Sunday, October 5, 2008

364.4 Smoots and One Ear

Today, a high school friend of mine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumna drew my attention to the fact that MIT was honoring former chairman of the American National Standards Institute and the former president of International Organization for Standardization Oliver Reed Smoot, Jr. for also being the basis of a unit of measurement: the smoot, fifty years ago when the young Smoot was used by his brothers in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity to measure the Harvard Bridge that connects Boston and Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue.

The Boston Globe has run a story on the ceremony honoring Smoot.

In the intervening decades, the story has became such an important part of Boston area folklore that in 2003 that when I premiered my performance piece, "Beacon Hill Panorama with Paper Airplanes" (a piece inspired by James Van Looy's habit of flying paper airplanes off of Bill Barnum's roof during Cosmic Spelunker Theater rehearsals) at Green Street Studios, the passage that received the strongest audience reaction was:

Paper airplanes trace arcs
dragging eyes over the Longfellow Bridge
as it sends red and white 01700s to and fro
a Cambridge cityscape sunset silhouetted
under mammoth crane-hoisting scaffolds
and then towards the
three hundred and sixty-four point four smoot
and one ear length of Mass Ave Bridge
spanning the Charles meander meander waters
and past the defunct Citgo sign still flashing
marking Kenmore Square under a Venusian firmament pin-prick.

The full text of the poem later appeared in BOOM! For Real edited by Ian Dooda and Steven Coy and published by Better Non Sequitur.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bread and Censorship: Making Radical Theatre Uncontroversial for Wikipedia

Mark Stoneman drew my attention to a CNet article on the sheer number of edits conducted on the Wikipedia article on Sarah Palin not just on the day of her unveiling as a vice-presidential candidate, but in the hours leading up to her announcement.

This caused me to return to a journal entry I had written in May of this year regarding the politically motivated rewrites of the Wikipedia article on Bread and Puppet Theatre founder, Peter Schumann ("When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person"), especially since his current exhibit at the Flynndog in Burlington, Vermont has once again placed his work on my radar. I found that the biographical article on Schumann had been censored yet again, this time to remove any discussion of his positions vis-a-vis the Holocaust, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In my previous article, I had noted that one contributor (an anonymous user with the IP Address of in Cambridge, MA) while acknowledging that there had been some dispute over Schumann's artistic representation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, had also introduced the unverified claim that Schumann's family had been refugees from Nazi Germany (a claim that contradicts Schumann's own statements about his childhood.) I also noted that another contributor (with the address of in Sarasota, Florida) erased the names of Schumann's critics, and even went so far as claiming that the reception to the work had been "quite positive" when, in fact, it had been seen as contentious whether it had been exhibited in Boston or Burlington.

I brought these matters to the attention of a wikipedia editor who uses the handle Moonriddengirl, who revised the article to present a neutral point of view, while still mentioning the dispute around the exhibit. ("Update to "When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person")

However, on August 24th, an anonymous contributor with the IP address of (somewhere in Seminole, Florida) published a revision in which the entire section entitled "Palestine Exhibits" was deleted. The writer from had only this to say:

Palestine Exhibits: was deleted. It was a thoroughly biased attack on Schumann's character due to political disagreements.

Compare this assessment with what was deleted:

In 2007 Schumann premiered "Independence Paintings: Inspired by Four Stories" in Boston and Burlington, Vermont.[2] The series was inspired by ten days Schumann spent in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, as well as John Hersey's 'The Wall', a graphic account of the birth, development, and destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany during the Jewish Holocaust. The series proved controversial, with critics labeling Schumann's works as "anti-Zionist", "anti-Semitic" and "sort-core Holocaust denial", accusations Schumann denied, stating that "I’m not saying that what’s happening in Palestine is the same as what happened in Warsaw . . . but it’s certainly a reminder."[2] While Schumann later acknowledged that he "may have unnecessarily hurt some people's feelings" with the series, he returned in 2008 to the theme of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his subsequent art series, "The University of Majd: The Story of a Palestinian Youth", which addresses a case of what Schumann believes to be false imprisonment in Israel.[3]

Was this actually a "biased attack or Schumann's character"? That is something best judged by people other than myself. However, the real problem is that we are seeing censorship of any mention of contentious positions taken by an artist who has for decades been a leading figure in radical theatre in America, censorship of criticisms he has received, and a reluctance by his self-appointed defenders to even write about his immense contributions to puppetry and theatre. Indeed, Schumann's allies are censoring mention of controversy in which Schumann clearly wants to be embroiled.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Once Again: Disturbing News From Burlington, Vermont

Recent correspondence with Michael Strauss an artist and scientist who teaches at the University of Vermont, both by email and on his blog has alerted me that once again the deceptively named Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) are sponsoring the exhibition of Bread & Puppet founder and artistic director, Peter Schumann's artistic representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While, I have not seen the work that is on display this year, it was Schumann's misrepresentations of this conflict (as well as misrepresentations of conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto) that caused me break off relations with Bread and Puppet Theatre in February of 2007 after having performed in all Boston-area shows since November 2003.

Strauss came to my attention when first began to address Schumann's connections with VTJP's anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, and Holocaust denying agenda. In a blog entry entitled "The Art of Social Consciousness? I Believe Not", Strauss examined Abdullah Dourkawi’s winning entry in the International Holocaust Cartoon Contest at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and why an organization that claims to be committed to a "Just Peace" would publish such a cartoon on their website. This has caused Strauss to continue examining anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic cartoons featured on the VTJP website and to address the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has begun to appear in the peace movement.

VTJP, as it happens, is exhibiting Schumann's "The University of Majd" at Flynndog in Burlington as part of a show entitled "Palestine in Resistance: 1948 - 2008." The dates are interesting, as 1948 is the year that the UN Partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into both a Jewish and an Arab state. Unless the curators mean also to include resistance to Jordan and Egypt, they mean to label any Israeli sovereignty anywhere as an invasive occupation (which as I have pointed out previously, is precisely what VTJP does claim.)

I did not see the "The University of Majd" when it was exhibited in Boston in February of this year for reasons explained in this interview with Greg Cook of The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, so while I am uncertain of the exact content of the work, I do know that it is specifically aimed at casting Israel in a negative light without discussing the over all context of the conflict.

Thus far, the reportage from Burlington on the situation seems to be harder to come by than last year, and I had only come upon a single article by Sally Pollak in the September 4, 2008 edition of Burlington Free Press entitled, "Art Hop draws more exhibitors than ever":

Schumann’s art will be part of a group show at the Flynndog, a gallery on Flynn Avenue that participates in the Art Hop. His piece is part of an exhibit called “Open Eyes: Open Minds: Open Hearts,” curated by Bren Alvarez.

