How To Produce a Musical

November 18, 2010

Producing a musical is much like aircraft manufacture. In the latter wings are made in one city, the fuselage in another, the electrical loom in yet another and as many subassemblies in as many other towns as needed. At some point all of these subassemblies are shipped to a central point and hopefully they all fit together; if the engineers have done their jobs correctly. And so it is with musicals. A scene here, a song or solo here, Act Three on Monday, Act One on Tuesday and Act Two a week later. One day or evening when the whole company of players is beginning to think that the director has abandoned them and no-one has really learned ALL their lines and the opening night is less than ten days away, there is a run through when all the pieces are glued together with hope and theatrical engineering. Somehow the thing flies; plane or show.

Let’s Demo!

November 12, 2010

A Shining Tower of Britains 1960's Techno-Fury

Sometime in the middle sixties I was a failing student at one of the shining towers of Britain’s technological revolution. I was failing for two reasons. Maybe three. I had chosen the wrong discipline. Chemistry instead of Art. The college was in Brighton. I had gotten myself elected Vice President of the student union.

I lived in a boarding house run by two irritable and thoroughly obnoxious Germans, or were they Swiss? My room was a closet on the third floor. It was freezing, even in September, and the scratching noises at night were not made by other students attending to their acne. Luckily the student I had shared rooms with in the previous year was also living there. Luckily I say because he had a motorbike. It was a Matchless 350. A big step up from his earlier ride, a puny Triumph Tiger Cub. And it was on this bike that we rode the four or so miles out of town to the shining tower to continue our chemical studies. On the days when our schedules did not align I had to walk a mile to a bus stop and spend valuable beer money on a ticket. I got off at a stop right in front of the college. Remember this bus stop.

I do not remember the exact date when the foreign student fee issue came to our attention in the union office. The union office was a festering tip, but for the section where the one permanent administrative employee, provided by the college, sat with a typewriter and duplicating machine awaiting our instructions. She saw all and knew all. In her fastidious corner all was order. Nothing much happened in the union office except when the LP that was currently playing had to be replaced or re-cued so that silence should never creep into the student lounge where many future champions of Britain’s techno-fury studied or mostly played bridge while trying to drink appalling vending machine soup and coffee, or worse digest the unusual offerings from the refectory. Orders were placed with the brewery to restock the bar which opened at 5 PM, and the captains of the various sports clubs came in to claim their team travel allowances and use the one phone line to call either the captain of that week’s opposing team, or their mothers or their girlfriends. The big project for the union was organization of the Charity Rag Week. Then and only then was there a semblance of activity in the office. But more of that another time.

Whatever the exact date was is not important. What was important was the ego of our Union President who had been casting about for an issue to make his name in local and national student politics. And it was he who at one Union Meeting dropped the news on us that the Government of the day was going to radically increase the fees of foreign students studying in the UK. He raved at and lambasted the fools of Whitehall and their cruel injustice that would quite plainly cripple the development of the ex-colonial countries from which these students mostly came. The student committee took input from all quarters and since we were nice middle class lads with a healthy(sic) guilt about our nation’s colonial history we too felt indignation rising and made motions to be voted on and the results sent the holy of holies, the National Union of Students (NUS). And when our colleagues at a famous University only a few miles further up the road decided to go to London to join a demonstration being organized by the NUS to take place on the very steps of Parliament we felt we had no choice but to do the same.

And so it was one dreary dark winter day that the President, the Treasurer, the Student Secretary and myself set off in the treasurers mini car; he was well to do; and drove up to London to set things right. It was a dreary ride and parking in London was a nightmare, even then. In a large hall we listened to the tirades of our NUS leadership and certain politicians who perhaps had taken a liking to the cause based on the number of immigrant citizens in their constituencies. Suitably fired up we marched off to Whitehall where we were kept in check and off the road by mounted Police (two or maybe three). We shouted in our polite English way for a little while and then went home thoroughly disappointed that no-one had asked us any questions, and the police had been overwhelmingly nice and considerate of our right to be there, and not one M.P. had deigned to interrupt his or her lunch to see what the noise was all about. I have no idea how many demonstrators there were but less than two thousand I would guess. It was an anticlimax.

The return journey in the tiny metal box that was the treasurer’s car was gloomy except for the proximity of the Student Secretary’s knee to mine and her hand which I held and stroked in a way I thought was sure to excite. Arriving back at the shining tower we went straightaway to the bar where the President uncharacteristically bought us all a half pint of beer. We continued to rail and plot and pass motions condemning the government as they refined their plans to discriminate and punish our overseas friends.

And it was these friends that finally demolished the indignation and fervor that I possessed on this issue. Our college in its short two year history had managed to attract a large number of foreign students. Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Malaysians. Indeed I played Hockey with several brilliant Malaysians. It was a huge Mercedes full of these friends whose rapid passage by the bus stop where I was waiting (I told you to remember it) caused a bow wave of water from a large puddle to wash over me as they left college for the day to return to the rather nice hotel where they were all staying for the whole year at their countries expense. I was left standing, soaked and chilled, and with a new perspective on many things.

