If you haven't been paying attention: I have been working on a new musical with some colleagues and here we are, ready to audition for our first staged reading. Please read the release below and contact us or pass it on if you know someone who might be interested.
Old Soul Productions Presents:
Auditions for “As We Lie Still,” A New Musical
Music & Lyrics by Patrick Emile
Book by Christopher David Taylor and Olivia Emile
14 April 4-9pm
Music Academy of Denton
2430 I-35E Suite 230
Denton, TX 76205
AS WE LIE STILL is a contemporary musical that tells the story of Avi Sokol, a magician who hit the peak of vaudeville fame. His best trick gone awry leads to the death of Josephine, his assistant, and to the end of his career. As an old man, Avi seeks redemption and closure after an intervention from beyond. This love story spans 30 years at the turn of the 20th century.
Auditions are for a workshop/public concert reading in Denton. Performances scheduled for June 8-9. Rehearsals begin May 6. Bring calendar and availability to audition.
Please prepare 16 bars of contemporary musical theatre piece and 16 bars of a contrasting song of your choice. Accompanist provided.
Audition will also consist of cold readings from the script.
Resume and Headshot preferred but not required.
Young Avi - A rising star in the 19th century vaudeville circuit who will stop at nothing to make his career something of legend. Baritone. 20-40.
Old Avi - Intriguing old man who once tasted greatness but is now reduced to parlor tricks. Baritone. 30-60.
Hope - Young woman who meets Old Avi in the hospital and has a story of her own. Mezzo. 20-30.
Michael - Hope’s husband who was in a terrible accident and lies between life and death. 20-40. Tenor.
Company - 2 male, 2 female. Ages and voice parts flexible.
The roles of Azriel and Josephine have already been cast.
For more information or to sign up for an audition slot, please contact
Old Soul Productions at oldsoulproductions at gmail dot com.
Alan Bounville in WHEN PEOPLE LEAD
Mike Daisey in THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS
On Sunday night, I went up to Art 6 in Denton to work on the musical I am writing with a couple of the owners of the shop. I didn’t expect to run into a production happening in the back room but when I arrived, there was something being set up in the back room. Beginning Spring Break is always a challenge, I almost always end up wasting the time and not completing the stack of tasks that I have set for myself. One of the tasks was to have a new blog post and the week wasn’t looking like it was going to bring anything my way. Then, a couple of things happened; Mike Daisey, the revered monologuist cum activist was deposed from his throne by his own hand and I found myself as the member of a small audience sitting in on WHEN PEOPLE LEAD. Alan Bounville wrote the play from a collection of interviews and claimed “verbatim” theatre in that respect. He is involved in a movement called Into The Light which supports people sharing their stories regarding the LGBTQ movement and Bounville is walking across the country sharing his story and trying to build awareness for the struggle for equal rights. Pushing a large cart with a rainbow flag, he began his walk in Seattle and came through Denton on Sunday with little promotion around his production. The play itself is a loose narrative that shares interviews and his own experience as “local color.” Bounville is first an activist and his acting showed commitment if little depth. There were a couple of the monologues, mostly from older men who participated in actions years ago that were quite moving; the story of one man caring for his dying partner and trying to find an apartment was the highlight of the evening for me. I can’t characterize the piece as anything but agitprop, there was a moment when video from a die-in in Grand Central played behind Bounville shouting “Civil Rights Now!!” repeatedly that perfectly captured the essence of the piece. Within the stories, the undercurrent of activism was never far below the surface. While I understand, and fully support, the quest for rights that many LGBTQ people struggle for daily, as a straight audience member, I felt out of place. Many of the issues that Bounville talked about and showed in performance were so specifically tailored to a queer audience that I felt like an oppressor sitting in the audience. I had planned to talk to him after the show but many of the audience (7 in all) were talking to him about their own experiences and I didn’t feel that my “talk to me about your process” had a place in the discussion. Bounville wore his activist flag on his sleeve and bragged about his own hunger strikes and familial problems within the wider context of the struggle. The art was sublimated to his own experience.
“Why is this a problem?” you might ask.
It isn’t, for Bounville. Would be my answer. For Bounville.
Now to the larger issue. I have been listening to This American Life since at least 1997 and have missed very few episodes. Running, cycling or working around the house, TAL has been the soundtrack of a good portion of my life. I also listen to Studio 360 and the episode about Nikola Tesla was the first time that I hear of Mike Daisey. The story that he told in that episode was compelling and laced with historical details. History aside, I never thought about the veracity of his points; history is falsifiable not subjective (arguably) and so the stories he told were not something I spent a lot of time thinking about. Then, sometime last week, I heard about the retraction episode. Retraction. Newspapers, magazines and websites are where I have encountered retractions, TAL didn’t seem like the kind of place where a retraction makes sense. Then I did some research into the story. If you haven’t followed the story here it is, in brief.
