Friday, March 18, 2016

Donald Trump and the steps that gave rise to the ugly face of Fascism

It is sad for me to be watching the rise of Fascism in the United States, but the extraordinary rise of Donald Trump to becoming a serious consideration for the candidacy for the Presidency is a reality. I'd like to explain my view on why this is happening.

Fascism exists because a leader understands two things. First, peoples' deep longing to be led and be told what to do. And, second, their anger. Hitler understood this very well. And, we are seeing the same symptoms here. Mr Trump has even counseled us that if there is any difficulty during the nominations, there will be violence. He has sent the message to his followers, who, up until now, are not wearing brown shirts. Hopefully, they never will. And, hopefully, he never will. Hopefully, people will become aware that they have contracted a disease. The dis-ease of Fascism.

The question is: How did we get this far? What did we do? I, for one, look no further than the polarization of our politics, both in, and out of, Congress. Certainly, having differences of opinion, and expressing them, is a fundamental signpost of freedom. But, we have arrived at a point where there is no exchange and discussion that leads to a solution and a resolution of problems. People dig in, and there is no middle ground. Look at the Republicans recent stand on the nomination of a centrist judge to the Supreme Court. This stagnant atmosphere builds up frustration, anger, hate, and hopelessness. Hence, Donald Trump flows into the hole we have dug for ourselves.

I am neither left nor right. I have voted both ways, according to what I believed was best for the moment. And, I didn't vote for many years, because I felt that by voting I gave my tacit approval to what I saw as a corruption in our government. It seemed to me that the government acted like a country of its own, with no regard to the mandate that elected officials have been given. They were in business for themselves. I was angry. I still am. But, anger is no excuse for stupidity, or the rise of Fascism.

In France, where elections have two stages, the anger of the population is often expressed in the first vote. In recent years, that has meant the increased voting for the far right party, the Front Nationale. In the second vote, that vote is less. People switch and vote for the candidate of their choice. Though, we are seeing an increase in the vote for the far right.

People want something done, and in general, they feel that things have gone too far. In France, that means that an immigrant arriving in the country is given a place to live, an minimum income, while French citizens can't get a better apartment, can't get help when they are in need, and are more heavily taxed to pay for the government's expenses of paying for the underprivileged.

In the USA, the problems aren't that clear. We have a large illegal population, but a part of that illegal population pays taxes and receives no benefits, as they aren't entitled to them. And, we can argue about what the problem of unemployment is. The loss of manufacturing has to be considered as an important contributing factor, too.

Certainly, the Government wants us to believe that the ugly depression we suffered, caused by rampant irresponsibility in the banking industry, partially fueled by government deregulation, is over. What we need to be able to do is figure out when regulation is necessary, without it interfering with people's ability to do business.

Also, the Government doesn't say that it is over because a lot of people did something to resolve their problems. And, now hold two jobs, instead of one, and are making less money in the process. Or, that people with one job are working longer hours, being paid less, and doing a job that formerly was done by two people. But, we are a resilient people, used to working hard. And, up to now, we don't want Socialism. Yes, we have Social Security and Health Care. And, regardless of whether we like it, Even people who don't like it, use it.

I believe that there is a social contract that defines a Nation. What ours is, according to our Founding Fathers, is: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. What an extraordinary contract. It says nothing about helping people who don't help themselves. And, we need to discuss what that means. Fascism will not discuss that. It will exploit peoples' weakness and feeling of helplessness. In the same way, Socialism exploits those same weaknesses by saying that, since we can't take care of ourselves, we need to take away peoples' unwanted freedom and responsibility and give more power to the Government. To regulate their lives, as they aren't capable of doing it themselves. They are two sides of a coin. I stand for neither.

Monday, March 7, 2016

For a theater man, I have a lot of opinions, even about Apple and a terrorists phone

I was just reading some of my blogs, which is what led me to the title of this one. Having held myself carefully in place most of my life, it stirs me up to see my opinions about everything floating around in this virtual universe of the internet. I'm not even sure who sees them. Or, if they mean anything to anyone. So, I am left with the fact that I do this, primarily, to express myself. Because, I feel the need to share my perceptions with you, whoever you are. Staying silent, in fear of upsetting someone, is one of the traditions that floats around in our education. Fortunately, most of the great men and women I admire didn't seem to learn that lesson. They were, in their fashion, rebels. Or, more aptly, free men and women. It is not wonder that freedom of speech is the first amendment of the American Constitution. Those men really got it right.

