Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Masterworks: The Museum of Bad Art Plays

I can now safely say that bad paintings make for good theater. They also make for not so good theater. But the balance is definitely on the good side. So the Commedia Beauregard collaboration with the Museum of Bad Art paid off nicely. And you’ve still got two chances to left to see “Masterworks: The Museum of Bad Art Plays” at the Bryant Lake Bowl.

Now, I understand it’s required of straight people to gather in groups and watch the Super Bowl, just as later in the month, I am required to join the members of my gay tribe to watch the Oscars, but if folks feel like bucking the trend, one of our performances is this Sunday, February 1 at 7pm (doors open at 6pm). You can still eat and drink while watching something entertaining. The remaining performance after that is Sunday, February 8th - same time and place.

What will you be seeing? I’m glad you asked...

In what has become something of an additional character to all the plays, a projection screen slowly, ever so slowly, lowers itself from the ceiling prior to each play’s beginning. The awful painting from which the play is inspired is shown. Then the screen slowly retreats again into the ceiling. And... scene... (the routine is repeated at the end of the play, giving the audience another look at the art that inspired what they just saw, and then moving on to the next.)

Among the best of the evening are the expected entries - one from Bill Corbett (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame), and one from Nick Ryan (of Four Humors/"Shift"/"Bards"/"Deviled Eggs"/"Mortem Capiendum"/"Inspector Rex" fame). Their scripts close out the evening.

“Hey, Physics. Eat me!”

Corbett’s “The Disturbing Chair” is riffing on a painting by the curator of the Museum of Bad Art himself, entitled “Lulli, Fowl, & Gravestone” - a peculiar work with a couple of peacocks, an enormous overturned gravestone, and a young woman perched on a... well, disturbing-looking chair. Said chair is the fixation of a comically suicidal (yes, there is such a thing in Corbett’s universe and actress Eva Nelson sells it in a big way) woman named Lulli. The psychiatrist Lulli comes to for help (played with delightfully elevating levels of exasperation by Dawn Malicsi) soon regrets encouraging Lulli to talk. The audience will have no such regrets. It’s a great little piece of comedy writing, sharply directed by Katie Willer. A great cap to a night of oddities.

“True or False - Free will killed God.”
“Whose God?”

Ryan’s play “Gina’s Demons” (based on a painting of the same name) finds an artist named Gina (Dani Krivinchuk) trapped in a doctor’s office, surrounded on all sides by her silent finger-painting demon horde (Starr Brainard, Celesta Brainard, Mozelle LeCompte, Yasha Meyer & Madelyn DeFrey). It’s a crowded stage, but director Leah Adcock-Starr uses the space well. Nick Kiminski does a great four-part turn as every member of the medical team tending to Gina - Nurse, Dr. Sentiment, Dr. Wellwell, and the Exterminator. The care-givers grow ever more ominous, but are also increasingly absurd and funny in execution (no pun intended). Gina survives her encounter with modern healthcare, but loses a lot along the way. Nick Ryan delivers again, though I’m not sure I buy the premise of the piece - that art naturally springs only from the voices in one’s head. The fact that society wants to eliminate such demons at all costs seems a bit ham-handed. And the notion that artists are only as good as their demons, I don’t find to be particularly helpful. It seems to perpetuate the idea that artists are somehow always screwed up, at least the good ones. Which too many bad artists use as an excuse for bad behavior. But “Gina’s Demons” is so amusingly performed, I’m inclined to let it slide.

“Mona Lisa, #3 of 5”

The evening begins with Greg Bonine-Giles’ take on a strangely masculine rendering of the classic DaVinci painting, entitled “Mana Lisa,” birthing a script called “Auntie Lisa.” The title character (Maretta Zilic) appears to have mugged Cyndia Lauper back in the 1980s and stolen her wardrobe. Donning this uniform, she attempts to run a business based on art fraud, with questionable assistance from her two nieces (Tegan Sickeler and Liz Swabey-Keith). The young women certainly don’t handle the local police detective very well. Their bumbling attempt at an alibi only convinces the cop (Kelvin Hatle) to return, in drag no less, masquerading as a potential customer, to get the goods on the family of swindlers. Apart from Zilic’s wardrobe, and Hatle’s undercover antics, another high point is a sound cue of a tuba belting out a very familiar tune (which someone had to share with me was Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”). Sometimes this one strays, and one wonders if director Scott Pakudaitis and company took the “bad art” directive a bit too literally. Still, an evening around a concept like this is bound to take some unusual turns.

“I’ve been eating way too many muffins lately.”

A piece that (like my own) is only tenuously connected to its painting would be Lisa Day’s “Off Leash,” directed by Natalie Novacek. The painting was “Bone-Juggling Dog In Hula Skirt,” which isn’t hard to visualize. Whatever that title conjures in your mind, you won’t be far off. The play itself is more concerned with the demise of a cat, the demise of a career, and perhaps the demise of a relationship as well. Gabby (Anna Shields) is at a crossroads, and her boyfriend Luke (Corey Walton) can’t keep up - though Lord knows the man tries valiantly. Toss in Gabby’s dad (Jack McClure, the most charming and grounded of the three characters), and the young woman’s comical quarter-life crisis is complete. Mention is often made of her feeling ready for a dog of her own, and dad has a dog that needs walking, but there are no hula skirts, nor any juggling in sight. But if you’re going to have art, there must be room for artistic license.

“Have you seen my head?!”

Going the opposite direction, writer Dan O’Neil (another of my Fringe favorites for work like “Desolation In America,” “Baggage” and the truly amazing “10/14”) took his painting “Invasion of the Office Zombies” quite literally. He injected nearly every single element of the piece into the script “The Destabilization of Businessmen, or The Big-Wigs Lose Their Heads.” The artwork is a bizarre black and white collage of Dali-esque alarm clocks, floors composed of $1,000 bills, disembodied heads on a desk, a dispiriting chart of falling profits, and someone who might or might not be contemplating jumping out a window. O’Neil finds a way to work these items into a satiric short which finds an inept middle manager (Jeff Huset) masquerading as Grover Cleveland. His outfit includes a ski mask with an enlarged photocopy of Cleveland’s head off the thousand dollar bill, with eye holes so he can see to do a little dancing. Not surprisingly, the powers that be would prefer that the manager do a little actual work to earn his paycheck, and an internal evaluator (Kjersten Johnson) and worker from the factory line (Kirsten Wiegmann) put the man’s buffoonish ways in perspective. As always, Dan O’Neil finds clever ways to insert wry political commentary into the proceedings without getting in the way of his own comedic set-ups.

