A Night with Janis Joplin features a healthy selection of Joplin hits—especially those with Big Brother and the Holding Company - as well as songs by such irreplaceable artists as Bessie Smith, Odetta, The Chantels, Nina Simone, and the late Aretha Franklin - the latter icons all interpreted by four additional vocalists in the show, along with a live band and horn section to help recreate a repertoire of blues gems.
Although she enjoys singing fan favorites like “Piece of My Heart” or “Cry Baby,” Davies said in the interview that she finds her best challenge with Joplin's version of “Maybe,” which she sings in the second act, and with “Ball and Chain.”
Born eight years after Joplin died of a heroin overdose in Los Angeles, Davies has been interpreting Joplin since she was in her teens. Like Joplin, whose Port Arthur, Texas vernacular Davies has mastered - she studied hours of archival footage of Joplin's interviews - she began with listening to and singing Joplin's songs and vocal stylings with her mother in her native Cleveland Ohio. Later, she would do more research and read the collection of Janis Joplin's letters and other correspondence that say so much more about Janis Joplin than any journalist ever has. (Did you know she was a painter?)
The award-winning actress has studied improv at The Second City (in Cleveland at the time) and is a member of the Something Dada Improv Group in Cleveland as well. In 2005, she toured with the production of Love, Janis, and has toured in Europe with Janis Joplin's original band, “Big Brother and the Holding Company.”
Davies has since received a Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her performance as Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in 2014, as well as winning the Theater World Awards and Theater World Awards for that year. Davis' band, The Mary Bridget Davies Group, released their album “Wanna Feel Somethin” in 2012, where she is currently working on writing songs for their next album.
A Night with Janis Joplin opens Friday, September 21, 2018, and runs through October 7, 2018, at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Visit their website for showtimes and tickets.
Audio Interview: The cast of “Under Milk Wood” at Atwater Village Theatre
Reflecting the milieu in which Dylan Thomas grew up, Under Milk Wood recounts the dreams, gossip and waking hours of the sleepy, Welsh seaside town of Llareggub — a name that seems innocent enough until you read it backwards. A slice of life set over a period of 24 hours one spring day, Milk Wood exposes the secret thoughts and reveries of over 50 residents in the salty fishing town. Unforgettable characters such as Jack Black, the sexually repressed cobbler; Mr. Pugh, who constantly dreams of murdering his wife; sweet Polly Garter, loved by many men, but still pining for long-dead Little Willy Wee; Mr. Waldo, who has impregnated virtually every woman in the countryside; twice widowed Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who dreams of assigning cleaning tasks to her two dead husbands; and town bigamist Dai Bread populate this odd place, and their affectionate charm and humor still captivate and entertain 65 years after it was written. The poetry wafts and enters through one's heart rather than one's head. listen to it here
PODCAST: An Interview with Director Jessica Lynn Johnson of 'Soaring Solo'
I interviewed Director Jessica Lynn Johnson, teacher of Soaring Solo, a how-to series of workshops and individual instruction on creating solo theatrical projects and bringing them to fruition. Jessica is often a one-woman cheering squad for her students, creating unique costumes out of their promotional bar cards and items for Fringe Festival parties. read more here
Katy Sullivan, Victor William in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2017.
Fountain Theatre awarded grant for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living' by Martyna Majok
The National Arts and Disability Center has awarded The Fountain an Arts and Accessibility Grant to support its upcoming West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok‘s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. The grant will assist in funding the compensation of two actors with disabilities for the production opening October 20th. read more here
Activist Theater Company Launches Inaugural Season in support of Los Angeles Justice Fund
The Thursday Night Theater Club's inaugural season to begin with the morality play, “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller, to benefit families in the Los Angeles area.
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA (August 14, 2018) - Activist theater group Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTheaterClub) opens its inaugural season with Arthur Miller's “A View from the Bridge” on August 23rd, at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The LA Justice Fund will receive a percentage of each ticket sold during the 10-week run. read more here
Rogue Machine Theatre trades Hollywood for Venice
Rogue Machine, one of Los Angeles' more prominent small-theater companies, is heading west this fall, relocating from Hollywood to Venice.
“We've been looking for a permanent home for 11 years,” artistic director John Perrin Flynn said with a laugh.