Mike Daisey, one day, decided to look deeply into where his favorite devices come from when he saw some pictures on a website that were found on an iPhone that had been taken in the factory where they were made. He booked a trip to China and spent some time in and around the Foxconn plant where many Apple devices are built. He painted a bleak picture of overwork, underage workers, unsafe working conditions, repetitive motion injuries, illegal unions and a police state-style surveillance system set up in the factor. Foxconn, you may remember, was where there were a number of suicides by workers in the recent past. Daisey and his interpreter, Cathy Lee, went all around Shenzhen talking to “hundreds” of workers to corroborate the story that Daisey was sure was there. He created a monologue called “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” which had an amazing impact for a solo performer. Daisey put himself front and center (as in all of his shows) and was suddenly the poster child for Apple abuse, not nearly as salacious as it sounds. He even had part of his show broadcast on TAL in January and it seemed like things couldn’t get better for him. Then the debunking began. Between January and last week, reporters from all over the NPR universe found problems with Daisey’s account, billed at the Public Theatre as “non-fiction”. It was fiction. Lots of it. Moments that killed on stage were completely fabricated and Daisey was called to the carpet by Ira Glass on the Retraction Episode in a public and painful way. I don’t need to talk about the history of fabricated stories, if you have been paying attention they are all over the place. I’m not interested in jumping on the Daisey bashing bandwagon, what I am interested in is posing a question. Daisey said that his work in the theatre, fabricated or not, was effective and he stood by what he called the strongest work he had ever done. Lying, in the theatre, wasn’t an issue because the theatre is concerned with creating real, human moments. The emotional narrative that Daisey continues to tell, though in slightly altered form, is acceptable and good because he understood that his experiences in China did not add up to what he thinks of as a powerful show.
Reduced: As long as you create a strong, satisfying emotional narrative, regardless of whether you bill it as non-fiction or fiction, you have succeeded. What does this say for other performers who present something close to truth? With this story in my head, Bounville’s performance caused questions of the “verbatim” quality of his work. Was it really verbatim? Did it matter?
I talked last night with Brad McEntire about what he thought, as a solo performer, about the issue. Hopefully in the next installment we will have some of his thoughts about it. I think what came from the discussion last night that really stuck with me is that Daisey has become more of an activist and less of a playwright of late. His work has taken on a victim mentality, a holier than thou mentality that can clearly be understood by looking at some of his more recent work. I watched a video on Slate.com that showed an audience member leaving (along with a large group) and pouring water on Daisey’s papers. His response, indignation, is telling. He called on the audience member to explain himself and when he didn’t, he read into the man’s motivations for injuring him in such a personal way. Interesting to hear him on the other side of the table.
Listening to the retraction, one of the most powerful and painful moments was when Daisey came back into the studio after recording some other moments of the show and tried to point out that some of the experiences he had were real. Glass pointedly said “I don’t believe you, I can’t believe you.” Now, I don’t believe in the willing suspension of disbelief. I believe in something called “the blend” which I will not go into here. Belief in a performer and story are intertwined in my mind. If the performer doesn’t believe it, I don’t believe it. If I am supposed to be listening to something that is purported to be true and it isn’t, I don’t believe it. It doesn’t change the truth of the issue (global labor struggle) but it does affect my view of the performer/writer as a reliable narrator. If one is unreliable, doubt is cast.
So that is the question. Does it matter? I’m conflicted about it. Surely when one agrees to be held to the highest journalistic standard, as Daisey did in having his work presented on TAL, it does matter. In the theatre, I don’t know that it does. I always go in to a performance with the expectation of at least some artistic license. In an academic lecture or news conference, not so much.
Review of “Prayer” by Jonathan Kravetz
Nouveau 47 Theatre, Dallas, TX
I spent the weekend running around the Metroplex playing host to the up and coming playwright Kevin Kautzman who had come up to hold a playwriting workshop atNouveau 47’s space in Fair Park. Friday and Saturday were overcast by the gloom of the first hard rain of the nascent spring and I put nearly 250 miles on my car running between the workshop, the premier of Larry Herold’s THE SPORTS PAGE at Stage West in Fort worth and back to my home base of Denton. With Sunday came the sunshine and a renewed energy for the final leg of a theatre packed weekend. Kevin and I sat around the kitchen table drinking French Press coffee and talking about the upcoming production of his play IF YOU START A FIRE at Monday’s Dark Theatre in Manhattan this coming April. As we finished up our talk, I was already jonesing to get on the road back to Nouveau 47 for the final showing of the opening weekend of Kravetz’s play, PRAYER.
I knew very little about the play going in, other than Kravetz’s THE BEAST IN MY PANTS had been read as part of the inaugural “New Works, New Voices” festival at N47 last year. Kevin also had a play read and I knew the calibre of his work stood up to the kind of production that I have been eagerly anticipating at N47 since we first interviewed them before their opening a while back. This is the second show in their second season and I can’t think of a better way to bring in March than to take on a challenging piece of theatre that deals directly with issues close to my own consciousness. While we were packing up to head to Dallas on Sunday, Kevin noticed a number of books on my shelf that had to do with ultra-fundamentalism and the dangers of state sponsored torture/terrorism. I knew that PRAYER dealt directly with those issues and I was intrigued by what I had seen of the set, designed by N47 Technical Director Donny Covington.