I’ll be going into my thoughts on my own script, “Two Left Feet,” in another post, as they’ll take up a bit more space. In short for now, I’m thrilled with the outcome of the production. I couldn’t have asked for a better team than my director Laura Leffler-McCabe, and my actors Blake E. Bolan, Bryan Grosso, and Tera Kilbride. While remaining true to the spirit of the piece, they augmented what I had on the page and made it richer with their additions. It definitely keeps the comedic momentum going in the middle of the evening, while also serving up a little food for thought, if you’re hungry for some.

Masterworks: The Museum of Bad Art Plays” is an intriguing grab bag of ideas and varied execution, just like the bizarre assortment of paintings which inspired it. If you’re looking for an inventive and amusing evening of theater with that Fringey sensibility about it, look no further. We have the play(s) for you.

Sundays, 7pm (doors at 6pm) - February 1 and 8, 2009 - Bryant Lake Bowl. Tickets - $15, $12 in advance or with Fringe button. Reservations recommended, the crowds have been pretty full so far. We'd hate to have to turn you away. (It happened on my last show at the BLB.) For tickets, call 612-825-8949 or visit For further information, visit,, and

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Last Chance to Vote for Secret Ingredients in the 24 Hour Plays

Yes, voting closes this Monday, so you've got the weekend to get your family and friends to help you stuff the online ballot box for your favorite secret ingredients for the 24 Hour Play Project.

Time's ticking by.

What'll it be?

The playwrights will be handed an object, an emotion, a quote or line of dialogue, and something random.

What those things are is up to you.

Ever want to see a play with...
the touch of death?
"It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls?
someone walking backwards?

Wonder how characters would deal with...
blind panic?
savage joy?

Maybe you've always wanted to hear someone say...
"Huh. Maybe it'll take two shots of penicillin."
"Not as an adult."
"Dang it, I just killed a talking moose who claimed he was the next

Perhaps you feel that every good play needs...
a woodpecker
a cactus
a toilet plunger

All these and more are waiting for your blessing.

Would you like to make the writers' lives hard, or easy, or something in between? Totally up to you.

Follow the link to the online ballot

Make your preferences known

Then mark your calendar for the big event.

The writers will meet and write the night of February 6th, then the directors and actors have a whirlwind day of rehearsals, and the finished products are unveiled at Theatre Unbound's annual gala on Saturday, February 7th (doors at 7, performances at 8) (details and tickets here)

Have fun.

I'll be interested to see how the whole thing shakes out once the votes are counted.

Thanks for helping out with the creative process. Just a couple of clicks and you help write a play. Easy, huh?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Incubator - Medea - Blood and Semen, Semen and Blood

Inevitably, when you’re rewriting a script, some losses cut deeper than others. Some stuff is easy to cut out. Some stuff you just hate to let go of.

In one of my misbegotten earlier drafts of this Medea project, where I was still trying to wedge a modern day plotline and characters in alongside those of the Ancient Greeks, there was a happy accident that sticks with me. Rewriting that sequence of overlap the other day, I finally had to strike it out and move on.

Jason and Medea are meeting for the first time.

Meanwhile, on stage at the same time, a modern day character is working a shift on an AIDS Hotline.

Medea is helping Jason outwit her own father so that Jason can claim the Golden Fleece. One of the strategies is to use an ointment which will make him invincible for a day. The ointment is extracted from a plant which sprung up in the ground where the blood of Prometheus fell. Prometheus, who brought the secret of fire to humankind, was punished by the gods for it by being chained to a rock. There, a hungry eagle pecked away at his innards. His innards continually regenerated, making it an unending sequence of torture. You’ve got to hand it to the gods, they don’t think small.

But just as no good deed goes unpunished, out of the bad must come some good. Where Prometheus’ blood fell to the ground, a plant is born. The plant provides temporary invincibility for humans to achieve supernatural tasks. While it won’t do Prometheus much good, it came in mighty handy for Jason, thanks to Medea.

Of course the audience knows, at least a little, what’s coming down the pike. Jason and Medea meeting and pledging their love to one another isn’t going to come to a pretty end. There will be betrayal, there will be death. There’s a lot of blood on the ground by the time they’re finished with each other.

Meanwhile, our AIDS Hotline friend is resting between calls, pondering methods of transmissibility. He says aloud, to no one but himself, 

“Blood and semen. Semen and blood.”

Even if disease weren’t a factor, no sex is safe.

Fun, sure. Intense, if you’re lucky. Safe, not a chance.

Divorcing sex from emotion was never something I was particularly good at doing. If there’s no emotion involved, it’s just exercise.

Don’t get me wrong. I like exercise.

But that’s what I got a gym membership for.

There’s a Warren Zevon song that I keep thinking about in relation to these two mythological lovers. Of course, it’s a big old anachronism in many ways, but Warren always had a way of cutting through to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s not...

“You can screw everybody I’ve ever known
But I still won’t talk to you on the phone
It’s a hopeless cause
There’s no use crying
And I can die
You can die
We can die trying
Thanks anyway
There’s no use hanging around
While you try to put the finishing touches on me”

Juxtaposition. Point of view. Foreshadowing.

Two people meet. Their lives are never the same.

“Blood and semen. Semen and blood.”

Incubator - Medea - Blood and Semen, Semen and Blood

Inevitably, when you’re rewriting a script, some losses cut deeper than others. Some stuff is easy to cut out. Some stuff you just hate to let go of.

In one of my misbegotten earlier drafts of this Medea project, where I was still trying to wedge a modern day plotline and characters in alongside those of the Ancient Greeks, there was a happy accident that sticks with me. Rewriting that sequence of overlap the other day, I finally had to strike it out and move on.

Jason and Medea are meeting for the first time.

Meanwhile, on stage at the same time, a modern day character is working a shift on an AIDS Hotline.

Medea is helping Jason outwit her own father so that Jason can claim the Golden Fleece. One of the strategies is to use an ointment which will make him invincible for a day. The ointment is extracted from a plant which sprung up in the ground where the blood of Prometheus fell. Prometheus, who brought the secret of fire to humankind, was punished by the gods for it by being chained to a rock. There, a hungry eagle pecked away at his innards. His innards continually regenerated, making it an unending sequence of torture. You’ve got to hand it to the gods, they don’t think small.

But just as no good deed goes unpunished, out of the bad must come some good. Where Prometheus’ blood fell to the ground, a plant is born. The plant provides temporary invincibility for humans to achieve supernatural tasks. While it won’t do Prometheus much good, it came in mighty handy for Jason, thanks to Medea.

Of course the audience knows, at least a little, what’s coming down the pike. Jason and Medea meeting and pledging their love to one another isn’t going to come to a pretty end. There will be betrayal, there will be death. There’s a lot of blood on the ground by the time they’re finished with each other.