“This man has a lifetime of producing artwork that really looks at, and creates awareness about, humanitarian issues,” Alvarez said. “What I felt passionate about was being absolutely certain that Peter Schumann is welcome in Burlington.”

Schumann’s piece, on display at the Flynndog through late October, is called “Wall with Checkpoint.”

“Peter’s been interested in walls, walls, walls,” said longtime puppeteer Linda Elbow, who helped with the installation. “The wall around the Warsaw ghetto, the Berlin wall, the Palestine-Israel wall and the wall between Mexico and the U.S.”

Unlike last year, where Schumann spoke for himself, longtime Bread and Puppet member, Linda Elbow, served as his spokeswoman and created the context of Schumann's anti-Israeli propaganda, by once again creating false analogies. The Berlin Wall was built by the East Berlin government to maintain a police state by preventing East Berliners from leaving or from having direct contact with either West German citizens or their economy; the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto was build by Germany in order to deliberately segregate and starve the Jews that had been deported to the ghetto, thus five-hundred-thousand to six-hundred thousand Jews, roughly 20% of Poland's Jewish population was killed over a period of two years. The Israeli built wall and checkpoints that separate Israel from the Palestinian territories have eliminated suicide bombings in Israel and eliminated IDF counter-strikes to those attacks (obviously walls can be circumvented by rockets, which invite further counter-strikes.) However, the result has been a rebuilding of the economy and a decrease in violence on the West Bank, as well as renewed peace talks between Israel and the Fatah (Hamas, the government in Gaza, is quite another story.)

The point is that the Israeli-built wall that has caused Schumann's ire for two years simply cannot be sensibly understood as analogous with the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Berlin wall, or currently imaginary wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. When Israel's attempt to defend its citizens from terrorism is likened to an instrument of genocide, one simply engaged in a 21st century version of the blood-libel. It's not the "hard-core" Holocaust denial advocated by such figures as David Irving or Bradley Smith but a "soft-core" Holocaust denial that seeks to trivialize the significance.

The piece is made from brown papier-mache with black-paint definition and includes hand-printed banners from Schumann’s 17-question series.

Among the questions: “Whose money?” and “Whose pleasure?”

Based on additional documentation on the Flynndog's website, the "17-question series" in question is a series of wood-cuts entitled "17 questions about the War in Iraq: an elementary Iraq war inquiry." The attachment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while a common ploy amongst anti-Israel propagandists the world over, is nothing more than unsupported lies.

And this is the crux of the problem: It's not that art should not tell the truth; it's that art should not lie.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arlecchino Am Making Polenta

After getting the play that I'm currently referring to as "Total War: The Overly Ambitious First Play By Ian Thal" (though I'm toying with the alternate title of "Papers in the Snow") to the point where I am seeking staged readings, I have decided that I enjoy being a playwright, and I am already trying to figure out which of many projects that I could work on, I should work on. Even more importantly: How do I start on any one of them?

Sometimes, when confronted with too many creative options after finishing a project, it is easy to not know what to do next, and it is easy for an artist to feel without purpose. So yesterday, I took the improvisation I had developed with inspiration from Dario Fo's La Fame dello Zanni ("The Starving Zanni") and typed up a one-person one-act play, "Arlecchino Am Eternally Ravenous."

Immediately after, I made polenta with gorgonzola. I feel much better now.

Photo by Shannon O'Connor

On With the Process!

It was in May that I last gave a progress report on the play I have been writing (and rewriting) and that was an overly dense self-analysis of my writing process.

Even as I was allowing friends to read the 97 page draft, I began my own rereading process and immediately discovered that despite my belief that I had written a piece with a three-act structure, it actually had a five act structure, with the second and fourth acts contaning the catalysts that make the beginning, middle, and end of the story different from one another.

I also discovered a terrible number of typos: enough that I felt the need to apologize to the friends to whom I had entrusted sample copies. So, again, pen in hand, I went page by page, correcting errors and rewriting dialogue. By the time I had typed up my corrections, the 97 pages had become 103 pages, and I sent new copies to the friends who asked if they could give a look.

One friend wrote back and urged me to move on to staged readings. We agreed that any further rewrites require the involvement of actors and other theatre artists, that this listening process is what is needing to transform this text into a performable script. So that is my new mission.

I've submitted to a few local groups who are openly soliciting new plays, and have had some positive response from one (though not yet a commitment to a staged reading.) However, I am still learning to navigate the Boston theatrical world, and it isn't always clear what avenues are open to a new playwright who is unaffiliated with a university. How many doors are open to me of which I am unaware? Is it beneficial for me as an artist to attempt a staged reading beyond the Boston area? How many readings will I need before they cease to have value? Will any of this lead to a production?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Open Air Circus, August 1-3 in Somerville, MA

My mime and commedia dell'arte students will be performing this weekend as part of Open Air Circus' 23rd annual show.

The performances climax 6 weeks of summer classes for the youthful performers.

All shows are are in Nunziato Field in Union Square, Somerville.

View Larger Map

This year's theme is "The British Invasion," a tribute both to Union Square's historical role as the site where George Washington took command of the Continental Army, as well as the British rock music of the 1960s.


Friday, August 1st @ 7pm
Saturday, August 2nd @ 2pm
Saturday, August 2nd @ 7pm
Sunday, August 3rd @ 2pm

Suggested donation is $3.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ian, Capocomico!

I am spending another summer teaching mime and commedia dell'arte to the children at Open Air Circus. Slowly, over the years, my classes have been attracting more and more students as kids from previous years keep returning to me, and bring new students with them, so this summer, I'm teaching two mime classes and one commedia class. The commedia class has gone from five students last year... eight this year, thus necessitating that I sculpt at least three more masks in time for or final show. In the mean time, feast your eyes upon the masks I made last summer worn by the students who inhabited these characters.

This is Arlecchino-- and this is the same mask I've come to wear this past year when I play the character with i Sebastiani. The motley on her head was made by my father as a gift and are the school colors of Boston College, which I was attending at the time.

This is Pantalone. I thought a formal brimmed hat might befit a more modern version of the character. My students often see him as the archetype for Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons.

Il Dottore is a parody of all learned professionals. The hat has been part of my collection since 1994. Once while wearing it at a coffeehouse, studying for exams, a woman called me "Il Dottore" and proceeded to introduce me to some of the characters of the commedia dell'arte. The girl playing Il Dottore is the sister of the girl playing Arlecchino.

Il Capitano is parody of every blustering, lying, narcissistic bully who ever walked the earth. He is often the villain and he is often from out of town. The pin that ties the cape was a wonderful borrowing from the player's mother since it features the faces of a number of commedia characters.

Franchescina is sometimes known as Columbina. Like most female characters, she is not traditionally masked in the commedia but I did not want anyone left out of the fun of wearing a mask so I invented something.

