Slam Dunk

2016 sonnet slam

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So, the 2016 Shakespeare Sonnet Slam last Friday was really enjoyable! It was a beautiful dry day, no rain at all, despite the weather forecast; and unlike last year when the temperature was really cold, it was warm and sunny. There was great variety in the performances, as always: a lovely sonnet performed in French, a high school group who came to watch and perform, a woman who performed with her young baby in her arms, a singer from the cast of the hit Broadway musical Something Rotten, old men, young women, and people I recognized from past years. The highlight for me was the wonderful actor Dana Ivey, who recited “Shall I compare thee,” just beautifully: still and strong and resonant as an oak tree.

Every year, as I get more familiar with the sonnets, I “hear” more of them, and enjoy them that much more. I also feel a kind of silly identification and solidarity with the people who are performing sonnets which I was assigned to in previous years.

I met my actor friend Eve there—she’s a slam recidivist as well—and we both agreed that it goes by so fast when you’re finally up there, that you have no idea what you’ve done. We both had the sensation that we had skipped multiple lines of the sonnet while we were reciting, but I think (I hope!) that was only a feeling.

When I’m up there, actually performing, I don’t try to think too hard about my analysis or preparation; that was homework, and I just have to trust that I’ve done it well. The one thing I’m focusing on in the moment of performance, the one thing that I’m holding onto for dear life, because otherwise stage fright would sweep me away, is to play my action, which I chose in this case to be, “to double my bonds of love with you.” That’s my lifeline.

We finished all 154 sonnets very quickly—started at one, over by four—so I walked over to Strawberry Fields where, of course, there was a young guy playing John Lennon songs on his guitar. Lots of tourists, and he was very accommodating, playing all of their favorite requests. He sang in a key that I could sing in, so I spent a while croaking out John Lennon songs with him, though I have to say that by the fifth rendition of “Imagine,” it was getting old.

We were spared from the rain the whole afternoon, everything looked green and luscious in Central Park, and I finished the day with a $4.00 Double Caramel ice cream pop from the ice cream vendor.

A very nice way to spend a day.

“Where the Balloon Is?”

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At the 2015 Golden Cat Magic Conference in Gabrovo, Bulgarian magician Petar Sharkov performed some hilarious imitations of a few of the magicians who had attended the conference in the past.  With his permission, I’m re-posting his turn in which he satirizes David Stone, Lennart Green, Shawn Farquar, Yu Ho Jin,  and Topas. Unfortunately, his funny imitations were cut short when he dislocated his shoulder during his Topas bit, so he couldn’t do his Jeff McBride impersonation. Maybe this year?

Warning: Deep dark underground secret card manipulation techniques are exposed in the Lennart Green and Yu Ho Jin segments.

Crying With Laughter: The Onion

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The satirical online and print periodical The Onion has been at it for over two decades now, and sometimes I take it for granted. But over those years, it has given me plenty of laughs with its pitch perfect satire that never breaks character. My wife recently emailed me a link to an Onion article that made me literally laugh out loud so many times during reading the piece, that I had to share it.

Here it is. If you’re a man and it doesn’t crack you up, you’re a better man than I am:

http://www.theonion.com/article/nations-single-men-announce-plan-to-change-bedshee-33656

The Lizard King

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If only there were a radio station devoted to running this interview 24 hours a day, non-stop, the world would be a vastly better place.

The Set-up: Celebrated war criminal Donald Rumsfeld is on the phone, plugging his autobiography on the Anthony and Opie radio show. It’s generally a stupid show. But on this day, they also have comedian Louis CK as a guest. And Louis CK just totally eviscerates Rumsfeld, insisting that Rumsfeld answer whether or not Rumsfeld is an alien lizard. The back and forth is priceless.

All in all, a fine piece of journalism from Mr. CK.

More Sites Worth Visiting

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On the left hand side of this post is a list of some of my favorite blogs. I think you’ll enjoy visiting them if you enjoy this blog. I’d also like to recommend to you some new blogs I’ve been following recently which I think you’ll enjoy as well:

Alec Nevala-Lee:  Nevala-Lee is a writer who posts daily. He talks about writing and has great quotes from all kinds of writers, often theatre workers.

https://nevalalee.wordpress.com/

Rhys Tranter: also a writer, posts many times a day and has an excellent nose for interviews with literary figures and other cultural commentary.

Home

Perspectives on Life, The Universe and Everything: AB is a photographer who is quite prolific. He does a lot of street photography, and nine times out of ten, when I see his photos, I think to myself, I wish I had taken that one!

https://abozdar.wordpress.com/

Movie Magic King

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Not since Georges Méliès and Buster Keaton has there been such an inspired movie trickster as Zach King. While most of the magic I put on this site contains no camera trickery whatsoever, Zach King’s clever YouTube videos are nothing but inspired bits of camera conjuring.

My favorite gag: the dinner invite.

Thanks to YouTuber AWESOME

A Full Life: James Connolly, The Irish Rebel

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It’s always exciting for me when I can learn, in a fun and interesting way, more about something that I know very little of. I’ve probably learned more about the revolutionary James Connolly and the Irish Easter Rebellion in my one hour’s pleasurable reading of writer and artist Tom Keough’s new graphic remembrance than in all my previous decades of schooling. In A Full Life: James Connolly, The Irish Rebel, Keough tells the story of a truly remarkable man, and puts Connolly’s life into its historical, political, economic, and philosophical context.

