Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What else can Brett Favre do?

(I'm going to assume that most people reading this know what's going on with Brett Favre, and that those who don't know don't care, so no recap.)

I ask you, what else can Brett Favre do?

Obviously, the right choice for Brett is to have simply not retired in the first place, but that's not an option. Favre can still play, he still has the passion, he still has the arm and the skills. He clearly retired in a state of extended despair over seeing one of his best seasons end with another Super Bowl so close but yet so far.

Yes, this is an impossible situation for the Packers. He has sabotaged their training camp, their salary cap, and possibly their season. And if anyone has an idea what he could do differently, I'd love to hear it.

Staying out of the league is not a viable option. He's a future Hall-of-Famer, and he clearly still has starting quarterback skills. He has consistently been the brightest spot on the Packers' roster for 16 years, and he has single-handedly raised them back from their dismal 1980s to being an elite franchise again. For an entire football generation, the Green Bay Packers are #4. In other words, he has earned the benefit of almost every imaginable doubt in Green Bay.

Unfortunately, I don't know what else the Packers can do, either. They have invested confidence and commitment in Aaron Rodgers, and to pull him out of the starting position now, under these kind of circumstances is to most likely ruin him as a starter in Green Bay forever. The Packers have drafted with Rodgers in mind, they have acquired free agents with Rodgers in mind, and they have managed salaries with Favre's retirement in mind. The team simply isn't built for Favre's history, his skills, or his salary now. And it's months too late to change that.

It's an ugly situation, but I think as soon as the parties sit down face to face it will clarify. Both sides will find ways to give to the other; both sides respect each other's perspective. Favre needs to be able to play, period. The Packers need to be able to move on, period. They'll find a way, maybe one that will surprise us all.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Banned books in Texas prisons

Unfortunately funny piece from Mother Jones:

Why Prisons Banned This Magazine

NEWS: What did—and didn't—get past Texas prison mail room censors last year

July/August 2008 Issue



The Hitler We Loved and Why

Banned: United States: An Illustrated History (racial content)
Approved: The Hitler We Loved and Why

Electrician's Exam Study Guide

Banned: Electrician's Exam Study Guide (security concerns)
Approved: Viet Cong and nva Tunnels and Fortifications of the Vietnam War

Wilderness Survival

Banned: Wilderness Survival (could be used to facilitate an escape)
Approved: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

Banned: Good Housekeeping, August 2007 (criminal schemes)
Approved: Mafia Fix

Banned: Texas Hill Country, Spring/Summer 2007 (map)
Approved: Texas Travel Guide 2007

Banned: Spiritual Tattoo (sexually explicit images, tattoo making)
Approved: The Tattoo History Source Book

Banned: The Administratrix (female homosexuality)
Approved: Skin Deep: Real-Life Lesbian Sex Stories

Mother Jones, Sept/Oct 2007 issue

Banned: Mother Jones, Sept/Oct 2007 (nude child­ a story on mining dangers)
Approved: Letters to Penthouse XXVIII

I mostly want to know who the "we" is in The Hitler We Loved and Why.

How to behave on an internet forum

With much talk around the blogosphere about the virtues and pitfalls of anonymous web posting, I thought I'd share this instructional video. Note that there is a small bit of language and a tiny bit of non-work-appropriate material.

An expanded transcript follows for your reading pleasure:

How To Behave On An Internet Forum

Internet forums are either a brilliant community where you can meet and chat with new, interesting people, or full of scornful idiots who deserve to be banned from The Net in its entirety. This film explains some of the common mistakes people make in forums, which makes them the sort of loathsome fool no one wants to know.

Step 1:

Flame Wars

By-and-large, the trouble with The Internet, and forums in particular, is that everyone gets to be anonymous. That essentially gives them free reign to be as snooty and argumentative as they like.

A ‘troll' posts deliberately controversial or annoying messages for the specific purpose of getting a rise out of people and initiating a hate-filled and overly-argumentative thread. The appropriate course of action is simply not to respond. Don't feed the troll.

