Saturday, August 23, 2008


I was wrong. For your reading pleasure, we now present this final post in the "Collisionworking" Series, in which Ian W. Hill offers some final thoughts on his month of performance at The Brick. As of this writing there is at least one performance left of all three shows, so we encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to see as many as possible!

Postscript: Final Thoughts/Influences (on Playing Ball)

One last little piece about influences . . .

In making Everything Must Go and its predecessor in the Invisible Republic series, That's What We're Here For (an american pageant), it occurred to me that they were a sum total of a line of thought that has been growing in me since childhood. A way of looking at the world that comes about from having entertainment that I loved - just 'cause it was entertaining to me - that on some level also encouraged a way of looking at the world through questioning eyes, and expressing that questioning in funny and satiric but still sometimes cutting and dark ways.

It's shown up most in EMG and TWWHF, but it's kinda there in everything I do, and now that it's become clearer to me, it's something to be focused on with more intent in future.

The Invisible Republic shows are dedicated to Harvey Kurtzman, Frank Zappa, and Ernie Kovacs, but beyond those shows, I've realized their influence more and more infects everything I do.

Kurtzman and Bill Gaines of the Mad comic book and magazine tended to downplay any notion that there was any true satiric or political content in what they did, but if pressed, they would say that if they had a message, it was basically, "Kids, don't believe what you're being told, because everyone's trying to sell you something." Which is maybe something kids should be hearing more of today.

Zappa's message was pretty much the same, though he was also a proud capitalist who enjoyed the "proper" use of advertising.

But he disliked the fakery that everyone is always told is "just part of the business, so just go along with it," resulting in things like what happens when The Mothers of Invention are told to "lip-sync" their new single on some 60s TV show:

And occasionally he could bring some of that influence to a pop culture arena:

Ernie Kovacs instilled in me a love for the inexplicably funny at a very young age (PBS ran a series of collections of his work around 1974-1975 or so), but besides things like the perfection of the Nairobi Trio . . .

He had an entire attitude that, even when selling something, made you aware of the process in an honest way while trying to entertain:

And his beautifully "off" metacommentary extended to his own credits:

I guess in the end, what I learned from these people is how to respond to the question, "Why don't you just play ball?" Which is with raised hackles and a determination to do what is right for the work, not for anybody else (which doesn't preclude selling the work, but just selling it honestly), and to focus on the little dark scurrying things that are going on behind the scenes of the big smiley faces al around us every day (but at the same time, to understand the enjoyment you can get from those big smiley faces).

Which brings me to three last videos, from the band Negativland, a group that's also been influential on me in a few ways, in terms of collage and commentary, the last few years. Here, they take on some aspects of pop culture and advertising and language in ways I've also been trying to use, in a stage context (and I quote liberally from a quote they use in the last piece in EMG).

Enjoy. But don't necessarily believe.

Friday, August 22, 2008


With this post the guest-blogging run of Ian W. Hill comes to its conclusion. There are only three more days left to see the shows, so if you'd like to do so you should act fast. Hope to see you there!

On Harry in Love, part 2: A Big Man, Yelling (aka Influences)

Harry in Love is a comedy. A loud, broad, raucous comedy. The subtitle is A Manic Vaudeville and this is to be taken seriously. The people in it are nuts, the play itself is nuts. Wonderful.

The performance style is manic and stagy in the best way. The one-liners have to explode with a classic style of timing that goes back over a hundred years and isn't often seen so much anymore. It's a specific kind of humor, that traveled the country and eventually entered the movies and early TV, but started as something very much of vaudeville, of New York, of the comedians there, and very specifically the New York Jewish comedians there.

Now, here we are doing Harry with a cast of mostly Gentiles playing Jews and doing this stuff (except of course Ken Simon, who calls himself "God's Tummler" and who probably belongs in the Borscht Belt of several decades ago), but while the style began that way, there are plenty of fine Gentile examples of comedians who took on this style, including a couple of nice boys who started out in vaudeville and worked this schtick to the ends of their lives, in films and TV, and whose timing I find myself directly aping quite a bit in this show:

What's nice about that piece (from their film In Society though they also did it on their TV show), is that they are both almost straight men there as well for a collection of fine comedic second-bananas to do their bits off of, which is also true of this classic routine, done by many MANY comedians, but probably most famous from this version on the Abbott & Costello TV show:

The A&C connection with Harry became particularly clear when I realized there was no way I could yell the line, "I'm not ASKING him to get involved!" without directly copying Lou Costello's cadences on "I'm not ASKING you who is on second!"

Years ago, when doing this show for the first time, Michael Bruno, who was then playing Paul, mentioned looking at Gene Wilder's performance in The Producers for inspiration. I didn't mention this to Walter Brandes, who's now playing the part, as he's a very different Paul, and I'm not sure that reference would work for him.

At the same time, I'm noticing a lot more Zero Mostel in my own performance as Harry – I don't know if I didn't see it nine years ago because I couldn't see myself and Zero in the same category. Now, being a bit older (and, admittedly, a bit heavier), I find myself taking on a bit more Zero in the part.

