Saturday, October 23, 2010

Peter Schumann's [Judenfrei]-Christian Skies

It's been quite a while since I wrote a post about Peter Schumann or Bread and Puppet Theatre, but I just came upon the following quotation about Bread and Puppet's touring production of a truncated adaptation of Claudio Monteverdi's opera, The Return of Ulysses:

In order to commit genocide on their competitors, the Trojans, the tricky Greeks employ their multitalented sky, full of custom tailored divinities, to justify the crime, just as we employ our Judeo-Christian sky, occupied by a divine air force and permitted by the in-god-we-trust court system, to justify our atrocities in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere. By order of Jove, the boss, and with special help from his daughter Minerva, Ulysses finally returns home, where he has to murder 100 evil suitors in order to be happily reunited with wife and property.

Some notes:

1.) Any student of Greek mythology knows that the Greeks did not use their gods to morally justify the actions of the Trojan War: both Trojans and Achaeans are portrayed as pawns of the capricious gods of Olympus while the war is portrayed as the consequence of the gods' petty rivalries. Schumann is playing fast and loose with the canon of western civilization just as he does with 20th century history.

2.) I find it interesting that Schumann refers to "our Judeo-Christian sky" but not to our "our Judeo-Christo-Islamic sky." This allows him to ignore acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide by Muslims upon Jews and Christian Arabs-- or between different sects of Islam or even between Muslims of different ethnicities. This also gets back to a conversation in November of 2004 (I was a fly on the wall) where Schumann insisted that Osama bin-Laden was simply an anti-Imperialist and dismissed any notion that bin-Laden was motivated by religious fundamentalism or intolerance.

3.) Speaking of which, Schumann does not, as usual, address his childhood growing up in the Nazi stronghold of Bresleau, or that his father was a Lutheran clergyman during the Nazi era, and Schumann never mentions whether his family supported Naziism or not: after all, this would be his first-hand knowledge of a Judenfrei-Christian sky. In other interviews and reminisces, Schumann speaks of an idyllic childhood of free play and fresh baked bread interupted the day that day Germany was defeated, Breslau was renamed Wroclaw and became part of Poland as he and his family were forced to move westward from the no longer Großdeutchland into the post-war Kleindeutchland. This is part of his overall pattern of presenting Germany as the victim of World War II as opposed to anyone Germany or its allies might have exterminated.

The shame is that Schumann is no longer able to adapt a classic work without linking it to his anti-Israeli animus (which personal interviews repeatedly show to be rooted in elegiac romanticism for his Nazi childhood) especially when he has shown great wit it adapting other works from the theatrical canon, such as his 2002 adaption of Bertold Brecht's and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper as Dirt Cheap Opera.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

100 Hits for Teatro Delle Maschere

Today, YouTube reported the 100th viewing of the video of Teatro Delle Maschere's October 2 performance at Fort Point Theatre Channel's Exclamation Point Event. Not too shabby for a new theatre troupe, I say.

In the meantime, Kenny Steven Fuentes, whom I met after the show (he was there, in part, to see some of his compatriots from the CoLab Theatre Company perform Mark Harvey Levine's "Superhero") gave us a nice write up on the CoLab blog as part of his ongoing discussion on acting:

The characters are over the top, and flamboyant. But they don't seem strained. The performances are at ease, but not lazy. there is a balance between strength/energy and grace/lightness. Each character is specific, and no one seems like they're "Trying too hard." This is what I'm talking about when I describe the difference between Naturalism and Realism. This is far more natural than half of the realistic performances I see. Good acting isn't about being "Realistic". It's about being "Real".

Thanks, Kenny!

In addition, earlier this week, we presented at the Puppet Incubator at Puppet Showplace Theatre (masks are puppets, too), so expect to see us at the next Puppet Slam on November 13th!

You can visit the Teatro Delle Maschere fan page on facebook.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jack Powers, 1937-2010

Jack Powers reading D.H. Lawrence, October 26, 1987.

On Thursday, October 14, 2010, the Boston poetry scene one of its elder statesmen, albeit a troubled and sometimes difficult elder statesmen. This hasn't been the first time I've devoted space to the passing of an artist who has influenced me (and probably won't be the last) but this is not the most pleasant of remembrances. I'm only glad that I had a chance to make peace with Jack Powers while he was still alive.

Much of what follows is not flattering but it's an essential part of the story. If you are looking for a hagiography, please look elsewhere. Outside of rumors and clichés, I am mostly limited to the two years and several months during which I was most closely affiliated with Jack. These two years were, in many ways, the beginning of a decline of a proud man who had done much to nurture poetry.

