Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oedipus Rex's Exes?

Early this Summer, I began a new job, as Artistic Director for the Morristown Theatre Guild. This is the 80th Season for the Guild, Tennessee's oldest community theatre, and I'm one of a very select few who have held the AD position.

The work has been quite constant and demanding of both my time and my creative efforts, thus the writing and posting here has been sporadic rather than daily. It is not my wish to allow this page to dwindle away to occasional mutterings - though in truth, my ponderings on aspects of live theatre and staging and plans and collaborations do often make me a distracted muttering fellow.

Currently, the Guild is presenting the second weekend of a comedy called "Rex;s Exes" in Morristown at Prater Hall in Rose Center, Nov. 21, 22 and 23.

And while this show may not be considered a classical work of theatre art (though if it was called "Oedipus Rex's Exes" maybe? ....)

The sheer farce and fun of the show is the reason it captivates actors and audiences - meaning, everyone laughs and laughs hard at the show. And that is a primary and vital value to the show - laughter is a powerful and healing force in the world.

"Rex's Exes" is the second in a series of comedies by Jones, Hope and Wooten, a trio who creates a massive collision of the slightly odd family named Verdeen with their own plans and desires - and still in this mix of mad comedy the writers gently poke fun a gender roles, marriage, life and death, politics, fame and the tedious challenge of getting older.

But mainly, fun is the goal here.

As the Guild makes plans for their 81st Season, I'm focusing our efforts on education programs, on celebrating the many people whose prodigious careers in theatre began on the Guild stage, and on the effort to renovate the Guild's playhouse on Hill Street, a building dating back to the late 1880s.

Theatre isn't simply a jazz-handing, song-and-dance spectacle of flying Spidermen or French peasants in revolt, it isn't simply the verbal pyrotechnics of Shakespeare, or the bare bones of tragedy splayed out for all to wallow in and despair. It is a true collaboration of word and sight and sound whose final sum is far more than any of it's parts. A good show is the result of hard work by many the audience may not even see - costumers and designers and volunteers. And the collaboration is not complete until the actors and audience meet in the ancient rite of communal experience.

So perhaps you'll tolerate my occasional absences here as I work on the tasks now before the Guild. And expect more posts about the work I'm undertaking, about the nature of art and theatre and more. I promise, it won't be dull.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Frightmare Manor Makes Top List of Scariest Haunted Houses in America

There's only a few days of scares left at Frightmare Manor - but you may want to double your efforts to attend as the ScreamPark has been ranked #6 in the nation for the must-see scariest haunted house attractions.

"This is an incredibly elite honor,” said Chris Wooden, of Frightmare Manor. “We work year-round to provide Fall entertainment that East Tennessee can be proud of. It’s very exciting to have people from around the United States now making Frightmare Manor, right here in
East Tennessee, a destination for their Haunted Experience!"

Boasting 5 terrifying attractions, Frightmare Manor is nationally recognized as THE Money Back Haunt, and has been repeatedly chosen as one of “America’s Best Haunted Attractions” by Hauntworld.com, and voted Tennessee’s “Must-See” Haunted House by HauntedHouseRatings.com.

Frightmare Manor is located at 7588 W. Andrew Johnson Hwy (Hwy 11-E) in Talbott, between Jefferson City and Morristown and has ONLY THREE NIGHTS remaining in the 2014 season! They are open Thursday the 30th, Friday the 31st and Saturday, November 1st beginning at 7 pm each night.

For more information, visit their website

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The False Political Rants of East TN

Talking politics, this is what I hear it constantly here in East Tennessee - "throw all the bums out!" and "replace everyone in Congress!"

That's such a load, especially here in District 1 where only one party has held the seat in Congress since 1881 ... 133 years of single party rule. So those rants against Congress are deeply false, meaningless chatter instead of actual debate and thought. In fact, current Rep. Phil Roe, on his way to his fourth term, says he only wants to control the District for 12 years (6 terms). Looks like he will surely get his wish.

