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 .