Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Nexus of Art and Activism

This absolutely blew my mind.

In 1990, poet Adrienne Rich was chosen for the National Medal of the Arts and she refused it based on the disconnect between her work and the "work" of the Clinton Administration.  Her poems are literary celebrations of art as a human birthright and the kinship of humanity, and thus she felt she could not accept an award from a president and a government whose America was comically unequal, entrenched in corporate greed and had set a disturbing precedent for the dismantling of arts funding.

The actual refusal letter to the NEA is at the bottom of the webpage, but the letter she wrote describing her reasoning is at the top and is pretty long.  Long and amazing.  Read it here.

My parents gave me a copy of Dark Fields of the Republic when I was in high school.  I had just taken my first poetry class.  I just read some of it again, now that I am a little more prepared for understanding it, and that led me to her letter from the 90's.  Unbelievable that something so resonant today should be found today, unearthed after 15-odd years. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shit Gets Real

First of all, Ma-Yi Theater Company's workshop of I__NY was awesome.  Everyone involved was a total pro, and there was some serious food for thought afterward.  They took you high and then they took you low and set some serious things before you for further personal processing.  In the theater, if you're not talking about it when you leave, then I think the show was a misfire.  That doesn't mean you have to go home and write a dissertation for a production to have any worth, I just think you can continue to learn and grow as a person even though you're sitting in the dark watching something.  So: kudos to Ma-Yi.  They did a great job.

Second of all, my horrible spending habits have come home to roost.  According to some recent calculations it will take me fifty (!!!) years to pay off my credit card.  I shit you not.  2058.  

And so the mandate for "Change" has reached Pennsylvania Avenue and Lorimer Street.  

I am taking a page out of the Obama playbook and will be revamping an old, crusty system.  I am stepping up my efforts to budget, working longer hours, drinking as much free corporate coffee as I can stand (Pumpkin Spice!  Dark Magic!  Breakfast Blend! Levicorpus!), and trying radical new fiscal strategies that will hopefully keep me off of a WPA workgang on the West Side Highway. . . I just have to seriously tap into my love of filing paperwork and everything will work out in the end.  Right?

Third, I was recently in a reading of The Physicists by Freidrich Durenmatt at EST.  Now this piece took a lot of time to grow on me, but it really began to grow on me.  At heart, despite all the absurdity, it's basically a reiteration of the famous axiom, "With great power comes great responsibility."  I don't think that's just from Spider-Man, I think the Greeks said it first or something, but it's a play that begs us all to look at What We Are Doing and ask ourselves why we do it.  The meat of the play is the role of scientists in the practical application of their discoveries vis-a-vis atomic energy, but it's more universal than that.  Why do we do what we do?  Because we're good at it?  Because the work is its own reward?  Are we doing it because we're trying to accomplish something?  Are we innocent of the impact of our actions if we did not intend or forsee that impact?  Check out this quote:

Mobius:  There are certain risks that one may not take: the destruction of humanity is one.  We know what the world has done with the weapons it already possesses; we can imagine what it would do with those that my researches make possible, and it is these considerations that have governed my conduct.  I was poor.  I had a wife and three children.  Fame beckoned from the university; industry tempted me with money.  Both courses were too dangerous.  I should have had to publish the result of my researches, and the consequences would have been the overthrow of all scientific knowledge and the breakdown of the economic structure of our society.  A sense of responsibility compelled me to choose another course.  I threw up my academic career, said no to industry, and abandoned my family to its fate.  I took on the fool's cap and bells.  I let it be known that King Solomon kept appearing to me, and before long, I was clapped into a madhouse . . . Reason demanded the taking of this step.  In the realm of knowledge we have reached the farthest frontiers of perception.  We know a few precisely calculable laws, a few basic connections between incomprehensible phenomena and that is all . . . We have reached the end of our journey.  But humanity has not yet got as far as that.  We have battled onwards, but no one is following in our footsteps; we have encountered a void.  Our knowledge has become a frightening burden.  Our researches are perilous, our discoveries are lethal . . . 

The character of Mobius had himself committed to an asylum so his ideas could never be released unto a world that would use his ideas for evil.  That is pretty bold.  How many of us would have the courage of our convictions to do something like that?  

I mean, we have lawyers drafting memos that justify torture.  Why?  Because they're good at writing memos?  Because they were just doing their jobs?  We have businessmen who cheat their own employees and screw their customers.  Why?  Because they know about tax shelters and loopholes?  We as a people are witnessing all of our systems breaking down because the people with the knowledge have been using that knowledge for evil.  Either because they didn't know what would happen or because they didn't care.  When we as a people and as individuals know for ourselves what we want, what we want to change, and what we believe in, then we can start practically applying our knowledge for good.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Argument

"My Dear, Hamlet is not a guy like you."

I have fought with myself for a long time about the logistics of doing Shakespeare.  For a long time I thought that as long as you could decipher olde english you'd know what you were really saying, and thus be able to just speak with clarity and intention.  It took me a long time to come to appreciate that the classical language is not simply olde english but poetry; poetry that requires much more than simply knowing what you're saying.  The language is heightened and the actor must honor that, but how?  I've seen actors on both ends of the style spectrum fail to move audiences because of the disconnect that Peter Brook describes in the quote below.  People either A.) try play their characters as if they were not in a classical play but a naturalistic film scene or B.) send it up in epic, bombastic and mannered "style."  Check out his thoughts.

From The Empty Space:  

Imperial gestures and royal values are fast disappearing from everyday life, so each new generation finds the grand manner more and more hollow, more and more meaningless.  This leads the young actor to an angry and impatient search for what he calls truth.  He wants to play his verse more realistically, to get it to sound like honest-to-God real speech, but he finds that the formality of the writing is so rigid that it resists this treatment.  He is forced to an uneasy compromise that is neither refreshing, like ordinary talk, nor defiantly histrionic, like what we call ham. . . If you ask an actor to play in a "romantic style" he will valiantly have a go, thinking he knows what you mean.  What actually can he draw on?  Hunch, imagination and a scrapbook of theatrical memories, all of which will give him a vague "romanticness" that he will mix up with a disguised imitation of whatever older actor he happens to admire.  If he digs into his own experiences the result may not marry with the text; if he just plays what he thinks is the text, it will be imitative and conventional.  Either way the result is a compromise: at most times unconvincing.

