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Action Bob Markle

Music, theater, and my personal life, not always in that order. I try to keep it interesting, I rarely hold back, because one thing I truly believe in is the shared experience of this reality we call life. We're all in this together, people. More than we even know.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Do you want your BFF to know you're into leather?

Been spending some time on Facebook, just trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. Social networking is a trend on the 'net; I saw a definite drop in the amount of email I was receiving, then when I started using Facebook, and Gather, I realized that's where everyone had gone.

Again, I'm still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. It's a lot of work to keep your Facebook presence alive, and I really don't see why I want to know why so-and-so is happy today, or just added the Boogers and Snot application. It's an interesting concept for keeping in touch with your friends, but like so many things on the Internet, it has a long way to go, and it's going to depend on a lot of intense technological advances to keep it alive, along with a lot of creativity.

But, for all of you Facebook fans/users, here's an interesting little tidbit that C passed along to me from Salon.com. Facebook is using its users as shills, and maybe there's a few things you may not want your BFF to know, like you just ordered that black leather bodice, size XXL.

The link is a little weird, so I just grabbed the text. Just so I don't break any copyright infringement laws, I'm attributing this to Salon.com. Go Salon.com. Visit Salon.com today. Name your first-born kid Salon.com.

Here's the article:

Facebook caves on privacy-invading ads, kind of

Along with many other Facebook users, I've been agitating for the social network to shut down or improve Beacon, the ad program that sends your friends Facebook alerts about your activity across the Web.

Yesterday Facebook made some changes to the program. They go far in addressing the worst aspect of the system: Now if you do not give Facebook permission to alert your friends about your activity on one of Facebook's advertisers' sites, Facebook will not send out an alert. Previously, if you did not give Facebook permission -- that is, if you did nothing -- Facebook assumed you were OK with Beacon ads.

But Facebook did not completely address critics' concerns. Specifically, it still is not allowing users to completely bow out of Beacon. Critically, this means that if you do something on a Facebook partner site, Facebook still gets information about your actions, whether you like it or not.

Beacon is a form of what marketers call "social ads." It's sort of the Web equivalent of word-of-mouth. When you do something on Fandango -- buy a movie ticket, say -- or one of Facebook's other advertisers' sites, the companies try to send out alerts, through Facebook, to your friends, in the hopes that they will follow your example.

Initially, Beacon gave people little choice over whether Facebook's advertisers could send messages from you.

Now, says Facebook, the first time you use a Facebook partner site, you will be given a choice to opt in to Beacon alerts for that site.

Say you buy something from Overstock. When you next check your Facebook page, you'll see a note asking if you'd like to send an alert about your Overstock experience to your friends. If you do nothing, Facebook does not send out the message.

That is progress. MoveOn.org, which had launched a campaign against Beacon, says that the move represents a "victory" for the program's critics.

But because Facebook is not allowing you to completely shut down Beacon, there are still privacy problems with the program, as developer Nate Weiner points out on his blog.

Weiner says that when he visited to Kongregate, a game site that advertises on Facebook, he got a notice asking him if he'd like to send a Beacon alert to his friends. He clicked "no thanks." But when Weiner analyzed what his browser did in response, he noticed that Kongregate sent data to Facebook anyway.

Weiner notes, "I'm not saying that Facebook is storing this data, there is no way for me to know. But they are without a doubt receiving it."

Is there a way to prevent Facebook from learning what you do on its partner sites? Indeed, there is. Use Firefox, and install a plug-in to block Beacon.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quarterlife

Quarterlife is a nice surprise. A nice diversion when you want to take a break at work, and good insight into those Generation Yers.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweet Baby James

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Boston Blues

Blue dog on my floorboard, redhead by my side
Cross the mighty Hudson river to the New York City side
Redhead by my side, boys sweetest thing I’ve found
Goodbye guitar town


Today's lyrics are once again from Tennessee Blues by Steve Earle.