This scene from The Producers especially gets the feel of what I'm trying to do as Harry down – sorry for the quality; it appears someone decided to videotape the film of a TV monitor, recording the sound off the speaker with the camera mic, and then post it to YouTube, but it's what there is available:

During rehearsals for this round of Harry, a name came up that I hadn't thought of before, but which now seemed extremely a propos: Jackie Gleason.

Maybe I hadn't thought of Gleason before because . . . well, to be frank, while I've always admired his technical skill, I've never at all been a fan of The Great One. He gets on my nerves, and I really, REALLY dislike Ralph Kramden and The Honeymooners

However, once he came up, I couldn't help but see the similarities, and once I could see them, I could use them.

This performance style continues down into theatre of the 60s with plays by Murray Schisgal and Bruce Jay Friedman and Jules Feiffer and even Neil Simon, but with a darker edge. Plays of a category that Richard once put Harry in, something like "big sweaty neurotic New York Jewish men yelling at other people." Unfortunately, the beautiful, fun broadness of this style seems to have vanished in the last couple of decades. It's my pleasure to bring it back for a few more times in Harry in Love, which, if it's even half as much fun to watch as to perform, must be quite a show out there in the house. Wish I could see it from there.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


A penultimate guest post from Ian W. Hill - last one tomorrow morning, so stay alert, citizen!

On Harry in Love, part 1: Foreman & Me

(Yesterday I said I was going to write about some more influences on Everything Must Go and then get to Harry in Love, but it's worked out differently)

I wouldn't be directing theatre today if it weren't for Richard Foreman. I maybe should say, "the work of Richard Foreman," but Richard himself is somewhat responsible personally.

The big love of my life for the longest time was Film, and all I ever wanted to do was to make movies. At the same time, I loved to act, especially on stage. For most of my teens and twenties, if you'd asked me what I really wanted to do with myself, I would have told you that I wanted to make movies and act in theatre.

I went to NYU Film School at Tisch School of the Arts, and loved it, but by the time I graduated, having made a 10-minute Junior-year film, "How Did You Manage To Steal a Car from a Rolling Train?", and an hour-long Senior film, Deep Night, which mixed black-and-white and color live action, animation of various kinds (cel, clay, pixilation), musical numbers, crazed stylistic shifts, fake documentary sections, a hand-cranked silent movie scene, metacommentary through intertitles, and basically everything that I ever wanted to do or see in movies, I was a little worn out and empty in regard to the form. I had made a film - not a great one, but a substantial one - in which I burned through most of the ideas I had about what I wanted to do with the medium, whether they belonged in the film or not. And now my big calling card was a strange, uneven hour-long film, which is a useless length for a movie anyway (as Dan O'Bannon has pointed out, having learned that lesson with John Carpenter when they made the original student film version of Dark Star - below 45 minutes, good, above 80 minutes, fine, anything in-between, there is no use for it in the world - festivals won't take it, no one's interested in watching it), and which most people didn't get and a bare few thought some kind of masterpiece (a phrase I've had applied to my work more than a few times, "some kind of masterpiece" – what is that supposed to mean?).

Dark Star poster

So, Theatre.

I had been acting on stage more and more at NYU - I wasn't in an actual acting/drama program, so my options were limited, but by Senior year I was on various stages more and more, and increasingly outside of NYU in the Off-Off-Broadway world.

At the premiere screening of Deep Night, stage director Christopher Carter Sanderson, who had directed me a few times by then, asked me how familiar I was with the work of Richard Foreman. When I said I knew the name well enough, but not the work, he said that he would someday like to direct me in Foreman's play Egyptology, and that I would be a perfect actor for Foreman's world.

As I had no idea what that meant, I tried to see the next Foreman play that was up in NYC. I didn't get in - it was sold out - but at the box office I bought the book of Richard's plays - Reverberation Machines - that contained the play Chris had mentioned. I fell in love with Richard's writing immediately, and with that play in particular. And I started thinking about it as a director, as a Theatre Director - not a position I'd much craved in past (though I'd directed plays by Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Thornton Wilder at boarding school, which I regarded as practice in the long run for directing actors on film).

Reverberation Machines - Foreman

Also, my best friend David LM Mcintyre was directing a lot of theatre, with me often as actor and/or dramaturg-bounceboard for him, and this - including attending some of his classes with Anne Bogart at Playwrights Horizons when I would be acting in pieces there - began to make me start thinking of directing for the stage as well. But I didn't do anything about it; I was content to sit back and act (and occasionally design, as my film school technical knowledge meant I would get tapped to do other things on shows I was acting in that needed tech people).

Eventually, I began to see Richard's shows, and this also opened my head to the possibility of directing theatre – as Joyce and Nabokov had done to me years earlier with prose, and Lynch, Godard, and Roeg had with film, I needed an example to show me that all these ideas I had in my head about what could be done in an art form weren't just crazy, that you could actually DO them and there WOULD be people who would want to share in them with you. You could create works about your personal visions/obsessions in these media, and while some people might call you self-indulgent, what the hell great was ever created in Art without an artist indulging themself?