Several factors are behind the move. Most pressing: The company's current home, the Met Theatre on Oxford Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard, is for sale and couldn't guarantee long-term occupancy, Flynn said. At the same time, the 99-seat Electric Lodge in Venice was in search of a resident company and appealed to Flynn as a black-box space with flexible seating arrangements. read more here
Sleep Out: Stage & Screen
Broadway and Hollywood unite to sleep on the street for one night so homeless kids don't have to.
4.2 million kids in America will face homelessness this year.
Covenant House provides these young people with safe shelter and wrap-around services, including education and job training, so they can move forward to an adulthood free of poverty and the threat of homelessness. read more here and donate to the cause
Queens Theatre to Offer Free Training for Early-Career Actors With Disabilities
Applications are now open for the new training program for Deaf and disabled performers.
New York City's Queens Theatre is now accepting applications for its free fall training program for early-career Deaf and disabled actors. Part of the organization's Theatre For All initiative, the new two-week program will run September 16–28 and will be made up of various workshops culminating in a showcase performance.
All workshops and events will take place at Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Actors will be selected through an application process through August 22; read more here
Minority Voices Theatre
Local theater project looks to confront Eugene's diversity issues
Local theater directors Carol Dennis and Stanley Coleman had been churning around the idea of a diverse project for about six years after noticing a lack of diversity in Eugene and its reflection in the theater communities they were a part of.
“I grew up in Miami,” Dennis says. “I spent my 20s in New York City doing theater, and my 30s in Los Angeles doing theater. When I came up here for life situations, I wanted to do theater up here, and I realized just how white it is here, how small the communities of color are.” read more here
Monthlong exposition to highlight emerging veteran artists
11 locations will feature different artists
MADISON, Wis. - This November, emerging military veteran artists will exhibit two- and three-dimensional visual art, theater and performance art, music and writing at 11 different locations throughout Madison.
According to a release, "In Good Company: An Exposition of Emerging Veteran Artists" will display works that reflect the veteran experience.
Both veteran and civilian curators are organizing the events as a way to ignite discourse. Art created by veterans is starting to become a larger genre, the release said. read more here
FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Inflatable yellow theatre barge pops-up on east London canal
This year's Antepavilion is an inflatable arts venue on a barge that unfurls in just 12 minutes, created by architects Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers.
Called AirDraft, the floating theatre boasts a balloon-like construction that means it can deflate in five minutes, allowing it to manoeuvre easily under bridges along London's waterways. read more here
Queensland Theatre's Artistic Director Sam Strong.
10 things theatre companies can provide to artists
Too often conversations around the careers of artists can get lost in the abstract. To counter that, Queensland Theatre Artistic Director Sam Strong gets practical.
ArtsHub performs a wonderful industry service for artists: spotlighting careers, highlighting the challenges of different cities, and shining a light on neglected parts of the sector.
However, a voice has been missing from these conversations. That voice is the voice of companies, the providers of opportunities to artists. read more here
Actor, writer and director Richard Lucas of “Bono and The Edge Waiting For Godominos” discusses the inception of the idea for the show, its fruition fueled by the ongoing “Serial Killers” serial show series at Broadwater (formerly known as Sacred Fools), their successful run in various venues throughout California, his new book “The Dog Log,” and the future of “Bono and The Edge Waiting For Godominos.”
“Bono and The Edge Waiting For Godominos“ stars Richard Lucas as Bono, Curt Collier as The Edge, Jeff Blumberg as Lucky, and Bruno Oliver as Domingo.
After recently returning from PianoFight in San Francisco, the “Bono and The Edge Waiting For Godominos” now heads to The Majestic Repertory Theatre in Las Vegas for shows on Friday, July 13, 2018, and Saturday, July 14, 2018, each night at 10 p.m.
For updating info on future shows visit their website or the show Facebook page.
