Thursday, July 24, 2008


Earlier this summer artist/filmmaker David Dixon showed his full-length film Unloosened and Root (above) at The Film Festival, accompanied by a live commentary that made for a lively and fascinating meditation on the differences between live and recorded performance. He’ll be repeating the experience on Saturday night (7/26), so we exchanged emails this week to discuss the project and encourage you, the reader, to come check it out (which you should do). Here goes…

JEFF: Your piece originally appeared at The Brick as part of "The Film Festival: A Theater Festival." Yet they were films. What is their relationship to theater/live performance?

DAVID: Unloosened and Root is a movie, yes, but at The Brick I am screening it with a live director's commentary, so there is a live performance element. I had the idea to do a live commentary about a year ago when I recorded a commentary with Ralph Lemon for the movie's DVD. Then your festival came along and seemed the perfect place to do the performance. My feeling is that the "extras" on DVD releases are becoming part of the art itself, not just adjacent supporting material. This piece is my attempt to emphasize the art of commentary. People have been telling me for years that they like my work best when I'm there to talk about it – so much for the Death of the Author – so here the talk becomes the work. Although the net effect of the performance, I'm hoping, will release the film from the question "What did he mean by that?" The performance gives "what he meant" upfront.

I'm recording the audio from these performances and will include the best one on the DVD when it is re-mastered, making a total of two commentaries, each with different information, offering an almost absurd amount of insights, anecdotes and explanations.

JEFF: How seriously do you take the boundary between theater and film? How do you feel each medium influences your concept of storytelling?

DAVID: I've done some theater but mostly as an actor, so the differences haven't influenced my storytelling as far as I can tell. I did stage a live one-man-show in 2001 titled Fake Flowers, Part IV (the old man live) and had it video taped. The day after the taping I watched it and was horrified by how weak the camera made the performance seem, but now that I've forgotten the feel of the room at the time I rather like the taped performance, an example of how powerful a live performance can be but how quickly, if it's recorded, the recording becomes the thing itself not the live performance.

Having started my art life as a (more-or-less) painter, the fleeting nature of live theater bothers me as a maker. The most joyous part of the art process for me is when the work is done and I can sit and look endlessly at the made thing. In fact, a repeated refrain in the Fake Flowers series is "Fake Flowers are Forever" – a real Dorian Gray notion – flowers that never die and are eternally in bloom, somehow outside our usual time and space but, of course, fake and static, not alive, a metaphor for painting and art.

I suppose if I were to direct a theater piece that I didn't act in I could get outside the work and watch it but I predict I would be just worried the whole time that something was going to go wrong and would not be able to relax and concentrate until after the performance was done. With a movie one can wantonly revel in its perfection, each little cut and transition staying in its place as one repeatedly watches trying to figure out what the whole means. When reading I'm constantly having to re-read sentences, could be part of the same tendency.

JEFF: What differences, if any, have you noted exhibiting film at a theater venue versus a traditional film venue?

DAVID: I started making moving images as a video artist; Unloosened and Root is my first full feature narrative film, so I'm used to showing in non-traditional film venues, by which I assume you mean a movie theater. Yet, this performance is meant to upset that assumption. During the live theater performance I encourage the audience to order the DVD from, the film's on online distributor, and watch the movie at home to have their private, subjective experience.

JEFF: Broadway has made a habit of appropriating Hollywood properties for musicals. If your film was to be adapted (or re-adapted) into a stage piece, what would you want to see done with it? What would you NOT want to see done with it? And what Hollywood stars would be appropriate for the casting?

DAVID: Considering that half the film is documentary and half is fiction it would be an interesting challenge to make a staged version and keep the reality/fiction distinction but I don't see this happening any time soon. As far as casting: I do act in this movie and it has always been my dream, whenever the opportunity presented itself, to have Don Knotts play me (I have a nervous energy that I think he could just land perfectly) but now that he's dead I'll have to go with my second choice, Angelina Jolie; hopefully she'll do as good a job as Cate Blanchett did with Dylan.

