Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

16Aug/160

We Ride!

Mr. Klein's Wild Ride

Well, friends, I've been telling you I have big news, and I have big news. The good people at Mud Flat Press are publishing a brand-new print edition of Lynn Savage's sexy 2015 novel Mr. Klein's Wild Ride. The official publication date is Tuesday, Sept. 6! Two days after that, I'll appear at Browsers Bookshop in a downtown Olympia debut event called "A Wild Ride With Christian Carvajal." Hey, some titles just write themselves.

If you aren't an acquaintance or family member who'd be embarrassed by unrepentant sex talk, I sure hope to see you there! The event itself is free. The novel is a trade paperback, so we're able to keep its cost at a low, LOW $12. I'd love to sign a copy for you! And while you're there, pick up a tall stack of reading at the amazingly refurbished Browsers Bookshop. If you can't be there, watch for a spate of event announcements in the South Sound. You can also just order the book directly from Mud Flat Press, and it'll be in your sweaty palms a few short weeks from now.

I mean, come on. How exciting is this?

Here's the official book description from Mud Flat Press:

Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride is the tale of Gary Klein, a marketing guru who accepts the job of brand manager for a sexy new theme park...at which point his life and his marriage spin into chaos. His tragicomic downfall culminates at Bliss Panerotic, a paradise for lovers and a feast for the senses. It's an island playground for couples whose lust for adventure knows no bounds. Mr. Klein's Wild Ride is a satire that calls to mind Jurassic Park and Exit to Eden, yet merges its own cutting-edge technology with polyamorous sexuality.

Are you ready to walk on the wild side?

Preview Mr. Klein's Wild Ride by clicking HERE!

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9Aug/160

Paradise Lost

Mr. Klein's Wild Ride

--by Lynn Savage

Not since the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage has a luxury product rollout gone so tragically wrong. Seventeen people were killed in Bliss Panerotic's opening-weekend disaster last year, with hundreds more injured. Some claimed it was God's vengeance against a flesh pit of sexual decadence. Around the world, millions of swingers and polyamorists quietly go about their business as they have for most of a century, living it up in their nonconformist lives with nary a lightning bolt from heaven in sight. Yet it's hard not to see the Bliss Panerotic adult theme park as a target when reminded of news graphics like the one shown below.

GNN quake graphic, June 13, 2015

GNN quake graphic, June 13, 2015

 

The devastation, of course, was unforgettable.

Commissary pavilion near the Grand Entry in Zone 2

Commissary pavilion near the Grand Entry in Zone 2

 

Sanasana hotel, northern lawn

Sanasana hotel, northern lawn

 

From the Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2015

From the Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2015

 

I'm using this space to remind you of all that sadness, but I want you to know that Mr. Klein's Wild Ride isn't the story of a tragedy. It's the story of a dream, a dream deferred perhaps, but a wonderful dream all the same. It's the enriching dream of sexual enjoyment, boundless and saved from puritanical repression. It's the dream of a woman who declared of Bliss Panerotic, "It’s not empowerment, it’s the presumption of power. The taking of power. It’s me owning my power." It's the dream of a man who reminded us all to get naked and see what happens. Above all, it was the dream of thousands of park visitors, who swarmed to a rocky island off the coast of California in pursuit of their bliss. My book is a tribute to the freedom they envisioned.

Early mockup of the Bliss Panerotic park map, provided by Gary Klein

Early mockup of the Bliss Panerotic park map, provided by Gary Klein

 

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4Aug/160

Bliss!

Hi, folks! Lynn Savage here. It's appropriate that my book, Mr. Klein's Wild Ride, should be reintroduced on Carv's Thinky Blog, as it was Carv who first got me interested in its subject. He wrote an article called "Pilgrims in Pornland" for Western Zeitgeist, a pop culture journal for which I contribute a love/sexuality column. His primary source for that article was Gary Klein, an L.A. marketing guru who served as brand manager for Bliss Panerotic. Bliss, of course, was the controversial amusement park that opened and closed so spectacularly on Catalina Island in 2015. It promoted itself as a getaway for swingers, honeymooners, and other couples and singles interested in expanding their sexual boundaries in a safe, modern resort environment. A flyer for the park appears below.

 blissflyer

Of course, the project was plagued with shaky publicity from the start, but Klein did much to dispel the concerns of investors and potential visitors. The Realms of Eros multi-user computer game created in support of the park is still selling in the millions of copies. Klein can hardly be blamed for the project's downfall--but when you think (or tell a joke) about Bliss Panerotic, his may well be the first name that comes to your mind. Carv introduced me to Gary this last year, and I communicated with both men frequently through the final stages of park construction. While I was unable to attend the grand opening, it was the expense of a trip to southern California rather than any controversy that scared me away. In retrospect, of course, that was fortunate, but so was my access to Gary. He's an interesting fella who has much to say about the Bliss Panerotic debacle, what the resort aspired to be, and what it means in the context of modern relationships.