Jump ahead a few years - I'm acting in Kirk Wood Bromley's Want's Unwished Work at NADA on Ludlow Street, and in some ways I think I've gone about as far with my acting, craftwise, in working for other people as I can. I've got a great part - actually written specifically for me by the playwright over 2 1/2 years of readings - that I'm having a wonderful time with, but I'm not using everything I want to as an actor. I'm having to hold back. I need new worlds to work in, and I'm going to have to create them myself, it would appear, if I'm going to act in them.

So I'm living in NADA during the extension of Want's, as I've lost my NYC apartment and have decamped to my Mom's place in Maine for the most part, and I've come back to do the show and help out the other shows going on there, including Edward Einhorn's production of Foreman's My Head Was a Sledgehammer.

My Head Was a Sledgehammer

Seeing Edward's production (done at a time when the majority of people would say, "I think Foreman's plays can only be done by Foreman" if you mentioned someone else doing one) and rereading Richard's collections gave me an idea, and I said to Aaron Beall of NADA one day, "I think NADA should do a festival of other directors doing Foreman's plays." He nodded thoughtfully and walked away.

Two days later he came back to me and said, "That idea? A festival of Foreman plays? Do it. Next June, it's yours. Get it together."

And so I did.

The reason Richard is directly responsible for me being where I am today is that he said "Yes" to the idea and encouraged and helped me a bit in getting this together (he'd say he didn't do anything, but just agreeing to it and giving some written advice to the directors was enough to give the festival a certain amount of cachet).
We did three years of the No Strings Attached festivals (named, appropriately on many levels, by Edward Einhorn) at NADA, doing somewhere around 35 plays by Richard, including several world or USA premieres. Richard saw a performance of each show. During year two, having seen me act in several of the shows, he mentioned that he had written a play called Harry in Love many years earlier, and he thought I'd be good for the part of Harry, which was quite flattering, and even more so when I saw the play – not that it's a flattering character (it ain't), but it was flattering as an actor to think a playwright would think you capable of this demanding role.

Interestingly, with Harry, though, I was back to doing the kind of theatre I had mostly walked away from when I started to direct, and it started me considering even more possibilities as a director – that I could alternate my personal, idiosyncratic pieces with other pieces that were just there to make people laugh, which I enjoy doing anyway. So now I knew I could do a wider range of plays, and I have ever since.

Richard is the man all of this comes back to then, for me. Why I do what I do, in so many ways. Even down to – as with some other people I know who started out as Foreman devotees – not bothering to see his work for the last several years, not out of disinterest, but because I have other work of my own to do, and have to get to it, and I've probably gotten most of what I can out of Richard by now (though I'm still thinking of directing the USA premiere of his play George Bataille's Bathrobe next year).

In the end, what I've learned from Richard is to be myself, and be true to myself, as an artist, whatever that may mean. Which is why I am doing, HAVE to do, Spell AND Everything Must Go AND Harry in Love all at the same time right now. Not to do so wouldn't be right, at least for me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Another entry from Ian W. Hill. Only three more performances of SPELL left, so order your tickets today!

On Spell: Creation and Influences

Spell started from some fragments in some notebooks and computer files. Someone was talking, and somehow I realized it was a woman named "Ann."

Ann said a few things here and there that I took down.

Someone was talking to Ann - I called him "Bill," just to give him a name at first, but I never figured that name would stick (and it didn't).

In one of the fragments, to my surprise, some witches appeared, and the word "spell" came to mind as a possible title for where this was goin g.

I finally put together one file of all the little fragments I had in different places that seemed to want to go together. It was a 4-page Word file called "SPELL" and this was what it said:


(fragments to be figured out and ordered later)

(light bulb scene)

Say we had a light bulb here . . .

Light bulb on stand shoots up out of the center of the table. ANN points her finger at it like a gun, “pulls the trigger,” and it clicks on.

. . . and it’s on. I can’t just look at that and deal with it as just a light bulb

(detailed light bulb explanation to come)

Not just light bulbs. Something that complex. Tables. This table. Who built it, where, what hands, what conditions. How did he or she feel? Did they have a cold? Who did they give that cold to, later that day after they made their piece of this thing?
I m in a diner, I go to put the sugar in my coffee from one of those sugar pourers, you know, the, the diner . . ?
(Demonstrating the “diner kind” of sugar dispenser with a pouring gesture. BILL nods.)
And who made that, that there in my hand? Not just that, that there’s a factory somewhere of people, lots of people, making these. And a place in that factory, maybe a factory of its own somewhere where they just make those little metal flaps at the top of the lid that the sugar comes through. Just that little piece of metal, and how many people did it take to make that, and who are they, and what are their lives around making these little pieces of metal. I picture them. I follow them home. I watch their TV shows . . . dinner . . . evening with the kids . . . maybe friends over . . .
It’s paralyzing. Not being able to just ignore it. Accept it. If that’s . . . You get what I mean?

Does that make things difficult?

(bitter irony)
Well, it makes it difficult to acquire money. If you know what I mean. Earn my keep.

What do you want to keep?


(looking off)
I hear voices . . .

Tell me about these voices.