Close to a Collapsing Star

November 11, 2010

Crab Nebula Supernova

For those of you who persist in believing that sound travels in space just like in the movies I dedicate this nasty little piece.

Collapsing Star

If you were close enough to hear a collapsing star
The only noise you really hear is the sound of your skull doing the same
Your last sight is of your brain leaving the premises
Just before it vaporized
Your last sensation
Incandescent heat
Your last smell scorched flesh
Your last thought

Dare Me to Sing

November 9, 2010

Some time ago, say three or four years, I was dared to do something. And I did it. When the dare was voiced it seemed like a huge challenge. But now, with that awful analytical tool of hindsight, I see that it was just a tiny hop on a much longer race.

The dare was thus. Develop a one man show that incorporates your own poetry and the sung music of Jacques Brel and make it happen in under a year. Brel was an iconic Franco-Belgian singer songwriter. His songs are not always easy and the translations from the original languages; French, Dutch and Flemish; are not always satisfactory. But his work could be said to cover almost every human emotion, collective or singular. The last time they had any success in the U.S. was in the late sixties and early seventies, when a review was launched at The Village Gate in New York City. “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”. I named my show, “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Visiting the Pearl”. The Pearl is a rapidly boutiqued district in the NW sector of Portland, Oregon.

At the time of the dare I was just beginning to resume singing lessons from a locally known and loved Jazz singer. Before this my instruction had been in the classical style and I could sing Lieder. Wow! Which I may still do one day. But Brel is not lieder, and neither is Tom Lehrer or Flanders and Swan, or Kurt Weil whose songs I added to my show later. The lessons gave me the confidence to just do it. I don’t have a wonderful voice, I don’t learn music easily, I cannot even read a score, and don’t start to talk to me about keys.

What I have is a good voice. Not special. But a good and interesting voice. I have moxie. I have a profound sense of humor and good timing. I can’t wait to get on stage. My place, where I belong. On stage, performing I am relaxed and happy.

In my show, which I have put on now five times to a paying public, I intersect the songs with poetry. A lot of Billy Collins, and of course my own. It makes an interesting show. Satire, Cynicism, Humor, Love, Anger and flat out Belly Laughs.

The dare took me to the entrance of a place where I should be. But the sad part of the story is that I do not so this anywhere as much as I should. And this is where I see that what I have done so far is hop into the weakest orbits of performance art. I need to go much further. My poetry, my voice and my writing, so long waiting in some metaphorical wing may need crutches to get on stage at this rate.

What to do? As if I did not know……I need another dare.

My Next Shows

November 9, 2010

For those of you who do actually take the time to read this blog, an early announcement of my next shows.

January 16th at 2.30 PM
Working Title: Endings & Beginnings
Songs of Flanders & Swann, Jacques Brel, Tom Lehrer and others
@ Sherman Clay Moe’s Pianos
13th Ave., Portland. OR

January 22nd. & 23rd. Times TBA
Narrator for Vivoce Ensemble Winter Concert
@ St. Michael & All Angels, Hollywood, Portland.

February 5th at 2.30 PM
Working Title: The No-Name Cabaret
Flanders &  Swann, British Music Hall, Broadway, etc.
@ The Backgate Stage of Artichoke Music
Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR

Kerosene Kettles

November 9, 2010

And who does love the romance of travel? Read this poem and let me know..

There are four giant kerosene kettles
Tied to the wings
Of the machine
In which I sit.
Voices speak in the air
Confident and bland.
The owner of one of the voices
Sets fire to the kettles
And the whole machine leaps
Into the air
Me with it.
We all pretend it’s OK
And sit quietly
Until the voices speak again
And tell us
The fire is out
And we can leave
Into a strange city;
Or home.

Head Chip

November 9, 2010

Here’s a horror piece I wrote fifteen years ago when microprocessors were nowhere near as ubiquitous as today. More evidence of my prophetic powers. Stand by for more; if you can stand to really know the future.

 Head Chip

In those days, those weird centuries that preceded the cranial chip there was such a thing as an individual. Can we believe it? Each unit had to exist separately, manage its thoughts, find its food and shelter, and relate to other things and creatures…alone.

 Every human at some point in its much shorter life had terrifying decisions to make, continuously, every waking moment. What to do next? Which food to eat? Who to talk to? Yes they spoke through the air! Everyone had choice. They could in fact decide to live or die. The course of their lives was up to them! Well we all know where that leads don’t we?

 The cranial chip has saved us from that dilemma. Living as we do in cerebral groups of twenty, sharing thoughts instantaneously our cloned bodies living for so many years our direction is assured and we no longer have to struggle. The will of the group carries us forward.