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THESE WINNERS who have registered their shows on Better Lemons and encouraged audiences and critics to voice their opinion about their show, regardless of the outcome, and to those who submitted all the reviews from online publications! read more here
The Blank Theatre's Founding Artistic Director Daniel Henning Named a 2018 Pride Honoree by California Legislative LGBT Caucus
Daniel Henning, the Founding Artistic Director of Hollywood's Blank Theatre, has been named a 2018 Pride honoree by the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. A special floor ceremony was held on June 18 during the California State Assembly floor session in Sacramento. Honorees were presented with resolutions in commemoration of their accomplishments and contributions to the LGBT community. read more here
Audio Interview: The cast of “The Blade of Jealousy” at Whitefire Theatre by Ashton Marcus
Dashing Melchor moves to Los Angeles to court his online dating connection but unexpectedly falls in love with a mysterious veiled lady (Magdalena), and she with him. He later meets her sans veil but is unimpressed, thus igniting Magdalena's jealousy–of herself! A madcap comedy of disguise and deception, Henry Ong's modern take on a 17th century Spanish play is surprisingly relevant today, in light of society's obsession with outward beauty and how it relates to self-worth. listen to the podcast here
AUDITION: She Loves Me
Set in a 1930s European perfumery, we meet shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who, more often than not, don't see eye to eye. After both respond to a “lonely hearts advertisement” in the newspaper, they now live for the love letters that they exchange, but the identity of their admirers remains unknown. Join Amalia and Georg to discover the identity of their true loves… and of all the twists and turns along the way! get the breakdown here
Audio Interview: The cast of “THEIR FINEST HOUR: CHURCHILL AND MURROW” at Write Act Rep's Brickhouse Theatre by Ashton Marcus
This full-length play sheds light on the unique relationship between Winston Churchill and Edward R. Murrow during the early years of WW II when England was under attack by Hitlers air-force. Murrow, who was covering the war for CBS Radio News, not only became friendly with Churchill, but had a passionate and adulterous love affair with the Prime Ministers daughter-in-law. listen to the podcast here
A Conversation with June Carryl by Roger Q Mason
I met June Carryl back in 2010 when the two of us were participants in Directors' Lab West. Her ideas about theatre mesmerized me because of their narrative specificity and rootedness in sound dramaturgical practices. In 2011, June was part of my playwright renaissance: I'd taken about 3 years off of writing in order to find out why I still told stories through this medium. When Son of SemeleTheatre invited me to present my play ONION CREEK, an Adam and Eve tale set in rural Texas, I immediately called June because she was an exciting theatrical mind whom I knew would direct the HELL out of that piece. My instinct was right – her work on the show was wonderful. But more importantly, I learned that she was a fellow writer, and her mentorship of my creative development process (as a burgeoning post undergrad finding his way in LA's theatre scene) helped mold the writer I am today. read more here
Audio Interview: The cast of "The Foreigner" at Little Fish Theatre
Charlie, a pathologically shy Englishman, accompanies his friend Froggy on a trip to rural Georgia. Charlie is overcome with fear at the thought of having to make small talk with strangers, so Froggy informs the locals that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and speaks no English. From the author of The Nerd comes another sidesplitting and heart warming comedy brimming with misunderstanding and mischief. “one comic surprise after another.” — THE NEW YORKER listen to the podcast here
Audio Interview: The cast of "The 39 Steps" at International City Theatre
The 39 Steps — Hitchcock meets hilarious in this fast-paced comedy mystery thriller for anyone who loves the magic of theater. Train chases, plummeting planes and old-fashioned romance lead to a death-defying finale as a cast of four actors breathlessly reenacts hundreds of characters, locations and famous scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film of the same name. Winner of the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the 2008 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. listen to the podcast here
A White House without art
This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed. read more here
Fountain intern Saif Saigol is passionate about theatre and social activism
Hello Fountain community! My name is Saif Saigol and I am the new Development Intern at The Fountain Theatre this summer.
A little bit about me: I am an Indian-Pakistani-Canadian raised in Montreal, Quebec. I came to the US in 2012 to pursue my high school studies at a boarding school in Connecticut. Currently, I'm an undergrad student with a Music Major and Gender & Sexuality Studies Sequence, and I'll be graduating from Claremont McKenna College next Spring, in 2019. Music, theater, and all performing arts are my passion and source of comfort in life. As a performer, I've trained classically as a vocalist for 6 years, and specialize in the Lied and operatic traditions. I'm also a proud member of the Claremont Shades, a co-ed a cappella group of the Claremont Colleges. read more here
2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards Announced
The fourth annual Stage Raw Theater Awards – celebrating the best work in L.A.'s intimate theater scene as determined by StageRaw's jury of critics will take place on Monday night, August 20, 2018 at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. read more here
Bringing boring theatre to the masses
We're into the thick of the summer theatre season, so lets see what's on offer down the road at Stratford.
