amanda in the other room command "Bonkers, bring that back!" I can't help but think that we're a family. Cats aren't kids, but they aren't bad practice, I suppose. I hope things don't go stale, and I hope that I'm never too comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I know Amanda so well, and others I don't know her at all. It's these times when I get that feeling again. It used to be my favorite feeling. The feeling of new love. I've felt it more than once since I began dating Amanda, and it's always been with Amanda. That's a good thing. I can't wait to feel it again, and I can't wait to see her face light up again. Maybe I'll give her another cat.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Procrastination List

School starts again in just a little over a week. I actually have to go back to work in less than a week. Now before you start feeling sorry for me, don't. I'm actually looking forward to getting back to work. As much as I have loved my summer and sitting by the pool, staying up until 3 in the morning most nights and taking endless vacations to exotic places, I'm not the type who can just sit around and do nothing. With all this time on my hands I tend to not be able to decide what I should do next and therefore I end up doing nothing at all. With the school year comes many opportunities for self improvement and productivity. With less time on my hands I realize that if I'm going to get some things done I'd better get on it and stop procrastinating. So, without furthur adeu, I present my list of 10 things I had time for during the summer but didn't quite get done.

1. Finishing that play

2. Gathering my material for graduate school applications.

3. Working off that belly.

4. Editting together a movie I made in college (I started this back in May and would have finished but the file kept corrupting even after I'd started over twice).

5. Making a movie.

6. Writing a new play.

7. Riding my bike

8. Getting an agent so I can do voice-over work on the side.

9. Making a model of the set for a play I'm designing.

10. Learning Manderin Chinese.

I think that if I can get these things accomplished during the next school year it will be a success. Oh, yeah, and if my classes go well and the plays that I direct are huge successes. That will also make it a successful year.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My First Endorsement

It looks as if God has smiled upon me. Or at least most of the time.

This site is certified 74% GOOD by the Gematriculator

This site is certified 26% EVIL by the Gematriculator