The story about the making of these masks can be found in this earlier post. Right now though I'm at work on three more masks: Pulcinella, Brighella, and Flaminia.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Golem of Church Street

One story that seems to never end for me is one that began when I ended my association with Bread and Puppet Theatre over a mural-sized series entitled "Independence Paintings" by Bread and Puppet founder, Peter Schumann, that juxtaposed the images and text of the Warsaw Ghetto with conditions in the Palestinian West Bank. I perceived both a provocative from of antisemitism and what is sometimes referred to as "soft-core" Holocaust Denial ("soft-core" in that it either minimizes the suffering of the victims of the Shoah, that it grossly misrepresents another event through comparison to the Shoah.)

I revisited the story this past September when "Independence Paintings" were exhibited in Burlington, Vermont as part of that city's annual Art Hop. While I was not present for the events in Burlington, I did follow the controversy that raged in the Burlington press for several weeks.

Perhaps the most moments were on the morning of Saturday, September 8th when Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP)-- whose website I discuss elsewhere-- the organization that sponsored the Schumann exhibition, presented a lecture by Joel Kovel drew protesters. There were many varied accounts of what occurred at that lecture, however, one thing that was clear was that there had been a breakdown in civility (elsewhere, I note that any breakdown in civility originates in misrepresentations made by Schumann and VTJP.)

Perhaps the most powerful image from that day was a flyer by local artist David Sokol that portrayed parading Bread and Puppet puppets, a recent victim of vigilante justice, and the text "Puppets Lynch the Jews." Sokol has since created a book of prints entitled The Golem of Church Street: An Artist’s Reflection on the New Anti-Semitism. The prints are currently being exhibited at the Burlington art gallery, Kasini House until August 9th.

I have yet to see the prints, but the interview that Sokal gave to Margot Harrison in Seven Days has made me excited to see the work. Much of the work, based on the description, presents many icons revered by progressives (of whom Vermonters are accustomed to describe themselves) but in the context of their complicity with antisemitism-- and this part of what is the "New" in the "New Antisemitism" the way that a hatred that has long been associated with theological intolerance, racial hatred, and right-wing extremism, has co-opted the rhetoric of Enlightenment humanism (though, I would note, it really isn't that new.) Sokol eloquently describes his stance towards the phenomenon here:

“My issue is not with the left. I’ve supported the Progressive Party. I’m trying to make a distinction between the left and the fundamentalist left. My definition of fundamentalism is that you no longer see the needs of other people, because your ideology gets in the way.”

I intend to set my eyes upon the prints in the immediate future.

(* Note: it is my practice not to hyphenate "antisemitism", my reason for doing so is that there is no contrasting ideology of "Semitism"-- this is a common practice in the scholarly community. The standard practice, however, is hyphenate.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

More SomerVaudeVille Video from Geek Force Five

Chris Clark of Geek Force Five has put together an eight-minute and one-second video featuring a sampling of the acts that appeared at Theatre@First's production of SomerVaudeVille. An excerpt from my piece, "The Marmalope" starts about 4:40 into the video:

If you have seen Shelly MacAskill's video of the same piece, it is interesting to note how different camera angles create a very different effect when filming mime or dance, though as I stated in my previous entry, it is a matter of translating a three-dimensional art form (four-dimensional if one counts time as a dimension) into a two-(or three)-dimensional medium. The segment that Clark captured is certainly choreographed to be seen from the front of the stage as opposed to the side, while I think the earlier sequence when my legs, arms and torso are bent into a sculptural form for the marmalope (played by my right hand) to run about, works very nicely from the angle that MacAskill presented in her video.

Of course, this leaves me to wonder just how many people were taping the performance?

Also appearing in the video are Can Can Revolution, Uncle Shoe, Heisenberg's Mezzos, Justin Werfel, Gilana and her Hula Hips, and The Pluto Tapes.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mime at SomerVaudeVille

Shelly MacAskill posted this video of my performance of "The Marmalope" at SomerVaudeVille to YouTube, with master of ceremonies, Rob Noyes giving introductions:

It's sometimes hard to translate the three-dimensional experience of a live performance into the two-dimensional experience of video, but it worked well. "The Marmalope" has been part of my repertoire for years but the experience of rehearsing the piece for SomerVaudeville over a couple of months allowed me to further refine it from its most basic idea. "The Marmalope" received its name sometime in the early months of 2005, when Jonathan Samson, while playing Il Dottore at the Svengali Cabaret was asked to identify my species, where upon he said "that is a marmalope." By the following week, an audience member had identified the creature played by my right hand as "a baby marmalope." My right hand has grown up since then.

One thing that made this performance special, is that I realized I had acheived a certain level of mastery in that in at a particular moment, the audience's sympathies were not projected on me personally, or on a character I was playing, but on a character played by my right hand even as the rest of my body was playing a character not particularly deserving of sympathy. No amount of technique can create that.

Ironically, the night following the performance in which I had achieved this small degree of mastery, I was in rehearsals for Chhandika's annual student concert and I was again a novice, albeit a sleep deprived novice. Though the similarities to mime are what attracted me to kathak, kathak is not mime.

Rif, a pianist with a very impressive display of facial hair, was kind enough to take these photographs of the "The Marmalope" from a somewhat different vantage point than that shown in the video.

As a bonus, Kitty Fox of Can Can Revolution and I staged a very brief skit to accompany Uncle Shoe's rendition of "Mistah Moonshine", a hit from 1912 by Charles S. Burnham and Adam Breede:

The moon was Shoe's idea-- I drew my inspiration from Jean-Louis Barrault's Jean-Gaspard "Baptiste" Deburau in Les Enfants du Paradis.

There are also photos of me hanging out backstage with the lovely Can Can Revolutionaries.

After the show, outside Johnny D's, my make-up not quite off yet:

Monday, June 2, 2008

What a Month It's Been!

Between May 1st and June 1st, I've perfomed in four different shows with four different groups, in four different idioms all while continuing the revision and development process on my play. I hope to find time to reflect on all of this activity over the next several days.

On May 1st, I played Arlecchino with i Sebastiani in our production of Il Formaggio di Amore which was my first time also playing a more hands on role as choreographer (which in this troupe is more about fascilitating the design of physical gags.) We already in rehearsal for its quasi-sequel, Il Formaggio di Terrore about which more is forthcoming.

This was followed on May 19th with the reunion of my old group, Cosmic Spelunker Theater. There's even a video on YouTube.

On May 28th, I performed mime as part of SomerVaudeVille, a show produced at Johnny D's by Theatre@First, and found it to be an artistic success, in that I had a brief feeling of mastery when I realized that I had taken my audience's sympathy and isolated it into my right hand. No amount of training I had received could have prepared me for that. I have a follow-up accunt planned very shortly.

