Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Art of Stage Dancing (or, How To Be A Follies Dancer By Following These Easy Steps)

Most people know that Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest and best things the internet hath wrought. Anticipating the digital book revolution, they have proved themselves ahead of the curve in every way, and their files are full of wonders indeed. All those new releases on Amazon never tempt me to fork over my hard earned cash for a Kindle, but what I am about to share with you just might.

The man who calls himself Trav S.D. alerted me of the existence of Ned Wayburn: dancer, dance school major domo and Ziegfeld Follies choreographer also penned an instructional book, The Art of Stage Dancing, first published in 1925. I haven't yet read most of it, but was so thrilled with what it does contain, I felt the need to immediately report.

It begins with the following disclaimer: "As a writer of books, I confess myself to be a good stage craftsman." But from what I've seen, it is a book full of charm and anecdotes. And pictures. Pictures from editions of the Follies he has choreographed, pictures of his classes in session, and pictures of former students (including the bother/sister dance team at left.) Apparently, she was the real talent of the two, but no film of her dancing exists. The mind reels. This is what he has to say about them:
"Two of my most famous pupils in Musical Comedy dancing are Fred and Adele Astaire, brother and sister. They came to me to study from Omaha, Nebraska, as little tots of about six and seven years of age. Adele was always fond of coming to her classes; but Fred says that he just "followed on" through brotherly association rather than from any preconceived ambition to become a professional dancer. Then, through reverses of family fortunes, the time came when they felt that they should be supporting themselves. They continued to study under me, and I was very happy to be able to place them in vaudeville in a singing and dancing act, which I had prepared for them. This started them on their career, which has led them to Europe and back again."
The caption describes them as being featured in "Lady, Be Good!". There's a short description of their routine from that show in my favorite novel, Wise Children by Angela Carter, as it's the very first show the Chance sisters are taken to see (at which they aso first see their elusive father, a matinee idol on his way to becoming a Great Shakespearean).
"Up went the curtain; there were Fred and Adèle, evicted, out on the street with all their bits and pieces. She set out the chairs, she straightened the sofa, she hung a sign on the lamppost: "Bless This House". We thought that we would die of pleasure. We clung to one another's hands like grim death, we thought we might wake up and find out we had been dreaming. Nora liked Adèle best; she liked it when she dressed up like a Mexican widow and did her Spanish dance, but it was old Fred for me, then and forever, with his funny little nutcracker face and the Eton crop that looked painted on it shone so, and not a hair ever moved...But 'Lady Be Good' showed us the way. It was the Damascus road for us. We spent hours at home afterwards, in the ground floor front, rolling back the rug, getting the numbers off pat. That finale, she in her Tyrolean costume, him like a little sailor doll. We took it in turns to be the lady."
It's so funny, because when one reads novels you have no way of knowing what is real. Another character in Wise Children is Dan Leno, who I didn't know was real until I read my inamorato's book. I'm no intellectual. I've been utterly enchanted by show business and dancing and the stage since I was three. The aching post adolescent pretension came later. The work is hard and needs to be trusted. Theater is a good thing, don't you know, it doesn't need to be destroyed to be made interesting, but more on that at a later date.

Back to Mr. Wayburn's opus.

He explains in great detail the basics all sorts of dancing: Musical Comedy, Acrobatic, Tap, Specialty, Character and what he calls Ned Wayburn's Modern Americanized Ballet Technique. He has chapters on Stage Make-up and diet. I discovered that to lose weight (though I am 20 pounds underweight by 1925 standards, apparently) one must under no circumstances drink any liquid with meals! There is an equally extensive section on gaining weight. He gives sample menus. One of the weight loss lunches includes macaroni and cheese. I love Ned Wayburn. In fact here is Thursday's reducing menu in its entirety:


1 apple; 1 egg omelet; 1 bran muffin; small pat butter; coffee with hot skimmed milk.


Macaroni and cheese; lettuce with French dressing; fruit gelatine pudding (clear).


Beef or lamb stew with vegetables; 2 thin slices whole wheat bread; small pat butter; tapioca cream pudding; black coffee.

I chose the photo of the dancer at left because her last name is "Bacon". I know, I know.

Mr. Wayburn also goes on to explain how show business works. What does a Stage Manager do? Interestingly, he sounds much more like what we would call a "director". Who is the prop man? What is he responsible for? The Chief Electrician, the Company Manager, The Press Rep? And all as it stood in 1925. This book is freaking invaluable.

In true Show Biz fashion, the book is essentially an elaborate advertisement for Wayburn's school and private coaching services. There's a lot of "These people were completely at sea until they came to me and then they shot to stardom after taking my advice". But the thing is 300+ pages long. It's full of anecdotes, advice, lovely photographs of Follies luminaries and black and white illustrations. He has advice about how to overcome stage fright, how to communicate your personality through dance, how to exercise, how to ensure a creative and magical atmosphere, what shoes to wear and on and on.

If you want to be one of Mr. Ziegfeld's specialty dancers (c.1925), this is an excellent place to start.

