As ‘Twere With a Defeated Joy

Well, I’ve certainly been remiss lately as to the upkeep of this blog. I could use the excuse that I’ve been too busy, but that’s not really the case. True, I’ve initiated and collaborated on over a dozen creative projects this year. But, as per usual, I tend to find myself with mountains of free time. This comes from not having a day job; however, I do spend an inordinate amount of time stressing over how to pay my bills one week to the next.

This most recent project actually ate up quite a bit of my time. Jump-Start Performance Company and the Classic Theatre of San Antonio (who operate out of the same space in the Blue Star Arts Complex) decided to collaborate on a staging of a play by Shakespeare. For reasons never divulged to me, Hamlet was decided upon. (A problematic decision, in my opinion, in that there are only two female characters in the play). As a Jump-Start company member — and a new one at that — I felt it incumbent upon me to attend all open meetings and “play dates” concerning this collaboration. There had been talk about video projections. Perhaps with the ghost. Whatever the case, I made it known I was available to do whatever might be needed. That that “whatever” would be acting was certainly an uneasy possibility sitting in the back of my mind. But when I learned I had been cast as King Claudius, I did my best to let it be known I have no real acting experience. The production has two directors. ST Shimi, representing Jump-Start, and Diane Malone, of Classic. They didn’t seem terribly troubled with my lack of experience.

Laurie Dietrich did the cutting of the text. She took it down to the bare essentials of the characters of the court, removing the larger political drama. But I still found myself with 221 lines to memorize. And when I cautioned all involved that I’ve had my cell phone for over a decade and I still don’t know my own number, I guess they just thought it playful self-deprecation.

It was hell getting all those lines down. I spent at least five hours each day drilling. But, somehow, after an ugly and turgid (for me) week of tech rehearsals, I managed to do a serviceable job on stage for the first three performances. I still have another three shows this coming weekend, but I’m fairly confident I’ll survive.

It’s a mixed blessing to be surrounded by so many talented people. On the one hand, they’re always there to help out and give guidance; but, also, they bring to their performances a polish and competence that I really can’t match.

What I’ve learned is that while I don’t particularly like acting, it can be rather fun. When I was whining to fellow company member Chuck Squires about how I was drowning, he said I should trust the process. What the fuck? But, he was right. There’s this point when the lines are internalized and you walk out on stage and they just spool out, automatically. Yes, I have dropped a line or stumbled a few times, but when it’s all going according to the “process” it’s exhilarating, like all those things that move fast and don’t need conscious decision-making, such as driving, riding a bike, making music, etc. Just stand out of the way, and let it happen.

Here I am in costume backstage between scenes.

King Claudius

It seems ludicrous that one’s first acting gig should be a major character in fucking Shakespeare. And I’m getting paid for the job, and quite well. The fact is, it took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding bringing attention to myself. I don’t doubt that in my youth I suffered from social anxiety disorder. And even in college it took a great deal of inner resolve (and the occasional black-market pharmaceuticals) to manage to read aloud my own short stories in creative writing classes — and that was to an audience of fifteen people, tops. But, in the last seven years or so, I’ve been pushed on stage to introduce people, hauled in front of cameras in TV studios to talk about events, asked to participate on a few occasions in staged performance art pieces, and so on, until I really don’t think twice about getting up in front of a few hundred people. There’s no way I could have even thought of doing this a decade ago. For this production my biggest fear wasn’t so much a room full of slack-jawed gawkers staring me down, but the fear I’d fuck up and let down the rest of the cast. Ultimately I’m encouraged by the fact that even at my advancing age, I can still overcome some of my pesky and debilitating neuroses.

This has certainly been one of those opportunities where I’ve been forced to work outside of my comfort zone. And I highly recommend it.

Wappo Pick-Ups

Hetaerae is coming along well. This is the upcoming Jump-Start performance written by Laurie Dietrich, and co-directed by Sandy Dunn and myself. Laurie will star as the narrator. There will be three other women in the cast. Yesterday, we received commitment from our final cast member, one of my favorite people and an amazing performer. Next week Sandy and I will meet with our cast in an informal gathering. Then we all jump into the work of character-building, rehearsals, and whatever else one does when putting on a play. I’m glad I’m surrounded by seasoned professionals.

