Imagine you are an Irish kid from Queens, New York thrown out of school in your teens for alcohol. Your parents, who evidently have no sense of irony, send you away to Ireland to punish you for your drinking. You subsequently grow up to become a comedian and a celebrity in Ireland, and you are looking for new venues to conquer. Then it hits you: If you perform in China you’ll have a potential audience of billions. Only two problems: one, you want to perform in Mandarin, but you don’t know the language at all; and two, you want to perform stand-up comedy, but the Chinese don’t know what stand-up is.
Well then you would be Des Bishop, who did exactly that. He went to China, learned Mandarin, and performed a stand-up comedy act for Chinese audiences. What’s more he went on the Chinese equivalent of The Dating Game and conversed with his potential dates in fluent Chinese.
Des tells the story of his Chinese encounters, and his love of the country in his very funny new one man show called Made in China. I interviewed him for the Arts Express program on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. You can hear the fascinating show by clicking on the gray triangle above.
Part of the pleasure when I participated in the Central Park Shakespeare Sonnet Slam last year was listening to the other actors. I remember really liking the performance of the actor who went four sonnets before me, doing Sonnet 29–“When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes.” I had no idea who he was.
Last night I happily came upon a YouTube video of that actor performing the sonnet at the Sonnet Slam; I know it was the same actor, because I could see myself in the video, sitting on stage, waiting to go to the mic. The actor’s name is Ben Crystal. You can see the video above.
But it also turns out that Ben Crystal is a brilliant scholar of Shakespeare’s verse and an excellent teacher. Below, you can hear him give an extraordinary lecture on the acting and dissection of Shakespearean verse. You will come away from it equipped with more tools for understanding and acting Shakespeare. If you don’t have the time to view the whole lecture, at least listen to his reading of the sonnet. It’s very, very well done.
The pranksters at Improv Everywhere are at it again, and they need you!
Improv Everywhere is the group of geniuses who created the No Pants Subway prank. They specialize in seemingly spontaneous musical break outs in public places. In the above video you can see one of my favorite of their pranks (or “missions,” as they call them), a real life musical in a grocery store celebrating the mingling of fruits (don’t ask, the video explains all)!
And now you, too, can participate in their next prank in mid-April. If you live in NYC and have one or more of the following skills: ballet, gymnastics, or ballroom dancing, then get in contact with them at the following urls:
The Magic Castle is a legendary magic club in Los Angeles where magicians hang out and perform for the general public. Magician Steve Spill, who I interviewed for WBAI radio, has a new book out called I Lie for Money. In it, among other things, he talks about his time as a a young teen performing and raising hell with the greats at the Castle. In the interview, Spill spoke with me about his experiences at the Castle, but in the editing of the piece for general audiences, some of the most interesting parts for magicians necessarily got cut out. You can listen to some of those missing outtakes by clicking on the grey triangle above. WBAI should be running the rest of the interview in a couple of weeks from now, and I’ll post it up on the blog after it’s broadcast.
For radio station WBAI 99-5 FM NYC, I recently interviewed cartoonist Keith Knight, writer and illustrator of the daily comic strip The K Chronicles, a strange and hilariously twisted view of the world through the eyes and pen of your average, African-American male. He recently has been touring with a slide show called They Shoot Black People Don’t They: A Cartoonist’s look at Police Brutality. You can listen to Keith talking about his strips and the life of a cartoonist by clicking on the grey triangle above.
The best magicians have long told us that the method is not the heart of a trick. Magic, after all, is a branch of the theatrical arts, not a species of brain twister, puzzle, or mathematics lesson. The premise and effect are what the audience sees. The rest is for backstage discussion.
To that end, when a magician is planning a routine, a script is very helpful. Here’s a sample script involving a very simple one coin routine. Interestingly, there’s no outward dialogue in this script! But by working a script, a performer can take a mundane set of tricks and create a more compelling performance piece, as follows.
The following effect is what Gerry Deutsch might call “‘perverse magic.”
