January 26, 2007

New Blog When You Notice The Stripes

For reasons that remain mysterious even to me, I've started a new blog, temporarily titled This Can't End Well. It's meant to be film-focused (the first entry is the Miami Vice, et. al. post, seen below) which makes it HLHSM 2.0, but then I have this blog as well, and even though it's supposed be defunct, well, clearly it isnt.

So yeah.

Watch this space for the gripping conclusion to An Awfully Big Adventure, and then maybe some other stuff, or maybe that really will be the end of this blog. And keep an eye on the new one, which should continue for as long as I'm trying to cram 2006 releases down my gullet.

Posted by kza at 09:42 PM

Critical Potpourri 1/26/07

Remember the Colin Ferrell who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in Minority Report? What happened to that guy? He doesn't show up in Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann) [38], but then, that's really the least of the film's problems. Ostensibly based on the TV show (which I never saw), the feature version is so bland, so lacking in distinction, it may as well be called Drug Bust!. We know the Mann m.o.: men who define themselves by their work, who have to define themselves that way because the world they live in is slippery, amorphous, and only they can bring meaning to it, while the whole package is delivered with operatic brio. This was best demonstrated by Heat, where his Dostoevskyian universe felt grounded in everyday, banal reality, the grand philosophical crises of cops and robbers undercut, as in the famous robbery sequence, by the dull clack-clack-clack of gunfire.

But where Heat had actual characters to organize this worldview around, here he has department store mannequins named Sonny and Rico, and the drama required to bring his m.o. in focus is replaced by hot air and testosterone. Most scenes are standard issue my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours confrontations between our undercover heroes and drug lords, whose trust they want to earn. But there never feels like there's anything at stake. There's a middle-section romance between Sonny and Gong Li's assistant drug lord or whatever she's supposed to be, and we're expected to care because... why? They have hot monkey sex? All that's left is the visuals, which have been bafflingly heralded in most quarters. At the risk of sounding like A----- W----, I can't help but think this approval boils down to "Oooh, pink sky! I've seen that in real life!"

While there's nothing wrong with appreciating Miami Vice as a series of abstract images, it doesn't really hold up, because there's still an underlying reliance on Hollywood conventions of structure and closure. Had Mann really jumped in with both feet, Drug Bust! could've looked a bit like L'Intrus (The Intruder) (2006, Claire Denis) [70], a spy tale at turns haunting and frustrating. The story, as far as I can tell, is about Louis, an old man living in Switzerland, who is actually a Russian spy. His heart is going out on him, so he retires and arranges to have a heart transplant and, with a new lease on life, attempts to regain ahold of the past that slipped away from him while he was a spy. I think. The film is fragmented and impressionistic, so that summary is possibly full of errors -- and I've seen it twice.

(I want to pause to note that the first time I saw it was in a theater, and near the end, there was a projection problem, and the image started to darken, very slowly, over the course of ten minutes. Despite this, I was always enthralled, and if Louis' problem had been glaucoma, I'd never even known there was something wrong.)

Still, the plot is somewhat secondary. It's the succession of images that enthrall: a baby's smiling face, a dog chewing on a human heart, the black ocean, the oppressive weight and hugeness of a steam ship contrasted with floating ribbons dispersed in its honor. Between this and the monolithic score by the Tindersticks, the film creates a wonderfully oneiric mood, where the distinction between reality, memory, and dream dissolve. Yet this is also the source of my frustrations; at times, it's so cryptic, that it can feel like the movie is drifting off without you. The ending is particularly irritating -- no summation, no resolution, it just disperses the way it floated in. (Does this make me a hypocrite w/r/t my problems with Miami Vice? Then so be it.)

However, the emotional journey of Louis is never less than clear. Despite the occasional obfuscations, we discover just how isolated this old spy is, how pathetic his attempts are to engage with life again, not realizing that, despite his money, his connections, and his new heart, he is no longer the one in control. Louis returns to Tahiti to find the son he believes he has from a past affair (while essentially ignoring the one he has in Switzerland), and the people there play a trick on him. I can't decide if this trick is cruel or hopeful, but it definitely comes out of pity.

