Tuesday, October 26, 2010


October is drawing to a close and the million things that were so important that had to be done this month have, in the main, been taken care of.  Here are some of the things I am thinking about.

Getting out to see Kate in her new apartment and seeing what we can get up to in the neighborhood.
Getting better at driving.
Finishing my reel.
Visiting at home and seeing friends.
Prepping Subterranea for a limited production next season.

I think the most dangerous place to be in November will be between me and a camera.  Got a lot of learnin' to do, and hours logged is the only way to get comfortable.  That and classes, I suppose.

Had a very fruitful past few weeks including 
readings of Lloyd Suh's Great Wall Story and Larry Kunofsky's The Myths We Need, 
workshop performances of Qui Nguyen's The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G, 
and seeing some great new work from The Vampire Cowboys Saloon artists and David Deblinger (his one-man show Beyond Measure was directed by my friend Aaron Weiner for a few nights at Nuyorican Poets Cafe).  

Oh, and almost winning an Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in last season's The Brokenhearteds by Temar Underwood.  

Missed it by thiiiiiiiis much.

You know what else is interesting? Kate said something enlightening to me about my approach to Shakespeare.  My position was that the writing is poetry, the most beautifully constructed sentences in English, and the audience should be able to hear you honoring that in your delivery of it.  Not recitation or too flowery, but understanding the depth of the verse and employing it in such a way that they know you know it.  She said, playwrights do not want to hear their lines read as poetry, they want to hear them read as lines.  Like, between people with needs.  

That's horribly simplifying it, but I think she's right.  Every time I approach Shakespeare I feel this American Standard voice coming out of my mouth and not necessarily the character.  Mostly because I want to do justice to the language I love so much, but that's not even how Shakespeare would've wanted it to be done.  He'd be onstage using the language to compete with drunks, animals, political maneuvering and the talkative crowds.  There may or may not have been any poetry at all when you might get a tomato thrown at you for being boring.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Internet Research

The fastest way for an actor like me to get immediate dramaturgical immersion in the crazy ass world of a play like Agent G is to hit up Wikipedia and Youtube.  Here is some preliminary research I've culled from The Cloud.

The Vietnam War
This page is historical background and major events.

Boat People
This one has a wealth of "External links" to follow up on the Vietnamese immigration experience (some of them first hand accounts).

Viet Cong
The villains of Agent G.

South Vietnam
Basically background on the South before the Fall of Saigon, which effectively ended the war and led to the reunification of North and South.

Choson Ninja
This is a Korean "ninja technique" tutorial channel with some very strange but interesting moves.  The earlier videos are interesting to me.

"California Gurls" Katy Perry(feat. Snoop Dogg)
They wouldn't let me embed this video, but you can watch it here.  Then again, you probably know the song already.

viewer discretion advised

The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G: First Bite

art by Jeremy Arambulo whose stuff is consistently amazing

So this is the poster for Vampire Cowboys' next show (lovingly amended to "Agent G")  the First Bite workshop of which will be next week at the Battle Ranch at 8pm Monday and Tuesday.  The website has all the details.

It's been a long time in table/reading development and we're hard at work trying to give it a stage life now.  We'll probably be presenting only the first act, but already there's film noir, sci-fi, Miss Saigon, James Bond, Pirandello, Katy Perry and horribly funny plays within the play.  Oh, and some amazing fights that take place basically in a box.  No shortage of edgy, fun theatre candy here.

The action sequences are really good so far and I thought I would preview the process a little by offering my notes on what is historically known as "The Beer Fight."  

1. Ninja Running w/ looks and katas
2. Two sword dodges (Amy)
3. Nunchuck dodge into left crescent (Jon)
4. Right roundhouse (Amy)
5. Paper block/hand block/paper strike (Bonnie)
6. Nunchuck dodge/paper parry/nunchuck dodge/paper tap (Jon)

1. Right sword kick parry into left crescent (Amy and Jon)
2. Simultaneous knife disarm and paper strike (Bonnie)
3. Sword block, twisty move, spin paper strike (Amy)
4. Take nunchuck hit into running (Jon)

1. Triple paper/knife attack (Bonnie, Amy, Jon)
2. Hand grab into double hand neck chop (Bonnie)
3. Backward dodge (Jon and Amy)
4. Head/hair slam (Bonnie)
5. Outside shoulder tap, inside fist (Amy and Jon)
6. Take stomach hit into running (All)

1. Running sequence right then left
2. Pop up into right cross (Bonnie)
3. Catch return punch, fist crunch, domino kick 
4. Take superman punch to the ground
5. Neck grab, human shield left then right
6. Right kick and toss away
7. Nunchuck dodge left and right, disarm, right nuts kick
8. Over the shoulder reset
9. Nunchuck strike right (reset under), strike left (reset under), strike left with nunchuck pop out
10. Flourish!