Redhead by my side is the sweetest thing I've found. We were looking for apartments again this weekend, and we always end up wondering just where we belong. Sue has lived all over the world, and for everyone who thinks Boston is just the greatest, well, it just isn't. It is a podunk little town. Me? I've lived here long enough, and I don't know if I've outgrown it, have pretty much done all there is to do here, or just got damn tired of the place, but I'm ready to get out of here. I was IMing with C today, and said when I play and sing Angel from Montgomery it sounds like the transmission falling out of a junkyard car, and I don't think there's anywhere in Boston that's up to hearing something like that. I guess I've been doing some pretty hard living, and it just comes out.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Squid and the Whale

Watched this last night. A disturbing movie for anyone who has gone through divorce, especially a writer-type who's gone through divorce. Enough said on that topic.

A little one-sided, I thought, on making the father the crazy villain. Why is it always the father, the man, who takes on this role? The woman's infidelity is portrayed as merely a flaw, something maybe not meaningful, but forgivable, while the man's flaws are portrayed as vile and destructive. Why do we, as a society, always seem to show so much understanding for a woman, but not a man?

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Chatham, the movie

Saw Chatham this weekend. I guess it's billed as a romantic comedy, shot on location in Chatham starring Mariel Hemingway, Christy Scott Cashman, Charles Durning, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and David Carradine. A bunch of really good actors, and my God, do they do a horrible job. Sappy story, hackneyed plot reduced to the simplest of cliches about marriage and relationships and getting old, horrible acting on par with amateur actors in community theater. By turns each and every one of those top-notch actors are pretentious, shallow, and thoughtless. I was watching Muriel Hemingway at one point standing there just grinning and mugging, obviously without a clue about what her character is about or should be doing. What made it all the worse was we saw it at the cinema at the Dennis Playhouse, which was filled with all of these white-haired folks who obviously identified with the old worn-out actors/codgers on the screen.

Don't even rent it. It's not worth it.

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MBTA workers on a working strike

It was reported in the paper today that the MBTA workers on the commuter lines have been engaged in a working strike for the past two months. Well, commuters knew something was up. We've been scratching our heads out in Framingham for a while now. Now it's good to know what's up, and personally, I say good for the workers.

It's not an easy job to do, you can see that. I can't imagine constantly working out in the weather and the crowded conditions like they do. Workers everywhere are constantly being taken advantage of. Just in the office I work in, a woman I work with was working until 2:00 last night. And she was in at her regular time this morning. And middle managers can be so heartless. They are given a lot of responsibility and no authority, so they assume and attitude to protect themselves, their mortgage, their BMWs, and their big screen TVs, all for the good of the organization, of course.

So, MBTA workers are doing their jobs to the letter, and no more. It's not that they're not conscientious, it's that they're standing up for their own lives, their relationships with their loves ones, and for their dignity. And I, for one, am willing to back them up for it. It seems to me decent train service and a decent living can co-exist.

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Thoughts in the shower

Why does it seem that so many people do their best thinking in the shower? I know I do. The thoughts just pour through my head so I can't even keep track. There are times I wish I had a waterproof tape recorder, or waterproof paper like you use scuba diving. And sometimes I'll stand there for up to a half hour, just swimming inside my own head.

Is it the solitude of the shower, the solitude that we don't have at all in our lives anymore, anywhere, that's just so conducive of free-flow thought?

And why hasn't someone come up with something that applies this process to the workplace? I don't know--Jacuzzis instead of cubicles. I know that I start my day with my mind just churning, and then the rush to the train slows things down, and by the time I get to my cube at work my system has pretty much shut down. I work as a writer, so I know how to force the process, but I still have yet figured out how to harness the intensity and amount of thoughts I have when I have that warm water cascading down on my head.

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Mike Lowell's still a Sox

Finally, a major league ballplayer who isn't greedy and goes for the most money, although $37 million for three years is a pretty big chunk of change.