So, you may ask, is my book, taken straight from a year of interviews with Gary, sexually frank? You bet your naughty bits it is. Will it turn you on? I sure hope so. Will it inspire you to think about sex, love and marriage in the twenty-first century? I believe it will. Some of you had the chance to read the e-book last year, but now things are heating up again! Watch this space for more details!

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1Aug/160

Reintroducing Lynn Savage

lynnsavageheadshot

As I did last summer, I'm sharing ownership of this page with my good friend Lynn Savage. Her book, Mr. Klein's Wild Ride, is an insider's look at the recent Bliss Panerotic disaster. Bliss, you'll recall, was the controversial adult theme park on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. Her source's take on how that park was conceived, and on what it might've been, is almost as fascinating as the story of its ultimate downfall. Oh...and it's pretty darn steamy, too.

Author Alec Clayton (Visual Liberties) puts it this way: "Forget Fifty Shades of Grey. Mr. Klein's Wild Ride is libertine sex in primary colors." A sassy, erotic beach read, it's scheduled for its first print edition in 2016. Watch for further details and sneak peeks here!

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14Jul/160

The Grand Debut of OLY ARTS

It had been a tough spring. The world was in complete chaos. Closer to home, I was underemployed, and I failed to land three different teaching jobs I wanted very much. My wife was beginning to worry I'd morph into one of those guys who sits around the house paying video games and dozing through one TV series after another on Netflix. It turns out I work pretty hard when I'm unemployed, so I had numerous irons in the fire, but the disappointment and depression were weighing on me heavily.

That was when my friend Ned Hayes discovered he had a smash hit with his third published novel, The Eagle Tree, which you should buy the second you finish reading this. Some guys would buy a sports car or summer home; not Ned Hayes. He's actually holding down a day job that pays him just fine, so instead, he's put his newfound lucre into a longstanding dream project. A generous patron of South Sound theatre, Ned resolved to publish a periodical called OLY ARTS. This magazine would focus exclusively on art and culture in Olympia: especially theatre, but with serious excursions into music, visual arts and special events. To that end, he aimed his debut issue at an annual downtown tradition here, Capital Lakefair, which tightened his print date to Wednesday, July 13.

Ned first mentioned this project to me about two months ago. His idea was I would act as Managing Editor while he continued to work for [global tech giant, redacted]. Essentially, my job was to serve as copy editor and point man for a writing and distribution staff. There was still one big hurdle: advertising. We had to sell some and fast. To that end, Ned resolved to create a 12-page dummy edition, the "spring 2016" issue, to show potential advertisers as an example of the thing we were about to create. Would I be willing to craft that dummy issue in InDesign, subject to Ned's direction, and have it finished in two weeks? Uhhhhhm...sure. I mean, I'd never worked with InDesign, but how hard could it be? I signed my contract on May 18.

I learned the essentials of InDesign over the weekend while looking for past articles I could use as presentable lorem ipsum. (That's a phrase I learned on this project. It means filler copy.) Ned and I turned that "spring issue" around in record time, and if you didn't look at it with your glasses on, it looked like a no-foolin' magazine.

olyartsspringdummycover

Meanwhile, Ned was setting up the infrastructure for our new website, OlyArts.com. I was mocking up fake ads and the basics of our summer edition. Ned hired a real designer, Dorothy Wong, and a staff of writers and distributors. I now have the privilege of assembling the work of some of the best arts writers in town, including Guy Bergstrom, Alec Clayton, Jennifer Crain, Molly Gilmore and Kelli Samson. I wrote tons of content myself for our website and calendar, only to rewrite the whole mess a week later when we learned we needed a more robust calendar plugin. Have you visited our website? It's freakin' huge. Ned and our ad rep, Rick Pearlstein, landed upscale advertisers. I learned the basics of MailChimp and Sprout Social to create a weekly newsletter and post regular social media updates. Ned hired people to write our mobile app for Android and iOS, available soon.

Long story short, we've produced TWO magazines, a massive website with an active arts calendar, a thriving social media presence, most of two mobile apps, and T-shirts for Pete's sake in two months, plus gathered a staff of seven great writers and seven extroverted distributors, all in two months. I've worked like crazy on this thing. I won't lie; it has my fingerprints all over it. But what amazed me throughout is the amount of time, effort and expertise Ned put into this project, not to mention startup capital, all while holding down a big-boy job and raising two great kids. That job, by the way, moved to Portland this summer, so he's been driving back and forth to another state three times a week. I had the opportunity to drive to our printer with him yesterday and watched him use his truck as a mobile office. To be honest, I assumed he benefited from some fancy [global tech giant, redacted] setup that allowed him to do his job vocally while his eyes were on the road. Not so much! Ned does it all on his everyday cell phone and, I suspect, 5-Hour ENERGY Shots.