Elsa Schiaparelli: Surrealist Fashion Icon

I'm beginning to feel a lack of surrealist couturiers, so I thought I'd do a brief Elsa Schiaparelli posting. She was an artists and a dressmaker and an innovator. See above her famous shoe hat of 1937 on which she collaborated with Salvador Dali. Below is her lobster dress from the same year.

Most innovative of all, her skeleton dress.

I can't be the only person who longs for a time machine assisted Gaga/Schiaparelli collaboration, can I?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Poor Evelyn Nesbit: The Crime of the Century, Part 3

There has been a slightly longer gap between the posting of this latest chapter of the lovely Miss Nesbit's odyssey than originally intended, so if you have missed the earlier installments click here for part one and part two.

Part 3.

Oh, Evelyn. Really, my heart breaks for her.

Just short of her eighteenth birthday, back home in New York City, the most beautiful girl in all the world. It should have been so easy. Men lined up round the block, more stage and modeling jobs than she knew what to do with, her brother in a fine school and her mother given an income and happy, and then finally married off to a kind and loving millionaire. Some chorus girls ended up those happy circumstances, but it's a fickle world and plenty ended their days in SROs in Times Square or worse.

Back in New York, an emotionally battered and physically exhausted Evelyn landed a chorus job (against doctor's recommendations) and did her best to avoid both White and Thaw, who returned to New York shortly after she did. Her mother was busy being romanced by an old family friend, a stockbroker who she would subsequently marry. She pretty much completely broke off all contact with Evelyn, as she had clearly found a new and far less troublesome meal ticket. So, Evelyn was on her own. Friends began telling her immediately upon her return that Harry Thaw is a crazy person and a morphine addict and super dangerous. To which, she responded, rightfully so, "Why are you telling me now? I mean, this could have been super useful information for me to have before I was stuck alone in Europe with him, right? " (I'm paraphrasing).

After ignoring his messages to her, White (pictured below) finally got her attention by saying he needed to talk to her about her mother. She immediately responded, asking if anything was wrong. He replied that it was a matter of life and death and he didn't want to discuss it over the telephone. So, she (of course) agreed to see him. He showed up and told her her mother was fine and proceded to berate her about Thaw. What both White and Thaw proceeded to do in the coming months almost broke Evelyn completely. They both coerced her into meetings and tried to make her sign affidavits and statements against the other. They both harangued her about the wickedness of the other. They both had evidence of the other's criminal behavior with minors (Evelyn and others). These two men were each obsessed with destroying the other and Evelyn (not yet 18) was caught in the middle, with no responsible adult to turn to or to help her out in any way. She moved from hotel to hotel but was always found by Thaw's private detectives. Understandably, she was sick and deeply depressed. In this state she agreed to start seeing Thaw again, but only in crowded public places.

Discouraged, Thaw returned to Pittsburgh and received his mother's (extremely reluctant) approval to pursue Evelyn's hand in marriage. His lawyers advised him to stay away from her until her eighteenth birthday. Somewhat surprisingly, he did so. White planned a party for the occasion, but on the day, Evelyn, thoroughly sick of him, refused to go and went out to dinner with a jubilant Thaw instead. White went berserk, waving a pistol around, threatening to kill "that son-of-a-bitch". Evelyn had already given Thaw's letters to her to White's attorney - she now gave White's letters to Thaw's hoping that if they each had equal ammunition they would cease all hostilities. She found it increasingly difficult to find work in New York as White was apparently using his considerable influence to blackball her.

For the next couple of years, Harry was on his best behavior and pursued Evelyn relentlessly. Thaw even sent her to Europe to study sculpture and art (with a proper chaperone, this time). He apologized repeatedly for his past acts, saying he had been overcome with fury at what had transpired between her and White. He said he forgave her. It's so awful to think of the series of events and the state of mind that enabled Evelyn to marry Thaw. She had been supporting her family since she was a child. Her mother never looked after her properly, she willfully put on blinders and used her own daughter to survive and abandoning her when the complications of Evelyn's life became inconvenient. Evelyn has been painted as being a gold-digger and a whore. But, it took Harry Thaw, with his 40 million dollars, almost four years to get Evelyn to marry him. When she was twenty, she finally did. The bride wore black.

Her married life was a gothic misery. She lived with Harry in her mother-in-law's mansion, constrained by their small-minded small town Presbyterian values. They looked down on Evelyn, feeling that Harry had thrown himself away on this worthless show person, while Evelyn found them mindless and anti-intellectual, with no interest in books, music or art. Just money and their narrow view of Christianity. In other words, she was bored senseless, and in one of her memoirs wrote that she prayed that she might have "the patience to bear the burden of her spiritual friends". One day a minister friend of Mrs. Thaw's was annoyed by one of Evelyn's little dogs, so he kicked him. Evelyn swore at him like a fishwife. Harry was increasingly obsessed with White, grilling Evelyn about him obsessively for hours. Years before, White has paid to have Evelyn's teeth fixed. Harry took her to a dentist and had all the work (fillings, everything) taken out - and redone identically. He also had a photographer come to the house and had him take pictures of Evelyn in which she posed as Bluebeard's dead wives (Seriously. You can't make this stuff up).