Effect: a confused, but lovable old man or woman gets very lucky. S/he is not sure if this good luck is a hallucination or not.
Character: A Chaplinesque poor tramp who can’t believe his or her eyes. Older than Chaplin though, not drunk, but the eyeglasses are not always reliable. Time isn’t what it was. Was it ever?
This is all performed silently. The dialogue in the script you’re reading is the performer’s silent script. Nothing is spoken out loud. Method is not important right now. The script, as per Pete McCabe’s advice in Scripting Magic is from the audience point of view.
1) (An old man or woman with glasses enters. Looks up to the right, then the left, then back to the right, puzzled.) “A coin in the air? No, can’t be. Coins in the air! I’m seeing things. (Takes off glasses and rubs them against shirt.) There they are again! Maybe it’s a spot against my eyeglasses stuck. (Rubs finger from inside to outside–no glass!) Huh? That’s weird, how did my finger…? (Looks at finger) Hey I got an idea–this is strange, I hope nobody is watching this–I’m going to grab one. (Reaches out, there it is!) What the–OMG–This is like when I–let me look at this–Wow.”
2) (Spinning coin in between both hands) “This is so beautiful–from up there! (Holds up in LH) This is so precious. (Puts in RH, closes hand tight. ) Wait is someone there? (Look around for anyone.) The coin is still there, yes! (Checks the coin, close hand again) I’m so happy I found this.”
3) “Wait a second, something funny is happening with that coin, it’s jumping in my hand it’s weird it’s trying to get away! Omigosh, I think it’s gone. I can’t bear to think that it is. Is it? (Slowly open hand) It’s gone!”
4) (Looking around) “Where did it go, is it back where I got it from? No, did I drop it, no. Did I–wait–what’s that weird twitching under my right arm? It’s omigosh, it’s my coin (Kissing it). So glad. You bad boy. (Deliberately put it back into RH. Shake tight. Wags finger at it: ‘Bad boy’. Kisses it.) Wait a second, something funny is happening again with that coin, it’s jumping in my hand, it’s pulling my hand away. It’s gone! Wait something strange happening now with my left armpit (grab the coin from under the L armpit with RH, transfer to LH in order to adjust glasses to see it better.) Oh you crazy coin.”
5) “And it’s real silver! (Bites it, nods his head to confirm, yes it’s real. Bites it again, swallows it. Look of panic.) I swallowed this thing! I’ve got to get it up! (Coughs and eventually a whole slew of coins comes up which he catches in his hat.) Where did all those come from? That’s really strange. (Looks up at audience for a moment, then back at hat. S/he is startled. Turns the hat upside down) The coins are all gone! what’s going on here?”
6) (Stands motionless for a few moments) “Gone. They’re nowhere. I screwed up. Maybe it wasn’t even real. (Walk towards Stage Right, looks behind him Stage Left, where he first saw the coin. Walk back slowly to that spot and looks again) I just–I know I –how can I –I’m just a loser. What–what’s that? an echo…a shadow…” (S/he reaches gently into the air again with the RH. S/he has something now. S/he rubs the fingers of the right hand together and a slow, long, pour of silver glitter flutters to the floor. S/he looks up, shaken, thankful, at the magic portal that was open for a brief time. See Chaplin photo above. S/he backs away slowly from the remains of the glitter on the floor until s/he is offstage.)
Monday’s doctor appointment gets him out of bed. Doctor, my eyes.
Like Paul Simon, Jackson Browne is a master of using ambiguity in a song lyric to create multiple meanings. This is the first Jackson Browne song I ever heard, and it’s still one of my favorites. I don’t think anyone before or since has tackled the subject in quite this way.
And did you catch that there are two letter “h”s in ophthalmology?
No One Asked Me is a new play about recently arrived undocumented immigrants in NYC. I interviewed the director, actors and writer about the play for radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. The play is not an agitprop presentation of noble golden children, but about real flawed teenagers trying to make their way through life. In the interview we talk about the play, the lives of undocumented immigrant teens, and the process of putting together a piece like this in the tough environment of New York City. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the grey triangle below.