Step 2:

Godwin's Law

Godwin's Law states that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

What that means in real terms is that sooner or later someone involved in a forum argument will be likened to a Nazi, or displaying Hitler-like tendencies. Please note that if you're the one invoking Godwin's Law and likening someone to a Nazi, you've immediately lost the argument because it's such a lame-a** low blow.

Step 3:


Approximately 99.9% of all online forums are based around videogames. Sadly, there are several members of the videogame community who have such an overly-fanatical devotion to their particular console that they're somehow incapable of admitting any other system might have good features too. They're best ignored, because ‘Fanboys' are basically a special subset of ‘Troll', and as such are all Nazis and/ or Hitler.

Step 4:


Sadly, teenagers are allowed on The Internet too. They have funny ways of spelling and don't understand that proper grownups don't want to put up with their pubescent attempts at ‘humour'. There's nothing you can do about Teenagers on The Internet, you'll just have to learn to circumnavigate them.

Not all teenagers are evil, mind. Just most of them.

Step 5:

Post Count

Every time you post, your post count goes up by one. Some people seem to think that the higher the post count, the more worthy and valuable they are to society at large. Frankly, the exact opposite seems to be the case; posting just to up your count is insanely annoying, so make sure all your messages add to a discussion in some way. If you're replying in a thread, make sure what you're writing is funny, interesting or funny and interesting. “yeh i agree lol” is not, in any way, shape or form, a valid reply, ever.

Step 6:

Respect the Admins

It's their website, and they can do whatever the hell they like with it. You're a guest, and hassling them about how they run things is akin to going round your Auntie's house and curling one out in her tea-pot.

Step 7:


EVER. ‘Shouting' through the written word is pointless and annoying, clearly.

Step 8:

Lurk Before Posting

Don't just jump in to the forums spouting off reams and reams your amazing knowledge of the intricacies of World of Warcraft. In Binary.

Lurk around a bit first and read some threads to see whether or not that's even remotely the sort of thing people there would be interested in.

Step 9:

Keep On Topic

If a thread's all about how amazing a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game would be, don't derail it and start talking about something else entirely, like Chun Li's thighs. Make a new thread if you absolutely must.

Step 10:

Picture Etiquette

Don't post massive pictures that are wider than most peoples' screens. What's more, don't post massive pictures of filthy grotty porn or anything in case people are at work. Not even the most ardent heterosexual likes looking at boobies when sat near their boss. It's enough to put them off for life.

Step 11:


What's more, make sure you mark any risqué links as Not Safe For Work, just in case, and make sure doing so is in keeping with the forum's tone.

By and large, just remember to be excellent to each other. Be all civil and pleasant. Keep your tongue firmly in your cheek and get a nice thick skin.


It turns out there's even more annoying stuff people do that we simply couldn't squeeze into the film...

Step 12:


...should be small and tasteful. Massive graphics plugging something you're selling are a right royal no-no. Text is very much preferable.

Step 13:


Your profile pic is how people picture you, so choose something good-looking, funny or interesting. Pretty much anything goes, just make sure it isn't ugly or annoying and fits with the tone of the forum.

Step 14:


Old threads are old for a reason, and that reason is that noone's interested in discussing that anymore. Unless you've got an outrageously good reason to do so, leave dead threads to Rest in Peace.

Step 15:


Used properly, The Internet can be a tool for good. If used for overblown, melodramatic weepy Emo nonsense, it's ruined and needs to be scrubbed clean. Learn to relax and take everything in your stride. Noone's on The Internet to get all stressed and angsty, we're all just here for a good time. So leave all your haughty drivel at the door.

Step 16:


If used sparingly a smiley can emphasise a point: sarcasm comes across extremely poorly in forums – almost dangerously so. A quick winky will sort that. Reams and reams of extravagant animated smileys performing all manner of wacky acts are annoying, and are the sort of thing your mum would do, were she able to use a computer.

Step 17:

Read the FAQ and Forum Rules

Because they'll tell you how the community there likes people to act. They're there for a reason.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

In brief...

A bunch of small things, none of which require a full blog entry.

G minus G.