JEFF: What other projects are you working on right now?

DAVID: Just 10 days ago we finished the primary shooting for my next feature project tilted David Dixon is Dead, which, of course, I'm very excited about. It is relevant to the Brick performances in that I'm thinking of this movie as a sequel to Unloosened and Root. When it is finished I would like to show them as a double feature keeping the format of a live commentary over Unloosened and Root with David Dixon is Dead shown straight, with no commentary. Both films are about death rituals, art, and, to a degree, family – Unloosened and Root focusing on "the Mother" and David Dixon is Dead "the Father".

JEFF: Thank you very much, David! And audiences – check out the film this Saturday night, when it’ll be showing as part of a double feature with Depraved Indifference, an anthology of video work from monologist and performance artist Kenneth Shorr. Do it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Over the past several days I’ve been conducting an online interview with members of Bone Orchard, the company that created the extended Film Festival show The Stubborn Illusion of Time, which has its last two performances at The Brick this upcoming Thursday and Friday. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it – it’s a fresh and exciting piece that uses the space in new and interesting ways, and it will haunt you after you see it.

JEFF: So my first question is essentially: how did the project get started? I know that Stubborn Illusion sort of rose from the ashes of a previous piece, and I'd love to know how that one came to be, and what brought you to the point of deciding to reinvent it.
ANNA JONES (director): We began a series of workshops in November with a large group of actors investigating the idea of The Immediate Present and how to put it on stage, taking New York, photography and the news as our three primary themes. We did a lot of exploring through many different exercises, improvs, installations, and presented a sketch of them at Nouriel Roubini's loft in Tribeca in December. David Dixon who is a good friend of Laura's, saw the piece there, and invited us to do something similar in his building, an old coffin factory, in Williamsburg (near Graham Avenue).

We were thrilled to be invited to rehearse and perform in such an amazing building, and on top that, for free... so really David and his building began us on a new path. As we explored it, we found we wanted to work in response to its atmosphere and its spaces - from the ramp that coffins used to be carried down to a waiting room area to stairs leading up and down to the loading dock.

We started investigating three new characters in relationship to that space who remain in this piece, The Stubborn Illusion of Time (Rudolf, an East German janitor hiding out there from the world; Francis, a 100 year old spirit whose parents owned the factory and who died in a coffin making accident(!) and Gregor, a Belarussian homeless man) and they co-existed with three characters brought over from our investigations into the news and photography (a photographer, loosely modeled on Diane Arbus who also remains in this piece; a soldier suffering from traumatic shock and a pedophile trying to discover his identity): so these characters became spirits who were dead and trying to move through their lives in order to understand who they were, what their lives were and how to get to a next stage of death... out of the limbo the coffin factory represented. So we took an audience through the building, happening upon the scenes as we got to them - they were installed in each nook and cranny of the building...

Anyway, this was all very exciting and when we finished, David told us about the Film/Theatre festival at The Brick (he curated the film branch) and encouraged us to apply with the film of the piece that he had directed the shoot of with two camera guys. So we decided to make a new piece of theatre continuing from the previous one that was made out of the ashes of that one (its film, its characters, its place) and I think you can really feel the silt of that in this piece. its become even more about being stuck in time - hence the title, the idea that past, present and future for these people is somehow indistinguishable. the film really adds to that and it was something that we wanted to explore formally and from the point of view of these characters.

JEFF: So what aspects of The Immediate Present did you need to shed on its journey to The Brick, and why?

ANNA: Well the first thing is that we lost two actors along the way for different reasons so two characters were left on the screen but not on the stage. The opening of the piece with Eddy's character, Rudolf, shedding the spirits of the two now departed spirits reflects our saying farewell to them. Of course, we also lost the traveling aspect of The Immediate Present.

JEFF: Right, of course. Reflecting that loss, what did you have to create anew in order to accommodate the new space?