I still write for the Weekly Volcano, by the way. OLY ARTS covers Olympia only, we don't do reviews, and it's all separate content, so there's no conflict of interest. But for the most part, I spend my days now as a quarterly magazine editor. Some days it's fun. Some days it's...less fun. Some days it's stressful, especially when the mistakes I'm frantically struggling to correct were my mistakes. That happens often. I can tell you without fear of exaggeration there hasn't been a day in the last two months when I haven't learned something major, often something I should've known before accepting the job. This will make me a better writer, editor, manager and friend to the Oly cultural scene. It feels to give back. I was a good critic, I think, but isn't a job that I miss.

The summer edition, our grand debut, is available now. Find our T-shirted street team at Music in the Park, Capital Lakefair and its associated parade, and a number of other events over the next three months. Meanwhile, I'm already planning our fall edition. OLY ARTS is here to stay.

OLY ARTS, Issue No. 1, Summer 2016

OLY ARTS, Issue No. 1, Summer 2016

Now, how cool and classy is that?

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21Jun/160

The Orlando Project

When Seven Ways to Get There closed in late May, I figured I was done with theatre for at least a few months. Then the Orlando massacre happened...

...and I just erased a political screed I wrote here, because this isn't about that. This is better, and more to the point. This is about a wonderful way you can help. We can't negate the grief caused by 49 deaths and a renewed threat of danger to our gay and transgendered friends. What we can do is raise money, money for Equality Institute Florida and the Rainbow Center of Tacoma. So we will. That money's earmarked for survivors of the massacre, and they can use it. Having five or six bullets dug out of you tends to run up a hospital b--nope, sorry, still not going there. Please forgive me. That particular line of rage doesn't need to be your problem today.

Instead, your only problem right now is reserving time this Sunday to drive to Tacoma and watch a staged reading of The Laramie Project, created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, and directed by Rachel Fitzgerald. It's at 7:30 p.m., June 26, in Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I St. The reading is free, but donations will be encouraged and collected. Some of the best actors in this region pleaded to be in the show on extremely short notice. I was lucky enough to wangle my way in at the very last minute. I have 14 lines...and I promise they mean more to me than some of my leads. One doesn't spend 40 years in the theatre without making dozens of gay and transgendered friends. These are my people, my family. What happens to them happens to me. I hope you feel the same.

This is a one-time event. I'm doing it, not to help raise money alone, but to spend time being human with my theatre community in the wake of a tragedy that jolted us all. I don't imagine there'll be a dry eye in the house Sunday night, but some events deserve crying. So please come. Let's be human together. Any empty seat that night in TLT will break my heart.

[More info on OLYARTS.com]

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11May/165

Mistaken Identity

When I was a teenager, I had an experience that most of you haven't. I realized over the course of a few years that everybody who loved me was wrong about pretty much everything.

I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. I was taught the tenets of that religion, along with its view of history and science, along with abstinence from politics, along with a distrustful view of humanity, by people who cared about me deeply. Those people weren't deliberately filling me with b.s. They thought they were telling me the truth. When Witnesses come knocking on your door, thereby annoying you in the middle of a college football game, they think they're potentially saving your life. I know because I thought so. I didn't want to "go in service." I felt I had to...for you. And no matter how passionate an argument I could muster at the time from my encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, I was wrong. So was Mom. So was Dad. So were most of my authority figures.

So think about that. Put yourself in my shoes. Imagine learning everything you believe, everything you stand for, is a fraud. Perpetrated by whom, you ask? I don't know. I've often wondered about that. I suspect even the Witnesses' Governing Body in Brooklyn thinks it's telling its flock the whole truth. Maybe the fraud is in our own minds. We believe what sounds good to us, regardless of logic or evidence to the contrary. Are your beliefs so different?

The thing is, that experience changed me. It made me skeptical of concepts that sound too good to be true. Now I can't watch a single TV commercial without picking away at its promises.

Most of you have never dealt with this moment, at least not to the degree that I have. So for you, identity is everything, and by that I mean the identity you were given by Mommy and Daddy and the community in which you were raised. If your father was a Baptist, you're probably a Baptist. If your uncles were Democrats, you're probably a Democrat. If you're a Star Wars or Seahawks fan, your kids will probably wear those T-shirts before they learn half a dozen words. You've changed, sure, but only in superficial ways. And that's okay, generally speaking. It's good to be part of a community. It's good to know where you came from, to start your life armed with a preinstalled template.

Except here's the thing: sometimes the people who love us make mistakes. And sometimes, and this happens more often than we realize, the truth moves away from what it used to be. As a culture, we learn things. People my age can look back and see a time when racism and homophobia were ubiquitous on a level that makes most millennials queasy. It's not that we were awful people. It's that we just didn't know any better. I myself am a reformed homophobe, and I'm so glad I saw the light before most Oklahomans. But we didn't own magical Palantiri to help us see into the future--nor do you. The day may come, for example, when group or short-contract marriages are the norm, and our progeny will look back and wonder why we Generation X-ers were so keen to marry for life. They'll wonder how you could ever have bought tickets to SeaWorld or eaten the flesh of a mammal. Who knows? We aren't prophets, you and I, and always in motion is the future.