Mike Lowell re-signed with the Sox, turning down an estimated $50 million over four years with the Phillies. He said he considers himself more of a baseball player than a businessperson. He likes playing baseball in Boston. His wife likes Boston. He likes the Red Sox organization.

Good for him. Major league sports is just that: a business. And the players are entertainers just like Madonna, who just signed a contract with Live Nation that includes all aspects of her business including t-shirt sales. I can't imagine that even Madonna, when she was younger and thinking up songs in her head, considered t-shirt sales in the mix.

Forgetting the core reason they do what they do is what businesses all over the world do, concentrating on the bottom line rather than the art or the sport or whatever it is they do. And the almighty dollar just sullies the reason we all got into whatever it is we do, so we chase the dollar. Health care is no longer about healing, but it's about running a profitable hospital. Baseball players forget about the joy and grace and beauty of turning a double play or lacing a hit into right and instead consider endorsements.

$37 million more than enough for anyone, and I honestly believe people can have too much money. It changes them, mostly for the worst. $37 million is probably the GNP for a lot of small countries. It's an amount of money that most of us can't even comprehend, and it's nice to see that Lowell can keep his sights on his values, just like he can keep his eye on the ball on the playing field.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Oh God, it's the holidays

Christmas decorations are in the stores. Christmas ads are in the papers. Next week is Thanksgiving. Today in the bank a very cheerful teller just went on and on about Thanksgiving and Christmas. "Oh, don't tell me you don't like Thanksgiving," he admonished.

I hated the holidays when I was younger, because I lived in such a screwed up family and any attempt to be one of those happy all-American families that were constantly being rammed down your throat through advertisements just frustrated and angered and depressed me. Then kids came along, and I loved them, starting with Halloween and running all the way through to New Year's Eve. I've always hated New Year's Eve, though, and probably always will.

But now I'm back to my old ways. Divorced. The family all split up, you'd think that I'd like the holidays, the time to be togehter. But really all it does is reinforce that we're not togther, and that we aren't the all-American family, though who is, right? For the first time in five or six years, buddy, John and I won't be cooking Thanksgiving dinner together. His life is changing, and so what little tradition I ever had in my life, is gone. But, that's okay. More and more, as my life just sort of evolves, the grand meal, all the presents at Christmas, seems like so much obscenity. To cook a huge meal at Thanksgiving that I can't afford in the first place under the auspices of friends and family is just really catering to the forces of commerce. Same for Christmas. If the family isn't together, then what's the point? The point is to celebrate that.

I like the every days. You know: hanging out on the couch with one of my daughters or with Sue on some non-descript day in the middle of some non-descript month. That, to me, is living.

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Bad Chardonnay

Don't gimme any lip son
Don't gimme any grief
I've been around the block and back
From Maine to Tenerife
Yeah, and I got my act together
Ok, it's just an act
But it's served me well for a long long time.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

...and downgraded my phone

I changed my phone plan to only 450 minutes a month. I hardly use my phone at all anymore, or at least my minutes. Sue and I are on the same plan, and once I call my kids and a certain friend, then my time on the phone is tapped out. I text message more than I actually use voice.

At first I was worried. I thought I was losing friends. I used to carry 1,300 minutes and take advantage of Cingular's (now AT&T's) rollover minutes in case I went over my plan's minutes. But I found the number of my rollover minutes climbing; I simply wasn't using my minutes, so I reduced them to 950. Then 450. It certainly is a reflection of a shrinking social circle, which I'm actually fostering. It's also a reflection of more reliance on text messaging and Instant Messaging.

But a couple of beefs. If you reduce your minutes with AT&T, you can only keep the number of rollover minutes equal to your new plan. So, even though my rollover minutes numbered in the thousands, I could only keep 950, then 450. I think that's wrong. I paid for those minutes, I should be able to use them.

And because I text message more, I wanted a plan that allowed for a couple of hundred text messages. But guess what, ATandT charges more for that service with a cheaper plan than they do with a more expensive one. It should be the same price, no matter how many minutes you sign up for. It's gouging, pure and simple, but they can get away with it. Deregulation is a good thing, but you still to have some government watchdog because the private sector will rape and pillage for the almighty dollar.