ANNA: We had to create new situations and new explorations of the remaining relationships and situations in a proscenium space, also integrating the film from the last piece… we improvised, discussed, played and worked and came up with what you see now in The Stubborn Illusion of Time. It became even more about time – moments repeating, getting stuck in time, trying to move through time, moving back in time, etc.

JEFF: And how was all of this reflected in your collaborative process?

ANNA: We spent a lot of time early on discussing what the new piece would be. We had a mixture of formal ideas (wanting to play with how theatre could mimic film and wanting to mess with time) and relationship or character arc ideas (e.g. Gregor and Rudolf switching places at the end of the piece, based off the idea of Persephone going back to the living world from the Underworld for a period of time after a deal was struck!)… We improvised sections out of these conversations, tried out specific ideas different people would bring in (from text to visual) and then concentrated on threading them together into a whole piece. We had more time pressure working on this piece so we did less open playing and movement work and more specific trying out of ideas to take the material we already had into a new place.

JEFF: How has the show continued to evolve since you've been at The Brick? Has audience response and the very act of performing the show regularly wrought any additional changes?

BRIAN FARISH (Actor): The piece is deeply reflective of the personalities of the performers. I know this is true for me at least. One of the beautiful aspects of working in the form (however ambiguous) we have chosen is that is something doesn't make visceral sense to the performer, we can change it and the performer has a say in exactly what it becomes. We often would create an event and say, "No, this is entirely wrong. Just completely off." And then try exactly the opposite, sometimes finding an incredible insight into who the characters could be. Anna is very gentle (VERY) in giving direction, but gives strokes exactly where necessary. The life of the characters on stage is exactly what we want it to be, its not as if we have to conform in any way to a script. So the events, the conflict between characters often arise from the mad workings of the performers' singular brains.

So each time I perform I can ask, "Who was I, Brian, when I wanted to do this moment in the piece? Is that the same tonight? What do i now love about this part of the piece?" And the answer changes as I change as a man from night to night. And so Gregor the character changes and grows as I do. This is the case with all good performance, even in intricately scripted and heavily directed work, it is just dominant in our work rather than secondary to "getting all the moments in tonight." I ususally don't care how Gregor ends up looking.

ROWEENA MACKAY (Dramaturg): Some audience members have described the show as "creepy" and "nightmarish." I never really thought of it that way, but now I'm wondering if we've created a horror play?! I've never heard of that genre of theatre ... film, yes. Anna & I saw Bayona's The Orphanage a few months ago and were scared out of our seats ...perhaps it had an influence on the work?!

We've even come up with a new catchy sound bite for the piece:


... not bad eh?

An audience member also told me that he was reminded of a poem by James Dickey, that our play was like a "woolly baby."

ANNA: Performing every other weekend has allowed us to make changes to strengthen the overall arc and the tech of the show. We've been really fortunate to be part of such a strong team, working on it and wanting to make it better. We got a lot of feedback early on about different narratives the audience were getting, often ones we didn't realize we put there or could be read there. As Brian says, the process of working was very collaborative and so the piece reflects all these different minds, so in a sense, it is inevitable that the audience will read different interpretations of the show depending on what they see (also because there is a lot going on onstage). We varied in our opinions as to how much we wanted to listen to them, but we were all keen to keep crafting the piece and so we really got the opportunity to do that partly because The Brick was open to us being in the space at times outside of the show, which was incredibly helpful to that process – especially the technical part of it. The length of the run because of the extension has really allowed us to become more technically proficient and speedier, particularly because the actors, especially Laura and Eddy, do so much of the technical stuff onstage. It is quite amazing to see!

