Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not Only Do I Use Facebook...

Not only do I use Facebook, but I am in the Facebook movie.

Earlier this week I was in a scene in the upcoming film about the creation of Facebook, The Social Network directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin. I was hired to play a mime performing in Harvard Square in 2003. Interestingly enough, I did perform mime in Harvard Square in 2003 and since I was using my own costume, it could be argued that I was playing myself.

It was an interesting experience and very different from working in theatre. I signed a confidentiality agreement so don't ask me for plot details (note: I am only confirming that I was employed to play a particular role in a particular film) and I didn't take photographs while on the set (part of the contract) so don't expect me to show you any either.

First rule of the confidentiality agreement: Don't talk about the confidentiality agreement.

One thing I will note is that while standing around the square with the crew and cast while the shot was being set up, passers by, and indeed some actors, asked to have their photos (I guess the main cast are allowed to take photographs) taken with me. Out of the whole evening, I saw only one genuine instance of coulrophobia when a woman had a panicked reaction upon seeing me, which tells me that it's not as widespread as one would think by reading the internet.

Time Question

In a recent thread on the Plays and Playwrights Yahoogroup a number of participants asked what it meant when it is written in the body of the play that it takes place in "the present" (presumingly when it was written) but that "present-day" references are often dated by the time of a given production.

Of course to my mind, even "the present" is a specific milieu; stories set in "the present" rapidly recede into historical fiction. Certainly, when I chose to set Total War in the 1990s, and not "the present" it meant that the characters would be making cultural and political references and using technologies of that era and not of "the present" I currently inhabit.

As a consequence, I made a small number production notes throughout the script in order to explain some of these technologies that are either no longer in use, or may be disappearing in the foreseeable future. The result was an instance of an unintended outburst of laughter when at the last staged reading, the audience heard stage manager, Anika M. Colvin-Hannibal read aloud:

[NOTE: Due to the time period in which this play is set, a "Dictionary" is a large bound book with a finite number of pages of paper, and not a potentially infinite digital hypertext.]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Aggravation of Prometheus

Have you heard the story about the event promoter who advertises a reluctant artist with the full expectation that it will force the artist to perform at an event, even after the artist says, "no?" No? With the internet and just a little bit of insanity, anything is possible! Read on, gentle readers and learn why "to defriend" is such a useful neologism...

I have never hidden that my entrance into theatre has been by a circuitous route. Though a long time fan of theatre, my career as a performer really began as a spoken-word artist at a long list of defunct alternative art-spaces-- eventually leading me to Cambridge's open-mic poetry scene, which gave me a weekly, and sometimes twice-or-thrice-weekly opportunity to hone my chops in front of a small audience.

Eventually, though, I discovered that what I really wanted to do as a writer and performer could not be accommodated by the conventions of the open-mic or the poetry slam. Still, despite my ambivalence, I've maintained a relationship with the scene, which sometimes finds ways to accommodate me.

On the evening of August 13th, I visited Squawk Coffeehouse, where The Fire of Prometheus was performing. FoP is a performance poetry troupe that had been based in Cambridge during the 1980s, some members moved away and some stayed in the area. Though I had known William Barnum for years, I only met the rest of the troupe after I was drafted from the open-mic of Stone Soup Poetry into the Barnum and Buddah [sic] Poetry Circus in December of 2000, where FoP comprised a separate "ring." While I got along quite well with a number of the performers, the group itself was so aggravating that I quit within six-months, soon afterwards begin my study of mime, and co-founded Cosmic Spelunker Theater with both Barnum and James Van Looy.

I hadn't seen Bill in a number of months (unlike me, he has no ambivalence towards the open-mic) and had not seen either RU Outavit or Kasara since I quit the Poetry Circus some eight years prior. At the end of the evening I was invited to take the stage and performed my mime piece, "The Argument," and then after calls for an encore, "The Marmalope." RU seemed especially taken by my mime work.

And then the insanity of the Canatbridgean poetry scene came to reclaim me from my liberty

A couple of days later I receive an instant message from Danzr Von Thai, the brother of RU, who, while no longer performing with Fire of Prometheus, seems to have styled himself as their manager.

He asked me about performance venues in the area that would be suitable for the Fire of Prometheus, and having heard that I had "stolen the show" (he apparently repeated this on a number of blog comment threads no matter how irrelevent it was to the topic at hand) invited me to join the Fire. I was willing to share a bill or two, but when on September 24th he named October 5th as a date, I emailed him via Facebook:

I have to check in with my time commitments-- I have a reading of my play on the 11th and so I am going to be swamped much of that week with read-throughs and other logistics.