So this is the dilemma and I don't know what the answer is.  

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the Eve of the Election, a Prayer

Election Benediction
(a non-secular election prayer)

I admit, I don't pray very often.
I prayed when my children were born
that they be healthy and whole.
I prayed when my daughter got sick,
when all of the doctors and all of the treatments
couldn't make her better.
And I prayed when, finally, she was well again
in profound thanksgiving.

When my son sang his heart out in his first high school play
I prayed to be deserving of the joy that filled my heart,
hearing his confident voice, watching his agile body.
I prayed when he went off to college
and I prayed on September 11th
when he called from his New York apartment.
And when his father and sister went to New Orleans to help, I prayed then, too.

I've prayed when I've been most afraid,
bone tired or thoroughly spent.
I know you're supposed to pray more than that-
more frequently, more selflessly.
I acknowledge my negligence in the realm of spiritual correctness.
And I'm sure there are others like me
who mostly look to God when out of luck or out of time.
(I bet God understands that about people.)

These days I have a new prayer practice
One born of hope, not fear.
These days I pray for America
and I pray for Barack Obama.
I pray for his wife who sustains him,
for his children and all of our children,
who compel him to reach for the heights he is seeking.
I pray for him to win the election
because even though my religious adherence has been minimal
I know a miracle when I see one.
The man is not the miracle.
Through the confluence of hope and history,
the miracle is the capacity he creates to inspire so many millions of us
to engage again, or for the first time,
in our nation's political process - 
to work together for peace, for prosperity, and for the planet.

I never sang, "God Bless America" unless I had to in school.
It seemed arrogant to me, like asking for divine special treatment.
Bless America instead of India?  Not Peru or Mozambique?
"This Land is Your Land," was my patriotic favorite.
I'm older now.  The bifocals I wear make it easier to see shades of gray
and stand, like everyone else, with my hand on my heart
when the band plays loud martial songs.

My prayer is nonsectarian.
"Baruch atah adonai," it begins, because that's how I first learned to pray.
And then, tentatively, I say it,
"Please God, bless America.
Help people get to the polls.
Help others to count the votes fairly.
No fraud this time, or intimidation
no Florida hanging chads.
Help us move closer to the dream, closer to the promise of our creed."

I teach in a wonderful public school with kids of all colors and faiths.
I borrow their words when I need them,
in Arabic, Creole, Chinese.
"Tal ouy ban sac, Barack Obama," I say in Khmer to end my prayer.
"Vaya con Dios," the same thought but in Spanish.
God be with you, Barack Obama.
I'm hoping to cover all bases.
Whether the way is a cross or a crescent,
Whether Allah, Loving Kindness, or Christ
Bless audacity.
Bless hope.

Written by Susan Markman, Pelham, MA 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Benediction

The blog Daily Kos, known far and wide as one of the best sources for progressive political thought and action, has just featured the writing of a rising star in the literary world.  

Her name is Susan Markman.  She is my mother.  I am incredibly proud of her and her achievement tonight.  Her piece expresses the breathlessness that stirs in people when presented with profound possiblity.  I've been talking a lot to people about searching out plays and art that deal in human truths.  Well, here it is.

You can read her poem Election Benediction here.   

I'll post the entire text on its own tomorrow.  For now, just checking it out on Daily Kos is worth it.  The site is famous and seeing her work there sent Kate and I into fits of starry-eyed adoration.  Not for the first time.  


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008


The Soul Samurai workshop approaches.  

One of the best parts about working with Vampire Cowboys is that in the researching of roles for the show you fall in love with the genres you're mashing up.  I have recently taken in the delights of Shaft, Superfly, Black Mama White Mama, Foxy Brown, Samurai Champloo, and Hara Kiri.  The Mack, Shogun Assassin, and (my favorite title so far) Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song are lined up for this weekend. 
Blaxploitation.  The genre is controversial, and a few people have come up to me saying is it cool to do that in this day and age? Didn't that genre cherry-pick the worst aspects of black culture and then help codify and normalize those stereotypes nationwide?  Well, yes and no.  In my opinion, the answer needs to be contextualized.  

In the beginning (as I understand from the documentary Badassss Cinema--absolutely required viewing), the films coming out reflected the revolutionary energy of the times. They featured potent, powerful and proud black characters who were impervious to racists and suffered no fools.  They offered performers of color the opportunity to play lead roles of substance that Hollywood had always denied them.  Because these were initially independent movies, they afforded entrepeneurial outlets, a sense of cultural ownership, and again, pride in black craftsmanship.   They celebrated the slogan "Black is Beautiful" and put the day-to-day worlds of Harlem and the ghettos of LA on the big screen.  
(Superfly has a still photography montage that is basically a photo essay on Harlem in the 70's.)  Combined with the soul and funk music of the legendary artists Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, the result was a profound experience at the movies for people of color who were desperate for stories and images that spoke to them and their lives.  

As with most film, the characters were larger-than-life icons.  Shaft was a detective who was cooler and badder than anyone in the room--a black 007.  Preacher, the pusher from Superfly, commanded a small army and lived like a king, enjoying clothes, money, women, and prestige.  Foxy Brown was a sexy afro'd independent woman who could infiltrate and take down a prostitution ring (and whose boyfriend was a black DEA agent!  What?)

A lot of characters were pimps and ho's, crime bosses and hitmen, this is true.  However, that negativity was usually counter-balanced by the appearance of Black Power activist characters and/or community watch groups who confronted the underworld figures about the damage they were doing to the neighborhood.  