No, I mean—

Don’t be afraid.

I’m not afraid, I just—

Stay a spell.

Stay what spell?

Spell occurs. Three witches. Silhouetted through back scrim wall.





(floor becomes ceiling – fabric – on pulleys)

(noir detective)

(ANN gender switch, back and forth, unsure – ANDY, maybe?)

Sit a spell.

Spell this.

Spell it for me?

Are you good at spelling?


I thought I was an artist. I was always told I was an artist, so, hey, I’m an artist, right? Then I got to thinking I was just a craftsman. Woman. Craftswoman? Person? Crafter. Crafty? Then I decided I was somewhere in between, and what kind of place is that to be? After all.


(politeness/manners/chivalry part of monologue)

(being in the grey, between black and white, problems, advantages, disadvantages)

(things have moved on)

(technology. shifts.)

(bread and circuses)

(business scene with lots of machine sounds, images of money, bills, large. projected?)

(noir figures. violence. multiple beatings.)


Well, anything can happen in this place.

Do you mind?



Me mind?

You mind.

I mind everything and nothing. All at the same time.


(everything slides)

(drug, voices, insanity, dealing with it discussion)


Did you ever want to be normal?

Jesus, hell, no!
Well, no, maybe that’s not true. For a moment, time to time, very brief. Only when I was in discomfort and wanted comfort. Thought “normal” would have given it to me. Ease. An easement, of a kind.


Say this was—

(as a repeated opening to various scenes/thoughts)

(ANN and ANDY alternate imagining the lives of people in businesses/houses seen from a train – “Colonel F.G. Ward Pumping Station,” “Mr. Fox Tire Company,” “Sal’s Collision and Son,” “Action Box and Container;” a factory with cracked windows painted with green enamel; plains of burned-out, busted, and just plain left for dead vehicles; a back sunporch on a river, filled with stuff, over the windows and the screen door; two International Klein Blue doors stuck in the side of an old, shabby tin warehouse; a faded smiley face with “Always Happy To Serve You!” in italic on the yellowed sign of a building, no other signage visible.)


And that was a start. To continue, I decided that Ann should preferably be played by Moira Stone, so I had a voice in my head to write for specifically.

Other things began appearing in the fragments. Bombs and terrorist references started showing=2 0up. Then I realized that Ann was being questioned in a little grey room somewhere. Was it a doctor or a military interrogator questioning her?

Maybe both?

Or maybe not, but she sees it as both.

Ann, as noted at the end of the notes above, now also had a male alter-ego, Andy. But wait, which one was the real one? Was one dreaming the other?

And maybe the interrogator was also one person split into two genders?

Possibilities continued to assert themselves.

As with most of my work for the last few years, this was becoming a piece about the United States of America, and was in some way a scream of pain about where things had gone and were going - badly - for this country that I love and feel so conflicted about. It was becoming an argument between my heart, which had begun to believe that violent revolution was the only way any positive change was going to happen here, and my head which is well aware that violent revolutions almost never work out in the long run. The argument in my ow n soul became the argument in this little chamber that is also the inside of Ann's head, with all the various voices and points of view trying to make themselves heard.

I rewatched some of my favorite movies - one of my favorite conceits, dramatically, is that the work is happening inside the head of the main character, and we are perceiving things as he/she interprets them emotionally/psychologically, not as they are "really" happening. So I watched Point Blank and Fight Club and Bad Timing and Detour and Myra Breckinridge and especially the David Lynch series of stories told inside the minds of people trying to run from the horrors of what they've done (or is being done to them) in the "real" world: Twin Peaks; Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE (and one could arguably include Blue Velvet and Eraserhead in this form as well, maybe).

The Devils - poster

As mentioned last entry, I also watched Ken Russell's The Devils, whic h involves a person being interrogated for a crime that they do not consider a crime by a governmental organization, and which, as typical with Russell, goes wonderfully off the rails into stylization, almost abstraction.

The Devils, which began life as a stage play by John Whiting as well as a novel by Aldous Huxley, reminded me of another stage work transformed into film that interprets and twists some real historical facts (both, oddly enough, in France) into a new statement: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (aka Marat/Sade) by Peter Weiss, directed by Peter Brook. Watching this film, I felt even more of a kinship with certain aspects of what I was going for, in terms of political debate in a cell, with madness lurking.

Here is the entire film of Marat/Sade (if you really want to watch it all online, best to click on the title link I just gave and then click on "watch in high quality" as each of the ten chapters comes up):

As this was happening, I was assembling a cast that seemed right for this play (and, luckily, Moira could do it). I wound up with a fine one to start - and still, as not all of them made it to the performances themselves, due to getting jobs they couldn't refuse - a good one to finish.

I started work with the cast with just fragments like the ones above, and some music, figuring out the scenes and structure as I went. The cast members, who I was now writing the play for and around, influenced it greatly in their own persons, attitudes, backgrounds and voices. I wrote lines of dialogue and used tones of voice I wouldn't otherwise, just because I could HEAR the voices of the actual cast talking in ways I wouldn't always have going inside my head.