Fakery is key to politics, it seems. One of Rep. Roe's biggest PAC contributors is the "Healthcare Freedom Fund", which says it isn't authorized by any candidate, even though Rep. Roe's signature on the fund's website indicates heaps of approval and authorization.

As noted by R. Neal at Knoxviews, the current election is a strange creature indeed:

"Obama must be the most powerful president ever and is apparently a formidable opponent. Every Republican candidate in the U.S. is running against him and he isn't even on the ballot.

"Because of Obama's superpowers, this is the most expensive mid-term election in U.S. history. Spending is approaching $4 billion so far, including nearly $900 million in outside (PAC, 527) spending."

All this points not only to the hollow rhetoric of residents but also that the rock-solid gridlock in Congress is gaining strength.

.... next time, though, yeah, we're gonna throw them bums out!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Knox News Sentinel Kills Best Knoxville Newspaper

The news business seems more business than news.

Cable, network and local news devote most of their time to being entertaining. Showbiz ain't news.

Newspapers are dwarfed by online media, despite their efforts to evolve into online media. Somehow the concepts of paid writers and editors have lost all appeal to publishers. Case in point: the Knoxville News Sentinel just killed their own publication, Metro Pulse due to .... well, publisher Patrick Birmingham, aka President of Knoxville's Chamber of Commerce. Metro Pulse folks were gagged as soon as the closure was announced under penalty of loss of severance packages. Classy.

One constant writer with MP, Mike Gibson shared his take on the demise via comments at KnoxViews:

"And I want to say this: Patrick Birmingham is a spineless, half-bright corporate weasel. He never knew what the hell Metro Pulse was, or what to do with it. He and Scripps' team of pencil-necked corporate bean counters were always harassing the editors for not meeting some imaginary profit projections, goals conceived in an airless vacuum chamber on the planet Venus by drug-addled baboons. He was also prone to making veiled innuendoes these last three-four years or so that he wanted to somehow merge Knoxville.com and MP, or else combine parts of the staffs, or some other damned idiot thing. Last year, after MP had just finished turning a fairly reasonable profit, he rewarded the staff by threatening to break the paper's lease at 602 S. Gay Street and move the entire operation into the Sentinel building, thus destroying any hope for maintaining editorial independence.

"My observation is that Birmingham is the idiot who is most responsible for this atrocity. Metro Pulse was indeed turning a profit (although its projections for the coming year were only break-even, that still means it was a very viable concern in the context of print media. At the very least, it was a property that one should have reasonably been able to shop to another interested party.) The lion's share of blame should be cast at Birmingham's weasel feet."

"I struggle to find a comparison between a publication that has been with Knoxville for over 20 years and an absolutely horrid excuse for journalism that has nothing to do with its namesake. Perhaps it would be in the interest of those operating the Knoxville.com Facebook to consider posts about Knoxville and those who make up its populace before posts wishing Usher a happy birthday. In a land of steak, Scripps took away all knives and forks but assures us that the spoons provided should be able to handle our eating needs.

This is more than “just an arts and culture paper”. Be it out of lack of knowledge or lack of concern, Scripps (and the KNS by proxy) are responsible for a magnitude of damage to Knoxville. Small niche businesses are impacted because their demographic is not the KNS. Local non-commercial stations like WUTK are impacted as one of the station’s tags, “Winner of the Metro Pulse ‘Best of Knoxville’ award (x) years in a row” is no longer a relevant statement — not to mention the mountain of cross-promotion that both medias provided one another. I fail to have even the slightest trust in the culinary opinions of a media outlet that has covered everything /but/ Metro Pulse today. Your parent publication created this issue — have a sense of ownership. Open a dialog. That’s what social media is for versus “McDonalds invites icky questions about its food”.

The real sad thing is that the Scripps Co., owners of the KNS, are clueless as to what to do with a newspaper so they are abandoning the ones they own and are trying to get into tv or radio or ... something:

"The E.W. Scripps Co. will say goodbye to newspapers, including the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and hello to radio in a merger and spinoff transaction with the parent company of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper."