My grandmother was a staunch Democrat till the day she died. Y'know what, though? The Democratic Party she signed on for wasn't the Democratic Party of the 21st century. The Democratic brand in the mid-'60s included racist doctrines you and I now consider appalling. But my grandma, who, let's face it, came from a deeply racist Oklahoma tradition, never switched her party allegiance. She considered her party membership a key element of her identity as a person--regardless of what it meant from year to year.

So why am I writing about this now?

Each of us has a feeling of identity, a core group of ideas and values we consider our "self." Once we have it, we don't think about it often. An identity thief steals our Social Security and credit card information, but he never actually steals our identity. That stays with us like childhood inoculation scars. I'll give you a personal example. Right around the time I left the Witnesses, theatre became a huge part of my life. Three decades later, it's an aspect of who I am in my own mind. If you ask me, I'm a writer who acts and directs and loves his wife and Star Wars and a core group of family and friends. That's not all I am, obviously, but it covers about 80%. You could banish me to a faraway prison and if I escaped in five years, I would still be all those things. Did the uninspiring Star Wars prequels dent my fandom? Not one bit. Does my wife's snoring make me love her any less? Don't be silly. If I go two years without having a great time on stage, does it keep me from auditioning? Well, I've been through spells like that, and apparently not.

Should it? Therein lies the rub. I don't know the answer to that question. Some years I ask myself that question very pointedly. When I do, my mind yells back at me: Carv, if you aren't a theatre person, then what the hell are you? Who are you? Why are you even important? And that's a debilitating thought. It can sweep away reason. It can make us do and say things other people may look at and rightly evaluate as foolish and/or insane.

I'll give you another example. For most Americans, the Bible is a book of peace and the Koran is a book of bloodshed. That's just something we, you'll pardon the expression, take on faith. Now, I freely admit I don't know jack about the Koran, but I do know the Bible. And if you can look at the books of Deuteronomy (2:34, 3:6, 7:2, I could go on) or Joshua (6:21, 10:40...) and not see that Yahweh is a god who favors genocide as a method of acquiring preferable real estate, then you own one liberal translation. Read Hosea 13:16 and tell me Yahweh is a god of love, forgiveness and compassion. Tell me he's a god who loves life. Read Exodus chapters 21 and 22 and tell me he's a god who loves women. Because I can promise you this: if you had never read the Bible or had any emotional attachment to it prior to adulthood, and I asked you to sit down and read the Bible cover to cover, you'd be outraged that anyone could revere it an ethical guide. I mean, sure, there are great verses, too. I bet you know some of them by heart. But they don't paint a representative picture of the so-called Good Book as a whole. This is a book in which Yahweh told us ten moral rules were so important we could treat them as the sum of all moral behavior. And did "slavery is wrong" make the list? How 'bout "races who look unlike you are still people?" Or "stop beating your kids?" Nope. "Sex slavery is wrong?" Huh-uh. Know what did make the list? "No more sculpture." This is also a moral guide that frequently reminds you to throw rocks at your gay friends until they fall over dead. It's a book that claims Yahweh decided to kill us all, first one at a time, then with a global flood, then concocted a plan to make it stop--which, for some reason, required him to kill his own son. Oh, and by the way, death hasn't stopped. It's been two thousand years and counting, and earthquakes are still dumping church roofs on babies. But what a wonderful plan!

Now, I tell you all this knowing most of you will find ways to rationalize it away. And you'll do that, not because it makes any sense, frankly, but because Christianity is a part of who you are. It's a part of your identity. And very likely, it will be for the rest of your life. You might change churches or stop going altogether, you might accept the scientific fact of evolution, you might campaign for gay rights, but you'll go to your grave thinking this world would be a better place if more people just followed the Bible. Not read it cover to cover with a clear mind, of course--don't be silly. Simply followed it, meaning the verses we already know and like. We're about identity here, not homework!

I've never been shy about talking about religion, sex and politics--the socially awkward trinity we've been told to avoid in conversation. Screw that. I know what the weather looks like. I'm not here to belabor the obvious. That stuff bores me. But when I talked about these things, for years I went about it all wrong. I presented my arguments rationally, like we were in court and I was trying to send your most cherished ideas to logic jail. I'll be honest, I still try that sometimes. I can't help myself. If it annoys you, I apologize. If this essay has already gotten on your nerves, mea culpa. But I do try to learn from my mistakes, and I've realized in recent months that a lot of what you believe, you believe because it's part of who you are. It's part of your identity. If I tell you the Bible is a collection of short books written over hundreds of years by people who had no concept of physical or sociological reality and knew less about God or morality than any of us, I'm also telling you that your parents lied to you. I'm telling you that when you played cowboys and Indians when you were a kid, the Indians should actually have been the good guys. I'm telling you Jesus isn't coming to save you from the big D. I'm telling you neither "real men" nor "real women" have a divinely approved set of characteristics, which means you're not necessarily a "real" man or woman. I'm telling you Grandpa was a dummy about how nonwhites and women should be treated. I'm telling you Granny taught you methods of cooking guaranteed to make you fat. I'm telling you all those things, those vital contributing factors to your identity, those people who loved you and took care of you when you were sick and brought you nice things on Christmas, were all chock full of crap. And since that's clearly an awful thing to tell any human being, I must be wrong so all of them can be right--and so you can be right. It's vitally important that you and your loved ones be right about everything. Right? Because if someone else is right--especially a mean son of cultists like me--then what the hell is left for you to be?