Meanwhile, our AIDS Hotline friend is resting between calls, pondering methods of transmissibility. He says aloud, to no one but himself, 

“Blood and semen. Semen and blood.”

Even if disease weren’t a factor, no sex is safe.

Fun, sure. Intense, if you’re lucky. Safe, not a chance.

Divorcing sex from emotion was never something I was particularly good at doing. If there’s no emotion involved, it’s just exercise.

Don’t get me wrong. I like exercise.

But that’s what I got a gym membership for.

There’s a Warren Zevon song that I keep thinking about in relation to these two mythological lovers. Of course, it’s a big old anachronism in many ways, but Warren always had a way of cutting through to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s not...

“You can screw everybody I’ve ever known
But I still won’t talk to you on the phone
It’s a hopeless cause
There’s no use crying
And I can die
You can die
We can die trying
Thanks anyway
There’s no use hanging around
While you try to put the finishing touches on me”

Juxtaposition. Point of view. Foreshadowing.

Two people meet. Their lives are never the same.

“Blood and semen. Semen and blood.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Review - Henry V - The Acting Company - 5 Stars


A word tossed around so regularly in the first half of The Acting Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” that I was shamed into looking it up immediately upon arriving home.

Powerful. Mighty. Potent.

That about sums it up.

I’d been looking forward to seeing this already, since I’d never seen a live production of “Henry V” before - just one of the movie versions.

Then I learned Matthew Amendt was Henry, and I was looking forward to it even more. Ever since first seeing him in action as one of the regular rotating ensemble of Thirst Theater, I’ve been impressed with his acting chops. Seeing him in roles at the Guthrie both large (Nick, the narrator of “The Great Gatsby”) and not so large (as one of the cast of the great, and criminally underseen, “The Home Place”) in the time between only reinforced my admiration. I thought, “Let him get his hooks into King Harry. Wow. Stand back, everybody.”

That about sums it up.

But not quite. Director Davis McCallum has assembled an amazing ensemble, all of them playing multiple roles without skipping a beat or confusing the audience. They had us laughing one minute, crying the next, then throwing in some goosebumps just to top things off. They are - alphabetically, because I’m blown away by them all in equal measure - Freddy Arsenault, Georgia Cohen, Kelley Curran, Rick Ford, Andy Groteluschen, Carrie Kawa, Robert Michael McClure, William Sturdivant, Samuel Taylor, Chris Thorn, and Sonny Valicenti. They all took a complicated tale with an epic cast of characters and made this story of a young king of England leading an outnumbered army into battle with France not just easy to follow but remarkably compelling.

They were, of course, mightily aided by the design team. A stirring sound design by Scott W. Edwards, with music composition and direction from Victor Zupanc. Deceptively simple costumes by Anita Yavich with a dash of color over gray base with a lot of quite versatile zippers. The lighting design by Michael Chybowski often felt like the beating heart of the piece. And if the lights were the heart, then the guts were most definitely the set - a semicircle of wood designed by Neil Patel with doors opening and closing and sliding around on two levels, giving the story a lot of places from which to keep popping out and surprising the audience from all directions. Add to that some rather sturdy rolling tables and steps of metal and wood and the thing just kept barreling along like a mighty river. The power of the battles also owes a great deal to John Spies’ fight direction.

It never ceases to amaze me that in the right hands - like those of The Acting Company - Elizabethan English becomes not just easily understood, but a vibrant living thing. It’s a pleasure to listen to something operating just a little above the level of the English with which I tend to muddle through my days.

If there’s a more intimidating thing for a playwright struggling with a new script to sit in a theater and watch than a production of “Henry V” like this, I can’t think of it.

Thankfully, there’s also nothing more inspiring.

O for a muse of fire, indeed.

For someone suffering from a little theater fatigue right now, a production like this is just the kind of jolt I needed to remind me why I love it so.

Which is why I joined my fellow audience members in applauding long after the lights came up until the actors all came out, sheepishly, to take another bow, so we could stand and thank them properly.

(Guys, add a light cue. You had over two and a half hours. You don’t just get to walk off after Shakespeare’s finished. We intend to applaud you for at least a couple of minutes. You earned it, and we’d like to give it to you.)

When you can overcome my general queasiness these days with the concept of people invoking God on their side in a war, and just sweep me up in the genuine earnestness of it all, well, then I guess you've got something...

Powerful. Mighty. Potent.


That about sums it up.

The Acting Company (kicking off their tour here, visiting from New York) - Henry V - The Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater - now through February 1, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Incubator - Medea, part 4 - Spreading the Wealth

Normally, I’m trying to figure out how to present a story with as few characters as possible. Or rather, as few actors as possible. There’s a reason one and two-person shows are so popular with producing theaters around the country - they’re cheaper to do. Because you have less people to pay. I also imagine it’s less of a headache. Fewer people means fewer schedules to coordinate to try and pull together rehearsals. If I want a play produced, getting the number of people down is a way to make it easier for theaters to do so.

But necessity really is, in this case, the mother of invention. Having to constantly keep the number of actors foremost in mind has made me a better writer. I don’t add random characters at will, just to say a couple of lines here or there. Giving each character a lot of thought before bringing them into being hopefully insures that they have a singular purpose as part of the story. With luck, it means the actor will have a role worthy of their time and talent to invest in the piece. The last thing I ever want to do is cause an actor to feel like I’m wasting their time. They should always have something important and/or fun to do.

With this Medea project, however, I was faced with the opposite problem. I kept asking how many actors do I have, thinking the number would be low. Instead, they kept bumping it up. Most of the other college productions I’d worked on in the past, a half dozen actors at most would be available. With a sprawling legend like this one, it was clear, no matter how many bodies were on hand, they’d all be playing multiple roles. Honestly, you get the right actor and you can do pretty much any story with one. Get the right pair of actors and two is no problem either. Challenging, but still doable. I kept getting the response, “As many as you need” which is sort of like telling someone they have to write a paper for English class and they can write about anything they want. With all the subjects in the world laid out before you, the mind goes blank and you can’t think of a thing to write about. There’s such a thing as too much freedom of choice.

So you turn the question around and ask the college, “How many do *you* want to use?” Something clicked over in my head - remembering that sometimes, with a shorter season with fewer productions, sometimes the object is to get as many people on stage as humanly possible. And when you’re doing the Greeks, just like doing Shakespeare or Chekhov or Shaw, there’s normally a large ensemble required. After all, in college, everyone’s doing it for the experience, and you don’t have to pay them. This time, maybe I’m thinking too small. So, how many actors? What’s the magic number?

“I’d prefer nine. I really don’t want to go higher than 12.”

Wow. I *was* thinking small.