To me, these are usually the best scenes and provide the most dramatic fireworks.  In Superfly, the confrontation is in a diner.  A watchdog gang in daishikis accost Preacher about his peddling drugs and his disregard for his own people, as it is blacks who are buying his cocaine.  Characteristically, Preacher responds, "What you need to do is get a gun.  And then get guns for all those blacks you care so much about.  And when you do that, I'll join you and be there on the front line shootin' whitey.  But until then, stay the fuck outta my way."  Or something similar, but the politics and concern with social justice and cultural elevation was usually put front and center at some point.   John Shaft enlists the aid of his former friend, now an activist, in the rescue of a mobster's daughter, and they spar over who's helping the people the most.  There's an incredibly powerful scene in The Mack where the pimp's brother says that instead of visiting him in jail, he created a people's movement that would actually do some good.  The empowerment of the people was worth more than some phone calls or envelopes of money because it would truly help his brother when he got out.  He argues that the pimp is essentially still in a prison of the mind because he's playing right into The Man's hands by selling drugs and women.  The Mack responds by saying he has a right to pursue his business anyway he likes. . . because this is America.  He says, "Being rich and black means something, don't you know that? It's crazy to stay in the ghetto once you've seen the way out." Or something similar, but essentially, huge questions are raised and social justice is prioritized in the middle of a film about an unrepentent pimp.

After this initial period, Hollywood saw how popular the movies were and how much they made.  They began cranking out shitty versions of their own, replacing the black artistic staff behind the camera, and turning the style into formulaic crap and wildly over the top characterizations.  The negative aspects were seized upon, commoditized, and encouraged by the industry (not unlike the gangstery thuggish hip-hop of the past ten years).  

Eventually people cooled to the nonsense.  This is the heartbreaking part, because they eventually screwed the black artists.  When they saw that they had taken an art form and turned it into a trend--and that that trend had run it's course--they again shut the door in the faces of actors they had made famous.  Many were never hired again despite being matinee idols and stars in their own right.

So, yes and no.  Blaxploitation, in my opinion, began as something incredibly empowering and beautiful and devolved into something cheap and harmful.  There was always a sense of whimsy and silliness and overblown characterization, but with the influx of money and studio interference, the movement got away from its roots and became another cliche of hollywood genres like the western and the romantic comedy.

I think what we are setting out to do with Soul Samurai is honor the essence of this tradition and have a lot of fun with a style that is inherently theatrical and dramatic.  Everyone is doing research on their own to inform the characters they play.  We talk a lot about what Pam Grier movie we saw last night or what we're excited about incorporating and how it relates to what we have to play in our scenes.  Who should see X to get an example of Y.  

It's a challenging task, but we're endeavoring to do it with honor and respect. 

We're aiming to blow your mind.  

And your soooul.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This Year's Outstanding Featured Actor is . . .

. . . Napoleon Beazley!
Well, some sweet day, I guess.  

However, (among others!!) the whole cast did win the Outstanding Ensemble IT Award last night, and considering the nature of the show and how hard we all worked, I'm glad none of us was recognized above the others.  I was going to accept on behalf of the cast, anyway :-)

Since only six of the nine of us were there and it was an ensemble thing, it was a bittersweet victory.  But to be onstage in the bright lights, to be in such great company, to have Kate there, and to receive the award from the legendary Bill Irwin (clown genius, guys)... Man, it was like winning the lotto.  

I should know.  Because I did win.  Today.  This morning.

Joanie and Charlie Benson (Kate's aunt and uncle) sent me five scratch tickets for my birthday and, by God, I won 55 bucks!  I wanted to do a Howard Dean "Yeeeargh!"  (First stop on the money train?  Oasis Falafel: $3.  Nice.)

So: I'm Moneyman instead of Featured Actorman.  I'm cool with that.  For now.  Some of that mojo or karma or whatever is definitely in the air.    

Don't we look young?

Don't dream it--be it, people!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stand Up to Cancer Telethon

I'm in the show's opening segment . . . the star-studded one :-)

(Note: the show has moved from streaming on to streaming on the SU2C website which is not as fast.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Things I've Been Doing

There are a bunch of things that have not made their way into the blog this month, so I'm smooshing them all together here in this post.

1.  IPod
I've been really into using my IPod to its fullest potential.  
Audiobooks:  Kate has been listening to actual books and novels while at work, but I have been getting Shakespeare plays I haven't yet read.  Shakespeare (depending on how picky you are about acting) is tailor-made for headphones.  If what you want is to hear the words, baby, you got 'em.  Richard Burton's Hamlet I bought for pleasure and found it to be very engaging, so I thought I'd brush up on the rest of the canon--whatever I'd never seen live before.  Julius Caesar, for example, is awesome and the one I downloaded from ITunes had a really great cast (some of the recordings have casts that are sucky).  Some others on the list to get are Macbeth and Pericles.  

Voice Memos:  While working with Mark Sitko on prepping Van Cougar, it came to my attention that the ITalk (which is a tiny dictaphone that unobtrusively attaches to the USB port) is an incredible tool for actors.  I've been using it to memorize lines and try my hand at voice-over technique.  You know, like Rosewitha or Shikoku.  The ITalk is by Griffin, but they're a little harder to find.  There's another model by Bose that's more popular but it has speakers jutting out of it on either side that look like buboes on a plague victim.  Not sexy or discreet.  If you get the ITalk, check its compatibility since on mine I have to select record from an onscreen menu instead of just pushing the big button in the center.  That's pretty upsetting because what I want to do is push a big button if it's right there in front of me, you know?

Podcasts:  There's a Comic News Insider podcast floating around out there from Men of Steel and Fight Girl which I was a guest on, and that got me started on a bunch of cool podcasts that I listen to everyday (although they're a day behind).   The one I'm really into right now is The Rachel Maddow Show.  She's smart and funny and translates a lot of political obfuscation into concise, biting clarity.  Nine Inch Nails also has a pretty revolutionary podcast where users can take the source material, remix it on Garageband, and then put it up their own versions.  It's called remixnin and the podcasts are the various songs themselves.  It's a great way around having to pay for them individually as songs on ITunes (which is what they would do if they could--"Fuck the pigs!").  Brilliant.  You can also do video podcasts like Meet the Press and Countdown, but that shit tires me out.  Also the screen is so small, it's almost not even worth it.