Farewell news of Knoxville. Those of us who live in East TN and write about it all on our on will soldier on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hancock County Turns Sinister

Sinister Darkness, Hancock County's 2nd Annual Halloween attraction, is a non-profit event hosted by the Sneedville/Hancock Chamber and Community Partners, Inc. The attraction is designed, created, and staffed by community volunteers.

Dates of performances October 17,18, 24, 25, 30, 31 and November 1.

Times: 7PM till 10PM

Prices: Adults $10.00 Children 12 and under $5.00

Location: The Hancock County Farmers Market at the heart of Down Town Sneedville, TN.

Website: https://www.hauntedhancock.com

Located at the Hancock County Farmer's Market site, Sinister Darkness encompasses approximately 6,000 square feet of dark and winding corridors that integrate both 3-D and traditional haunt styling to provide you with a truly disorienting and terrifying experience. All proceeds from this event are donated to participating local fire departments and other non-profit community organizations.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Big Science

Today's text comes to us from the album Big Science as written by Laurie Anderson, titled "From The Air."

Good evening. This is your Captain. 
We are about to attempt a crash landing. 
Please extinuish all cigarettes. 
Place your tray tables in their 
upright, locked position. 
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees. 
Your Captain says: Put your head on your hands. 
Captain says: Put your hands on your head. 
Put your hands on your hips. Heh heh.
This is your Captain-and we are going down. 
We are all going down, together. 
And I said: Uh oh. This is gonna be some day. 
Standby. This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 

Uh-this is your Captain again. 
You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before. 
Why? 'Cause I'm a caveman. 
Why? 'Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head. 
Why? It's the heat. Standby. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 

Put your hands over your eyes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

'Gone Girl' - David Fincher's Social Critique

"As a director, film is about how you dole out the information so that the audience stays with you when they're supposed to stay with you, behind you when they're supposed to stay behind you, and ahead of you when they're supposed to stay ahead of you." -- David Fincher

It's so good to see a storyteller like David Fincher achieve popular success without chucking away the thought and artistry that make movies more than just memorable - his films almost haunt you and refuse to dissipate. His newest movie, "Gone Girl", is imminently a marketing dream (best-selling novel, hot topic actors), but troubling, provocative under-currents stream all through the show.

His other films, "The Social Network", "Se7en", "Zodiac", "Fight Club", "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and his TV series "House of Cards" - are careful, meticulous compositions that blend the images, words and sounds into something far more than the sum of their parts. It's a hell of a critique on modern times.

There's a panic-filled America on display. Institutions (business, marriage, class structure, school, judicial systems, finance, journalism, politics) are craggy, crumbling and crippled and still must be negotiated, traveled and endured. The only thing more dislocative than being inside these edifices is to be without them. Fincher nails this eroding world expertly:

"Gone Girl explodes marriage,” says Rebecca Traister. “And it explodes precisely the one kind of marriage that is still idealized, between white, urban sophisticated people that meet in mid-life. There are many marriage models out there but this is the one that is still viewed aspirationally:   between white, beautiful, privilege educated New Yorkers. That is the picture of marriage that is sold to us, the one we all must desire. And that is the one the book vandalises. So there is a subversive argument being advanced about marriage in the film, that it's not an institution that can tame women any longer."

From Gillian Flynn's novel, "Gone Girl": 

"It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. . . . You know the awful singsong of the blase: Seeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: the secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script."

And there's still enormous amounts of wit and satire, a sense of the playful amid the horror show of the current age. "Gone Girl" likewise challenges perceptions - and makes box office bucks too. 

His approach to "Gone Girl". Another recent interview here.

"Anybody looking outside themselves to make themselves whole is delusional and probably sick." - David Fincher

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banning Tablets And Phones in the Classroom

NYU professor Clay Shirky teaches theory and practice of social media and has now decided he must ban the use of laptops, tablets and phones in his class - they are beyond distracting, they are barriers to learning.

He writes of his reluctant decision to ban the devices in an essay at Medium, and has some fascinating science to back his decision.

"A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.
"Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on. (Does that sound like the upper-right corner of a screen near you?)