“Let’s say I write it for nine, and if you feel compelled at auditions to expand the ensemble to 12, we can adjust.”

So those were my marching orders. Still plenty of story, still plenty of characters, still a lot of ground to cover. But, nine people, that’s a luxury. It also means keeping about twice as many people in mind as I normally do, when thinking about making sure that everyone gets a balanced menu of things to do.

Greek chorus style, all nine actors enter at the start, all from different places, and converge together. There’s probably some kind of ritual, live music created by the actors - vocals, percussion, low tech but something to let the audience know what kind of world they’re entering. One male actor and one female actor stand apart. We may not know it yet, but they’ll be tackling Jason and Medea.

The male actor asks, “So, did she kill her kids or didn’t she?”

The female actor responds, “See, that’s not the point. It’s basically a love story.”

“Gimme a break.”

“No, really. You think anyone starts out like that?”

A third actor (who I realize later will become an Oracle), takes the lead on the first of the stories...

“It starts with the Golden Fleece.”

A fourth actor (who I realize later will become, appropriately enough, Cupid) chimes in...

“Because without the Golden Fleece, they never would have met.”

Actor 5 introduces, “Jason.”

Actor 6 clarifies, “Of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ fame.”

Actor 7, “And Medea.”

Actor 8, “Of ‘mother killing her own children’ fame.”

“Hey!” says the actor who will later be Medea.

Actor 8 - “That’s the first thing people think of when they hear her name, that’s all I’m saying.”

Actor 9, getting everybody back on task, “It starts with The Golden Fleece.”

and we’re off.

A page and a half, everybody has spoken aloud, everybody has taken the reins of the story. Some are starting to inform their lines with the personalities they’ll be creating later.

But there is no one narrator. There is no ponderous speaking in unison. The thing is going to live and breathe and fight and change hands over the course of the evening. There will be differences of opinion, there will be different points of view, there will be different versions of the same key moments. A story passed down through so many people over so many centuries is bound to have some rough edges and loose ends.

So far, about 14 pages into the thing where I sit, the role of lead narrator (the task of driving a particular chunk of the story forward) has changed hands three times. Particular actors have assumed the roles of Jason’s primary royal nemeses, King Pelias, and King Aeetes (Medea’s father). An Oracle, and Cupid have also made appearances in other hands. And a couple of actors will get to play Hera, queen of the gods, and Aprhodite, goddess of love and beauty (and mother to Cupid), one of Zeus’ many bastard children by women other than his wife, Hera. And that’s keeping it simple.

There’s a page with a list, Actors 1 through 9, and as I go through the script on one side of my computer screen, I add to the different actors’ tallies of characters as the script moves forward. Keeping it balanced, so no one feels left out, and no one feels exhausted, and the story keeps barreling forward, ever forward. I get the feeling no matter how this shakes out, everyone is going to end up getting a workout by the time the final curtain falls.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

For a limited time - Contribute your thoughts on the best of 2008 theater

OK, everybody. Forget Graydon, Rohan, Dominic, Quinton and John - time for *you* to sound off. I write some for, and my editor Susannah is pulling together a "2008 Year In The Arts" series. She got so many responses from areas other than theater that it quickly convinced her it was not one, but several articles. One drawback, no theater feedback. That's right, nothin'. I feared I had missed her deadline by being out of town, but now it's been extended to next Monday or Tuesday. (And even that, as you'll see below, is flexible.) I asked if she'd mind my posting the call for theater here, as I know you're not shy about sharing your opinions, and she said, "sure, it's an open invitation." So read on, wrack your brain for a handful of your favorite anythings in theater (events offstage or on, design as well as performance, etc.), and send it her way. The more the merrier. No one can see everything, but between all of us, we've probably seen a heck of a lot. Let her, and the wider net, know about it. Bear witness, my theater folk!

Susannah's second call for theater feedback specifically...

Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:

The mission of is to improve the lives of Minnesota artists and to provide access to and engagement with Minnesota's arts culture.

Hi folks,

I'm writing, just one more time, to see if I can twist your arm into putting a few sentences down (specifically in the category of notable developments / performers & playwrights / productions / companies for any kind of theater) for a year-end wrap feature I'm putting together. The good news is I got quite a lot of response; so much, in fact, that I've decided this merits a two- or three-part series, with responses divvied up by discipline.

Thus far, other disciplines are pretty well-represented, but at this point I've gotten no reflections from anyone working in theater! I very much want to include local theater in this feature, but I'll need your participation to pull that off. (I'm pasting the note I sent out last week for your reference below.) If there's anyone you think would like to give their two cents as well, feel free to pass this around-the more the merrier. I just want to be sure the richness of the MN theater community is well represented here, too.

If you can get your thoughts to me by next Monday or Tuesday, that would be lovely. If that timeline is too tight, but you'd still like to send something, go ahead-I'll just add it in when I hear from you. (I love online publishing for that fluidity.) This absolutely doesn't need to be a lot of writing or terribly involved -- just pick your favorite local writer of the year, call out a great fellow performer or playwright, lament/celebrate a new trend or hail a company's success. It can be just a couple of sentences. My aim is merely to do my best to include your voices and insights, as a diverse body of working artists, into the mix.

One small additional request:
please look to your sentence or two of bio for any self-promotion you find yourself wanting to do. (It's a totally understandable temptation to use this as a platform to promote your own stuff, but I'd very much appreciate it if you'd offer your take on something from outside that sphere in addition to that, too.)

Thanks everyone!


Susannah's original call for material in general on the arts in 2008...

Hi everyone,

2008 has been a tumultuous year for the local arts scene, and it sure looks like there are lots more changes afoot as we head into 2009. Here at we're aiming to take stock of the highpoints (and low, perhaps) of last year in our state's arts scene; and also to look forward, to where we may be headed as we embark on the new year. I'm writing to reach out to you-a generous handful of curators, contributors, and friends of help us out in this endeavor.

My question for you is a simple one (and your answer can certainly be as well):

As you look back at all the regional arts happenings and reflect on all the arts-related news you've read in the recent months, good and bad, what sticks with you? Among all the events, news, trends, shows, artistic creations-what, to your mind, is going to continue to leave the greatest, most enduring impact on the scene in 2009? Or, more personally, what have you seen/witnessed/heard in the last year that you just loved, and that you
want more people to know about?

Your main take-away from the last year could be a show that blew you away, a piece of news that you find to be emblematic of a trend going forward; maybe you read a book by a local author and it continues to linger in your mind, or perhaps you listened to a local musician's album and it left you reeling. Maybe you're worried about the arts economy, or, on the other hand, perhaps you're feeling more optimistic about the future health of the state's arts and artists, thanks to the newly-passed Clean Water, Land, and Legacy

So, hit me. To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, I'm pasting some introductory notables for our year-in-review from Scott Stulen, project director of

Look for the results, where I'll collate the responses I receive from all of you, to be published as part of next week's issue of access+ENGAGE. I know these year-end lists can never really capture the whole picture, and they're terrible at getting at nuance; but they're sure fun to read and, with thoughtful insights from wide variety of folks (like you-all), such things can be a good place from which to start a larger conversation.

