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Wednesday, August 8th, 2007
11:01 am
Bread & Puppet presents... 6 World-Can't-Wait dances
A week ago I travelled to Glover, VT to see Bread and Puppet perform on their farm.  They perform an indoor show on Friday nights, then outside on Sunday afternoon they present their large-scale Circus (preceded by a half-hour of Sideshows) and Pageant.

These are my notes from the indoor Friday evening show, presented as the Lubberland National Dance Company.  These dances are performed by about 18 summer interns as a group.  While there may be yelling or grunting or other human-produced sounds, this batch is performed without words -- other than the huge long wordy titles which are presented and raised to the rafters, where they hang above the performance of each dance.

A 14-piece band sat atop the bleachers behind the audience.  They did not play songs, but created occasional effects during and between dances as noted below.

The Glover Gardening Society bits, presented between dances, were performed by three B&P regulars.  They were simple, physical and joyful, enacted to the playing of a ukulele.  How much mileage could our group get out of the act of digging a hole and planting a seed?  They got a LOT.  These light, straightforward  bits also provided a welcome counterpoint to the dark tone and interpretive demands of the main dances.

While fairly abstract, the main dances were tightly focused and effectively communicative -- significantly more so than the set I saw in 2005, when there was no unifying theme.  And now....

Lubberland National Dance Company presents....
Monday, July 2nd, 2007
10:33 pm
Criminal and Corrupt
Bush to America: LAWS DON'T MATTER.

They're not even pretending anymore.
Thursday, May 24th, 2007
4:13 pm
I Wandered Lonely as a Human Beat Box
Today I dropped "I wander lonely as a cloud" into an online conversation at work, which of course required some sort of followup link since people at work lack any background in poetry. So what did I stumble upon, but this:

IT was first published 200 years ago this year and has become England’s most easily-recognised poem. Now, William Wordsworth’s best known work has been given a 21st century upgrade.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud has undergone the “rap” treatment in the bicentenary year of its publication to help the next generation of Lake District visitors connect with his work.

The new "hip-hop" version of the famous poem and an accompanying pop video can be listened to and watched for free at Cumbria Tourism’s website. It features MC Nuts in the leading role – better known as Sam - the Lake District Red squirrel mascot for Ullswater Steamers.

I expect Coleridge would've asphyxiated himself laughing at the dancing squirrel.

Freakily, neither the 1807 text nor any link to it can be found on the page. For you old school readers, here's the original.
Thursday, April 12th, 2007
1:07 pm
Kurt Vonnegut is dead.

Damn it.
Wednesday, March 7th, 2007
2:00 am
Show Me the Way to Go Home
We're doing street theater on Mar 17 to launch the Madison march agitating for an end to 4 years of occupation of Iraq. Our piece will end by launching a flotilla of [big cardboard] ships carrying soldiers home from Iraq. More such ships will be made at a public workshop and carried in the parade.

I'm looking for songs on the theme of "going home" for use in promoting both the parade and the ship-building workshop via radio spots. My meager pickings so far:

- "Homeward Bound," Simon & Garfunkel;
- "Sloop John B," Beach Boys (pro: very very poignant "I wanna go home" bits;  con: Beach Boys);
- "Show Me the Way to Go Home" -- the super-catchy drinking song sung on the boat in Jaws, though we wouldn't want anybody to expect a giant cardboard shark to start eating the soldiers.

More?  (Also: anything more recent than 1976?)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006
3:22 pm
Cheeseheads Vote NO Today

Today hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites will vote against the highly insane state constitutional amendment that would not only prohibit the future possibility of same-sex marriage, but also the possibility of civil unions and would demolish existing domestic partnerships for gays and straights alike. Polls show it will be a very close vote.

Our street theater group has been working on this issue all summer, though a lot of effort was squandered when we developed a complicated show that was really too long to watch and hard for us to perform. We performed it once, then a couple people dropped out and that was it. We rolled with that and shifted down to a much simpler, more direct action at the Farmer's Market. As you see above, Liberty and Justice frame the issue as not writing discrimination into our Constitution. They prime passers-by by calling out: "Vote NO on the Marriage Ban Amendment November 7! Cast your practice ballot today!" Thus primed, folks then walk by our giant "VOTE NO!" ballot box where one or two folks dressed as The People (we wear smocks with many faces painted on them) offer giant practice ballots which say BALLOT on one side and NO on the other, so we can all rehearse the future and vote down the discrimination amendment!