A few quick notes about V for Vendetta (2006, James McTeigue) [57]: 1. No, not as good as the comic. 2. Yes, it's been dumbed down, most egregiously in presenting V as an uncomplicated hero, where Moore always viewed him with some suspicion. 3. The direction is pretty clumsy -- repeating Evey's childhood trauma in the present, with the same exact camera setups comes across as comical, and the hectic opening, cramming too much in fifteen minutes, makes the film feel shallower than it actually is. 4. However, a few moments make their way from the comic more-or-less unchanged, like Evey's interrogation, Valerie's letter, and V's confrontation with the doctor, and the movie is stronger for it. 5. Still, I was shocked by how moved I was by the final sequence, invented for the film, where the army of Vs take off their masks, and some are revealed to be characters who had died earlier -- the one moment of fanciful unreality in a film that takes itself way too seriously.

Posted by kza at 01:49 PM

January 22, 2007

I'ma Call You Suckas Out, Take Two

That's right, the Second Annual Onion A.V. Club Film Poll is coming up, and I'm calling on alla y'alls to participate, like we did last winter. Let's get it done, people.

Posted by kza at 02:00 PM

January 18, 2007

A Very Short Note about "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"

I've read that some people think this is a comedy, albeit a black one. If it is, it's the aesthete's version of "Ow! My Balls!".

Posted by kza at 02:49 PM

January 11, 2007

An Awfully Big Adventure, Day Three: Paranoia Man in a Cheap Shit Room

(Actually, not that cheap, but when has the truth stopped me from making an obscure pop culture reference?)

Read "Day One, Part One" here.
Read "Day One, Part Two" here.
Read "Day Two" here.

10. "I'M A MAN"

When we last left our hero, he had crashed on the bed after a four hour improvised performance, followed by a two hour dinner he doesn't really remember. As our hero crawled underneath the sheets and tried to fall asleep, he realized that he had not one, not two, not even three, but four doses of caffeine that day. (Mountain Dew Red, a vanilla latté, a Diet Coke, and a piping-hot tall cup of green tea with milk.)

Sleep was going to be a bitch.

I turned on the TV, because that sometimes helps me sleep. It must've helped a little, because I remember passing out and waking up every hour for the next nine hours or so. But I didn't have any dreams, which is odd for me. Just periods of complete nothingness followed by the light of the TV flickering on me.

At one point, I woke up because something on the TV, some kind of compelling music, managed to work its way through my unconscious state and grab my attention. I turned over. On the TV was, to my addled mind, the strangest cartoon I'd ever seen. I missed the beginning, but it appeared to be about a bank robber on a train who shares a compartment with a tiny Droopy-esque man who's actually a giant monster. What made it strange was the style -- imagine Kricfalusian characters in a Samurai Jack-style world, complete with quiet atmospheric moments. The mise-en-scene of the thing was remarkably sophisticated, at least for a cartoon that was being broadcast at four in the morning. I half-wondered if I was dreaming. When the cartoon was over, I rolled back over and started to fall back to sleep. Then there was oddly familiar music from the TV, and I reluctantly looked up to see what it was.

The cartoon was playing again. And again, I missed the beginning.

When I finally got up in the morning, first thing I did was try and find the name of the cartoon on the internet. I suspect if you Google the plot points of any movie, you can find the title, because it didn't take long to locate Gruesomestein's Monsters: Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Jerk. Give it a look, and watch for the Fight Club homage.

11. SEE POST TITLE

I felt like shit for pretty much the rest of the day. The caffeine hangover was like a concrete block on my head, and I was beginning to translate my sense of failure about my performance from a feeling into words. This, naturally, leads to a bout of mini-depression.

(Anyone who knows me knows that I can get into a bit of a funk fairly easily. I usually come out of them within a day or so, but it also usually means I'm not getting out of bed for the duration. So in some ways, I was lucky I had a hotel room to myself.)

So I spent most of the day in bed, not even getting up to get food. I didn't feel like doing anything, but at the same time, I didn't feel like not doing anything. So I split the difference and watched The Break-Up on my laptop.

Wow, that really cheered me up. Although I have to give Vince Vaughn props for spearheading such an unlikely concept (I can't imagine this getting bought and produced as a spec), it doesn't really work and ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

I considered putting in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu right after, but decided against it -- something with "death" in the title wasn't likely to be a big pick-me-upper. (Just as well I didn't -- see above.)

Mid-evening, I got dressed and went and got pierogies from the Public Market. (Good, but how could they not be? They're pierogies.) The other Forced Entertainment show, Exquisite Pain, was going to start, and so I got ready for that.