Videos:  Again, rarely is it that great to watch something on such a small screen (especially difficult on the subway).  I have been watching a lot of pilots that can be found on the "Free on ITunes" section of the store, though.  One of the shows I thought would be awesome was Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls, but he seems to be in the mountains too much for me.  More Jungle!  Unfortunately a lot of the pilots are bad which is why they're free.  Actually, the Primeval pilot was pretty good for killing half an hour.

So good, there's the IPod section.  On to:

2.  Theatre
Summer and Smoke at Theatre Row:  My friend Tlaloc Rivas is directing this and has got one of the best performances I've seen this year in Mary Sheridan's Alma.  I have told everyone who will listen that I have never liked Tennessee Williams, and this is the show that has turned me around.  A spare, physical, beautifully designed show that highlights the text and the relationships--which is right up my alley as an audience member.  And my friend Harry Barandes is in it as a loveable loser, too.  Drink some coffee beforehand and bring a sweater.  It's really cold in there.

Self-Portrait as Schiele in the Fringe Festival:  Gerritt Turner directed Mark Lindberg's play about a painter haunted by Austrian young-girl-portraitist Egon Schiele.  It's closed now, but it had some really penetrating insights into the nature of art and sexuality and the transmission of knowledge.  I've been thinking a lot lately about what can be taken away from seeing plays,  and sometimes a line will stick out and stay with you for days (now weeks).  One from this show was something like:  "Just because you depict death does not make you master of it."  

A Day in Dig Nation at P.S.122:  You could see this show and appreciate it for the sheer discipline it took Michael McQuilken to perform it.  But again, it's deeper and more profound than it appears behind its bells and whistles of projected scenery and mise en scene.  It's performed by McQuilken solo as he navigates a surreal day-dream life accompanied by voice actors who play a host of other characters.  The voice over talent is incredible in this show, and may not have been matched or used so effectively in my past experience.  It's all foley sound-work like Dogville where you see the actor's hand mime opening an invisible door and from the speakers you hear the sound.  Well, here all the sounds dictate the actors's movements and it's pretty amazing to witness live.  The deepness I mentioned above comes from experiencing some no-shit human condition at work in comical but loaded scenes--like in the bunker with the radio.  I can't say more until you see it, but sometimes you see something and you say, "By god, there is something that is a fundamental truth of life."  Seriously.  That particular scene is pretty bleak, but the ending of the show leaves you with some real hope for human compassion and potential.  Great things lie in all of us, no matter what has come before.  The future is completely ours to make for ourselves and that is crazy to think possible.  Especially with November looming.  As Omar might say, "You feel me?"  There's also singing and dancing and multiple conceptual set-pieces that dazzle.

3. Cooking
Kate and I are cooking up a blizzard of rice at our little apartment, and everything that can go on top of it we throwing on it and then serving it up for dinner or putting into containers to take in with us for lunch.  Now, I have never liked cooking.  However, in this day and age it has become a monetary necessity.  It has its good points.  It's pretty fun as activities go (until you're done eating and you see the dishes in the sink), you get to chop and dice out your aggressions, and we play music and have drinks while we do it.  (Not drinks like Donna Reed martinis for Mr. Stone when he gets home from work drinks, but fun, youthful-abandon drinks like Rum and Coke or margaritas.)  Plus, it's healthier and cheaper than going out.  And considering I only ate things that were crispy and brown before this that's saying a lot. 

4.  Finances
I know shit about money, but I'm working on it.  I kind of knew going into it that acting and theatre were not about the glamour but the work... but can't a guy have nice things?  Can't he pay his bills and think about retirement?  This guys is.  My job offers matching on their 401k, and I should have been putting in there since I started and now have to catch up.  I'm getting on top of my bills, my debt and my spending habits (with Kate's enormous help and encouragement) and that is tangible power.  I recommend it to anyone who is an artist and hates numbers or anyone who has sought out being poor for the cred or anyone who has somehow found themselves paying off the interest instead of the principal.  I'm not home-free, but I'm getting out from under it just like the rest of the country.  I can see a distant light!

Stay tuned cause I'm drafting a post that will cure American politics.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I wrote a post about my love/hate relationship with TV work that I have now erased because it was, upon reflection, too bilious.  Kate tells me that unless I change my attitude about money (it's the root of all evil) I will subconsciously avoid having it and do things to prevent it from entering my life.  By extension, my hard feelings about the sitting around on commercial sets and the impersonal nature of the work and the feeling like an automaton and the lack of dignity can easily influence (subconsciously, according to her and some unnamed theorists) my actions, and can prevent me from actually being successful in the work itself.  One, so that I avoid having money, and two, so that I avoid the drudgery that most of that work consists of.  

This state of affairs cannot be; so I am turning it all around.  I am going to try to open my heart to the idea of being a rich fart who actually does some good with the money he makes in this world and consider the drudgery as a part of the whole process.  Because, as the man said, baby needs a new pair of shoes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Music Make You Lose Kontroll

Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod (Neem-Rode) Antal's movie Kontroll is one of my favorites. When I was getting my haircut I was asked what my favorite movies were and so many came to mind that none of them came out of my mouth--that feeling that as soon as you're called upon to opine on something on which you're expert, you totally choke. But now, in the aftermath, I can with a cool head say that Kontroll is totally up there.

I made Kate put it in her queue (we watched it the other night) and again I was struck by how beautiful and gritty and visually unconventional it was. The writing is top, the characterizations hilarious and human, and it was shot entirely underground in the Budapest subway system. The story just never stops rolling.

That's it. (Aside from the fact that every time I brought it up with her, Kate would sing, "Music make you lose Kon-troll," in a German accent.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lightsaber Movies

If there were more hours in the day I would totally be out there doing projects like this and would be proud to join the legions of Star Wars fans who make these incredible videos.  These are my absolute favorites and I stayed up till 3am watching a lot of them.  They're humorous, inventive, and technically proficient. . . and made with love.




The sequel: RvD2


Monday, July 21, 2008

IT Award Nominations

Well, It's official: I am a nominee for two Innovative Theatre Awards!

The entire cast of Fight Girl was nominated for Best Ensemble, and I was personally nominated for Best Actor in a Featured Role. The ceremony was tonight and a lot of awesome downtown off-off companies were there, including Kelly and Jason from Flux, the gang from Nosedive, and many, many more.