In June 1906, Mr. and Mrs. Thaw traveled to New York en route to London. They planned to take in dinner and a show at Madison Square Garden (an odd choice, considering Thaw's obsessive hatred of Stanford White). They had dinner at Café Martin, where they saw White across the room, who was there with his son. Evelyn began to panic, worried about what Thaw would do. They proceeded to Madison Square Garden to see a new show called "Mamzelle Champagne". The show wasn't very good and Evelyn said she would have been bored had sh not been so apprehensive about what would happen when White inevitably arrived, and sat at the table that was permanently reserved for him. The Architect arrived at the rooftop theater, a teenaged chorus girl on his arm. As the song "I Could Love a Million Girls" was sung, Harry got up from the table. A moment later, a gunshot was heard and pandemonium broke out as people realized Stanford White was dead, shot through the skull, and Harry Thaw was the killer.

Part 4: The Trial will appear shortly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sergei Pavlovich Lodygin

If you had asked me ten or fifteen years ago if I knew who all the great and wonderful illustrators of the past century or so were, I would have guffawed and said, "Of course!" Oh, the arrogance of ignorance!

The more I look in various corners of the internet, the more I realize how many delightful illustrators and artists there are of whose existence I was completely unaware. I feel at this point I'll never get to the end of them.

See below some examples of some truly lovely work by Sergei Pavlovich Lodygin. I think. All sites with examples of his work are in Russian, and the translating engines don't do very well with complicated Russian names. So I think all the examples in this post are by Lodygin. But I can't swear to it. Googling in Russian if one doesn't read the language is extremely difficult, compounded of course by my equal ignorance of the cyrillic alphabet.

To me, his work looks awfully decadent for post-Revolutionary Soviet tastes, but according to one of the websites I managed to pick through he continued his illustration career into the Twenties and beyond.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vampire Cowboys: The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G

Yesterday was a long and varied day, consisting of a matinee of Trav S.D.'s Tent Show Tetragrammaton (4 shows remaining!), celebrating World Theater Day at Dixon Place, a quick swing by a gallery opening, finally culminating in the opening performance of Vampire Cowboys' The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G at Incubator Arts. And - my inamorato did most of this with what I worry is some sort of mildly broken arm.

But this post is going to be all about the Vampire Cowboys show, which is a rare and perfect thing.

There are many different kinds of playwrights - but I think if you take a look at all of our work, it's all autobiography, isn't it? In some way or another, even if nobody else knows. Even if the play is about pirates or serial killers or ape men or ninjas or aliens or any other fantastical thing that has no literal correlation with the life of the person who is writing, who - chances are, was never a ninja or a pirate. I've written tons on this blog about how I am most comfortable with metaphor, as both a reader and a writer. I've never had much interest in superheroes, but I love fairy tales. I often say how literalism feels sometimes over-specific and unrelatable, and often leaves me cold (but not always). I also think that audiences' perception of theater can be shockingly conservative, and there are people who if they don't see a living room set get instantly nervous.

There are a lot of ninjas and superheros and fighting (awesome, gorgeous fighting) in Qui Nguyen's plays. It's what he does. They're always beautifully staged and realized by his collaborators, and here, too. The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G is a personal, explosion in the genre factory, comic book style battle royale between playwright Nguyen (beautifully played by African-American actor William Jackson Harper) and the story of his cousin and adopted brother's crushingly tragic journey from Vietnam to Arkansas. Writing is hard. Writing truthfully about stuff that really matters to us is brutally hard. So the fight is epic. Qui Nguyen (and "Qui Nguyen") brings out every stylistic weapon in his and director Robert Ross Parker's arsenal.

Genre flourishes abound - noir and western and spy and martial arts rattle hilariously around questions of race. There's a rap war between Qui Nguyen and David Henry Hwang (who wrote a play "Yellow Face" in which there was a character "David Henry Hwang" which in turn parodied the Miss Saigon casting controversy), there's a large muppety creature called the "Gooky Monster" who tries to school Nguyen in what an "Asian" play should be about. The best response to all this is Nguyen's own: "This is a Vampire Cowboy show, bitch!". It's purposely and hilariously full of narrative and racial clichés. I don't know when the last time I saw a show in which I laughed so much consistently throughout. But it's not just a comedy (though, comedy is so fucking hard, calling anything "just" a comedy, isn't fair either), it digs awfully deep.

With all the lovely choreography, all the hilarious meta flourishes (not only is Qui a character, but his wife and Vampire Cowboy producer Abby Marcus appears as well - full disclosure: I know her lovely RL self), the muppet, the rap war, the cowboy shadow play, the spy intrigue, the cannibalism, the slick and pretty design elements, it all comes down to one thing in the end. And that's the simply told and devastating story of Nguyen's family.

