Dead Club House

Dead Club House
Haunted House in Cambridge

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Phantom perfumes

In the last two hours of my grandmother’s life, I discovered that she was drenched in sweat and so I powdered her.  It was a Avon floral powder that she kept by her chair.  I smelled that powder on my hands off and on for years, sometimes when I needed her but not always.
Haunted scents lace folklore.  I know a man who lives in a house that used to belong to a smoker.  He has sealed the walls and cleaned the rugs and years have gone by but every once in a while at night he smells cigarette smoke on the way back from the bathroom.

Freewriting on How Does Art Change the World?

10/29/10, 5 minutes
I have seen theatre change the world, change little pieces of the world, little pieces of lives.  I’ve seen that confidence in facing a challenge make a person stand taller.  My docu-play One Particular Saturday told high school students and college students the stories of the Baltimore Race Riots in 1968.  The student actors returned to rehearsal the second night and said my mother or my grandmother or my aunt remembers tanks rolling down Harford Road and they had never told me.  Art tells history and heals wounds by opening up dialogue.  The Laramie Project will begin a dialogue about hate crimes.  Laramie will remind the audience of its empathy.  Studies prove that theatre develops empathy.  Perhaps because we feel along with the characters.  Perhaps because we’re in the middle of group art and have to rely upon each other.  Don’t we daily have to rely upon each other?
10/31/10 1 minute
I know Victorian London because of Oliver and Charles Dickens.  I know World War II because of the Sound of Music.  I know the Russian Revolution because of Dr. Zhavigo.
I want to spell check Zhavago.
Do you edit blog content or freewrite like above?

Friday, October 29, 2010

!?Y-Art?! Questions

I've been brainstorming on questions to ask my super art friends in the video interviews of my final project.  Here's the ones I have so far.  Please, feel free to wrestle with one of them.  They're big and rolling around the circuits of my brain.  I'm going to start freewriting on them. 
Why art?
Why not art?
How does it make you feel?
How does it change the world?
Does it change the world?
What is social justice theater?
What do colors feel like?
What does sound smell like?
How do you express?
What do you express?
What does it mean to express?
How do all your expressions feel outside your body?
What do they become then?
Do words have legs?
Can dancers paint?
Do we have one best means of expression?
Can everyone express?
Is everyone an artist?
Is everyone a story?
What does theater do?
What does playing an instrument do?
Why do we strive?
What is the difference between a sculptor and a pianist?
Is there a difference between a sculptor and a pianist?
Is the gift inherent?

Me in Babes in Toyland in Baltimore Actors Theatre in the late1970s. When we all tap danced together, that was art.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Story boarding

I story-boarded the !?What is Art?! video project on sketch paper to track flow, write text and determine which images I needed to load on the flash drive.  I drove around town, filming and photographing on Saturday and will definitely use this image:
I hope I can access the video footage -- I emailed the Sony HD file to myself and burnt two others on DVD+R.  I can plug in the Flipcam in the lab to access those files but they're AVI and I'm a little baffled on how to convert those all to MPeg4 for IMovies.
I tried to upload some Flipcam AVI footage here and after Blogspot thought about it for 20 minutes, I got a message saying there was an error.  What format should it be in?

Typography rehearsal

I want to use our Monday video project as a rehearsal for EPub's final project.  For the final project, I'm going to interview my Super Art Friends, asking them Why Art and name it !?Y-Art?!  (Lately I've been very fond of exclammation points.)  So, I collected stills and video clips and want to address the other Big Question:  What is Art? 
Below are some typography samples.  I am leaning towards Bauhaus.
In Harrington
In Earwig Factory
In Blue Highway Linocut
In Bauhaus 93

!?What is Art?!
In Bauhaus 93
!?What is Art?!
In Bickley Script
!?What is Art?!
In Andy

John C. Wilson
Director, Actor, Theatre Project Board Member, Producer
In Broadway

Andrew Peters
Actor, Artistic Director of Glass Mind Theatre
In Garramond

Can we insert Word and/or InDesign files to iMovies?  I'd love to use fonts that iMovies doesn't have.