12. ON A PEDESTAL

I forget what time Exquisite Pain starts and so I head over to the theater, thinking I'm plenty early. Well, no, I'm only about fifteen minutes early -- there's already a line to get in. Since I'm with the band, as it were, I'd like to think they'd let me in for free, but I'm not taking any chances. I head for backstage and ask Sherri Sadler, our supercool artist liason person, the bearer of hot-green-tea-just-when-it's-needed, if Cath or Rob have arrived yet. They have, so she lets me into the theater. Yay, I'm in! Francis the Tech Guy is there, and offers me the seat at the top of the auditorium, next to the sound board. Well, kind of next to the sound board. It's actually about eight feet away, by itself, so I sit down and feel like both the guest of honor and the dunce in the corner.

The show's great. Cathy reads a series of variations and repetitions on artist Sophie Calle's greatest heartbreak, which alternates with Rob's reading of true stories of other people's moments of great sadness. These stories are accompanied by images on video screens behind them. It's surprising how funny it is, actually, despite how most of the stories are about loved ones dying. It's very different from the Forced Entertainment shows that I grew up with, but pretty representative of the stripped-down, just-the-basics kind of show they've been doing lately -- just two people, two desks, two scripts, two video screens, and a neon sign that says "Exquisite Pain". Some people probably wouldn't even call it theater, which is why I like it.

When the show's done, we all go out to dinner again with Norman, along with Sherri, Christine Evans, and Sean Arden. Christine's a playwright and currently studying Forced Entertainment's work (lucky!), and you can see her site here and her review of Quizoola! here. Sean is a media artist studying at the Emily Carr Institute, and you can see his work here.

By now, after the great show and sitting down for dinner, I'm in a much better mood. The conversation is flowing and the food is passed around from person to person, the way I like it. Sean's a cool guy, a film and TV buff as suits a media artist, and we talk about Veronica Mars and Jacques Tati. Sherri tells us about a interactive theater piece she went to that sounds pretty amazing and awfully creepy at the same time. (I've totally forgotten the name of the theater groups -- it was a team-up -- that put it together, else I'd link.)

Later, a guy comes to our table. He obviously knows Norman, and I think there's some introductions, but it's too loud, as always, to make anything out. Ever meet someone who was really, really successful? Successful people have this aura about them that you can spot a mile away. I don't know if it's the success that gives them confindence and charisma, or if their charisma and confidence that made them successful, or what, but whatever the Bruce Campbellian "it" is, this guy had it. Turns out his name is Sid Katz, and he's the managing director of the University of British Columbia's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. In other words, a wig who's pretty big.

I don't talk to him much, but at some point I hear the topic turn to movies, and Sean and I talk to him about all things cinema. And this guy knows his stuff. Then we hear more about him, and it's pretty amazing. Dude's had quite a life; if I recall correctly, he started out as a scientist, moved onto journalism, and now is involved in the arts. All I can think is, daaaaamn -- alls I got is a blog. And a cat.

Posted by kza at 01:27 PM

January 10, 2007

An Awfully Big Adventure, Day Two: Sheila Take A Bow

Read "Day One, Part One" here.
Read "Day One, Part Two" here.

7. INSTRUCTIONS FOR FORGETTING; OR MARINA & LEE

I get my ass out of bed early (for me at any rate) and take a look out the window. Snow! Holy shit! When did that happen? It's a veritable winter wonderland out there. Luckily, everything on Granville Island is within ten minutes' walking distance, so it's not a big concern. But are people going to come to these theater productions if this keeps up? Maybe the Canadian theater-going populace is more hardcore than me. I'd stay home if I had the choice.

I head over to the Public Market. I grab some donuts from a well-reviewed (if the photocopied news article is any indication) donut shop called Lee's and a coffee and sit up in a little alcove-thingy that overlooks the river. There's an aquabus that runs every fifteen minutes from the Island to the other side, and I plan to take it the next day and see what downtown Vancouver is like.

There seems to be more people on Granville than yesterday. Technically, it's the first day of the PuSh fest, so I assume that people are arriving. I've got my artist badge hanging out over my jacket cuz:

pushartist3.jpg

I'm an artist, motherfucka!
It must be true, it says so right here!

I wonder if anyone will see it and strike up a conversation, because I'm an artist, and therefore inherently interesting. No one does.

It's time for a quick rehearsal at the (cement) repair shop with Rob and Cathy, so I stroll over there. The pit hasn't been covered yet, so we pick a spot in the middle of the room and we go over the rules and intentions of the piece again. For the first time, I get to hold the list of questions. Jesus -- there must be like fifty pages here. Mostly single-spaced. And some crazy-ass questions, too. "What is a tree?" "Where is your vagina?"