Less than 24 hours after my feelings of mastery as a mime, I relearned humility, when after a day at work with too little sleep, I attended a rehearsal for Chhandika's annual student show. Since October of 2006, I have been studying kathak, the classical dance form of Northern India at Chhandika and June 1st was my premiere as a kathak dancer. Somehow I relished going from mastery of one art form to novicehood in another and learned something about both art forms from that experience.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

June 1st: Solo by Sixty: Chhandika's Sixth Annual Student Kathak Concert

It has been a while since I last blogged about my kathak studies under Gretchen Hayden but I've not ceased my studies. In fact, I am performing kathak for the first time as one of the beginning students in Chhandika's Sixth Annual Student Show, Sunday, June 1st. Hopefully, over the next several days, I'll post additional reflections on my training.

Solo by Sixty:
A voyage through the phases of a classical kathak dance concert

Sunday, June 1, 2008
4:30pm - 7:00pm
Peabody School Auditorium
70 Rindge Ave.
Cambridge, MA

General: $15
Children 12 and under: $5
Tickets available at the door.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cosmic Spelunker Bootleg

Chad Parenteau, host of Stone Soup Poetry posted the following video of Cosmic Spelunker Theater's May 19th reunion show to YouTube:

The video was shot without a tripod using the video function of Chad's digital camera-- and covers nine minutes and thirty-three seconds close to the beginning of our show (some of our "Zanni stage management" is cut off.) Astute students of the history of mime will notice that James and I perform Étienne Decroux's figures of Drinking in Twenty-Six Moves and prisé et posé ("To Take and To Give") as Bill recites his poem, "Frail Dog."

Performing together as a trio for the first time in over five years was certainly and interesting experience, and it was interesting to see how well we gel as a troupe the moment we are confronted with an audience, even when performing in the cramped conditions of a venue that typically presents poetry. Indeed, the actual stage area that Out of the Blue afforded us was far less space than we rehearsed in. The entire second half of our show was barely rehearsed, and had a largely improvised feel, though it was based on segments from Waltzing to War a show that James and I had last performed together in 2005. Will there be more Cosmic Spelunker Theater in the future? Unknown as of yet. We will see.

It is interesting that I have yet to sit down and learn how to make active use of services like YouTube when such technology is an ideal distribution system for a performing artist such as myself. In 2001 and 2002 when Cosmic Spelunker was first taking form in a rehearsal space, I had been reading such histories of punk-rock as Steven Blush's American Hardcore: A Tribal History and Mark Andersen's and Mark Jenkins' Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk Rock in the Nation's Capital which had inspired me to think of Cosmic Spelunker as a punk rock band: If I didn't know how to talk to theatres, then I relentlessly found alternative venues for our performances, designed all of our posters, and posted them myself. Of course, given those tactics, rather than thinking of CST as a "power-trio" along the lines of Cream, I should have thought in terms of The Minutemen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


A few weeks back, I completed typing up the changes to my play due to the restructuring process I had mentioned some months ago, reformatted the script as a pdf and passed it along to some friends for critique. I used what seems like a never-ending schedule of rehearsals and performances to give myself a break from thinking about it, and when I could no longer avoid it, I printed up my own hard copy and began reading.

Working with a text on paper is radically different from with the same text inside of a word processor. The tactile experience of flipping pages and writing corrections in ink is more intimate than key strokes or mouse clicks and that greater intimacy causes me to more closely address the actual words of the 97-page script.

What strikes me about reading the current draft is how much a set of revisions I made out of economic necessity of eliminating several characters (it is simply unfeasible for a company to stage a play with so many characters) was also the artistically correct decision to make: the narrative came into greater focus and the underlying motivations of the characters became simultaneously more complex and more clear: making their relationships with one another more layered, and making more explicit the ideas that inform their actions . A character created through the compositing of two characters from the earlier drafts became very much the dramatic equal of the protagonist of the preceding drafts.

Interestingly enough: I also discovered that while I had previously conceived of the play as having three acts, that it makes more logical sense as a five act play-- and no adjustment of was needed beyond the renumbering of the scenes.

That said, as I await comments and dialogue from aforementioned friends, I am reading slowly, word for word, editing dialogue. I am seeing that process that seeks out a structure that best tells the story is not the same process that determines if characters is saying what they need to say in manner they need to say it at the precise moment they ought to speak. Dialogue that is merely functional, on second glance, could be poetic. Some dialogue suffers from having been edited far too many times. Some of these problems can only be solved by crossing several lines and writing something new in the margins or on the back of the preceding page.

[NOTE: reedited for style on August 16, 2008]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Update to "When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person"

My recent post about the politically motivated revisions to the Peter Schumann article on Wikipedia seems to have have an impact on the latest set of revisions.

As I had mentioned before, anonymous contributors had dismissed allegations that some of Schumann's recent work could be legitimately interpreted as either anti-Semitic or "soft-core" Holocaust denial, one from falsely claimed that Schumann "and his family fled Nazi Germany when he was 10" while a contributor from claimed that "the general reception to the work was quite positive."

Since I was ethically bound not to contribute to the article myself (especially because I was mentioned in an earlier revision) I had to find a way for someone to correct the factual distortions, so I posted to the Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons Noticeboard, and received a quick response from an editor using the handle of Moonriddengirl.

Moonriddengirl's revision, while not a full biographic essay, removed the ideologically motivated misinformation and added links to some of the resources I suggested. So while it was the inclusion of my name in the article that caught my attention and it was the deletion of my name that inspired the title of my earlier blog entry, whether or not a wikipedia editor considers me notable for the current revision is not the issue: the important matter is that no longer is Schumann falsely said to be a refugee from Nazi tyranny and that reports that his artistic rendition of the Holocaust was divisive in communities where it was shown are now acknowledged.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

May 28th: SomerVaudeVille @ Johnny D's

As well as everything else for which I am rehearsing (this being but one example) I'm currently preparing for SomerVaudeVille, presented by Theatre @ First, a Somerville based group with whom I haven't worked before. Most of the folk are new to me, but it has been a chance to renew acquaintances with fellow mime, Justin Werfel, whom I first met back in 2004 when I sat in with MIMEtype the MIT mime troupe, as well as with Matt Samolis (AKA Uncle Shoe.)

As Uncle Shoe, Matt is a banjo playing conservator of the American Tin Pan Alley repertoire. As Matt Samolis, he is a rather eclectic multi-instrumentalist. He and I have known each other for years and this time, decided to use the opportunity to collaborate. While one piece we rehearsed together had to be dropped due to time constraints (we will find a way to perform it elsewhere and elsewhen) we have something in mind for this show.

