Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Emails from Afghanistan

Every time I hear from someone who has been to the Middle East and come back to America, it seems they all have one impression in common, and that is this: the American media is not accurately describing the atmosphere or events over there.

Well, a very dear friend of mine is in Afghanistan right now, having already been in Iraq twice in the past couple years. He didn't tell me he was leaving, but has sent a couple emails to friends and family since he arrived. He has given me permission to reprint what he writes here, though of course his privacy and security needs to be protected. In fact, I'm not even sure I can say who he works for. I'll leave that up to him. As soon as he comes up with some obscure literary or historical pseudonym, we can start calling him by it.

This email, received Tuesday, is how I learned he was over there.

June 26, 2007

Subj: Pckg Arrived-Mny Thnks, and Update

Hey guys, the box with the shaver et al arrived yesterday, and now I'm cleanly-shorn of my growth. The flag and mags were also well-received, and the flag is already hanging in the workspace; it means a lot to the guys out here to have it. Hopefully I won't have to bug you guys with any more requests; I'm almost half-way through, so I should be able to get it done :)

Other than that, things remain status quo. Hot as hell (over 115 today, and humid to boot), and the haze has closed in; when I arrived you could see over 40 KM to the mountains at Tora Bora, and now the mountains have dissapeared behind the haze. Had some rain the other day, which gave us mud, but not much cooling. I'm getting a farmer's tan--arms but not full body, as it really isn't safe to just bask in the oven. I experimented with my camera's movie function last night in an effort to capture heat lightning; we'll see how it came out (if at all). I also took a shot of me in full beard-foliage, so you can see the horrible effect. Will mail those out if I can stand the grief!

See you all in a month or so; miss ya!

First of all, of course, I was pissed that I didn't know he was going. But that's as may be. Here's yesterday's email:

June 27, 2007

Subj: Witty and Pithy Email Subj Line

Hi guys, going to do this as a mass-email since there's not much to tell. Things remain the same here; hot as blazes and dusty. Trying to keep busy and cool: when it's 115 in the shade walking around base can be like being on a griddle. I was out by the runway yesterday when a big Russian transport plane was taking off; I was about 30 yards away and it was like a mountain blasting by. I have some pics, but Hotmail is being its usual persnickety self and isn't allowing me to attach any of them. Probably operator error; I'll mess with them and see if I can turn them into smaller file sizes. Beyond those, not many to send--I could send out the ones of me with a beard, but that kind of pain y'all don't need.

I wish I could take some more showing the Tora Bora mountains south of here, but the air quality has gone to hell so you can't see them any more.I wish I could find the words to give you all the feel of this place; the blasting heat during the day and the wild beauty of the mountains around us--not green, but brown and black with rocks, and the clouds of gray-tan baby-powder consistency dust that every passing humvee and helicopter kick up; the quiet as I walk back to my bed at midnight or later in the dark. Seeing the stars so clearly since the only major light source, Jalalabad City, isn't so large it can overwhelm them. Seeing heat lightning flashing yellow in the clouds, or how young so many of the soldiers here seem to be. Or seeing Afghan locals working on base and Afghan Army soldiers and finding yourself caught between admiration for their courage in fighting the enemy and wondering how far they can be trusted.

I'm looking forward to getting back, and I hope I'm making a difference out here. I appreciate all the concern and kind words I've gotten from you all, even if I'm not sure I deserve them. I'll be home before you know it; take care of yourselves.

I'm not sure why it's so important to me to be able to reprint his emails, but I'm going to keep doing it. He has said he'll write some with this in mind. If you want to pass anything along, I'll forward your words.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Style" Reviews "The Tempest" At Last!

With a lovely picture of Stephen Lorne Williams looking properly cantankerous, Style Weekly has at last deigned to print David Timberline's review of The Tempest.

As with so many others (including myself), Mr. Timberline likes Graham Birce a lot. He says: "’s this production’s Ariel, played by the remarkable Graham Birce, who infuses significant charm and vigor into the proceedings. ... Birce moves about spryly in black Converse sneakers, plays violin beautifully, sings enchanting songs, and even walks on stilts." The fact that the review also remarks on Dave White's Caliban makes me sad that Mr. Timberline couldn't be there to see the Birce/White two-actor Doctor Faustus.

It's a shame Mr. Timberline has such a short column length for his reviews. So much time has to be spent on essential story detail that wonderful performances like Frank Creasy's, Freddy Kaufmann's, and Lucas Hall's don't get a mention.