For example, I had wanted, just for sonic purposes, the witches to speak non-English languages. I was tired, even as someone who speaks only English fluently and French brokenly, in the tyranny of the English language all around me and in my shows, so I cast actresses who could speak other languages. Somewhat by chance, these actresses I cast were Cuban, Palestinian, and Chinese-American. Now, in a play about patriotism, nationalism, violent revolution and/or freedom fighting (depending on how you look at it), this suddenly became Something That Had To Be Dealt With - and quotes from Castro, Che, Arafat, and Mao suddenly wound up being juggled into the mix. Which was hard, and it took me a while to figure out how to do this without upending the play into endless didactic political discussions - in fact, it took almost up to the last minute, but I'm happy with where it went.

It was weird how and where ideas would come . . . I was still trying to figure out how to write the scenes between The Man - a representation of various men from Ann's past - and the three Fragments (aspects of Ann in her past personae), without much luck when I frustratedly went out to get Berit and I some dinner one night, and as I was turning my car from Avenue S right onto Ocean Parkway, the entire way to write the first Man/Fragment scene appeared in my head just during the time I had the steering wheel turned. One of the best "Eureka!" moments I've ever had as a writer, though at the same time worrying, for it seemed like the solution was to write a scene that - to people who knew Berit and I - might sound as if it were, uncomfortably, a transcribed argument between the two of us shoved into the play. It isn't, and we don't have discussions quite like this one, but you might think it's about us if you just know us a bit.

I'm not sure how strong you could say Berit's influence on this play is. One friend, after seeing it, said, "So, you wrote a play about someone who's a combination of you and Berit going insane." I was a little put off by that, even though Berit somewhat agreed with the assessment. I think it may be a bit reductive of what the show is. Still, while I did write all of it (except for the quotes), I don't think certain aspects of it could have come out of me without B's influence in my life, especially the gender/feminist sections.

At the same time, B is worried about putting the valid feminist arguments in the mouth of a violent madwoman, but then she shrugs her shoulders and sa ys that there's no way to be 100% PC on this stuff, so why try . . .

Moira Stone as Ann, Fred Backus as General Doctor Jane, and Alyssa Simon as Doctor General Jane (or is it the other way around?)

I was writing and fixing up until days before opening, but wound up with a script I'm pretty damned proud of. There are bits I'll probably go back, look at and rethink after the run, but it's my first original 2-act play, and it works pretty much as I want it to.

More notes tomorrow on influences for Everything Must Go, and maybe I'll get to Harry in Love as well . . .

Monday, August 18, 2008


More words - and images - and moving images - from Ian W. Hill.

On Connections and Inspirations: Spell and Everything Must Go

Something I didn’t mention in the Everything Must Go write-up, which I’ve been reminded of and encouraged to mention (especially so as to break up these massive blocks of text of ME talking about MY WORK, yeesh) was the influence of outside, older artworks in the creation of these pieces.

It’s rarely other theatre or playscripts that stick in my head and bounce around, causing some kind of inspiration in what I’m working on myself, but usually visual art and popular musics that do the trick. Sometimes film (as was the case here).

For example, in the midst of all the inspiration for EMG, in language, and dance, and images in my head of light on bodies moving, one picture and song kept coming back to me (and both wound up being used directly in the show itself), Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?:

Richard Hamilton - Today's Homes

And a song by Roxy Music that may have been somewhat inspired by Hamilton’s collage (Hamilton was a teacher of Brian Ferry at the University of Newcastle), “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”:

Somehow these captured the feel of the consumer culture/advertising world I was dealing with in the show.

For Spell, a more mysterious combination of image and song asserted itself. First, in a way that I cannot explain in any logical, conscious manner, another great 20th-Century collage filled my head in an unexplainable. inspirational way, John Heartfield's Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!:

John Heartfield - Butter

"Hurrah, the Butter Is Finished!"

Goering: "Iron has always made a nation strong, butter and lard have only made the people fat."

Bob Dylan hung over Spell in some strange spiritual way (his song, "High Water (for Charlie Patton)" from Love and Theft has been close to me since 9/11/01, and part of a direct line of thought that led to the play). For some reason, a song of his that isn't at all one of my favorites - it's nice, but not one I ever would have put at the top of my list of Dylan classics - became important to the show, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - in particular, the version performed by The 13th Floor Elevators:

I had started Spell with some fragmentary texts that suggested a woman being interrogated by a figure that could be a doctor or a law-enforcement official. She appeared to have mental problems. Gradually, it became apparent she had done something monstrous and murderous. Then these Witches appeared - voices in her head, and they used numbers to communicate (a detail mostly dropped from the final show, but there are bits and pieces of it scattered around in there). And songs that used numbers in strange, incantatory ways suddenly became important to me - I had planned to quote from them in the show, but they mostly wound up being regulated to the pre-show mix, but something in all of them felt "right" for the show, and somehow inspired the tone of the show, like the traditional "Children Go Where I Send Thee" here performed by Johnny Cash:

"Papa Legba" by Talking Heads, performed by Pops Staples:

"Monkey Gone To Heaven" by Pixies:

"Highway 61 Revisited" by Dylan, performed by PJ Harvey:

and Love's "The Red Telephone":

This last song became not only important for its use of numbers, but also for the outchorus talking about madness, some of which is quoted from Marat/Sade (more on that in the next entry), which led neatly into the opening image of the show itself.