Connolly was born into poverty in the slums of Scotland; he devoted his life to improving the lot of working people and to freeing Ireland from British rule. For someone with little formal education, Connolly was amazingly prescient—and persuasive— in his views about socialism, feminism, and internationalism. With the 100th anniversary of the Connolly-led Easter Rebellion upon us this Easter,  it would do well to make acquaintance with this man and his ideas. You can get it here at popular prices. I bought three!—one for myself, one for my wife, and one for my son.

Note:  The ordering website has been updated and should be working for most now.

All The Things You Are: Coleman Hawkins

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Monday morning starts with my favorite jazz standard. I like so many versions of it. This Coleman Hawkins take was new to me, but it’s already become a regular on my playlists.

Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Bud Powell (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), at the Essen Jazz Festival, in West Germany, April 2, 1960

Click on the grey triangle above to listen.

Thanks to YouTuber In Nomine Porcus

 

 

How To Write A Joke: Jerry Seinfeld

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When people  who are the best in their field talk about the nuts and bolts of their creative process, it always interests me.

Jerry Seinfeld is generally considered one of the masters of his craft. It’s like Stephen Sondheim and songwriting—there’s no denying his originality and influence, even if you don’t particularly care for his songs. About four years ago, Seinfeld sat down with a reporter from The New York Times, and talked about the crafting of one five-minute routine, “The Pop Tart,” a routine that took over two years to hone. I found it very enjoyable to hear Seinfeld talk about the meticulousness of his search for the perfect way to frame a joke.

Click on the video above to watch.

Et Tu, Brute? : The Humor of Larry David

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Comedy writer Larry David is known for his creation of two of the greatest ever television comic sitcoms, the enormously successful Seinfeld and  Curb Your Enthusiasm. But David started out as a stand-up comedian, and though he disliked it, once in a while in the last decade or so he would return to delivering a stand-up set.

Click on the video above to hear the very funny Larry David do a couple of bits.

Analyzing a Shakespearean Sonnet for Performance

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The Shakespeare Sonnet Slam is coming up soon, so here is my preliminary analysis of the sonnet that was chosen for me this time, #62.

Here it is again:

SONNET 62
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

My approach is to memorize the sonnet, even though it’s not required for the Sonnet Slam. I think that until I actually sit down to memorize a piece, I don’t fully realize the particularity of the structure of the sonnet, the weight of each word, the peculiarity of each phrase, the rhythm and emphasis of the piece. Often when memorizing, I’ll have one phrase or more that I keep getting wrong—it seems like it should be what I’m saying, not what is on the page—but it is exactly that discrepancy that needs to be explored and uncovered for meaning and logic.

So, first things first: most of the Shakespearean sonnets have the same structure: 14 lines, made up of three rhyming quatrains, abab, and then a rhyming couplet, cc. Let’s break up Sonnet # 62:

SONNET 62

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.

Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.

But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.

‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

Typically, each quatrain is a variation on one theme, each with its own point to make. The final couplet is usually either a clever summation of the preceding lines, or a clever opposition to them. I think the word “clever” here is apropos, because cleverness is an integral part of a Shakespearean sonnet. No matter how much sentiment is contained in each of these sonnets, they are almost always also self-conscious objects for show. Will just couldn’t help himself on that score. Many of the sonnets were commissioned and many were the objects of public and private performance. In my opinion, a major subtext of all of these sonnets is: “I love you so much, that I wrote this clever witty poem for you.” They are, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, “conceits.” Without this acknowledgement,  the sonnets can become lugubrious; as I’ll talk about next time, a more interesting choice for me for performance is to find the playfulness in each composition.

Okay, Quatrain #1: I’m struck by the word “all”:

all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part

The accented beats all fall on the word “all” and it’s almost always a good idea to pay attention to the iambic pentameter and not fight it. So, the sonnet writer (“I” from now on), talks of himself in no half-measures. I fully admit my faults. Whether sadly or mockingly or gleefully remains to be decided.

I note also that the structure of the sonnet indicates that “eye” and “remedy” should rhyme—at least it did in Shakespeare’s day. Sometimes it’s pretentious in today’s world to go for the rhyme, but since it’s an unaccented syllable, I’ll probably go for it.

Next, Quatrain #2: I ask myself, what is this quatrain doing that the first did not? It seems to be more specific: “face,” “shape,” “truth,”; but also it stresses that not only do I think that I am wonderful, but I am the best, better than everyone else! —“As I all other in all worths surmount.” And again, the “alls” are hit hard. It’s like Muhammed Ali, “I am the Greatest!”

On to Quatrain #3: Now the turn of the sonnet. “But when my glass shows”…these “buts” in the sonnets are always important, they signal, “I used to think x, but now I realize y.”  The acting issue here is to make that emotional turn real by having some specific internal sensory stimuli to allow that change in thought and emotion to happen. Shakespeare provides the impetus—looking in the mirror and seeing the reality of my physical shape, rather than just what I’d like to imagine or feel. Those of us of a certain age have all had those awful moments when the light is too harsh and the wrinkles too deep and the mirror refuses to lie. That’s what I need to capture.

But there are two revelations going on in this quatrain: not only that I am not the physical and mental specimen that I think I am, but that my self-love has been deeply unfair.

The final couplet explains: I only look good to myself because I am basking in your glow, your beauty, and mistaking your aura for my own. This, I think is the hardest part of the sonnet from an acting point of view. It’s a complicated realization that has to be done in a very few words, and the structure of the lines seems difficult right now to me. This is where I think I have the most work ahead of me.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Next time, I’ll talk about actually trying to memorize the sonnet, and seeing how that informs me further.