The other acts show include: Jessica Almeida, Ari Herbstman, Erica Schultz, The Pluto Tapes (Andy Hicks), Can-Can Revolution, Heisenberg's Mezzos (Andrea Humez, Erica Schultz, Jessica Raine, and Gilly Rosenthol), and Gilana and her Hula Hips (Gilly Rosenthol).

See SomerVaudeVille on May 28th, at Johnny D's Uptown at 17 Holland Street, Davis Square, Somerville. Show begins at 8:30pm.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May 19th: Stone Soup Poetry presents Cosmic Spelunker Theater

As reported earlier, my old troupe, Cosmic Spelunker Theater has reunited at the urging of Chad Parenteau to perform as part of Stone Soup Poetry's series at theOut of the Blue Art Gallery. The show is on Monday, May 19th at 8pm.

Out of the Blue Art Gallery
106 Prospect Street
Central Square
Cambridge, MA

P.S. An interview I gave with Bill Rodriguez of the Providence Phoenix, during the Van Looy/Thal duo incarnation of Cosmic Spelunker Theater is back online.

P.P.S. The photographs are by Elizabeth Schweber Doles. I designed the poster.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bagels with the Bards, Volume 3

The Bagel Bards. a group of poets I sometimes meet with on Saturday mornings for coffee and baked goods has published the third volume of its annual anthology Bagels with the Bards. As with the previous volumes, Volume 3 was edited by Molly Lynn Watt and designed by Steve Glines. Regie O. Gibson provided the introduction to this year's edition. My poem "Nemo of the Rails" which was inspired in part by my travels with Cosmic Spelunker Theater is included in this volume.

You can purchase volume three from Lulu.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Digg Posts Deleted

Just a note:

I deleted several posts to this blog that were posted by accident. I use a number of social bookmarking sites, including Digg. Yesterday, while looking over past bookmarks I had, quite by accident, published some of my "diggs" to this blog. This isn't an act of self-censorship; I merely wanted my "diggs" to stay on Digg. I prefer to use this blog for a different type of writing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person

Frequent readers of this blog will note that I frequently link to Wikipedia articles on and in most cases, I have found the articles I cite to be reasonably good introductions the topics I mention in passing. When I found myself to be written into a Wikipedia article only to be made an "un-person" a month later in what appeared to be a ideologically motivated revision, I decided to dig deeper into a world of topsy-turvy wiki redaction. In this case, it was not an example of editors determining that I was not a notable individual, but rather an anonymous user erasing certain inconvenient facts, such as myself. This story begins when my attention was called to an article on Peter Schumann because I was mentioned as a critic of his:

the series ["Independence Paintings: Inspired by Four Stories"] was the subject of a sermon by Burlington Rabbi Joshua Chasan on Rosh Hashanah [2] and made longtime company contributor Ian Thal cut relations with Bread and Puppet Theater over the paintings and over the fact that the content of the new B&P show The Battle of the Terrorists and the Horrorists[sic][3].

The revision came from an anonymous editor from the IP address, which belongs to server that appears to be based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey and is owned by Comcast. The revision is dated February 8, 2008, the week that Bread and Puppet Theater was performing in Boston. While Greg Cook would not publish his series to The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research that included interviews with both Schumann and myself for another day, his preview of the show had already appeared The Boston Phoenix.

Leaving aside the need for proofreading, the article was incomplete in that it spoke about the dispute surrounding Schumann's work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yet gave scant attention to any of his notable accomplishments (of which are many.) This is not the worst flaw in a Wikipedia, as articles are collaborative endeavours, someone would be expected to eventually fill in the details, however far off into the future "eventually" may be. What caught my eye was not so much that I was mentioned but this particular passage:

Schumann denied any such accusations [of anti-Semitic content], pointing to how his family escaped from Nazi rule when he was 10, accusing his critics of "over-interpreting" his work and saying :I’m not saying that what’s happening in Palestine is the same as what happened in Warsaw...but it's certainly a reminder. [4].

The citation was from Ken Picard's Septemeber 19, 2007 article for Seven Days, "Over the Wall" in which Picard writes:

For his part, Schumann has repeatedly denied the accusations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial — after all, he and his family fled Nazi Germany when he was 10.

Note that Picard did not specifically state that Schumann claimed to be a refugee from Nazi Germany as the anonymous author from had done. Picard may very well have made a statement that he mistakenly believed to be common knowledge (an error that few, if any, have never made.) However, this is contradicted by other statements made by Schumann, such as in this interview conducted by Rosette Royale that appeared in the March 2, 2006 edition of Real Change News:

I was born in Silesia, which was German. It became Polish in 1945, after the war. It was part of Germany that was given to Poland by the Yalta Conference. Ninety-nine percent of the population of Silesia was made into refugees at the end of the War and we were part of that 99 percent.

Without going too in depth into the complex history of Silesia, one ought note that up until 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, only parts of Silesia had been part of Germany. Of the "Ninety-nine percent of the population" that was deported after the 1945 redrawing of Germany's borders, many of those Germans were settlers who had taken up homes, land, and property from Silesian Poles who had been either assigned to slave labor camps or deported to the General Government area of occupied Poland, or the Silesian Jews who were walled into ghettos or exterminated in death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkeneau, conveniently located in Silesia. Clearly, Schumann's family was a refugee not from Nazi Germany but from the defeat of Nazi Germany.

An article in the August 5, 2007 The New York Times tells a parallel story:

[Schumann] was born in Silesia, now part of Poland, in 1934, the son of a Lutheran schoolmaster. During World War II the family fled to northern Germany, where, as refugees, they lived on scraps gleaned from local farms.

Which indicates that Schumann's family fled from Silesia not due to redrawing of borders but by the advance of Soviet troops or Allied bombing campaigns, not from Nazi Germany, but rather deeper into Nazi Germany. Other articles tell similar stories.

Though I first commented on what I presume to be Picard's error on this blog, I also broached the topic in a letter to the editor which led to a stimulating email exchange with Picard. However, because of my understanding of Wikipedia ethics, I felt constrained from correcting or altering the Peter Schumann article, and instead left a note in the discussion section attached to the article on February 15, 2008:

Obviously, since I am named in this article, it would be inappropriate for me to contribute directly, but I should note that there appears to be a major factual error regarding Schumann's childhood[....]

The points being, 1.) It appears to be an error; and 2.) my understanding of wiki ethics requires that I not touch the article, 3.) somebody else needs to fix it.

However, on March 20, 2008 revision, an anonymous contributor with the IP address of (a server operated by Comcast out of Cherry Hill, New Jersey) to the article changed the text to:

In 2007 Schumann premiered "Independence Paintings: Inspired by Four Stories" in Boston and Burlington, Vermont [2]. The series was inspired by ten days Schumann spent in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, as well as John Hersey's The Wall", a graphic account of the birth, development, and destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany during the Jewish Holocaust. Though some members of the Jewish community deemed Schumann's equation of the concentration camps for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with the concentration camps of the Jews in Nazi Germany "offensive", the general reception to the work was quite positive. Schumann denied accusations of anti-Semitism, emphasizing how his family escaped from Nazi rule in his childhood. [3].