You'll just have to come see the show, start your own blog, and write your own review.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

MySpace Theatre Survey

Karen sent this to me, I did it on MySpace, and thought I'd share it here. Feel free to post yur responses, Richmond theatre-ers.

Theatre Survey

1) What was the first play you ever did? What role/job?
I was Jesus Christ in a second-grade Passion play. It was the biggest part.

2) What was your most recent show? What job/role?
I'm leading the band for The Tempest at the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, and I'll be playing drums for Henry IV Part 1 in a couple weeks.

3) What was your most fun show/role?
Jeez, I have to pick just one? The Taming of the Shrew last summer was like lightning in a bottle. Twelfth Night last April was also amazing. Directing Doctor Faustus with Julie Phillips was the most fun I've ever had behind the table. And Picasso at the Lapin Agile still makes me smile.

4) What was your most challenging show/role?
Adapting, directing, arranging, producing, musical directing, and promoting Joe Jackson's Night and Day in 2004. I would do it again in a heartbeat if you could promise me I wouldn't have to produce it.

5) What is the most bizarre show or role you've ever done?
I scored Theatre of Operations' Operation Hamlet at the Ranci Raygun. That was pretty strange. But you know what's a weird play? The Tempest.

6) Has anyone ever written a show for you?
No. I do the writing around here!

7) Have you ever gotten romantically involved with a co-star?
Yes, our 10th wedding anniversary is this Thursday. Cue: Awww!

8) Have you ever quit a show to accept a better one?

9) Have you ever completely blown character on stage?
One time, while doing Trumpet in the Land, I was playing a dying British soldier, lying downstage center in front of a 1000-plus-seat house. The kindly Moravian Indians gave me a ladel full of water before my cue was to die. One evening, the kindly young man who gave me the water looked soulfully into my eyes and said, "This will kill you." I tried, I tried so hard not to laugh. God bless Tim Braden, the first Equity actor I ever worked with, who never broke character or judged, he just rotated my face upstage and kept going with the scene.

10) What show are you just dying to do?
Chess, Richard II, A Month in the Country and a couple shows I'm in the middle of writing.

11) Have you ever done one of your "dream" shows?
I've gotten to play a couple dream roles: Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Cassius in Julius Caesar. Being in Jesus Christ Superstar was awesome.

12) Who was your favorite director?
Gary Hopper and Anthony Luciano.

13) Who was your least favorite director?
It's not nice to speak ill of the dead.

14) What is the most surprising role you have ever been offered?
Cassius in Julius Caesar.

15) Have you ever injured yourself onstage?
My death-fall in Caesar involved a leg-flop that, once or twice, sharply crushed my unmentionables.

16) Have you ever worked on an original play?
I'm a playwright, so I've worked on my own plays as well as the two magnificent ensemble pieces generated by Theatre VCU's "Project: Evil" in 2004 and 2005.

17) What show(s) have you done multiple times?
A Midsummer Night's Dream (x2), The Tempest (x2), Romeo and Juliet (x2).

18) Have you ever done different adaptations of the same show?

19) What roles do you usually get?
The goofy, harmless sidekick with no romantic interest whatsoever. Mercutio, Hortensio, Schmendimann, Rick Steadman, Stanley Jerome, Simon Zealotes, etc.

20) Have you ever had an onstage kiss?
Several times.

21) What was your scariest moment in a show?
Standing there, watching the pause extend with the reviewer in the audience, with nothing I could do to help.

22) What is your best show memory?
Massive, shrieking applause after every song in Joe Jackson's Night and Day, watching this show work twice as well as I ever dreamed it would (we need BADLY to do that show again in Richmond)... and spacing rehearsal of The Tempest, watching Stephen Lorne Williams' Prospero raise a tempest with a real thunderstorm approaching across the lawn of Agecroft.

23) What is your worst show memory?
The run of Othello going on and on while Iago went more and more away from what I directed.

24) Have you ever pulled a prank on someone in a show?
Oh my goodness yes. In my foolish youth. "Shoot him in the knee!" "I didn't ask for the anal probe." "Probe-ly." Outdoor drama can be a freaking circus when you're 22. Oh! and always making eye contact with Matt Polson during Shrew and silently mouthing "Mo"--our nickname for each other--simultaneously.

25) Have you ever been the recipient of a prank during a show?
Rock up the butt crack. At least it wasn't MY butt crack, but I was the intended spectator.

26) Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
I don't have any, but I respect my compatriots who do. No whistiling, no Scottish Play references, and I always say "Do good. Don't suck" instead of "good luck."

27) Ever had a show open or close too early in its run?
If only Othello had closed about a month earlier...


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More Signs and Portents

Coming on the heels of my politically-charged dimetrodon dream, which inspired Scotto to urge me to run for office, is today's event.

Walking through the bargain books section of Barnes and Noble in Short Pump, trying to spend a gift card, I picked up an Incredibles art card collection. I put it back and turned away. A second later, something struck the back of my leg. I turned to see that a copy of the Constitution of the United States had fallen off the shelf, untouched, and hit me on the left ankle.

The freaking Constitution is attacking me now. That's much scarier than a dimetrodon.


Audience Expectations and Expectations of Audience

If you’re planning on going to graduate school for theatre, to get that oh-so-useless MFA in whatever discipline you’re willing to go into ten years of debt to study, there’s a word you’re going to need. Actually, there are a few. “Semiotics,” “performance literature,” and “interrogate,” for example, are words and phrases you will definitely need to sprinkle your in-class discussion with in order to successfully sound like the smartest person in the room. (Because that’s really the point of in-class discussion, right?) But the new word you’ll likely hear bandied about the most often is the most important: “Paradigm.”

The “theatrical paradigm” is, in my words only, that theatre only exists in the presence of an audience. A performance without the audience is just a gathering of theatre artists doing stuff for no reason. Some call it masturbation; I call it rehearsal. Similarly, an audience without a performance is, I don’t know, just a really boring party or a demonstration of some kind. I take the idea of the theatrical paradigm a step further. I believe that any theatrical event is 50% performance and 50% audience.

Now, audiences have expectations of the performers. They expect us to be audible. They expect us to know our lines, or at least to conceal the fact that we don’t know them very very skillfully. They expect us to commit to our performances. They expect us to move along at a reasonable clip so that a 90-minute play doesn’t stretch to two and a half hours. They expect us to wear our costumes correctly and to handle our props properly. They expect us to be clear and specific about what we’re doing. And they expect us to entertain. They may not know that they have these expectations, or they may not address them precisely in my terms, but they have them, and they are all quite reasonable. Based on my 50/50 paradigm, it is also reasonable for the theatre artists to have certain expectations of the audience.

* * *

This is my list of Theatre Artist Expectations for the Audience. Feel free to differ, to add, to subtract. Click on “comments” at the bottom of this essay to make your voice heard.

1. Don’t distract or detract.
You are in a shared space. What you do affects the performance, and it affects the audience around you. Here follows a long list of behaviors that should really be obvious:

Turn off your cell phone. If you can’t remember to turn it off, leave it in your car.

Control your child. If you cannot control your child, leave him/her at home. A babysitter is not an expense, it is an investment in your personal life experience.

Don’t talk loudly to your friend. In fact, don’t even talk in a low murmur; theatres are designed for sound to carry, and you are distracting the actors by having a running conversation with your friend. A few comments here and there are fine; an extended dialogue is not.

Don’t put your feet on the edge of the stage. Don't put your legs or your stuff in the aisle.

Go to the bathroom before the show starts, and again at intermission if necessary.

Feel free to laugh, as Gordon Bass says, “when you hear a joke or see a funny.” Don’t hoot and holler at inappropriate times, and don’t shout out one-liners at the stage. If you want to be the center of attention, put up your own play.

Don’t slouch and scowl at the actors; it’s not their fault your mother/father/teacher/youth minister brought you here.

Don’t go to sleep. If you're bored to the point of passing out, quietly leave.

Don’t take pictures; it’s illegal, and the flash is dangerous to the actors and distracting to the audience.

Bathe before the show. Don’t wear copious amounts of perfume. Don't eat six bean burritos before a performance of Hamlet.

I repeat: You are in a shared space. What you do affects the performance, and it affects the audience around you. None of these expectations are unreasonable.

2. Do your homework.
Going to see a Gilbert and Sullivan musical is a very different experience from going to see a two-actor Doctor Faustus. I don’t think you should necessarily read the play ahead of time, and I generally recommend against reading reviews before seeing the show, but you should know what kind of play you’re going to see. If you’re expecting a family-oriented happy-go-lucky comedy, you’re going to be very disappointed and confused when the curtain rises on Sam Shepard’s Buried Child.