I'm pretty sure Garfield Minus Garfield isn't very funny to me any more. There are too many moments that I recognize from my own life. Poor bipolar Jon. Maybe I'll get to a point when I can laugh my fool ass off at it again, but for now it's too close to a somewhat painful home.

Arena Football.

As I type this, the Philadelphia Soul (my team now that my old team went out of business) is leading the San Jose Saber Cats 44-27 in Arena Bowl XXII. If you're a sports fan and you've never been to an Arena League game, I highly recommend it. It's high-speed, high-scoring, high-skill, rock and roll football. I was in the house when the Albany Firebirds won the Arena Bowl in 2000, and it was one of the best sports experiences of my life. As a bonus, the Arena Bowl is in New Orleans this year.

Now it's 46-27. The Soul have "PHL" in big letters on the fronts of their jerseys.

The Dark Knight.

Overall, Dark Knight is magnificent. Go see it; it's an Iron Man / Spider-Man 2 / X-Men 2 level superhero movie. Heath Ledger is more amazing than you've heard he is.

No big spoilers here, but I had a couple significant beefs with the film. 1) There was no effort whatsoever to make Gotham not look like Chicago. Too many exteriors of the city features wide-open boulevards in a city that had been clearly designed in the previous film as cramped and claustrophobic--you know, like Gotham City. 2) The movie is about 20 minutes too long, in my humble opinion. In retrospect, the subplot with the Asian gangster ended up having much less of an impact on the story than it looked like it was going to, and could have been seriously compressed. Something needed to go; my attention was getting tired in the final act, and a good screenplay trim would have taken care of it.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.

This is a love it or hate it movie. I loved it. It looks like all of the cool stuff from Pan's Labyrinth all the time. The first time I saw it I thought the story was thin; the second time I changed my mind. The story isn't thin, the visuals are so dominating that everything else is thin by comparison. Even if you hate the story and the characters, it's just beautiful to watch, and the most delightfully imaginative movie I've seen since The Fellowship of the Ring.

Getting my first manicure and pedicure

was awesome. I will do it again. I probably won't get color on my toenails again unless I go with James Bond.

I would kill James Bond

for his place in Hell's Kitchen. Kill him dead.

James Ricks

came to see Henry IV, Part 2 last night. I was surprised by how thrilled I was to see him. You go, James Ricks. You are awesome. I hope my Hamlet cast and his Richard III cast can find a way to hang together. With those two scripts, we're going to need to lighten things up after rehearsal. It's going to be a great fall for Shakespearean tragedy in Richmond.


I can't believe I still haven't seen it. Liz is going to kick my ass.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

08AMA goes to the gym: stop the presses! has a great piece on the media's Obamessiah worship today. It's by rogue conservative Glenn Beck, a guy I really respect even when I disagree with him.

After some great mockery of the AP's July 17 piece on Obama's gym habits (have they mentioned that McCain is old?), Beck writes:

Of course, anecdotal evidence that Obama probably polls somewhere around 95 percent with members of the media has been around for years, but now there are some actual statistics to back it up.

According to the Tyndall Report, a service that monitors the three network news broadcasts, ABC, NBC, and CBS have spent a total of 114 of their national airtime minutes covering Obama since June. They've spent 48 minutes on his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

And then you have the almost embarrassing way the media have gushed over Obama's trip to the Middle East. There were 200 requests for the 40 press seats available on Obama's plane, and all three top network anchors (Katie Couric, Charles Gibson and Brian Williams) made the trip and are broadcasting live from each country Obama visits.

You can't buy that kind of publicity. And neither could McCain.

McCain made a trip to the Middle East in March and didn't have to worry about finding seats for any network anchors, because none of them wanted to go. And while Obama was flying from country to country this week in a plane packed with celebrity reporters, McCain flew to an event in New Hampshire. After his Boeing 737 landed in Manchester, he stepped out onto the tarmac and glanced at the one reporter who'd bothered to show up. Yes, one.

And then you have the print media's fascination with Obama. He's been on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, GQ, Rolling Stone, Us Weekly (twice), Time and Newsweek (a combined 12 times) and will soon be on the cover of Men's Vogue for the second time. To be fair, Men's Vogue also did an in-depth story on John McCain but, strangely, a photo of McCain didn't make their cover.

