Tuesday, December 09, 2008

ancient chinese curse

"May you live in interesting times."

Apparently, this alleged Chinese imprecation is not so Chinese. Wikipedia:

No known user of the English phrase has supplied the purported Chinese language original, and the Chinese language origin of the phrase, if it exists, has not been found, making its authenticity doubtful. One theory is that it may be related to the Chinese proverb, "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period" (寧為太平犬,不做亂世人; pinyin: níng wéi tàipíng quǎn, bù zuò luànshì rén).[citation needed]

Still, it seems that interesting times have been wished on all of us, what with the bailout fever and governors being arrested and Greece on fire. I have noticed that since these interesting times began, right around, oh, say, the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, aspects of the plays that we work on in class that come up in scenes that have relevance to our current national and international crises (!), they crackle more loudly than they perhaps otherwise would. Last cycle in SF, we worked on a play by Neal Bell called Ready for the River from the early nineties, which involves the bloody aftermath of a bank foreclosing on a family farm. I had selected to the play because it's great writing and I like the way playwright Neal Bell loves to bring dead people back from the dead to talk to the living in what are either expressionistic interludes or hallucinatory sequences. But my selection of the play had nothing to do, if I recall correctly, with its social relevance. The first time I heard the foreclosure that transpires in the play referenced by a pair of actors doing a scene from the play in class, I was BOWLED OVER. I mentioned this to students who had been watching the scene work in class during a break, and they had a similar reaction. Tom Brokaw said on Meet the Press the other day that for the first time in years, "everyone is paying attention." We are all experiencing and participating in the public life of this country in a way that is new and exciting.

These observations throw into relief the importance of actors in these times: they are people who are able to embody and give voice to the yearnings of people in our society, both the private and subjective yearnings and the public and political ones. In performing pieces of writing, actors participate in bringing these yearnings into confrontation and dialogue with others, so that solutions can be hammered out, tires can be kicked, and glad tidings and great rejoicing can ultimately come to pass.

To arms!

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles and San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Being Jackson Pollock

Ever wonder what it felt like?

Well, click here to find out. And don't forget to click your mouse to change colors.


(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles and San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles and San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Driving into town from Burbank this morning, I caught the tail-end of an interview on NPR. Turns out is was with a guy named Michael Soussan, who has just published a memoir of his time at the United Nations, and his frustrated attempts to expose Saddam Hussein's subversion of the oil-for-food program. It caught my ear because his frustrations with the bureaucracy of that august insitution reminded me of all the experiences I have had with bureaucracy: corporate, non-profit, academic, you name it. It all devolves very quickly to turf wars which are as nasty as they are inconsequential. Bureaucracy is a necessary evil that isn't going anywhere. but my allergic reaction to it has been a big part of my decision to go it alone as an acting teacher. Soussan talked about how exceedingly frustrated people who were high-minded or idealistic became in that environment (he himself resigned over his superiors' refusal to expose the aforementioned Hussein fraud). It can be isolating, but not having to play along with all of that nonsense makes the adversity worthwhile.

I still harbor a vision of a small, lean group of collaborators that would begin to work together to create theater with the absolute minimum of organizational support. Additional organizational support could be added to support growth, but always with a less-is-better principle. Staying lean is where it's at.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"It Screams"

Devilstower, one of the editorial bloggers on the Daily Kos, the notorious epicenter of the liberal blogsophere, wrote a eulogy for Tom Gish, the tough-minded editor of a newspaper in Kentucky called the Mountain Eagle. Upon acquiring the paper, Gish gave it the motto "It Screams!". And, according to devilstower, it did:

The Mountain Eagle screamed out against corruption in Kentucky politics, against the excesses of coal mine operators, against police who abused their power, against mistreatment of workers, and against destruction of the land. Gish used his paper like a hammer, and he didn't care whose political fingers he smashed as he pounded out the truth. It didn't matter if you were a local school board member, or the president of a giant corporation. The Gish's would not back down.

I'd like to say that it is in this spirit that I started the Mother of Invention Acting School. When I started teaching, I used to say that I was happy to be San Francisco, at some remove from "the industry." There is an idealism in the way I run my classes, and there is an idealism to San Francisco, so there was a good match. My recent Los Angeles expansion was prompted in part by my recognition that in spite of the presence of "the business" in SoCal, and all that goes along with it, there is a vast number of highly creative, energetic people in Los Angeles who would enjoy my classes. When I visited friends in the Southlands, this became obvious to me.