If you'd like to have your thoughts included in our year-end wrap-up feature, please get the following to me by Monday, January 5:

1. Your name and ONE or TWO notable local arts pick(s) from 2008 (whatever / whoever it may be) - can be an exhibition, a trend-in-the-making, a happening or news item, book, film, album, live show, an emerging artist... whatever you like

2. A sentence or two articulating why you think your selection is the stand-out trend/release/show/news/artist/etc from the past year

3. A few words of bio for yourself (e.g. sculptor, curator for gallery x, musician in Band ABC, etc) and a link to your website (if applicable), plus town where you live

That's it. If you have time to weigh in, I'd very much appreciate having your insights in the mix, and I know our 8400 readers would too. The year has just been too big, the happenings too complex and too numerous, for this assessment to come from just a couple of us.

Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:

On to the example: Here's what Scott Stulen had to say when I put the question to him.

Year in Review, MN Arts in 2008: Scott Stulen, Project Director

1. The passage of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment

The overwhelming support and successful passage of this landmark amendment is a tribute to years of research, a savvy marketing campaign, pooling of collective resources and the long-range vision of voters. The New Year will provide many challenges for arts organizations; the passage of this amendment is a strong statement as to the priority we place on the culture and environment within the state of Minnesota. The next challenge will be figuring out how the money will be spent when it becomes available in 2011. Here is my follow-up question for 2009: "What is the corresponding responsibility of publicly funded artists and organizations to the greater community"?

2. Arts Organizations in trouble

2008 was a year filled with challenges and financial difficulty for many arts organizations. Sadly we lost several key organizations, notably the Minnesota Center for Photography and Minnesota Museum of American Art, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Other organizations have been forced to cut staff and programming to survive project budget shortfalls (Intermedia Arts). Everyone is facing a new landscape of funding and programming, however this could be a wonderful opportunity for local artists to come together and create a more vibrant and supportive arts community.

3. Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

"Change" was the (most obnoxiously overused) word of 2008, both in the election cycle and also amongst the local art scene. There were several new additions throughout the local arts institutions, including key positions at the Walker and MIA. Stewart Turnquist resigned after three decades as head of the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program at the MIA raising concerns in the local art community as to the future of the program. Jeff Bartlett, longstanding Artistic Director at the Southern Theater also made his exit, which prompted a similar outcry from many in the performance community.

4. Bon Iver

Eau Claire, Wisconsin's Justin Vernon retreated to a Northern Wisconsin cabin and emerged with one of the most fragile, beautiful and intimate albums in years. Technically this was widely circulated last year through music blogs other sources, but 2008 saw the official release of the album and Vernon's rapid rise to the top of hipster neo-folk movement. Bon Iver's second album titled Blood Bank will be released January 20th.

5. D.I.Y. and Contemporary Craft Movement

Craftiness is hot. From the Local Crafters 612 and No Coast Craft-O-Rama, to Craft and Make magazine everything is covered in felt, letterpressed or hacked from some battery-powered toy. As we get increasingly dependent on our cool digital technology it seems a desire for precious, unique hand-made objects is on the rise. I'm not immune: I've been keeping my iphone in a recycled necktie pouch.

6. My Personal Favorites from 2008

Aviette's The Way We Met, Haley Bonar's Big Star, Roman Signer and Chris Larson at the Rochester Art Center, Bruce Tapola at Occasional Art, miniStories Readings at the Ritz, Chuck Olsen and the Uptakes's election coverage, my growing addiction to Facebook,, Robot Love and being back in Minneapolis

Thanks so much, and happy New Year to you all. Have at it! I'm eager to hear
your picks.


Susannah M. Schouweiler I Editor,
and access+ENGAGE
Phone: 651.793.7580 I Email:


Okay, everybody. Start typing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Incubator - Medea, part 3 - Crossbreeding Scripts

So the process I’m in the middle of right now, is putting my two previous versions of the Medea play together, and trimming the fat out of it, to get the purest form of the story I can manage.

Still a work in progress at the moment.

At first as I was working on it, I was thinking of creating it all again from scratch, and just referencing the two existing scripts as I worked my way through it. Then I realized that the essential structure of the thing - the beginning, middle and end of it, the characters - was sound. I should probably build on what was there. Altering it, of course, making it better. But not re-inventing the wheel.

So I created a file that had the two scripts - the older and the newer version - lined up back to back in the same document. And I’d start writing the latest version up in front of them both, at the beginning of the document - cutting and pasting as needed. Slowly, the document would shrink down in size to just the brand new script that emerged from fusing the two older plays together.

But as I started putting the brand new script together, I realized I was wasting a lot of time picking a scene out of the oldest script, then scrolling all the way down in the document and finding the analogous scene in the newer script, and pulling that out. Moving it all up front a chunk at a time, then rewriting and polishing.

I was essentially doing a lot of hopping around when all I was looking to do was line up the two versions, one scene at a time, side by side, or at least in the same general vicinity in the document, for easier juggling.

So why not just chop both versions apart and slam the corresponding scenes together right next to each other. That way I’m not going through the whole story start to finish three times, but only once.

That cutting and pasting project is now behind me. And now I’m working on crafting each scene out of the two versions of it which came before. Old scene one, newer scene one - meld them into a single unit and fix them up. Next, old scene two, newer scene two - meld and fix. And on through the story to the bitter, or not so bitter, end.

The main advantage I have this time around is - no modern day characters. I don’t have to find some reason to justify the fact that these people are telling this story. It doesn’t have to reflect, literally or thematically, off something that is happening in their lives. I don’t need a Greek mythology geek that rambles on about a bunch ancient fictional characters, while everyone else puts up with him and his mythological hard-on because he’s their friend, their family, they want to sleep with him, etc. (Thus avoiding bizarre plot structure misfires like the one draft where the modern day plot line was moving backward, but the mythological story was moving forward. If you took the script apart and put it together in chronological order from a modern day standpoint, those characters were actually telling the Medea story backward. Why anyone would tell, or want to listen to, a story in reverse like that - inside or outside the confines of the play, well, I have no excuse. I never recovered from reading Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” during my formative years, apparently. I am constantly messing with time in my plays. It’s just something I do. It would drive Aristotle crazy. But just because I *can* do something with a play’s structure, doesn’t mean I should. There needs to be more of a reason than, “because I thought it might be neat.” I do still get teased about that misbegotten draft by the way. Mercilessly. You know who you are. But let’s be honest, I deserve it.)