And yes, like Ro, I hadn't thought about the show being so creepy. I find it quite funny! It's been interesting to hear people describe it that way and I like the idea that we have created a horror play!! The tone of the play is really influenced by the design. On seeing rehearsals, Sharath (our sound designer) came back with quite a dark, shifting surreal palette… light parts too, but that really was interesting because he was creating that in response to what he saw of what we'd devised. Similarly with the lights, Burke (lighting artist) keeps the stage infused with mystery by playing with different types of lights than you'd usually see on a theatre stage, by using the projections as light sources and by other means too such as the flash of the camera; and in general, going for a watery, quite spectral atmosphere. Laura and I had been playing with ideas about playing with practical lights, flashes of cameras, and different objects, like plastic and newspapers, since we started workshopping in November and it's great to have them thought through, made new and integrated into Burke's imaginative response to the piece.

On top of that, the way the performers live inside the world onstage I think makes it creepy too as they really inhabit this strange space that we've all made. That's partly a result of becoming an ensemble and getting to know these characters in our last piece and having the same costumes to step back into which gives them that skin again. They live inside it very deeply and so that in a sense is quite odd when I think we're often used to seeing a less 'living' mode of performance, more performative really. That varies from show to show but I like the way it can feel so dropped in that you almost feel like a voyeur in the audience rather than an audience member. I love what you wrote, Brian, about the piece changing with you each night. That's fascinating to watch.

The arc of the show is getting stronger as we do it more. I would like to have the chance to continue with the piece elsewhere and see it grow even more and Roweena and I have talked about wanting to keep working on the text and the stories that are up there and I'm sure everyone has ideas about that, including our audiences…

JEFF: Thank you all for your thoughts – it’s been wonderful to have you at The Brick. Readers, buy your tickets today!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I had asked Lawrence Krauser, writer/director of the film Horrible Child (among other things), if he would consent to a blog interview in honor of tomorrow's encore screening of the film. Lawrence, devil that he is, responded in verse, with the results reproduced here. Let it whet your appetite for the film: Horrible Child will screen Wed 7/22 at 8pm.

For the record, it is a a TK Film from Best Ten Dollar Suit Pictures, designed and edited by Larissa Tokmakova, and starring Mike Daisey, T. Ryder Smith, and Paul Willis.

by Lawrence Krauser

Horrible went to a movie
And thought it was totally groovy.
Much better than Life
Whose persistent strife
Had lately been Horrible’s curse.
It was hard to imagine much worse.

But the movie, o joy, what delight!
It made all HC’s woe feel all right
Till the titles stopped rolling,
Then Its tears went cheek-strolling,
And HC sat there broken-hearting,
Awaiting the movie’s restarting.

But little did Horrible know
That It had just seen the last show.
With each minute that passed,
It became more aghast
And determined to see it again,
No matter how long till the when.

So It sat in Its seat with Its purpose,
Resourceful as the best of sherpas,
The floor a buffet
Of spilled can and may
With plenty for mouse, roach, and Child
To feast well with manners most mild.

The theatre’s custodial pod
Moved around It with diurnal plod,
Pre-Columbian greet,
Columbus’s fleet –
To Horrible their minds were that green,
Blind to what they’d never seen.

O blissful night spent undetested!
Un-evicted, not even molested!
Such a contrast to home,
It observed as the gloam
Became evening, then midnight, then morning,
And hope Its thoughts began adorning.

And then there was light, and then others -
Calm children, kind fathers, wise mothers
All here for the show -
HC felt in the know
But resisted the impulse to lecture,
Knowing fun is best had sans conjecture.

And then the good darkness descended
Attention to screen was extended
And HC was breathless
Good movies are deathless -
But what was this now that was playing?
Something else? How cruel, how betraying!

A preview it was, not sedition
But HC was dumb to tradition
From the theater it ran
Cursing God, hating Man,
Buying cameras and sets and a phone,
And making a film of its own,

True to its temper and tone.
Every night like a full moon it shone,
For an audience rapt, if alone,
In a theater of mind, home-grown.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


The Brick Theater Interpretive Dance Theater Improv Troupe interprets "Death at Film Forum" (or something).