Speaking of which, I think Apple is out of line, and has confused their definition of freedom to exclude them from any responsibility in the matter of helping the Government to discover information that may help to fight the war on terrorism. Of course, that means that I do believe that it is a war. Though, not a conventional war. Is war such a normal part of our existence, that there is a definition for a normal war? If I had to say, it would be that a "normal war" means sending a lot of young men, and now, women too, into battle against an opposing group of men and women. They may not be marching in the straight lines that wars were once fought with on battlefields, but lines are drawn, and each side tries to win the other's territory.

However, terrorism has no lines, and is designed to allow a few to disrupt the lives of innocent people, in the hopes that the terror they create will enable them to win their war.

As I have said for years, though not here, I think that the most political play I know is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Because, if people truly believed that love was the most important quality of life, they would never live the way they do. We would change the world; at least, our world. And, if each person changed their world for love, the world would be a different place to live.

Instead, people complain about the corruption of life that we are surrounded by in a sick world. And, expect that it is just normal, business as usual. Or, someone else's problem to solve. And so, nothing much changes. Because, the majority of people don't take responsibility for their lives, and change them. Whether it is because they are incapable or not, depends. I wish I believed that education could cure all the world's ills. Certainly, it provides a hope, that an educated population may be capable of seeing problems more clearly, understand what's wrong. And, be healthy enough to be able to change, fix them.

But, how long will that take? You don't change most people in a couple of years. Most never change. They are too afraid of life to change. Romeo and Juliet weren't afraid. And look what happened to them. They were caught in the sickness of their families' feud, and their love was destroyed by it. Our fear and hatred murders life.

To get back to Apple, that is what the Government wants to stop. But, Apple wants to protect its customers. Is it a form of treason, justified by a self-righteous definition of freedom of speech? Ask yourself what you would do if you might have information that could prevent another terrorist from murdering other innocent people? Its a simple question. And, it should have a simple answer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy or Satisfied? Freedom and Responsibility

Happy New Year. Most of us are raised with the word happy as a reference that describes the degree to which we feel good about life, and ourselves. Are you happy? Do you want to be happy? Why aren't you happy? But, what does it mean to be happy? Is happy a proper way to understand our feelings about our lives? Or, does the word distort our ability to truly know how we feel? As far as I can tell, the only people I know who are happy seem to be living an illusion of reality, while the rest of us struggle along, wondering what is wrong with our lives, because we haven't attained this ideal state of being happy. Recently, in my ongoing passion to know myself, I realized that the more appropriate word would be, satisfied. Are you satisfied? Do you want to be satisfied with your life? Why aren't you satisfied? 

Satisfied seems so obtainable, a rational, real way to measure our pleasure in living.

I live in the United States, though I work in Europe every year, and Latin America some years. Being American, I was raised in a world where everyone worked hard, and no one expected, or wanted, to be helped. Freedom was inseparable from being responsible for your life. No one less could order you to do something if you didn't want to do it. If you didn't like your job, you could try to find another one. If you didn't like your life, you could change it. It was, and is, very hard. But, it is the price one pays for one's freedom. I have always preferred this to the systems which raise people to believe that they will be assisted in living their lives. To me, assisted living is for people who are ill, or handicapped, and cannot take care of themselves. Most people don't fall into this category. But, more and more, I see Americans creeping towards assisted living, what we call, in political terms, Socialism. For them, freedom is too hard. They would exchange it for help, giving more power over their lives to the government. While I do believe that there is a common joining together in a society, I do not think that means that the government runs our lives in exchange for us having security, and money to live with, which we have not earned, unless, in rare cases, we cannot work. And, even this is relative. There are many handicapped people who want to work. It seems the only ones who don't want to work are those who are emotionally handicapped, and somehow, unable to fend for themselves.

I am thinking about this because I've received emails recently from students who want to come to New York to work with me, but who are having problems earning the money to do it. They complain about how difficult it is. Honestly, I've never found life, or making a living, easy. And, I grew up in a relatively privileged world. When people say, as they did in the past few years, we're in a depression, I laugh. The theater is always in a depression. You get used to the fact that its hard. I've known actors who have won academy awards who can't get work. Look at how Hollywood treated Orson Welles, or Marlon Brando, or Bette Davis. I could go on and on with naming names. So, according to my experience, after awhile, life isn't hard, its just life.