We've done this for 2-3 hours at the Market for 4 of the last 5 weekends (the fifth got rained out), and the response to this little action has been tremendous. It's been surprisingly easy to get people to take the ballots, hold them high so others can see, and insert them into the box. I'd estimate that we've roped somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 passersby into casting these giant prop ballots over our 4 action days, and the greatest part is that they were witnessed by many, many thousands more.

Since the ballot-casting is interactive, and some people demur by saying they're not eligible to vote here, we've learned some keen things about the composition of the market audience (and thereby, the effects of performing at this venue). Although our group sometimes dismisses the market crowd as merely preaching to the lefty Madison choir, this past Saturday alone I had enough interaction with out-of-staters to convince folks from the following states to cast our ballots in the name of theater and opposition to discrimination:

District of Columbia (x2)
Illinois (many)
Massachusetts (x2)
Minnesota (x2)
New Jersey
New York (x4)
Ohio (x4)
Washington: Seattle

Not to mention these international travellers:

England (x2)
Italy (x2)

And these are just the people I was able to engage long enough to convince to participate this past Saturday. Having this specific data has helped us understand in a concrete way that when we push memes at the Madison Farmers Market, they can really travel. Consequently the work we perform there goes beyond propagation of thoughtful/emotional issue framing -- we also effectively reinforce Madison's reputation as a hotbed of political activism -- and as an artistically political city as well. That's cool too.

Thursday, September 28th, 2006
12:20 am
Start cooking the mache glue
This totally shocked me today: GOP picks Twin Cities for 2008 convention.

From a street theater perspective, this is total nirvana. The only way there'd be more protest puppets and street theater at this convention would be if they held it on the Bread & Puppet farmstead in Glover, VT.

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre has been doing politically-charged puppet work in Minneapolis for 30+ years. They're a beloved community fixture, own and operate their own theatre, and have three decades of experience mobilizing and organizing the community each May Day to create a resolutely political yet spectacularly artistic parade with a built-in narrative, followed by a 40-minute pageant with giant puppets in a downtown park.

HOBT has taught so many locals how to make huge street puppets that they're not even the only group in town. The Barebones group assembles a long, moody and artsy giant puppet narrative done on the banks of the Mississippi on three nights around Halloween. This year's build schedule shows how hard-core these folks are: starting Sept 24, they're having build sessions every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday until Halloween.

Then there's Chris Lutter's Puppet Farm in northern Wisconsin. He's experienced at organizing the everything's-going-to-hell section of the May Day parade each year, and has his own operation.

A friend native to the Twin Cities claims that Minneapolis boasts the highest number of theater groups per capita of any city in the U.S. The resource pool for creative, striking protest theater at the 2008 RNC really couldn't be any deeper than this.

And then there's our little group here in Madison, a dead-easy 4-hour drive away. Time to rev up the public workshops and get all of Madison elbow-deep in papier mache!

Current Mood: ebullient
Monday, February 6th, 2006
11:51 pm
Granting the premise
I caught pieces of the warrantless domestic surveillance hearings today via online video. What most dismays me about this issue is how the President has articulated a snappy one-line argument to justify it -- "If al Qaeda is calling you, we want to know why" -- and everybody seems to be granting him the magical ability to be right whenever he claims it's al Qaeda calling.

But he claims a whole lot of people are al Qaeda when they're not:

- We know hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners -- who we were assured were the "worst of the worst" -- have been released because they were actually harmless shepherds and farmers, not dangerous arch-terrorists. But they were kidnapped, transported halfway around the globe and imprisoned for years because the President could label them "al Qaeda" without oversight.

- We know the "No-Fly List" wrongly claims thousands of innocent people are too dangerous to be allowed on airplanes, based on suspicion without oversight that is then extended to others by sloppy name-matching. Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts is wrongly on this list. I personally know a hospital nurse here in town who is wrongly on the no-fly list. But hey, the President can label them as dangerous on his own say-so without oversight.

