So I’ve been lazy lately, and I haven’t blogged.  I’m sorry. :(

But now I’m back!  And I shall endeavor to be more regular.  Since it’s been so long since my last post, it’s only right to update everyone on the latest major events in my life.

Last weekend, Lara and I went to the beautiful and moving wedding of Michael Conrad and Carly Allen (though they’re both Conrads now), in which I had the honor of being a groomsman.  It was all the way out in Paducah, Kentucky, which was quite the trip, let me tell you.  It was unfortunately made much more stressful because my wife (who, I reassure myself, does know who I am) put my nickname on my plane reservation, instead of my legal name.

The customer service agent at Southwest whom I called the night before we were to leave told me, flat-voiced, that there was nothing they could do; federal regulation prohibits them from changing the name on a reservation, they could get fined thousands of dollars, blah, blah.  Basically, I was screwed.  I turned to Lara, and I said, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to this wedding.”  She, of course, started crying.  I wasn’t too happy myself. [KEEP READING!]

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Too Perfect

March 30, 2009

So, nerd-fession: I read a lot of webcomics.  What can I say?  They’re wonderful.  And Dinosaur Comics has to be among the most brilliant out there.   When I saw the one for this morning, I couldn’t pass it up.  Shout out for the Fear Project!

fearcomic

I listened to the most incredible episode of “This American Life” today.  Stopped me right in my tracks.

You can find it here.  (Just click the little button that says “Full Episode”, and you can stream it.)

Find some time, and listen to it.

much news, much news

March 2, 2009

Well, well, lots of exciting theatre news for me this weekend.  One piece of news for every day, in fact.  We’ll go chronologically.

On Friday I signed on the wonderful Johnathan Hayward, eminent historian and fabulous theatrical personality, as dramaturg for my play in process, The Fear Project.*  I am very excited about this.  I’ve been interviewing and doing research for several months now, and have been kind of getting overwhelmed with just how much information is actually out there.  Johnathan Hayward graduated from Westmont with me with a degree in history, as well as a good bit of experience on Westmont Theatre’s stage.  So he’s definitely got both the proclivity for research and love for theatre that I need for this project.  Plus he’s just an all-around good guy, and I’ve been looking an excuse to do some kind of project with him for a while.  So I think this will be a very fruitful collaboration.  Look for more news about the project as it develops.

mueveme1On Saturday I went to see a wonderful new play by Diana Small up at Westmont, Muéveme, Muévete.  This is the first time that a Westmont student has written a production for Westmont’s main stage, which speaks to Ms. Small’s prodigious talents.  It was commissioned by Mitchell Thomas specifically to reach out to Santa Barbara’s Hispanic community, and thus is written bi-ligually, within the genre of magical realism.  Westmont’s little cast handled its challenges quite nicely, with lots of stand-out performances.  I really enjoy Diana’s writing style and way of looking at the world, and I really hope I’ll get to work more with her in the future.  At least I did, until Sunday.

On Sunday I received a phone call from John Blondell, professor at Westmont and artistic director of Lit Moon Theatre Company.  He has invited me to act in the next two shows Lit Moon is working on: first, an adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” that will be going up sometime in the late summer, and second, a musical sci-fi comedy based on “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells, which will be part of Lit Moon’s World Theatre Festival this fall.  Both of them seem like uproarious fun, and both will be written by Diana Small, which means I get my wish. :)

So it’s looking like it’s going to be a very busy and exciting year for me.  Goody, goody.

____________

*That’s a working title.  I’ve been meaning to do an entry on that project for a while now, but the (very) short version is that it’s a documentary theatre piece about people’s fears, nightmares, and phobias, and why fear is such an inexplicable and inexorable force.

Cheating Again

February 26, 2009

Again, I’m cheating, putting up an entry that I didn’t write.  But thanks to my friend Joe Bunting, I found this incredible (and unusual) article at the Times Online, in the UK.  It is fascinatingly; an article by an atheist saying that Christian missionaries are transforming Africa in a way that secular NGOs and aid organizations simply cannot.  It was too good to pass up.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. [keep reading…]

Salsa!