If life is so hard in the free world, why are terrorists trying so hard to destroy us? What is it that they hate so much? It certainly isn't the difficulties of life in the free world. So, it must be the freedom that they hate so passionately. They can't stand the feeling of watching living freely and taking responsibility for our lives. Seeing a man and woman holding hands drives them to murder and torture. A woman trying to educate herself is a crime worthy of death. Disobedience to their authority is punishable by death. They want to destroy, or control, us. The worst part of this is that,  unfortunately, they are supported by a lot of people in the free world who, because they are afraid, and cannot tolerate their own feelings of aggression, say that these terrorists are justified in their hatred. And, that we should become more passive and helpless. They believe that we can reason with these sick, madmen. They hope that if we do this, the terrorists will stop their attacks. They are wrong. It won't stop it. It will increase. Because, the terrorists are mean, cruel, bullies who want to rule everyone's lives, so that they don't have to feel the pain they feel when they see someone living freely.

As difficult as freedom is, I hope that all of you reading this continue to fight for your dreams. It is the pleasure that we can do this, and perhaps, even have moments when we succeed, that makes life worth living.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When life is most real, we think its unreal-Adams' Apples at 555

I don't know a better way to say it. Monday night at around 1:30am we finished the first four days of filming Adams' Apples at 555, a feature film about a group of actors making a film of the play I wrote several years ago, Adams' Apples, that the Accidental Repertory Theater performed in 2011. I also directed and acted in it, and the dream was to make it into a film. I raised enough money to begin. And, hopefully, I will have enough to finish it.

Even when I decided to create the Accidental Rep, I wanted to make films, do live streaming of workshops, works in progress. Find a way to reach a public without always having to do the conventional methods for finding an audience to come to the theater. The low budget, showcase productions Actors Equity allows, while better than nothing, certainly are not ideal situations. One spends about the same amount of money that we will spend on the film, for a production or two, each one lasting sixteen performances, in the hopes that, at best, a few people will see it. And, one has to be around for years before the audience knows you, and begins to become a regular. A film lasts, and can reach a larger public. And, I hope that it will help bring people to our theater. Certainly, movie stars who do theater bring audiences to the theater. Maybe, our work will get noticed, too.

But, this is not the point of the blog. The point is that I have just lived through a dream coming true. The actors who had done the play before (three years ago), or those who hadn't, had no rehearsal. What I believed, and was betting on, was the fact that most of us have worked together for years, most have studied with me, and we share a philosophy of committing ourselves to do the kind of deeply personal, intimate work that defines realistic acting. As you may know, I believe that National theaters are founded by the playwrights who write about the culture they live in. American theater is founded by Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. Any actor who wants to believe that they are respresentative of what wonderful American acting is, knows that he or she must be able to be deeply personal. Meaning, for instance, that Eugene O'Neill's play Long Day's Journey Into Night, is so personal, that he forbid it to be published or performed until after his entire family had died. You can't get more personal than that. I hoped that knowing one another would bond us together, in a situation without any rehearsal, not really knowing whether we knew our lines. (I kept telling myself that because I am the writer, if I didn't remember what I'd written, I could always claim that I was rewriting). What I know, is that I didn't want to focus my fear on whether or not I knew the lines. Somewhere, I knew we knew the play well enough. And, the fact that the film is about a group of actors making a film, I knew I had a way of dealing with problems that might arise, and synthesize them into the structure. And, I wanted life, not the kind of casual behavior, or absence of feeling that often passes for reality, that I call naturalism. It may be real, but its real boring. I wanted life. And, life is spontaneous. I committed us to that. We wouldn't have any other choice. Except panic, or theatrical conventions. And, I wouldn't accept that. At any rate, there are moments in many acting classes when actors can't remember their lines that something real happens. It seems very interesting until you realize that the actor is trying to remember what they say. Here, I hoped that it would feel spontaneous, as though we were thinking about what we wanted to say. And, during the filming, I was continually surprised by what we were doing, in the positive sense of the word.

The photographer, Gary Nolton, whom I didn't know, was willing to do the entire filming handheld, which I wanted because I think that the camera was an active participant, and the movement helped to make the audience aware of the fact that, while the characters appear not to be able to react to what is happening to them, like people in life, there was inner movement all the time.

Hopefully, we will complete the filming during the final week of July, in the country, so that we have scenes on location to use to intercut with the scenes we filmed in my Studio at 555 8th Avenue.