My point is, I have to be careful when framing my arguments about these topics that I don't disrespect your identity and background. Because the truth is I value those things. I appreciate the countless hours my own mother spent teaching me how to be a better Witness. I thank my father for the snarky sense of humor he bequeathed upon me, though it often gets both of us in trouble--including with each other. I'm thankful to every teacher who taught me "all right" is a word and "alright" isn't, despite the fact that both are now okay in most dictionaries. I love the elder who changed my life by responding to one of my myriad pesky questions with the sincere claim, "Sometimes it's best not to speculate"--because that's the moment I realized it was absolutely necessary for human beings to speculate. Those moments built me. They're my own identity. And no matter how far I roam from McAlester and Crowder, Oklahoma, they'll be down there in my cellular nuclei, defining how I approach the world and my responsibilities to it.

We have come to a time in American history when the Republican Party, an organization that ostensibly represents a full half of our electorate, is in catastrophic disarray. That's a fact. I say it, not to gloat, but to find a way forward. And it's not just the Trump thing. We're also reaching the end of a period in which several Republican governors had the opportunity to follow the Republican platform to the letter in their states. Thus, we've been able to see, once and for all, whether those ideas pan out--and they don't. Those states are now bankrupt. Their educational systems are falling apart. As one of my Republican friends said of Oklahoma's political debacle, "We are basically in budget cut Hell out here," adding, "Thanks for my $30 per year tax cut and my kids' tears."

I'm not saying Democrats are better people. In no way am I saying we progressives have all the answers and ha ha ha, in your face. I'm saying good people had idealistic notions of how to run a government, but those turned out to be wrong. It'd be easy for us to go down in flames with those ideas because we can't admit our identities were flawed. It'd be easy to think, "I can see things are collapsing around my ears, and my kids don't have classroom supplies and the rest of the country is rolling its eyes at us, but I intend to stay loyal to Republican ideas and legislators because those are Republican ideas and I'm a Republican like my daddy before me and if I'm not a Republican, then who the hell am I?"--at which point there's a smell of fried circuitry in our brains and our vision gets blurry and we have to lie down for a while.

As we speak, the sole Republican candidate for president is a reality TV clown, a living parody of billionaire boobism. Working people feel shafted by the system, as well they should; but they've responded by rallying behind a vulgar tycoon whose tag line is, literally, "You're fired." They long for a return to Christian fundamentalism, yet they've voted for a non-churchgoer who said "Two Corinthians" at a Bible college. Donald Trump has never held political office, never served in the military, never learned how to compromise in a divided system, and never did anything for anyone but himself. He claims to be a uniter but called Megyn Kelly a "bimbo." I know the vast majority of Republicans see through his fools' gold facade. I know they do. But many will still vote for him--because there's an R by his name, and R's vote for R's, and that's just how these things are, because identity. I mean, what are they supposed to do, vote for a D? Stay home on R Day? Are you kidding?

My friends, identity can be a wonderful thing, but it is currently making us very, very stupid.

We fight tooth and nail against reasonable restrictions against guns, because we're gun people and you not-gun people shouldn't be attacking our identity as gun people. I mean, sure, some kids die in a school shooting each week, but I don't see myself as a bad person so somehow my complicity in that doesn't matter.

We refuse to admit gay people are people because we're straight people and it's part of our identity as straight people to look down on gay people. I mean, we say we love the sinner and hate the sin, but actually we refuse to acknowledge that being gay shouldn't be a sin because we're Bible people and we Bible people think gay people are sinners and if we're wrong about that, well, let's just not even go there.

We deny evolution because science people are nerd people and they're mean to us, I mean they act so superior, just because they studied anthropology and we didn't. And quit reminding us we were half-awake in science class, nerds! We're Bible people and who asked all you knowing-stuff people anyway!

We take an all-or-nothing stance on abortion because the way we feel about abortion was fed to us by people who love us, and this is babies and femininity and motherhood we're talking about so you know we can't be swayed by emotion or paranoia.

Folks, we have to take a good hard look at our issues of identity. It's long past time. Just because you were told some things in childhood by people who love you doesn't mean those good people were right about every single thing. And even if they had been, the world changes. We learn things. There's no good way now, for example, to argue climate change is a hoax. There's no world in which it's okay for Donald Trump to call Mexicans rapists and then claim he loves Mexicans because he ordered a taco salad. There's no way he wasn't screwing with us when he referred to 9/11 as "7-Eleven" in New York. That is not a mistake people make, especially adults who speak English and live and work in Manhattan. Trump is playing us for fools, and he's winning. There's no way the Republican Party can be said to represent everyday working people. You want to talk about Democrats? Fine, let's do that. I also think we picked the wrong candidate. And y'know why we did that? Because we couldn't expand our identity to include democratic socialism fast enough to take Sanders seriously. We went with the establishment candidate, because that candidate looked more like a D and we're D people and that's just what D people do.