The heading was also changed from "Accusations of anti-semitism" to "Palestine Exhibit." The writer from stated:

I've edited political distortions out of the "Anti-semitic accusations" section, as well as created a section on the Domestic Resurrection Circus, which I can update again soon.

The writer from's removal of the "political distortions" included:

a.) repeating a politically sanitized myth about Schumann's childhood and misrepresenting his family as victims of the Nazis, so to deny any criticism that his work may have an anti-Semitic character or in anyway misrepresents the history of the Holocaust;

b.) deleting the names and acts of any of the exhibit's critics and content of their critiques, thus trivializing the criticism;

c.) trivializing concern regarding antisemitism by using scare-quotes around the word "offensive" as if the likening of the Palestinian West Bank to the Warsaw Ghetto were merely impolitic as opposed to a distortion of known facts; and

d.) characterizing the reception of the exhibit as "quite positive" when press coverage from Seven Days, The Burlington Free Press, The Boston Phoenix, and WCAX; blogs such as my own and The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, and Joshua Chasan's letters indicates that the reception in both Boston and Burlington was best described as "contentious."

Essentially, the writer from has engaged in a form of politically motivated vandalism, possibly motivated by some personal affinity for Peter Schumann or Bread and Puppet Theater or an affinity for the causes Schumann espouses, but most certainly not out of an affinity for Wikipedia's mission to be a high quality free encyclopedia. The lesson that can be gleaned is that while parts of Wikipedia may be well policied by the community of editors, it is possible for less frequently visited articles to either carry unintentional distortions and that articles covering particularly contentious subjects might be manipulated by partisans and must read with vigilance .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cosmic Spelunker Theatre Reunion

Somehow, after a long hiatus, Cosmic Spelunker Theatre is rehearsing again-- not the incarnation of Cosmic Spelunker Theatre that produced Waltzing to War but the original trio of myself, William J. Barnum, and James Van Looy. The three of us had not performed together since the last Movement Works in Progress at the original Mobius Arts Space on Congress street in Fort Point. By coincidence, I had just screened an excerpt from this show for Art Hennessey's class at Emerson College.

Bill had broken his wrist sometime after and took time off from working with James and myself and eventually lost interest in coming back. James and I regrouped as a duo, eventually receiving a modicum of recognition. Chad Parenteau who has in recent years taken over the soon to be thirty-seven year old poetry venue, Stone Soup Poetry had steered our countless exchanges towards persuading me to return to Stone Soup. Despite our friendship, I had been reluctant due to events that had occurred when I had been on the Board of Directors long before Chad had become involved with the series (though I did become involved with Stone Soup's online journal, Spoonful.) More recently, Chad suggested a Cosmic Spelunker Theatre reunion to both Bill and James-- they agreed and once he had Bill and James on board, I agreed as well.

In an email dated March 28, 2008, Chad wrote back:

I'm so stoked you're coming back. I thought when I asked James to contact you that I was basically doing my impression of Lorne Michaels trying to reunite The Beatles.

Which besides begging the question as to how Stone Soup became solvent enough to offer us a check for US$3,200-- makes me wonder how it was a performance art troupe managed to become the Beatles of the Boston Poetry Scene during our hiatus. (The British rock analogy I was working with at the time however was that of the "power trio" in part because we were aiming for the sensory overload associated with such groups as The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream.) Obviously, we had an impact on somebody.

Currently, rehearsals seem to be aimed at recreating our performance at Mobius for the much smaller room at the Out of the Blue Gallery (incidentally, Cosmic Spelunker's first show was in the original Out of the Blue location) with some material from Waltzing to War and some of Bill's compositions.

The Cosmic Spelunker Theatre Reunion show will be on Monday, May 4th at 8pm at the Out of the Blue Gallery at 106 Prospect Street, Cambridge MA near the Central Square.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Formaggio di Amore

I'm currently in rehearsals with i Sebastiani in a show entitled Il Formaggio di Amore ("The Cheese of Love"). This time, as well as playing Arlecchino, I've found myself in the additional role of choreographer.

Ultimately, in a troupe where improvisation on a scenario is the norm, choreography is a collaborative effort, but it's given me a chance to craft some complex physical gags, be more involved in the blocking of scenes, and even help my fellow cast members develop the physicality of their characters as well as trying to solve problems suggested by the director. In the process, I've even choreographed my first (albeit brief) fight scene.

In playing Arlecchino, I find myself continuing with the character I developed in my interpretation of "The Starving Zanni" with healthy dose of inspiration from Harpo Marx and Animal from The Muppet Show thrown into the mix.

The first performance of Il Formaggio di Amore will be at the Barony of Carolingia' s annual May Day celebrations at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts on Sunday, May 4th at about 5:30pm. The event is free and open to the public, but as the Barony is affiliated with the Society for Creative Anachronism, an attempt at pre-1600 clothing is requested.

In the meantime, enjoy these photographs from i Sebastiani's April 1st, 2007 first performance at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. I blogged last year about our second performance in the museum's auditorium. This first performance was in the museum rotunda. Photographs are by my father, Jay Thal. Catherine Crow was Isabella, Alex Lehman was Oratio, Michael McAfee was Pedrolino, Kristin Page was Mother Superior Olivia, Carl West was Arlecchino and Sophie, whose last name escapes me, and I had only met that weekend, played Flaminia.

A comparison between the photographs of each performance will reveal that I began the day with a beard and that later, I was clean shaven, though in actuality I was always clean shaven as the beard was prosthetic. The problem being that as a very physical performer, my sweat has a tendency to dissolve spirit gum, the adhesive used for theatrical make-up. At some point during a tumble, my beard went flying into the audience, so I decided to do without the beard for my second performance as Pantalone.

Click here for the full set of photographs.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Can You Identify These Puppets? Part II

Last summer, I asked my readers if they could identify two Javanese Wayang Kulit puppets I had acquired at a yard sale.

So far we have had a number of opinions, but still no definitive identification of our two figures, other than a consensus that they are Javanese and not Balinese in origin (which is what the seller informed me)-- one anonymous poster identifies them as being specific to Central Java.

The first figure, who has a red face, an elaborate headdress and a gold body certainly seems to be of noble or royal office, but we are still no closer to putting a name to him. One friend of mine suggested that he was Rāvana from the Rāmāyaṇa but that contradicts the seller's statement that both figures were from the Mahãbhãrata. Indeed the previously cited anonymous poster suggested:

the first charachter might be Baladewa [...] definitely not Ravana.