The cover of this year's Stratford Festival playbill features "The Music Man." And you can't help but notice the title role of Harold Hill, the shyster who bamboozles the 1912 white-bread midwestern town of River City is, unconventionally, played by a black actor. read more here
At One California High School, Gender Neutral & Color Conscious Casting in “1776”
The musical 1776 has been a favorite of my family's for decades, but I never considered it for my high school's annual musical until I realized the opportunity that lay in gender-neutral, as well as color conscious, casting. read more here
14 Theatre Stars to See on the Big Screen This Summer
Catch stage favorites Daveed Diggs, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, and more at the movies.
Whether you're a Hamilfan who's been waiting with bated breath for Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal's lauded film Blindspotting, or you've been looking for a romantic comedy starring your stage favorites, here are 14 stage stars taking their talents to the big screen from now until Labor Day. read more here
‘I'm determined to leave this landscape in better condition than when I found it,' writes theatre-maker Mish Grigor. Photograph: Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images
Theatre shuts out the working class. I'm devastated to think of the voices silenced
Middle-class stories about middle-class problems continue to dominate the stage. That needs to change
In 2015, I made a theatre show, The Talk, about my working class family and their working class sex lives. I interviewed them about their sexual histories, and edited their stories into verbatim scenes that I get audiences to read. read more here
Dame Gillian Lynne obituary
Choreographer and dancer who breathed new life into musical theatre with the hit shows Cats and The Phantom of the Opera
Since the 1970s, British musical theatre has boasted a professionalism and audacity once thought exclusive to Broadway. Much of the credit, entrepreneurial and creative, has gone to Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but an equally vital force was the choreographer, director and dancer Gillian Lynne, who has died aged 92. She pioneered a striking fusion of ballet, jazz and vaudeville dance, most famously in Cats (1981). read more here
Theatre binge-watching: how long could you sit in a theatre?
Another two-part stage play has opened in the West End, just down the road from the Harry Potter double bill. But how long could you sit in a theatre - and is theatrical binge-watching here to stay?
Seven hours is a long time to sit anywhere, not least in a West End theatre with limited legroom. read more here
A theatre experience for babies, performed in a tent
You've heard the one about the bull in the china shop, but what about the crowd of babies in the theatre?
A trio of Christchurch women have launched a theatre company offering shows aimed at babies and toddlers.
Cubbin Theatre Company's first show Up and Away opens on July 3 in the Isaac Theatre Royal's Gloucester Room. read more here
Edgy theatre content sparks off-stage debate about trigger warnings
New audience advisories warn of specific plot points that could trigger emotional trauma
If you want to trigger a strong response from theatre folk, ask them how they feel about trigger warnings: The debate about if and when to use them has the theatre community deeply divided.
These new type of audience advisories warn of specific plot points that may provoke psychological trauma in some audience members. read more here
Playwright Charlotte Jones: ‘The middle-aged female voice is not heard enough in theatre
After a string of early hits, Charlotte Jones abandoned stage writing for TV, radio and film. Now returning to theatre with The Meeting, she tells Holly Williams how women writers are still marginalised in the industry
A pacifist, Quaker community during the Napoleonic wars may not be the obvious setting for a thriller or passionate love story. But Charlotte Jones is a playwright used to pulling off unusual juxtapositions and her first play in seven years, The Meeting, brings together all those elements. read more here
A view of the Globe Theatre, Bankside, London circa 1600, the first Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men but was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)
The Globe theatre fire of 1613: when Shakespeare's playhouse burned down
On 29 June 1613, the original Globe theatre in London, where most of William Shakespeare's plays debuted, was destroyed by fire during a performance of All is True (known to modern audiences asHenry VIII). But what caused the fire and when was the new Globe theatre rebuilt? read more here
A history of theatre in 30 quotations: ‘Acting's just waiting for the custard pie' by The Irish Times
‘Beckett is a confidence trick perpetuated on the 20th century by a theatre-hating God' read more here
Fire-eating, glass-walking, circus aerial, magic, burlesque, costume crafting, comedy, and acting—British actressCat LaCohie fits all of these skills into her life and her new solo show “Vixen DeVille Revealed", coming to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June.
Having performed regularly at The Viper Room, LA Convention Center, The Roosevelt Hotel, Harvelle's Santa Monica and Long Beach, and at The Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, and with multiple television appearances like “Masters Of Illusion,” she also teaches her craft both privately and in group workshops with classes that range from “Introduction to Burlesque & Body Confidence”—where she teaches you to “embrace the freedom to express yourself...the good, the bad and the wobbly!”—to full “Solo Act Development”, along with “Costume Crafting” and specialty performance skills that include fire performance, aerial and more.
