Monday, September 28, 2009

This American Life... Returns to the Giant Pool of Money

If you've been reading along over this past year, you know that I am really enamoured with This American Life's ongoing coverage of the financial crisis.

I've actually lost count – I think this is show four... but it may be five.

With a little luck we're truly on the other side by now... but if you're thinking that, the first segment of this new episode will be sobering.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Open Letter to Eddie Vedder

Dear Eddie,
Way back in the mists of time, 1993, when I was part of the Juanabees comedy troupe we once received a piece of fan mail written in about six different colours of highlighter-pen. It gushed about us and thanked us for making her summer so much fun and how she could hardly wait for our next tour. We didn't get many fan letters – I could probably count them all on my fingers – but this one stood out for one single, oddly presumptuous question and request. The young lady asked "If [we] knew Pearl Jam" and would we "please tell Eddie Vedder I love him?"
I wrote back – I answered all of our fan mail with as much whimsy as I could, we did have a reputation to uphold. I told her that "No, we don't know Pearl Jam, but next time I'm golfing with Soundgarden I'll have Chris pass on the message." That of course was a lie. I have never golfed with Soundgarden.
Fast forward to last night. I went to your show at GM Place. It was fantastic. Top ten of all time for me. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it was a pretty special one for you guys too. You pretty much told us that, but it was more than your words. It was more than the three encores that lasted longer than the main show. There was a moment during Rearviewmirror where Jeff Ament looked up at you and shared a look that I interpreted as something to the effect of "I am having the greatest fucking time, buddy – you too? Yeah I thought so."
And it was totally deserved.
I had a transcendent moment during Evenflow. That's the song that brought me in back in 1992. It's special for me. I recall those days when even for me as a performer with occasional bouts of fan-adulation that even I was prone to looking up at a stage and imbuing a demi-god image upon the rock star belting it out for us on the floor. I never actually made it to a Pearl jam concert back in those days, but had I it would have been no different. But last night as Mike, Jeff, Matt and Stone noodle away, you walked to the back corner of the stage, not far from where I sat, and you smiled and waved at the crowd. It was a far cry from those fame-hating days of yore. (Which incidentally I can appreciate to an extent. Even on our small level, I found I was constantly uncomfortable with the fan's intimate knowledge of who I was, when I was at an utter disadvantage with them.) No, this was no longer the relationship of screaming groupies, this was a friendly exchange of accepted ritual between friends. And then you returned to the main portion of the stage and you all played on. Playing the hell out of a song that we all know you could sleep through and still bring to 95% of the same intensity. But I think that is why we, the fans, are still so appreciative of you and your side of the bargain – you still top up that last 5%. That is why from the days of grunge, you are the last band standing.
Anyhow, I just wanted to say 'thanks.' Sorry I missed you at Harpo's when you were practically no-one. But I'll be back next year if you are and I'll still be standing when the lights come up. This has been a really rewarding friendship these past seventeen years, I figured that I should pass that much on seeing as I failed to tell you that "Tanya loves you."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Welcome to Post 160: A no less arbitrary benchmark than any number of rounder numbers like "100."


It's been a while since I've posted here about much.
I've done a fair bit of posting lately on my other blogs. (Though not so much this past week.)
Most of my attention has gone to Confessions of an Asshole Skeptic - a mix of philosphizing about process and purpose, coupled with the excercising of both. It's been fun and I've even had a couple of entries that I'm abnormally proud of.
Along the same lines, my TAM diary - The TAMaz!ng Blog - also got a bunch of attention for a while there, but I haven't written a damned thing in over two weeks 'cause I just got weary of deciphering really muddy audio. But I really ought to get back to that and finish up. Once it's done then I can turn my back on it forever... or at least until next TAM.
The Beast of Bottomless Lake production blog hasn't had much to say lately. We are in an infuriating time where we are waiting for other people to finish up their bits and it just stretches longer and longer. I really wish it were over. I love that project, but it ought to be done by now and the longer it carries on the more it hurts in various ways.
And on top of all that I've got myself involved in the inaugural project of the fledgling pan-Canadian skeptical umbrella organization. For now we are just preparing a group blog. I've got my initial post ready to go, and may do a second one before we actually launch.
That's the blogging.

Today I spent my day - going on 18 hours now - mostly working on two commercials. I had the opportunity to shoot two very low budget commercials for a crown corporation (I'll say more later, but for now it's close to my chest.) For both combined the total cast and crew was six people, and a dog. Yes we broke one of the cardinal rules and worked with animals... and it's a bit clearer why it should be avoided now, though I think we fared admirably. We had very little equipment and even less time. The rough cut of one of them is already complete, and we only started shooting around 9:30 this morning (technically yesterday morning now). Why I am I still awake? At least I have no real commitments for tomorrow.