Woah, wait, is the Film Festival over? That was fast. Oh wait, I was there. In fact, I hosted the closing night Film Festival Awards ceremony and had more to drink than I should have at the afterparty! It’s all starting to come back to me now…

I hosted it in the company of an adolescent girl named “Roberta,” who is the illegitimate daughter of one of The Brick’s biggest anonymous donors. It was awkward. We were accompanied on the piano by the Lawrence Krauser Orchestra, which made things go down more smoothly, and there were occasional performance breaks from The Brick Theater Interpretive Dance Theater Improv Troupe. The awards consisted of strips of film that we clipped live on stage right before presenting – combing the physical object of film with the temporal nature of theater, get it?


Oh boy, I still have a headache…

Here are the award winners, in approximate order of presentation:

Best Re-Deconstruction of the American Dream
“Bring Me the Head of John Ford”

Most Unoriginal Show
Lisa Levy Industries for “You Bet Your Life – LIVE”

Best Seizure
Bone Orchard for “The Stubborn Illusion of Time”

Maggie Surovell accepts for Bone Orchard

Best Short Film? Ever.
Clay Chapman and Craig Macneill for “Late Bloomer”

Ian W. Hill Lifetime Achievement Award
Art Wallace, for his lifetime

Art Wallace, winner of the Ian W. Hill Lifetime Achievement Award

Best Performance by a Theater Critic
Michael Criscuolo for “Q&A: The Perception of Dawn”

Michael Criscuolo cannot be bothered to get off the phone with his girlfriend in order to accept his award.

Best Soundtrack
Joyce Miller for “Film Vs. Theater/Theatre”

The George Carlin Award for Finding Humor in Death
Old Kent Road Theater for “Death at Film Forum,” with a particular citation for Richard Lovejoy, whose magic on the stage wipes away the tears and makes us forget that George Carlin ever existed. At all. Makes it like George was never even here. On this earth.

Crappiest Indie Film Waiting to Happen
“Q&A: The Perception of Dawn”

Gyda Arber accepts on behalf of "Q&A," unaware of the big upset yet to come for her other show, "Suspicious Package"

Best Live Performance of Prerecorded Material
Stolen Chair for “Kill Me Like You Mean It”

Most Misunderstood
Gemini CollisionWorks for “The Magnificent Ambersons, by Orson Welles: A Reconstruction for the Stage”
[NOTE: Gemini CollisionWorks also won this award last year for "Ian W. Hill's Hamlet"]

Best Alcoholic Newcomer
Rebecca Comtois for “Q&A: The Perception of Dawn”

Rebecca Comtois' memorable (except for her) acceptance speech

Best Handheld Zune Video Player Simultaneous Interactive Noir
Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group for “Conspicuous Parcel”

The Tim Russert Award for Terrible Sadness and Grief (and Excellence in the Communicable Arts)
Scott Eckert, from “Death at Film Forum,” for his portrayal of Scott, a journalist on the rise who won't let Tourette's Syndrome hold him back from breaking the 'Big Story.'

Best Performance by an Inanimate Object
Paperclip for “I, Object!” (Unable to attend the ceremonies due to its filming schedule for NBC’s “The Office,” Paperclip’s award was received in absentia by Ruler.)

Ruler (and friends) accept on behalf of Paperclip.

Most Ladders Used
American Story Theatre for “What I Held in My Hand” (with one ladder)

Least Likely to Be Performed on a Cruise Ship
“Code Alpha”

Best Itty-Bitty Little Costumes
“Tod & I”

The Boy from Tod & I (with friend) accepts with excruciating embarrassment

Best Jew
Ken Simon for “Q&A: The Perception of Dawn” and “Suspicious Package

Best Stage to Screen Adaptation
“Horrible Child”

Jeff schmoozes with pianist and "Horrible Child" writer/director Lawrence Krauser

Best Children's Theater Play

The Golden Brick Award for Overall Film Festival Excellence
“The Free Opening Night Preview Cabaret and Party”

The socks Jeff wore to host with

The real star of the evening: concessions provided by Sweet Tooth of the Tiger