3. Engage the work in front of you.
Assuming that the director, designers, actors and crew know their business, and they usually do, the company has created a piece of work that is designed for you to actively invest your attention, thoughts, and feelings into. I promise you, it’s far more rewarding to engage a play as an audience member than it is to sit and just let it happen in front of you.

What does that mean? It means that your heart and mind have work to do when you go to the theatre (or when you go to the movies, or listen to music, or go to a gallery, etc.). A comedy is designed to elicit joy and delight from the audience, and a tragedy to entice fear and sadness. You will experience much more as an audience member if you decide to let the piece move you than if you sit back and just wait for it to grab you. This is perhaps the most important part of being an audience, and the hardest to quantify. Yes, there are moments that will reach out and grab the casual viewer; Othello choking the life out of his innocent bride should make the remotest heart crack. But if you, as audience, have already gone halfway, if you have decided that you want the art to move you, you will not only have your heart completely and deliciously shattered by the heights of tragedy, you will also be moved by the smaller, subtler moments that a good playwright and company sprinkle throughout. It is often the little bits that bring the greatest reward, but the audience has to work a bit to receive them. It’s work worth doing.

Going to the other extreme, if you go to a comedy wanting to be delighted, you’ll find the experience much more satisfying than if you sit back and wait for the jokes to force your joy. Actors in town tell me that they always know I’m in the audience because I laugh loud and often. I’m not faking it; I want to be delighted. If you ever get a chance to go to a play with Theatre VCU’s Gary Hopper, watch him watch the play. He leans forward, forearms on his knees, transfixed by the experience. I’m told I do likewise. Actively engage yourself in the play being performed for you and you will reap rewards much greater than if you just sit and demand entertainment.

4. Give some benefit of doubt.
There’s some really crappy work done in theatre, as in all arts. There’s sloppy work, there are vague choices, there’s potboiler money-grasping, and there’s just plain bad art. But sometimes, quite often in fact, theatre artists make complex and subtle choices that are designed to be demanding to the audience.

For my part, every play that I write or direct, and the overwhelming majority of Richmond Shakespeare’s work, is designed to function on multiple levels. There’s the surface level, the “delight” layer, where spectacle, jokes, and broad choices reside. These are the big “event” moments, the pie-in-the-face, the witty turn of phrase, the sword fight, the show-stopping musical number, the murder of the king, the penis joke, the famous speech, the lovers’ first dance. But there’s a layer underneath of a much more complex, challenging nature. It’s the layer where symbolism, deep meaning, concept, motif, and theme reside, and engaging that layer is much more rewarding than simply allowing the surface stuff to wash over you.

Doctor Faustus, for example, was loaded with gadgets, gimmicks, and gimmes: the summoning machine made of Mega-Bloks and Christmas lights, the G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls, the Styrofoam head of “Helen,” the stuffed animals, masks, and props. But I hope the audience paid some attention to the cheap, tawdry nature of all these devices, valueless and obvious to anyone but John Faustus. I hope they noticed the pile of used-up contracts next to the wall, indicative that this has been going on over and over for years. All these devices were delightful to the audience on their surface, but they were chosen to point toward deeper meaning: the extent to which we value meaningless stuff when we turn our backs on God and live for our own aggrandizement. Hopefully, the deep parts of Faustus were rewarding to the audience member open to receive them, while the surface “delight” layer was strong enough to engage the casual theatergoer (though how many people decide casually to go see Doctor Faustus is debatable).

If it’s the job of the audience to dig into the deeper parts of a performance, it is of course also the job of theatre to have something for the more casual viewer. Shakespeare, above all writers, knew this, beginning every play with events or promises of sex, violence, or the supernatural and never letting the grimness go too long without a gravedigger or doorman to lighten things up. After all, Shakespeare’s audience spanned the entire social and economic spectrum of the Elizabethan world, from the poorest and most ignorant to the richest and most educated. He never saw a deep issue he could resist; nor could he hold off on the puns and penis jokes. Somehow, he managed to be the favorite playwright of every level of society (save the Puritans, who just hated theatre in general), and remains the most produced playwright in the world 400 years after his death. It's not because English teachers decided Shakespeare is good for your soul, it's because the plays are damn fun to see.

For my part, I go to the theatre assuming that the artists who create the piece before me have something to say and have chosen means they thought best to say it. I may not always get it the way they intended it. But when I see something onstage that I don’t like or don’t understand, I invest some effort into trying to determine why that choice was made. There is, of course, a danger of becoming a critical polyanna, of justifying bad, vague, or confusing work by saying, “the director was making a bold choice that I, through some fault of my own reception, didn’t ‘get’.” But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the audience to give artists a certain level of benefit of doubt. I always do, and I find that I leave the theatre more satisfied more often than almost anyone I know.