Also currently performing with the Doll Face Dames, where there are over 30 people in the troupe who perform in rotation throughout LA, LaCohie often serves as a form of host—or Mistress of Ceremonies—a position she found through her unique use of comedy, burlesque, and having the additional benefit of a British accent in Los Angeles.
In that, she works up the audience in preparation for the show to come, laying out the rules and restrictions with charm.
"We want you to be loud and rowdy, in certain ways!," said LaCohie. "So as the host we'll get people up and shouting. We'll tell you what the rules are—don't touch the girls, don't do this, do this, don't do that—It's kind of like a stand-up comedienne."
Starting her career in burlesque in 2006, she performed for nearly eight years in the U.K. When coming to Los Angeles, she only brought three burlesque outfits, just in case she needed them, because her idea and goal was to focus on acting.
"I figured, if I need to, I can make some money doing burlesque," she said. But ultimately, she simply missed it as a performance artist and decided to continue her style of burlesque performing in Los Angeles, which then lead to teaching.
Photos by Monique A. LeBleu Cat LaCohie, Vixen DeVille, teaches burlesque technique, style, confidence, personalization at Madilyn Clark Studios, in Burbank, Calfornia, April 9, 2018.
She began teaching basic burlesque routine moves for a company, which she found pedestrian at the time. But in conversations, people expressed fascination and a desire to perform themselves, but had reservations varying from body confidence issues to disbelief that they could ever learn the skills or master the courage.
"I met people who said 'Oh, I could never perform burlesque!' or "I could never do ... but, want to do it!,'" said LaCohie. "If you have anything in you that wants to do this, then why are you talking yourself out of it?"
In teaching, she then began focusing not on the dance moves, or the technique of it. "Looking at your confidence, looking at your character, what pleases you, and what you're going to have fun doing in front of an audience ... do you want to show your dark side, or your fun side, or your sexy side," said LaCohie.
Aside from burlesque, LaCohie is trained in fire performance—including fire eating, fire fans and fire spinning, and body burning—aerial performance, and glass walking, the latter of which she incorporates a dance where she rolls in glass and experiments with ballet. But her experimentation has not been without dangers.
From minor injuries to her knee and legs while performing in an acting class in the UK, to more serious injuries while focused and teaching after coming to Los Angeles.
Early on, while training in the Meisner Acting Technique, she thought to incorporate the new skill of glass walking into a scene with another student. After smashing a bottle in the scene, while focused on the scene, she knelt into it - a risky transaction for the yet fully trained glass walker.
Cat LaCohie, Vixen DeVille, at Madilyn Clark Studios, in Burbank, Calfornia, April 9, 2018.
"[during the scene] I thought, 'Why is it cold?' And there's blood dripping all over me. And my teacher goes. 'Whatever hinders you is your task, continue with the scene!,'" said LaCohie, so she did. "So then the guy with me in the scene is helping me mop up the blood. So I thought, 'Well I guess I can't kneel down in it!'"
Another incident, in a distracted moment while teaching, LaCohie leaned back into preset broken glass, cutting deep enough into her hand to tear tendons. Once again, she quickly made temporary self-ministrations to her wounds so that she could continue while teaching in the moment, leaving a lengthy and costly recovery for a future time.
Encouraged after speaking with friends who've participated in the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival, LaCohie has now decided to pull her skills into a solo show. For the annual festival that brings Hollywood smaller theaters to the forefront of attention each summer, she will premiere “Vixen DeVille Revealed.”
Incorporating burlesque, circus, magic, comedy, LaCohie promises to reveal “the truth behind her multi-talented Burlesque persona, ‘VixenDeVille'”, and invite you to “discover your own inner Vixen.”
With a limited VIP Experience, she will even teach you to eat fire or walk on broken glass, live on stage as part of the show.
Tomorrow I'll pick up my final pay check. It's my “last day of service” at the great University of Southern California, where I've taught in the School of Dramatic Arts for 31 years.
I started as a simple adjunct instructor with a single improv class, and I ended up improvising my way to becoming a full-time “Associate Professor of Theater Practice”. Non- tenured… but still impressive in my parents' eyes, and not anything I could have anticipated or imagined when I graduated college in 1969 with a degree in Frisbee.