Our show had seven total nominations, we had nine people in the cast (plus a load of friends), and every time they called our names we shouted our hearts out. It was awesome to be in such good company and to reunite with such a great group of artists. The IT Awards Ceremony will be in September when we find out the winners. It's a good crop, so tensions are high...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sweet, Sweet Fourth of July (or, That Blueberry Pie Was Amazing)

In a book I read in college, a writer has a recurring dream that publishers shout, "Hats off, gentlemen! Hat's off!" after finishing his manuscript. I really love this phrase as a universal salute to people who do an excellent job at something.

Well, my hat is off to Elizabeth Marks.
Thanks to her, Kate and I were well-fed and treated like royalty over the Fourth of July weekend. I have never seen such concerted efforts to make an event special. She went shopping for three days getting the food. She coordinated our travel and accomodations. She got us (once successfully and once not so much) seats at the famed Berkshire landmark Jacob's Pillow (Or just, "The Pillow", egh. Formerly, Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers, a name we took endless delight in repeating to ourselves later in the car). It was truly amazing. The thoughtful activities just kept on coming and we delighted in them all.

Among the highlights were picnicing with Kate's aunts and uncles, rowing in a halting, self-defeating fashion across Big Bowman Pond in Taborton, making a fire pit in the driveway that roared all night, and eating the best lunch ever at Jiminy Peak. The Alpine Slide was pretty good, too, although Kate takes the cake for doing an unprecedented triple-flip on the bungie-assisted trampoline...

Kate and I had a wonderful time and we cannot wait to go back. 

Thanks, Wizzawee!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Old Pictures

Since I'm still new to this format and what blogger can do, I've arranged these pics I just got off our camera into a very un-sexy one-after-the-other scroll down event.  I've captioned them, though.  Enjoy!

Kate in the subway at Bedford Ave.  I love it where we live but if you ever look closely at this station (service interruptions aside), it's simply filthy.  On the Brooklyn-Bound side especially the tiles are horribly discolored and grimy from a perpetual leak of sludge coming from the ceiling.  It's almost laughably gross.  It's like being in that Jennifer Connelly movie Dark Water, where the stuff running down the walls is supernatural and malevolent.  There's usually a busker down there playing music too, though, so that mitigates it a little bit.  A little bit.  

Kate and I at one of our favorite restaurants, SEA on North 6th.  Lena came to visit and took this at dinner.  They have this awesome pool in the center that floats a boat of flowers around with a giant peaceful Buddha presiding over it all.  I am not a foodie, but I do love me some Pattaya Noodle there.  Like you start getting ready to leave the house early when you know you're going there, love it.  I'm also sporting the beard I wore in Vonderly here.  I don't know why I didn't just shave that sucker immediately after the last curtain but some guys have that thing where they don't grow facial hair easily (that took me all of rehearsal and the run to grow, and still seems a little thin to me) and so when do grow it out, they relish the new experience.  That's mostly high school dudes with moustaches who do that, now that I think about it, but I was totally in that phase...

My dad and sister at our hotel for Kai and Brad's wedding.  After the ceremony and reception ended we came back here and took a ton of flash photography on the interior balcony.  It was somewhere around midnight.  Since all the rooms faced inwards, the flashes from the camera lit up the entire place and went into people's rooms.  Anyone who was downstairs in the bar or looking out their window or walking to the room was temporarily blinded.  And we took a lot.  Most of these pics are from that midnight session.  I developed a little complex about it at the time, thinking mnanagement was going to see what all the fuss was about, but it turned out okay.  Great story, right?
This is my Dad lounging like a kingpin at the hot tub in the hotel.  We stormed the pool area after documenting ourselves in our dress-up clothes on the balcony.  Most of us put our feet in, but he didn't.  He just sat there taking it all in.  Exactly like this.
This is my Mom.  I'm on the right side of this picture but I happened to have a big sty on my eye just in time for the wedding so I cropped myself out of this one.  Trust me, it's for the best.  I control the content around here!    We had an awesome time at the wedding; there's a picture of the five of us the wedding photographer took that's on the fridge at home right now that speaks volumes about our time there. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Slavey and Chicken

Good news!  My first show with amazing downtown theater company Clubbed Thumb is going up this coming weekend and promises to be amazing.  It's called Slavey, and it's by playwright Sigrid Gilmer and directed by Robert O'Hara.  The cast is awesome and the show is smart and edgy.  It runs June 22nd through 28th and you can find all the details at the Clubbed Thumb website here:  

The second bit of news is that I have been cast in A Chicken Goes to Broadway, a hilarious puppet one-act that is going to be at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater as part of the Sam French Festival.  As I posted a while ago, it's written by my very own Kate Marks and directed by Heidi Handelsman.  Details on that to come.  I'm excited to work closely with Kate on a production of one of her fantastic plays, something we've never done before as actor/playwright in our entire relationship.  We did do a workshop of Ark together, but we're in the big leagues now...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some Pictures

This is before our big night at the Tropicana.
Outside the Taj Mahal. You can't tell but we're absolutely starving. Everywhere we went was closed in the morning or didn't have anything Kate could eat. We ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe and had the burgers of a lifetime (angus/veggie).

This was taken at Vinnie's off of Bedford Ave, one of our favorite neighborhood pizza places.
Kate's students made her a huge thank you card the size of the novelty checks you get when you win publisher's clearinghouse. It was totally worth immortalizing here.

There are more pics of Kate from AC but my computer is in the shop for now so hang on for those!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Recent Highlights

A few quick highlights of the recent past:

1. I made it through a month of furious back-to-back readings with the Ma-Yi Writer's Lab, EST's Sloan Project, Manhattan Theater Club's Education Department, Theater Development Fund, and last but not least, Making Books Sing.

Ma-Yi: 5 Plays...Almost 6 but I had to drop one for the PSA and consequently did not win the bicycle promised as an award to the actor with "Most Appearances." Although the prize for "Most Plays Attended" was 10 million dollars, so I'm not sure the bike really exists. Anyway, really amazing new work.

EST: 1 Play, Durenmatt's The Physicists. "The world is being run by a mad female pyschiatrist!"