I need to release myself from the burning desire to make some direct one-to-one correlation with 21st century life in the hope of convincing everyone how “relevant” the story is. One could argue that yes, there are mothers killing their children all the time, literally and figuratively. And there are those that would affirm that we’re still surrounded by supernatural beings - angels, ghosts, horoscopes, what have you - which are influencing or even controlling our destinies.

But there really isn’t a modern correlative to Ancient Greek mythology. The world isn’t just one country or culture anymore (as if it ever was). There are no universally agreed upon gods and demons. There is no single set of stories that we all tell and share with each other, which we all have in common, even just within the United States of America (which is the audience I need to worry about first, specifically Iowa).

Trying to get modern day characters and their life experiences to have the same breadth and scope of mythology is a bit more of a stretch than I’ve ever been able to wrap my head around. Compared to the epic scale of Medea and Jason, our passions and adventures seem kind of tiny. They’re not, of course. Particularly not to the people living those lives from day to day. But it’s apples and oranges. Best not to muddy things up by comparing them.

Here, in this version, we have an ensemble, a Greek chorus if you will (if you must). Their sole purpose - to tell this story. They exist to be storytellers. They are the story. They become the characters. They want to present the tale to the people who gather to hear them speak.

Good old fashioned catharsis.

At least, that’s the hope.

The trick, of course, is to give everyone in the ensemble enough to do, so they all feel well-utilized, and challenged, by the production. So they bring their A-game.

First, I need to bring mine.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Incubator - Medea, part 2 - Homework

The blessing and curse of Greek mythology is that there’s always another layer.

It’s what piqued my interest in the Medea legend in the first place.

When I realized that Medea’s faithless husband Jason was the same Jason of Jason and the Argonauts fame, and the quest for the Golden Fleece, I was hooked.

But then you start pulling the whole thing apart and realize that there aren’t even six degrees of separation between any of these legends. There’s just one or two, tops.

So Medea and Jason touch on everything from Oedipus to Orpheus to Hercules to Phaedra to the Minotaur to Prometheus to the Amazons to Helen of Troy to the homicidal house of Atreus, and so on and so on and so on, spiraling out to infinity. And that’s just the humans and demigods. Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Cupid and Company up on Mount Olympus are in there mixing it up as well.

In the original stab I took at this whole thing some twenty years ago now, I laid it all out. The thing was so top-heavy with backstory and tangents that it’s a wonder the plot moved at all. In order to make the story just as captivating for an audience as it is to the writer, ya gotta start streamlining the thing so the main storyline pops out a bit more.

What to leave out, what to keep in?

The last time I took a stab at this, over twelve years ago, I took a great deal of the details for granted and just drew the adventure in really broad strokes. There were hints at the untold stories behind it all, but I essentially left all that for the actors and director and dramaturg to hash out for themselves when they started doing their own prep work.

Both of these versions were so old I had to dig out a hard copy and retype them, or at least, for now, all the pages having to do with Jason and Medea’s story. I’d set the idea aside so long ago (several computers back in the mists of time) that there weren’t up to date translatable electronic copies to be had.

Entering the words onto the screen again made it clear that the balance lay somewhere in between the two versions. Part of the fun is the weird interconnectedness of it all. But I just need to resist getting carried away. Or being too withholding of information.

The other thing it made clear is that I needed to tell this story, and only this story. All the times before, I’d tried to string a modern day plotline and characters through the thing, and it never worked. For one, Jason and Medea is one of the most heterosexual storylines you’re gonna find out there. And my young writer’s obsessions kept trying to find some homosexual angle to it all. Sure there were characters on the periphery, there always are. But trying to allow the gay sensibility of the modern day story to bleed into the mythological tale just never worked. Worse, I started doing ridiculous cross-gender stuff with no real rhyme or reason to it. Nothing dies harder than a bad idea. But I think scanning the old material from the modern day stories drove a stake through the heart of it all, finally.

Also, all that male-female switcheroo stuff, as effective and useful as it might be elsewhere, just muddies the waters here. Medea did what she did because she was backed into a corner. She had no options. Jason, and the other male figures in the story, held all the cards. This is a story about a culture where women and foreigners and people who are different (in this case, with magical powers and supernatural relatives), are treated as second-class citizens. They are praised when they are useful to the needs of the established order, but barely tolerated otherwise. Medea gave up her power and standing in her home country to aid Jason in his quest and follow him to a new land. He repaid her by betraying her on a number of levels. From a certain angle, the guy had it coming. I didn’t want to accidentally set up a situation where a director might think, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s have Medea played by a guy!”


It is, on one level, about the victimization of women by men. Turning it around and making the man the victim and the woman the oppressor won’t fly. Plus, Medea is one of the few meaty, strong roles for women in the classical canon. I would rightly be strung up by my thumbs by any number of actresses I know if I took yet another role away from them and handed it off to a guy. Men have plenty to choose from - from Oedipus to Hamlet and beyond. Leave Medea alone.

Me, I keep trying to leave Medea alone. But she keeps coming back.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Vote now for the secret ingredients in the 24 Hour Play Project

Did you ever want to see a play with a giant talking statue in it?

Ever want to ask a playwright to include "Exit, pursued by a bear" as either a stage direction, or even dialogue in their script?

Do you bemoan the lack of plays featuring a kazoo playing?

Can't get enough of characters struggling with nostalgic lust?

Have I got an online ballot for you, my internet friends...

Theatre Unbound is gathering the elements for its annual gala/benefit, with the latest 24 Hour Play Project as its centerpiece.

Six teams of two writers each on the night of Friday, February 6th at 9pm will be given four items they must include in their script - an object, an emotion, a quote or line of dialogue, and something else random.

Apart from including those items, the shape of the play is up to them.

Before 5am on Saturday morning, they must compose and turn in a 10 minute play.

That evening of Saturday, February 7th, after a day of directors and actors working their magic in limited rehearsals, the plays will be performed at the gala.

Snacks and caffeine will be on hand to aid the writers' creativity throughout the night.

But right now, you can tell them what you want in those plays.

For what exactly the object, emotion, line of dialogue, and random thing will be is up to you, the voting public.

Each of the four categories has 12 items in it. 48 potential winners. Only 4 will emerge victorious.

It's your call.

Click on the link here - - to cast your vote for the four ingredients to be included in all of this year's 24 Hour Plays.

You only get one chance to vote, so choose wisely.

(But, feel free to encourage your family, friends and co-workers to get in on the fun and sway the voting your way, of course. That's democracy in action.)