5. Don’t be a hater.
On the flipside, there is a very strong tendency among theatre artists to be hypercritical of other artists’ work. It’s like the old joke: How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? One hundred: One to actually do it and 99 to talk about how they could have done it better. This particular item applies mostly to other theatre artists, and it's a common pitfall for critics, but there are also theatergoers (and moviegoers, concertgoers, etc.) who seem to believe that the only way to intelligently approach a performance is to tear it apart. I find that insulting, disgusting, and totally counterproductive. I have a lot of friends with whom I have just stopped discussing theatre because they never have anything good to say about anyone or anything.

Hating everything does not make you deep, and it doesn’t make you intelligent. It just makes you hateful. Theatre is designed to entertain, and if you want to be entertained you usually will. If you want to find fault, you always will. Expectations #4 and #5 are often linked; if you make an effort to discern and accept what the artists are trying to do, you will often find yourself being affected by it in the way they intended.

That doesn’t mean calling bad work good, or justifying weak choices. And I’ll freely admit that I tend to excuse more than I find fault. That’s how I roll; it’s in my character and in my Faith. But I promise you that I enjoy more theatre than the player-haters do, and I’m probably a much happier person. Find the joy. Choose to be delighted.

* * *

In my work as an artist, I find it of prime importance to leave “space.” I leave space in the plays I write for actors to fill by leaving some lines and intentions ambiguous; the actor then has a chance to come up with better ideas than I could. I leave space in the rehearsal hall as a director by allowing the actors to explore and experiment before I solidify blocking, and often afterward; the actors again have a chance to improve on my ideas. I leave conceptual spaces in the final directed product (and, to an extent in my final acted product) for the audience to fill in the blanks of meaning, hopefully allowing each audience member to take some personal ownership in the theatrical event. I more than allow the audience to engage the work, I demand it. The whole work is built around it.

If it’s reasonable to allow the audience to challenge the actor, it is reasonable for the actor to challenge the audience. This is what makes the theatre so much more vital than film or television: the actual presence of performance and reception in the same space; making eye contact, engaging each other, and demanding response. You cannot come to the theatre expecting to be able to tune out and relax the same way you come to the screen. The form doesn’t allow for it; theatre doesn’t work on a passive audience the same way screen performance can.

There’s a lot of theatre out there that just doesn’t give a damn about the audience. Many “laboratory” theatres (of which I confess to have participated in) are more interested in artistic experimentation than building a piece for audience reception. I generally think of a laboratory as a place for Bunsen burners and test tubes, not art. Much of American Shakespeare seems designed to manipulate 400-year-old texts to serve current socio-political agendas, which I suppose is artistically valid, but often comes off as only appealing to white liberal 40somethings with household incomes above $150,000. And the second acts of many Sondheim musicals seem more focused on demonstrating how smart Sondheim is than entertaining anyone. Wait, that's not quite fair. He's demonstrating how smart theatre artists are, not just himself. (Okay, okay, refrain from the angry responses, I like Sondheim. He's just a reeeeeally easy target.)

I promise you, I’m making this theatre for you. Everything I do is with the audience in mind. It’s designed to delight and challenge you, to elicit thought and feeling and, at the end of the night, joy. Question my work, interrogate it, demand things of it, and do the same of your response to it. Respond! Come and get it! Don’t wait for it to grab you, meet me in the middle. Be a part of the theatre, and allow the theatre to be a part of you.

If theatre is a 50/50 paradigm, then you in the audience have some work to do. It is work very much worth doing.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Times-Dispatch: "The Tempest" Is "Another Triumph" for Richmond Shakespeare

Richmond Shakespeare has been blessed to often strike a chord with Richmond Times-Dispatch reviewer Susan Haubenstock. She has given us some very nice reviews. But after her review for The Tempest, I feel like we should send her flowers and chocolate.

An excerpt:

A stunning visual opens the play: sailors on a storm-tossed ship, straining against ropes that form a triangle pointing off into the distance.

Deep in the background, beyond where the lines converge, paces Prospero, powerful, self-contained, the conjurer of the storm.

But Anthony Luciano, master of play for Richmond Shakespeare Festival's "The Tempest," engages our senses even more with an onstage sound crew that produces the noises of thunder and rain while the sailors shout their distress.