In addition, I was very unsure if the other members of FoP had even agreed to include me since I heard nothing from them about it. This should have been the end of the story but instead Danzr kept texting me that they had already advertised that I was either now part of the group or sharing the bill. So on October 1st I sent this email:

I've also since seen the poster for the gig since we spoke this afternoon, and since I'm not on it; it's pretty clear that, as I suspected, the group never voted to include me, let alone invite me.

So I don't think it's right to be telling me that I'm supposed to be in the group when the others haven't agreed to it.

Though I repeatedly told him that I was unavailable for the October 5th performance, and questioned his claims that he was speaking for the other members Fire of Prometheus, he kept announcing that I would be there on a number ofblogs, and claimed that he had made a YouTube video (which I never saw) about my appearance, and was reposting every announcement wherever he reasoned it would do any good. It was on October 4th that I received the following strangely phrased reply:

Like I said, you can generally trust the locals to phuk thing to shineola; I gave Mic Billy Hell about that phuk up... of course you're in like flint as I've been saying all along... that was a rushed job my Mic recycling an old poster.

Eventually I came upon his announcement in the comments section of Chad Parenteau's blog. For reasons that become clear, Chad decided to delete most of the following exchange from his comments section, so I have recreated the exchange from both my personal email and from Danzr's reposting on the R U Outavit blog.

Danzr Von Thai said...

This promises to be one spectacular event... a milestone
in Stone Soups illustrious history and definately a "Do NOT Miss & bring your cameras and video gear" ! Also, the "Fire" will be introducing Mater Mime: Ian Thal !!

ps... please note: this is also a benefit gala for: "Poets for Human Rights" ... #Poet_R_U's Causes Please Help #Poets_for_Human_Rights #Stop_Child_Abuse


10/04/2009 9:35 AM
Chad Parenteau said...

I heard that Ian will not be there, unfortunately.

10/04/2009 4:54 PM
Ian Thal said...

Also, the "Fire" will be introducing Mater Mime: Ian Thal !!

Actually, I won't because I am in pre-production for a staged reading of my play, Total War. This should have been made clear as we've already discussed the matter privately, Danzr.

Also, out of respect to my teacher, James Van Looy, I am not so comfortable being called "master mime."

10/05/2009 6:06 AM
Danzr Von Thai said...

Dearest fans of Mime Ian Thal:

Please note Ian has tragically succumbed to a rampamt flare up of a boiling emergence of latent Primadonnaitis possibly linked to a typo in the spelling of his last name ( Thall instead of Thal ) in an uncirculated press release intended for the "Underground Surrealist Magazine".

This horrific malady, sadly but apparently accurately first diagnosed by legendary shaman "The Buddha", is progressively invasive and, as Mic Cusimano - Professor of Surrealism has woefully declaimed : "Has no known cure" !

We all need to join forces and petition for divine intervention to enact a miraculous recovery or, if in the presumed ghastly baseline clinical scenario, a speedy and peaceful ascension...

May all hail Sekhmet and if any local Shemshemet practioners receive this baleful news before the predicted debasement please, at any and all cost, disregarding your own potential peril as this affliction, at this advanced stage can be infectious, and hasten to this beloved Mime's aid ! (sic)

Yours in grief...

Danzr Von Thai

(c) c);-(

10/05/2009 10:03 AM
Ian Thal said...


I attempted to deal with you through private channels but I have been forced to say something because you kept making inaccurate public statements about when and where I would be performing.

You were well informed of my schedule conflicts before you made any public announcement, either here, on Chad's blog, or elsewhere.

I already stated a willingness to share the bill with Fire of Prometheus on a date that would not constitute a schedule conflict for myself, but your response has been to go from insulting me in private to insulting me in public, which reflects more on your character than on mine.

Good day, sir.

Finally, Danzr posted to my Facebook wall, demonstrating a lack of understanding my time commitments:

Yo Ian... I see where your play isn't to be presented until NEXT week ! Good luck, brake a leg and smoke the joint ... c);-)

This was clearly a situation where "to defriend" is a handy verb to know, as in the sentence "I defriended Danzr."

Needless to say, I did not perform on October 5th.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Barney Does Google

Like many artists, I have a day-job that is not in the arts. One Thursday, I find myself in front of a high school advanced placement economics class, filling in for an absent teacher, and attempting to fill in the missing historical context from the handout that the absent teacher had left behind.

One of the students asks, "Mister Thal, are you still a mime?"

"Yes, I am," I respond, "but I am also a playwright, in fact, I just had a reading of my play this past Sunday."

The following day, I notice on MyBlogLog that someone had found my blog by doing a Google Search for "Mr. Thal Playwright." (I should note that on my day job I never let my students think that my first name is anything but "Mister.") So that day I post to Facebook:

Ian Thal is amused to see that some student of his did a Google search for "Mr. Thal Playwright."