Friday night Jodie and I went and had a picnic in Stanley Park and listened to Great Big Sea. That was sweet.

For years of my childhood the Leon Uris book Trinity sat on my parent's bookshelf. I always had the sense that it was somethign that I should read. I picked it up in a used bookstore on the North Shore last month. Jodie and I just went wandering for the day and we found ourselves in this crazy store. Our first reaction when we walked in was "Yikes! Disaster area! Leave now!" But the owner saw us walk in and greeted us with such encouragement that it was hard not to at least take a peek. We spent over an hour there. It was a disaster area, but that was part of it's charm. Much of the 'organization' of the books was extremely haphazard. There were parts of the store that could only be accessed by moving stacks of books or climbing over them. (I did neither.) Jodie found a number of books. So did I, but I limited myself to two - despite the awesome prices. I bought a copy of L.A. Confidential, which is not only one of my favourite movies of all time, but also one of my favourite books. I don't tend to keep books, but when a book is 'a favourite of all time' it deserves to be kept. At some point after I've re-read it I should write about why the magic intersection of favourite novel and movie happened with this particular adaptation - it is important to the inclusion of both in that esteemed position. I had another book... can't recall what it was... as my second book (Tailor of Panama made the short list, but I don't recall carrying it around.) until just before we left - I was already at the point of milling about waiting - I stumbled upon a previously unseen cranny. In that hidden nook, there was a copy of Trinity. I had to buy it and answer a decades old call.
It's a monster of a book - over 800 pages. I'm not a particularly fast reader, and lately I haven't had a lot of time to read. For now I'm only nominally past the 1/8th mark, but it is one heck of a read. It's tough enough for any novel to make me cry, let alone do so in the first 100 to 120 pages, but Uris's chapters about the Great Potato Famine are so heart-breaking it's... ...and the words fall short.
I suppose knowing that part of my heritage comes from that stock - people who boarded coffin ships, practically swindled into abandoning their homeland, and being among the fraction who made the crossing of the Atlantic alive only to be given a farm of peat in the prairies... though I suppose it was in a sense familiar and certainly no worse than where they left. And the people who stayed behind... egads... what a nightmare. It's in a sense ironic tha such a religiously motivated people would be put to such random peril that it would be a truly Darwinian challenge - a weeding of the weak, and strengthening of the stock. We who have descended have done so because our ancestors were such complete badasses that they survived a cultural decimation that killed half their numbers.

Half their numbers... Christ.

I am looking forward to seeing The Road this fall. It'll have to be different from the book in order to be a film. I'm very curious to see how it turns out. It had better be as bleakly-hopeful as the book. Half their numbers doesn't tell the... well, the half of it.


A touch of Trinity, and then to sleep... providing that drunken-asshole neighbours don't start hollering again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Further thoughts on Future Musings

(Cross posted on Confessions of an Asshole Skeptic.)

Back on Monday I pre-recorded an interview for Skeptically Speaking that will air this Friday... hence the post title... I haven't publicly said the things that this post is a development of....

It was a fun interview, though plagued with technical difficulties, though if you are a regular listener of the show I should clarify that I don't mean that in the sense of how the show is infamously plagued by technical difficulties. We (by which I mean Des, the host, and I) evaded the typical difficulties by pre-taping the interview. Des is going to be at Dragon Con, so both of us would have been remote... it would have been too easy to lose both of us.
The technical details we had were more due to the fact that by not being live the pressure was off so neither of us was as 'on' as we might otherwise have been. As a result we ended up re-recording an awful lot. I even deliberately said 'fuck' once so that she would have to start again when her tongue was getting tied. We also got into a lot of laughing. I'm hoping that the final edit will be as fun as we had.

Fun or not I did have some staircase wisdom on the matter.

One of the things that we talked about was how saturated the acting community is with new-age thinking. Ugh. The answer is "Far too saturated." Which is not to say I am alone as a critical-thinker in the acting community. Whew! But lame-assed hippy-dippy earth-mother beliefs are far too common.

I've been in far too many productions with people who wanted to "share our energy" on stage. Whatever. Yeah, I know there is a rush that we get when a show is really clicking. It's a lot of fun. But that's not 'energy' - its endorphins... or some other chemical in our body. Okay, I don't personally know the exact hormone that is triggering us. Adrenaline maybe? In any case, not knowing the specifics doesn't actually make me wrong and the woo-eaters who thrive on building our collective conscious on stage correct.