Also, cell phones still aren't as reliable as they should be. There are dead zones everywhere around Boston. Times are changing, and cell phones are becoming the phone technology of choice. I don't have a land line at home. You'd think that a company with the clout of AT&T could persuade towns or the federal government to erect cell towers. After all, it's hard to imagine that towns can affect our communications grid because they don't want a cell tower in a church steeple. But they can.

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I got rid of my cable

I got rid of my cable a little while ago. I don't watch TV. Mainly I had it for when my daughter visited, but even then she, or we together, might have watched it for maybe a couple of hours. I was spending sixty-some dollars a month for something I wasn't using, and trust me, I don't have sixty-something dollars a month to lose. That's subject for a whole 'nuther blog. Hardly anything holds my interest on TV, and even when I did watch television I usually was doing something else, too, like playing guitar or reading. I barely watched the World Series this year, and the Red Sox were playing.

I'm tempted to be a snob and say that there is mostly crap on TV, but I don't think that's true. I think percentage-wise, once you take into account all the self-help books and celebrity profiles, there probably is more crap in a high-minded bookstore than on TV.

But TV is pushing it. One of my daughter's and my favorite shows is The Family Guy, and sometimes I'd sit there and really question whether a sixteen-year-old should be exposed to that level of ribald humor. Not that I don't think she couldn't handle it. I think TV gives credence to a lot of unsavory behavior, whether it's the humor of Family Guy or the "F" this and "F" that on reality shows. I don't need a boatload of government scientists funded by millions and millions of my tax dollars to tell me that, if kids don't emulate what they see on TV, they certainly feel that it gives them a certain license. Sometimes people have a hard time separating reality from fantasy. I don't know how many times I've been leaving a theater and an audience member has come up to me and said something like, "you are an evil person," or, "I think she should have gone home with you, and not the other guy." Look people, it's a play, it's a TV show. This is life, that is fantasy. Get the difference.

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Dead Flowers

I was never a big Rolling Stones fan, and now more than ever I think they should have been put on the shelf a long time ago. I'm not into the bands that play the big arenas for the big draw. After a certain point music loses something when the venue gets to be so big. And why would anyone pay big money for tickets when you're watching the concert most of the time on a big screen scoreboard?

But some of Stones' old stuff is really good. There's some good stuff on Sticky Fingers, when they took some good old American roots and made it there own. Dead Flowers is a good example, almost as good as the real thing. The only thing is, doesn't it sound like that little peckerhead is making fun of hillbilly music?


When you are sitting there, in your silk upholstered chair
Talking to some rich folk that you know
Well I hope you won't see me in my ragged company
Cause you know I could never be alone

Chorus
Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you're the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers at my wedding
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave

When you're sitting back in your rose pink cadillac
Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day
Well I'll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon
And another heart to take my pain away

Outro

Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you're the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the U. S. mail, Say it with dead flowers at my wedding
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave.

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SlamBoston

Josh and I performed Tuesday night at the BCA. We did it, and what a process. We went a bit over our allotted time, as did a lot of the plays. Lau, the director, said she didn't account for laughs when she timed us during rehearsal. Given that we rehearsed three times, and one of those times was at 7:00 the morning of the production we did pretty well. SlamBoston is held like a poetry slam (hence the name) and after each production a panel of judges hold of cards like at a diving or skating contest. We took a lot of risks out there, and I already knew that people would either love us or hate us. We got as low as 4.5 and we were one of two plays that another judge gave a perfect 10.0.