February 25, 2009

We’ve been making a lot of things from scratch lately.  Simple things, like bread, pasta sauce, and salsa, that a few months ago we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything but buying from a store.  But inspired by a number of things we’ve been reading, we decided to give it a try.

For some reason, my camera wouldnt work, so this isnt actually a picture of the salsa I made.  But it looks very much like it.

For some reason, my camera wouldn't work, so this isn't actually a picture of the salsa I made. But it looks very much like it.

I don’t think we’ll ever go back to store-bought.  For one, all these things made fresh are vastly better than the stuff in stores.  Fresh salsa is worlds better than anything you can buy in a jar.  Second, the “labor-intensive” work of making these things from scratch turns out not to be that hard after all.  Especially in the case of pasta sauce: spend an hour or so making one huge batch on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ve got enough to last you for weeks.  Third, in most cases you save yourself a good bit of money.  A bag of flour costs about $3, and you can make 3-4 loaves of bread with that.

But I think probably our favorite thing made from scratch is salsa.  Lara begs me each week to make it, and generally I’m more than happy to oblige.  The fresh flavors of the simple ingredients shine in a way you’d never have thought possible with a jar of tomato mush from the store.  I’ve adapted this recipe from the wonderful Art of Simple Food by Alice Walters.

TOMATO SALSA

(makes about 2 cups)

2 large ripe tomatoes, or 1 18-ounce can whole* tomatoes (when tomatoes aren’t in season), chopped.

1 garlic clove, diced or pressed.

1/2 white or red onion, diced fine

6 cilantro sprigs (stems and leaves), chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime (or more to taste)

Salt

1-2 jalapeños, seeds removed, chopped fine

Mix very thoroughly.  Add more salt, lime juice, or jalapeño as needed.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

*For some reason, whole canned tomatoes taste better than the pre-diced ones.  Go figure.

The Art of Simple Food is a wonderful cookbook, by the way.  Alice Walters is a guru of the “buy local, cook simple” movement, and I am a recent convert.  Her cookbook is organized around techniques (“how to make a good broth”) and ingredients (rice, beans, grain) and walks you through how to select the best ingredients to cook with, and maximize the flavors of this naturally wonderful food.  It’s made me appreciate the farmer’s market like I never have before, and I’ve learned a ton about the food I eat and how to prepare it better.  It’s also just made me appreciate food more.  In going to farmer’s markets and learning how to select only the freshest, best-tasting ingredients, and then cooking them up in such a way as to maximize their flavours, I feel more connected with what I eat, and thus more connected to the earth and the world around me.  It’s a wonderful feeling, especially with a mouth full of food.

History Nerd Alert

February 24, 2009

AdamsSo, Lara and I spent a good part of our weekend watching an amazing HBO mini-series, John Adams. For all you history buffs out there (namely, Jonathan Hayward and my Dad) you have to check it out.  And even if you’re not, it’s a really great show.  It exposes all the complexities, excitement, and intrigue involved in America’s fight for independence, as well as telling the story of a largely unsung hero of American history: John Adams.  Paul Giamatti is incredible in this role, full of brilliance, bluster, and wig-wearing prowess.  Laura Linney (one of my favorite actresses) is incredibly compelling as well as his wife, Abigail Adams, a source of calm strength and a wellspring of sound advice to her famous husband.  The supporting cast is fantastic as well, and it’s so exciting and interesting to see dusty historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin brought to vibrant life.

If you’re looking for a good way to spend an evening, this is it.

I found a fascinating interview with Robert Wilson at The American Theatre Wing a few days ago, recorded all the way back in 1997.  If you’re not familiar with him, Wilson is a director of spectacular plays, operas, and experimental stage performances, and one of the pioneers of visual theatre.  He’s been considered avant-guarde for the last forty years or so, which gives you some idea of just how extra-ordinary his work is.  He’s famous for his bold use of light; simplicity of gesture, movement and design; and surreal dream-like productions.   He’s also famously difficult. :)  The following are some of my favorite bits from the interview, and some comments.

