Nomi @ the Cabinet of Curiosities Festival

May 12 - 14, 2017

A deconstruction of the life, aesthetic, and cultural impact of Klaus Sperber, aka Klaus Nomi, an iconic figure in the late 70s and early 80s downtown NYC performance art scene. Known for his almost inhuman voice and robotic-Kabuki style, Nomi is a journey of song, movement, baking, fashion, and spaceships, a tribute to the aliens and freaks we all wish we had the confidence to be.

Cast:
Aaron Drill
James La Bella
Emily White
Roberto Williams
Maddy Bukkhegyi

Makeup by Nick Chieffo and Patty De La Garza
Music by AJ Helman
Klaus' Tuxedo by Eddie Kent

Thanks to:
Andrew Clarke, Danika Frank, Geena Ciambelli, Griddler's, Emerson College
• • •

Summer 2016

Less than a month until I'll be moving into my first leased, adult apartment.
Real exciting stuff.

Summer 2016 has been...a lot.

My time is split between working 9 - 5 at Emerson's IT Help Desk, and at HowlRound.com.
Both have been rewarding and properly challenging experiences.

This past month I had to move out of the apartment in Allston I was living in, due to a small fire that did not affect my room. Now I'm in the North End, which I love.

Getting out of my routine got me off track on my writing. I've been working on a Spec script for Broad City and some theatre writing, focusing on a play I'd like to stage this fall at school.

Thankfully I have had some truly fulfilling experiences. One was the Creating Action Crew with the Theatre Offensive. In ten rehearsals, I and four other artists utilised devised theatre techniques to create a short SHAREformance. This was my first time actually creating this kind of performance, and the first time I've been paid as a performer/theatre artist. Based on this, I've been rethinking and interrogating my current habits as an artist, which has felt great.

I have been mulling over how the internet does not archive content well, and what I can do to ensure that my work, art, writing, posts, etc can be preserved and accessible in the most useful system.
One solution I'm playing around with is creating these Storify archives every month, with my own content, shared posts I loved, and articles which had an impact on me.

Check it out.
• • •

Dramaturgical Work for Blood on the Cat's Neck

This semester I've been the dramaturg on a production of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Blood on the Cat's Neck, directed by Rachel Huntsinger.

My work was divided into two elements, my involvement in the rehearsal process and the lobby/pre-performance experience.

Rehearsals

Before rehearsals began and throughout, I researched the playwright, the play, and the context in which it was written (West Germany 1971). I asked the director questions about her choices, chimed in with what in my research was relevant, and watched everyone work.

I compiled my research and curated our discussions into a packet for the cast and creative team, you can browse it here. The most comprehensive scholarly work on this play came from David Barnett, and the most fascinating writing on Fassbinder (which Barnett argued veered into gossip) came from Ronald Hayman.

For rehearsals, I knew I wanted to create a bulletin board with visual food for the actors. Because the actors were playing (often subverted) stock characters - the Model, the Soldier, the Policeman, etc - I search American and mostly German Google Images to explore what society associates with these tropes.

In addition, I threw in questions that our director started rehearsals with, a page of the comic from which the playwright got the main character's name from, and an essay from David Barnett.

Halfway through rehearsals, I began looking at the production through the eyes of a our audience. What will they be experiencing, what will their expectations will be, and what should or shouldn't they know before the play begins.

Lobby Display

My first concept for the lobby display was to wallpaper it with newspapers and then paint words related to the play on them. I imagined what words someone would tag the play with, if it was a post on Instagram. I pulled back a bit, and made a handful of newspaper-word paintings.


I felt as though I was having my first gallery show.

I found one of two CRT televisions left on campus and got it in the lobby. Playing on loop was a series of absurd YouTube videos (explained in my program note), a clip from a production of Kaspar (the play Blood on the Cat's Neck is mostly directed based on), and a compilation of moments from Fassbinder's film work.

My goal for the lobby display was for the audience to have something to look at before and after the show, but mainly to create a mood. To give a hint as to what kind of theatre was happening here. There will be aggression, this is a grungy and uncomfortable work. Do not be surprised if there is no traditional story.

DramaTURDgy

Most lobby displays from a dramaturg include some biographical information on the playwright, and maybe an interactive element of some kind. I worry that this information and these engagement opportunities are too often glossed over. In addition, I wanted to avoid creating certain expectations I've encountered which involve audience feedback or author background.