Well, I for one am through feeling chained to my identity. I can grow. I can learn. And so can you. In fact it seems to me that cutting loose from what Mommy and Daddy told us with loving smiles on their faces is the only way any of us can move forward. The key to making America great isn't making it what it was. That country was only great to a select few. We make America great by making it inclusive and receptive and progressive and reasonable and above all, optimistic--not fearful. Let's be better than we have been. Let's be better than our parents and grandparents were. Let's build new and richer identities together. Can we do that? Can we please just try harder to do that?

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12Apr/160

Art of Noise

Now that The Credeaux Canvas has closed and its set has been struck, I wanted to highlight some of the music we used in the show.

The house music began with this piece by Morten Lauridsen, "O Magnum Mysterium," sung here by the Nordic Chamber Choir. I wanted to hint to the audience that I find this show beautiful, so I led with fifteen minutes of liturgical choir pieces.

After "Miserere Mei, Deus" and Luis de Victoria's "Ave Maria," I wanted the music to be sexy. I also wanted to pull from the present day, not rely on music from when I was the age of the characters in the show (mid-20s). Thus it amused me to use "Adore You" by Miley Cyrus, which is not only sexy by itself but has an almost comically steamy music video.

On nights when the theater wasn't completely fully of people, I heard audience members laughing at this next song, King Missile's "Sensitive Artist." Between us, I felt it poked fun at my snooty MFA reputation.

The first act got underway with a minute of Mozart's "Ave Venum Corpus," as sung by King's College Choir. Boy sopranos bring tears to my eyes every time.

We signaled the audience it was time to buckle up for the "naked scene," I.2, with the first verse of Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited."

As we faded to blackout for intermission, astute listeners may have caught a foreshadowing of Act II in Rufus Wainwright's "The Art Teacher."

Intermission concluded with some arty jazz. First came "In a Sentimental Mood" by Coltrane and Ellington, then another foreshadowing of bad news to follow: Miles Davis' sultry rendition of Kern and Harbach's classic "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

House out, go! We played the first two verses of "The Trouble With Classicists" by Lou Reed and John Cale, then used the guitar sting to "smash cut" into Act II. I found out later this song was written for a tribute album to Andy Warhol (Songs for Drella, 1990).

I promised my Facebook friends I'd discovered the saddest piece of music ever written. I think I can now deliver on that promise. And it's not just the music; it's how that music was inspired. Grab a tissue, friends. This one doesn't play fair. It's Polish composer Henryk Górecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." We used the second movement as we abandoned Jamie in sobbing, suicidal despair.

Finally, as it is the responsibility of a director to never leave a tender moment alone, we restated the theme of the play for its curtain call. Here is the one and only Adele's poignant "Million Years Ago."

Choosing the soundtrack for a show is one of my favorite aspects of directing. It gives me a chance to show off music I've discovered, including some I've loved for years. It amplifies the emotions of a script and guides the audience into a common heartbeat.

In answer to a question I've been asked several times lately, I have no idea what or when my next directing project will be. I'm fond of a Laura Gunderson script, "Silent Sky," which tells a story I'd been meaning to tell on stage anyway. For the moment, though, I'm burned out on dealing with backstage psychodrama, and I lack the mana to deal with the technical challenges of a play about astronomy. Instead, I'll complete my work on Seven Ways to Get There and then relax for the summer. Perhaps I'll even have a chance to catch up on some of other people's shows I've been missing around Puget Sound. I'd like that very much. Directing eats my life in large, messy bites, and I've been pushing Credeaux for four years.

THE CREDEAUX CANVAS by Keith Bunin
Produced by Theater Artists Olympia (and Carv's Thinky Works)

Stage Manager: Vanessa Postil
Assistant Stage Manager: Sara Geiger
Set Designer: Matthew Moeller
Set Dresser and Props Master: Hally Phillips
Running Crew: George Dougherty
Master Artist: R. Owen Cummings
Additional Art: Matt Ackerman, Alec Clayton, Becky Knold, Steve Saxton

WINSTON: Christopher Rocco
AMELIA (and costumes): Alayna Chamberland
JAMIE: Mark Alford
TESS: Amanda Stevens

Directed by Christian Carvajal

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22Mar/160

Naked

It's been a while, hasn't it? Well, I've been busy. My contract with MightyPlay ended when we delivered a bundle of developmental math games, so I'm looking for big-boy jobs. (I have irons in the fire, as they say.) Compiling an application for any of those can take days. More than anything, I've been concentrating on The Credeaux Canvas, a Keith Bunin dramedy I'm directing for Theater Artists Olympia in the Midnight Sun Performance Space. Producing this play has been a dream of mine since I first heard L.A. Theatre Works' audio production four years ago. I must've flirted with every theater company within an hour's radius about it. They all admired the script, but a 22-minute nude scene in Act I dissuaded most. Not so TAO. They see themselves as the company that produces shows others are too conservative to try. It was a perfect fit.