Jack Powers biggest influence on poetry scene was as founder and long time host of Stone Soup Poetry an open mic he started in 1971 as part of the Beacon Hill Free School. Jack was an evangelist for poetry: encouraging everyone to read, write, and speak poetry. Some of this early history would be recounted in a 1999 interview with ArtsEditor:

So we're sitting around this place saying: what can we name this place that will fit anyone? One of the suggestions was "Cakes and Ales," just because it sounded cute. And I said: well we won't have cakes or ales, so I don't think that's gonna work. Then I remembered this English folk tale. I thought "Stone Soup"—whatever you have to put in the soup is what it is.
Stone Soup would outlive the Beacon Free School and move from one venue to another, and by the time I walked into a Stone Soup reading in the fall of 1999, it was located at the old Zeitgeist Gallery on Broadway and Norfolk in Cambridge. I was already a cocky "spoken word artist" reading at alternative art spaces and loft parties in between bands. I most certainly over estimated my abilities as a writer at the time, but Jack liked what I was doing and took me under his wing, suggesting I read certain poets (Ed Sanders and Gregory Corso are two who would become favorites), sometimes impulsively giving me hosting duties for the night, and encouraging a listening attitude that allowed me to grow as a writer.

However, there was a dark side to this story. Many old-timers on the poetry scene will say that the high point in Stone Soup's history was during it's 1990s stint at T.T. The Bear's. Others will say it was the 1980s at Charlie's Tap or the Green Street Grill. These were years when famed beats and bohemians like Corso, Ferlinghetti, Sanders, and Ginsberg as well as future Nobel Laureates like Seamus Heaney or Derek Wallcott, or future U.S. Poet Laureates like Robert Pinsky could be expected as features. Stone Soup had fallen on hard times, and much of that owed to Jack's increasingly obvious alcoholism. People who had known him for longer than I had, often had a vision of a man of dignity and compassion. Though his charisma was very much intact, by the time he took me under his wing he had begun to lose himself, and this was often why I was charged to take the mic.

In 2001 Stone Soup had moved from the Zeitgeist to the Middle East Downstairs. Even with a PA system, the room was simply too large for a weekly poetry reading. Only the biggest stars in poetry (or those with a gift for self-promotion) could fill a room that size. The fact that there was a bar in the room was also not good: though very few poets drank at readings, the bar was too much of a temptation, and often he would be too inebriated to handle the hosting duties.

There were some who were becoming concerned about the line of succession, and some of them perceived me as the natural protégé, and though I never wanted this role this talk certainly got back to Jack and by then no amount of apologizing could repair the damage that rumors had created. Things got worse when the management of the Middle East determined that after seven months, Stone Soup was simply too unprofitable to stay on their schedule. I don't know if this was ever communicated to Jack but Jack never told us. I intuited that our relationship with the Middle East was deteriorating and checked the schedule, learning that we had been replaced on the schedule with the Middle East's bread and butter: live music; those audiences were more likely to buy drinks.

By this time, I was part of the board of directors of the organization. In the face of the news, Jack was incommunicative. No one else knew what to do. I quickly found Stone Soup a new home at the Out of the Blue Gallery where, as of this writing, it remains, but I wasn't able to shake the accusations that I was "trying to take over." Over the next few months, Jack would often show up late to the reading, sometimes as much as an hour late, or not show up at al, often leaving me to host.

Finally, at a New Years' Eve reading to mark the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, Jack awoke from being passed out on the couch and launched into a long string of verbal abuse at me. This was only one aspect of the evening's unpleasantness as the featured poet and musician, had also decided to show up drunk for the gig, and was herself nodding off during her set (thankfully, this artist did quit the habit a few years later.) That was the point where it dawned on me that bohemia is often very willing to watch its finest citizens self-destruct in slow motion, almost as if it were a long-form performance art piece (and sometimes they would applaud.)

The following week, I quit. Stone Soup would go on without me. A long time denizen of the scene explained it simply: Jack had a pattern of finding himself a younger protégé and giving him more and more responsibilities until Jack finally grew to resent the help. I was not the first and I would not be the last.

My time was not a complete loss. In those years, I had learned a great deal about poetry, and made many friends. My friendship with William J. Barnum and James Van Looy began as a result of my time at Stone Soup led to my studying mime, and the formation of Cosmic Spelunker Theater. For James, who had been a friend of Jack's going back to the 1970s, this venture was a healing process for both of us.