We talk about strategies. The idea is to keep it varied -- sometimes the questioner should rattle through questions as quickly as possible, sometimes he/she should give the answerer some room. Although there are two chairs in the performance space, we're free to get up, move around as we see fit -- keep it visually interesting. There's talk of "attitudes". While we aren't playing characters per se, it's interesting to adopt an attitude during portions of the questioning. This usually manifests itself as "authoritarian questioner vs. befuddled answerer", but it's open to other archetypal "roles".

(I get a taste of this during rehearsal when Cathy starts to interrogate me about the names of Wobbles or some shit. She genuinely throws me off-balance, and I just start naming names, which just "angers" her further.)

The key concept explained to me is that the questioner has the harder job than the answerer. At first, this seems counter-intuitive. Isn't the answerer the one with the onus to keep things amusing, interesting, entertaining? But then I'm given the question list and it becomes clear. The questioner controls the pace of the show. The questioner also, by taking an attitude, creates a world for the answerer to engage in via improvisation. Like the example with Cathy, if she's a harsh interrogator, that gives me the opportunity to create an attitude, whether it be brow-beaten or defiant or whatever, and we've instantly created a small theatrical "scenario" within the piece. The questioner is, in a sense, the director of the show -- which is a huge responsibility.

Finally, we have to determine who's on when. The whole thing is six hours, with the audience free to come and go, and it's divided into three two-hour shifts. Rob talks about how, because of the set-up, someone has to take a four-hour chunk by themselves, and how that can sometimes be interesting -- four hours is a long time to be improvising in front of an audience, and the wearying nature of the piece can put the performer into an interestng headspace. I volunteer immediately.

Big mistake. But that's for later.

So we break and agree to meet back up around five, five thirty for the 6pm start time. I grab some Chinese from the Public Market food court and take it back to my room, but my appetite isn't really there and end up throwing most of it out.

8. SHOWTIME; OR INSTITUTE OF FAILURE

I head back and everything is set up: there's a wooden plank covering the narrow pit, the stage is set (which consists of a circle of lightbulbs, as well as two brighter stage lights on the floor), and the chairs are in place. I explore the stage area, as is my wont, and I'm surprised how small the circle is. And how hot. The lights provide enough warmth as is, but there are two big-ass heaters above me, long metal strips that look like supermarket lights without the bulbs. I wonder if our makeup is going to melt.

I'm reminded of something else that was told to me earlier in the day: the performance is going to simulcast onto the wall of one of the neighboring galleries. At the time, I didn't really think much of this -- I don't think I really believed it. Can they do that? With sound and everything? I look up and sure enough, there's a camera up in the rafters. The height and angle of the thing is going to distort the image, I figure -- but yeah, we're going to be on a wall somewhere.

The repair shop's locker room, complete with clothed centerfold, is our backstage. We go there to get into costume and put on the clown makeup. I've never made myself up like a clown before, and they show me how. I don't get the red smear over the mouth quite right, and I look more like a drag queen than a clown, but it's not supposed to be perfect.

(They relate a story about how they brought the show to Russia and had Russian actors [students?] participate, and how the Russians spent hours on their makeup, only to be told to do it again because it looked too professional.)

I'm going first, for four hours, and then I will watch the door for the last two, until midnight. Robin and Cathy are still jetlagged, and there's the possibility that they will fall asleep past ten o'clock if they aren't on stage, but I wanted this anyway. Cathy and I are up first, so we take our positions and start the questions immediately, so that the show is already in progress when the audience comes in. And then they open the doors.

pushartist3.jpg


Yo Chuck, these honeydrippers are still frontin' on us!
Let's show them we can do this, cuz we always knew this!

I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow, not because it would be boring (although it would), but simply because the four hours is now kind of a hazy blur. I remember being rather comfortable, perhaps absurdly so, as people came in, my actorly training taking over. I remember all of us getting a lot of laughs, and being surprised by that, surprised by how appreciative the audience was. I remember asking Cathy how to do the salsa, and then finding myself demonstrating the salsa, which involved unbuttoning my shirt and dropping my trousers. (Note: Never dare me in a theater context.) And then I remember thinking, Oh shit, this is on a wall somewhere. And then I got totally confused as to whether I was the questioner or the answerer, much to the amusement of everybody.

And then I remember realizing, when Rob came to take over for Cathy, how very few of the audience actually left. Yes, people left at various times, but they were always replaced by new people. I'm positive that some stayed for the entire six hours.