Throughout, Andrew Hamm's original music punctuates and illuminates this glistening production, another triumph for this ever-inventive company.

I chose the above, not because it has my name in it, but because that last phrase, "another triumph for this ever-inventive company," is (to quote the play) the stuff dreams are made of. That's just a great quote for publicity.

I want to use this space to acknowledge the huge contribution made by Wayne Conners and Kevin Neilson, my musical partners in the show. They mask my feeble guitar playing and make the heart of the music beat. Each one of them was my first choice when looking for musicians, and they have exceeded my expectations tenfold.

Read the whole review, and come see the show before it's gone!

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Explain My Dream to Me

Here's my dream from last night.

I'm walking on a path through the woods. It's a lovely day, sunny and warm, in a very nice park-like section of cheery woodland. On the path in front of me I see Hillary Clinton in a nice track suit half-walking half-jogging towards me. She is being pursued by a dimetrodon. I ask the Senator why she isn't running for her life. She explains that the dimetrodon is not very fast and that she is in no danger at her present pace. I look down the path and see that Mrs. Clinton is correct; the dimetrodon waddles at a pretty good clip, but it is easy to stay ahead of it.

I walk down a parallel path, tracking the progress of the dimetrodon as it chases the former First Lady. That's when I realize that the sail-finned pelycosaur is approaching a larger group of people down the path. While Hillary Clinton can be trusted to defend herself, not all the people picnicking in the woods are so resourceful. It's clearly time to act.

I rush up next to the dimetrodon and wrap my arms around its body. How I manage to encircle its three-foot-tall, rigid sail is, as Shakespeare would say, "the stuff dreams are made of." Using my super strength, I lift it off the ground. Naturally, the solution is to fly it back to where it came from, so I take to the air.

The dimetrodon, understandably concerned at being hoisted off the ground and flown away, especially with such a delectable Democrat just a few feet down the path, expresses its anger by biting my left hand. I am invincible, of course, and my skin cannot be pierced by the creature's teeth, but it hurts all the same. To discourage the animal from biting me further, I sink my own teeth into its right shoulder--just enough to warn, not to draw blood. Because that would be weird and gross, tasting the blood of a living mammal-like-reptile from the Permian Period. Surprised and chastened, the dimetrodon stops biting me.

That's when I woke up.

So I invite you, gentle readers, to interpret. What does my dream mean? Is it some kind of subconscious psychoanalysis? Is it prophecy, portending future events? Of is my childhood paleontological geekdom just colliding with my adult superhero geekdom with a side order of political paranoia?

This is what a dimetrodon looks like, in case you don't know:

And this is what Hillary Clinton looks like:

Which is scarier? You decide!

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Harry Reid Promotes Illegal Aliens to "Undocumented Americans"

It happened a few days ago. On June 4, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor of the Senate:

"This week, we're going to complete that legislation. We will hopefully bring to final passage a comprehensive bill that will strengthen our border security and bring 12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows."

I've been percolating a gigantic immigration-and-border-security diatribe for months, which is damn near a boil since the ridiculous bipartisan American Suicide Bill, which has me more pissed at the President than I think I have ever been at any politician since Clinton didn't know what "sex" or "is" meant. (See? I'm so pissed I'm writing run-on sentences.) I can only hope that the opening of The Tempest will finally give me time to finish the research and write the thing. But hearing about this I can't say nothing.

Illegal aliens are illegal aliens. They're not Americans. They're not even illegal immigrants; "immigrant" is a term denoting legal naturalization and citizenship. There's already a term for people who are in the country in violation of the law: illegal aliens. Now Majority Leader Reid is calling them "undocumented Americans"???? What "shadows" is he talking about? The "shadows" of being a felon on a daily basis? I'm really just speechless. I guess I can say nothing if I can't say anything.

Perhaps this is the time to mention that Senator Reid's current approval rating is 19%. That is half of Vice President Cheney's approval rating. Half. Of Cheney's. (Find me a "mainstream" "non-partisan" media outlet that's reporting that information.) I hadn't realized that the office of Majority Leader empowered Reid to naturalize immigrants, since of course only an American citizen has the right to be called "American."

Since I don't have time to comment deeply on the subject, perhaps you'll enjoy New York Sun columnist Mark Steyn's take, which reads, in part:

I forget where I was when I first heard the phrase "undocumented worker." Possibly it was after swimming the Rio Grande and emerging dripping on the northern shore to be handed a fake Social Security number and a driver's license. But I assumed, reasonably enough, that this linguistic sleight of hand was simply too ridiculous to fly even with the American media. I underestimated my colleagues, alas.