I'd be lying if I said this play didn't bring me to my knees in about three different ways. I'm the least prolific of playwrights, something I'm sort of desperately trying to remedy. I have trouble writing without complicated design elements and structures and dance breaks and fairy tales and people rising from the dead in some way or another. I've been questioning some of this recently as sometimes I think I use all the dance breaks and intricate structural stuff as a tool of self protection. Of course, lots of it is stuff that I like, and I am in no way a minimalist by nature, and I began and remain a visual artist first so what stuff looks like matters to me - I mean I think the semiotics of design are important and transcend simple aesthetics. But, I think I may use some of this business because even if this sort of business really matters to me, I think it might be easier for me to deal with stylistic and genre flourishes then with emotional content. I think this is some of what Qui is getting at with this play.

We're all still telling stories round the fire, outside of our caves or tents, even if there are fancy lights and ninjas or clowns playing polar bears or whatnot. And the really basic questions remain the same. Who are we as a species and as Americans and who were we before and how did we get here and who is my family and what does that mean?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


What a face! What a life!

For some reason it feels like the end of an era as the last of the great movie stars shrugs off this mortal coil. It's impossible to write about Elizabeth Taylor without hyperbole. The MOST beautiful, the MOST grotesque, the MOST married, the MOST scandalous, the MOST tragic. She was a monster and a saint and an icon. The idea of a movie star made flesh.

I don't think there was a moment in my life when I didn't know who she was. Growing up, we had that Life magazine Movie book - full of pictures of movie stars and films. I spent hours and hours and hours gazing at this book and it had untold influence on me. I knew who all these old time movie stars were from their extraordinary faces long before I saw any of their films. Lots, of course, were of Liz. I remember a lovely picture of her at 17 in a gold dress that I thought was just the loveliest thing I'd ever seen.

Beauty is destiny. Being the MOST beautiful is such a crazy double edged sword and Liz certainly had the best and some of the worst of it. Have I mentioned she was also an actress? I saw her in Jane Eyre, Lassie Come Home and National Velvet when I was little. And then A Place in the Sun, Butterfield 8 (which is also a really good novel that no one but me seems to have read), Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I mean, what a run! Then Cleopatra and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Just awesome.

Then, late in life, she nearly single handedly created a national dialogue and awareness of AIDS after the death of her friend and co-star Rock Hudson. There are a lot of adults alive right now who probably don't remember the complete silence surrounding homosexuality in general and AIDS in particular. Liz Taylor did a great deal of very effective work to change that.

If you would like to make a donation to amfAR, which Liz helped found, click here.

To quote myself: What a life! What a dame!

From A Place in the Sun:

Cephalopod Cakes!

On Monday, a gallery of Cthuhlu-themed cakes was featured on Great White Snark. Sadly, with the exception of the one with the tentacles breaking through the icing, (which is nicely rendered, if unappetizing), they are pretty Cake Wreck-y. So, I decided to take the bull by the horns, er- the squid by the beak, and seek out some more thrilling versions of cephalopod cake art. My search was long and arduous: I typed the phrase "squid cake" (with quotation marks) into Google and scrolled through more than four pages of results. I suffered so you wouldn't have to.

This is what I found.

Found here. This is now one of my favorite flickr photos.

The above restrained and tasteful squidcake was created by the obviously very talented Glenn the Baker.

Though both of the cakes pictured above are quite lovely, I am sure you have noticed a most disturbing squidcake trend. Like current studio made motion pictures, squidcakes have succumbed to the scourge of Teal and Orange. We can only pray for the state of cake-dom, as we know that Teal and Orange is horribly contagious.

This, however, is a thing of pure wonder. I'm having trouble finding a source for it - if anyone knows who this remarkable squidcake artist is - please let me know so that I can credit them properly.

The above squidcake, aptly titled "Squid Vs. Octopus" is clearly the most narratively complex of all the cakes I've featured. I found it on sockstealingnome's deviantart page. It's pretty much all charm.

The one thing I discovered in this little expedition is that quality squid cakes are few and far between (I also discovered many cakes made of squid, but the less said about that the better). There are many subpar squidcakes, which are just - sad. Hold out for quality, I say!

In completely unrelated news - 122 shopping days until my birthday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Aching Romanticism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Fourteen years ago this month, the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on the (now defunct) WB. I was going to let the anniversary slide by without notice, but then something Fuzzy Bastard wrote in his excellent review of Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood (which I haven't yet seen), got me thinking:
"The tendency of male critics to gleefully embrace power/revenge fantasies and scream in indignation when confronted with fantasies of romance is just embarrassing..."
Well, it didn't start me thinking exactly, as this is something I think about more or less all the time, but I thought this would be a nice time to revisit. What I mean is, in discussion of genre fiction - whether it be books, movies or television - the world at large is incredibly forgiving of all nature of violent stupidity. Tired superhero tropes, even the dumbest and most unforgivable, while not necessarily liked, are viewed as an individual aberration and not used as an indictment of the entire genre. These same people flip out about romance, as Fuzzy Bastard says above, and deride all of it as awful. And don't give me some bullshit rubric about "geek culture". I'm so over it. When there are enough fans to constantly populate gigantic conventions, and the films of a genre are consistently number one at the box office, a line has been crossed: it's just plain old every day "culture", and it's become a bullying one at that.

