Monday, December 18, 2006

Bah Humblog

My birthday falls at the start of the Xmas season (the old one – not the one that starts right after Thanksgiving or the one that starts right after Halloween). This year it began on the first night of Hannukah, Hanukah, Chanuka and Channuka. The upside to having a birthday in this time of over-consumption and intense decorating is that it appears people have strung festive lights in your honor. Childhood birthday parties involved sledding down a steep hill near my house then coming back and opening presents in front of a fire while eating homemade fudge and drinking hot chocolate. Good times.

The downside to having a birthday at the biggest gift-giving time of the year is that multi-tasking friends and family tend to bundle your celebrations together (“I got you something great – you’ll get it at Xmas!”) so your birthday doesn’t feel so special. Couple that with the general misery of the holidays and the result is I tend to like to spend the bulk of my birthday on my own so I don’t bum anyone out.

Perhaps this is why as the years go on, I’ve grown increasingly resentful of the holidays. They stole my birthday; guilted me into going broke buying shit for people that they neither want nor need; made me feel thoughtless when I didn’t get it together to send out cards and they eclipsed my damned birthday! Yes, I have beef with Xmas.

I particularly have beef with those Xmas junkies who walk by a guy in a turban or someone wearing a tallit and yalmuke or a disciple of Elijah Mohammed selling books like “Allah Smites the White Devil” and think they’re filled with the spirit of love when they chirp “Merry Christmas!” I’m not saying this is a Mel Gibson level infraction but it denotes a certain clueless-ness, which you can’t point out or you’ll get that big-eyed “how can you do this to the poor Whos in Who-ville” look.

This year, I’m calling Christmas out. I’m going up to the department store Santa and wishing him “Happy Chanukah.” I’m going to tell people “Jesus weeps because you never remember his real birthday,” the only people I’m buying shit for are my son and the women and kids in the homeless shelter. Everyone else will have to fend for themselves.

I used to love shopping at this time of year. The sound of the Salvation Army Santa’s bells, the piped-in Christmas Carols replacing the piped in orchestrated versions of the Beatles, the craft fairs with hot cider and shortbread enticing you to buy cheerful handmade potholders. It’s different now. We buy stuff the same way junkies fix. I’ve seen people spend an entire airline flight reading the SkyMall catalogue then have the person greeting them at the airport read it for the whole BART ride back. Instead of talking to each other! I do it too. Someone starts wearing a certain kind of ruffled scarf or shade of lipstick and I jones for it.

Don’t worry; I’m not leading up to a disquisition on the true meaning of the holiday season. I don’t believe there is one true meaning. It’s cold and dark (or here in California, slightly cooler and dark) so people create celebrations to cheer themselves through the gloominess. Lights were traditionally lit because it was dark! Delicious food cheered people up (food, like materialism is a drug.) people dressed up for the same reason. According to cultural anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss, myth follows ritual to justify the activities. That’s where Saint Nicholas et al come in. And Jesus? They bundled his birthday with the holiday just like my family did with mine. Only he wasn’t even a Sagittarius (if he was he would have talked his way right off that cross with a few well-placed jokes to the Romans.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I blame Lorne Michaels

As I write this blog, I’m sitting in front of a poster for the new Tenacious D movie – Tenacious D – The Pick of Destiny. I’m heartbroken because I know I’ll hate this movie, just as I’m sure I’ll hate Borat, even though I love stanzas (or parts of stanzas) of the D’s music and I love the myspace clips I’ve seen of Borat. I feel this immense joy when Jack Black throws himself so fully into such pearls as “My Biznich is the Shitznit” or reminds us “this is not the greatest song in the world, it’s just a tribute.” Likewise, I want to marry Sacha Baron Cohen when he condemns himself in a fake press conference or tells a woman “I want to make a romance inside of you. Why not? I will like!” What I object to is the Lorne Michaelization of cinematic culture. This idea that you can take a thin premise for a sketch for which 5 minutes were barely justified and then turn it into a full length film because – well – you can get away with it so why not – this idea is anathema to me. Lots of my super* smart and cultured friends would agree with me but for different reasons. They’ve hated these guys from the start and feel like they have no redeeming value. I on the other hand believe in the talents of Sacha Baron Cohen, Jack Black and yes, even Will Ferrell. I light a candle every night for the lost soul of Ben Stiller and pray he will come back to us. All of these guys have the potential to create something memorable and magic that will go down in comic history, but they are either too lazy to do so or they have been co-opted by an industry that rewards mediocrity and shoves nails into the palms of true artists.