Yet the thing I remember most about the four hours was my ultimate failure. Now, I'm not talking about failure from the perspective of the audience -- again, they seemed very appreciative. Nor do I mean to suggest that Cathy and Robin thought I failed -- they, too, were happy with my performance.

However, "Quizoola!" requires a certain level of focus, as well as a commitment to the moment that I simply couldn't muster, at least not for that length of time. While I thought I understood, during rehearsal, the kind of responsibility that being a questioner entailed, it hit be me doubly so during the performance. And I fell down. I did my best to mix it up, but I could never find a rhythm to the questions, or a persona to adopt in order to create a mini-scenario. While Robin and Cathy, both amazing actors with tons of experience with this piece, were able to smoothly integrate all manner of strategies into their performances, I had trouble mustering even a whiff of antagonism, and when I did, it felt hollow and fake, a pose.

(Which to be fair, can be a legitimate choice, but it's only legitimate to me if it's an actual choice, and not an accident or an unconscious, default mode of performance.)

Worse, I felt like, as the hours went on, that I became very selfish with my choices. If the questioner's job is to be selfless, to provide opportunities for the answerer, then I did the opposite. Too often I would reflect the questions back on myself (example: "Why do you do this to me?"), or start with an interesting question from the pages and think I could improvise off of it, only to come up with nothing.

(What I realized later was, if you're going to go "off book", the questions have to be something other than yes or no -- and I had trouble inventing such questions. So potentially interesting lines of inquiry would deteriorate into "Really? Are you sure?" and then die.)

If I'd done it for only two hour blocks, I might have gotten through it okay. But the four hour block killed me. I was hoping that the tiring nature of the piece would propel me into some unexplored place in my performance. (In fact, Rob told me that, usually, people either get more truthful or less.) But instead, I found myself always taking the easy way out, at first with the questions, and then with the answers as well. By the end, the lights were drying out my eyes, and it was all I could do to keep them open. It was easier just to close them.

9. 200% AND BLOODY THIRSTY

Finally, my time was up and I retreated to man the front door. I read my library book ("James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon") and listen to the CD player (someone's copy of The Smith's singles collection). During the show, the snow came down harder and faster, and the temperature dropped below zero, I'm told. I felt bad for the PuSh volunteers who were outside, tasked with keeping track of how many people left the show so they could let an equivalent number inside. But everytime that door opened, I made damn sure it was shut.

After the show, Norman Armour, the executive director of PuSh, comes backstage. Norman's cool -- very smart and enthuiastic about theater. He tells us that it went very well -- there was even a big crowd in the gallery, where the simulcast was projected. I'm happy to hear this.

After the show, we go out for a late dinner with Norman Armour and other PuSh associates. But I'm so tired at this point, so drained, and the loud music is making conversation close to impossible for me, that I really have no memory of it. (I think I ordered some kind of spicy shrimp.)

I get a ride back to the hotel and crash on the bed.

Posted by kza at 01:47 PM

January 09, 2007

An Awfully Big Adventure, Day One, Part Two: B-b-b-baby, I Can't Wait

Read "Day One, Part One" here.

4. YO KZA! IT'S GOTTA BE THE SHOES!

So I'm settled in, finally. I'm in Vancouver, I made it to my hotel room, internet is working and all it cost was a sliver of my pride and self-esteem. Unfortunately, I now have to deal with some mistakes I made in planning.

Mistake #1: Shoes

I bought some new clothes for this trip, mostly for the minimal costume for Quizoola!, but stuff I could also wear normally, since I haven't bought new clothes in about four or five years. One of those items was a pair of shoes. Two pairs of shoes, to be exact. I needed some dark shoes for the show, and I saw another pair I liked as well, they were cheap, so no-brainer.

Then I decide that these are the only shoes I'll bring with me.

Since I haven't bought new shoes in four or five years, I forgot what wearing them is like. Wearing new shoes, for me, is like strapping on some kind of Sadeian torture device. I've always had tender feet -- when we got a built-in swimming pool when I was a kid, the cement around the pool, which had tiny, seemingly-insignificant ridges, would invariably cut the soles of my feet. Nothing says "summer fun" like bloody footprints around the pool.

And so with new shoes, they (also inevitably) rub the backs of my heels raw, resulting in blisters, blood, and pain. Now, eventually, they heal and toughen up and everything's normal. It's just such a pisser that I have to do that every damn time. If I was thinking at all, I would've brought my usual shoes to take a respite from the painful adjusting period... but no. I'm too much of a tough guy for that.