- We've watched the administration repeatedly claim to have blown up Person X from al Qaeda with a missile strike, only to have Person X appear on TV a week later, alive and well. So who got blown up in their place? Innocent people get blasted into little meat chunks because they've been wrongly labeled "al Qaeda" without oversight.

The simple response is: Sure, you can wiretap al Qaeda _IF_ you can justify your labelling. That's what the warrant process is all about!

Isn't this obvious? Why is everybody granting him his premise, that people are actually al Qaeda whenever he so labels them?
Monday, January 16th, 2006
4:56 pm
all the gnus' wee feet leave prints
I've been screenprinting a bit of late. Here we have a 3-color poster of Lawless Leader, and a 4-color publicity poster for the January installment of Madison Science Cafe:

. . .

Print runs were 115 of Bush, 50 of the bear. Each is 12x18. I'll mostly staple up Bush around town; others are doing the hanging for Science Cafe. Bush is my second 3-color print (the first was a poster for a neighborhood fair in September), and the bear is my first 4-color poster, though I did a very small 4-color rendition of a family photograph for my grandmother for christmas. Maybe I'll scan that one too.
Friday, December 9th, 2005
10:56 pm
Corporations Do Not Emote.
Somebody please tell the headline writers at CNN and the BBC that corporations do not have feelings!

CNN: Delta unfazed by pilots union decision (screenshot)
BBC: Sony repentant over CD debacle (screenshot)

God damn, this pisses me off. Sony does not alter behavior because it feels remorse; Sony alters behavior because other behavior yields more profit. If Sony ever acted out of love or pity or kindness, its board of directors would be legally liable for not seeking to maximize shareholder value. Corporations are legally bound to suck the lifeblood out of the rest of us. What sane, non-suicidal society would ever construct such a self-destructive mechanism? God damn!

(Screenshots provided since news sites often revise headlines.)
Monday, October 31st, 2005
8:25 pm
A night for scary monsters

So here's my porch for Halloween. I made this simple puppet in the fall of 2002, when our demos here against the administration's obvious intentions to invade Iraq just couldn't seem to draw more than 300 people. The face is a blown-up news photo, printed out on four sheets of paper and glued to cardboard. The body is a shirt and coat (thrift store specials) on a clotheshanger, perched atop a bamboo pole. The forehead handprint is my own. Only the fangs, cut from a white post-it note, were added for Halloween.

I'd say 80% of the adults who let their kids ring my bell tonight voiced a kind word about my choice of decoration. A couple of unaccompanied 11-year-olds said they liked it too. I was amused at the anti-Bush chatter from tots under 3 feet tall. What really amazed me was this exchange:

Parent: I like your decoration.
Me: Thanks; it's a night for scary monsters.
Parent to kid: That's a pretty scary monster, isn't it?
Tiny little girl, 5 or 6 years old: That's the President.

How does somebody that small recognize George Bush's face, way out of context, with fangs and a bloody handprint on the forehead? Does his portrait hang, Lenin-like, in schoolrooms across America? I know I couldn't identify Gerald Ford's face when I was her age. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I was.
Friday, October 28th, 2005
10:21 pm
Zombie puppet pageantry
I'm going to the Barebones Halloween Pageant in Minneapolis:

Barebones Productions presents their 12th Annual Halloween Show – a community created outdoor pageant of larger than life puppetry, costumed characters, originally composed live music, singing, dancing, stilt walking, and pyro-artistry (fire).

This year’s pageant, “FORETOLD: It’s Your Funeral” takes place in Deadstown, a river ghost town that never sleeps. Long-sighted Divinator's scan the night sky and predict disaster for the towns decaying inhabitants. How far will they go to protect themselves from their own worst fear? See the self-fulfilling prophesy unfold!.

The pageant begins as the audience is led down an ambient trail to the haybale seating. Here they will be treated to a feast of otherworldly imagery and illusory orchestration. The pageant ends with a candlelit procession to the Mississippi River bank for a fire drawings and river puppets finale. A reception follows in the Hidden Falls Park pavilion with food, drink and live music.