I lived in the top floor of this house on Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon years ago. 
I loved my apartment; it was light, airy and circular but walking down the basement stairs made my chest tight.   I suspected that something horrible had happened in a little red rectangle of a room at the base of the steps.
My second year there, I awoke to the horrible sense that something else was in my bedroom.  The air was cold.  The something else could smell me, smell my fear.  I could hear it breathe, ragged and gulping.  It pinned me to the mattress; I couldn’t move my arms.  Gathering all my strength, I rose up and reached for my bedside lamp.  I read the Bible to make it go away or to make my fear go away.  Is there a difference?
Book of John or not, it returned.  Some nights it whispered gibberish into my ears, some long forgotten language. 
It did not follow me to my house in Hamilton when I moved.
Ghost folklore is riddled with stories of the living awaking to a cold presence that pins them to the bed.  Are we more accessible in sleep?  My friend Korinne told me to surround myself with light every night just before I fall.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A teaching moment

I taught a series of playwriting workshops at Roland Park Country School over the past couple weeks.  One of the 8 amazingly smart kids in the class is a German exchange student.  She's so brave, 17, here for a semester and living with a host family.  She's quiet and blonde and sweet and English is not her first language.  She was confused during freewriting and clearly worried about writing a ten minute short play in English.  We workshopped hers last and she was nervous as a cat.  But her play was brilliant, a scary little story about two people trapped in an old man's basement.  When she realized that we loved it, she clapped her hand over her mouth to hold all the joy.  She almost cried.  I almost cried. 
So, thanks, Anika, for reminding me to face my fears and showing me how beautiful teaching can be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living room Ghost

I woke up once, sitting on the end of my couch.  I had fallen asleep watching some television.  I started, sitting up straight and opening my eyes.   I was alone in the house but the figure of a man walked by me.  I shook my head clear and he was gone.  He was an older man, white, wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants.  He walked with purpose between the end of the couch and the side table.  He wasn’t even looking at me. 
My friend Korinne once awoke in the living room and saw an older white man sitting in my arts and crafts rocker.  I was appalled but she said he looked happy to be there.
Two owners ago, before the Tom the truck driver and his family, the Taylors, a white couple and their son, lived in the house. The husband was a tin man, sold siding and formstone .  His company covered the shingle house with formstone; there’s a plaque on the southwest corner to prove it.   The husband died first and the old woman lived alone before she died, so said Tom.  They had cats.
Is Mr. Taylor stuck in the living room?  Is he waiting for friends to drop by?
So much history is lost. 

Folklore in History

I read last night at the Red Canoe Bookstore in Lauraville.  I read the beginning of Chapter 3 from Dredging the Choptank that tracks the protagonist's first visit to the Dorchester Arts Council and her experience with the upstairs hall ghost.  I wonder if I should read that section because it's so laced with context of Maryland history, xenophobia and the difference between the Eastern Shore and the Mainland.  I had trimmed history from early texts per my publisher's suggestion but I have a hard time separating folklore (the stories of a people) from its historic context (the story of a people).
A woman at the reading talked about Gettysburg ghosts and how their stories gave her a better view into our collective past.
This story is from the book:  I asked my friend Terri the difference between a historian and a folklorist and she said, "A tie."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On readings

Reading excerpts from my book live is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  Live readings put me up there at the podium and me alone.  Readings are scarier than acting; there’s no character to hide behind.  Readings are scarier than producer announcements; all the content is mine.  Readings are me squared up there:  me the performer and me the writer.
But Albert Brooks might be right and this whole shooting match is about facing our fears.
I’ve come to believe that readings are more than a pitch to buy the book; readings are about storytelling.   Dredging’s stories are based in oral folklore and that makes them easier to read in a storytelling fashion.
So when I read this Tuesday at the Red Canoe at 5:30pm, I’ll remind myself that I am telling stories, no different than my ancestors in the caves of France.  I am telling stories that can possibly help the temporal face their temporality.  I am telling stories that are hundreds of years old and are still happening today.
I just need to warm up my voice and hit all my consonants.
Red Canoe Bookstore Cafe

The effects of adversity on man on the moon polenta

From my journal 9/29/10:
I'm beginning to create meals from whatever I have in the fridge or the cupboard.  I think that might be the definition of a cook.  In these tight financial days, that kind of skill saves me money and keeps me running.
Does adversity create better conditions for art?  Force one to be more creative with limited supplies?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What is the definition of art?