I think we're going though a bad patch in which mainstream culture isn't particularly welcoming to women. The reasons for this are vast and varied and something that certainly deserves its own blog post, so I'm going to leave that alone for now and talk about a television show that aired its finale almost eight years ago. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was best described as a Horror Comedy Romance, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that the Buffy/Angel storyline is the greatest romance in the history of the medium. Sorry Spike enthusiasts. Sorry Dave and Maddie fans. Sam and Diane? Please. Luke and Laura? Ew. Kelly and Dylan? Don't make me laugh.

You are simply wrong.

Rewatching Buffy, though some parts feel dated, the story is still fresh. A great deal of this is because like all truly good art, the show isn't really about vampires or magic or a Hellmouth or a superhero, but about people. And a big part of that is - as it is with so many coming of age stories - romance. Seasons Two and Three of Buffy contained romantic episodes that felt like nothing I've ever seen on television. They felt like opera or like myth. I've written a bit about the glorious episode in which Buffy loses her virginity, Angel loses his soul, and all kinds of hell breaks loose. The lead up to this pivotal episode, and the way in which the story is shaped through to the end of the season is a complete fucking master class in story structure.

Angel is evil and killing people, and Buffy feels as if she is responsible as, like all over-conscientious control freaks, Buffy feels responsible for everything and usually reacts by shutting down emotionally. Buffy hesitates, like Hamlet before her, in killing Angel. So he, in the episode Passion, kills Giles's girlfriend Jenny Calendar (undercover gypsy and computer science teacher), and Buffy is shaken to the core. The episode contains that gloriously edited sequence in which Giles finds Jenny's dead body on his bed, strewn with rose petals, as an aria from La Bohème surges on the soundtrack. You so rarely see that kind of gothic romanticism played straight anymore.

Which I guess is what I'm getting at. Buffy manages the tonal shift from comedy to horror to romance so well by taking them all equally seriously. Romance is played straight and worked out creatively, and not as an afterthought. I've seen so many people all over the internet make it very clear that they like the horror and fantasy and comedy aspects of Buffy, but have no interest in the romantic story lines - as if that would be somehow embarrassing. Romance novels are given equally short shrift. And, yes, many romance genre novels aren't very good. But many, many fantasy or science fiction novels aren't very good either, and one rarely sees the bad ones as causing critics or those that blather on the internet to dismiss the entire genre as a whole. I've made it fairly clear that fiction that is aimed at or primarily enjoyed by women is rarely afforded much respect. Most often male critics of genre sneer. It's completely tiresome and the reasons for this have a few causes. One of the big ones, which I don't think is spoken of very often, is that men and women are conditioned to respond to books and media a little differently. The typical (and lazy) critical thought (male) as opposed to emotional reactions (female) is far too simplistic.

A few years ago, I conducted a survey in which I asked a simple question: "What did you read when you were growing up?". I left the question purposefully vague in order to have people interpret the question as they chose, which I thought would be illuminating (it was). First, men were far more likely to question me about what I wanted to hear, i.e. what was the "right" answer. They were also five times as likely as the female responders to mention a learning disability, or a reading disorder. They were six times as likely to respond that they "didn't read much". They also were far more likely to mention being bullied or made fun of for reading (zero women reported this). My raw data makes absolutely fascinating reading.

Reading fiction of any sort used to be referred to as a "feminine vice". Still, many men read mostly non-fiction or maybe for relaxation, Stephen King or Tom Clancy. Other men read widely and well. But, over all, more women read fiction then do men. Another gender difference in my survey response was in the language used - three times as many women than men used the word "loved" to describe a book (27 - 9). Women were also more likely to send me email after email, adding books they had forgotten to list. But the thing that surprised me the most was how much commonality there was in the lists from women, as opposed to the lists from men. Many, many women listed Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, the Little House books, the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sweet Valley High, the Bontes, Baby Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, All of a Kind Family, Anne of Green Gables, Harriet the Spy and the works of Dr. Seuss.

There is very little overlap in the books the men cited, which as not something I expected at all. Part of this is that the average male responder listed so many fewer books than the average female one. The following books were listed by multiple men, and by equal numbers of women: Narnia, Tolkien, A Wrinkle in Time, Roald Dahl and The Phantom Tollbooth. The only books citied in great numbers by men and not women are The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Men mentioned genre far more often, though, saying they read science fiction, history and comics. It's all so interesting, and I've been sitting on all of it for ages, as I'm not sure what to make of it all. There were many impassioned responses from both men and woman, which is thrilling. But - the results were kind of overwhelming. I don't think I need to say that my sampling skewed ridiculously toward college graduate, East Coast artistic/educator types, so I really didn't expect there to be as large a gender divide as there was. I expected it to be far more subtle.