A number of friends thought that was amusing, but Barney, who wishes to be known as "my anonymous friend, Barney" despite the fact that defeats the whole purpose of anonymity, responded with:
Barney what's more amazing is that it works:

This followed with a conversation with Barney about the past reading. Where upon, Sunday morning I discover that as we were speaking, he was trying other Google searches:
mr. thal is a mime playwright who who has a wiget [sic] on his blog that lets him see this

Which indeed it did. He then followed with the somewhat less successful searches:
ian thal mostly though it is a matter of figuring out where the fat is in act iii and cutting it.

ian thal the mime who wears silly hats

To which I respond with:
Barney is a friend who shares my quirky sense of humor

Which doesn't work at all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Total War: Post-Reading Analysis

October 11, 2009 staged reading of "Total War"Cast from left to right: Lou Fuoco, Trudi Goodman, Tom Sprague, Anika Colvin-Hannibal, Savanah Shaughnessy, Daniel Schneider, Kendall Stewart, Mikey DiLoreto), Matthew Zahnzinger (sadly barely visible), and Kate Heffernan. Once again, I forget to take a lot of photographs.

And now for the post-reading analysis.

The event received blurbs from Art Hennessey's Mirror up to Nature as well as from Thomas Garvey's Hub Review. Garvey was good enough to point out that:

The topic is a fascinating one - the legacy of Catholic anti-Semitism on a very Boston-College-like campus that is, of course, not, not Boston College.

Garvey is correct: The student newspaper in the play does not even have the same name as any Boston College student publication and due to my utter lack of imagination, I did not even bother to name the school in the play. Though many theatre artists have an antagonistic relationship with critics, as we see, critics fulfill an important function clarifying such misunderstandings that the audience might have. The notion that a graduate of Boston College might write a play set at Boston College, while an easily made error, is clearly ludicrous when examined with a critical eye.

But on to the evening's main event:

Unlike last time, there was not an inarticulate Hamas supporter accosting actors and audience members as they approached (a friend reports that Rolde has also been absent from his usual activities loudly denying war-crimes in Darfur.)

However, we were not without minor crises of a more theatrical nature. John M. Costa was called away at last moment; and thankfully, though it amounted to unconventional casting, Trudi Goodman was on hand. Trudi was already reading the small role of the unnamed campus police officer, but was up for the role of Richard Doncaster, Dean of Students. The the result was plenty of unintentional comedy as actors either did or did not improvise around the changed gender of the actor! Trudi was great, by the way, and I really need to think about writing roles for her to play if I'm going to continue with this playwright thing.

As the audience filled in, and we waited for a couple of late arriving actors, I noticed a far larger turn out than the last reading. In fact, every seat in the room was filled and I even gave up my seat and spent most of the time perched on a coffee table in the back of the room.

I scribbled notes and corrections in the back as I read along with the actors. Though the play was only two pages shorter than the previous draft, the rewrites had made for a faster pace ("crisper" was the adjective used by some of the returning actors.)

I'm definitely much happier with this version, though I still feel that the pace seemed to slow down right in the middle-- not as much as with the previous draft-- but it's something I noticed. One audience member noted that including intermission, the run-time was two hours and twenty minutes and a that's too long in my mind for there to be a slow moment. The audience seemed divided as to whether the play was just a little too long or just the right length.

Another observation: I really need to put a pronunciation guide in the play. There are French, German, Hebrew, Latin, Polish, and Yiddish words and place names scattered throughout the script.

Most of the audience comments were positive though there were a few interesting questions:

One audience member wondered why at a Catholic school, why one of the key characters be so clearly identified as a lapsed-Protestant (perhaps not so unusual in the United States, but the speaker had spent some years living in Ireland) yet she also gave me kudos for properly using the term "deconstruction."

Another felt I should expand on my allusions to a certain Jewish prophet but also thought I should run the play by a Catholic theologian to make sure I am accurately representing doctrine. (Probably good advice, even though I did research the theology pretty carefully and did get an "A" in my Thomas Aquinas class in grad school.)

One of my young commedia students asked if I plan to write a sequel. No plans for writing a sequel and no intention of revisiting the setting, but there are certain themes and even a character or two I might want to revisit.

One audience member took such a dislike to Donald (played by Mikey DiLoreto) and attempted the argument that Donald was a supernumerary character. Mikey's job is safe though if for no other reason than some of the biggest laughs came from Donald's vulgar mouth, though the look on Mikey's face was priceless (sadly, I was taking notes at the time and so had pocketed my camera.)

Kate Heffernan (who played Edith) made this playwright very happy when she noted the revelation of the lack of a conspiracy which had been foreshadowed from the very first act-- despite the fact that Edith isn't in any of the scenes where this motif is brought up.