As has become customary, the pageant includes a public naming ceremony during which the audience is invited to honor friends and relations that have passed on. Audience members are also offered a chance to do so privately afterward at artistic installations set up on site for this purpose.

Moving the audience through several performance spaces to experience the texture of landscape strikes me as reminiscent of my Bread & Puppet experience in Vermont this summer (which I didn't exactly blog, did I?)...

What are other folks doing for Halloween?
9:36 pm
"Intelligent Design" vs. the Tootsie Pop Standard
William Saletan has a nice column over at Slate where he cites a Monty Python sketch to illuminate the absurd testimony of religio-crackpot Michael Behe in defense of a Pennsylvania requirement that biology teachers mention so-called "intelligent design" in science class.

Q: You say you have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
A: Can I just say here, Chris, for one moment, that I have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
Q: Exactly. Well, what is it? …
A: Oh, what is my theory?
Q: Yes.
A: Oh, what is my theory, that it is. Well, Chris, you may well ask me what is my theory.
Q: I am asking.
A: Good for you. My word, yes. Well, Chris, what is it that it is—this theory of mine. Well, this is what it is—my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine.
Q: Yes, I know it's yours. What is it?
A: Where? Oh, what is my theory? This is it. My theory that belongs to me is as follows. This is how it goes. The next thing I'm going to say is my theory. Ready?
Q: Yes.
A: … This theory goes as follows and begins now. All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the middle; and then thin again at the far end.


Q: Please describe the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose.
A: Well, the word "mechanism" can be used in many ways. … When I was referring to intelligent design, I meant that we can perceive that in the process by which a complex biological structure arose, we can infer that intelligence was involved. …
Q: What is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes?

At least tootsie pops have something at the center...
Thursday, September 1st, 2005
4:09 pm
What we talk about when we talk about levees
I've been thinking about the prospects for dewatering New Orleans, and I'm wondering if it can be done without the whole levee system collapsing. Here's the bit that got me thinking:

The Army Corps of Engineers has released this statement:

Q. Why did the levees fail?

A. What failed were actually floodwalls, not levees. This was caused by overtopping which caused scouring, or an eating away of the earthen support, which then basically undermined the wall.

The vertical walls are supported on the city side by 45-degree embankments of earth. Not concrete, but earth. In a few places, water poured over the top of the wall and eroded the earth embankment below. Without the bank support, the wall collapsed.

The walls didn't burst under extra pressure from the storm surge, but from the diminished structural support on the city side. So the importance of support
from those banks of earth seems critical. Now here's the point I haven't read anybody raising yet:

All these supporting banks of earth on the city side will have been totally submerged and saturated for weeks before pumping begins. They will be mud. Even assuming no erosion, they will be mud. And mud yields to pressure. It oozes away. Will walls supported by mud withstand the pressure of the lake?

I'm not an engineer, but given what we've seen, the possibility of widespread wall collapse seems kinda nontrivial, at least for the earth-supported sections.

Has anyone found any sort of engineering discussion forum where this sort of stuff is being batted around?
Tuesday, August 30th, 2005
6:57 pm
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
From WWLTV Katrina blog:

Tue 6:41 P.M. - Efforts to stop the levee break at the 17th Street Canal have ended unsuccessfully and the water is expected to soon overwhelm the pumps in that area, allowing water to pour into the east bank of Metairie and Orleans to an expected height of 12-15 feet.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Thursday, December 9th, 2004
2:50 pm
Irony Spirals Out Of Control
Code Pink NYC is planning to protest at a nuke plant on December 10. Here's the key sentence from their press release:

"The Billionaires for Bush are expected to defend Entergy's honor, and disrupt our event, but we plan to trick them into receiving our Citizens Badge of Shame Awards."

My head spins from the layered reversals.

But I kind of wonder whether the irony of the Shame Award plus the irony of Billionaires for Bush sort of cancel each other out when they meet... Doesn't the publicity point of the Shame Award lie in the impossible task of trying to access the Big Baddies to award it to them? Doesn't the potency of Billionaires for Bush come from their interactions with actual Bush supporters, whom they are able to undermine by being near or among them?

I think what I'm getting at is: giving a Shame Award is a confrontational act, and the Billionaires for Bush are confrontational too, though with a bit more finesse. But when they only confront each other, doesn't that fall flat? That's pretty artificial conflict. It's a different thing: it's theater.