And that was the whole point of me working like that. It was the whole process I was interested in, from the audition through rehearsal and into the one-night production. I want to work more organically, on characters and in productions that push the limits of reality and believability. I don't want to go back to straight plays, with linear narratives and all the old, tired messages, metaphors, and analogies. I want to break down the barriers I have as an actor, and learn to push what's inside me to deliver new and fresh interpretations. I don't want to go back to the rehearsal process of just memorizing lines and blocking and just running the show over and over and over until you're in one deep, boring rut. Every show is different every night, but I want to push that concept to its limits, for my sake and the audience's. It makes for an amazing theater experience for both the actors and the audience members, and in my mind that's what it's all about. Forget people pay for the ticket, sit down, and are entertained. For me, there is an implicit contract between the actor and each audience member. We're in this together, people. The actors and the audience are interacting in an implicit way just as the actors are on stage. And for my theater life to continue, I need a whole lot more of that.

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To Live Is To Fly

I keep writing these words on this blog...dang, I wish I could write like this. The combination of poetry and musical ability that songwriting demands is daunting and scary for me. Just learning. I just approach it as fun, but I want to do it so well, and sometimes it seems time is just running out. I'll either be in a home or living on a park bench somewhere, my fingers barely able to wrap themselves around the neck of a guitar. Sometimes I think it would be poetic to die sitting upright on a park bench, frozen in the snow, guitar in hand, a la George Mallory.

Won't say I love you babe
Won't say I need you babe
But I'm going to get you babe
And I will not do you wrong
Living's mostly wasting time
And I waste my share of mine
But it never feels too good
So let's not take too long
You're as soft as glass and I'm a gentle man
We got the sky to talk about
And the world to lie upon

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The L and N Don't Stop Here Anymore

When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy set me down on his knee
Saying, "Son you go to school
You learn your letters
Now, don't you be no dusty miner, boy, like me"

Oh, I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
Now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L and N don't stop here anymore

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With scrip enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And, Lord, his face is white
As the February snow

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L and N don't stop here anymore

Never thought I'd live to learn to love the coaldust
Never thought I'd pray to hear those temples roar
But, God, I wish the grass would turn to money
And then them greenbacks
Would fill my pockets once more

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L and N don't stop here anymore

Last night I dreamed I went down to the office
To get my payday like I done before
But them old kudzu vines, they was covering over the doorway
And there was leaves and grass
Growing right up to the floor

I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazzard Holler
Where the coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row of all empties
Because the L and N don't stop here anymore
Because the L and N don't stop here anymore
Aw, the L and N don't stop here anymore

--Jean Ritchie

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Veterans' Day

This goes out to Toby, another mother's child, a real upright kind of guy who is still searching, who loves life and good country music and this great country of ours. He served in the 1st Army--the Big Red 1, not the Big Red Joke as it was for some people I know--entered Baghdad this second time around, serving out his time. Came back with PTSD, and didn't recognize his country anymore. He spends a lot of his time just looking for solitude and freedom, which for some of us is pretty much the same thing.

The people that go to war don't come back the same people. They may look the same, but they don't act the same. And Lord knows, they don't feel the same and experience this life the same. And what is life but experience anyway? War makes changes in people that the rest of us can't possibly imagine, and can't possibly understand when we see it. Trauma takes it toll on the human soul, amputating vital parts of the spirit, leaving other parts so damaged they become useless. They either learn, or just figure out how to limp through life, and some do pretty damn good. Others don't. Depends on the person.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Deja Vu (All Over Again)

When six American soldiers were killed on Monday in Iraq making the number of U.S. soldiers' deaths 852, 2007 became the deadliest year of the war for United States' troops. And how many Iraqi civilians have died? And what about all of these private consultants who've died in the war, hired by the U.S. and Dick Cheney?

Makes me think of John Fogerty's song, Deja Vu (All Over Again).

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

Day by day I hear the voices rising
Started with a whisper like it did before
Day by day we count the dead and dying
Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

One by one I see the old ghosts rising
Stumblin' 'cross Big Muddy
Where the light gets dim
Day after day another Momma's crying
She's lost her precious child
To a war that has no end

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall
Did that voice inside you say
I've seen this all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again
It's like Deja Vu all over again

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Their Eyes Were Watching God

"The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."