The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is—really, actually, biologically—impossible to resist.

"I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal."

The idea of being unavoidably distracted gets a thorough investigation in the new book "A Deadly Wandering" by Matt Richtel. The book, based on a fatal texting and driving incident, is reviewed here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Only Real Political Debate?

While the media and the current political party debate seems to indicate a battle between "Conservative" and  "Liberal" factions, that is not the reality.

The real conflict is much more deeply embedded in the way most everyone lives and dies, and simple solutions or moral authority just don't exist. The working world, from farming and food to high technology, is critically flawed - so goes the argument laid out in Naomi Klein's new book. "This Changes Everything". We are doomed to extinction at a planetary level unless momentous revisions to how we live take place.

The ideas are nicely captured in this review via The Film Doctor, who mingles writing about politics and the art of cinema in a most unusual fashion. While her book seems to center on the debate about Climate Change, there is much more underneath.

"One thing is certain: Klein's book has a clear villain--the oil companies. As she writes, "From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice--it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders . . . yet fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility guarantees that the planet will cook" (148). Her observation had me wondering about how much do we individually and habitually consume petroleum-based products, and how easy would it be for anyone to switch over to only using renewable energy? When I get up in the morning, I drink coffee from Colombia, brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush, drive to work in a car, work in air conditioning, eat food that has travelled great distances, buy a book, etc. The thought of how I might begin to cut back on this enhanced life style proves daunting given how just about every aspect of it ties in with the premise of having cheap abundant fossil fuel. ... our way of life is so energy-intensive in the United States that it seems nearly impossible to fundamentally change that addiction within 30 years before nature finds another way to take care of the problem. The challenge seems so insurmountably great, Klein's solutions can take on a Pollyanna quality of dreamy wish-fulfillment. Klein anticipates that critique by reasserting that the climate allows us no choice but to think and act in radically different ways. 

"I especially liked Klein's history of the small island of Nauru, a cautionary tale that reads like Jared Diamond's description of Easter Island in his 2011 bookCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  ... And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all of the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more 'inputs' (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

"At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing--a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us" (165-6). As Klein concludes, "In other words, Nauru isn't the only one digging itself to death; we all are" (168). "

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frightmare Manor 2014 Opens Tonight

Tonight in East Tennessee brings the opening of Frightmare Manor, one of the highest-rated haunted attractions in the country. Plenty of new and terrifying elements will be launched for another unforgettable season of fear and fun.

Night Harvest is their new adventure through the woods around Frightmare Manor - the description from their website gives a sneak peek of what to expect:

"Night Harvest – This authentic wooded environment casts you deep into the dark shadows of the once-forgotten, abandoned Lexer body farm. Lexer had a disturbing name for the process of removing the cold, lifeless corpses and disposing of them in such a way to remain undetected. He would violently drag them under the cloak of darkness to the back of the property to specific areas for disposal– he labeled this act in his manifesto as the “Night Harvest”. This thick-brushed, wooded area at the back of the plantation wreaks of decomposed flesh and marks where the majority of Lexer’s 31 dismembered victims were unearthed in July of 1902. ...

"New for 2014, victims will enter through the original cabin, where skins of animals and humans alike were hung by Lexer for drainage. Still standing today and guarding the entrance of Night Harvest, this original cabin is listed (along with the Manor) on the Hamblen County Historical Preservation List and even today smells of gut-wrenching death. No amount of nervous laughter can help you for you are walking on top of and amongst death at every turn. Enter this cabin and you will begin to see, feel, touch, smell and experience for yourself the Jeremiah Lexer Night Harvest."

And that's just one of five attractions this year!

This "Screampark" spans 20 acres, offers 3 independent, walk thru, Haunted Attractions on site, boasts a heart-pounding Free-Fall Attraction unlike anything you've ever seen in the "Lexer Jump", and features the Nationally Recognized Nightmare at Frightmare Challenge. If all 5 Attractions are successfully completed, you WILL get your money back

Tickets available online via their website.