Jack had come to one of Cosmic Spelunker's shows in 2003. I am told he had been moved by the performance, but he and I were unable to reconcile at that point in time.

Chad Parenteau, a friend going back to the spoken word scene of the late '90s, eventually took over the role of the youthful protégé. By this time, Jack had been in and out of rehab programs, but the addiction had lead to a series of strokes. The resulting brain lesions had seemingly killed Jack's addiction and his rage, but had also robbed him of his ability to speak and gesture with his face. Chad had taken it upon himself to repair the schisms that had occurred in the poetry scene over the years and repeatedly cajoled me into coming back.

This eventually happened in 2008, when Chad convinced Bill, James, and myself to reunite Cosmic Spelunker and perform at Stone Soup. Afterwards, the now silenced Jack expressed his appreciation with exuberant gestures. He had become physically very expressive in the years following the stroke. His need to communicate with the world and his refusal to close himself off from any art form had made him embrace mime: we made eye contact and I realized in that moment that all past feuds were over. Chad would have me come back the following year to perform Arlecchino Am Ravenous. Chad was called out of town for work, but I remember Jack thanking me after the show.

I saw him one more time after that when we both came to pay our respects to Brother Blue.

Good-bye, sir: I'm glad we were able to patch things up before the end.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Department of Mistaken Identity

Web Chronicles, which appears to be some sort of automated news websearch aggregator has a page devoted a page to photographs and gossip about far more famous fellow actor, Eric Thal.
Mistaken Identity
A man of a thousand faces, but none of them are Eric Thal.

As near as I can tell, despite the shared surname, we are not even related: The Thals from whom I am descended are Lativian Jews from the region of Courland, while according to an interview I once read after somebody reasonably asked, Eric, if I may be so familiar, despite playing a Hassid in A Stranger Among Us (1992), is not of Jewish descent: his Thals are ethnic Germans.

Mistaken Identity
Eric Thal is not to be confused with Il Capitano, a stock character of the commedia dell'arte

Photos are from a presentation for World Commedia dell'Arte Day as a guest of Orfeo Group, and from a performance at Behind the Mask Theatre.

See also: Ian Thal and the Doppelgängers

N.B. 5:24pm: Kevin Fitzgerald, who took the photograph of me wearing the Arlecchino mask, has suggested that:

"You should show up as [Eric Thal] sometime and play one of his roles.
To which I countered:
According to the web page, I should be showing up for his dates with Charlize Theron, though that might be awkward since I don't think I've seen any of her films.

"Oh Charlize, let's not talk about our film work. Let's talk about my passion for commedia dell'arte and mime!"

I bet Charlize Theron eats at fancy restaurants where this poor zanni can't even afford the appetizers. This little confusion may work out nicely for me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Teatro delle Maschere From Another Angle

After viewing the video I posted yesterday of Teatro delle Maschere's October 2nd performance. Anya Malkina, a friend, graphic designer and web designer who has done work for Behind the Mask Studio & Theatre and had shot photos ofa recent performance of Arlecchino Am Ravenous, sent in this video she took of the second half of our performance, but from stage left.

What I find fascinating about comparing the two videos is how the comparison illustrates that unlike film or television, which, have evolved , theatre is a three-dimensional art form. In this particular clip, even when the Dottore (Jonathan Samson) is obscuring Columbina (Stacey Polishook) and Arlecchino (myself) one can see the two servants' shadows dancing on the back wall.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Premiere of Teatro delle Maschere

In case you missed last night's show.

The Esteemed Dottore of Bologna Offers His Authoritative, Erudite, and Thoroughly Supercilious Meditation on the Mask

Stacey Polishook as Columbina, Jonathan Samson as Il Dottore, and Eric Bornstein on sound effects. Yours truly as Arlecchino.


Stacey, who is both an apple fiend and puppeteer, came up with the Appelina lazzo, which I feel makes for a unique interpretation of the Columbina character.

Jonathan had only flown in from Bangkok earlier that week and had begun rehearsing with us only two days before. Before that, Eric had been playing the role of Il Dottore, in rehearsals (we promise to have him on stage as an actor very soon!)

Grazie to Fort Point Theatre Channel for presenting us as part of the evening's program, Eric for being the catalyst behind the formation of Teatro delle Maschere, Behind the Mask Studio & Theatre for hosting our rehearsals, Toni for her opinions on matters Italian, and Jonathan's father for aiming the camera!

If you enjoyed the show, please become our fan on facebook!