Why the disparity? According to Men's Vogue deputy editor Ned Martel, there's a simple explanation: Obama "is what is called in the magazine world an 'interest driver.' " Translation: Obama sells magazines.

I don't criticize any individual for supporting Barackstar. There's a lot to like; there's a lot I like, as a matter of fact. I think he'd be a really interesting presidential candidate--in 2012 or 2016, when he actually has enough experience and knowledge of foreign policy to be qualified for the job. But anyone, anyone, who thinks the national news media isn't drowning in their own drool over him is either blind, completely partisan, or so in love with the Obamessiah themselves that both forest and trees are just a blur of green.

It's not just McCain supporters who see this; can I get an amen from the Hillary folks? Hope-ama captured the imagination and attention of influential media figures who have worked tirelessly (and for free) to appoint him the Democratic candidate, and who are now working just as hard to assign him the presidency. All this is happening despite a serious lack of experience and even greater dearth of specifics, all of which apparently doesn't stand for much if you can speak well and look presidential. Perhaps we should be voting for Kevin Kline, who played the president in Dave. Or Michael Douglas from The American President. Oh, wait, he has to be black. Fine, Morgan Freeman from Deep Impact. Any of those three gentlemen have, honestly, not much less foreign policy experience than Obama does.

A balanced view of Barack Obama's foreign policy statements, viewed in the context of the past half century of history, reveals a man who is either criminally naive, dangerously ignorant about the politics of the Middle East, or lying through his teeth about his plans in order to get your vote. In today's telepolitical climate, I'm pretty certain it's option three. In today's telepolitical climate, I'm pretty certain it won't matter a bit as long as the TV coverage remains as unbalanced as it has for the past year.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

[title of blog entry]

I saw the Broadway production of [title of show] at the Lyceum Theatre last night. It's a real privilege to see a Broadway show less than a week after its opening show, especially when it's a multiple Tony nominee.

The show has a well-chronicled history, from New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004 to Off-Broadway to finally Broadway. Of course, if you don't know the show's history, all you have to do it see it. [title of show] is about its own creation; it's "a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical."

It's also the most delightful experience I've had in a theater in years.

I'm so glad Karen recommended I see [title of show] after she saw a preview a couple weeks ago. It's a decidedly simple show, just four actors, an accompanist with a keyboard, four chairs, a box set, very little tech, and a simple story: two friends decide to write a play for a new musical theatre festival despite the fact that the entry deadline is only three weeks away. They opt to write about writing a musical in three weeks. The play currently stars the original performers, Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen (the show's writers) and Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff (their friends, also playing themselves).

But that's not really what [title of show] is about. It's about the creative process. It's about perseverance. It's about finding the joy in what you do or finding something joyful to do. It's about finding a way to work with your friends. It's about musical theatre, and people who love musical theatre. It's about the enormous challenge and social stigma of trying something new in a culture that praises innovators of the past but punishes innovators here and now. It's about shouting down your critics, both external and internal. It's about counting the F-bombs. It's about imagining how you would accept a Tony.

It's about writing, which makes it particularly appealing to me. It's about loving words, and playing with a friend who loves words as much as you do, which is also particularly appealing to me. It has inspired me to take my writing one hell of a lot more seriously. I'm getting back to the treatment of Gift of Light tonight, and as soon as I have a studio again I'm going to catch up on A Week in the Suburbs.

Mostly, [title of show] is about just how much you can thrill and delight an audience with four voices, four chairs, one pianist, and a box set. It's for artists and audiences. It's for anyone who has ever dreamed an unrealistic dream. It's for anyone who needs to learn how to shout "Die, vampire, die!"

It is one of the most beautiful plays I've ever seen.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in New York City!

With The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway running through my head, I'm in Manhattan for a couple days. Karen and I lived here from 1997-1999, and I was largely miserable. I haven't been back since 2001.

Holy cow am I having a great time.

James Bond and I saw The Dark Knight at 11:15 last night, and there is nothing like watching a movie with New Yorkers. So much applause for the Joker!