The "undocumented" are, as it happens, brimming with sufficient documents to open bank accounts or, on the other hand, rent a Ryder truck, as Mohammad Salameh did in 1993 when he and his pals bombed the World Trade Centerfirst time round. Being "undocumented" means being documented up to the hilt as far as everyone else is concerned but "undocumented" only to the US government. Which, when you think about it, is a very advantageous status to have.

The tip of the wedge these days is always changing the name.

(That's not true, actually; first you accuse all people who oppose your issue of being bigoted in some way. If I oppose gay marriage, I'm a homophobe. If I support military action in the Middle East, I'm a war-monger. If I oppose the blanket naturalization of illegal aliens, I'm a racist. This is the Democratic Party's political dialogue strategy in a nutshell: When you can't win minds and hearts with your arguments, just vilify your opponents. Works every time. How very very stupid we Americans are.)

If we're going to insist on calling them "illegal immigrants," let's combine the two ideas into one adorable, easy-to-remember term: Crimmigrants.

Hell, I'm starting to rant. Save it for later, Hamm...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Worth Thousands of Words

Just in case you haven't yet gotten your tickets for The Tempest, here are a few pictures from last night's first tech rehearsal to persuade you. Seriously, you have to see the show just to see Lucas Hall in that fairy goddess costume.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Schilling Blogs His Almost-No-Hitter

Check out this post, from Schilling's perspective is always really interesting, but the play-by-play recollection of pitching this game so close to the evasive no-hitter is just fascinating. Schilling can be an ass at times--which I like--but what makes him one of my favorite baseball players ever is stuff like this:

Our ninth ends rather quick, which is nice, and I stroll out for the final inning. Sox Nation is way into it, I can hear them, which is cool. I am also thinking about a few thousand or so friends of mine that I know are tuned in. 30+ thousand ALS patients, a lot of which I know follow my starts, that are probably as nervous as anyone. My son Gehrig, who just this week had thrown a five inning no-hitter. My Yavapai teammates that I am going to be seeing in Phoenix, my little league coaches, as a group I am wondering what’s going through their minds as I am warming up. One of the greatest things about doing what I do for a living is knowing how much these games mean to people that have helped me get to this point, that so many of them do live and die with every pitch we throw. The fact that God gave me the ability to impact peoples lives in this way is something you wish everyone had a chance to experience.

Schilling may shoot his mouth off at times, but he has grown into a guy who really gets what it means to be a major-league ballplayer, on the field, off the field, and in society.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Amazing "Tempest" Moment

I want to write about the whole process of scoring The Tempest in the style of American Roots music with trash percussion before the show opens, but this morning I only have time to share a brief story.

Friday night we had our first spacing rehearsal on the stage at Agecroft Hall. Very rough work at times, on an unfinished stage, with entire platforms still missing from the unfinished bleachers, with just a few worklights to see by as the sun set. I was sitting with my guitars extreme stage right, off the stage and nearly against the wall of the building. The whole cast and crew were either onstage, backstage, or in the house watching.

No one else could see what I saw. Only I had the right angle.

As the sun set and the sky darkened, flashes of distant lightning began to light the northern sky as a line of thunderstorms approached. For over an hour, I sat in my place watching Stephen Lorne Williams' Prospero tell Liz Blake's Miranda the story of their banishment to the island, justifying why he has raised the tempest. All the while, the storm grew nearer and nearer, the flashes brighter and more frequent past Prospero's head. When the thunder grew audible, it was almost too much to bear. Here was Prospero, in the form of this dignified old British actor, standing in front of me with his staff, summoning spirits to raise a storm, with the actual storm casting lightning like haloes around his head.

When the rain came, cutting off the last 90 minutes of our spacing work, the fun kind of ended. But I told director Anthony Luciano, "After watching what I watched tonight, I don't even need to perform this for an audience to be satisfied."

...Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't come. Maybe there will be a cool lightning storm for you, as well.

I'll take pictures at tonight's spacing rehearsal.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

News Flash: Pro Athlete Admits He Was Wrong!

It's my man Clinton Portis, who initially responded to the Michael Vick dog-fighting investigation by saying, "It's his dogs. If that's what he wants to do, do it."