Of Baladewa, I know nothing, and of whom I have yet to find an English language reference-- I do not even know if he goes by another name.

The second, smaller, blue figure was clearly of a lower status than the more elaborately dressed figure, and I was eager to assume that he was one of the comical figures of the Wayang known as punokawan but my anonymous poster seems vehemently opposed to that hypothesis.

The second (the blue guy) is definitely NOT a punakawan.

Once again, can any reader identify these puppets? How can one know that they are one figure and not another of similar status? I would so like to know their names so that I can learn their stories.

Teatro Punto Workshop

Two weeks ago, I attended a day-long commedia dell'arte workshop conducted by Carlos García-Estévez and Katrien van Beurden of Teatro Punto. As commedia dell'arte is a rich tradition with a long history a day-long workshop could never be adequate to teach all there is to know, but neither is the time I have put in working first with the short lived Teatro Commedia, and currently with i Sebastiani, nor could the class I teach at Open Air Circus could have taught me all that I need to know as a commedia performer. Conversely, any opportunity to add to my knowledge, skills, insight, and experience with commedia is desirable.

Teatro Punto's approach to commedia is not that of historical recreation, but to take the archtypes represented by the masks and discover them in the contemporary world. All of the historical techniques of commedia are still relevant as ever, but the goal is not to indulge nostalgia, but to reflect a world that the audience recognizes.

The workshop began with a series of exercises revolving around being prepared to act in and react: an ability needed in the world of improvised theatre. Standing in a circle, we had to respond to any number of tasks, each round introducing a new tasks: tossing and catching balls, trading places with one other, passing objects, singing, stomping one's feet (this last one was quite simple for me owing to my kathak studies) all while staying in communication with one another. When one is multitasking in this manner, one realizes just how often one's mind has a tendency to drift, even in the altered state of performance.

Afterwards, we experimented with the physical stance of different characters-- something I have been doing since my earliest studies as a mime-- how different characters are made manifest by emphasis or inclination of the pelvis, abdomen, chest, or head. One insight I did gain was that while some of these stylizations are typical of specific of various comic archtypes, they are also representative of different theatrical genres, the puffed up chest that would serve an innamorato, or an arrogant Capitano while not appropriate for tragedy might also be appropriate for melodrama.

During the lunch break a few other workshop participants and I joined Carlos, Katrien, Judith Chaffee, a theatre professor at Boston University, who was acting as the host for the the workshop (check out her website, During lunch Carlos and Katrien discussed their time studying with Antonio Fava and how their approach to commedia differs, and we local participants discussed the difficulty in building an audience for any sort of physical theatre in the Boston area.

On returning to the classroom and began work on our own lazzi, encouraged to use mime, grammelot (nonsense syllables that resemble an actual language.) Afterwards, we were given a primer on the technique of the traditional leather mask-- how to hold it when placing it on the face and also how one is supposed to use the face behind the mask: Counter-intuitively, the face does not become passive when covered: all masks require holding one's eyes wide open, and certain masks (some of the vecchi, for instance) demand that one cover one's teeth with one's lips.

Katrien explained that in the early days of commedia, the actors were often hungry and desperate, and this did not only force them to innovate, but it meant that the tragic dimensions were as visible as the comedic. In modern western societies, there simply is little reason for an actor to be literally starving. Since withholding food was not an option as we had all eaten lunch, a new technique was added to create desperation: Carlos acted as an interlocutor for every one of us-- often disrupting the lazzo we had created earlier, with questions about our character's backstory, whether we are keeping our eyes open under the masks, and whether we were making contact with the audience or just going through our rehearsed lazzo. This was the most difficult part of the workshop, with many unexpected results.

A workshop is not just an opportunity to show off the technique one already had, or to learn new techniques, but to learn about one's own short comings as a performer. In my case, I realized that my own dedication towards developing my technique-- both in terms of the precision and skill of my mime work, and the detail with which I craft my routines, while an attraction to the audience, is also a shield I put up to avoid being vulnerable to the audience-- and so, something that this performer must overcome. That said, I highly recommend Teatro Punto's workshops to any performer interested in commedia dell'arte.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Presentation at Emerson College

Art Hennessey, playwright, actor, and director who works with the Essayons Theatre Company and whose Mirror Up to Nature blog I frequently read invited me to be a guest presenter in his "Arts, Entertainment and Society" class this past Monday at Emerson College. The class is part of Emerson's certificate program in Cultural Journalism which provides journalists with the background to report on arts and culture.

I brought along some video and a couple of masks to demonstrate my work, but the presentation, led as much by the questions posed by Hennessey and his students as by what I was interested in discussing was free-wheeling and ranged from how I came to be in the arts, how I came to be a mime (which allowed me the opportunity to show video of my work with Bill Barnum and James Van Looy in Cosmic Spelunker Theater), to how do I reach my audiences, my interactions with the press, the rising importance of blogs for dialogue about the arts, as well as how outside economic pressures structures what form art work takes and how it is presented.

I even demonstrated a short excerpt from my "Arlecchino Ever Ravenous."

Hennessey and I, being both writers and performers shared the observation that sometimes maintaining our blogs seems to cut into energies we should be devoting to our "real" writing and rehearsing, while at the same time noting that it is becoming a more important outlet for writing than ever before. In my case, my blogging has had influence on controversies in Burlington, Vermont, been included on the reading list of a course at Royal Holloway, University of London, led to my being interviewed and even allowed Hennessey and I to talk about the more structural aspects of playwriting as we shared the subway ride home.

Monday, March 17, 2008

This is Not A Protest (1999)

Chad Parenteau posted a previously unpublished account of prankster and spoken-word artist, Rich Mackin's performance piece "This is Not a Protest" in which I played a small role. The year was 1999, an innocent time before the so-called "death of irony."

Before and during this non-event, [Mackin] offered the following written statement on a small flyer: "The week of 8/8/99 the cover story of US News & World Report was '1000 years ago'; Time and Newsweek both featured 'The Blair Witch Project'—No news is good news.

"The First Amendment guarantees our right to freedom of speech–even though we have nothing to say! Forcefully assert your apathy!"

Read the rest of the article here.

If memory serves me correctly, the "Sarcastic People for Apathy" sign was my creation.

Pictured: Joselyn Almeida, Zoz, Rich Mackin, and Andrea Kulish

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Photos from the February 9th Show

Thanks to my friend, Shannon O'Connor, I have photographic documentation of my recent show at Willoughby and Baltic. As well as being a showcase for some of the repertoire I have been developing over the past several years, the show was an opportunity for me to try some new material out on an audience. One new piece was a corporeal mime and mask piece entitled "O, Mister Sun" and the other was a my first attempt at a solo commedia dell'arte piece that was inspired by the Dario Fo's performance of La Fame dello Zanni, a classic lazzo from the traditional repertoire. My version includes a visit to both Paradisio and Inferno in Arlecchino's quest to fill his growling belly. The full photo gallery begins here.