We had breakfast at the Galaxy Diner in Hell's Kitchen the day after having lunch at the Galaxy Diner in Carytown. My car got towed overnight (poor Tardis), but the overnight lot fee is cheaper than overnight parking, so I'll pick it up tomorrow. James bought me a manicure and pedicure; my first, and they won't be my last. I'm headed over to the TKTS booth to buy a show ticket for tonight, and I may see another one tomorrow afternoon. I'm also planning to go to Don't Tell Mama for drinks and to sing. I'll write about whatever shows I see.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Am Bipolar.

I am bipolar. Specifically, I am bipolar-II.

I am built this way; I am designed this way.

It will not go away. There is no cure.

I do not want to be cured. (Well, most of the time.)

I have little control over it, but I bear the responsibility for my actions as a result of it.

I do not apologize for being the way I am, but I do wish to explain, to be understood.

I need help from my friends and family. I am too ashamed to ask for help from my friends and family. This makes me need help even more.

I speak before I can censor myself. I give too much information. My mind happens too fast for me to stop it.

I love being the center of attention, and it makes me uncomfortable. I want to congratulate myself for my work, but I become shy when someone else tries to congratulate me. I love finishing the show, but I hate the curtain call.

I worry, I worry, and then I worry about worrying. It sometimes feels as if my brain is a mass of hornets, angry that they can't get out of my skull.

I encounter the world violently and passionately. I love who I love with depth that saturates every cell of my body, with complete passion. I feel like I'm living poetry in a world of prose. How many actions most ridiculous have I been drawn to by my fantasy? In to a thousand, none of which I have forgotten.

I become impatient when the rest of the world doesn't move at my tempo. The rare moments when it does catch up feel like magic. When the people I am with move faster than I do, when they anticipate me, that's pure transportation.

I'm very big on ideas, not good with follow-through. I have hard drives and notebooks full of the beginnings of ideas, outlines and first chapters. I've been working on a musical for over a decade, and a new play for six years.

Sometimes my most extreme feelings come from nowhere. Sometimes they are triggered by something you say or do; this is not your fault. Sometimes they are triggered by getting a bad night's sleep. It's all a circle; worry will create a short night's sleep, which triggers a mood episode, which increases worry, which creates a short night's sleep, which deepens the mood episode, and on and on.

Sometimes you ask me if I want to do something and I say no, but I want to be convinced.

I make big mistakes, and no one can convince me it's a mistake until I learn it for myself. It isn't that I don't trust you, it's just that I don't trust you. I don't need to be told "I told you so," I need to be forgiven.

My brand of bipolar is not the same as everyone else's. In fact, mine is quite mild in comparison to many. I don't have problems with extreme addictions, substances, or suicidal thoughts; I don't gamble the company on delusional plans.

I can count the number of people in the world who "get me" on one hand and not need all the fingers. I'm not sure I'm on that hand yet. That is why I'm writing this.

I am bipolar. I am learning what it means.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Compleat Works" Returning for Encore Performance!

The wacky trio responsible for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's hit production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) are returning for a one-night-only encore performance on Wednesday, July 30 at 8:00 PM.

If you are one of the unfortunate people (including me) who came out on Compleat Works' closing night only to have the show rained out after only fifteen minutes of hilarity, this is your chance to come see the rest of the ridiculousness. Jeffry Clevenger, LaSean Pierre Greene, and David Janosik--and, of course, Bob--are all returning to reprise their roles.

Visit our website or call 1-866-BARD-TIX for tickets to this special event.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Template; New Subtitle Needed

I've redecorated the blog this morning, and I'd like to re-title it as well. Any suggestions would be welcome.

EDIT: #### Blogger! Changing the template erased three years of hyperlinks! All my links to reviews and cool websites are gone!

Now THAT is some crappy interface design, that doesn't let you change the appearance without keeping custom content intact. It's going to take me weeks to reassemble this stuff.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Style Weekly: "As You Like It" is "charming, funny, unique, and unexpected"

From Style Weekly online:

The Dance Number Big Willie Didn’t See Coming

Even after a quarter century, Richmond Shakespeare keeps us guessing. Even if we already know who’s really a lady and who’s not.