But I like street theater. A lot. It can be great stuff. So what's my beef?

Maybe it's that presenting a Shame Award is a device designed for a situation where the presenters want to communicate but only control half of the script. Given those constraints, it's a pretty effective device. But it seems to me that so much more can be communicated when in control of the full script. In such circumstances, a mere Shame Award seems a blunt device.

And... okay, I think this is it: there's a lot of power in showing the Powerbroker Bastards in the dastardly act of evading accountability. This is why the Badge of Shame works; is this not why "Roger and Me" works as well? The narrative is unresolved, and Evasion IS the story. If the proxies for the Big Baddies (ie, Billionaires for Bush) do accept the Badge in the end here, doesn't the power of narrative endings trump whatever evasion element came before?

Btw, none of this should be construed as actual objection to Code Pink and BfB doing their thing. This is just the sort of reflective pondering that tends to accompany story development for the street theater group I'm in. Our development process is pretty slow, but our ideas and symbols are pretty satisfyingly lined up when we're done.
Friday, April 16th, 2004
12:14 pm
Now I am the master.
I was too exhausted yesterday to post. I took a nap Wednesday night from 11:30 PM til 2:30 AM, then got up and cranked through my taxes. Hooray for decent software. I felt confident about the numbers and had my envelopes licked at 5:20 AM, then tried to nap for another 2 hours before work, but really couldn't drop off until almost 7. So it was not a restful night.

After an intense day of software upgrades on a live system that an entire manufacturing plant 1000 miles away is wholly dependent upon, I zipped out for second of two screen printing lessons last night -- the first, on Wednesday, ran through the photo emulsion process for burning stencils into screens. The second, last night, consisted of employing those burned screens to print a 2-color run of 100 18" x 24" posters for an upcoming Paragraphs show. With three sets of hands and a mighty handy drying rack, we cranked through the 2-color print run in about 2 hours. My brain is now a vast powerhouse of screenprinting knowledge. And in addition to a better understanding of equipment, process and technique, I also have some links for well-priced material sources (emulsion/inks, paper) to share with breadandjam, who helped put me back on the screenprinting track late last year.

Right after that our agitprop street theater troupe had a work session to continue working on papier mache masks for our upcoming expedition to participate in the story section of the spectacular 2004 May Day Parade in Minneapolis on May 2.

We're also working on costumes and props so we can present giant puppet figures of Liberty and Justice, married to each other, at tomorrow's Rally for Equal Marriage. Tonight I need to paint a banner for that -- damn! I should be cutting and priming that banner right now during lunch instead of typing this entry.

So that's the plan for tonight. Oh, and packing. Yeah. I need to do a lot more of that.
Wednesday, April 14th, 2004
2:52 pm
I, Padawan
Tonight I have the first of two screen printing lessons with my favorite local poster artist, who turns out to be an elementary art school teacher. After seeing four different and tremendous posters for several shows by The Paragraphs, a band that remixes George Bush speeches and sets them to music, which they play wearing rubber masks of Bush administration flunkies, I finally went to a show and met the artist there. I gushed obsequiously, and he offered to show me his low-tech, low-cost printing rig, plus his whole print process from burning the screen through multiple-color registration. With these techniques at my disposal, I will be a dangerous man.

And then I have to finish my taxes.
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004
9:30 am
Wednesday, October 8th, 2003
11:41 am
as deToqueville spins gyroscopically in his grave...
What next? Barney the Purple Fucking Dinosaur to be installed as governor of Massachusetts?

Amazingly, on its face this event is not the direct, mechanical failure of democracy I expected. More Californians actually voted for Schwarzenegger than voted for Davis to continue -- and more Californians voted for Schwarzenegger yesterday than voted for Davis in 2002's regular election.

However it is a whopping indirect failure of democracy -- this candidate has articulated no policy platform to the electorate, and it will now be determined behind closed doors by Schwarzenegger's handlers.

Shadow government indeed.

Our nation's long dark twilight turns darker still as the fading lamp of democracy sets behind the hills. Yep, those hills -- right behind that goddamn hollywood sign.
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