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Radiohead's experiment: Success or failure?

E Online reported that two-thirds (about 62%) of the people who downloaded Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, didn't pay a single cent for the recording. The number of people who downloaded wasn't given. On average, worldwide people paid $6.00. Some analyst at comScore, the company that did the measuring, estimated that Radiohead needed on average $1.50 per download to break even, so for the people who think the experiment was a failure are wrong. Any way you look at it Radiohead came out ahead.

They made a profit. That's one thing. Just by releasing the recording themselves they've probably made more money than they would have through a label.

And that that profit depended on people paying while other's didn't is something interesting to look at. How long will the value system of this part of Radiohead's audience maintain this level of responsibility? Will guilt and a sense of fairness rule, or will they eventually change (I almost wrote erode) to equal the rest of the audience? Like water seeking it's own level, where will the volunteered price level out to? Radiohead is on their way to finding out.

It is like a little scientific experiment, with Radiohead changing and refining the criteria to fine-tune results. If Radiohead is smart, they'll continue to along this road to see where it takes them.

And what does this all mean for artists with a smaller fan base and less money? Nothing. It means sit and wait and watch and see what breaks out of this. The only thing smaller, lesser-known artists can do right now is continue to guerrilla market. Get their songs out in front of the public any way they can, but avoid the big labels right now because they'll only try to screw you into locking into a long-term contract. Find a smaller label that fits your vision of your music.

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Confessions of a community theater critic

Confessions of a Community Theater Critic ran in the The Smart Set, a web site out of Drexel University. It's a first-person account of some poor writer who writes theater reviews in the Baltimore area.

Having spent about 12 or 13 years in community theater in and around the Boston area, I can tell you this is pretty much spot on, from the so-so acting to the business about the audience being composed of the actors' friends. He even nails community theater by going easy on the theater in his review. Community theater critics are just as weak-kneed as the people they review. Most reviews consist of the writer giving a synopsis of the play and giving the names of the actors playing the characters. Renfield, played by Kirby Dolack, eats spiders by day and confounds Butterworth, his Cockney caretaker, played by community theater veteran Bill Danko, by escaping out the window at night. I recently read a review of The Batting Cage, a play in which the first act pretty much consists of a monologue. One of the two lead actresses bumbled around on the stage as unfocused as a blind bat, but by God she spit out all those lines. The fact that she could have been simply replaced by a tape recorder didn't phase the critic. He said she looked great wearing all her many costumes and too bad the playwright wrote all this long-winded dialogue. God forbid that something like a script should get in the way of a pretty actress showing off on stage. And I'm pretty sure this actress couldn't have cared less. I'm sure she was happy with her mediocre work, plus she got her name in the paper. That's about as good as it gets most of the time in community theater.

Community theaters really are like churches, typically heavier on the community than the theater. Community theater actors will bristle at that statement, citing what they call quality, but any production where the actors form a circle and hold hands before going on stage, or give presents to each other on opening night are looking for something more than artistic standards. They're looking for friendship and something to combat loneliness, and that, my friends, can go a long way into sinking a production. You tend to compromise in a situation like that, and eventually the artistic quality of the production ultimately suffers.

Over a year ago I was in a community theater production of Buried Child. The actress who played Hallie was a close friend of the director and never learned her lines and was actually reading her off-stage monologues on closing night. It's hard to reprimand one of your best friends. The director never fully understood the play, so instead of having a single vision he let the actors determine what was happening on stage, so at any given moment you would actually have maybe five or six actors on stage working under a different interpretation of the play. The stage manager, also a friend of the director, let the crew play drinking games in the booth. Hell, by the second week of the run, I started drinking in the green room myself because in the third act I only had to walk on stage carrying a bag of bones. I figured drunk or sober, it wouldn't make a helluva lot of difference. That's the last time I acted in community theater.