“As You Like It,” Richmond Shakespeare’s most recent undertaking, is also its oldest.

Eleven years ago, the fledgling company cut into this play, already 400 years old, and have been fine-tuning it ever since. The play, one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies, has all of the ingredients of a great production: girls masquerading as boys, love triangles (and pentagons, quadrangles and other assorted geometric shapes), an abundance of physical comedy and witty dialogue.

And typical of Richmond Shakespeare’s unwillingness to present the conventional play, directors Andrew Hamm and Julie Phillips (who refer to themselves as the Masters of Play and of Verse, respectively) incorporate thoroughly modern bits into the works, anachronisms dating back as far back as May 2007. Here the cross-dressing comedy includes a large song-and-dance number near the end in which the cast bursts into an impromptu rendition of the “Soulja Boy” dance.

The actors, for the most part, handle their characters beautifully. Sunny LaRose’s Rosalind is strong and endearing, and works well with the love-struck fervor of Orlando (Patrick Bromley). She also has great chemistry with Julia Rigby, who plays her cousin Celia; their scenes are filled with girlish glee and are enjoyable to watch. And as in most of Shakespeare’s plays, the court clown delivers many of the best lines; Adam Mincks’ brilliantly funny Touchstone is definitely up to the job.

But it’s Liz Blake who steals the show. Her role as Amiens in the play’s first half allows her to show off her lovely, lilting singing voice -- this is only topped by her portrayal of the crass shepherdess Phebe, who falls madly in love with the cross-dressing Rosalind, in the second half.

The production is not flawless, though. With the exception of the wrestling scene near the opening, the first half becomes dry whenever Rosalind or Touchstone is not onstage. And while the production’s several musical numbers work well for Blake, LaRose and Bromley each struggle during their few sung lines.

But “As You Like It” is a charming, funny production that bears the unique, often unexpected flavor that Richmond Shakespeare has spent 23 years stewing.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

On Bipolar-II and Psychopharmacology

Now two months after being diagnosed bipolar-II, I want to share a few thoughts on the condition and treatment thus far.

I've been reading an excellent book by pioneering psychopharmacologist Dr. Ronald R. Fieve called Bipolar II, the first book published that deals specifically with this variation of the disorder. The book could be subtitled "The User's Guide to Andrew Hamm." If you have ever wondered if your mood swings, your depression, your fatigue or sleeplessness, or your high-energy periods might be something other than normal, I highly recommend this book. It's not at all scary or hard to read, and it's exceptionally well-laid-out for people with questions about the behaviors of themselves or their loved ones.

It's interesting how researching this condition has made so many things about myself clear to me. It isn't that I have an "excuse" to misbehave or act out; it's that when I feel a certain way I don't judge or castigate myself for it any more. It's not really changing my actions so much as it's changing my perspective, and I don't at all feel a need to do something against my nature just for purposes of appearances or propriety.

Lately, I just can't stand large groups of my friends. I get overwhelmed easily and completely as I'm re-learning how to be, rewriting my personal narrative. I'd love to spend time with you one-on-one, or two or three at a time, but big groups just freak me out. The flipside of that is that when I do spend time with my friends one-on-one and they ask me how I'm doing, I end up answering honestly, truthfully, and completely. My biggest fear at the moment is that I'm the friend who complains all the time, and that when I finally get to a point where I'm ready to have some fun, I won't have any friends left to have fun with.

I'm going through a lot of personal upheaval right now that has nothing to do with bipolar disorder, but I can say this without reservation: without lithium carbonate and therapy I don't know if I would be alive right now. The lows are significantly flattened; I'm not sure about the highs at this point because I'm very much in a depressed phase of my life right now (my doctor actually upped my lithium this week). I'm not a big fan of America's compulsive need to medicate everything that doesn't fit in the cookie-cutter, but I certainly cannot argue with the results of lithium in my life these past nine weeks. It is nothing short of life-saving.