Voting is open for three weeks - now through Monday, January 26, 2009


And if you want to book your tickets to the event now, to see how it all turns out, visit Theatre Unbound's website at

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Incubator - Two Left Feet

I didn’t even know there was a Museum of Bad Art until Chris Kidder of Commedia Beauregard told me about it -

They’ve published a book - Masterworks...

"Located in the basement of a theater, the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) is a unique institution dedicated to the celebration of artistic effort, however misguided. The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks presents a pulsating collection of more than seventy never-before-published pieces of artwork from MOBA’s permanent collection. Comprised largely of canvases found discarded on curbside trash piles or obtained for a pittance at thrift stores, this innovative compilation occupies a niche previously ignored in the international community of art collection, preservation, and interpretation. If the subjectivity of art appreciation were ever in doubt, this astonishing assortment of artistic commentaries will fan the flames of controversy. It is clear that many of these artists suffered for their art; now it’s your turn."

From this book, six pictures were chosen.

From the Twin Cities, six playwrights were chosen. Among them, me.

Each was assigned a picture.

Each was told to write a short play (10 to 15 minutes) based on that picture.

The results of those efforts are currently being rehearsed.

The finished product will be onstage at the Bryant Lake Bowl as “Masterworks - The MOBA Plays” the last two Sundays in January, and the first two Sundays in February - January 18, 25; February 1, 8. All shows at 7pm. Doors at 6pm. Tickets $15, $12 in advance or with Fringe button. You can call 612-825-8949 for reservations or make them online at

The other playwrights involved - Greg Bonine-Giles, Bill Corbett, Lisa Day, Dan O'Neil, & Nick Ryan

The directors involved - Directed by Leah Adcock-Starr, Robin Johnson, Natalie Novacek, Scott Pakudaitus, Katie Willer, and Laura Leffler-McCabe (who’s doing my script).

My picture was a sadly rendered drawing of two feet - one of them inexplicably blue. (It's posted currently on the ludicrously long front page of my website, part way down)

It was entitled, more sadly, “My Left Foot.”

I was not going to title my play, “My Left Foot” or “No, Not That Left Foot”

I settled on “Two Left Feet” - a short play about loss.

Three actors - characters non-gender specific.

Jamie - the bereaved

Taylor - the foot

Third - all the others

Could be three women, three men, or a combination of the two. The casting note says, “ Love is love. Grief is grief. War kills everybody.”

The epigraph is four lines from a Mountain Goats song that was in heavy rotation while I was writing my last play “Leave

“And I am coming home to you
With my own blood in my mouth.
And I am coming home to you,
If it’s the last thing that I do.”

It was one of those ideas that came to me so quickly and so completely, and was so odd, that it scared the crap out of me. It’s either going to be really funny and equally sad, or I’ve completely cocked it up.

Here’s the way it begins...

“A figure, TAYLOR, clad from head to foot in black - hands, head, perhaps even face.

The one exception, the left foot is covered in a long blue sock.

That foot stands in a tiny coffin (it could be as simple as a shoebox), draped with or decorated like a small flag of the United States of America.

Standing by TAYLOR are JAMIE and THIRD (currently in the guise of a military officer)

THIRD (military) - This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States military as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.
And here’s the foot.”

More on all that, shortly...

Friday, January 02, 2009

Incubator - Medea

“How quickly could you write a fun, up to date version of MEDEA? 1-1/2 hour tops?”

“A fun up to date version of MEDEA? Does she still kill her kids?”

“well, yes she kills her children. I would like some type of chorus, it can be ritualistic, yet attractive to a college audience - does that make sense?”

And thus began my latest project.

My friend Marty recently landed a faculty job in the theater department at Iowa Western Community College. He’d already directed something for them, but this next production would be the first thing he’s directed for them since coming on staff. Medea was already chosen to be part of their season, but he wanted to put his own spin on it. So he sends me an email.

Slowly it came back to us both that the reason the whole thing seemed familiar was that I’d been struggling with the Medea legend - the whole Medea legend, Jason and the Argonauts and the quest for the Golden Fleece, and everything that happened after the child killings - for a number of years. 2009 will make it year twenty. Which means I’d been kicking the thing around since, we were both in grad school together.

The first full draft I could find was dated August of 1989. The last serious stab I took at the thing was June of 1996, not long after my first production in Minneapolis, “Heaven and Home.”

Note to self at the time, Medea is not the best thing to be working on while dating. Learned that one the hard way.

And yet, now, during the latest Medea resurrection, is the time I chose to sign up with one of those online screening services. This should be interesting.

“What do you do?”
“I write plays.”
“Really? Wow. What are you working on right now?”
“Gee, look at the time...”

Shameless Plug of the Day - Urban Samurai - Halfway Home

Seen all the holiday shows already? All set to start seeing a new year of theater? Urban Samurai has you covered.

A shout-out to Urban Samurai Productions and their latest offering, the dysfunctional family comedy "Halfway Home" - which opens this weekend.

(My first fleeting thought, "Really? They made a play out of an obscure novel by Paul Monette?" But I only imagined an adaptation until I read the play description and realized it was indeed a completely different beast)

What it's actually about... "A tour guide can't take it any more and has a breakdown while her bus is caught in New York City traffic with a load of non English speaking tourists from South Yemen. Susan runs from the bus, gun in hand, and hails a cab. Her family, who hasn't heard from her in ten years, receives a cryptic telegram: "Dire straights. Must lie low. Driving in on Saturday." Susan arrives with the cheerfully loony cab driver for a reunion with her mother, sisters, neighbors and childhood chums. Before long, she realizes that life in the city was sane compared to being among these characters."

Last April, I got the chance to see "American Apathy" - a scathing but very funny look at... well, come to think of it, the consumer society and economy that's currently coming unglued all around us. Urban Samurai was ahead of the curve on that one (Review here) - and it was just tapped as one of City Pages' Top 10 Theater productions for 2008. (And now the Samurai are looking to be the first out of the gate for the 2009 lists, so why not tag along?)

Performances start tonight, January 2nd and run through January 18, 2009. Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm at the Sabes Jewish Community Center - 4330 Cedar Lake Road South in St. Louis Park, MN.

Urban Samurai is one of many scrappy smaller theater companies in town that tackle new plays, and unusual subject matter, sometimes both at once (and as a working playwright, I like to encourage that whenever I can). Sometimes they also let their hair down - as evidenced by their wildly popular Fringe Festival offering in 2008 "Musical - The Musical." So if you saw that, and want to see what else they do, this is a comedy without the music this time.

Tickets available online, and they're cheaper if you go that rate - visit Tickets are $14 online, or $16 at the door. Student and Senior discount is $10 online, $12 at the door.

More information on the production, including directions and the like, at

Thursday, January 01, 2009

It seems like happiness is just a thing called...