I've heard it all.

The 100 monkeys theory has been brought up as an explanation for shows really working. Huh? Not only is the 100 monkeys effect bullshit in the first place, but even if it were... the cast was considerably short of 100 people. There were three of us, and sadly even if you counted the audience there were too few. But even so... how the hell do monkeys downstream learning a task through spontaneous telepathy explain actors clicking on stage? AUGH! I nearly married that woman... sometimes I am an idiot too.

I do have my own set of flakiness I admit. When I'm doing a really intense role I prefer to be left the fuck alone. I'm one of those annoying pricks who don't want to be disturbed. Don't talk to me, don't bother me with stuff that has nothing to do with what is about to happen on stage, or after the show. I also tend to live bits and pieces of the character in real life. I once played a serial killer (in a comedy, no less) for a summer, and by the end I was not a pleasant person to be around... though no bodies showed up.... yet. I played a Jew who was ostracized in Nazi Germany and I ended up ostracizing myself from the rest of the cast. I played a simple minded and insane chicken farmer... my already teetering relationship at the time didn't survive that one - though I ended up being nominated for a local award for the performance.

Once, in a particularly complex and intense show - George F. Walker's Theatre of the Film Noir - I was playing Bernard, a homosexual who had pushed his mind past the brink while narrowly surviving the Nazi occupation of Paris; one of my cast-mates decided that everyone of us should hold hands and stand quietly together through intermission in order to (you guessed it) preserve our energy. I lasted about as long as it took for him to suggest the idea. The best way for me to 'preserve my energy' was to stand in a dark corner alone and spit venom over his stupid idea. I got the impression that me walking away was all it took to trigger at least one other cast member to follow suit. (I am not entirely alone.) I took great pleasure that night in "killing" his character. Ah, method.

Amongst the worst... or best, depending on your interpretation... examples would be my first acting teacher in university, Linda Hardy, Assistant Professor and flake of top-degree. I recall a class where she told us with great reverence how important it was to the world that there were Universities that were granting doctorates of parapsychology. That it was such a coup that the paranormal had finally gained academic respectability. Is it any wonder that so many artists are woo-munchers when this is the kind of mentors they have?

I was always a little incensed that I was expected to pay money to sit in this woman's classes. We spent weeks of our first term exploring how acting through our various chakras affected our performances, and character presentation. It was this that I glancingly referenced in the Skeptically Speaking interview.

There was some severe priming going on in these exercises.
Linda would talk about our fight or flight response and then we'd "breathe through our solar-plexus chakra". The class would then walk around and respond organically to whatever was on their mind... and no one would turn their back on another unless it was to bolt to the opposite side of the room at top speed. We hardly needed any priming beyond our natural 17 year-old associations when she told us to "breathe through our coccyx" and before you knew it class members were rubbing up against each other in the biggest theatre-school cliche since Fame. Who was I to scoff at that particular part of the exercise? It was ridiculous.

I just did a quick back of the napkin calculation. If I took the same course today I would be paying nearly $300 worth of my tuition to play imaginary games for the first third of my semester. What a rip-off!

And what practical purpose were we to put this to?

"Well, dearies..." (I am channelling Linda through my asshole chakra right now - that's where the energy for total crap comes from.) "...say for example you were playing the part of Prospero, a richly spiritual and wise man. You could channel your performance through your brow and crown chakras to bring into your spirit the energy of magic and intellect that form the core of his being."
Yeah... or you could act.

"Using your chakras you can bring the embodiment of any character you desire into yourself and find their voice within you."
So why then, Linda, is it that every time you act you perform in the vapid and shallow voice of the lead character in a Shirley MacLaine auto-biography?

I think next time I get cast in something, I'm going get my inspiration from science to create a performance of infinite depth and mind-boggling complexity by basing my character on the Mandelbrot Set.

Postscript: I actually did a lot of reading into math when at university. I have an incident seared into my memory where when playing some kind of "Who am I now?" type party game at one of our theatre department parties that someone in the department got angry when I 'was' Rene Levesque. "You can't always be obscure mathematicians Kennedy!" For those non-Canadians and for those too young to recall who didn't click the link, Rene Levesque was a (pretty much, THE) prominent Quebec Sovereigntist leader of the 70s.... sigh no joke that you have to explain is funny....
In the previous round I actually had been Benoit Mandelbrot, so apart from not knowing her Canadian history she wasn't exactly wrong.