The other medicine I'm on is Ambien. It was initially prescribed as needed, but again my doctor has changed his prescription and I'm taking it nightly for a while. According to Dr. Fieve, there is a wealth of evidence linking mood disorders of all kinds with sleep disruptions. It's a circle: sleep disruption causes mood disorder which deepens sleep disruption which deepens mood disorder. And again, I look back at my life and see decades of insomnia alternating with hypersomnia, and repeated disruptions of my circadian rhythms in times of stress and success.

Ambien is a fantastic drug. Taken as indicated (one pill just as I'm going to bed), it pretty much guarantees a solid night's sleep. My history with sleep medications, or anything that "may cause drowsiness," is not good; they all tend to make me logy for the whole next morning. Ambien does not. It doesn't always keep me out all night, as it's supposed to; sometimes it's just four or five hours before I wake up, then go back to sleep again, but it's working nicely.

The thing I don't like about it is that it induces delta sleep, the deepest level of rest, at the expense of REM sleep. I've never had much of a dream life, and what dreams I've experienced have always been strange and fantastical. But since January I've been having lovely, realistic dreams involving real people from my life doing pleasant everyday activities. It's been the most enjoyable dream life I've ever had. But on Ambien I don't dream at all. I miss it, but I need the sleep more.

Three other issues merit serious mention. Bipolar-II people have astronomically high incidences of three extremely destructive behaviors:

1. Suicide.

2. Alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.

3. Compulsive behaviors
(such as gambling, spending sprees, and sexual addiction).

I do not believe I am a risk for any of these things. I certainly am not right now, nor have I ever been much in the past. That does not mean I never will be. For those readers who are my friends and family, I just ask you to keep an eye out because I may not be able to see it.

A lot of people, artists in particular, have fear that medication for bipolar-II will take away their edge. They recognize what Dr. Fieve calls the "bipolar advantage" to a mild-to-moderate hypomanic state, and fear that medication will soothe the depression only at the expense of their highs. We feel like the highs are our real personality, and that the lows are just the price we pay for our intelligence, our energy, our creativity and gregariousness. And maybe that's true in some ways, whether you consider bipolar a disorder or a design element.

But when you're down, you know you're down, and you want it gone. Depressed people go to doctors; they want help. When you're too high, you don't know when it's too much, when it's too far, because it feels good. Manic or hypomanic bipolar patients don't refer themselves to psychiatrists; their friends and families do because they've exhibited some kind of frightening behaviors. This causes massively delayed diagnosis at a time when treatment options are most important. The average age of diagnosis for bipolar-II is 40. The divorce rate for bipolar-II is approximately 90%. I do not believe those facts are unconnected.

My experience is not universal. It may not even be typical. And it's just beginning. But perhaps the most important thing anyone has said to me in the past few weeks was, "You look much better. And medication hasn't taken away the essential Andrew-ness of you."

To quote DeNiro in Awakenings: "Learn from me!" If you think you have a mood disorder, talk to a doctor. Doctors are smart.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "You'll Like It"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Shakespeare play at Agecroft--you'll like it


Midsummer may be nearing, but the peak of the summer theater season at Agecroft Hall has just arrived.

In the lovely Tudor courtyard, Richmond Shakespeare Festival's reprise of "As You Like It" is a laugh-filled, updated take on the Bard's comedy.

It's a reprise in two ways: The company opened with this play 11 years ago, and it did a rollicking five-actor version this past spring. Those five actors have returned in this production, along with director Andrew Hamm. Nine additional merrymakers join them to create a show that is full of contemporary style and plays hard for every laugh.

Yet with all the liberties taken, Master of Verse Julie Phillips keeps a steady hand on the language, which she tunes to a lovely, understandable vernacular that loses none of its poetry.

Hamm, for his part, contributes pleasant musical accompaniment, plays the two-line role of Hymen, and infuses the proceedings with all the subtlety of a Judd Apatow film. There's a strong physical component, whether comedy or combat (or spitting), and an especially clever use of upstage plays-within-the-play that enact some of the major speeches while they are delivered.

The story has two pairs of embittered brothers, one pair of faithful cousins, a clown, a melancholy thinker, a wrestler, servants and shepherds, and a trip through the Forest of Arden, where lovers find each other and things come to a happy end.