(another important inspirational song which didn't have the number conceit, but was connected to the show in other ways, was Patti Smith's version of "Hey Joe" where she turns it into the story of Patty Hearst - I'd include a video of that, but I found a neater video of the song done live in 1976 in a medley with "Horses," but without the Hearst conceit, so I'll just link to it - it's HERE)

Spell and Everything Must Go were created slowly over months, as I worked bits and pieces of them, and figured out what the shows were about as I went. I would hear music like some of the above, or other tracks, and know they belonged in one of the shows, but not be sure which one. The shows are extremely different, but have some strange overlaps that connect them. Berit said that EMG, which is subtitled (Invisible Republic #2) is about the Invisible Republic I keep returning to in my work (the America beneath the bright shiny surface where all the horrible scurrying things go on), and that Spell takes place inside the Invisible Republic, which seems right to me.

With the dark, nasty Spell and the deceptively cheerful and funny EMG going on together, I was reminded early on of the two films that Ken Russell made in 1971, the dark and nasty The Devils and the deceptively (?) cheerful and funny The Boy Friend, and I rewatched both films, and came away with a great deal more inspiration for both than I had anticipated.

They were both closer than I had figured to what I was trying to do in some way with my own shows, and, as I'd always had the feeling was true with Russell, I needed each show, the dark and the light, for proper balance. Here are both movies in their entirety - really. I was just looking for trailers or clips or something, but instead found that these two films (as yet unavailable on DVD) have been uploaded to YouTube. So here's Ken Russell's two 1971 features that directly influenced my two 2008 plays:

The Devils:

And here's The Boy Friend:

(and if you actually want to watch these for any length of time, I suggest clicking on the links in the titles above each video here to open the playlist directly in YouTube, where you can click on each chapter of the playlist to "watch in high quality" - an annoying new YouTube function which means embedded videos never look as good as when you see them on YouTube itself - and you HAVE to choose the "high quality" setting for each chapter as it comes up - NOTE: not all chapters of each film have a "high-quality" mode)

Once I had seen that there was some kind of connection between the two shows in my head, little bits of each show began oozing into the other -- the company where EMG takes place is mentioned in Spell, and the title of that show and the inclusion of The 13th Floor Elevators somehow fall through into EMG. Now they are a kind of matched pair, resembling each other barely, but echoing each other totally. At least for me.

Next entry: The original texts that started Spell, and more on the inspirations for that specific show.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Apropos of the previous post, I had asked Ian to create a series of posts for this blog, describing each of the three shows that he has recently mounted at The Brick. Hopefully this will whet your appetite for seeing these shows! If so, act quickly - the close next weekend.

On Everything Must Go (Invisible Republic #2)

For the first of three entries, each on one of the three shows Gemini CollisionWorks currently has running at The Brick, I thought I’d go with the one at the top of my mind, as I have a performance of it in about seven hours.

It is, however, the hardest one to trace the lineage of . . . the other night, after our most recent performance, we had an audience that really enjoyed the show, but which then also came into the lobby afterwards wanting to talk with me about “What was that about?” and “Where did that come from?” And with this show, those questions aren’t so easy to answer. I did my best, and thinking about it then made it a little easier to deal with now.

It started (kind of) by deciding that I was going to create two original shows this year, at least. It might have been three, but I had first made this decision before the theme for the Summer festival at The Brick was announced, and when that turned out to be The Film Festival I knew it was the time to finally do my long-standing dream project, The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles: A Reconstruction for the Stage rather than create an original work around the theme.

So, two original shows, both to go up in August. Spell was already bubbling at the top of my mind, not fully formed, but about as formed as I wanted it to be before going into rehearsal. As for the other one, the only thing I knew was that I wanted it to be built around a series of dances. I had a few dances planned out in my head for years to several songs, and started from the handful of those I thought could work in the context of a new play, which wound up being the dances I had dreamed to the songs “Slug” by Passengers (aka Brian Eno and U2), “Transylvanian Concubine” by Rasputina, and “Episode of Blonde” by Elvis Costello.

In the end, the latter two dances would wind up being very little like what I had pictured in my head for years (and the first almost identical) but that was the starting point.

My 2006 show That’s What We’re Here For (an american pageant) was a big, sprawling, ungainly piece that I’d like to bring back someday and fix and get completely right. It still had a lot of great things in it, especially the musical numbers, which were much liked. I got a lot of complements for them, my first baby-step into a land of dance and choreography that I’d been wanting to play in, but was too nervous about my own skills to really commit to. The praise I got for that show convinced me finally that, okay, time to do the full-out dance-theatre piece.

So I started with those dances that had been in my head for a while. Then I tried to imagine where all this could be taking place, and what came to mind was an office, and I could see the line up of desks where they could make the space interesting and also both facilitate some dance and at the same time interestingly restrict it. So what did this office produce?