That's almost 50 years ago… during which time I grew up, became an adult, became an artist, a modern dancer, a poet, a documentary filmmaker, a director and producer, a story teller, an educator, and most surprisingly… a professional clown. I hustled, hassled, worried, and fought my way to a career in the arts, in Chicago, in New York, and for the last 35 years, in Los Angeles. During that last…. almost half century, I've had my share of successes and disappointments. I've won some awards and been ignored many times. I've had cancer and been lucky enough to survive it, along with many other, near-brushes with death. Fifteen years ago, I got married for the first time to an Indonesian woman 31 years younger than myself (anything magical about the number 31?). And even more recently, I adopted a son at age 68. Me, 68, not the son.
But tomorrow is my “termination date”, after which I will no longer receive a salary, health care, life insurance, or any of the many other benefits I've taken for granted these last many decades. I'm throwing myself out of the academic nest, off the retirement cliff, to see if I have any wings left to fly. To see if I can create a “third act”, you know, the last act of a contemporary play, after which the curtain comes down and the stage goes dark. I wonder how many more years I have left to live, and if I'll have enough money and ingenuity to thrive, to still live with some creativity, risk-taking, comfort, and grace. They didn't teach us about the “third act” in school. And by that, I don't mean the “third act” of a play.
“Life is what happens while you're waiting for your plans to work out.” John Lennon, the iconoclastic Beatle and one of my childhood heroes, supposedly said that, but I'm convinced that he overheard it from a little old lady in Liverpool. In any event, I've certainly found it to be true. Because any plans I ever made… never really materialized. Yet along the way, by saying yes to the opportunities that came my way, by following my gut, my needs, and my instincts, somehow… life has “worked out”. Then again, life has a way of doing that… “working out”…. one way or another. Some times better than others. But almost always in ways you can never have predicted.
I'd like now to take a look back… on my unpredictable life, not via the full blown memoir route, but via the short-order “retirement” version… to make some sense out of it all… to thank some people and some circumstances… to give some context to this so-called “third act”. And to hopefully, do so in a way… that is not all about… myself.
I was born in “New Yawk” in the late, post-WW2, Baby Boom 1940s.
Me and my generation grew up in the Ike Eisenhower, buttoned-down 1950s, until we collectively erupted in the mid 1960s, into sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The word “erupted” perfectly fits the needs of my childhood- adolescence personality, as I was too self-conscious and too repressed to ever take a dance step, sing a note, or do anything that I didn't think would please my parents and make them proud. That's why I think it's ironic that I first became a modern dancer and a clown, two the most far-fetched and unimaginable careers this straight-laced, well-behaved young man could ever have stumbled into. But as I said, life has a sense of humor, and I had… the need. As apparently did…. my whole generation.
I was supposed to become a New Yawk Jewish, “my son, the doctuh”. Unfortunately, along the way to that expectation, I dropped calculus 3 times in college at the University of Buffalo, and physics twice. Amidst the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of the late 60s (or at least the drugs and rock ‘n roll; as I was abysmally late to the sex part), I discovered that I didn't want to become a doctor, that was someone else's idea, and that I wanted instead to discover who the hell I was. The drugs helped, expanding my mind and perhaps setting me free; then one bright, icy-clear day in the windy City of Chicago, I climbed an old wooden staircase… into my future. (https://www.culturalweekly.com/finding-new-voice-windy-city/)
I became a modern dancer and I didn't open another book for the next seven years.
I discovered my body, the 95% of me that existed below my head and over-stuffed brain. I discovered movement, freedom, self expression, instinct, improvisation, and… a part of myself that my 22 years of formal education had completely neglected. I discovered… my “self”. And as I said, I think that's what happened to “all of us”, to the youth movement of the era, to the kids who rebelled against conformity, materialism, and convention, who became “hippies”, artists, and part of the “alternative culture”. Bob Dylan and the Beatles led the way – into politics, protest, Eastern religion, peace, love, and the erstwhile “sex, drugs, and rock ‘roll”.
But of course, it was hard to hold onto these values, activities, and ideals as we grew up and aged, long after we helped end the Vietnam War and pass civil rights legislation; long after Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. Some of us became parents, had to hold down reliable jobs, became “yuppies”. The ideals faded as many of us had to button down ourselves, just like our parents before us, and our children no longer wanted to celebrate and preserve our “hippie” ideals, but instead dismissed them as silly and unrealistic. They wanted instead to become successful business men and women, to become rich and famous, to own start ups, dot coms, and brimming 401(k)s.