I look forward to growing my classes in Los Angeles. I fully intend, though, to continue to uphold the things about the class that may mean that it grows more slowly than it otherwise might. I don't offer "weekend workshops": what I teach can't be learned in a weekend. Only one absence is allowed per ten week cycle, and the class is set up on a pay-as-you-go basis. So if a student misses for the second time at session 5, I lose revenue that I would get if I let them continue to show up, and I create a headache for myself, in having to find them a new scene partner. But I am committed to creating an environment in which everyone is similarly invested in what we are doing, everyone is accountable in the same way, everyone is vulnerable in the same way. I do not invite prospective students to audit, although I know that that costs me some enrollments. But with the trouble I take to create and maintain an atmosphere of safety and seriousness, I don't want to allow that atmosphere to be undermined by having strangers sit in. I don't teach "cold reading technique", as I believe the best possible preparation for cold reading is proficiency as an actor and the confidence that follows from that. Everyone works on two person scenes, not monologues, in spite of the logistical challenges that this poses for me and the students. If industry people want to attend a "Friends and Family Night" at the end of the cycle, they are welcome, but I ask them to be discreet, and not approach students directly that night, but rather through me at a later time. The emphasis at Friends and Family Night is on celebrating what we have achieved together.

I haven't looked for a job teaching acting at a local college or university, because I don't want to have to compromise in all of the ways that a university bureaucracy would aak me to. I may still do this at some point, but it is not the preferred path for me.

Doing it your way, the way you hold to be the right way, comes with a cost, as Tom Gish of the Mountain Eagle knew. Devilstower again:

The paper's reputation grew until politicians throughout the region refused to allow the Eagle's reporters into press conferences. Then it grew until they had to let them back in. When the office was firebombed and their press burned, they didn't miss a week. Even when advertisers were so frightened to be associated with the paper that The Mountain Eagle shrank to only four pages, Gish held his ground.

I do it my way, not out of a sense of high-mindedness, but because it's the way I want to do it. It's the best way I have been able to find, so far, to help people live as expansively as possible in the fictional worlds of stage and screen. This way is not for everyone, and not everyone wants to hear my message about how much is asked of the actor or to be held accountable in the way that I hold my students accountable. But, like Tom Gish's Mountain Eagle and like Howard Dean, in my teaching, I scream, (not literally!), in the hope of summoning people into a greater vitality. A finer vocation, for me, I can't imagine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

what is good and why

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I am reading a book with the above title for my dissertation work in German Literature at Stanford. The book is by Richard Kraut, an analytic philosopher. Unless you have a taste for meticulous, painstaking philosophical argumentation, I can't recommend it, but I have found that Kraut has ideas that resonate strongly with the way that we think about how people make life decisions in scene work.

Kraut maintains that older ways of thinking about what is good (what gives pleasure, achieving what one wants or plans) and the problems that are bound up with them can be jettisoned in favor of a notion that what is good for humans is what brings about their flourishing. By flourishing, he means a sustained condition in which humans can exercise their powers (physical, cognitive, and emotional) as expansively as possible.

Most scenes in class involve a relationship in some type of crisis or culmination. The two people involved are attempting, in one way or another, to save or at least strengthen the relationship, based on their understanding of the relationship and what is valuable about it. This, in turn, always comes down to a belief about the way in which two people fit together: what about them makes them a good match.

Close friendships and relationships of all kinds are important because they provide us an opportunity to exercise aspects of ourselves that we value. With one friend, perhaps we can banter in a satisfying way, with another, perhaps we can play a great game of squash, with another, exchange stories of our lives. In other words, they give us contexts in which flourishing is possible. If there is no one to appreciate our wit, and no one to provide wit which, in appreciating, we have an experience of our own wit, then things are not as good for us as they could be.

Of course, we also talk a lot about what we want at particular moments in scenes, but generally, we can say that in scenes, in our roles, our beliefs (as the character) about what wants will bring us closer to flourishing are tested, and we must make decisions about whether to hold fast to one vision of coming closer to flourishing, or to embrace another. Uta Hagen calls this "weighing courses of action" in her discussion of this in her book A Challenge for the Actor.---

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"will I have to listen to lectures?"

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Someone recently posted a review on the internets somewhere about my class, in which they claimed, about the class, that "There is a lot of lecture, and not much "doing." I'd like to address this.

First of all, it's a lie. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about why someone would tell a lie like this. But here's why it is a lie: the class has two major components: technique and scene study. The format of the scene study portion of the class is mostly self-explanatory: people do scenes and we work on their understanding and execution of the scenes. What is perhaps a bit different about my class is that we work on each scene for an hour or so, so that means that you don't get up even nearly every week, unless you happen to be working on two scenes. Also, if you work on a scene, you work on it for the duration of the ten weeks. All of this is explained in the coffee date I have with every student who enrolls PRIOR TO their enrolling.