Often, when creating a fake business like this, I just say they make “widgets” and leave it blank otherwise, but the more I thought about the space, it seemed to be a place where plans for selling things were schemed together. My love-hate relationship with the language of the advertising world began to come to the fore (as well as the more general officespeak that has become the province of the post-60s MBA-influenced corporate world). So it started to become “a play in dance and speech,” as I was thinking of it. I now saw mounds and mounds of jargon and more jargon and bad American speech broken up by explosions into musical numbers as releases from the tension of this horrible workplace.

Since I wanted to create this (and Spell) by going into rehearsal with a bare minimum of text and plans, and building the show around the actual voices and bodies of the performers who would be doing it, and go where that led me, I then had to start thinking about casting. I thought I’d have about 12-14 people in the show, and the only people I knew specifically that I had worked with before that I saw in this world and wanted to do the show were Gyda Arber and Dina Rose – both dancers, but of very different kinds – and Maggie Cino, with whom I’d done a well-received dance in TWWHF, and whose training is mostly in movement/acrobatics, which led to the rest of the casting in that I was now looking for dancers, or actors who could dance or at least move well, of a wide variety of types. I had two others on board for a while that I knew, but both of them had to drop out – and, not altogether smartly, I then took on the role of The Big Man – the boss of the agency – myself, which put more pressure on me during the process of this (and the other two shows) than I should have been handling.

A number of the people in the cast were new to me – actors I had been auditioning for a show I directed at Metropolitan Playhouse earlier this year - Merry Mount - or for Ambersons. Several people wound up coming from the company of Merry Mount, and another few from the auditions for Ambersons (in the case of David Arthur Bachrach, he wound up in both Ambersons and this).

After a lot of juggling around, losing some people, gaining others, we wound up with our cast of 11 – eight women and three men.

So, rehearsals. These at first consisted of me placing people around the room, looking at the pictures, and deciding what potential scenes these suggested. The cast and Berit would bounce ideas around as well, more movement would happen, and then I’d go home and write fragments of script, which I’d bring in and work at the next rehearsal. Then repeat this. Once there was the semblance of a structure, we started work on the dances.

The show went through a number of different titles before settling on the last, perfect one. For a while it was Dance To That Which One Is Created For, which is awful (and a quote from Glen or Glenda?), and for the longest time it was Invisible Republic, which I wasn’t happy with, until I realized it was a good and accurate subtitle. Everything Must Go just popped into my head one day, and was obviously right.

As I was writing, it was also apparent that, as with That’s What We’re Here For, the characters would all have stream-of-consciousness monologues about themselves, and between that, some of the Americana of the script, the quotes and use of verbal kitsch, and other connections, it became obvious that this show was #2 in a series beginning with TWWHF, which retroactively became subtitled (Invisible Republic #1). So now, between this and the NECROPOLIS plays, I have two continuing theatrical series I look to be going back to, both with their own specific rules and forms that must be kept to.

To my surprise, the dances came easy (at least easier than expected) and the writing was difficult (FAR more difficult than expected). I had some of the dances in my head, yes, but when confronted with working with REAL trained dancers on the pieces, I first tended to freeze up a bit. Even with all that, I was able to get across what I wanted, and was stunned as “Slug” and “Handsome Man” came to life in one evening in a tiny room at Champions Studios. Some of the numbers were very much choreographed fully by me, some were supervised by me – I would give a specific outline, and the dancers would fill in what I was looking for, giving me options that I could choose from, and some were very much taken over by the dancer/actors themselves when I just drew a blank on where to go (though I’d always make changes/corrections before they were set). Some had to be painfully hacked out bit by bit, but more often it was a fun process constantly full of the feeling of “Why don’t we try THIS?”

Songs and structure changed along the way. The first love song I’d picked for Becky Byers’ character turned out to be far too “passionate” to be workable in the show, and it took me forever to find a replacement song with the qualities I wanted. Gyda Arber, the musical-theatre expert of the company, also pointed out that as the number was (technically speaking) the “I Wish” number in the show, and as such, it was set too far into it, structurally. Moving it earlier in the piece suddenly solved a number of structural problems, and made the whole thing begin to take on the overall feel of a musical, albeit one with no songs, but dance numbers set to pop music of the last 75 years or so.

However, the “book” was proving problematic. I knew what had to happen in each scene, but the words just weren’t coming. I certainly have had writers’ block in the past, but not normally when writing this kind of material, where it usually just flows easily out of me. This one had to be hacked away at, slowly, or I had to sit around and wait for hours until some bright flash came to me and I began tearing through pages rapidly, trying to get as much done as long as I had the inspiration going. I wound up finishing the last pages of dialogue a mere four days before we opened. But it all worked. Thankfully.

I’m NEVER really happy with anything I do. I just can’t be, it’s me. All I see are the things I don’t like and can’t fix. However, EMG may still bring me more joy more consistently than anything else I’ve done – seeing these dances, that this is a play of MINE that has these beautiful pieces of music and movement coming together – both some serious tap hoofing and a lovely pointe solo, and everything in between – it just makes me pleased and amazed that it’s a show of mine. How the hell did THIS happen?