Last night I went to see two products of the Lorne Michaels Project for a New American Century. Two formerly famous women were performing works-in-progress versions of their “solo shows.” I have quotes around the last two words for a reason.

One of these women was part of a very famous comedic troupe and as such she has earned her place in the very thin history book that chronicles women in comedy. She is undeniably talented and funny. The other woman was….okay. The show should have been called Solopsisms of the Stars. Why they both thought that people should pay good money to hear them reminisce will forever be a mystery to me. This is what gives solo shows a bad name – people who think that to write a solo show, all you need is an interesting life and the rest will take care of itself. There were no characters in this show – just disembodied names (mostly famous) orbiting around a narcissistic sun. Hollywood seems at times to be a series of linked up echo chambers like semi-attached townhouses or an aural version of a house of mirrors. Everyone here is so busy trying to chase down fame – whatever that is – they have no time for self-reflection, introspection or time to look outside the limited perimeters of their own existence to see things from another angle other than the narrow aperture of their own experience.

I left the show tired and depressed, especially since I had attended the show with a very talented solo performer who has had to struggle for every bit of recognition she so richly deserves. I’ll plug her in future blogs that aren’t as negative as this one, but for now I’ll just say that it breaks my heart to see people who have something genuine and interesting and thought provoking and true to offer the world still having to struggle to get audience, especially when we’re talking about live performance. Sure Bach was posthumously redeemed even though his sons were more famous than he was during their lifetimes but he left sheet music. What does a live performer leave but a memory?

I have no solution for the concerns I’m voicing. We can’t go into people’s homes and insist that they expose their children to books, live music and theater, art galleries etc. We can’t limit their TV and internet time. Sure we could work for reform in schools as committed people have been doing for decades, but the reality is that lots of people are the product of our lousy public schools which unconsciously endeavor to kill creativity and critical thinking and they turn out great because they’ve been “inoculated” as my father-in-law used to say, at home.

The only hope I hold out is that one day the famous entertainers themselves will refuse to do shitty work. They’ll go on strike, burn Lorne Michaels in effigy, take an acting class, found the Church of Stephen Colbert, read a Sharon Olds poem. Robin Williams and Will Ferrel will read a script before they decide to do it and they will all change into their work clothes, get dirty, make mistakes then use their considerable talent and start the hard and serious work of creating something that matters.

In the meantime, I toil in obscurity and prepare to do a show for a microscopic crowd tonight knowing full well that what I have so much more to offer than these two women and that that will forever be my little secret – which I’m sending out into the blogosphere in the vain hope that by drawing attention to these issues, I can make a teeny tiny change in the world. Or maybe not. Back to work.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

keep em doped on Old Navy, The Gap and MYSPACE

I'm really pissed off this week because Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of faking his Parkinson's disease and because these assholes are against stemcell research and would rather throw away unused blastocysts than allow them to be used to help save lives. I'm also pissed off at the death toll in Iraq, at the rhetoric around the midterm election and at the fact that if some people in my hometown have their way, our beautiful public land and art park will transform into a casino and a mall. A friend of mine told me that she was canvassing against this nightmare scenario and was told by one woman "but we really need a closer Nordstroms." Nordstroms, by the way, is a 20 minute drive away.

Consumerism is our new drug and we jones for our new video ipod the way Rush Limbaugh jones for oxycotin.

Remember John Lennon's Working Class Hero?

Keep you doped on religion and sex and tv
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero then just follow me.