From the Washington Post today:

"A couple of weeks ago, when I made those comments I didn't understand the seriousness behind it," Portis said. "I didn't know it would affect that many people, and didn't think what I said was that offensive. But after doing some research and seeing how serious people take this, I shouldn't have made the comments. I'm going to just leave it alone and hopefully it will die down and people will understand that. At that time I had no idea the love people have for animals, and I didn't consider it when I made those comments."

Portis said he received an outpouring of mail and informational pamphlets from critics, and paid more attention to the way humans and animals interact. He recently noticed a woman caring for her dog at an airport and thought about television coverage of people weeping over a whale that was stuck in a canal, and reconsidered his remarks.

Now, of course Portis also pled "my comments were taken out of context," which is cliche even when true. But I'm glad to see that Portis is man enough to have his mind change and admit it. That's a very rare thing in our society these days, almost unheard of in sports and impossible in politics.

Still, my #26 jersey is getting a four-game suspension. I won't wear Portis' number until week five. That's down from the season-long suspension I had given it previously.

Also, Michael Vick is a dingus. We're done with him here.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Whitlock on Duke Lacrosse and Epidemic Victimhood

Once more we turn to the Kansas City Star and sports sage Jason Whitlock, who goes from Duke Lacrosse to Rutgers Women's Basketball in the blink of an eye. Here's the link.

An excerpt: long as we’re victims, we’re not responsible for our salvation or progress. This mind-set must be rejected.

And so does the tradition of passing old bitterness onto our young people. America has made tremendous racial progress. This cannot be denied. It is fact. We make a mistake when we spend more time preparing young people for the racism that they will surely face in America rather than preparing them for the opportunities that await them.

If the message to black youths is that America is racist and set up to prevent their success, we cannot be surprised that black youths have embraced a culture (hip-hop) that expresses hopelessness and negative values.

Just as a divorced/single parent can permanently damage the psyche of a child by burdening them with their feelings of hurt and despair toward the other parent, an adult can do the same thing to young people by feeding them their racial animosity.

No matter how valid your feelings of victimhood, they do not empower the sympathizers you try to recruit. Your feelings of victimhood oppress.

Your fundamental belief that you control your destiny empowers you and strikes fear in the people who try to limit your success.

His assault on Nancy Grace is also priceless.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cool Iron Man Pic by Ron Lim

From This is the post-Silver Centurion armor, my favorite design ever.


New Pellot-Rosa Video


Check it!

After about two minutes of head coach Eric Mangini (perhaps the least charismatic football man I have ever seen), it's pretty standard stuff. Rookie, overwhelmed by the playbook, catching up with the speed, getting advice from veterans, etc. Again, Jesse's got all the standard NFL player cliches down pat!

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Friday, June 01, 2007

God's Wacky Sense of Humor

I'm working three jobs right now:

1) the Richmond Shakespeare thing, for which I'm spending most of my time composing, arranging, and rehearsing the collossal amount of music required for The Tempest,

2) the teaching thing at the Center for the Arts, which I'll be finishing up in two weeks, and

3) the new music ministry thing at Redeemer Lutheran Church, double the amount of work because everything is new.

So this is the busiest I've ever been. Ever. Seriously, grad school looks like summer vacation compared to this stretch of six weeks from May 1 through June 14. Given my druthers, I wouldn't have started at Redeemer until after the school year ended, but that's as may be. I'm really thrilled to be there, I'm enjoying the wind-down at CFA, and The Tempest sounds pretty cool thus far.

Except that I've been sick since the last week of April. It started as a raging sore throat and laryngitis the week I shot John Adams, and has since settled into consistent chest congestion and constant exhaustion. I'm tired 24 hours a day, can't get enough sleep, and am forgetting all kinds of stuff.

Yesterday, I finally made time in my schedule (by putting off music work and skipping a production meeting) to go to the doctor. I had tried a couple weeks ago, but the waiting list was 20 deep and I didn't have five hours to spend in a lobby. So they stuck needles in my arm, which almost makes me shriek with fear each and every time, and x-rayed my chest.

It turns out I have acute sinusitis. The common symptoms are a cough when you lie down and constant exhaustion. The doctor said "People who have this come to the doctor thinking they have mono."

Wonderful timing. God's wacky sense of humor at its finest.

It's not like the hard work made me sick and tired. I got sick the week before I started at Redeemer. This was just the perfect setup to make me half-suck at everything I'm doing.

According to the doctor, it's going to take about 3 weeks to clear up, and 5-6 days before I feel any better at all. So if you see me around town and I seem out of it, that's just because I'm totally out of it.

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