So by the time I get to the hotel (which really hasn't involved that much walking at all), my feet are killing me and I'm crying uncle. I need band-aids.

I go down to the front desk and ask where I can get some. There's an odd pause, a passing of glances between the two clerks, and one of them goes into the back and offers me some from their first aid supplies. I take two and thank them, but I'm really going to need a whole pack, so I set off to explore Granville Island and find a little store or something.

So I start walking. And looking. I study the vaguely Disney-ish island map. Nothing. Oh sure, if I want pottery or paintings or coffee or nautical-themed doodads, I'm in business, but nothing like a general store. Oh, wait! The B.C. Wood Co-op! That should work, a co-op.

Uh, no. It's "Coop". They sell wood sculptures.

I wander into the Public Market, which seems promising. Certainly if I was hungry -- there's a farmer's market, all sorts of fresh fish and meat, a big food court, but nothing like a place for sundries. You know, medicine, band-aids, that stuff.

Then it finally hits me, because, again, I suck. No one actually lives here. (In fact, no one works here on Monday.) Yes, there's a hotel, but there's no need for this kind of store, because either a) you live in Vancouver or b) you're staying in a hotel that has all this shit. In other words, Granville Island is not meant to be inhabited in any kind of permanent fashion.

After searching the Public Market twice, I happen upon the Smoke Shop, a closet-sized space practically hidden near an exit. Cigarettes, magazines, cold medicine, and yes, band-aids. One box size, thirty bandages, four bucks. My first Canadian cash purchase. I hobble back.

Mistake #2: Sweats

That was stupid. All that worrying about getting new clothes that I forget my usual outfit. Sweatpants! Is there anything they can't do?

Not having any sweatpants means when I'm in my room, I either have to wear my regular pants or walk around in my underwear. Regular pants are not meant for lounging. That's simply not what civilization is about. Wearing only my underwear, though, makes me feel creepy, like some nervous and paranoid character from a Mac Wellman play. Both options suck.

I opt for creepy.

Mistake #3:

A Culture Club song, circa 1985. A ballad, I believe. Not one of my favorites. I'll take "Time" or "Church of the Poison Mind", thank you.

5. CLEVER THEATER NAMES, PINUPS AND OTHER MISCONCEPTIONS

I meet up with Cathy from Forced Entertainment and we set out to find our space for Quizoola!. It's in the Ocean Construction (Cement) Repair Shop. Oh, I think, that's a clever name for a theater. Keep the historical ties to Granville Island's industrial past. I like that.

After some searching and getting a little bit lost (which, despite the island's small size, is easier than you think), we find it and go inside.

No, it's not a theater. It really is a (cement) repair shop. Remember all those cement trucks that kept appearing out of nowhere? Yeah, they're in the back. Funny that the one place on Granville Island that's still in used as a factory is the place where I get to perform.

So I'm a little surprised, but I really do like non-traditional theater spaces, so it's i-ight.

(When I was at college, I had an idea for setting a play in the middle of this roundabout, which had a giant planter filled with a big tree in the middle, surrounded by shrubbery, and I'd light it with the headlights of cars parked around it. There was something about the contrast between the asphalt, the cement on one hand and the "natural" tree and bushes on the other. This bit of theater never happened, because a) I didn't really know what kind of play I'd stage there and b) I'm the kind of guy who can't remember to bring sweats.)

There are some difficulties with the space, though. There's a long narrow pit to one side of the room, used for whatever (cement) repair alchemy these guys perform, and it's both a potential audience-member-killing device (there's some talk of filling it with acid) and it would keep the actors separated from the audience too much, which isn't what this piece is about. There are some discussions about covering up the pit, but that don't concern me, cuz:

pushartist3.jpg

I'm an artist, bee-yatch!
I don't have to do shit!

Instead, I look around the workshop and I see a bunch of pinups on one wall. Maybe I'm naive, but I'm a little surprised -- I really didn't think people still did that, put pinups of naked women in the workplace. I mean, sure, this workshop is about as blue collar as you can get, but I really, honestly thought that men, regardless of class or race or what have you, kept the centerfolds in the magazine. I thought the days of gathering 'round and gawking at the nekkid ladies died out in the eighties, nineties at the latest.

Then I look a little closer. (Why not, right? That's what they're there for.) And I see that, with the exception of one, all the women are completely covered in their Victoria's Secret-style panties and bras. All the pictures come from Maxim or FHM or whatever.