But now here's the rub, as I, as we, retire 50 years later. Were they right? Our kids? And their kids? Was I, were we, wrong? Were freedom and transcendence superfluous? I mean, for me, “art” was my god, my way to “transcend” myself. To be bigger than myself. To connect with and touch others. To be part of the whole. I rejected the idea that it was only money, wealth, accumulation, and security that mattered. While now I wonder: are those the very prerequisites, and lessons of, old age, contentment, and retirement?
I certainly didn't think so, or care, as I outgrew my black tights and dancing days, became a crazy clown in my 30s, founded and directed NYC's Resident Clown Troupe, the Cumeezi Bozo Ensemble, ran for Mayor of New York City as clown Gino Cumeezi in 1977 and finished 5th out of 4 candidates.
I held onto my artist identity with all my might. I didn't want to let it go, to compromise it. I was an artist, a clown; I spoke truth to power. I would find a way to make a living… which I did… while the NEA was still generous with grants to small non-profit arts companies. When there was a will, there was always a way. Even if we clowns had to do corporate parties for the likes of Macy's, Cunard, and George Steinbrenner, the owner of the NY Yankees and the Donald Trump of his day, we did it. Happily. We traveled to Holland, Switzerland, and France… as clowns! We were celebrated, feted, and well-paid. At least… well enough.
Then I simply got tired of being the clown king of New Yawk, of running non-profit arts companies, with too many legs and too many mouths to feed. I took a leap out on my own, trying just two legs, as I assaulted the Hollywood TV and film industry by moving from New Yawk to LA in late 1982.
I failed… miserably.
Partially because I wasn't a very good actor…. becoming someone else; I was always better at being myself. Furthermore, I just didn't like the life of an unemployed Hollywood wannabe – actor, writer, director, producer. Pitching myself to agents, taking meetings, doing auditions… I just didn't have the thick skin or stomach for it. It seemed like “the work” was always trying to “get work”. Whereas I was used to “working” as an artist… taking dance classes daily, rehearsing daily, teaching daily, clowning daily. I simply didn't like the beggared life of the aspiring, but mostly unemployed, Hollywood actor… whatever.
Fortunately, I was offered a job to teach that single improv class at USC's School of Theatre in 1986, by newly-appointed Dean Ric Toscan, whose play I had directed with offbeat, enthusiastic, and apparently, improvisational aplomb. And before I knew it, I was out of the Hollywood wannabe business, and into both my long teaching career in academia, and back into my self-motivated, self-producing career as a multi-disciplined artist.
First I directed friends' one person shows, then I did the first one myself in 1988, taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was “short-listed” for “Best Show of the Fringe”.
Then in 1989 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin 's disease, cancer of the lymphatic system. I was shocked. Dismayed. Scared. “Why me?” Was I going to die at age 42? But… after 6 months of chemo therapy under the good care of Dr. Daniel Lieber, I was pronounced to be in remission, and soon found myself back on the carousel of life. A little wiser and less angry, I hoped, but by 1990 I had begun a documentary film, “The Poet and the Con”, about my relationship with my criminal uncle, Harvey Rosenberg, trying to figure out why I identified more with my outlaw uncle than I did with the middle class, conservative part of my family. How was an artist like a criminal, both living outside the law, by their own rules? Seven years later, the film premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland, and then it ran theatrically for four months at three different Laemmle Theatres in LA, due to the support and enthusiasm of Greg Laemmle, the current namesake of the LA art house movie theater “chain”.
Right after my recovery from cancer, I also started producing City-wide arts festivals: the poetry segment for Peter Sellars in the 1990 Los Angeles Festival, then the Santa Monica Festival '91, WORD/LA, an Oral Response to the Rodney King Verdict in 1993, and Solo/LA in 1995 at CBS Radford Studio.