The technique portion of the class, as described on my website: "The exercises are carefully-crafted, purposeful, exciting explorations that are designed to give you an experiential grasp of the elements of the technique taught in the class. Discussions elaborate on the principles presented in the exercises." I didn't make up these exercises, they were made up by Evan Yionoulis, who served as dean of the Yale School of Drama for five years and still teaches there, and by Mark Brokaw, another Yale alum who has directed Mary Louise Parker, Mark Ruffalo, and other famous folks on the Broadway stage. As I said above, the exercises are conducted, and then I TALK ABOUT THEM, using them as springboards to introduce principles, concepts, and rules of thumb that apply directly to the scene work we are engaged in. In other words, the "lecturing" I do is about connecting the experience of the exercises to the practical work on the scenes. Even so, it comprises about half of the technique part of the class, and actual "doing" comprises the other half. And the technique part of he class is actually LESS than half of the course: 4 sessions of the class are devoted entirely to scene work, 2 to technique, and the rest is split between the two. So LESS THAN a quarter of the class is actually comprised of the dreaded "lectures."

When I came to the Drama School at Yale, I, as a first year director, attended Earl Gister's acting classes. Earl had been the dean of the acting program at the Drama School for fifteen years, and before that had run the program at Carnegie Mellon. Earl is one of the giants of his and my profession. It was not uncommon for us to come to class, have someone do a scene, and then for Earl to talk about for the remaining two to three hours of class, with his device that allowed him to talk through his throat sounding like a robot, since his larynx had been removed. Were there days when I felt restless or didn't want to be there? Sure. But most of the time, I was glad that someone who was a true authority, and could produce results in class, was sharing his accumulated knowledge and wisdom with me.

I recently received an inquiry from a prospective student who had read the aforementioned review and wanted to know if he would have to listen to lectures in the class. He said the prospect of having to do so was giving him pause. I explained the makeup of the class to him, but I have to say, I do not feel favorably impressed by the sort of incuriousness he evinced in his inquiry. Acting students profess to study a mysterious and marvelous practice, and there is much to learn about it. They must bring a great deal of inquisitiveness and a truly open mind to anything they want to learn. Someone with this kind of prejudice about the ways he can absorb information is likely to shy away from the side of acting that requires close examination of situations and of persons, and what "makes them tick", to trot out a tired cliche. IF he can overcome his distaste for "lectures", he is welcome in my class, but if not, he will most likely find himself feeling at home in another sort of acting class: a class that offers an endless succession of theater games and exercises in ensemble building that involve lots of "doing" but amounts to very little.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Great LA Alexander teachers

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

A student of mine pointed to me to the website of these two Alexander teachers, Jean-Louis Rodrigue and Kristof Konrad. They have a high-profile clientele (most recently Josh Brolin for his work on Oliver Stone's "W."). My guess is they aren't cheap, but probably worth the investment if you have the cash.

The Alexander technique is one of the most important things an actor can study. I recommend it as highly as I recommend my class. There aren't too many things I say that about.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

in case you missed it...

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Video interview with yours truly, produced by Roman Wyden of shootwithroman.com.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

why you should really take my class

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

In launching my Los Angeles acting classes, I met with a talent manager in Los Angeles, to try to interest him in sending me some of his clients. I was struck, nay, dumbstruck, by one of the things he said to me.

"I don't need my people to be that good. They just need to be able to, you know, have a conversation."

He meant have a conversation in a scene, as in, talk and listen naturally. This is what it took for them to be able to book. The rest of getting acting jobs wasn't really about acting.

That Tinseltown works in this way is hardly news, but I was surprised that he would speak in this way to a stranger about the people he represents.

At any rate, I understand that for purposes of getting work, this may be enough. If what you want is to be able to land jobs in Hollywood, then finding someone who can teach you to do this, and only this, may be enough for you. And there are lots of people around who can teach you that (lots of people who can't, too, but I won't go there.)

I had a conversation with a professional soap opera director years ago, on a date, if you want to know, and he told me the secret of his success: everyone working in soaps KNOWS that what they are doing is unadulterated schlock, but they ALL want to believe that THEY bring that spark or creativity or originality to what they are doing that elevates their little corner of serial daytime drama above the churning morass of mediocrity it usually is. He found that if he let them believe that he saw this in them, he would earn their undying gratitude.

The point of this is that getting in the door is great. But the novelty eventually wears off, and then you are in the position of having to deliver. If the only people you want to make an impression on are the people who think believable talking and listening is enough, then, well, you deserve what you get: a perhaps long, but probably undistinguished career as a serviceable working actor. However, if you want to be someone who leaves people wanting more, in particular the people who want to make movies and cable series that leave viewers wanting more, if you want to be able do something memorable, something that inspires people, that adds something to their day or night, in short, something that means something to someone for longer than the time that they watch it, well, you need someone who proposes that acting is more than believable talking and listening. Believable talking and listening are essential, but it's totally possible to be believable and natural without being compelling.