One thing I gleaned that didn't at all occur to me before I read the responses was that women have very little shame in admitting they liked things that could be perceived as silly or childish. Several men responded with something along the lines of,"I read a lot of comic books and spy novels and stuff, but that's not what you want to hear about" and then proceded to list a bunch of "school" books. Their lists also skewed far more grown up with far fewer mentions of picture books like Where the Wild Things Are and Dr. Seuss (and I'm pretty certain that these books were read and enjoyed by both boys and girls equally). There was a subtle feeling that the men were a little bit more concerned with how they would be perceived - as exhibited by the worry about answering the question "correctly". Women, by and large, didn't seem to care. They answered with gusto, making few apologies for anything they read and liked when they were young. In other words, the women came off as being far more confident than the men, which was (embarrassing for me) completely unexpected. On average, women enjoy fiction more than men do, I think. They also have so much common ground with each other in terms of what they (or, I should say, we) read. The women responders seem to lap up enjoyment without worrying as much about how these choices would be viewed.

I think one of the big reasons for this is because if you're a girl growing up, your options for watching stories about other girls has always been limited. That's far less true for boys. Girls like Star Wars too, of course, but it's not the same. Movies, television shows and plays are overwhelmingly by and about men. Girls mostly have had to look elsewhere for challenging and entertaining stories about girls, and that elsewhere is often in books. So, there are an awful lot of books that are geared towards girls and women. The fiction stacks of Barnes and Noble (and certainly in the Young Adult section) may be one of the very few places where boys and men aren't top dogs.

Which brings me back to Buffy. More than any other show I can think of, it was about women. And not just one women surrounded by men, but about a female protagonist surrounded by lots of other women. That's one of the reasons lots of women also like the much mocked Sex and the City (of which the first couple of seasons were pretty interesting) and Gray's Anatomy (which I think is a nightmare). But, really, in these post-Roseanne times, there's not much - and even less that can be construed as feminist (my long awaited 30 Rock post is on its way, I promise). I mean, we live in a world in which Two and a Half Men can last for nearly 10 seasons! There are so few women on TV shows who bear any sort of similarity to human women as I've encountered them here on Earth, and Joss Whedon, in a show about high school kids and vampires managed it better than nearly anybody.

There is over the top gothic romance at every turn, which I found thrilling. But Whedon always manages to ground all of it in recognizable human feelings. So, I'll leave you with a flashback musical number in which Anya, the 1100 year old ex-vengeance demon sings of her love for Xander. Of course, as it is a flashback, we know, though she doesn't, that he will leave her at the altar and she will go back to being a vengeance demon, and as the song is played, Anya has a sword through her chest that has been thrust there by Buffy as Xander watched.

Ah, romance.

Monday, March 21, 2011

World Poetry Day!

In honor of that, I give you this:

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
'O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, 'How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
'O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, 'How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, 'If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,---
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Who Decided That Books Should Be Square?

Okay. I know. If they were oval or rhomboid they would be far more difficult to shelve. Unless, of course, the shelves themselves were completely and utterly different.

This year, for Dutch Book Week, which is focusing on the autobiography, a design company has created these lovely little book sculptures. Anne Frank is at left. You can see more images here. Maybe this should replace the author photo. Instead of one of those little self-consciously posed headshots, the entire book can be carved in a likeness of the author. Obviously this is a little problematic when dealing with authors like Aristotle or Aesop, but it would possibly put to rest that recent upset about the physical attractiveness of some current authors. The bulbous of nose would look just as striking in this format as, say. Marisha Pessl. But, like all interesting ideas, I suppose it is too expensive a one to carry out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Erin Go Bra-less!

To the casual observer (for instance if one transported here from outer space and didn't know our Earth ways), one would think St. Patrick's Day was a celebration of shouting, green beer and throw up. But, as we Earthlings know, it is a celebration of the Irish and, more specifically, it is the feast day of St. Patrick (who unlike the mostly apocryphal stories of Saint Valentine, is still on the Church's official roster of saints, even though the Vatican never made him official as in the early days of the church canonization was a local affair).

He is credited with banishing snakes from Ireland, but modern biologists are pretty sure that post-Ice Age Erie has always been snake-free. He also has a bell, which is part of his shrine and his iconography (It's pretty!).

So, raise a whiskey to the good saint and remember to invoke him against snakes and witchcraft (unless, of course, you like snakes and witchcraft - in which case, Fie! on Saint Patrick!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books

Francesca Lia Block has an entry in the modern fairy tale book I'm still in the midst of reading. I haven't gotten to it yet, but with all this thinking about fairy tales, I've been thinking lots ablout Block's masterwork, the five short novels that are collected in the one volume omnibus, Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books.