By this time I will be a complete mess, but the show must go on.  We'll all be addicted to five-hour energy shots by the end of this week.  That's three weapons, unarmed combat and a shitload of running.

Feel free to print this out and bring it with you if you would like to follow along ;)

Monday, October 4, 2010


Ensemble Studio Theatre's Octoberfest reading series is under way, and Subterranea was performed twice last week to great success.  I would have posted about it here, but Jon and I literally were staying up all night making changes and revising based on what we learned in the rehearsal room.  Octoberfest is a pretty amazing event with about a million shows going day and night.  We were nestled in between some of the most exciting playwrights out there now, all of us giving our shows another baby step forward in development.  It felt like the big leagues.

The team was as follows:

Nick: Paco Tolson
Dick: Jon Hoche
Ensemble: Erica Swindell, Julia Crockett, and Amy Waschke

Director/Stage Directions: Robert Ross Parker

These actors gave so much, and rolled with our punches every time we met.  Trying this, trying that, getting out of the comfort zone, dealing with cuts, trying out dialects...it was amazing to watch them tackle all of that and we were honored to have them aboard.

We are also proud to announce that the machinery of production is revving up, and we are actively meeting producers to get this thing off the ground.  It's an extremely exciting time.  Thanks to Graeme Gillis, Annie Trizna, Tim Scales, Kate our stage manager, and Heidi Handelsman for their staff support at EST.

Friday, October 1, 2010

American Theater magazine article

Here is a link to the article in American Theater on Qui Nguyen, co-artistic director of Vampire Cowboys, in which I am quoted.  It's by Michael Criscuolo.  When he approached me to submit my two cents on working with Qui he warned that what I wrote may be used in part or not at all.  I wrote about three pages to make ensure some pithy nugget made it past the editors, and voila!

The article in full is reposted below if you just hate following links or can't wait to get to it.