Special thanks to Meredith Garniss of Willoughby and Baltic for inviting me to perform again.

Somerville's newest newspaper, The Powderhouse posted a review of the show to its website

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes on the NEJAR interview with Peter Schumann

As noted earlier, Greg Cook interviewed both Peter Schumann and myself regarding Bread and Puppet's recent show at the Boston Center for the Arts and the controversies surrounding his recent work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his email interview of me, excerpts of which appear both on this site and on the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, Cook asked me to respond to some of Schumann's statements.

There were also a series of questions that Cook posed during a face to face conversation on February 1st, which while not transcribed, were thought-provoking and I will attempt to explore these issues as I comment on some of Schumann's other statements. Boldface italics represent Cook's questions; plain italics represent Schumann's responses. The first quotes come from part two of the NEJAR interview:

Well, it’s something that we can’t talk about because it’s so electric. It’s very difficult to even begin a discussion. It seems like you’re consciously going there because of that.

Yeah, I think it’s unfairly so. I think it’s awful that the Western community does not interfere with what Israel’s doing as an occupation force. The Western community does not do anything about it. They don’t even speak up against it. They don’t do anything. They basically serve as the Israeli propaganda for the events there. They give us what the embedded reporters give us from Iraq, which is the picture of the perpetrators.

I'm not certain as to which "Western community" Schumann refers. Given such incidents as the British Broadcasting Corporation's 2002 reports of a "Jenin Massacre" in which hundreds of non-combatants were allegedly slaughtered, was later dispelled as propaganda, it would seem that the largest news agency in the world has for some time been serving as anti-Israeli propaganda. In addition, we can look at the failed attempt to sponsor a boycott of Israel by the National Union of Journalists (a union that serves journalists in both the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.) Neither conform to the picture Schumann presents. Indeed, if we examine the media of most other Western nations, it is quite probable that we will see quite the opposite of a pro-Israeli bias (I haven't done such a study, and clearly, neither has Schumann-- however the Anti-Defamation League has done a study of European attitudes.) Indeed, this claim that "The Western community [...] serve[s] as [...] Israeli propaganda" seems very similar to the old canard of Jewish or Zionist control of the media.

[Your critics]seem to say your work doesn’t represent that the Israelis are doing this to fight terrorism from the Palestinians. And so that by not representing the Israelis’ problems you’re being unfair.

I don’t know. It’s like when you go to any war naturally the guerillas who rise up against occupation forces are to be blamed for atrocities they commit, but that’s not on the same page with the atrocity of the occupation. Take an extreme case like the Nazis in Poland. Naturally what the Polish and the Russian guerillas probably did against the Nazi soldiers was probably pretty horrible, dismembering them or burning them or putting them into cement walls, or whatever they could to, probably, to punish them. Is that on the same page as the very fact of the invasion?

Leaving aside that Schumann is again comparing Israelis with Germans (which he claims not to be doing) he is conflating the distinction between guerilla warfare and terrorism. Guerilla warfare is generally understood to be the tactics used by small mobile armed groups against larger, less mobile military organizations. Terrorism, on the other hand, is violence against civilians in order to pursue ideological or political objectives, often by irregular forces. While both are acts of violence, it is terrorism, not guerrilla warfare, that the Israeli government considers an obstacle to peace with an entity representing Palestine.

However, this conflation of guerilla warfare with terrorism, is just one conflation among many-- such as the likening of the West Bank Wall with the Warsaw Ghetto Wall, that is, the likening of a non-lethal anti-terrorist strategy with a tool of genocide, that first inspired my parting company with Bread and Puppet, criticism from Rabbi Joshua Chasan, criticism by arts writer, Ric Kasini Kadour, and ultimately a breakdown in civility at last year's ArtHop in Burlington, Vermont.

The other disturbing element of this answer is the repeated word "probably" in the phrase, "what the Polish and the Russian guerillas probably did against the Nazi soldiers was probably pretty horrible, dismembering them or burning them or putting them into cement walls." [My emphasis.] No doubt such behavior would be against the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, but rather than state such atrocities did occur, or that there were contemporary reports of such actions, he stated that such acts of sadism probably happened.

There is no ethical excuse for any of this violent dealings and revenging and so on. There isn’t. Ethically this is wrong. But a state always takes exemptions from these ethics. So as the U.S. does. And so does Israel. It’s a fascist democracy just like the U.S. is. And these fascist democracies that are not real democracies, but fake democracies, they do as they wish. They build their ethics with the help of ethics professors as they go. They just have to find the right ethics professors, and they do all the time. They pay enough and so they find another ethics professor. That’s the sad story.

This is an interesting quote because it forces us to ask several questions of Schumann: If there is no ethical excuse for revenge, then why the opposition to the West Bank Wall, which barring a working peace settlement, is the only non-lethal means of short circuiting any perceived cycle of revenge currently on the table? What are the criteria by which the U.S. and Israel are fascist, not real democracies? If that is the case, are the forces against which Israel is defending itself democratic and anti-fascist? What is the model for "real democracy?" How is this fable of "searching for the right ethics professor" different than Schumann's own pronouncements on truth and ethics?

The sad thing is that "Fascism" has become little more than an epithet and that is precisely how Schumann uses the word-- instead of as an analytical tool to describe ideologies or systems of governance. (Umberto Eco has an excellent essay that attempts to restore some meaning to the term.) However, this an on-going problem with Schumann's rhetoric, as evidenced in this quote from the first part of the interview on NEJAR:

[...]as the show shows [...] Guantanamo is the logical result of the prevailing consumerism and capitalism in its shape as it is right now. It’s not illogical, it’s not an aberration, it’s a totally logical result of that. So I’m saying the School of the Americas or Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo are not ‘rotten apples,’ as Bush called them, but are directly philosophically correct, pin-pointable climaxes of the system.

While I would certainly agree with Schumann that the torture and rendition programs are not aberrations to an otherwise functioning system, as they have been, time and time again, demonstrated to be the direct result of government policy, it is absurd to say that the institutions of torture, "secret" prisons, and detention without due process are products of either capitalism or consumerism. Feudal, communist, fascist and tribal societies have all tortured and held prisoners without due process. The phenomenon is unchecked power over human bodies, and as shown by philosophers from Friedrich Nietzsche to Michel Foucault, there is neither a singular rationale nor a singular meaning. Societies always include elements of the societies that precede them. If capitalism uses torture as a tool, it is because it follows and interacts with societies that have used torture as a tool.