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I haven’t been biking much lately, so when the temperature got up into the 80s back on Tuesday, I had no excuse. I hoped on my bike and headed south to Mission Espada. The wind was coming in strong from the south, so I had to fight it all the way. At least it meant that the return trip would be fun and fast with a strong tail wind.

The construction on the river redevelopment is still plodding along throughout that section between Military and Mission Espada. Construction crews are completely chewing up the area around Mission San Juan. The old, abandoned bridge over the canal is being dismantled. Sad. I shot a couple of films on it. It was handy because if you set up the shots right, you could give the illusion of shooting on a two-lane blacktop bridge without having to deal with traffic.

On the return trip, I fell afoul to a blustering northern cold front. I hate when the wind changes, creating head winds both coming and going. These were some feisty gusts, and I found myself constantly down-shifting, even on level ground. I noticed a fellow cyclist pull over. I’m not sure if he was exhausted fighting the wind, or just wanted to use his phone to photograph the whitecaps the wind was raising on the river.

I took a break under a pavilion near the Roosevelt Street bridge, to watch the clouds and see if the wind would die down. As I was trying to post this picture to Instagram –

clouds

– I got a call from Gustavo. He needed to shoot some more on the Wappo vs. the World film. CineFestival wants their sponsors mentioned in the film. We’d already done a few, but needed to included more. Would I be able to help out Wednesday afternoon. I said sure, hung up, and fought the winds all the way home.

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Wednesday I met up with Gustavo, Jim, Robb, and Yvonne. We headed over to la Casa del Alebrije, at 1601 Guadalupe. It’s an old house on the westside which, in March, will open as a place providing snacks, art shows, backyard performances, and so on. Gustavo put on his mask and, in character of Wappo, did a short commercial for the business which will be placed at the end of one of the Wappo webisodes which will begin to air online next week.

casa

Next, we drove out to Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant, way out on Bandera Road. They treated us very cordially. We shot a Wappo spot for Indo beer in the bar. And then we shifted over to the restaurant side to do the plug for Lisa’s. Finally, we broke for a late lunch.

Not a bad day’s work. I just need to figure out how to get paid for this sort of stuff (with something other than enchilada plates).

Here’s Wappo with some Indio Beer.

beer

And here we have Yvonne Montoya (Program Director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center) and Jim Rodriguez (DP on this project), they’re standing beside the cool metal beaded curtain separating the bar from the restaurant at Lisa’s.

yandj

Wappo Wrappo

Well, last night we wrapped on a short project, Wappo vs. the World.

Gustavo Stebner contacted me a couple weeks back to help out on a project. He was coming to town to put together a short film to be used as promotional material for CineFestival (the nation’s oldest and longest running Latino film festival). The piece will be broken up into a few webisodes, building up to the opening night of the film festival, which runs February 23 – March 2, 2013. Gustavo wrote, directed, and is currently busy editing the episodes. The story involves a masked wrestler, Wappo, as he transitions from a career as an underground wrestling sensation, to greater fame. Along the way he battles vampires, zombies, and the wrath of a spurned woman.

Some of our actors remarked on what a calm set we were all working on. I found myself pointing out, on no few occasions, that when you spend eight days to shoot fourteen pages, you can maintain a certain relaxed atmosphere. True, it also helped that we all like one another.

I keep finding myself on these pro bono gigs. But I did realize the other day that I am getting better at being selective — if the project isn’t financially rewarding, it is always fun. Here are some random pictures of the shoot.

Wappo vs. the World

Laura Evans

Doctor Nikki.

Wappo and Claudia G.

Gustavo finishing script

Wappo in pawn shop.

Zombie 4

Berkowitz clowning with class.

TJ zombie smoking.

Gloria with gun.

Gloria looking back.

Gustavo driving.

Laura with Jim and Gustavo.

Gloria backing up.

Zombie 1

Zombie 2

Zombie 3

Wrap party

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Years ago, back when my friend Pete and I were working on our digital feature (Vaya Con Dios, Asshole) I was playing around with Garage Band. I built up an industrial drum and bass sort of tune and laid down some dialogue from the film. Specifically some semi-ad lib rants from Marc Daratt, in the guise of a televangelist. I quite liked the outcome. (I have no idea if it still exists on a hard drive somewhere….) I had this idea that I would do a playful musical collage for every project. Sadly, this never happened.

