Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feedback and Redrafting

While visiting family for the Thanksgiving holidays I slipped away to the local coffeehouse for a macchiatto and a few hours of revision work on the manuscript of my play.

Back in April, I submitted the play for a series of open readings so to workshop it into a finished draft. The play was not selected this time around, but I did receive some useful feedback from the reviewer, playwright Lisa Burdick, while while a couple of weeks prior, a trusted friend, Bernard Sheehan, (and creator of the webcomic, Brainfries) who had read the same draft also weighed in.

Without going into details, I realized that most of the problems with the script had not been solved by the set of revisions I wrote about previously. One matter that was pointed out to me was that it was not economically possible for most professional companies to stage a show with such a large cast of characters. Once upon a time, in a far away land, when theatre had far less competition from forms of entertainment and actors could live on nothing but air and applause, such a thing could have been possible. Today, theatre is neither film nor television, where an actor can be hired for a role that requires a single day of shooting or where a supporting character can appear again and again without any indication they might have a pivotal role to play.

While some of the problem can be solved with simply having some of the supporting characters be played by the same actor (as I sometimes do) the feedback I received also indicated that a couple of the characters simply did not work and they introduced subplots that distracted from and confused the resolution of the main story lines. Interestingly enough, both readers had problems with the same characters. While my first impulse was to defend my rationale for creating these characters, I came to realize that if I had to defend the presence of a character to two readers who otherwise found the story interesting then the fault was with the characters that I had written, not with the readers' understanding. In the end, I decided to give four characters the axe, taking with them most of their respective plot points. However, since some of those story elements needed to be saved I had to grafted them onto the remaining characters. In one case, that resulted in what had previously been two supporting characters becoming one who was far more central, in fact, I might even say that as this new draft is taking shape, that it has a whole new protagonist, whose motives are far more apparent than either of her predecessors.

The other consequence of this smaller cast of characters is that different things happen at different times for different reasons so at times it seems as if, rather than reshaping the storyline, I am discovering the storyline as it reshapes itself. It's an exciting and joyful process to make such discovers. The central issues still remain, but the story that is emerging is now very different from the actual events that first inspired me to write this tale.

Circuit Wraps

Filming for Circuit, a feature film in which I appear, wrapped last month and is currently in post production. In September of 2006 I wrote of my evening on the set:

Originally, I had auditioned for one of the lead roles in an attempt to extend my horizons as a performer. When Ben [Woodard, one of the writers] called me back a week later, he explained that while he and Andrew [Landauro, the director and co-writer] did not think that my interpretation was anything like what they had envisioned for the character of Doug, they had decided to write a new character for me. It’s a small role, but the dialogue was well written, the location was the neon-lit exterior of the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, and I had the important props of a top hat, a baguette, and a grocery bag. Throw in some good actors with whom to share the scene and what more can you ask for?

Owing to the financial difficulty of being first time filmmakers, it took a long time for Andrew and Ben to get this piece done. Almost a year and a half passed between auditioning for a role and my being placed in front of the cameras and then it still took a little more than a year to finish filming. Kudos are in order.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kathak Intensive

Last weekend was the third weekend intensive I have attended since I began studying kathak at Chhandika under the tutelage of Gretchen Hayden. It has been a great undertaking to attempt to learn one of the classical dance forms of India, but what worthy undertaking is not difficult? In the past year, while I am still in the level I classes, I have attained some small amount of technique, confidence, and knowledge. The advantage of the weekend intensives is that it is a way of broadening one's understanding of kathak, often touching on subjects and exercises for which we have little time in our regular Sunday classes.

At one point Gretchenji had us dance tatkar in tintal (a sixteen beat cycle) in a circle, as one by one, one of us had to enter the circle and improvise a rhythmic motif and then return to the tatkar-- it was a circle where I was the only level I student in a room of level II and III students and having far less mastery over far fewer bols than my classmates left me anxious about an exercise that was difficult for many more advanced students, but when pushed to let go of my anxiety, Gretchenji pointed out that the important thing was that I attacked the improvisation with intensity even if my technique has far less developed. Again she taught me the same lesson when the more advanced students had to do a particularly difficult series of chakkars (spins on the heel of the foot-- different from the ballet pirouette which is done on the toe or ball of the foot) while traveling in a straight line across the studio space (difficult even for some advanced students) when it seemed impossible for me, she had me walk the line that the others danced, and I delivered the intensity that has come from my years as a mime. The lesson I took was do not let my awareness of what I don't know prevent me from dancing in the moment.