Follow him indeed. Is that why we're all so afraid to stand up and publicly renounce what has happened to this country? Are we afraid that heros are all killed? I've already heard people say "Barak Obama would be a great president...if they don't kill him." I certainly hope that they didn't mean he would be killed for his ultra left politics because this is a guy that wouldn't appear with Gavin Newsome a couple of years back because he wanted to distance himself from the gay marriage issue. Hardly a lefty crusader. Don't get me wrong. I'd support him. I like him. He's as left as we're going to get in this country. Hell, the republicans went after Bill -Welfare- Reform-Clinton like he was frickin' Fidel Castro so why wouldn't they go after Barak.

Like I said, I like Barak. He talks pretty. I'm in a wait and see place however because I remember another guy who talked pretty by the name of Mario Cuomo. Everyone wanted him to run for president. I remember one of his most inspired speeches about allocation of public funds " I would rather have my children walk to school than drive to nowhere." Then he cut funding for schools and roads. Hmmm. As he himself said "You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose."

Why are we so fixated on leaders to answer all our problems? It's no different than being doped on John Lennon's religion, sex and TV. We infantilize ourselves by appointing ersatz mommies and daddies to make our decisions for us. We freely give our power away in virtually every aspect of our lives. We do it in the political arena, in the cultural arena and on the home front. How many times have you heard: "My husband is going to kill me when he sees how much I spent on this" or "I'd like to go out but my wife won't let me." From the micro to the macro none of us (including me) want to take responsibility for our own lives. We've all been raised to seek protection in the cloak of plausible deniability but honestly, aren't we all complicit in so much of what is going on in our country? Is a change in party leadership going to fundamentally change the World Bank? The lack of comprehensive health care? The corporate concentration of the media? Sure maybe a little, but not NEARLY as much as we can change it if we stop being great big babies complaining about all the monster shit piling up in our backyard and then going out there and feeding the beast. If you feed it, it's going to shit.

Take the Walmart phenomenon for example. If we all stopped shopping at chains - problem solved. No legislation needed, no trade limitations, nothing. Don't even think about saying you need to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond, The Gap, Banana Republic, Walmart, KMart, Target, Barnes and Nobles, Petco, etc, etc, etc. If the well being of the world and all it's inhabitants is not worth paying a couple of dollars more or driving a few miles further or god forbid not buying yet another thing you don't need then stop complaining about the state of the world. You're feeding the beast.

Start by considering with every purchase the following questions: is this something I want or something I need? If it's something I want, do I want it because I will derive pleasure from it or because I have been convinced by external sources that i want it? If you determine that it's something you want because damn it, you just want it - a cd of great music or a warm and attractive sweater - consider if you can buy it elsewhere to support the independent business person. You might find that if you load up on less stuff you don't need, you'll have more time. Less stuff means less to maintain, pick up, clean. You save on cleaning and on shopping time. You save gas money that you would have spent going to pick up the stuff. How many people wake up one day and realize that buying stuff has become their avocation?

How about FOX news. So many people I know get worked up about that one. I stopped watching TV in 1997 and I have sooo much more free time than people who have to get back home for Dancing with the Stars. Fox news doesn't bother me because I don't watch it. What bothers me is that fact that lots of other people are watching it. What about the fact that I am missing Stephen Colbert and John Stewart? That is truly sad, but when I miss them to the point that I feel a void, I go to the internet and watch some clips. The added benefit is that if you don't watch TV or look at glossy magazines, you aren't bombarded with images of stuff you're supposed to think you need when in reality you wouldn't have even wanted them if they weren't artfully packaged.

So what does this have to do with Republicans and the big bowl of wrong they've been serving us? It's just one step at a time folks. We can't necessarily beat the voting machines this time, but if we start to change our own lives we can create a ripple that will spread and it will eventually dawn on these guys that their supreme power over us requires our complicity. If we start living our lives in a mindful way we might discover that we don't have to be complicit.