My solution was to put dramaturgical materials in the bathroom.

To encourage more audience engagement I put chalkboard wallpaper in the bathroom stalls, with some fun questions!

In one stall I asked "Are you a bitch" with options to tally under yes or no. Another had the question, "What's the worst thing you've called your mother?" - crazy was written more than once.

This was captioned: draw an X where you liked to be touched.












To get people to read my one-page biography of the playwright, I put it at average eye-level above the urinal, and next to the mirror in the bathroom without a urinal.





Program Note

I love notes from the dramaturg. In addition to their theatrical insight, they tell me that this position I didn't know existed until I was 16 is in fact, a real and awesome thing.

I asked that audiences read my note after the performance:
When I first began to research Rainer Werner Fassbinder I was horrified. In my presentation to the cast and creative team, I called him a monster, a Frank-n-Furter-type who would "flirt with ugliness" to get what he wanted. He emotionally abused the people he was in relationships with, along with those cast in his movies (often these roles were overlapping) in pursuit of his artistic goals. His work is rooted in the belief that humans are all sado-masocistic creatures, and this play looks at the relationships between everyday people. This production focuses on human development, looking past what society tells us to do, to see intensions. 
Fassbinder (like us all) was filled with multitudes and contradictions: Oozing self-confidence, but burdened with self-condemnation; seeking a communal artistic collective, for himself to be in charge of; empathizing and writing about those without a voice, yet oppressing and torturing those who loved him. Your fav is problematic indeed.
Blut am Hals der Katze (the original German title) is a play about language: recognizing it, learning it, confusion from it, oppression by it; and seeing it not as a natural occurrence, but a construction of society so we can create social relations but also to control, cheat, humiliate, coerce, and disown each other. 
Fassbinder remixes quotes, de-contexualizes and confuses audience's expectations with clich?s through language. Consistent inconstancy. The humor and absurdity of this play can be found today in our internet remix culture. Vaporwave and its Aesthetic movement, along with YouTube Poop are modern examples of how tropes and characters like a Butcher, or Squidward Tentacles can be freed from their associations, and put into wildly different situations. These often hilarious and sometimes viral videos can be confusing, discomforting, yet entertaining, similar to Blood on the Cat's Neck. 
The question we are first presented with is: will Phoebe Zeitgeist learn democracy?
At the end of the play she summarizes what she has learned.

At the end of the last performance I found that my "bitch" survey had been replaced with the following. I don't know who had the audacity to change it, but I love what they wrote.
• • •

A Significant Weekend of Theatre

Last year on Valentine's Day weekend, I took a trip to NYC.

The impetus of the trip was seeing Cabaret with my grandmother, but I ended up seeing four more plays. All them were radically different, but each blew my mind and have been driving me to create what I create.

When I need to remember what kind of theatre I like, what are the moments that drive me back into dark rooms to watch people play, I think of this weekend.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

The weekend started with a 10PM performance of John Cameron Mitchell in his musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This musical and the movie introduced me to so much in regards to the aesthetics of glam punk rock, one-person shows, 90s queer culture, and the German culture it references. I had seen Neil Patrick Harris and Andrew Rannells in the role, but Mitchell was something completely different. Even with one leg in a brace from a mid-show injury, he pulled off a 90 minute, emotionally and physically draining performance. Perhaps it was a choice, or pain meds, but it truly felt as though Hedwig could have collapsed at any moment. That was the danger, the immediacy to the performance. On the precipice of self-destruction, a human in beta. I loved every second of it.

Big Love

I had planned on seeing Hamilton at this time, I tried to get tickets months in advance. It didn't happen. I tried the lottery. No go. With some friends, walking up the street, I remembered that a production of this play I read for class and loved was happening. It was Valentine's Day and a play about love felt appropriate. We high-tailed it from Union to Time Square, grabbed tickets at the Signature Theatre, and strapped in for this one act. I love the script. I love Chuck Mee. Tina Landau's staging was incredible. What I will never forget is the climax of the play. Her choices. I picked up on each detail and got so excited I began hyperventilating, nearly to the point I thought I might pass out. Never have I felt that way at the theatre before.