Not to mention the fact that if you have embarked on acting as a career, as a profession, you need to take seriously the fact that it is your responsibility to find ways to keep it fresh and challenging. You cannot expect the projects you get to do this for you, much of the time. Occasionally yes, but anything you do for a living is in danger of becoming a chore with time. Finding ways to keep yourself interested in what you do will prevent burnout. It would be terrible to work hard for years to penetrate the Hollywood membrane, only to discover that you just don't like doing it that much anymore.

This is another reason to look for someone as a teacher, like me, who proposes that acting is an endeavor that asks for much more than believable, passable talking and listening. Someone who claims that acting involves the simultaneous exercise of empathy, imagination, agility, spontaneity, and discernment. It is ultimately up to you whether you have the resources to find the interest in ANY job you encounter along your path, whether those around you see that interest or not.

The talent manager who I talked about at the beginning of this piece suggested, none too subtly, that what I was offering could be dismissed as "academic." Given the professionals that I have studied with and worked under, I was at a loss for words as to how to respond. What I WISH I had had the presence of mind to say was "Oh, well, I guess that academic training worked out pretty well for the likes of Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Frances McDormand and the other Yale School of Drama alums who have had distinguished Hollywood careers."

Oh well. Next time.

the change you need

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Keep up with what President-elect Obama is planning for the country with his weekly youtube video addresses here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

that damned talent question

A student will study with me for a few months, and then work up the nerve to ask if they "have what it takes." I categoricaily refuse to answer this question. First of all, there are countless stories of major actors who were told repeatedly that they were no good. And since I don't have a working crystal ball, I refrain from commenting.

This story talks about a new study that suggests that it is practice, not talent, that makes for success. It asserts that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve true expertise at something. So now I have a new response if I want one: "Check with me after another 9,900 hours of practice."

Most singing teachers will tell you that there are actually very few people who cannot learn, with some work, to sing. Most of us have the capability. How much readiness, willingness, and dogged determination we bring to the challenge is another matter. And that's how I feel about acting. Does everyone bring different levels of readiness to meet the challenges of vulnerability and spontaneity that acting calls for? Sure. But then the question becomes: what will they DO with whatever they have been given.

Make no mistake. Acting is VERY challenging. I think that is one of the things that pretty much everyone who darkens my door comes to grasp. It's the ones who decide, for whatever reason, to soldier on in the face of that grasped difficulty, that grow, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

Aesop wasn't kidding about that slow and steady stuff.

It may take 10,000 hours to get to be a jedi knight. But as another wise man once said, the journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Tale of Intertwined Misery

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I just listened to this podcast from NPR's Planet Money on one strand of the financial crisis, which involves high schools in Kenosha, Wisconsin, German banks in Ireland, and a whole lot of other hapless people and institutions. The intertwinings of destinies are at the core of all plays and movies, but few have this particular yarn's remarkable epic sweep. It also does a great job of illuminating how the global financial crisis is, literally, all around us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

the Hawthorne effect

I was looking at The Economist online, because I like the cover for this week's issue so much, and I happened upon an article that I thought bears pretty interestingly on a lot of things we talk about in class. Basically, experiments were conducted in which changes of various kinds were made in the environment of one group of workers, and not in that of another. The results were kind of surprising:

The experimenters concluded that it was not the changes in physical conditions that were affecting the workers’ productivity. Rather, it was the fact that someone was actually concerned about their workplace, and the opportunities this gave them to discuss changes before they took place.

The man who conducted the experiment, who went on to teach industrial research at Harvard, said it this way:

The desire to stand well with one’s fellows, the so-called human instinct of association, easily outweighs the merely individual interest and the logic of reasoning upon which so many spurious principles of management are based.

"The desire to stand well with one's fellows", i.e. respect. In all of the scene work we do in the class, we see how the desire for respect is a core need for all of us, and how even while working towards long term goals as a characters, we always have one eye on the quantum of respect that can be won or lost at each moment.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Tomorrow -- Change.

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Henry V, William Shakespeare

Hat tip to fivethirtyeight.com

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

thinking about friendship

Friendship is one of the basic kinds of relationships we deal with in scene work in the class. I listened to this podcast last night with leading philosopher Alexander Nehamas, in which he talks about friendship and its importance.

Nehamas on Friendship

Give it a listen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

sacrifice? not so much.