I cast the play in November, anticipating it would take our four actors months to memorize their lines and prepare for rehearsals. The casting process wasn't easy. As often seems to happen in our smallish but bohemian city, I had several people audition who did absolutely nothing wrong, but who simply didn't fit the emerging recipe. It's heartbreaking for them and me. My loyalty has to be to the show I've envisioned. First read-through was a clubby get-together with celebratory port (Quinta das Carvalhas--"It's my family label!"). In early months, actors Alayna Chamberland (Amelia) and Christopher Rocco (Winston) spent a lot of time psychologically bracing themselves for the adventure of disrobing before an audience of friends, peers and strangers. I can tell you from having done it myself (Angels in America, 1996) that it takes a superhuman level of intestinal fortitude. I can also tell you that stage manager Vanessa Postil helped provide a safe place for thespian heroics, and we passed the dreaded first "Naked Night" three nights early.

I did an interview with Molly Gilmore of the Olympian newspaper yesterday, and she asked the question we knew we'd hear from many: did they have to get naked? Is it essential to the play? And the answer, it turns out, is yes. Not for any story reason, though the nudity makes perfectly logical sense within the context of the play--as it does in Angels, Wit, and so many other modern plays. In fact, I could argue it belongs in some Greek and Shakespeare (King Lear, Act III, Scene 4, for example). Set aside for a moment the fact that human beings get naked sometimes, and such coy evasions as TV's "L-shaped sheet" only threaten credulity. Set aside also the ubiquity of nudity on cable, which makes nakedness an element of professional actor employment. Look instead at the relationship it creates between a character and an audience. What I've learned through several examples is when an actor exposes him- or herself before an audience, each audience member becomes complicit. The psychological side effect is a feeling of protectiveness toward that actor. I feel it strongly as a director. And as we watch the characters of Amelia and Winston fall for each other, giving all of themselves to each other, we cannot help but fall in love with them. And the scene must go on as long as it does. When actors get naked in a production like Hair, in which the nudity lasts less than half a minute, it's something of a special effect. In Credeaux, we spend the first minute feeling terribly uncomfortable, the second minute adjusting, and the next twenty appreciating these characters' vulnerability and beauty.

I've also said all along that every character, Jamie (Mark Alford) and Tess (Amanda Stevens) included, gets naked in this show. They may not take their clothes off, but Jamie has a moment that is among the most difficult for an actor to achieve. It takes absolute weakness, and that is something even the best actors find themselves resisting. Amanda must play a character older and less respected than herself. I think Amelia's nakedest moment on stage is not the Act I nude scene, but her fragility deep in Act II. All four actors immersed themselves in a new-to-them acting approach, the technique devised by esteemed teacher Sanford Meisner. 'Acting,' he said (though no one quite agrees on his phrasing), 'is living truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances.' In other words, when you attend The Credeaux Canvas, you won't be seeing professional "stage liars" impersonating human behavior for your enjoyment, as valuable as that is in all our lives. Instead, for this show, you'll see four people who've accepted the circumstances in the room, fictional though they may have been to start with, and then interact with each other in real time. The emotions get very intense--exhausting even. When they fight, they FIGHT. When they love, they fall in LOVE. When they get hurt, they fall APART. And we live all that with them. The result is two hours of operatic emotion on a level that envelops us in its obvious, unforced reality. I think you'll find it to be a singular experience.

My work as an acting teacher on this show is finished, for all intents and purposes. This week adds set details courtesy of stage designer Matthew Moeller and props artist Hally Phillips, plus original artwork by Owen Cummings. The music is set. Vanessa is knocking herself out trying to make the most artful use of new LED lights donated by TAO board members. (Thanks, guys!) And I watch every night with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, because there is something so amazing about watching humans be humans, purely and with no barriers or apologies. I should also note that there's a pretty darn suspenseful art heist plot, as Winston and Jamie try to convince Tess that a portrait of Amelia was actually painted by early 20th-century Fauvist Jean-Paul Credeaux. Will she be convinced? If so, it would rescue them from soul-crushing East Village McJobs. If not, it could land them in jail for five years. And of course Jamie's relationship with Amelia hangs in the balance.

So that's the emotional feast we've prepared for you. I offer it to you with enormous pride--pride in these four actors, pride in TAO's courage and sensitivity, and pride in our stewardship of Bunin's amazing script. I hope you'll see fit to buy tickets as soon as possible. We're in a small house of only about 40 seats, and for only eight shows. I know the show deserves to sell out. I think once word gets out, some nights will. I don't want you to miss your opportunity to see it. I can tell you for a fact that if you miss TAO's production, you won't see it anywhere else soon.

I'm doing something for this show that I haven't done for any show I've directed since college: I'm attending every single performance. I love it that much. I want to be there when you discover it. From beginning to end this has been an experience I'll look back on with great fondness for decades to come.