Let's imagine for a moment that thanks to a new war's say Iran.... George Bush and crew call off the election in 2008. Will we go out into the streets? Will we go on a general strike? If we did this and took other steps, we could force an election; force an end to the war; force use of alternative fuel sources; force government support of stem cell research; force stricter environmental regulations and diversification of media ownership; force stores like Walmart either die on the vine or move to a Costco model of paying union wages; we could force out the multi-million dollar "healthcare" industry through boycotts and through using alternative healthcare source in order to force our government to implement socialized medicine; our witholding of consumer dollars can force other countries to pay their workers a living wage; our walk to the independent movie house or trip to the library can force TV networks to program semi-intelligent shows with adequate actors, etc, etc, etc. I could go on. Trust me on that.

What a terrifying and exhilarating moment. The moment that we realize that we are not helpless. The moment we realize that everthing we do has an impact - has importance. My son was telling me about a scene in the film BEYOND RANGOON in which several Burmese are confronted by a soldier with a gun who is most likely going to kill them. One of the Burmese men approaches the soldier- whose gun is cocked and ready - and goes right up to him. He hugs the soldier. The soldier breaks down, throws off his helmet and gun and joins them. We all have that power, it's just a matter of how we choose to use it.

Last quote of the blog is from POGO: We have seen the enemy and it is us. I lied. That's too negative. I end with one from Mr. Shakespeare instead: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I was reading my dear friend Alison Luterman's blog. Alison is a wonderful poet and a radiant soul. She had some kind things to say about my show and expressed her sadness that the night she came the audience was microscopic. Sadly, this was not a first. Worse, it's probably not a last. My producers are from Superman's Bizarro world ( remember - where everything is the opposite of what you expect?) so they are supportive and seem more concerned with the show getting seen than with the bottom line. I'm really lucky to have a lot of great human beings in my life. Even so I've been running around like crazy lately with despair nipping at my heels until I realized that I'm going about this whole show biz thing wrong... It's so easy to get hung up on results and then what?.. If your best case scenario works out just as planned you're famous which means you're pretty much fucked, eh?.. Does anyone remember Joni Mitchell's tune, For the Roses?.. She writes:

In some office sits a poet
And he trembles as he sings
And he asks some guy
To circulate his soul around

I love that passage... (That's me saying that, not Joni).

It's a fine gossamer line between chasing a dream and chasing success - whatever that is... Frankly, I'm starting to wonder if I'm even supposed to chase a dream... It doesn't feel right, does it?.. Maybe a dream needs to be invited to come to you - like a deer or a bird - approached softly with stillness and humility and an offering like..a piece of bread or a sunflower seed... Like my homegirl Joni says:

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation-well, who's to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so

I'm addicted to the idea of arriving somewhere, as if making it is a destination... "Oh, here we are - we've made it.".. So easy, right?..

By now you might have figured out that it's been a trying couple of weeks in Wedding Singer Blues Land... I have been driving back and forth between the Bay Area and Los Angeles so much that somewhere along Interstate 5, I lost my perspective... It's probably in some rest stop bathroom named for a dead CHP cop.

You see, I get attached to these possible future opportunities as if they are a done deal, then when they don't happen, I forget that weeks earlier, I was perfectly happy just doing what I was doing... Delirious to be down in LA, doing the show, making people laugh and cry... Then someone dangles a glittery possibility at eye level and I lose all perspective...

This is the point where someone needs to slap me and say "Carla, no one is interested in a self-pitying dialectic on the vagaries of fame and the importance of being in the present moment.


Here's Joni again:

I guess I seem..ungrateful
With my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things
I really can't give up just yet
Now I sit up here
The critic!
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you're getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails

Now that's a gloomy chick...

That's all for now.

First Blog

Hello out there in the blogosphere. Or is it blogisphere? I have trouble spelling made up words. And Hebrew words. What is worse, I actually have no intention of spell checking this blog because…well… it's a blog. If you have some kind of grammatical OCD, I strongly suggest that you read no further! I'll just upset you with my utter indifference to punctuation and my unwillingness to figure out how to spell check from the blog.

This is my first blog. I’m writing it in an effort to create a cyber community – something which I have no time to do in real life because I’m on the computer. That’s a lie. I just said that to make you like me.