So, sometimes, life is not only a dream, as Calderon de la Barca said, but a dream come true.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It's been a while since I wrote here. I was traveling, working in Paris and Barcelona. Lucky me. I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death while I was in Paris. I never met him, didn't know anything about him, personally. But, I liked his work. I liked his spirit. I was caught off guard by his death. I had no idea that he suffered so much. I grew up around a lot of people who suffered, some of whom committed suicide. But, his type of suicide is like Marilyn, or John Belushi, people who have everything most people dream about wanting. And yet, they are unhappy, and they eventually succeed in destroying themselves. But, Hoffman had a family, seemed to have a stable life, which none of the other's did. It makes it more tragic to me. Because, he had children, a home, a partner for life. What on earth was wrong? Why couldn't he find peace? Certainly, anyone who truly lives will suffer. Life is hard.  Most people live lives of quiet desperation. But, artists have moments in which they celebrate life. They have pleasure in their work, in their creativity, dreaming, making their dreams come alive. They share their vision of life, living true, at least in their work. And yet, it isn't enough. Something deeper, some sadness in the depths of them, some feeling of not being loved, not loving themselves, overrides whatever success, in work, in life, that they may have. The unhappiness eats away at the foundation of their lives, until they crumble. Seeing this, how does one define what success is? How does one know what satisfaction is enough that one feels that one's life is worth living. This cannot be measured mechanically, despite what many people want to believe. For certainly, life is not about the garnering of riches and wealth, or awards, or even recognition, important as that is. Life is about the pleasure of living, of enjoying breathing, at least some of the time. That pleasure cannot be measured. It cannot be made into a law. It cannot be imposed. It must be desired, worked for, and earned. How much life do we waste, really, in fantasizing about what will make us happy. We spend billions of dollars a year seeking pleasure, most of which is like sugar that dissolves instantly, and lasts less that a moment. Life, after all, is not what we strive for in the future, or what we regret from our past. But, what we do in the moment. Life is now. After all, if some of those who died had taken one more breath, they would not have died. I have many friends, and family, who believe in reincarnation. Personally, I have difficulty believing that the human being is the only reality in nature that lives eternally. I am more inclined to believe in recycling, in which all my memories, all my knowledge, floats in the Universe, and eventually becomes part of some new life, object, plant, animal, earth, sky, water, consciousness, whatever you want to imagine life to be. Certainly, it is far more beautiful than the mechanical world that many believe the Universe to be. After all, we dream, we imagine, we transform life. It is so sad to think that someone as fortunate as Philip Seymour Hoffman was unable to feel enough satisfaction in the life that he had to want to keep living it. Certainly, I do not know what his life was like. I can only look at a series of realities. But still, it is sad that what he had was not enough to overcome whatever wounding he suffered that he never seemed to recover from. If in fact reincarnation does exist, or if there is a place where what is left of us after we die go, I hope that he will find the peace that he sought to numb his pain. I do believe that some people really suffer so much that they do not want to continue living. I do not believe that he was one of those. But, what I say here comes from the pain I feel at his loss, at the waste of a life that brought us pleasure and insight into ourselves. I only wish that he could have healed himself, so that he could have had some of the satisfaction in life that he so well deserved.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Twelfth Night, Mark Rylance, and other thoughts

I saw the production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance last week, and enjoyed it immensely. From the moment I entered the Belasco Theater, one of my favorites, the night was a success. The theater, which has a long history, being home to the Group Theater in the 30's, has been beautifully restored. Unfortunately, they are also allowing the audience to bring drinks into the theater. I guess it's a compromise with an audience that is more used to going to movies than theater. However, watching the actors dress and makeup, and Mr Rylance warm up, in particular, is wonderful theater. Fortunately, it continues throughout the play itself. Watching a wonderful actor warm up is a treat, and a lesson in concentration and how they use themselves. Mr Rylance is no exception. My only regret is that he isn't American, as I said that he was in my last blog. He was raised in the US, and his first exposure to theater is here. But, he is English. There is still something particular about his spirit that comes closer to what American acting at its best could be. Imagine if Marlon Brando, or Robert DeNiro had done the work that he has done: Had the dedication to acting that he has. What would they have done with some of Shakespeare's characters?

I want to make it clear that when I write about a play I've seen, it's not my intention to write a review. I could. I know what each artist's contribution to the whole is. But, this blog isn't just about what plays I've seen. So, I want it clear, as those of you who follow this blog know, that I use this blog to write about all kinds of subjects. Because, as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage..."

The night we went to the play was the day after the snowstorm, whose name I have already forgotten. There was so much talk about people staying home, because it was dangerous to be outside. that the talk made me check to see whether the show was on, or not. Honestly, while there is a need for caution, the panic created by all the warnings before the storm comes, means that even if the storm doesn't happen, it has already done a lot of damage. Grocery stores were emptied of products, as though it was the end of the world. I am not used to Americans behaving with such fear. It seems Un-American to me. We are a nation of immigrants. And, pioneers. Fear of life is not part of our history. Until now. I find it very sad. I, actually, like storms. I feel normal. For years, I have thought of my inner life as a micro weather system. When I was younger, I'd go jog in Central Park during a snowstorm. It was beautiful. I'd like to be like that now. I should get back in shape.