What community theater really does is preserve all the old chestnuts. Every February, community theaters composed of white liberals all around the county put on Raisin in the Sun in honor of Black History Month, even though that play is 48 years old. It's timeless, I can hear the board members and the people on the play-reading committees say, and it's message is just as relevant today as it was 48 years ago. Horseshit. I work on Downtown Crossing in Boston, and that play is about as relevant to the black kids I see there as Amos and Andy. Who it's relevant to are the white liberals who put the damn thing on every year. Neil Simon. Agatha Christie. Every foot-stomping musical from Hair to Sweeney Todd to Fiddler to The Sound of Music are all kept on life-support thanks to community theaters. And the same actors will be playing all the same roles, because community theater tends to be more incestuous than a Mississippi family reunion. Community theater actors hang on because they can. They're like the people in your office who stay and ultimately get promoted because, frankly, they can't get a job anywhere else. Or they don't have the gumption and the drive to push themselves. But they're steady and reliable so that's something. Not all community theater actors are like this, but a lot of them are and there's no fighting it. Every time you're cast in a community theater production it's a crap shoot, and the chances of having a really great cast with a great production team are slim because it's all voluntary. Sometimes you just have to take what shows up.

If you think I'm bitter, you'd be wrong. I had a good run in community theater. I met a few nice people, some of whom I still mess around with, although there does seem to be an overly amount of people who definitely need to work out a few personal quirks, if not serious personality disorders. But I definitely refined my acting chops on community theater stages, and I'm still my own worst critic. I do know on a bad night I'm still better than what you'd see on a good night on your average community theater stage, and if you think that's arrogant, well, that's too bad. This is just the voice of a man who knows when it's time to move on.

So, when you plunk down your $18 or $20, up from when a community theater ticket used to cost maybe $8 or $10 (I know, I know, everything's gone up and for your value you're really getting Broadway-quality work cheap) you might see some nice sparks, and that's about it.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Frost on the pumpkin

This morning there was a real hard frost on the windshield of the truck. We've had a few frosty mornings, but slowly the world is locking up in its frozen time capsule.

I turn on the truck when I take Bob out in the morning, and he stands there, he's so old, thinking he's going for a ride. We've done this a few times already this fall. His synapses aren't firing like they used to, and he depends on me more and more to tell him exactly what to do. Get up for breakfast. When he goes out to the fence line to do his business in the morning he stops dead and turns at least twice. His eyes and hearing are going, and he needs constant reassurance that I'm still there, and what he's supposed to do. It's like taking care of an old person, or rather, not a person, but an older living being. Humans, dogs, horses, cats, the aging process takes us all, and changes us. There's still a lot of life in him, he still gets excited about going out and going places, but there's a change...not bad, not good, just different. He needed care when he was a puppy, now he needs a different kind of care now that he's older.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

The Greenbush line and visionaries

Well, surprise, surprise. Ridership on the new Greenbush line exceeded expectations.

Massachusetts needs a visionary when it comes to public transportation. Here, it's the same old same old. Commuter trains run fairly constant during rush hour, but if you have to be somewhere during the afternoon, or late at night, you're standing on train platform for a long time. If I miss the 7:15 out of Boston, I wait an hour for the next train. The next train after that comes an hour and forty-five minutes later.

It seems the prevailing attitude is, no one rides the train at that time of day (or night) so we won't run the trains. But I think the answer is, run the trains and people will ride them. Give them a way to get home, and they'll spend more time in Boston, and spend more money in Boston.

Visionaries don't ask people what they want. They tell them. In 1984, if you had asked people what they wanted in a computer, no one would have said, well, I want this thing I can slide around on my desk so I can point at pictures on my computer screen. But that's exactly what Apple and Macintosh did. (No people, the Mac came long before Windows.)

Visionaries lead. No one is leading here in Boston when it comes to transportation. Like so many other things here in Boston, transporation is way behind the curve.

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Lance needs to wear a helmet

Lance Armstrong seeing one of the Olsen twins?