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It also gives me great pleasure to announce that I'll be playing the role of rage-addicted Anthony in TAO's next production, 7 Ways to Get There by Bryan Willis and Dwayne J. Clark. It's a great script, and I have an opportunity to work with actors I love plus some new folks I've admired from offstage. I expect it to be an absolute lark.

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7Jan/160

The Life of the Dead

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."--Marcus Tullius Cicero

The mother of some of our dearest friends passed away this morning, and it's kicked me down the lane. Of course, I'm only experiencing a fraction of a fraction of the grief her family is undergoing, and it'd be wrong of me to interject myself into their catastrophe. I don't want to do that. What I can tell you is it's reminded me of people I've lost, and that I've reached the age at which, as a character in the Indiana Jones fourquel says, "life stops giving us things and starts taking them away." I feel a breath of the loss Amanda and I will feel when our own parents are gone. I'm reminded of how close we came to losing my brother to that odious murderer, cancer, the same monster that stole another cherished life this morning. I feel heavy with mortality. It's the heaviness of winter and sorrow.

When my stepfather died, everyone wanted to tell us they were praying for us. I knew what they meant. They meant they were thinking about us and feeling the same helpless peripheral emotions I feel for my own friends today. But my stepdad was not a churchgoer. I'm not sure he ever had been. He believed in God, I think, but in much the same way he believed in Elvis or Steve McQueen. Like Han Solo, he felt the safest religion was a good blaster at your side. And if it strikes you as obnoxious that I've already quoted two popcorn movies in this meditation, well, get ready to hate me even more, because my own religion dwells mostly in theaters--in the hush of an opening curtain, the incense of butter on popcorn, the held breath between an emotional gut punch and applause. I must be true to it now. I must explain where it leaves me on the subject of mortality, and for that, I must also implore your forgiveness.

I've written before on the subject of the human soul. I don't believe some invisible ghost drives my body from the great beyond, nor do I believe I'll look down on you from heaven after my inevitable fourteen-car pile-up. But I do think we are more than our substance. We're told by the Internet, incorrectly, that our cells are replaced every seven years. In fact, some of our cells (sperm and colon cells, for example) last mere days. The neurons in our brains, however, last for decades, and if one of them dies, it is not replaced. But I still think it's true that everything about us changes, minute to minute, all the time, and one can never step in the same river twice. So as I go through my years, feeling much the same as I did at age twenty, even as the mirror reminds me over and over again that I'm someone older and dumpier, I have to wonder what it is about us that makes us US. I feel comfortable calling that configuration of neurons and data my soul. I don't know how that works. I don't think anyone does. But I know what I am has expanded to include all my writing, stories about me, my reputation, my friendships, the impact I had on people's lives, and so many other things I may not even consciously know about. And I am sure those things will outlast me. Not forever, I know, but dear God, I can't say I'm that greedy.

George Lucas says, and I have no reason to doubt him, that when he first wrote about the Force he was trying to find some common denominator between all the world's major religions. I think that Venn-diagram nexus is a wonderful place to seek divinity. And when Ben Kenobi faces death, he says, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." In Star Wars parlance, we say he "becomes one with the Force." Then, of course, he turns into a kind of internal Oprah for a while, whispering life advice into Luke's ear and retconning the story of Anakin Skywalker's demise. Well, whatever. The point is this: we are already more powerful than we can possibly imagine. We have expanded beyond our physical volume. We are in other people, right now, and they are also in us. The Force is created by our lives. It surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. And I understand that now, in a less woo-woo way than I absorbed it when I was twelve. Now, some people hang onto a literal doctrine of souls their whole lives, and honestly, who the hell am I to judge them for that? But I don't need the New Jerusalem anymore. I don't need to believe my absent loved ones are waiting for me in some gated retirement community in the sky. What I need is to take a quiet moment, and I do, more often than most people know, to feel their echoes in the person I've become.

What I'm trying to say is I know I'll be meeting you again, Mister...I'm sorry, what was your name again? "Is it about the hedge?...It's a 'Mister Death' or something; he's come about the reaping? I don't think we need any at the moment." I know there are massive blows waiting in my future, blows that will gouge me in ways I can't possibly predict. I guess it's possible that Ray Kurzweil & Co. are right about the singularity and uploading me into the cloud, but if that's pie-eyed bunk, which it probably is, I'm over halfway to my own fateful moment. And I know some of you think that must make me a deeply unhappy, unsatisfied, un-spiritually-fulfilled person, but I must beg to differ. The truth is I feel the wonder and majesty and beauty of life more often, more profoundly, more insistently than I can possibly tell you. We are animal flesh, but we are not merely animals. We are solo acts, but also part of a choir. We are loved and WE ARE LOVE. We are the people we love. They are us. And cells are born, and cells die, and neurons wither, and where the hell are my keys? And when all is said and done, we are not said and done. Our echoes call to others through time. We are one with the force of human life, and we don't close the show just 'cause some stupid interloper turns out the lights.

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