Since then, the new millennium has found me reading my own work regularly at spoken word and poetry events at Beyond Baroque, usually under the aegis of Eve Brandstein's “Poetry in Motion”. I've developed and produced many solo shows of new artists at many of the Hollywood Fringe Festivals that have won “Best of the Fringe” awards. I've traveled the world on several Fulbright grants, and created Word Press blogs of my own: “Trules Rules” and “e-travels with e. trules”, as well as blogged for the Huffington Post and theCultural Weekly. And most recently, I've done a TEDx Talk, and now I seem to be spending most of my creative time working on, and promoting, a new travel podcast, also called “e-travels with e. trules”
For all the years that I've taught at USC (1986 – 2017), both as an adjunct and then as a full time member of the faculty, the job and the institution have supported my life choice of being an artist. I was one of the lucky artist-dinosaurs who got a job at a university, through no effort of my own, teaching something I love, while at the same time, being able to have an income, health care, a retirement account, and maybe best of all… 3 and a half months off every summer, and almost a month off over the winter holidays. I was fortunate enough to work with Gordon Davidson, the godfather of LA theater and founder of the Mark Taper Forum, when I brought him to USC near the end of his life and we co-taught classes for a couple of years together, inspiring and instructing a new generation of hopeful theater artists.
On paper, it sounds like “a wonderful life”, right?
In reality though, and in my own experience, it hasn't been easy, not without its many challenges, confrontations, and life-changing choices. No life is… very simple at all.
But now… three days into this story… I'm officially “retired”. I have already picked up that final pay check and paid for the first month of my wife's and son's new Kaiser Individual and Family health plan. It's not cheap. And I don't qualify for the Affordable Health Care Act, desperately fighting for its life in Congress, not to become Trump's “American Health Care Act” of 2017.
Our country is not kind to its poor or middle classes. Or to its aging population. To those without power or wealth. Why no one has to pay Social Security taxes when they earn more than $118,000 a year… is an unanswerable abomination of a question. Why health care is not a right of all American citizens and residents, like it is in the rest of the civilized world, can only be answered by the humongous greed of our insurance companies and the insatiable appetite of the capitalistic system.
Our country is not set up for a comfortable “Act Three”. And what I think is a real oversight, even an educational crime, is that we Americans haven't been educated or prepared for retirement or a “third act”. I mean, why didn't Ike Eisenhower and his School Board require all us Baby Boomers to take a class in economics? In real estate? In investment? In health care? In retirement? In aging and dying? Because… as we're quickly finding out, and we should have been forewarned, aging isn't for the weak of heart, or… as our great American novelist, Philip Roth, says, “Old age isn't a battle, it's a massacre.”
Shut up, Trules! You still have the rest of your life in front of you. Why don't you see it as an opportunity? As the glass being half full instead of half empty? Who knows what you can create in these next many years, for as many as those may be? Why don't you just keep saying “yes”, like you've done for all these years; that's what the improvisational rules of life demand?
Because… there's good part of me (or maybe not so “good”) that is scared to death. What an idiom! “Scared to death”. What exactly does that mean? We all know death is coming, right? Even though our society and culture try to avoid and escape the reality at all cost. Instead we try to preserve life with medical, technological wizardry as long as scientifically possible… even long after the quality of life is gone. In contrast – to other countries and cultures – who accept death… as part of life. Who push their aged off into the frigid sea – on icebergs – when it's time to let go and die. Who respect and care for their elders. Who worship their ancestors and expect them to come back for an annual visit on the Day of the Dead. Mexico. My wife's Indonesia. Most simpler and more “primitive” cultures. But… who has it right? And who has it wrong?
So yeah… I'm scared… not so much of dying… but more of running out of money. Of losing health care. My Social Security. My Medicare. Of facing the “massacre” unprotected by the society and country I trusted and believed in.
I don't know what more to say about “retirement”. Other than perhaps… “I used to be a Theater Prof at USC for a while. It was one of my many careers in the arts. Sure, it was for a long time, 31 years, and I was a lucky man, but that was Act 2. Now it's time for the leap into Act 3… my last.”
Do I still yearn to go into an empty theater, to create theatrical magic out of a simple black box? To tell stories? To see other peoples' shows? To live a “life in the theater”? Honestly, I just… don't know. I'll have to see.
For now… I just want to stay healthy. Play tennis a few times a week. Help raise my 10 year old son. Teach him well. Do simple things. Take care of the garden. Walk the dog. Not plan too much. Enjoy the day. Walk around, re-seeing my city, Los Angeles, anew. Live life… one day at a time. Since none of us have figured out how to predict the future… or know when our run will be over…. then I figure… I might as well try to enjoy the time I have left.
I'm sure the rest of my life will be revealed to me, just as my life, until now, has been revealed… created… one day… one year at a time.