MTC: 5 Plays by highschoolers in one sitting. Real issues, real drama.

TDF: 10 Plays--That's 5 plays per school and two school trips out to the ends of the Earth. Some of this stuff is like gold.

MBS: 1 Play, a musical about dancer Jose Limon. I played Jose. I neither danced nor sang.

GRAND TOTAL: 22 New Plays!

2. I was recognized in public! A woman named Moe who works at Kate and my favorite restaurant Red Bamboo came over to our table and said she had seen Fight Girl on a lark and not only liked it but had that funny moment of realization where she realized that the robot was a guy who she'd served at her place for years. It was totally awesome. She'd never known I was an actor and it was one of those A-Ha moments of city synchronicity. She did not mention if we were good tippers or not, but I felt like a consummate rockstar. Red Bamboo is NYC's premier destination for vegan soul food by the way, and if you don't know what that is, just go down there and try it; it's incredible.

3. Kate got into the Sam French One Act festival with her newest work, A Chicken Goes to Broadway to be directed by our friend Heidi Handelsmann! I read it and it's going to be hilarious. Not sure when it is going to be, updates to come. Kate also had a major triumph directing an evening of Flux Theater Company's Imagination Compact, a showcase of new plays
by writers like Liz Duffy Adams and Gus Schulenberg and featuring our friends Elena Chang, Kelli Holsopple, Will Ellis and Anthony Wills. A really beautifully done event with great work done by all sides.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stand Up to Cancer PSA Diary: Day Three

This one was breezy.  I showed up at the NY Preservation Society building in the village for a photo shoot that's going to be the print portion of the SU2C campaign running concurrently with the TV spots.  It was rainy and miserable and they were running late, but it was all due to them setting up the studio so we wouldn't be electrocuted by the rain.  The thing is, the studio was in a rented Penske Truck that they were driving around the city.  They set up shop outside the preservation building and we did a couple shots that lasted about 15 minutes.  

The campaign is all about shifting attention towards researching a cure for cancer and away from the treatment side (which is where pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists make their money).  We saw mock-ups of the ads while we were in holding and the style they were going for looks really nice.  A lot of bold, compassionate, proud and determined portraits coupled with bits of copy from the manifesto and stats.  Everyone on the crew there was awesome, too from makeup to the lighting guy inside the tiny Penske truck studio to the woman who held the umbrella for me while in transit there and back.  I may never get over someone's job being to hold an umbrella for me :-)

The next day was supposed to be shooting onboard the Staten Island Ferry but I couldn't be there so I don't know who was there or how it went over.  I'm sure it was pretty good--the rain didn't last and it was a pretty tight operation, so I'm confident all will be fine.  I heard a bunch of people say that because we were volunteers we didn't have to participate every day if we couldn't come and that if we were featured previously on film then it was best we not appear too much more since it would be totally weird to recognize the faces in the crowd from five different commercials for the same thing.  Sounds fair, but while we were shooting the film portions I couldn't help thinking,  "Get in the frame, Paco, they can't see you!  Move in a little more so the world can see your face!"

I'm sure someone else got a really good start on their own thing with this Manifesto, cause it's that good.  You read it and you're like, "This is well-written, poetic, has stakes, conveys an argument..."--basically everything you could hope for in a bit of commercial copy.  Usually it's something boring like, "For their patients, doctors and hospitals use Tylenol."  I'll have to wait until I hear something more about the air dates and production information to know more.  The whole enterprise is churning on its own now, out of my hands.  There will be a culminating telethon event on all the networks on September 5th though, so I suppose the campaign will lead up in the weekes or months prior to that.  We'll all see, I guess.

Stand Up To Cancer PSA Diary: Day Two

Day Two consisted of meeting up at Lincoln Center at 9am and shooting a segment with Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Orlando, The Beach).  We played high society patrons of the ballet who walk through the lobby and then stop and turn to the camera in support of Tilda's move to stand strong.  The story as I heard it was that Tilda was late and that's why we broke for lunch at 11:30 without having shot a single thing.   I didn't get that close a look, but I caught her trademark flaming red hair and white tights from the back of the room.  

After that it was down to the Bethesda Fountain in the Park for a segment with Morgan Freeman (You know his movies, okay?).  I actually got a little star-struck for the first time when he walked in.  When I realized who it was, the words "Holy Shit, that's him!" came out of my mouth without me even though i knew what was happening.  It was like I was a stranger watching myself from across the courtyard and thinking, "Hmm, that dude right there is star-struck."  

This shot was all of us in the fountain courtyard with props like magazines, copies of the Post and Times, and even a fake baby carriage with fake baby inside.  Actually, there was one of those on the first day, too and as we were shooting at the fountain a bunch of bystanders asked to participate and I'm not sure now if the young couple with the baby carriage were real or not.  Shooting in public was a trip there because there were a ton of tour groups and newlyweds constantly pouring in in the middle of shooting trying to take their own pictures.  I felt bad, but we actually weren't there that long.  And they got to see Morgan Freeman in person.  Zzzzz!

It was a good day despite not winning anything in the raffle they did after we wrapped.  Someone one a real crystal bowl while everyone else won stuff like Spider-Man umbrellas and bags.  The day before someone won a digital camcorder!  It was all donated which was cool and it was also a nice way for the sponsors to say thank you to us.  But alas, no Spider-Man umbrella was won that day.  

I also didn't get a chance to re-do my portion of the Manifesto which I was kind of hoping would happen.  I thought, "I'll just be visible and look like my allergies are fine, and then BAM!  Out of good will they'll ask me to do it again under optimum conditions..."  This did not happen.  I spent the day pretty much a glorified extra but it was all for the good.  The work takes its own course and this was a good cause, so I was happy to take part. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Stand Up To Cancer PSA Diary: Day One

In a whirlwind typical of commercial shoots, information came very suddenly and very late and there was little time to prepare. I had gone in two weeks ago for an audition for a PSA directed by THE David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) and breathlessly found out two days ago that I booked it. We didn't find out until the night before where or when it would be or what would be asked of us. I do not like these situations given my nature, but I was thrilled about the opportunity and couldn't wait to begin.