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

"The sane would not think it was worth dying for anybody's sentences, including their own. Instead of being profoundly moved by the idea of sacrifice, they are profoundly suspicious of it; indeed, if their skepticism is for anything, it is for all the ways we have been educated and seduced and cajoled into believing that our capacity for sacrifice, whether of self and/or others, is one of the best things about us."--Adam Phillips, Going Sane

Friday, October 24, 2008

shoot with Roman

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I posted one of my Killer Instinct flyers in a downtown Los Angeles coffe house called Lost Souls a few weeks ago. I got an email from a guy named Roman Wyden who saw the flyer. Roman is a filmmaker, but he pays the bills sometimes through headshot photography. He has a website for his headshot business, and is attempting to aggregate useful information for actors on his site in a blog format, as a way of promoting his stuff. He hit me up to internview me about my class, which I of course I was happy to do.

We did the interview in his loft which is in the same building is Lost Souls. It should be out in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, take a look at Roman's site. Seems to me he would be a great guy to shoot headshots with, since he brings a filmmaker's eye to the process of producing headshots.


So check it out!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Financial Crisis and Me, or Through the Looking Glass

Originally posted as a Diary on Daily Kos.

This isn't a hard luck story. Yet. But it could easily become one.

I have a (very) small business teaching acting in San Francisco and, recently, in Los Angeles. I live in SF and just started flying down to LA once a week on a cheap Southwest flight to teach there. More of a market, lots of serious students, plus I like SoCal and warm weather and have some great friends down there.

The main expenses for the LA class are the rent of the blackbox theater where I teach, the flight, and a rental car. I couchsurf with friends for lodgings.

There were some very bizarre developments on the rental car front recently.

andrewj54's diary :: ::
My decision to starting teaching in the Southlands was in part predicated on the fact that rental cars in SoCal could be obtained cheaply through sites like hotwire.com, where companies try to find renters for cars they have sitting around the lot. They advertise that they have cars for $7.00/ day. I spoke to someone who got a rental car in Burbank for $12/day. Of course with taxes and a Loss/Damage waiver, it becomes more expensive, but not prohibitively so.

This summer, when I was coming down to LA to shake the trees and promote the class, I got prices on cars that were in that ballpark. But recently, I noticed that the prices were starting to go up. Suddenly it became hard, to find cars for less than $40/day, though with a bit more searching it was still possible to find deals like $25/day.

This week, hotwire and carrentals were offering prices like $80/day for economy cars. I did still manage to find a cheaper one, but it took some doing.

I got into Burbank on my last trip and the dude from the Hertz office I sometimes rent from picked me up. This office is not the one in the airport, but it's in Burbank nearby. Their rates are much cheaper.

I had reserved an economy car at a $25/day base rate. He showed up to pick me up in a flashy SUV that is more fitting for a studio executive than a humble acting teacher. He told me that this was the car I would be driving, at the rate I had reserved. It was the only car they had left. It usually rents for about $90/day.

He said that the Hertz office at the airport was facing something unprecedented that day: they had 90 cars on the lot and 1,000 reservations. That's right, 1,000. So they had rented all the cars from the other local Hertz offices and local small business renters to try to meet the rental car tsunami.

Why, you ask? Why this surge in demand for rental cars at the airport, in the midst of what is being called the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

In two words, opportunistic pilgrimage. Tourism.

Because of the sorry financial situation in the US, it is a RIDICULOUSLY cheap vacation destination. And so they are flocking: Japanese, Koreans, Europeans of every stripe, Brazilians. You can find them all at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, looking at handprints of dead Hollywood celebrities in the concrete sidewalk.

One of the things I like about my LA sojourns is actually the driving. I don't have a car in SF, and on the whole, that works just fine. I get the occasional zipcar when I need to go to Trader Joe's or zip down to Stanford to see me dissertation advisor, and otherwise, I enjoy my green lifestyle and my panoramic city. But in LA, I have wheels and I feel 17 again. I love navigating the city, weighing freeways vs. surface streets, snaking through canyons, taking in the great cauldron of humanity that is the City of Angels.

And one of the great pleasures of this is listening to the radio. They actually have a commercial radio station here dedicated to indie rock, which I love. But with the election coming up, I am always listening to NPR.

I heard a story that seemed to recapitulate my experience at the rental car office: in someplace called Johnson County (I don't know where that is, unfortunately), it was being reported, as typical of a national trend, that food pantries, places you go to get a hot meal on the dole, are drying up, because no one is donating. The cavalry is riding to the rescue, though, not the government, but local thrift stores, which are in boom times like they have never seen. They were donating to the soup kitchens. In other words, people who usually donate food are hording it, and going to the thrift store to buy clothes, because they can't afford to shop at the Gap. The gigantic ebbs and flows in the free dinner and thrift store markets seemed to echo the surge in demand for tourist-mobiles in the rental car market I had heard about this morning in kind of an eerie way.

