Archives for the month of: January, 2011

1. Are we Americans really prudes? I’ve been following the flap over the American version of the British teenage angst/sex series “Skins” that just aired to much controversy. How come in the UK it’s just a normal TV show about real life while in America it’s pornography?
2. What makes something acceptable in American mass media? Is sex talk OK when it comes from actors in soap operas (who all look like models who have great dermatologists and dentists) speaking with lots of innuendo?
3. Why do we think British television is better? No need to pander to advertisers? A process that doesn’t expect them to run forever and ever? A smaller creative world where artists work in TV, film and theater?

Today’s Something Else: Our Constant British TV Invasion

How many American knock-offs of British shows actually work? What are your thoughts on these remakes?

“The Office”
“Life on Mars”
– “Fawlty Towers” (which was remade into a show called “Snavely” starring current hot topic Betty White and lasted no more than one or two episodes)
“Being Human”
– “Till Death Do Us Part” (which became “All in the Family”)
– “One Foot in the Grave” (which became “The Cosby Show”)
“Undercover Boss”
“Antiques Road Show”
“Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
“The X Factor”

(While we’re on the topic, did you catch last Thursday’s brief interaction between the American and British office bosses?)


1. Where does the expression “rob Peter to pay Paul” come from?
2. Are there more conspiracy theories during hard economic times or less?
3. Is keeping secrets all that bad? What about telling little white lies now and then?

Today’s Something Else: Live(-Tweeted) Theater

This past Wednesday, Illusion Theater hosted its first-ever live-tweet event, another new venture we undertook to expand and experiment with our social media repertoire. Participants received tickets to an exclusive preview of our Lights Up! show, “Le Misanthrope, or the Impossible Lovers.” The catch: They had to keep on their phones and live-tweet their reactions from the theater.

What we got was fascinating feedback, many of them super-self-conscious 140-character instant reviews and many others great personal reactions to what happened on the stage. We even became a trending topic in Minneapolis.

The majority of the night’s tweets will be available for viewing on Twitter for a few more days, but here’s a collection of some of our favorite tweets:

@LLwL: Ellen fenter’s boots rock. #lightsup

@LLwL: Good translation/adaptation mr holm. Oh, actor tried to make eye contact. Woops. Tweeting hope it doesn’t throw them. #lightsup

@fscotty: I’m very impressed the actors can remember these lines. It takes me like three seconds to understand them. #lightsup

@fscotty: I want to be friends with Oronte. Who doesn’t love a boozy dame? #lightsup

@catiyas: With the contemporary rhyming dialog in this “Misanthrope”, I want Boris Karloff to narrate. #lightsup #seussical

@catiyas: The scripted cattiness onstage right now unleash all sorts of my own arty party anxiety. Yikes & well done. #lightsup

@fscotty: everyone likes a good catfight. #lightsup

@fscotty: ‘You hypocrite leech’ is my new go-to insult. #lightsup

@LLwL: “…A supener, I know the grass is greener/Far away” will be on my epitaph. Thank you quotable Sass, Bro #lightsup

1. I think it’s interesting that in the past couple of weeks there have been two instances of re-editing classic American texts to be more “palatable” and “less offensive” to the American Public (whoever they are). The first is the new edition of “Huckleberry Finn,” which replaces the “‘N’ word” with “slave.” (So “slave” isn’t that bad?) The other is the American Constitution, which the Republican House Majority in the 112th Congress decided to read out loud — a symbolic move? posturing? grandstanding? — but decided to cut offensive language about African-Americans. Is this appropriate or is this “editing” censorship?
2. That also got me thinking about how schizophrenic we Americans are about the power of the written word. (Not like this is the first time difficult topics have been cut from books, banned or excised from texts of history.) Have you ever had a brush with censorship, self-imposed or otherwise?
3. Is it just me, or are race and sexuality two topics that always incite overreaction or complete denial?

Today’s Something Else: All About Moliere

This Thursday, the Lights Up! production of Moliere’s “Le Misanthrope or the Impossible Lovers” debuts on the Illusion Theater stage. If you’re not super-familiar with Moliere, here’s a crash course.