I’ve been avoiding writing this.

For over three months.

Just like I avoided writing the final monologue in my play “Leave” even though I knew for a couple of days exactly what it was going to be. That time I was unconsciously trying to avoid the death of a fictional character. This time it’s real.

It’s not new. I got word that my friend Joe had died exactly two weeks after the last performance of “Leave” at the Bryant Lake Bowl packed up and the cast and crew drove back to Morris. In fact, they'd laid him to rest the day after closing night.

A co-worker on my day job ran across a notice of his death in a professional e-newsletter. No real details. He was gone. People missed him. A long list of the good things he’d done with his life. He was two years younger than me.

It took me another month to find some words to scribble on a piece of paper and put in the mail to his partner. It still ended up sounding like every other condolence card or letter a person gets - I’m so sorry, he was great, I know you must be hurting, hopefully your loved ones and your memories of him are giving you some comfort, call if there’s anything at all I can do to help. Words never seem so limp as when they’re supposed to be important and helpful.

Joe and I had been moving in different circles for a number of years. He had gotten out of the business of theater and into the more practical side of the non-profit world, working at fundraising to make things better for living creatures of both the human and animal variety. And of course he was very good at what he did, and did it with his signature sense of humor. Me, I stayed in theater.

But Joe was a big part of my life when I first moved to Minneapolis after grad school.

He was a big part of the reason I even moved to Minneapolis after grad school.

He was the first genuinely friendly face I ran into on my spring break scouting trip my last year of school. I was trying to figure out if Minneapolis was the kind of theater town I wanted to set down roots in for a while. I visited a bunch of different theater companies large and small, trying to get the lay of the land. I walked into this one theater office, and there Joe was. We hit it off immediately. Not only was he full of useful information, he was a real boost for my flagging energy and determination, wandering around a strange city by myself. I kept on looking. We met for dinner. One thing led to another, and the movie screen fades to black at this moment...

Phone calls were exchanged, pieces of mail went back and forth (these were the days before everyone had email, or internet access, or theaters had websites).

Joe helped me find the apartment which I still live in.

Joe helped me (and my Mom) move me into the place.

When my new theater job had me stuck in Minneapolis for Thanksgiving and I missed the holiday with the family for the first (and thus far only) time in my life, Joe engineered an orphan’s Thanksgiving of various friends where we all got together, ate, and watched the Turkey Day marathon of cheesy movies courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

One small way I repaid him for all this was when an actor friend had connections to the Mystery Science Theater crowd and was able to get a private tour of the Best Brains studio where they filmed the show. Of course, the first and only person I thought of to tag along was Joe. We were kids again, wide-eyed, loving wandering every inch of that industrial park studio space. There’s even a photo somewhere (in a pile that needs digging through, formed in the days before a laptop held electronic backups of all my pictures) of Joe and me in the prop shop, holding up the puppets Tom Servo and Crow, enormous grins on our faces.

Looking back, a chunk of the very first play I had produced in Minneapolis, “Heaven and Home,” has Joe’s stamp all over it, though he never saw it, or to my knowledge never read it. One of the first monologues I had published in an anthology is from that play, and though it was written for a straight female character talking about the relationship she has with her straight male long-term boyfriend, it’s essentially about Joe. Someone asks if the guy has ever said, “I love you...”

“It's just -- words. Three words. They don't mean anything anymore. No one believes them anymore. I'm not even sure I'd believe them if he said them. I probably wouldn't.
It's funny, but it's easier to believe God loves me. Because I can't see Him. He's not standing right in front of me. He's not sitting across the kitchen table waiting for His newspaper, wondering why I'm out of milk, waiting for me to leave for church so He can play basketball and not feel guilty. It's easy to believe God loves me. He doesn't have to say it. Someone else tells me and I take it on faith. I read it. I don't have to face Him. Look in His eyes and wonder.
Vince -- it's things he does, things I do. He's an easy movie rental. He'll stay up all night just talking, holding me in bed. I can't remember the last person I felt comfortable enough to talk with in bed. Laugh with in bed.
He shows me. I believe he loves me. Even though we both scrupulously avoid saying it.
Is it enough for me?
It's more than I've had in a very long time.
And no. It's not enough.”

Shortly after I moved to Minneapolis, Joe met the guy would would become his partner in life for the next seventeen years and settled down. They only moved a handful of blocks away from me. But we rarely saw each other. I recall being invited to a holiday party once. There were a few Christmas cards. We unexpectedly ran into one another once at a local neighborhood coffee shop that was off the beaten path for both of us. Not surprisingly, we both liked the atmosphere of the place and so it kept us driving the extra few blocks to return, though coffee shops are hardly in short supply, and closer, elsewhere. He even applied for a position at one of my day jobs a few years back. Because of our history, I absented my self from the interviewing process. He ended up taking a job elsewhere. We never saw each other. Of course now I’m wishing we had, even briefly.

His old apartment, on the corner of the first floor of a squat yellow brick building, is still there, just four blocks away from mine. I can’t help but drive or walk past it constantly in my travels. He hasn’t lived in it, and I haven’t set foot in it, in almost twenty years now, but I know the layout of that apartment like the back of my hand. Every room has a vivid memory.

Those were memories that we only shared with one another. And now he’s gone. So they’re mine to carry.

Without the other person around, memories start to feel more and more like stories I’m telling. Like maybe they didn’t really happen. But they’re a big part of who I am. So I’ll do my best to keep them sharp.

Joe was good people. He had that uncanny ability not just to make you laugh, but to make you feel better about whatever ridiculous situation in which you found yourself. Things were often serious, but not to be taken too seriously. It was laughter as encouragement, as a recharge for the personal batteries. That’s a gift. I’m glad he shared it with me. I’ll try to share it in my own way with others as best I can.

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of months, “Man, it’s such a shame Joe’s gone. He would have really loved this.” Voting for Obama, seeing Obama elected, watching Obama build a new government, the movie “Milk” (Joe introduced me to the Uptown Theater), the latest DVD collection issued by the folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 for their 20th anniversary. Those things in particular, but hell, let’s face it, everything. Joe loved life, and laughing, and justice.

Every Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD has been pulled off my shelf and I’ve been watching them, one right after the other, the last several weeks. Laughing. Thinking of Joe.

There are many variations on this saying that keeps rolling into my head, the most basic being, “Every day is a good day.” (Meaning, every day you open your eyes and you have another rotation of the earth to enjoy, that’s a damn good start. And more than many people get.)

So take 2009 by the horns, everybody, and make the most of it.

And as they frequently said in that quirky, bewildering old John Irving novel “The Hotel New Hampshire” -

Keep passing the open windows.