So, there it is, a play in dance and speeches about one day in the life of an advertising agency. But WHY and WHAT IS IT REALLY ABOUT?

Which are good questions, and not ones I can answer with any confidence. To me, the perfect show is one where those questions are raised, but they can’t be answered except by viewing the show itself, and then you can only get a non-verbal, internal answer that makes sense but can’t be put into words without being reductive.

If I had to try and say myself, I’d say it’s a cautionary tale about selling out, and the way it can happen by small degrees, without being aware that it’s even happening, until humanity (represented in the dances) is lost in a mound of jargon and rules and structures that have nothing to do with human beings, and everything to do with planned ideas of “how to run things efficiently.”

There are people who know my work well, though, who always seem to think that every one of my pieces is itself about Art and more specifically about Theatre and the creation of it, and when that idea was floated to me the other night about this piece, I couldn’t find any holes in that way of looking at it – it does seem to be a metaphor for creating theatre, at least at the level I’ve been doing it for years now – with The Big Man (played, after all, by me) as Director, pulling his subordinates (actors) together against all odds to create this project that Has To Happen Now, with a combination of motivational speaking and careful guidance, until the final project happens, and all are proud of it . . . and then it’s ephemeral and goes away, and there’s just the next tiring project to move on to tomorrow. I’ve even placed in the mouth of my character phrases that I use all the time in directing actors.

So in the end, maybe it’s a more revealing piece than I imagined, about whether all this work that goes into these theatre projects is, in the end, worth it – the kind of thinking that is just a bit on my mind these days. Certainly wasn’t intended that way, though.

I just wanted to make a pretty play with dance numbers that was fun and at the same time had some bittersweet things to say about where America had come, especially in terms of selling things to people that they probably don’t really need and maybe aren’t so good for them.

After the show the other night, the friend of a cast member asked me, “So, are you an experimental director who’s playing with mainstream forms here, or are you a more mainstream director who’s getting a little more experimental with this piece?” At first I thought I knew how to answer that question, but after a moment’s reflection it seemed a lot less clear to me.

The final moments of Everything Must Go wound up taking their inspiration from a quote of Richard Foreman’s that was related to me by director Edward Einhorn, who interned for Richard on The Universe - at the end of that Foreman play, James Urbaniak’s character had to make a decision about drinking a glass of milk or not. It is somewhat obvious by this point in the play that the glass of milk represents BAD THINGS – everything that keeps human beings trapped in their little boxes, desiring the pleasures of the body rather than larger spiritual goals. In rehearsal, Richard still wasn’t decided on the ending, and one day said to Edward, “Now if he doesn’t drink the milk, it’s a comedy – if he DOES drink the milk, it’s a tragedy.”

In Foreman’s play, Urbaniak drinks the milk. A tragedy.

As we created the ending of Everything Must Go, Berit and I flashed on the same thing with our own situation . . . “If she leaves the pen, it’s a comedy – if she TAKES the pen, it’s a tragedy.” And had to decide ourselves which way it went.

So where did our play wind up? You’ll have to see it to find out . . .

Monday, August 11, 2008


Greetings, Fair Reader! Last week, a trio of shows by Gemini CollisionWorks opened at The Brick, and today we present the first of a series of posts exploring their genesis and development. GCW has been responsible for many memorable shows at The Brick, most recently the Film Festival hit The Magnificent Ambersons, By Orson Welles: A Reconstruction for the Stage. Please enjoy this introductory note provided by the artists themselves...


Gemini CollisionWorks is Ian W. Hill (arts) and Berit Johnson (crafts).

Gemini CollisionWorks has been around since 1997, at least as a name that IWH has been putting as a “production company” on all his theatre (and occasional other) artwork. The first play produced by GCW was Richard Foreman’s Egyptology (my head was a sledgehammer) as part of the No Strings Attached festival of plays by Foreman at NADA, which was also produced by IWH as GCW.

Berit became IWH’s partner in life and work in 2000, and GCW has been the two of them since 2001.

GCW became involved with The Brick vaguely in 2004 (IWH acted in a Summer Festival show), more strongly in 2005-2006, and became the tech direct ors of the space in 2007. Somewhat in return for their work in this position, GCW gets the month of August (at least for last year and this year) to do what they want, and what they want is to put up a lot of work. Last year, it was four plays on three programs, which was a bit much.

So, Gemini CollisionWorks is presenting “just” three shows in rep right now at The Brick. Of course, two of them this time were originals that were being created around the performers right up to the last minute, which were harder than almost any other shows GCW has produced.

This is somewhat foolhardy for a two-person company that does everything themselves, and drives us to the point of madness, but what the hell, we got it done and we’re pleased with the shows.

Well, Berit is pleased with the shows – Ian is too close to them to judge them in any real way and just has to keep asking Berit if any of them are any good or not . . .

IWH writes about the work as it happens at his blog, CollisionWorks, but has been asked for more info about the shows to promote them here on The Brick’s own blog.

So, in the next week or two, IWH will be looking at aspects of these three shows, how they were created, why they were created, and what they mean to us.