Now I'm genuinely puzzled. I have no idea what to make of this. I mean, the impulse to look is the same, isn't it? Just because there's some clothes in the way doesn't mean we guys aren't trying to mentally take them off. So why the half-measures? If it's about offensiveness, is it really any less offensive? If it's about sensitivity, is it really any more sensitive? As far as I could tell, there weren't any women employees, so I have to assume that the restrictions are either self-imposed by the employees, or it comes from management. And since there was the one pinup (still fully clothed, only with her bra pulled down), I have to think it's the former. Which, again, I just don't get.

Or maybe they just don't sell Playboy in Canada.

6. DINNER AND A MOVIE

That night, I have dinner with Cathy and Francis (our tech guy), while waiting for Robin to get in from the airport. Cathy goes over "Quizoola!" with me. The idea is pretty simple. Two performers on stage, one with a list of questions. One asks questions, either from the list or made-up, and the other has to answer. When the questioner feels like switching, he or she asks, "Would you like to stop?" If the answerer says yes, the roles are reversed. This continues for two hours, until the third person, who's been covering the door this entire time, comes over and takes over for one of the performers. (This means that, for the six hour duration, someone will be on stage for four hours straight.) Other than these basic rules, pretty much anything goes. It's durational, so the audience members are free to come and go as they please. Sounds simple enough, I think. I was feeling nervous about the whole thing for, well, pretty much weeks, but I start to feel more comfortable.

Oh, and did I mention there's clown makeup? That's the real reason I'm doing this - the clown makeup.

Robin gets in, and we order food. It's nice seeing him again -- it's been a couple years since I last saw him, but a much, much longer time since I had a conversation with him. (Not that I'm much of a conversationalist, as anyone who knows me will tell you.) He has a kid now, and so I listen for any tips for dealing with my own forthcoming brood. It's not really comforting, but then very little I've heard has been.

It's getting late, so I retire to my room and pop in Dave Chappelle's Block Party into my computer, and I watch nearly the entire thing. The joyousness of the thing is incredibly infectious. Although much has been made of the Fugees reunion and Kanye's "Jesus Walks" with the marching band -- great parts, it's true -- I was blown away by Dead Prez, a band I'd heard of but didn't know. (There's a reason that their performance, "Hip Hop" opens the soundtrack album, even though that's wrong, chronologically.) I thought only The Coup brought that kind of shit these days. I have some catching up to do.

Posted by kza at 02:19 PM

An Awfully Big Adventure, Day One, Part One: In the Heart of the Heart of Vancouver

1. BUS FROM BEELZEBUB

So I'm invited to perform with Forced Entertainment in their show "Quizoola!", and I accept, even though I have little idea what that entails. Although I've acted, I'm not sure I really consider myself an actor, although I do usually enjoy it. (People tell me I'm pretty good as well, which sometimes makes me think I've pursued the wrong artistic endeavor, but anyway.)

I buy a round-trip train ticket. I'm not sure I've ever been on a train in the U.S. -- trains make me think of the U.K., and, well, Forced Entertainment. I kinda like trains, although I imagine if I had to ride them every damn day, that tune would change. But I'm looking forward to this train ride: not that long, I got the laptop and some Netflix movies, a NaNoWriMo that's two months overdue, a book to read... I'm set.

Two days before my departue, Amtrak calls. The train has been "disrupted". No train. No train, cheeps. I mean, bus.

I hate buses. I've done very long trips in buses, and it sucks. Hardcore.

But there's nothing to be done, and I arrive at the train station at 7:30 in the morning to get on a freakin' bus. The bus is not even half-full, and I cynically wonder if the train thing is a ruse, that there weren't enough tickets so they threw us on a big ugly bus. (I relate this to Robin of Forced Entertainment later that evening, and he replies, without missng a beat, "You fell for it!! There is no train. No one's ran a train since 1890.")

So I settle down for a four-hour bus ride, and I eat my snacks that I bring along, including the first half of a sandwich. Then, I need to go to the bathroom, so I get into the tiny, tiny compartment and pee. I go to wash my hands... but there's no sink. Just a small bottle of anti-bacterial lotion. That's it. I use it, return to my seat, and look upon my unfinished sandwich, annoyed, because no way in fucking hell am I touching any food, anti-bacterial or not.

Relief comes at the border, when i get a chance to use the bathroom at the customs station. But before that happens, I get the same treatment that Michael Sincinski did in Toronto -- customs agents that take their cue from Atom Egoyan's Ararat.

"I'm going to a theater festival in Vancouver."

(Suspicious) "What's a theater festival?"