It turns out there were four segments we had to shoot in four locations in one day and had to report to Bryant Park at (of course) 6:45 am. We were outfitted with ID cards with a number on it, had our picture taken and were then arranged around the Bryant Park Grille where I was chosen off the bat for stand-in work for Hizzoner Mike Bloomberg! (We're the same height).

Mayor Bloomberg showed up, I gave up my seat to him-- and then by a twist of fate was chosen to go back to the table and actually be seated in the chair opposite as if we were best friends having a casual breakfast. It was awesome except I was really hungry from racing to the set after oversleeping and drugged to the gills with allergy medication. I did my best to seem spirited and he offered his condolences for my line of work. He could have just sat there and not said a word, but he was very nice and made an effort to chat with me--despite the fact that every time I hazily answered a question of his he'd say, "What? I can't hear you." He did say when we finished that he hoped to see my name in lights one day though, so throughout the day when people asked me what it was like to have the New York City Mayor for my scene partner I told people, "He's a prince."

We did another segment along the Bryant Park sidewalk cafe area where I was now facing away from the camera; the dues you pay for having just been featured in the last shot. The guest of this segment was Susan Sarandon (Moonlight Mile, Enchanted, Bull Durham). I was too far way for any schmoozing to occur but she seemed cool. She's always been a model celebrity to me (in the pro-actively socially conscious sense) who's used her fame for the betterment of the world, and so it was no wonder Kate correctly predicted she of all the stars would be doing this, too.

After we finished that one we went to the main concourse of Grand Central Station and tried to pretend to be busy straphangers while a sea of real busy straphangers milled and seethed all around us. We did a zillion takes of stopping what we were doing and taking a moment to address the camera, following suit with the guest of the segment: Lance Armstrong. This was even less intimate than with Mrs. Sarandon since he was up in a balcony somewhere and none of us ever saw head nor hair of him. From there we went to Central Park.

Cutting to the chase a bit, Ed Norton (who repeatedly said, "Hey, Fincher!") and George Carlin taped their moments. In between taping these, myself and a few others were chosen to read the pretty amazing copy over a teleprompter. I was having worse allergies now (I couldn't really breathe out of my nose without doing 20 jumping jacks) despite having taken a ton of benadryl so I was basically paranoid, dehydrated and having palpitations imagining only getting through the first line ("We used to have the wildest dreams...") before being cut ("We uthed to hab the wildetht dreabs..."). I tried to remain calm. It came my turn and I did my thing for about four takes and then we basically wrapped for the day. It was really, really cool. I also thought the teleprompter was going to do me in since I can't read for shit past an arm's length, but it turned out I could see fine. The lens is right behind the clear plate with the words on it so it looks like you're looking straight into the camera anyway (yes, I know, that's the whole point I've just never done it before). Over pizza I got to shake hands with the director (whose personal film language and aesthetic I've long revered) and got some nice compliments from some other people. The crew and the heads of all the departments were awesome without exception and treated us well.

All in all it was a pretty amazing foray into on-camera work with some amazing (and amazingly generous) movie people. I'm looking forward to the rest of the shoot!

Monday, April 28, 2008

“Atlantic City: Where Love Goes To….Thrive!”

Kate and I just celebrated the anniversary of our 7th year together in beautiful (if totally out of character for us) Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Really? Kate and Paco going to a casino resort?!” I know. It seems strange but it was kind of perfect and we never would have thought we’d have had such a good time. Two weeks ago we were at home deciding what dates would work for this mini-vacation, looking on the internet for some ideas for the big getaway. The only other time we took a similar trip was many years ago: a camping trip to Lake George. In a tent. Outside. We were young and reckless then and decided that this time we would be staying at a hotel that had at least three stars, a pool, and a view of the ocean. We just didn’t know where we were going to go. We looked at Vermont and the Poconos and then saw a package deal for AC.

Neither of us had ever been there or heard anything about it really, but the spirit of the moment overtook us and we giddily signed up for two nights just off of the world-famous boardwalk, hot tub(s!), indoor pool, gym, arcade, balcony and all of the one dollar slots you could ever want. And, it turns out, we had a pretty awesome time. There were some bumps along the way, most involving staring into the face of humanity writ large while walking through the casinos, but overall it was a really wonderful experience.

We took the first night to absorb all the glitz and glamour and then took the second day to relax and really experience the luxury of a new place. We ate at a bunch of awesome restaurants, walked along the beach, went rollerblading (in full protective gear—sexy!), and even took in a free showing of 42nd Street at the Tropicana. The concierge at our hotel had a bunch of comps to it and it seemed like a very vacation-y thing to do. (The irony of having to leave NYC in order to be able to afford a Broadway show was not lost on us.) So we took the tickets and made an evening of it—along the way having the best garlic mojo sauce we’ve ever had with our tostones at Cuba Libre.

During our time there, walking (in a daze at times) through the various casino floors, Kate said she had this ominous line in her head— “Atlantic City: Where Love Goes to Die.” It just seemed like drama and hardship could easily be found around the corner. We toasted each other when we left though, relieved we had made it out intact. Relieved that Caesar’s, The Taj Mahal, and Bally’s could not defeat our joi de vivre or our feelings for each other. But then again, the negative forces had no chance. Not when you consider that we got to spend “Adult Swim: 8-9pm” alone in an outdoor hot tub overlooking the Atlantic Ocean… And tried kissing on the boardwalk while going 8 mph on rollerblades… And made each other laugh after our now-famous verbal mélee with an 80 year-old misanthrope… Nope, I don’t think so. We were going to win out on that score anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Great Debate

Here is one of the most interesting things I found on YouTube the other night at about 3 in the morning.  I had feverishly made my way through three episodes of the West Wing to get to the finale of season two and when I was done I checked my email and looked around on the featured videos section of YouTube.  And then I found this.  It blew my mind then and it blows my mind now; I've spent the entire week just trying to reason out all of the simple, amazing points made here.  Whatever you may think of Christopher Hitchens as a person, he's an excellent speaker.  His opponent Rabbi Boteach lost this thing by a mile but not without forcing some cracks in Hitchens' defense of atheism.  Check it out.