He's the man, or I thought he was. He drinks PBR. He's hammers a bike like no one ever did. But man, what is it about guys and their women? (Gentle Reader, I've asked the same thing about myself in the past. Let's see, at one time there was Too Far, Too Young, and Too Racist.)

First he leaves what appears to be a super-cool wife for...Sheryl Crow. Okay, she rocks, but doesn't know squat about bicycle racing or the Tour. That was obvious in 2005 when he won his unprecedented 7th Tour and announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin went ga-ga over her and interviewed her day after day.

But Ashley? (or is it Mary-Kate; I can't tell the difference.)

Lance, time to climb back in the saddle. When the gossip rags start circling, it's time to ride on the hell out of Dodge.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Red Sox victory parade

I guess I should say something about the Red Sox World Series victory parade since it was right here in my backyard. I guess I went. Rather, I was sort of drawn to it, was standing there for awhile, then left. I went out to catch some air at lunch, and then thought I’d check out what I knew was going to be madness. But there’s this urge in us…me, at least…that wants to be part of the greater world, though more and more I know through experience that I really don’t fit into that greater world. As was the case on Tuesday.

I eased up to the crowd standing up where West Street and Tremont meet. The crowd was thick there, maybe ten people deep, but I figured the players would be up on the ducks so I’d see something when they passed. But I couldn’t handle the crowd.

There were four construction workers sitting there on the bumper of a UPS truck, and the scene was such a cliché. One big loudmouth and his three little lapdogs. The loudmouth was named, Paul and he was from Medford. Now there’s something unique to the adult male Irish population here in Boston that they add a –y or an –lie to their names. Hence, grown men who look like they’re probably suffering from such adult maladies like advanced hemorrhoids and really nasty, smelly feet call each other little boy names like Bobby or Tommy or Billy. Their “maws” probably still thump them on the heads with their index fingers when they do something wrong, like use the tablecloth for a napkin.

So this guy was Paulie, and because he was from Medford, it was said with that regionally slurring of words unique to that particular city: Puaulie, from Mefah. He brayed like mule with a speech impediment. To passing police officers, all of whom he seemed to know, young girls with whom he flirted. Everything was punctuated with this loud, horsey bray of a laugh. That pretty much set the tone for that particular corner, and I know Boston well enough now that I knew that was pretty much the tone all along the entire parade route.

When I was more in love with this city, I thought guys like him colorful. And I suppose they are, to some degree. Harmless, really, just a guy enjoying himself and the world. But he’s rooted in this city, and I’m not any more, and I feel as disconnected to him as I do about everything else around here.

Which brings me to the Sox. I am long past hero worship, or at least hero worship of sports figures. Funny, the cube in which I’m typing this right now has pictures of Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Hendrix, and Ernest Hemingway pinned to the walls. I don’t think I worship them as much as I’d like to emulate them. I don’t want to be them. I want to be me, with their qualities. So I’m long past standing on a street corner to wait for a glimpse of an overpaid entertainer, which I think all sports figures are. Manny and Schilling are the same as Michael Jackson or Mick Jagger in my mind. If I go to a game, which I rarely do because I can’t afford to, I root for the Sox, but would rather see a good game rather than a sloppy win. And I’ve long since stopped tying my self-worth to the won-loss record of any sports team.

So, the Red Sox won the World Series. Good for them. They all seemed happy. The crowd seemed happy. I was happy, too, because when I turned around there was one of my favorite bookstores right in front of me, the Brattle Bookstore, and I went in and found a birthday present for Sue.

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Good things on the Framingham commuter rail

Everyone, including me, ranks on the MBTA. It's not all bad. Really. There's a conductor on the Framingham commuter line. Her name tag says her first name is Pia. She's nice and friendly and there's always a good vibe coming from her. You look her in the eye and you get a smile and a good morning. The same goes for most of the conductors on that line.

So, maybe the person, man, woman, or beast, from the MBTA, who lurks on this blog from will take note of this and maybe reward these good folks.

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