Several blogs back, I wrote about Waiting for Godot, and Beckett. And, said that Beckett was the most modern writer that theater has. You may wonder why? One has to read the plays to discover that. How can a character talk about a toothbrush, in so few words, and be talking about life? That happens in Happy Days. Beckett is very difficult to read. You have to read the stage directions, or you don't understand what he is doing. For me, reading Beckett is the most difficult of all playwrights. It is so essential, and so poetic. As all great playwrights are poets in disguise. Their words go from the superficial to the profound, reverberating through layers of reality. And, the more modern the playwright, the fewer words are needed. It is what we mean when we say, Modern Theater. For to me, theater is the art of the spoken word. Not to say the word well spoken, but spoken with profoundly simple, human, truth.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas-Waiting for Godot and other wishes

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. If you are in New York and want to do something enjoyable during the holiday season, go see Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theater. It is considered by many to be Beckett's best, certainly most famous, play. We sat in the second row, and watching Ian McKellan living his character onstage is a treat. He and Patrick Stewart seem to have a real complicity between them, which makes the play work. It is one of the few productions of Beckett that didn't put me to sleep. Beckett is the greatest modern playwright the world has, in my opinion. And, being a great writer should mean that we love his plays. And, understand what he is saying. We do in this production, though, like every successful production of Beckett I've seen recently, they do it at the expense of his pauses. Like all productions, the pauses here are less than one breath, if at all. But, that said, the production is funny. We sat next to a couple whom I overheard saying that they had never been to anything except musical comedies. They were here because the girl loves Patrick Stewart from Star Trek. During intermission, they asked my wife what the play was about, as they heard her speaking French. And, obviously, French people must be intelligent and know about Beckett. She encouraged them to simply listen. They did, and enjoyed themselves, while we all were Waiting for Godot. The rest of the actors, Shuler Hensley as Pozzo, and Billy Crudup as Lucky, work hard, are very competent. But, they are not in the same league with Mr McKellen. In truth, there were moments when I thought that he and Mr Stewart should have changed roles, as he seemed so much more intelligent and thoughtful, and I think that the characters of Vladimir, played by Mr Stewart, and Estragon, played by Mr McKellen, are the opposite. But, it didn't stop me from enjoying their relationship, or the play. After all, I didn't go to the theater to see my production of the play. But, theirs. They seemed to warm up as they went along, and by the second act, they were flying along. From the beginning, the audience began to laugh, and I knew that they were reacting according to what review they had read. But, human beings, unfortunately, have lost their childlike ability to respond honestly and spontaneously to what they are experiencing. In this theater, like when I saw The Jacksonian, they sold drinks in the orchestra floor, and it was littered with playbills, and empty plastic bottles and paper cups by the end of the evening. I just don't like that. But, if you've been sitting around waiting for Godot, go see this production. It will make life interesting for awhile, and help you to feel that life is worth living.

On that thought, I have some Christmas wishes. As the United States enrolls in Affordable Health Care, I wish that the Government, including Congress and the President, will do something about making Health Care affordable. Like, regulating the prices of drugs. Years ago, my wife needed a prescription for eliminating toenail fungus. It cost $900.00 here. We bought it in Paris for 47€, about $62.00. And, aspiring should not cost $38.00 in a hospital. Nor should a forty-five minute physical therapy session cost $2,700.00. Etc. etc. And, the government is trying to negotiate trade agreements to force other countries to raise the prices of drugs, instead of lowering them, here. I guess the $500,000,000 yes, half a billion dollars spent on politicians by the drug lobby is working well.

Another wish, Congress will decide to limit the length of terms of office of its members. We have limited the Presidency to two terms. Why not limit Senators to two terms, and Congressmen to five or six?

Another wish, that the Internet will remain free, and that it will revolutionize cable television, and television, the way television revolutionized movies. And, movies revolutionized theater, along with the Kennedy's, whose policies of government support for non-profit theater outside of New York City revolutionized the Theater. Maybe, not all for the better. But, it certainly gave us more choices.

I realize that my blog's are about many subjects. And, I am aware that is not always a good thing. Because, people may not be able to say what my blog's are about, in a simple and clear way, so that people know how to think about my blog. Well, just think about it as being about life. After all, isn't that what art is, the artist's reflection and expression of his or her's perception of life?

Again, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. And, please, if you like my blogs, turn other people on to them. And, subscribe, here.