If this were the beginning of a Qui Nguyen play, it would probably start with a high school dweeb accidentally opening a gateway to Hell. Or a ninja-style throwdown between two Manhattan street toughs and a Brooklyn gang lord. There would be a gleeful torrent of elaborate fight scenes, machine-gun barrages of snappy banter and enough profanity to make David Mamet blush.
Now, if this sounds more like a movie or a comic book than a play, don't worry: that's the idea. For most of the past decade, Nguyen has been on a self-appointed mission to make theatre safe for dorks. As the resident playwright for New York City's Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company(where he is also co-artistic director), he has written an onslaught of irreverent, action-packed geekfests designed to (a) show the hipster and fanboy crowds that theatre can be cool and fun, and (b) make several genres that have long been associated with other media—science fiction, horror, martial arts—palatable for theatrical consumption.
Since 2007, all of Nguyen's plays for Vampire Cowboys—which include the horror movie-inspired Alice in Slasherland, the blaxpoitation samurai mash-up Soul Samurai and Fight Girl Battle World, his love letter to sci-fi—have sold out their runs, primarily on strong word of mouth. Nguyen's rapidly growing fan base, built from both the indie theatre and Comic-Concrowds, anticipates his plays with the kind of giddy enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest Harry Potter movie. The crowd at one of Nguyen's shows can be a show unto itself—waves of raucous laughter crash through the theatre while loud cheers and gasps of awe and terror converge like Voltron. It's like watching Independence Day and a Dane Cook concert simultaneously.
Critics and peers are also starting to get with the program. Soul Samurai nabbed a GLAAD Media Award nomination, and Fight Girl scored a New York Innovative Theatre Award nomination for outstanding full-length script. In 2006, Vampire Cowboys landed the NYIT Foundation's Caffe Cino Fellowship Award, a cash prize "for consistent production of outstanding work." And this past spring, the company was awarded a prestigious Obie grant.
This season, Nguyen kicks things up another notch with two projects that promise to take him where he hasn't gone before. Beginning Mar. 31, Vampire Cowboys premieres his newest play,The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G., at New York's Incubator Arts Project. The semi-autobiographical tale—which aims to turn the lesser-known genre of Asian identity plays on its ear—features Nguyen himself as a lead character, struggling to write a meaningful drama about his cousin's true life journey to America, and constantly getting razzed by the other characters for putting himself in his own play.
Then, Nguyen takes his act to the West Coast with Krunk Fu Battle Battle, a new hip-hop musical commissioned by Los Angeles's East West Players that runs May 12-June 26. The project, about a kung fu teen who battles a shogun and his henchmen, marks Nguyen's musical theatre debut and the first time in recent memory he'll be premiering a new work without his longtime Vampire Cowboys collaborators by his side.
Nguyen at left (photo by Nathan Lemoine); right, Paco Tolson, Temar Underwood and Melissa Paladino in Fight Girl Battle World, by Vampire Comboys, 2008 (photo by Theresa Squire)
Despite the exuberant absurdity of making a snarky teddy bear a major character in Alice in Slasherland (achieved with animatronics) and of Soul Samurai's bloodthirsty title character greeting the audience with a casual "Moshi moshi, muthafuckahs," Nguyen is no gag writer. "I don't set out to write comedies," he says, explaining that his initial goal is "usually to make the audience cheer." Taking his cue from action/adventure genres, Nguyen says he's "more interested in writing something that's high-adrenaline—it's about that kind of thrill that you get." That thrill fuels his never-ending desire to attempt the seemingly impossible on stage, like disemboweling a demon (which he did in Alice in Slasherland) or staging an outer-space dogfight (a highlight from Fight Girl, done with hand-held mock-ups and puppeteers).
Still, he realizes "there's going to be something inherently funny" about seeing such moments performed live on stage, and confesses that he relishes making "people's heads explode with laughter." Nguyen is quick to point out that his plays are never meant to be campy: "When we're doing a samurai play, we're legitimately trying to do a samurai play"—but he admits his plays are intended to simultaneously celebrate and send up whatever genre he's tackling. Case in point: The scene in which a sword-wielding Ophelia (yes, Shakespeare's Ophelia) singlehandedly takes on an army of ninja zombies in Living Dead in Denmark, Nguyen's tongue-in-cheek zombie sequel to Hamlet, hilariously (and intentionally) evokes both Kill Bill and Charlie's Angels while blazing its own iconic trail.
Given his proclivity for rapid-fire, profanity-laced repartee, strong-but-sexy female protagonists and a preference for creating new genre archetypes, it's not surprising that Nguyen's idols are screenwriters Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith and comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan. Though he's a playwright of color, he insists he has no political or racial axe to grind. But, as his colleagues insist, that doesn't mean there's not more going on underneath the surface of his blood-splattering antics.
Vampire Cowboys co-artistic director Robert Ross Parker, who directs all of Nguyen's plays for the company, thinks his creative partner's humor "comes from approaching style and genre very seriously." Actor Paco Tolson, a Vampire Cowboys regular, marvels at the "giddy disregard for limitation in Qui's work. There are no taboos. Race, sex and politics are all fair game to him." (Italics and embolding mine, of course. -PT)  Carlo Alban, who played lead roles in both Denmark and Slasherland, calls Nguyen "a quiet revolutionary, a subversive, a ninja." And Maureen Sebastian, who portrayed the title role in Soul Samurai, praises Nguyen for stretching "the boundaries of what a script can do," and, in turn, "what American theatre can do."
Nguyen's distinctive style came about, in part, in reaction to his grad school instructors' insistence that visual, action-based stories were more appropriate for film than theatre. "It was about talking, talking, talking, but never showing," he recalls. "Do you think Shakespeare thought about that? In Romeo and Juliet, they shouldn't have a sword fight because we're a talking medium?" Nguyen rebelled against such conventional notions and began churning out a body of work that comes off like a collection of rowdy mash notes to pop culture.
The love affair began in his hometown El Dorado, Ark., where his Vietnamese parents reared him on kung fu movies because they wanted him to see stories where the heroes were Asian. Furthermore, they boldly taught him that most of the world was Asian and looked like him, so he wouldn't feel out of place in ethnically barren Arkansas. It was a calculated exaggeration that gave Nguyen, in his words, "great self-esteem" and a trove of inspiration.
Nguyen's heritage provides the source material for The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G., in which the author insists he will not be playing himself. ("I'm no actor" he says; the role of "Qui" will be played by a professional.) In the script, however, as Nguyen the character gets bogged down by uncertainty, Nguyen the writer increasingly explodes both style and form, playing with a revolving door of genres. "When people meet me and find out I write plays, they assume a lot of times that I write serious Asian drama," he says, eager to crack viewer expectations wide open with a well-placed theatrical roundhouse kick.
With Krunk Fu Battle Battle (which features a score by Beau Sia and Marc Macalintal), Nguyen takes the plunge into musical book-writing, a job for which East West's artistic director Tim Dang thinks the playwright is well suited. "Qui's writing is 'now,' it's 'today,'" Dang says. "It ventures out into hip-hop, poetry, anime, but it can still be accessible to a diverse audience." Those qualities led Dang to commission Nguyen, whose career he'd been following for several years, to pen the family-friendly tuner. For Nguyen, it's a happy return to the aesthetic territory of Soul Samurai. "My favorite things in the world are early '80s hip-hop, comic books and samurai stories," he says, excited about the opportunity to once again write something that incorporates all three.
No matter what genre he's working in, Nguyen's goal remains the same: "to show that theatre is just as cool as waiting in line to see the latest movie blockbuster."

Michael Criscuolo is a New York-based actor and writer. He is currently starring in the premiere of Tim Errickson's play, Endless Summer Nights, for Boomerang Theatre Company.