(A: it's a small intimate gathering of terrorists and subversives, of course. What do you think it is, moron?)

"Are you renting a car?"

"No."

"Well, how are you getting there?"

"...Taxi...?" (They do have those there, right?)

I'm not giving the right answers or something, and she pawns me off onto Immigration. That goes a little smoother, and then I'm back on the bus.

2. GRAND THEFT GRANVILLE

Finally, I get to Vancouver, hop in a taxi, and get to the hotel on Granville Island, where the entirety of PuSh is located.

Granville Island is kind of weird.

First off, it's not an island. It's clearly connected to the land. Here's a Google map. See? Not an island.

Next, it used to be an industrial district, but in the seventies (I'm told) was changed into a arts community. Now, that's cool. All the warehouses and industrial buildings have been converted into theaters, artists' studios, shops... there's even an arts school (the Emily Carr Institute) that I'm told is quite good.

Unfortunately, though, these kind of spaces weren't intended for pedestrians. There's usually one walkway for the pedestrians on one side of the road, but that will quickly end with a line of parked cars blocking your way. You have to cross the street to continue, and there's always cars driving down the street. And not really slow, either. But the space itself, the way it's been appropriated, seems to scream that, yes, this is a place where you can walk down the middle of the street. You know, because we're all about the arts. I constantly found myself imperceptibly wandering into the street, only to realize that I was going to get my ass run over real quick if I didn't get over to the other side, pronto.

Later, when Cathy and I went to find the Quizoola! space (more on that later), I hit upon what Granville Island was like. We were wandering the streets, and a cement truck drove past and out of sight. And then a minute later, another one drove past. Then another. Was this the same freakin' cement truck? Where were they coming from? I looked around and saw the other cars that were always there, seeming to enter Granville Island and circle it endlessly, always in your way.

Oh my god.

They're spawning, just out of visual range. Ever play GTA: San Andreas, and been to that industrial section of Faux Angeles, the one that sits out on the ocean? That's where I was. I was in Grand Theft Auto.

3. I SUCK

I check into the hotel. I can see the condominium-bedecked skyline across the river from my room, confriming that I was indeed in GTA. I felt like I was on the first island in the first game, trying to escape from the mob to the bright neon of the Yakuza, and separated from it by a impassable stretch of water.

(Well, admittedly, it's not that far across at all, but for GTA's mute hero, it may as well be infinity.)

The room was advertised as having free internet access. But, to my surprise, it isn't wireless. It's an ethernet cord. That seemed strange -- isn't this the 21st century? -- but I go with it. I plug it in. Doesn't work. I open some system configuration panels, but since I suck, I have no idea what to do. There's a 1-800 help number, so I swallow my pride and call it. I get a guy named Kevin. Now, Kevin's helpful, but there's this odd tension between his natural personality and his job as a faceless support tech. Early on, I suggest that maybe I'm having trouble because I'm using an American computer in Canada, and he makes a crack about how there isn't a draft yet. But the rest of conversation, he starts every answer with a very long pause and a "Yes, sir" or "No,sir". I sense that Kevin wants to break out of this formality, but can't, because of training or fear or a fat, balding, cigar-smoking boss breathing down his neck. I try to respond to this humanity, but the formality that he broke through in the beginning returns and locks him down. You could practically hear the clichéd "ka-clank!" sound.

He tells me to try something. I do it. Doesn't work.

He tells me to try something else. I do it. Still doesn't work.

I make self-deprecating comments. Long pauses on the other end that never culminate into a reply.

This goes on for at least fifteen minutes. I'm about ready to give up. I don't really need the internet access. I can make do without it.

There's another long pause, and I'm about to hang up. It feels like a problem that just can't be solved, and I feel silly talking to this guy, sitting on the floor of my hotel room, with a piece of machinery that I clearly don't understand.

Then he asks a real simple question. Is this one checkbox clicked on in the systems preference panel?

Why yes. Yes it is.

Click it off. Can you access the internet now?

Why yes. Yes I can.

There's another moment of silence, but I can pretty much hear his thoughts through the phone, because they're the same as mine.

They go: Oh, you're fucking kidding me.

I thank him and hang up. I suck.

Posted by kza at 01:06 PM

January 02, 2007

Kza Live!

Hey folks, merry new years, etc.

Just letting people know that I'll appearing in Forced Entertainment's Quizoola!, at PuSh, Vancouver's International Performing Arts Festival, on January 10. I'll be, like, answering questions and stuff. Come up if you can.

Posted by kza at 09:34 AM