So I'm a mom (reform, not conservative or orthodox) a singer and an actor and a playwright and a director and I travel with and perform my own solo musical. This is ironic because as a rule, I don't like musicals. My musical is a theatre piece in which the songs emerge organically from the narrative which is how I like it for now. I may change opinions about that at some point - in fact I hope I do since it will give me a broader range of what I can write about while still getting to sing. I'm a really good singer but my curse has been that I like to sing in a bunch of styles and I'm good at all of them so it was a question of "where's my voice?" Writing this piece helped me sort that out. I realized that my voice is to channel all the characters and singers that I've met and heard, to tell stories and to try to make sense of the struggles we all endure through the aforementioned activities. I'm particularly interested in how much weight we put on individual choices when no matter which direction we go on our brief journey on this planet, we are bound to face great disappointments and if we're lucky, irrepressible joy.

So right now, I lead a double life. I was told recently that I'm "intra-coastal" I like that. It sounds like a cross between a medical procedure and a sexual proclivity. What it means is, I travel between the Bay area and Los Angeles in my pursuit of the Canadian Dream...which is to attain the American Dream but with a smaller car and fewer calories. I am doing my solo show (wedding singer blues) at the Hayworth Theatre at 2509 Wilshire BLVD. THe Hayworth is run by Danna Hyams and Gary Blumsack and they are awesome people. They need a website and/or a myspace so more people can know about their beautiful space. It's truly lovely and they have their hearts and minds in the right place - great offerings - intelligent and entertaining theatre.

I am hoping to get my show to NYC (isn't everyone?) and I'm working on a screenplay version as well as a couple of cable-only TV pilots. I'm also working with a booking agent to do some one-night stands around the country. It's fun. Every night I hear my own message about pursuing one's dreams. It's a powerful experience.

I love theatre and it saddens me that it appears to be a dying art form. That's too bad since there's nothing like live performance. To be sitting in the darkness with a bunch of strangers, sharing an experience that can never be replicated - that's something! It's not the same just to go see a film. You still have the synergy with the other audience members but no connection with the performers (the one exception being Purple Rose of Cairo where the character walks off of the screen and becomes three dimensional because he's so captivated with Mia Farrow....apparently he hadn't spoken with any of her ex-lovers....). I love to have performers so close to me that I can smell them, make eye contact with them, be spit upon by them. I know that probably sounds kinky, but hey we all gotta get our kicks somehow.

Some theater that I have really enjoyed: a) anything by Culture Clash. They are insightful and painfully funny. They use their humor like a scalpel to dissect our not-so-benign racist assumptions, the history of this country and the way we all can turn our marginalizing eye inward on ourselves. They are also really fucking funny. Can I say fuck on this site? I guess I'll find out b) anything by Mary Zimmerman, especially Metamorphosis. Mary Zimmerman creates lush, visual feasts. Lyrical theatre custom-fitted for the actors in the piece. She makes them all look like geniuses. I love someone who makes my hairs stand on end c) anything by Tony Kushner. I am about to commit theater heresy right here and now and say that Tony is suffering from Eugene O'Neil-itis. He is smarter than anyone around so no one has the balls to say "dude, your play is too long, cut it." I mean this is the guy who wrote Angels in America so who are any of us to say.... I love him, he's brilliant AND Homebody/Kabul was two plays. Yeah, I said it. d) Charlie Varon is brilliant. He is my favorite solo performer right now. Check out his website for more info: Charlie marries keen satire with impish fun with a bluntly honest look at the demons that haunt us. He is one of the unsung heroes of the theatre world.

By the way, I am Canadian so you can't accuse me of being pretentious if I spell theatre with an re instead of an er. It's just how I was raised. I pronounce words funny and apologize a lot too. I’ve lived in the US for a very long time now so sometimes I will spell theater with an “er.” If this inconsistency infuriates you, I humbly refer you to paragraph one of this blog.

I haven’t figured out why I’m doing this blog. Boredom? Narcissism? Loneliness? A writing outlet for a hopelessly goal-oriented person? Peer pressure? I guess I’ll find out as the days progress.

Why do you blog?