The Iceman Cometh

That night, alone, I went to Brooklyn to see Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy in Eugene O'Neill's five hour play at BAM. It remains the longest piece of theatre I've seen in my life. And it earned every minute. The lighting design was a member of the brilliant ensemble cast. Nathan Lane's act four monologue destroyed me. Following the performance I rode the subway with a high school English teacher who had studied and taught the play for quite some time (probably decades). I spoke about my initial reactions. Since I was alone I took notes. This is a play about the wrong kind of pity.

Cabaret

A perfect musical. That's what I have to say. Perfection is usually boring. But this production achieves perfection and entertainment and emotional engagement. I went to see Emma Stone's last performance, after I had seen the production without her in August. A year later I recall her Sally reaching me all the way in the back of the Mezzanine, and the Emcee felt less of a presence in comparison. Aesthetically, I'm drawn to the grunge, the Weimar-era musical style, and the constant gentle swaying choreographed throughout the production. I get chills thinking about it.

An Octoroon

There is probably a word for something like this: when you hear something is good, worth seeing, and you manage to go see it without a single expectation. At intermission I remember thinking: too much melodrama, I'm not sure when to laugh or not. After the second act: wow. I felt something.
When I think back to seeing that production I know the kind of response I look for in my writing: a strong juxtaposition of pleasurable discomfort and sharp humor. The deconstruction of race through makeup, the way the set was as important as any character, line, or plot moment. How the play's alienation effect criticized and educated the audience on the genre of melodrama and metatheatre.
Currently it's my favorite play, and I cannot wait to see it staged again.
ArtsEmerson, with CompanyOne produced the play in a sold-out run, much to my joy.

An actual note in my journal from after I saw An Octoroon at TFANA

• • •

Dank je Well, or Alstublieft.

In Dutch, "alstublieft" means please or here you are (as a sort of end of transaction statement).
Dank je wel (pronounced DANK-YU VELL) is "thank you"

I've been home for three weeks.

Someone told me that you don't know what was life-changing until way later, with hindsight and everything. Before I left, my paternal grandmother told me to look at what I see, and listen to what I hear (I believe I got that right). She reminded me of this on the phone the other day.

I read this, and it rang so true thinking of the trip which has passed, that is now cemented in history.
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”
--Christopher IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin
Journaling, talking about my trip, blogging, is all developing the metaphorical film in my mind which has been under exposure for months. I wonder what pictures will come out.

Contrasting
“Despite all the romantic notions about traveling, the truths that it dulls the senses. The traveller is always one step ahead of his feelings. New impressions eclipse concern for what is left behind. While amassing experiences of the world outside, his inner being goes to waste. Such is his state of mind until the next destination"
--Arthur Japin, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi

I'm so glad to be home, to be in a place where English is what is expected, I always felt like my interactions in Europe started with an apology for not knowing the native tongue.
Hopefully the lovely Duolingo will put me on a path to be more prepared for my next trip to Europe. Yes I am of course already planning where I must go next: Iceland, Dublin, Glasgow, Barcelona, Athens, Croatia, Switzerland, Sweden.

Everyone asks how the trip was, and I think I've developed a great monologue about the highlights, seeing all the theatre and art I wanted to see, how I'm thinking a little differently now about the world, etc. I've gotten a little tired of it, but I always stress how grateful I am, how privileged I feel to have gotten the experience. If I'm with someone I am close to, I mention how although the trip was a dream come true, I wasn't 100% happy all the time -- of course -- because there were moments I thought, "everyone is having fun except for me" "I am doing this whole trip wrong" "I just want to be home" "everyone is pretending to have fun, but really this whole thing is just okay" "this is too stressful" and other negative thoughts. But right now, I have no major regrets about anything, I don't live my life with regrets (actually I wish I hadn't missed my flight in Edinburgh, but I still handled the situation pretty well...)

I wrote a fantastic final paper in my theatre history class summarizing the work I saw, integrated with movement, high on spectacle and theatricality, and how it has impacted my approach to making theatre.

For my history class I heavily researched life while the Berlin wall was up.

I feel as though this trip I learned more about Christianity and its relationship to art than I ever have before. The European perspective on the World Wars in my history class has been helpful in understanding today's situations and seeing how Europe has become what it is since 1914.

There is a moment every day where I stop and think about some moment from my semester and I take the time to be grateful for the trip I had. I can't wait to figure out what was life-changing.
• • •