I don't see them brought up in discussions of fairy tales particularly often, which I think is a shame. I really believe they are some of the best YA books of the past few decades and I think in these dark and doomy times we are living in they need to be brought up more often. Sadly, I've seen them mentioned in the paper usually when these delightful and positive books are being challenged by some religious nut job. But, nut jobs aside, I know they're not to everyone's taste.

With the first book, Weetzie Bat, in 1989, Block invented a new literary genre: Los Angeles Fairy Tale Magic Realism. I know some people find them too twee, too glittery, too Californian and I have a tough time disagreeing, as they are all these things. I guess, as with all art, it comes down to whether they speak to you in a deep and real place.

I truly believe they are some of the few modern books that contain real magic. I first heard of them about a dozen years ago and looked at Dangerous Angels in Barnes & Nobel, but didn't have the money to buy it new. The very next day I was walking down Prospect Park West, and someone was having a stoop sale, and there it was with that pretty winged figure on the cover, on sale for $1 (my weird fixation on the image of pretty winged women is a discussion for a different day). I started reading right away.

The five Weetzie Bat books were originally published individually (Block subsequently published a sixth, which I have not read), but I think of them all as parts of a whole. The first book serves as an introduction of sorts. Weetzie is a teen girl living in a magical, now mostly lost, 1980s Los Angeles. Block's prose is simple and glittery, and it tells how Weetzie becomes best friends with Dirk, and cobbles together a family in her magical house (inherited from Dirk's Grandma Fifi) in the Hollywood Hills. The title comes from something Dirk says: "Love is a dangerous angel" (which, of course, it is). In it, all the main (and most of the subsidiary) characters are introduced: Weetzie's great love and life partner, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Dirk's boyfriend Duck, Their children Cherokee and Witch Baby, and Weetzie's parents: Charlie Bat and Brandy-Lynn (who met on the set of a Monster Movie in the '50s).

The books are filled with events, much in the way a fairy tale or an opera is. And like in all fairy tales the happy endings must be earned. The trials the characters go through are dark indeed: some people are dangerous and violent and not to be trusted, AIDS ravages the gay community, drugs dim the beauty and fire of some characters and destroy others: Charlie Bat, Weetzie's junky, ex-screenwriter New Yorker father finally takes too many pills and never comes back (except as a ghost). Depression and despair in the the face of the world's ills plague the characters occasionally. But, the most important thing in the book, and the thing that has gotten the religious nut jobs in such an uproar, is Block's magical vision of family.

Beautiful blonde Cherokee was conceived by Weetzie because she wanted a baby desperately, and so she Dirk and Duck all sleep together so that they would all be her parents. My Secret Agent Lover Man fathered Witch Baby with the wicked Vixanne. But she too was happily absorbed by Weetzie into he household. All of the above happens in the 70 pages that comprise the first book. It's all embedded deeply in Los Angeles with echoes of Marilyn and Jayne Mansfield and the Monster Movies of the '50s and especially of Charlie Chaplin. The soundtrack is likely X and The Blasters and The Cramps.

In subsequent books, Cherokee and Witch Baby become teenagers themselves and have to forge their own paths. We travel to NYC with Witch Baby as she is helped to find her beloved Angel Juan by the ghost of Charlie Bat, we learn more about Dirk and his Grandma Fifi and a genie in a bottle.

They're all pure magic.

I'm beginning to realize more and more, that when it comes to art I live in a place of metaphor. I don't feel super confident writing about the literal in my fiction. And sometimes naturalistic stories feel over-specific to me and therefore unrelatable. Most times they leave me cold. I think fairy tales tell a more truthful story.

The following are the final two paragraphs of The Weetzie Bat books, and they serve well as yet another light in the defense of stories as an essential part of the human psyche:
"Stories are like genies, Dirk thought. They can carry us into and through our sorrows. Sometimes they burn, sometimes they dance, sometimes they weep, sometimes they sing. Like genies, everyone has one. Like genies, sometimes we forget that we do.

Our stories can set us free, Dirk thought. When we set them free."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trav S.D.'s Tent Show Tetragrammaton

The premier of Trav S.D.'s Tent Show Tetragrammaton is rapidly sneaking (or, really, trampling) upon us, and with its thrilling approach has come a distinct lack of sleep and lots of hard work here at The Cabinet's (now happily shared) Headquarters.

But it's all in the name of excitement and wonder, so who can complain? Not I! Ape men! Realistic fighting! Music of ALL KINDS! VooDoo! Hope Cartelli (who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, so WHO KNOWS what will occur!)! ALL of Piper McKenzie! Mummies! A Baby Grandma Witch! Fortune telling! And spaghetti! For a delightful teaser, see below.

And if this isn't a hard enough sell : yours truly is directing one of the pieces contained within!

But enough of this hyperbole. The man who has self-styled himself Trav S. D. has written a couple of lovely and illuminating blog posts about two of the short plays contained in the Tetragrammaton: The Strange Case of Grippo the Ape Man and The Universal Rundle which are well worth a read.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I read and write about fairy and folk tales an awful lot. I'm not a particularly huge fan of the ultra-literal. I heartily believe that aping the details of everyday life doesn't make something particularly more like life. In other words, just because something isn't real, doesn't mean it's not true. Trav's offerings all live in that place, the liminal spaces that exist somewhere in the boarderland of history and myth . Dripping with Americana, music and folk tradition.