From my journal 9/26/10:
A few days ago, I watched a squirrel bury a nut in the front yard, in the dip where I usually put the trash can.  I stood on the porch.  The squirrel furtively ran its paws through the grass to hide the treasure, fluffing, gentle, caressing, almost like painting, almost like dance.
Is that how art begins?  Twisted through the necessity of survival?

The Mystery of the Phantom Spotlight

I blame Nancy Drew for this ghost story voice in my writing.
I don’t remember what day or month or year it was but I was working at Baltimore Shakespeare Festival (BSF) and it was 4:30 in the afternoon. BSF is housed in St. Mary’s Outreach Center that was originally built as an Episcopal church before the Civil War.  The hillside graveyard beside it is guarded by hulking ancient trees.  A minister’s wife is buried next to a lobby wall.
The stage was empty that afternoon; below is a shot of BSF’s production of Antigone to give the reader an idea of the space.  I was on my way to the booth in the back of the house.  The lights in the theater were off.  The afternoon sun provided enough for me to see.  The dimmers were off; there was no electricity in the system.  As I walked past the downstage right corner of the stage, a spotlight came on, a special from the previous show.  I stopped and stared.  I walked to the booth and unlocked it; the board that controlled the light circuits was not on.  I could see the spotlight through the booth window, a perfect white circle shimmering on the parquet floor. 
I gotta tell somebody, I thought.  As I walked past the stage corner on my way back to the office, the spotlight evaporated and the room slid back into its previous dim.
Antigone, directed by Raine Bode, lighting Alex Pappas, costumes Heather Jackson, scenic design me.  That's Jimi Kinstle, Noah Schecter, Dana Whipkey, Molly Moores, and Stephen Patrick Martin onstage with the burnt out car.  I think Bode took the photo.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On influence

Kari started this conversaton about artistic influence and it's been rattling around my head.

Do we appreciate product better if we know process?  Why do we love those shorts on the making of films?  Why did I buy a book of essays by playwrights on their favorite writers?  Do I really see the finger traces of Shakespeare and Noel Coward and Larry Gelbart in all my work?  If I write a paragraph on influences on the history page, what does that say?

On self promotion

I've always had to force myself to market.  I make lists of marketing tasks and am lucky to do half.  I print out Dramatist Guild deadlines and rarely submit.  I sent out a boatload of plays when I left banking to little fruition which lead me to believe that live networking was preferred.  Right now I should send out letters about the Dickens play to professional theaters that have produced Christmas Carol but that keeps falling to the bottom of the list.
It's hard to sell yourself.
Not a lot of artists have both the creative juice and critical selling skills.
During my Center Stage internship in college, I realized that all the actors were gypsies who had to sell themselves constantly.  I didn't want that.  Couldn't do that.
When I was briefly the Development Director at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, I asked Merrell Hambleton how she and her husband T. Edward pitched the Public Theatre.
"We believed in it," she said.  "That made it easy to sell."
We have to believe in the product that is our art.
I'm not sure if this culture encourages that self promotion. 
Where is the line between vanity and a sense of self worth?
My recent poverty has been fueling my latest focus on marketing.  I don't mind it as much of late.  I don't taste the bitterness in my mouth.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nannie's Voice

This is my first and my favorite ghost story but I write out of order.
My great grandmother died in our house in Lutherville when I was fourteen.  She was 97 and had been an invalid for half my life at that point.  The Sunday she died, she looked like she had fallen asleep in her chair.
In the last month of her life, she spouted scripture verbatim.  In the last week of her life, she told us that her long dead siblings were showing up to visit her. 
“Jenny was here,” she said.
A week after my great grandmother passed, I was in my bedroom, answering a homework question on the silent character of Nanny in Paul Zindel’s play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-on-the-Moon Marigolds.  Everyone called my great grandmother Nannie. 
In her last six months, Nannie forgot how to use her intercom system to call for help and would just randomly call our names, her voice wavering but honeyed.  My bedroom was above what had been hers so I could hear her best. As I thought about the character of Nanny that spring night, I heard her voice call my name.  Once.  I turned.  Nothing had changed in my room.  She called again.  She sounded calm and I knew she was safe.  I knew she was home.  And I knew that energy does not die.

My matriarch:  Nannie in the glasses, her daughter and my grandmother Marjorie, and her daughter and my mother Susan in the hat, in a crab house in New Jersey