Oh, and the dude from the rental car company (cropped dark hair, stocky, sporting a tie but no jacket in the SoCal heat, wraparound shades reading a book about anthropology of religion) told me how the rental car companies would respond to the crisis. Would they respond by adding to the fleet of available cars? No, they would keep demand high by limiting supply, so they could continue to charge through the nose.

I hope we find our way out of this. But I think we better prepare the fan for the shit, all the same.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Howard Korder in New York

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

In class, we do scenes from three plays each cycle. One writer whom we have worked on quite abit and who I like a lot is Howard Korder. The plays of his that we have worked on in the class are Search and Destroy, Sea of Tranquility, and Boys' Life.

This morning, I was enjoying my new jet-set lifestyle on glamorous Southwest airlines, on the way to the Southlands to teach my Wednesday evening class there, and I came across this review of a revival of Boys' Life at Second Stage in New York. (By the way, Second Stage is where Mark Brokaw, who is one of the creators of the approach I teach in the class cut his teeth in New York, before Yale and after, I believe).


While searching for the web version, I came across Frank Rich's review of the original review:

Original review

I think I prefer Frank Rich at his current occupation, political commentator, to him as a theater critic, but still, an interesting comparison.

The play was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize when it appeared. I think its a little too potent for hte Pulitzer crowd though.

I love Howard Korder. He has all of the verbal talents of David Mamet, but he's got more going on. His plays are less suffused with testosterone than Mamet's, although alpha swagger is a part of his palette. There is more room for thoughtfulness in his plays, less relentlessness. And he seems to have a penchant for loopiness or wackiness that Mamet lacks, to my mind. He leaves me wanting more, always.

Thanks Howard! Keep em coming!

Monday, October 20, 2008

video testimonials

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I have added a new feature to the Mother of Invention Acting School website:  video testimonials.

I continue to be incredibly happy with the type of students I attract.  I do want to attract more of them.  So it occured to me that it would be great to provide a way for my students to talk about the class and show them off at the same time.

Have a look:


I'll be adduing new ones on the regular.



Saturday, October 11, 2008


"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a

Iraq looks to theater for life

The LA Times published this piece about a play that audiences in Baghdad are braving the terrors of war to see:
the crowds keep coming, braving the city's frequent explosions and horizon of curling smoke.
It's a parody of Iraq's struggling political landscape called "Bring the King, Bring Him!"
"This is the boldest play in Iraq," he says. "It will make the politicians sensitive. You know, the role of the actor is no less important than the politician. My actors, literally, break through barricades to make life. That's honorable."
The company feels a great sense of urgency about helping to find a direction for the new nation:
"There is hope," he says. "But we Iraqis are passing through a critical point. There's patriotism, but a lot of chaos. . . . We need this change, yes, but the question is where will this situation take us? We don't want people saying, 'God bless the old days.' They were the worst days and we don't want Iraqis imagining that they were better than today. This can't happen."
We may be needing the theater in the way the Iraqis do one day soon.  

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jane Austen sucks (blood)

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

The Thunderbird Theatre Company presents Pride and Succubus.

"Life is difficult for Elizabeth Beenthere, who is of marrying age.
If only she wasn't such an inappropriately independent
Vampire Hunter.

Things are just as bad for the fiendishly charming but dreadfully arrogant gentleman vampire, Mr. Darcy. He'd rather feed on young women instead of courting them. But love is in the bloody air when their eyes meet across a crowded dance floor.

Should Elizabeth follow her heart or simply drive a stake through Darcy's? Can Mr. Darcy get over the whole creature of the night business and settle down? Or does Jane Austen herself have something to say about the whole affair?"

Find out more at thunderbirdtheatre.com!

sage advice from Patti Smith

"In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth. " Patti Smith

miklos' new short

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Mother of Invention alum Miklos Philips new short is done. Check out the previews here, they look terrific:


--Mother of Invention Acting School

Friday, July 25, 2008

diane's Fringe show

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Longtime Mother of Inventioner Diane Karagienakos, director of the feature film "Come Fly With Me Nude", has written a show that is being presented as part of the San Francisco Fringe Festival. Here is a link about


The sh0w is being directed by Kathryn Wood, whom I saw recently in Ishi Last of the Yahi at Theater Rhionceros, a breathtaking production, by the way, and Kathryn was tremendous. Sounds like it's going to be a good one.

--Mother of Invention Acting School


(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

While putting postcards out for the Los Angeles for the expansion of my acting class, I came across a postcard for something called Kristin's List (kristinslist.net). Here is how the site describes itself:

"Kristin’s List is a guide to navigating LA’s cultural landscape. It offers an independent and discerning perspective on this sprawling city and its diverse riches.

Whether it is exploring nature in our urban landscape, attending art openings or book readings, learning about local music or architecture, or listening to political discussions, Kristin’s List will find and share those events with you.