 In those days each body chose its reproductive partner, within racial boundaries, of course. A messy business. Some pleasure aided by the crude drugs, stimulants and art of the day we have to admit. But the insistence on reproducing in family units presaged much of the work that led to the first cranial inserts. In those days, if we can believe the videos, the chip was used first to adjust behavior to fit the old pattern. How quaint! Modern science upholding the psychoses of the past.

 Your joint reaction reassures us that we are right to continue our flight to the future and seek more ways to conjoin everything.

Election Blues Then and Now

November 9, 2010

Here’s little piece of prophesy I wrote just a few weeks over ten years ago. I felt I was being accurate then, and now I KNOW I was and still am.

And now we are faced with the possibility that a new President of the most powerful country on the face of the planet may be elected by as small a margin as one single vote. The razor of democracy is cutting extra finely in this election. Combine this with the further possibility that this President may be a un-traveled, mumbling malapropist, whose only positive feature is that he has a nice silver haired old lady for a mother, and the bizarre nature of this election is only partly revealed. Voting for George Bush could once again put into the White House a puppet along the lines of Ronald Reagan. Someone who can be conveniently woken up from a nap to sign whatever the likes of Tom Delay, Henry Hyde, Jesse Helms, Tom Nickles, Pat Robertson and the far right wing lobbyists already gleefully rubbing their hands will put before him.


It is a sad irony that the millions who, wittingly or not, made their vote for Bush a vote against Bill Clinton (who was not running, except from Hilary) a moral vote, will have given encouragement, and thus power, to some of the most immoral and hypocritical creatures in Washington. Ultra-Conservative politicians and lobbyists who make Margaret Thatcher look like a softy combination of Noddy, Clement Atlee, and Tony Benn. If you ever wondered where fascism went after the Second World War you do not need to look much further than the centre and rural areas of this country. Racial and gender intolerance, fueled by fear of knowledge and liberal views are fanned by, among others, so called Christians, whose love of money and hypocrisy toward the Christian values of love and inclusion that I hold true, often make me physically ill. And this hatred generates more than enough money to find a dark voice in Washington.


It is not that Albert Gore is such a stunning alternative. Despite possessing twice the IQ, three times the political experience, and at least five times the pronounceable vocabulary of his opponent, he is not a natural leader and is genuinely wobbly on many issues. No, it is the prospect of an ultra-conservative agenda exercised through proxies like Bush by a frightening group of right wing demagogues that made the wooden Albert Gore a less awful choice. No matter that Bush would have such a tenuous grip on Congress that any program he promotes will have a very hard time getting through. It is merely that being the weak, unqualified and manipulated creature that he is will give the ideologues of the right a large stage from which they can scream their poisonous messages. Certainly there is freedom of speech and ideas. But any idea must surely earn its day in the sun, rather than be given a free ride by political weakness and conservative expediency?


Can you spell ‘fascism?’

November 3, 2010

It is one of those days when pulling the blanket over one’s head and denying the facts might seem the best thing to do. And for a few days this is what I will do. I do not even know what exactly happened to what passes for an election, but I know it is not good news for anyone who is an artist, who is for peace, who is tolerant of all races and peaceful beliefs, for social justice, for the weak, for the poor, for the disenfranchised, the hungry and any misunderstood minority.  Historians can tell you when such times visited the world before and also the result. Please don’t tell me it cannot happen here. I can smell it.

Animal Inside

November 2, 2010

 Man has for as long as we can surmise used animal symbolism to exaggerate, encourage, strengthen skills ands knowledge that were necessary for survival. Many are the people who adopted the name and so hopefully the power and grace of the animals they admired. In rites and practice this involuntary symbiosis, at least for the animal, grew stronger although some speculation is given over to how much wolves actually sensed mans hunger for their essence.

Sind Sie mein doppleganger?

In a softer, or should I say, more secretive age, the animals that man admires, adopts and attempts to absorb have less to do with survival than with image. Men wish to be cold and efficient, they attempt to become machines. And today’s machines, closer to life than ever before, are a kind of animalia. Ceaseless movement, and, so long as the batteries last, the perception of a crude and basic intelligence. Man grows closer and closer to machine – animalia symbiosis. How long will it be before the first PC is actually embedded in a person to avoid that so cumbersome human to microprocessor interface? Wired thus what is the animal and what is the machine? Where will intelligence; and morality, reside?

 But for many animals inside are the words we paste onto emotions that often we wish were elsewhere. Our layered existences ands social laundering seem to make it convenient to ascribe our basic hungers and needs to internal beasts over which we have little control. Do I have an animal name for my itch, my heartburn, my physical hunger, my sexual longing, my tiredness, my pain and all the other presences of daily bodily existence? Only half a catalogue I am afraid. But then again I know animals so little that the infinite varieties of my internal world find few matches in my knowledge of the natural world. Almost funny to think that in the cerebral cortex the amino acids and synapses storing my animalia are just a micron or so removed from the ones that signal the very senses that could use their labels. What stands between them?