Later, when joined by some other level I students, we were assigned to develop our own tihais a dance phrase built on the same rhythmic motif or palla repeated three times in this case, a seventeen beat motif created from three five beat phrases with two one beat pauses in between. We had to create, rehearse, and perform our tihai -- again, a challenge to which we were unaccustomed in the level I classes.

Through the weekend we also had the chance to attempt more advanced repertoire like the storytelling from which my interest in Indian classical dance in general, and kathak in particular, first emerged. Appropriately, our intensive being on the taking place during the festival of Diwali (my friend from the blogosphere, Sindhu has posted a piece on Diwali on her blog) one of those stories we worked on was the defeat of the prideful Lord Indra by when Krishna lifted Govardhan hill to shelter the cowherds and their cows and again I realized, that for all my shortcomings with my footwork, I enjoy acting the part of Indra.

The intensive was also an opportunity to have musicians give extended presentations on how tabla, vocal music, and poetry relate to our dance studies, ultimately leading me to better understand how the rhythmic elements of the music relate to movement. Now the matter is getting my feet to learn what my mind is beginning to grasp.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Wall has Two Sides in Burlington

I was naîve to assume the story of the controversy surrounding the exhibition of Peter Schumann's "Independence Paintings" had come to an end, as I just ran across some more references to it.

I'm not sure how this escaped my notice for over a month but my letter to the editor was published in Seven Days, in it I comment on journalist Ken Picard's article, "Over the Wall" (some of my comments appeared in an earlier blog entry.) In the interim, Picard and I had a civil email exchange where we discussed our differing views on how stories of this complexity should be ideally covered. Ultimately, I think our biggest differences owed to his being concerned with his being a working journalist who has to worry about deadlines and space constraints, while I am a blogger and an artist who doesn't think of such things as often.

Other responses to the story can be read here. That said, I do think his follow-up story, "The Wall has Two Sides" is a very well done story that juxtaposes the reactions of two Vermonters, one of Jewish, and one of Palestinian Arab descent to the exhibition.


While Ken Picard’s story, “Over the Wall,” was the most comprehensive story to appear in the Burlington press regarding the controversy surrounding Peter Schumann’s “Independence Paintings” at this year’s Art Hop, it failed to address the key issues of the debate.

The three most vocal critics of the piece and its exhibition — Rabbi Joshua Chasan, Ric Kasini Kadour and I — have never stated any opposition to art representing the Palestinian plight, nor have we advocated censorship. Our position was that the work, by appropriating imagery of the Holocaust in a manner that we found intellectually dishonest, amounted to soft-core Holocaust denial (in terms of minimalizing or trivializing the genocide) and thus, anti-Semitism.

Mr. Kadour’s essay asked that the work be presented in a context where that would be clear. Rabbi Chasan’s letters to Art Hop’s organizers were to ask them to consider the ethical implications of the exhibit, and his letter to his fellow clergy was to ask them to speak their consciences (Rabbi Chasan’s letters have been published on my blog). My own writings explained in explicit detail why the work should be regarded as anti-Semitic. I do not charge anti-Semitism on a whim.

At no point did any of us advocate censorship. We have only attempted to follow bad speech with good speech. While it is sad that would-be censors, unable to articulate their own criticism, attempt to co-opt a cause that does not call for censorship, it is worse when those who court controversy misrepresent all of their critics as censors. I encourage members of the community to work with Art Hop organizers to evaluate what went wrong so that trust can be re-established.

That said, the issue of Holocaust denial is barely addressed in the article, and opinions that have little basis in fact are given equal footing with those that are well researched and well thought out.

Furthermore, Bob Greene and Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) can deny that they advocate anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial all they wish, but, as Chasan, Kadour and I have all pointed out, a simple visit to their website contradicts such denials. Picard could have and should have visited the website and reported on what he saw there, as I did. A libel is only a libel if it has no basis in fact. Labeling me a “motherfucker,” as Greene has done, does not change that.

That Schumann and VTJP have chosen to confuse issues by injecting false analogies with the Holocaust into any discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict shows that they lack the moral seriousness to discuss the facts of the conflict, the causes, their history, and any possible solutions in an honest and thoughtful manner. They simply have no regard for historical truth.

The reports of the September 8 presentation make an unambiguous case that civil discussion has broken down, and, while there are guilty parties of varying political affiliations, the fault originates with those who inject divisiveness and dishonesty when there should be truthful reasoned dialogue. Ugly statements breed ugly statements.

Ian Thal