– Born January 15, 1622.
– Died of TB after performing the lead role in his “Imaginary Invalid” on February 17, 1673.
– Moliere was a superstar of his time. From adulations as a brilliant performer and patronage from the highest members of society to denunciations and condemations by the moral leaders of his time, he was very much what we would consider a celebrity.
– Green bringing bad luck to actors is a superstition that apparently originated from the color that Moliere was when he died.
– Under French law, actors could not be buried in cemeteries. The ground was too sacred. But Moliere’s widow lobbied the King to make an exception, which he ultimately did. Moliere’s body was buried among unbaptised infants.
– He blended the more spontaneous and vulgar Italian Commedia dell’arte with the refined and codified French style, which made him very popular with audiences. It also helped that he was the first sanctioned author to really skewer the upper middle classes and the rich, who were at  court because of their money. He had a good eye and great nose to find  social hypocrisy and make it funny.

I’ve had my own brush with Moliere. He is talked about as both the French Shakespeare and a 17th Century rock star, and although I didn’t live in France to study classic French theater, the pride and need to prove yourself by doing something with a Moliere play was impossible to avoid.

I saw many a Moliere play while abroad — everything from attempts to modernize and make him “relevant” to the times, to the Ariane Mnouchkine Theatre du Soleil‘s hyper ensemble-physical theater approach. Not all were notable (except perhaps for how bad they were), but one that really stuck with me was a Comedie-Francaise production played in pure classical mode.

A friend of mine, Yasmine, was a student in the National Academy of Dramatic Arts (which was necessary to eventually get a job with the Comedie), and she was able to get me in to observe a rehearsal and then to see the production of Moliere’s “The Learned Ladies.” I was struck by how baffling I found the rehearsal — heated discussions on the proper place for the lead to stand and how tradition dictated that the second roles must always be a few steps upstage of them and when to stand in Third Position and who gets to use Fourth,etc., all of which seemed absurd to me because that meant you never looked at the person you were talking to and if all you could do was move your feet and hands thorugh a series of specific poses how would you make the comedy work?

It didn’t seem to bother them. Instead of spending time on characterization and physical bits or how you could find new ways of doing the classic text — which was what we Americans were obsessed with — they spent all their rehearsal on these specific matters of style and keeping true to how it had been done 300 years ago.

I found it all kind of stilted and basically un-funny in rehearsal, but when I saw the performance I was surprised how everything seemed to work and how each actor was able to bend the language in ways that hit all the laughs. Everyone was so clearly living in the same world that their formal and stilted way of doing things made sense.

Of course it’s obvious to anyone who’s seen different productions of the same play that there is no one “right” way to do anything and that what makes something work is often as much a combination of the craft and hard work as it is of the talent and the moment.

1. During the recent rash of holiday gatherings, I was struck by the fact that the first small-talk questions when meeting someone you don’t know seem to always be, “What do you do?” or, “Where do you work?” Other times it’s, “Where did you go to school?” or, “What neighborhood do you live in?” These are all questions about your status. Why do we in America identify ourselves by our jobs?
2. When I lived in Europe, the first questions were always about my family’s origins, or what I thought about a certain topic or the city that I was in, or if I had seen such and such play, or if I knew the writings of such and such. These were questions about who I am rather than what I am. Isn’t that curious?
3. Is there a difference between how we define ourselves as Americans and how people in other countries and cultures define themselves?

Something Else: Better Small Talk

Apparently there is a way to improve the kind of small talk we have. A Google search of “better small talk” alone leads to 9.33 million hits. Seems like a lot of effort for something that apparently doesn’t do much to make us happy.

1. What’s the deal with all of these New Year’s resolutions?
2. When did that habit start, and why are so many of them about diet, basically saying, “I don’t like my body” and, “I need to do something better”? Better than what or whom?
3. Do you do resolutions? What are they?

Today’s Something Else: More Musings for 2011

The New Year also brings out the widespread practice of making predictions. Once the purview of shamans and priests and soothsayers, now all you have to do is have a big mouth and feel important enough to lay out a list of things and count on the fact that no one will remember what you said a year later because, well, we never seem to look back in America. Do you do predictions?

And how about those year-end “10 Best” lists?  Seems like there’s a list for everything from cocktails to tweets. I always wonder from what they derive those lists. Isn’t usually the product of an individual, and isn’t it impossible for one individual to see/read/listen/watch everything in a field or topic or art form within a year? And why exactly is it a “10 Best” list? Why not “3 Best”? Is it because we have the 10 Commandments in mind as the benchmark for the correct number of important things?