Use Kristin’s List as a filter to help you explore this thriving metropolis. There are countless conversations to be had with Los Angeles. Kristin’s List is a resource to inspire new dialogues."

--Mother of Inventions Acting School

the poet and the adman

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

In The SF Chronicle today, there was an article about this new cable TV show called "Mad Men." I don't have a TV, so this was the first I had heard of it. The reviewer was extrenely keen on the show, whose protagonist is a Madison Avenue cat in 1960 who is oblivious to the fact that the world is changing around him, but senses that something is not right between himself and his world. The reviewer relates this one incident in which our hero is hiding out in a bar at lunch time, and has an exchange with a guy sitting there reading a book of Frank O'Hara poems. The main character suspects he's been snubbed when the guy with the book tells him he doesn't think he would like it-- admen don't go in for poetry, right?

It's funny, because in the class I am always insisting that students find visceral ways to describe what they (as their characters) are pursuing in their scenes. I explain that the viscera are the intestines, the guts. And that I want people to speak as plainly as they can about what they are pirsuing. We try to avoid what I call "Oprah talk." But getting down to a visceral way of talking about their scene work can be elusive for people. This is inevitable, because getting visceral means getting real and getting crucial (the CRUX), and it has to be earned. But recently I found myself telling the students that if they wanted to get visceral, look at the language of advertising, of taglines. "Got milk?" "Think different" "You're not really clean until you're ZEST-fully clean." Or my very own "Because a killer instinct is a terrible thing to waste." The folks who come up with this kind of copy meant to send millions of people running to the store to buy whatever the product in question is know that they have no choice but to be direct, simple, visceral. Failure is the alternative. I think that in advertising there is a powerful understanding of the efficacy of language, especially plain language, but because we are all immersed in it, it can be hard to perceive. But all of this is to say that the adman and the poet, who also understands (we hope!) the visceral potential of language, are really just two sides of the same coin.

--Mother of Invention Acting School

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jennifer Jajeh's one woman show in NY Fringe

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Longtime Mother of Inventioner Jennifer Jajeh, who happens to be Palestinian, is taking her one woman show, I Heart Hamas, to New York. She will be presenting her work as part of the Fringe Festival there. More information at


Congrat Jennifer!


--Mother of Invention Acting School

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mother of Invention acting classes in Los Angeles

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Starting in October, I will be offering classes in Los Angeles on Wednesday nights, as well as the Monday night class in San Francisco. See the calendar page of utteracting.com for more information.


---Mother of Invention Acting School

Thursday, April 24, 2008

my take on sarah marshall

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

I haven't been to a movie in eons, but the promotional stuff for Sarah Marshall piqued my interest, I thought it might be a good bet. And it was. It's not the greatest movie you'll ever see, it has its share of cliches and implausibilities, but I did want to mention that I thought Mila Kunis was fantastic. I hadn't seen much of her before, and I thought she showed a high level of skill and honesty in bringing some rawness to a raunchy comedy. Check it out.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jeremy Shortlived

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Longtime MoIer Jeremy Mascia is acting in this thing called ShortLived, sort of a playwright's reality show. Info below.

I'm in a play called Shortlived; after a successful debut last weekend I would like to let everyone know about it.

(press release)

PianoFight Productions presents a night of fully staged, short plays, by a myriad of writers, where each piece is scored by the audience. The two lowest scoring pieces are then replaced two weeks later by two brand new fully staged shorts. The writer who's script(s) receive the longest run / highest raw score will be offered a four week run of an original full length play, to be produced by PianoFight, in Studio 250 at Off-Market.

The opening piece to every performance is an actual audition of someone we've never met, to become a member of PianoFight's company.

- Line-ups and results will be posted on pianofight.com
- Anyone who brings a script to be considered for "ShortLived" will only pay half price to see the show
- Someone from the audience could end up being a writer for "ShortLived"
- The audience will choose the writer of a full length PianoFight production
- All submission of all formats/styles (under 30 pages) will be considered
- So far, all writers have responded to submission calls on CraigsList
- Go fuck yourself.
- Just kidding. Wanted to make sure you were still paying attention

Contributing Playwrights:
Megan Cohen, Richard Ciccarone, Geneva Lorraine Fiore, Luz Gaxiola, Brett Hursey, Ashley Perryman, Rob Ready, Chelsea Sutton, Dan Williams and more to come …

Bennie Bell, Diana Brown, Christy Crowley, Victor DeLucie, Heather Goddard, Stefanie Goldstein, Nina Harada, Jennifer Jaleh, Kat Kniesel, Jeremy Mascia, Eric Reid, Rob Ready, Farrah Saunders, John Steen, Dan Williams and more to come …

Gabi Patacsil, Rob Ready, Eric Reid

Audience Reviews:

"I thought that the event was a highly creative one. The plays were mostly excellent (two, I thought, were mediocre), but the audience got to vote on the plays! Nice involvement. I thought they were thoughtfully staged and acted as well." 4/4 stars

"Hilarious! Super acting to boot! Can't wait to see it again in a few weeks to see how it has morphed." 3/4 stars

Hope you all can make it out (i don't want to be voted off just yet), or if you have a short, contribute.