There were a number of other interesting side conversations between the actors and audience about the themes that the play explored but not necessarily about the the writing itself-- but interesting enough for me to ponder as as I consider rewrites.

Afterwards, people grabbed a few more bites of cheese and chocolate and cleared out. I was surprised that everyone shied away from the hummus.

Nika and I met several days later to go over the reading (it's useful to have the stage manager's opinions since she was more proximate to the actors during the reading than I) and we were able to unravel what differences were the result of a rewrites since the previous reading and which differences were the result of a change of certain cast members. We agreed that the cutting away of extraneous material brought certain characters into sharper focus

I still need to tighten Act III.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Binding Scripts for the Reading

While roughly half of the actors participating in this weekend's staged reading Total War are happy to print up their own copy of the script if I simply send them the .pdf, others have busier lives-- and so I have been spending evenings binding scripts.

My laser printer, which I acquired last year at a yard sale for $10 has proved invaluable for my career as a playwright, and despite the occasional paper-jam, does a fairly good job. Afterwards I sit on the living-room floor with my three-hole-punch and make a small amount of confetti, if one sees this as a celebratory part of the creative process, or chad, if one looks at this with a more pragmatic eye.

The next stage is probably the most time consuming and the most fun: Knotting the pages together into a book. Using three knots, two in the two left hand corners, top and bottom, and one in the middle of the left margin, I bind ten or eleven sheets together at a time, then bind the next ten or eleven sheets until a script is done.

Then I slide each copy into my milk-chocolate brown accordion-folder, ready for transport!

(Of course, were I a famous playwright, I would have an intern to do this sort of thing.)

In fact, if you look at the flyer I made for the reading, you will notice that the photograph, which shows a much earlier draft, shows an early permutation of my script binding method:

And if you look closely enough, you might even see the names of characters that do not appear in the current draft:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yes, I Over-Reacted

My last post, "Free Play Free-For-All", resulted in more than the usual amount of discussion, not just in this blog's comment section, but on the 99Seats blog and on the Dramatists Yahoogroup. And while it is always a joy to spark debate, it became very clear to me that despite the legitimacy of some of the concerns I expressed, was none-the-less over-the-top; that my reaction was out of proportion to what was essentially a faux-pas.

Essentially, the story begins when a friend posted a link to an event announcement for a staged reading of Total War to his Facebook page. This results in a discussion thread between a third party and myself:

[Name Withheld] sounds like a fine play to me, i'm searching the net for its script to read

Ian Thal I'm the author and the script shouldn't posted on the net, at least not in the form that will be presented on October 11th.

[Name Withheld] thank you! i was unable to find it, but will continue to this winter, just in case you post it somewhere. the synopsis is quite interesting and itself well-written.

Ian Thal [Name Withheld], I'm not planning on posting it to an open forum at any point in the foreseeable future. There are a lot of issues involved including protecting my intellectual property rights.

[Name Withheld] of course. i'm sorry to have forgotten that issue. best of luck on your opening night.

At this point in time I was still having the hardest time finding an actor for one of the supporting roles for the reading and enduring some of the stresses of being an artist in this economy. So a simple, unintended faux-pas drew an exaggerated response.

99Seats, though misinterpreted me on a number of counts, gave me a well-earned mocking for my excessiveness. (We have since cleared up most areas of misunderstanding; any other issues of disagreement to be of a friendly nature.)

What set me off was the presumption that my work should be found freely available on-line when clearly, since the event was announced as a staged-reading, it was still a work-in-progress, and then by the follow-up in which my interlocutor, instead of making an attempting to start a dialogue with me and asking for a copy, simply stated the intention to keep looking until the play was found somewhere on-line. That my rights as an author still engaged in development were an afterthought added to my feelings of being treated discourteously.

My reaction to what was most certainly an unintended discourtesy was simply overboard. A far more appropriate response would have been along the lines of what I was to later say in the comments section of my previous post:

If Tony Kushner were staging a reading of his next great play, most would understand that the text of this work-in-progress [would] unlikely to be on the web, at least not with Kushner's approval. However, Kushner is famous (and well he deserves to be) so everyone expects to pay for his work, while I am not famous, so my work is expected to be freely available.

Just to clarify: I have distributed various drafts of Total War to actors, some of whom either were or will be readers for my staged readings, were curious about either participating, or, even were unavailable yet still curious. I've distributed copies to theatres, conferences, workshops, and competitions that were seeking submissions.

It's not that I am opposed to sharing my work online; it's a matter that my thoughts as to when, with whom, and by what methods are still open to my own deliberation and debate with others. This isn't an ideological stance (though it may have come across as one, earlier) but rather a stage in the development of this particular piece.