Einstein on the Beach 1976

"Einstein on the Beach" 1976

Martha Graham said, “There’s no such thing as no movement.”  And John Cage said, “There’s no such thing as silence.” … I think that when we’re very still we’re more aware of movement than when we make a lot of movement.  My works deal with a concentration on maintaining a continuous line.  And this continuous line is maintained by a sense of always being aware of the movement that’s always there.  And by listening with the entire body to the sound that’s always there.  And with this awareness one can always maintain a continuous line. …  [I am interested in] the sounds in silence and the movement in stillness.

… I go to the theatre and so often I see the same problem.  The actor walks over, and he stops. And he walks over again and he stops.  He makes a gesture, and he stops.  And he makes another gesture and he stops.  No no no no no no no no!  When you walk and you stop walking, the movement’s still there.  It never stops. … Whether you’re moving or not moving, it’s one thing. [Emphasis mine]

I think this is an absolutely fascinating idea, and matches up with a lot of my experience and training as an actor.  In trying to make sense of the world we tend to divide it up into sections, delineating one thing from another to organize it all.  That’s useful because it makes reality manageable; otherwise the complexity of our experience can be overwhelming.  But we shouldn’t segment the world so much that we lose sense of the connections between things, the “continuous line”, as Wilson calls it.  Sound waves continue to vibrate the world around us long after our ears cannot pick them up. The effects of our actions extend long past their doing. Wilson is suggesting a different kind of awareness, a softer focus that lets more in, a continuous momentum the extends through stillness. [keep reading…]

Listen

February 20, 2009

[I know it’s cheap to put up posts written by other people, but I read a wonderful passage by Frederick Buechner today, which I couldn’t resist posting up in its entirety.   I think once you read it you’ll understand why.]

“An old silent pond. / Into the pond a frog jumps. / Splash! Silence again.” It is perhaps the best known of all Japanese haiku.  No subject could be more humdrum.  No language could be more pedestrian.  Basho, the poet, makes no comment on what he is describing.  He implies no meaning, message or metaphor.  He simply invites our attention to more and no less than just this; the old pond in its water stillness, the kerplunk of the frog, the gradual return of stillness.

In effect he is putting a frame around the moment, and what the frame does is enable us to see not just something about the moment but the moment itself in all its ineffable ordinariness and particularity.  The chances are that if we had been passing by when the frog jumped, we wouldn’t have noticed a thing or, noticing it, wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  But the frame sets it off from everything else that distracts us.  It makes possible a second thought.  That is the nature and purpose of frames.  The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment. It makes us NOTICE the moment, ant that is what Basho wants above all else.  It is what literature in general wants above all else too.

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention.  Pay attention to the frog.  Pay attention to the west wind.  Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train.  In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein. [keep reading…]

Patience

February 19, 2009

I’ve been waiting for this day for years.  The quintessential question of youth is “What are you going to be when you grow up?”  And by that, of course, we mean “What job will you have?” Well, now I’m here; I’m out of school, and by virtue of the fact that I have a job, I guess that means I’m grown up.  But what I wanted to “be” is lacking.  It seems I’m still waiting around for that magical moment when I’ll have the life I dream of.  Where is that magical career in theatre that will fulfill all the wild dreams I’ve had for so long?

The answer, which I have learned and am learning, is two-fold.  The first and simplest is that I’m going to have to wait for it.  God is not the business of giving us things exactly when and how we want them (usually).  If David spent his entire childhood as a shepherd boy and then had to spend  years hiding out in the wilderness waiting for Saul to die before he became king,  and Jesus spent thirty years working as a carpenter before people had any idea who he was, then I can wait a few years for my life to get more exciting.  But in both these cases, what might seem like a pointless waiting period was actually a vital time of preparation and testing that readied them for them for the difficult “careers” that lay in front of them. [keep reading…]