However, I began playing around with the program Ableton Live recently. I built up some dubstep-esque track and began layering some of Martha Prentiss’ monologue from my recent short film with her (“Celebrating the Solstice”). The rough edit is parked on Soundcloud. “What’s the Soundtrack to Your Apocalypse?”)

I put it on my iPhone and it’s in my playlist I listen to while running. Twice. Surrounded by the likes of the Flaming Lips, Cafe Tacuba, the London Apartments, and the rest of my workout miscellany. It amuses me in that, if I take the River Walk route downtown to HemisFair Park and back, I inevitably hear my Martha song whilst running past a location we shot at in the film.

Insert Stigmata Here

Wednesday

It got down to 28 degrees last night, if I can believe my iPhone. At least there’s sunlight out this morning. Yesterday was cold and dark and miserable. I don’t think I even bothered to leave the house. Probably I should find a better way to heat this place than my kitchen stove. Also, it wouldn’t hurt me to get my water heater finally fixed. I know I’m not looking forward to forcing myself to take a shower before my noon meeting. I suppose if I had something resembling a real job I might be able to address some of these issues more easily; but, damn, it’s been so long since I’ve pulled a regular paycheck that I’m not really sure how one goes about getting a job. On occasion I might look for employment opportunities online. Always I give up once I come to the qualification portion. I’m not really qualified to do anything. And, really, I’m much too old to get in at an entry level position (particularly in fields I really don’t care about). I’m slightly heartened that though this meeting I have at noon isn’t for a job, as such, it probably will result in a moderate stipend.

The meeting is at Jump-Start. I’ve been asked to co-direct their next show. Laurie Dietrich invited me to team up with Sandy Dunn to direct her upcoming play, Hetaerae. I’m looking forward to working with the both of them. There will be a portion of the piece presented a week from today at the W-I-P, so it will be nice for us to hear feedback from that night’s audience.

Here’s a picture of Laurie, to promote the next W-I-P. I believe Dino Foxx took the picture, and as such, we’ll just assume he digitally inserted the stigmata.

JanWIP13webfront

I’ve never directed for the stage before. Probably I have more experience than I think, though. The three full-length pieces I’ve worked on, allowed me to observe the process from pretty much the beginning of working with actors through to the striking of the set. Each production had different directors, so I’ve seen how various people manage similar tasks differently. Ultimately it’s a spare production, with only four performers, and most likely a minimalist set design. Laurie, who wrote the piece, will be the central performer. She’ll be of great help, as she’s one of the city’s most accomplished directors for the stage. And Sandy’s been working in theater for, I assume, over thirty years. They are also kind and polite (more or less) and won’t make too much fun of me when I do or say something stupid.

News From the Playa

Tuesday

I’m hunkered at an old battered table in this little breakfast nook off my kitchen, with the oven door open and the setting on broil. I have all rangetop burners going at full. I’ve closed off the bedroom to concentrate this heat. It’s cold out, no doubt about that. But the overcast morning is adding a huge psychological component to my dark, piteous state. This cup of strong, sweet coffee is helping a bit.

The plan for the day is to continue the self-caffeination process until I have the needed reserves to move into the other room, to my standing desk, and plug this laptop into a larger monitor, soundboard, USB keyboard, and maybe even my video projector, and dive into a lengthy series of tutorials for Ableton Live, a music composition and performing program.

This had been my Monday plan, but the day was sidetracked when Dragonfly (AKA Robin) called to ask my help on converting some video files for a project she was working on.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

We had lunch first at La Barca. I ask her to tell me about her trip to Burning Man back in August. It’s usually during the holidays when I see Dragonfly. She comes back home from New York to visit her family. Up in NYC she has, for several years, been a member of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, an activist performance group fronted by Reverend Billy. It was with Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping that Dragonfly attended Burning Man. It sounded like she and the choir had a very positive experience out on the playa. I’d like to go some day.

Here’s a link to the choir’s profiles, with Dragonfly at the top.

Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.

We then headed to G2E. After a lengthy bout of fiddly work, we managed to convert her pesky WMV files into something my copy of FinalCut Pro can work with. As she did some editing, I read the script to a new project by Gustavo Stebner. It’s a lucha-theme short, Wappo vs. the World. I believe I’m doing some camera and or sound work for a shoot Sunday. It should be fun.