Friday, April 11, 2008


The battle is over.

Four weeks of highly physical performances, four before that furiously rehearsing, and somehow we all came out victorious on the other side. Victorious over our expectations, our circumstances—even our own bodies. What are some jammed fingers, bruised ribs, or a little light pneumonia when the feeling you get every night is this good and the company you keep is this talented? Ribs shmibs. Does it really matter that you’re out of breath, your legs are burning from a slow-motion knee bend and you’re curled up in a fetal position for the sightlines if out of the corner of your eye you can watch your fellow really nail a laugh line? I’ll tell you: it matters not at all. Because it was worth it. Because you did your part and now they’re doing theirs and we’re all on the train going to the same place, full steam ahead.

Everyone did really hard, good work and I’m planning on stealing their best bits for my own the next time I go out of town for a gig. Because imitation is the highest form flattery. And because I’m ruthless like Brando when he made that poor English extra his best friend just to get his accent right during Mutiny on the Bounty.

The show was also a Critical victory, and below are some select press quotes that deal with my work specifically. For a comprehensive breakdown of the criticism, Qui Nguyen’s blog Beyond Absurdity ( ) has full-text links embedded in his post about the reviews and they’re organized very neatly. It’s a great blog, too. You can also see a lot more at .

Huzzah to everyone involved. The day is ours.

“…Nguyen’s script has funny moments . . . many of which go to the android LC-4 (Paco Tolson), the play’s walking homage to The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…”

“Especially memorable is Paco Tolson as the robot sidekick, LC-4, who has some of the most laugh out loud moments of the evening.”

“How the General, E-V, and Adon-Ra eventually succeed …is the stuff of much merriment. It involves a particularly snarky blue-haired robot LC-4 (played to perfection by Paco Tolson)…”

“Paco Tolson turns in a scene-stealing performance enlivened by his priceless robot noises.”
—Show Business Weekly

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Stopping and Starting

I tried to maintain a blog before on myspace and it just wasn't as sexy as this one.  I couldn't keep up with it and all the millions of friends, so I think this will be my new forum for telling the world what my take on things is.  Now that I got those comments about 2001/2010 out of my head I guess I can start with the mission statement for this new one.  Does this go at the top under the blog title?  I don't know.  I do know I love talking about movies I've seen and what's going on in the world and drawing connections to the lives of people I know.  The future of art.  What makes something worthwhile.  
Since much of my work as an actor involves seeing shows and thinking critically about them, I'll include great performances and writing I come across here but probably leave out negative reviews.  Never say never, but ultimately it's just not doing anyone any good to rip apart a production that's not successful when all any of us are trying to do is make art together.  Some critics (which I am not) sell papers by writing hilariously catty and/or scathing reviews of shows and pour their writing talent into destroying a company's two months of low-paying, gut-busting hard work.  I do not believe in this.  The theatre is the last place in the world anyone should be trying to encourage back-biting or competition.  Most theatrical criticism cripples artists and destroys risk-taking.  I'll be firm but fair--like the best bosses.
Film is a completely different story.  Most commercial films are a colossal waste of energy and resources.  It's not that there is no artistry involved (every member of a film crew is doing a ton of specialized work) but the work is, in fact, so specialized that the artisans are divorced from the content itself and make superficial movies that are well-made.  The people whose job it is to make sure the story is any good are usually bankers and money men.  The product that emerges from everyone's hard work is usually all fucked up by calculations at the highest levels of what will sell to the most people.  There's too much money and talent involved for the industry to not get some of my scorn for these kinds of bad, bad decisions.  If it deserves it, it's gonna get it.  Hopefully, as I get older and wiser, I'm also becoming more attuned to what has merit, and I shouldn't have to skewer anything too often.  Making a stand about what you're willing to pay for and put up with is the only thing that will make them listen out there.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

2001/2010: The Story of No Story

I just watched the movies 2001: A space odyssey and 2010: The year we make contact.  First, 2001.  I really liked this, although I knew what the story was beforehand.  That's probably why I could handle the excrutiatingly long pans and lack of dialogue.  Some truly incredible imagery remains with you long after it's over.  The construction of the shots were expert and exciting.  Innovative.  The problem for me is that Stanley Kubrik was telling individual unconnected stories.  1.) Early primates discovering tools, 2.)  A mission to the moon, 3.) A mission to Jupiter that ends up with Hal malfunctioning, 4.) David Bowman's transformation into the Star Child.  These are not discrete plot points but interconnected threads of a bigger picture.  Kubrik is a master technically, but a rudimentary synopsis from wikipedia will yield more narrative than what's on film here.  And the problem with this is that the story is fantastic and really complicated and interesting.  
The film takes a "hard science" approach to what life would be like onboard a spaceship--which translates to a lot of monotony and boredom punctuated by life-threatening crises, and this I think is the biggest pitfall in the storytelling.  It's the same problem that befell Minority Report: they got so involved "showing us what the future looks like" that they didn't show us real characters pursuing their objectives in that environment.   Kubrik (and Clarke) are rightly fascinated by the details; Ships take months to reach their destinations, everything is automated, and the characters spend their time exercising, eating space food, or in hypersleep.  At one point, Frank Poole watches a video birthday message from home while sunbathing. This is very real, but let's get into the fact that an alien monolith has been discovered buried on the moon that represents a care-taking race of superior beings who have been guiding the course of human evolution since the beginning!  The movie is ostensibly about a mission to explore a similar monolith on Jupiter and then halfway through becomes an entirely different movie altogether.  When Hal breaks down the whole 
movie breaks down, too because of Kubrik's flights of impressionistic fancy in representing the non-scientific, surreal story elements.  It's a movie not a book, so visuals take priority, but there is no way I would have had any clue what any of it meant (or amounted to) if I didn't already know.  
2010 is basically the same thing.  A rougher, less sexy, more populated version of the same thing.  The whole business of life being ushered into being by the monoliths is pushed aside in favor of the space-escape/cold-war-tension elements.  It's more about an unlikely allies adventure than about connecting the dots.  I wanted to know what's going on!