I'm also so beyond thrilled to be involved in a show at LaMama. I feel that there are all these odd lineages in New York Theater, and mine feels so directly tied to the work and people that sprung out of the Caffe Cino back in the 60s. I've been working away in the realms of Downtown Theater for what feels like a lifetime, and to be doing something in the House that Ellen Stewart built is an honor and a thrill.

Information and tickets can be found here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dainty Cadaver in Midway Journal

There is going to be an awful lot of shameless promotion here in the coming days. I just thought I would give you fair warning, but I must also add that some of these projects are the reason I've been such a bad, bad blogger.

Firstly: This Dainty Cadaver thing I've been mentioning has been published by the the Midway Journal. You can read all three scripts and an introduction penned by Mr. Jeff Lewonczyk, here. Enjoy. They are extremely silly.

Secondly: More to follow, dear readers, I promise!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Big Bad: First Preview

Penned by and starring Jessi Gotta and directed by Bryan Enk of Sinister Six fame, I am no end excited by The Big Bad, a horror, revenge, werewolf movie.

The first teaser trailer has launched and it looks awesome. I've been seeing still photos on facebook for a while and it's beautifully shot (and everyone knows I love a gorgeously shot horror movie).

I hope at some point in the coming weeks to post an interview with Gotta, so I can share some more information about the film. Some of you may recall she played Winnie in the FringeNYC version of Antarctica. Other friends of The Cabinet are involved in this exciting project as well. Timothy McCown Reynolds, who had a hilarious turn in my chapter of Dainty Cadaver stars, and Fuzzy Bastard himself makes an appearance (of a sort - he plays "The Unseen Man"). So, familiar faces abound. Needless to say, I am thrilled.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Arrival: The Genius of Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan's The Arrival is simply one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen.

I think I've been pretty clear elsewhere in expressing my admiration for the wordless graphic novel. There are so many things the pictures do better, or at least differently from text. For me anyway, pictures are a straighter shot into my cerebellum than words, and I am more likely to have an emotional reaction to the work.

Shaun Tan is a very successful illustrator from Australia. He did the lovely cover for Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters, and has illustrated many, many picture books. He has a wonderful essay on his website in defense of what I often refer to as the "grown up picture book". Nearly everything used to be illustrated. How pictures became (nearly) purely associated with works for children I find somewhat baffling. One of the wonderful side effects of the current popularity of graphic novels, is that it has managed to chip away at at least some of that prejudice.

The Arrival is for everyone. There's no particular reason why children wouldn't enjoy it, but I have a feeling it will mean more to adults. It's a simple, classic, immigrant story. The city a family lives in has become impossible. The father leaves his wife and young daughter and travels to a new city where there will (hopefully) be more opportunity. He travels far and long. He has to find a place to live and navigate a place where everything - the food, the language, how things are done, are different. He has to find a job, which after a few false starts, he does. He meets some other immigrants to the city and hears their stories of diaspora and hope. He sends money home and worries that it won't reach his family. A year passes. He and his wife and daughter are reunited. Simple.

It's how Tan portrays this often told story that is so extraordinary. The hero leaves his home because of encroaching dragons. We see what the city he emigrates to looks like through his eyes. The alphabet used is unrecognizable to us. The animals are strange. The jobs he is asked to perform are as baffling to us, the readers, as they are to the man in the story. Unlike with many classic immigrant tales, we are unable to sit and read of the greenhorn's journey, safely cocooned by a comforting knowledge of the culture in which the immigrant is trying to navigate. In The Arrival we are exactly where he is. The city looks as wondrous and strange to us as New York must have looked to my grandmother when she arrived from rural Albania.

Shaun Tan's parents emigrated from Malaysia to Sydney in 1960. I think the fact that Tan is Australian and used images from Australia's archives, as well as the more familiar ones from Ellis Island, lends The Arrival a sense of newness and specificity. His pictures eschew boring literalism and take on a kind of surreal longing that I haven't seem in many other places. After finding a room to live in, the man opens his suitcase and we see him looking at the table in his old home, and as he looks at the tiny images of his family the measure of his loneliness is incalculable. Some pages are nearly cinematic. As at left, he uses series of small drawings to portray a sequence in great detail, but then the whole book will open up into a giant panorama.

My favorite thing perhaps about The Arrival, is it's utter lack of cynicism. War and dragons and misery of all sorts are seen in the stories of the various immigrants pasts. And the world they have landed themselves in is confusing and scary and not always fair. But it's essentially a gentle story, full of new beginnings and family and making friends and making the best of a scary new world. It's funny, gorgeous and incredibly moving. Language sometimes gets in the way. In The Arrival it would be an unwanted intrusion indeed.