In lovely Rebecca Cairns costumes, and with well-designed lighting by James David White (who illuminates the outdoor space with seeming effortlessness), the simple set is enriched by humans playing trees, and the cast is augmented by stuffed animals. (It was hard to ignore the lively chipmunk in one of the trees.)

All the performances are delightful, although Adam Minks' Le Beau could have been reined in a tad -- but his Touchstone is hilarious and just this side of outrageous.

Sunny LaRose is the gender-switching Rosalind and Patrick Bromley her adoring Orlando; they are both a treat to watch, as is Julia Rigby as Rosalind's loyal cousin Celia.

Danny Devlin is an engaging Oliver, Orlando's cruel older brother, and Jeffry Clevenger is endearing as the old servant Adam and amusing as the shepherd Corin. Michael Dunn and Dan Summey make regal dukes, and Liz Blake is riotous as the adoring shepherdess Phebe. In smaller roles, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick make pleasing debuts, and Jake Allard steals focus and hearts as the lovesick shepherd Silvius.

Frank Creasy gives the most impressive performance in two roles. As Charles the wrestler, he goes all-out physically, with pro-wrestling costume and attitude; and as Jacques, the melancholy courtier, he goes all-out emotionally, describing the seven phases of life and musing that "all the world's a stage." If the world were indeed a stage, I would be pleased to see Creasy on it.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

"As You Like It 2: Like Harder!" Opens

Last night saw the first preview performance of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It. The show previews again tonight (Thursday) at 8:00, then opens officially on Saturday. It's an abbreviated run; just two previews and six performances, closing July 13, so don't miss it.

It's been a unique challenge and opportunity for Master of Verse Julie Phillips and I to restage a very successful production. Questions abounded: How many moments from the spring production do we duplicate? Do we change things just for the sake of changing them? What different perspective would Julie bring to a show that I had already seen through a complete production process and run? And how would the addition of nine new actors change what the play looks like and what it's about?

Well, Julie and I working together is never a problem. We co-directed Doctor Faustus in winter 2007, and had a long-standing mutual admiration society established before then. Julie has great ideas that I would never have thought of; she is the perfect example of how the two-headed directing process can work. Where I see physical choices, she sees verbal, and where I think something is funny that no one else ever possibly could, she reins me in. It's a great partnership; I never have more fun on the directing side of the table as when I'm working with Julie. And the new actors are a special bunch, five seasoned veterans and four apprentices to create the unforgettable characters which give As You Like It its texture and charm.

All five original actors have returned: Sunny LaRose's Rosalind, Patrick Bromley's Orlando, Julia Rigby's Celia, Frank Creasy's Jaques and Charles, and Adam Mincks's Touchstone and LeBeau all have a chance to live again, and to breathe a little more deeply now that the actors don't have to play all the other characters as well. The new actors have freely reinterpreted their roles: Dan Summey and Michael Dunn as the good and evil dukes, Liz Blake and Jake Allard as Phebe and Silvius, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick as William and Audrey, Danny Devlin as Oliver and Sir Oliver Mar-Text, Cabell Neterer as Dennis, and Jeffry Clevenger as Adam and Corin all bring very different stuff to the table.

We've also added to the music. Jake Allard on drums and Todd Borden on bass round out the new Festival trio: Liz Blake and the Caliband. The play begins at 8:00, but the show starts at 7:30 with a preshow mini-concert and impromptu love poetry by Pat, Danny, and Adam.

Lighting designer J. David White has done a wonderful job establishing the beautiful dappled light of the forest of Arden, and Becky Cairns' and Annie Hoskins' costumes are a wonderful expansion of the already-gorgeous palate from spring. The trees are a personal favorite. Will Hankins and Agecroft's Richard Moxley have built some wonderful two-sided benches to delineate city from country. There are even a couple treats for Star Trek fans in there, as well.

What could be more charming than Shakespeare's most romantic play after a picnic on the grounds of Agecroft Hall? If you saw the show in April, you owe it to yourself to come out to the Richmond Shakespeare Festival for what we've been calling As You Like It 2: Like Harder!

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