More info: http://pianofight.com

Tickets at brownpapertickets.com

OK, have a good one.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hector in Streetcar Named Desire

Hi all,

I heard from Hector Osorio that he is in Marin Theater Company's production. He says:

"Hi everyone, here's the info on my next show. Opening night is tonight and it runs almost through the end of April. I play Pablo, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies.

Marin Theatre Company Presents:
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece is about a torrid romantic triangle set in 1940’s New Orleans. The immortal, fragile Southern Belle Blanche DuBois arrives at her sister Stella’s French Quarter row house. Here she encounters the sensual, sweat-stained Stanley Kowalski. Passions erupt and lives hang in the balance when genteel Southern culture collides with frustrated, roiling urban desire.

Performances: Tuesday through Sundays
April 1 - April 20, 2008

Boyer Theatre
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Tickets: Previews: $29
Performances: $29 - $47
Click here to go to the box office. "

Sunday, March 30, 2008

bad voodoo's war

Hey all,

Check this out. Sounds really good.



Sunday, March 16, 2008

benefit for rent control in San Francisco

Hey everyone,

Rent control is in danger in SF, and this has the potential to randically xhange the cahracter of our beautiful city. Friends in New York constantly bemoan what has happened there. The city os full of Sarah Jessica Parker wannabes. Not even Williamsburg has been spared. Act now, before it's too late.

Come to this benefit on March 29!


DATE: March 16, 2008
FROM: Gary Virginia, Volunteer Event Producer; (415) 867-5004 c, MrSFL96@aol.com

No on 98 Benefit at Metro City Bar March 29

San Francisco - A stellar lineup of entertainers will grace the stage on Sat., March 29, 6-9pm at Metro City Bar to help defeat CA Proposition 98 on the June ballot. If passed, the measure would repeal rent control statewide and potentially affect 180,000 homes in San Francisco.

According to the SF Tenants Union, Prop. 98 is disguised as a measure to reform eminent domain laws. The measure's real target, though, is rent control. It would repeal and ban any rent control, as well as other measures promoting affordable housing such as inclusionary affordable housing laws.

The competing measure to save rent control, Proposition 99, lets voters choose real eminent domain reform, without any hidden agenda like rent control repeal. Prop. 99 also takes the eminent domain reform issue away from right-wing groups, which have been trying to use the eminent domain reform issue as a mask to attack consumer and environmental regulations. Plus Prop. 99 has a poison pill, invalidating the rent control repeal measure if Prop. 99 wins and gets more votes than Prop. 98.

Benefit organizers Gary Virginia and Tommi Avicolli-Mecca are both renters in the city and share the sentiment that "The effects of poor planning for affordable housing in San Francisco coupled with speculative use of the Ellis Act have forced many renters out of state or into homelessness. Maintaining rent control is critical to a sustainable working class and cultural diversity here."

The March 29 benefit will feature entertainment by the Peaceniks, Donna Sachet, Joan Crawford Texas, Johnny Cocksville, Lucy Borden, Anaconda, Jon Sugar and other Bay Area performers. Raffle proceeds, performer tips and outright donations will support the No on 98 campaign. To donate or for more information, call Gary Virginia at (415) 626-5004. There is no cover charge for the benefit.

More information on the ballot initiative is at www.saverentcontrol.net.

Metro City Bar, 2124 Market at Church, (415) 703-9750.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

weimar new york

Hey all,

One of the most exciting things to hit this town in a while is Weimar New York, a group of performance artists doing two evenings at the SFMOMA on February 13 and 14. The event is being MCed by Justin Bond (of Kiki and Herb fame) and Ana Matronic (of the Scissors Sisters.) The event promises to be truly memorable. There are also a bunch of parties around the event. More info sfmoma.org/weimar .



Friday, January 11, 2008

Wendy Tremont King gets cast in Sean Penn film

Hi everyone,

I am very please to announce the 4-time MoI veteran Wendy Tremont King has been cast in a speaking role in the Harvey Milk film, being directed by Gus Van Sant, and will have dialogue in a scene with Sean Penn. She will play Carol Ruth Silver, a San Francisco Supervisor at the time Harvey Milk was also a Supervisor, a lesbian and civil rights attorney.

Local girl makes good! Right on Wendy!



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