We arrived at the theatre with a few minutes to spare and it turned out that the only people sharing the theatre with us on this day, with daylight savings time having wreaked its own kind of havoc on the early Sunday crowds, were Covington’s family and Literary Manager Melissa Hennessey. A more appreciative, thoughtful group I could not have hoped to share the experience of PRAYER with. Covington’s set transforms the N47 space into an oddly shaped cell. The severe thrust of the space and the high, forbidding wall broken only by a metal clad door with bars served as almost the only set. A pair of cots spoke to two occupants that had yet to arrive. I noticed immediately that there were what appeared to be ghostly outlines of bodies on the back wall. Traced as though left by a firing squad, the penitent sinner placed against the wall and dispatched of. As the lights went down for the beginning of the play, one of the prisoners, played by Brian Witkowicz, entered in the dark. His grungy hair and costume spoke of long neglect and while lay on the cot waiting for the arrival of his new cell mate, he oozed a nervous tension that set the mood for what was to come.
The arrival of Jacob Bergson, played by Randy Perlman, sets the play in motion. We are now in a future world where ultra-fundamentalist anti-intellectuals have taken over the country. They rule with a conglomeration of rules straight out of 1984 and The Handmaids Tale. Prisoners are not given the option of council and the farcical concept of the rule of law has no place in the world of PRAYER. Bergson stands accused of being a seditious doctor who has written a book he claims never to have read. Dr. Hawkes, the imagined hand behind the banned book, seems to have created a tome designed specifically for the erosion of blind faith, something that Bergson only understands on a surface level. He pines for his wife, Sophia, and for the children he never had.
Kravetz’s first act is taut and fraught with unrealized tension. The Priest (Dwight Greene) and Sub-Priest (Ben Bryant) along with a guard (Sam Swanson), who conveniently used to shop at Bergson’s stationary store, move with too much ease. Their menace is depleted by the conversational ease they carry with them in their physicality. I didn’t feel a sense of danger in the first third of the show, the acting, while very good, lacked something of the frazzled and frightened nature of the accused but un judged. Act II brought to full realization the brutality of Kravetz’s writing, Bergson enters the stage moving so heavily that it is clear he has been under severe stress, encouraged to confess his crime. Pearlman’s bulk become less softening and more solid, he has withstood an immense amount of torture but will not break because he still believes that he will be given a trial. In a particularly incendiary performance, Pearlman and Witkowicz fulfill the promise of their characters when Bergson challenges Nelson’s (Witkowicz) assertion that God is a bastard child. Not since Sundown Collaborative Theatre’s production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 have I felt such power coming from the stage.
Duane Deering’s sound design brings the world outside the cell into near perfect contrast, the voices of the impending revolution are realistically muffled from beyond the imagined wall of the prison. Clay Cook’s lighting creates the different lighting in the cell with skill, moments of the play take place in near darkness, some only lit by the bars in the door. Costumes by Samantha Rodriguez are at once perfect and cliche; prisoners are perfectly costumed and the guards are predictably a blend of fascist and Nazi. Uncredited makeup design was perhaps some of the most well researched and subtle I have seen. The evidence of all kinds of torture were inscribed on the bodies of the actors in such a way that it was perfectly clear what had happened to them off stage.
Jim Kuenzer, whom I had the pleasure of sitting in the playwriting workshop with earlier on Saturday, created some of the most powerful graphic design I have seen recently. The faces of the characters washed out with only a QR code to give more information about the play, stunning in their simplicity but also creating an other/future world aesthetic.
I left the play with a number of impressions. First, Kravetz’s play, while very good, is not perfect. I felt an ending about three or four minutes before the final blackout. That said, the acting and directing (Diana Gonzalez) created such a rich world that the weakness of the ending didn’t bother me as much as it might have otherwise. Secondly, sad though it was that I was only in the theatre with five other people, knowing that this kind of intimate and powerful acting is taking place in the metroplex made me happy to know that the promise of N47 is coming to fruition. I was also gratified to see such care taken with the technical aspects of production, too frequently smaller productions are left wanting in this regard. Finally, I left with an evangelical urge to let everyone I know about the powerful work happening through March 24 at Nouveau 47. Go see this play. Really. Go. Drive down, take the DART, carpool. Whatever it takes to get you down to see this worthy work, do it. I’m honored to count Nouveau 47 among the theatres in DFW with whom we have had a long relationship and this is one piece of theatre that makes me look forward to the future of theatre in DFW. Go.
Also, check out the upcoming production of Kevin Kautzman's IF YOU START A FIRE in NYC!
Podcast: A Chat with Kevin Kautzman and Review of PRAYER