Archive for November, 2012

boob toob [artlog]

November 27, 2012

mes amis–

i first met mark sitko at ps 122 years ago. i was wearing my hair loose back then and he mistook me for a lively theatrical performer whose reputation preceded  her. au contraire! needless to say, i was intrigued by this straight white man–an anomaly amidst a morass of downtown weirdos and freak boxes.

but don’t be fooled.

mark–or sitko as he is known to intimates–is a freak box of high form. and a delightful one at that! his company, which he helms with the as-smart-as-she-is-beautiful erica rippy, is called van cougar.


the script from the group’s first theatrical foray rocky philly, earned sitko a spot in the highly prized playwriting section at brooklyn college where svengalis mac wellman and erin courtney instruct. i caught that play and considered it a beautiful bonsai tree. rambling tales about philadelphia were set to the physical scenes of rocky, which i’ve never seen. (al pacino and i are too close for me to judge his work. ) gonna see a movie called gunga din was a mediation on war (stories from real life vets were set to the moves of famous war movies, none of which i’ve ever seen) and now sitkocity takes on Youtube at the incubator arts project. clearly he has a problem with ambition!

i’ve been stuck in karachi but got in touch with erica and mark, who always signs his emails “love sitko” over the interwebs about their latest project. here’s what we discussed.

each more dreamy than the last in this photo!

tell me about the name van cougar… it is so genie.
Well, the simple answer is that it’s a riff on the name of a Canadian city.

mais bien sur!
Van Cougar began when two artists (Ned Buskirk, and Mark Sitko) from San Francisco, and New York traveled to Vancouver to visit a third artist (Erin Shea) that usually resides in LA. Erin was working on a horrible reality television show and we went to take advantage of the apartment her company had put her up in.  Over many glasses of wine, the group started sharing stories and recording them for posterity. After everyone returned to their lives, they started creating theater out of the stories: Van Cougar was born.

Van Cougar’s logo is riff on the name–an awesome cougar painted on the side of a van.

tell me about your writing process. i understand you assemble text from various interviews, c’est vrais?
We don’t like to call them “interviews” per se since they are conversations between multiple people. The idea is to get four to five people together, give them food and alcohol, and let them share stories about their lives.

knowing you, i’m sure some green herbs  are served in addition to libations! why stories?
When someone tells a story they express a great deal about themselves, as well as the people they are talking about.  It’s a beautiful thing, direct human connection. This is, in essence, what Van Cougar is trying to recreate through its theater. We record stories and ask our actors to retell them verbatim. The written text looks more like an epic poem than a play.

how it tube similar/different from your previous works rocky philly and gunga wunga... ?
Tube is very joyful.

the world needs more joy.
Rocky Philly is a love story, Gonna See a Movie Called Gunga Din is a drama, and Tube is a comedy. It’s also the first time we’ve used a lot of the original text from the visual source (YouTube videos). It features live music, which we haven’t had in our earlier plays AND it’s a choose-your-own-adventure play.  The audience will determine the order in which the YouTube videos will be performed.

good lord. i understand you use the term “cheadle it out” in rehearsals, elaborate!
“Cheadle it out” is a shout-out to the inimitable actor, Donald Cheadle. In Gunga Din we recreated a scene from the movie Hamburger Hill and asked the actor playing Cheadle to cheat out towards the audience. “Cheadle it out” was born and is still used today in our rehearsal room.

i recall the term-in-homage was already in use when i popped in to say hello at your very first read through of gunga, but perhaps my memory serves me incorrectly. (it wouldn’t be the first time!)
allora. my research indicates that are reinventing the theatrical form, what say you?
That is a lofty phrase–reinventing the theatrical form.

i aim for the stars!
I’d say that we are challenging the conventions of narrative as commonly practiced in theater. Van Cougar has little interest in plot, character development or prescriptive morality. Instead we focus on giving our performers enough direction to struggle in their performance, so they have no time to “pretend” their character is struggling through some emotional arc.

 gracious. i feel bad for actors who “pretend”..! poor fellows. so basta plot, eh?
An audience can follow a show with no plot as long as there is structure. We are interested in creating theatrical structures that offer just as much comfort and organization as a traditional narrative would. In the end everything humans do is based on ritual. As Mac Wellman would say, when you take everything away all that you are left with is ritual.  Plot falls away long before that, character even sooner–we do not believe that these are essential elements of live performance.

if only we were at cypress bar i might needle (and cheadle) you further on this point!
why youtube? if i don’t know the internet sensations will i be lost?
The most popular YouTube videos are simple and unpremeditated. Someone can post a video of themselves sitting on the toilet or falling off a table, or a video of their dog or cat and have the potential for millions of people to watch it. Amazing! With almost no investment, these videos can become pop culture sensations.

aye. shit floats.
We’re interested in exploring this entertainment medium since it is so unlike what we’ve looked at before: film. And, the size of the audience poses another paradox for art-makers: why is it that theater takes so much time and resources yet only a few hundred people will experience it, while someone can post a simple video and reach millions of people?

If you don’t know the videos, you won’t be lost because the action and text will speak for themselves. Everyone should be be able to follow along and enjoy the experience.  Hopefully our performance will inspire you to go check out any of the videos you don’t immediately recognize.

any other lingering thoughts???
The play has a “choose-your-own-adventure” format. This means that the actors will give audience members a selection of videos to choose from. Each show will be slightly different; you could see a show and see it again and see videos you didn’t see on the first night. So, come see the show twice or three times! You’ll get a different piece of the algorithm each time.

the regional theaters would note your business acumen, my friend.
Thank you so much for taking an interest in us–we love your work as well.

Tube, directed by Mark Sitko, opens tonight, Nov. 27 at the Incubator Arts Project.
 All star actors include:  Samuel Traylor, Martin Brown, Derek Loehr, Sam Soghor and Lucy Kaminsky with design by such genies as Ásta Hostetter, Alaina Ferris and Paul Ketchum.




o starry night ; hello to arms

November 19, 2012

mes amis–


it was a starr studded (wink!) gathering the other evening at brooklyn’s finest theatrical venue: the bushwick starr. art star(r)s, and constellations, of all stripes gathered for a soiree to benefit the obie-award winning teatro. well-heeled folk attended un dîner upstairs while more pauper-like bohemians gathered in the theatre’s downstairs espace.

i’d prefer power, but i’ll take pauper!

i remember those stairs to the upstairs well. i had just attended karma kharms back in march and needed to dash upstairs to congratulate the fine performers that peppered that cast (i was running late for a flight to lahore) when–whack!–kippy down.

i’d rounded a corner into a dark hallway and careened, with great velocity, into a plastic bucket. you read that right. off the bucket tumbled. i attempted to save face while laughing it off. those who know me well know that i usually err on the side of hypochondria. but that night, as my assistant kindly changed my flight to the next day, i decided to carouse avec le cast at nearby bodega bar even showing off my wounded bloody ankle all the while joking “mais, c’est rien.”



au contraire! the next day i could hardly hobble to my car service to take me to jfk. but nothing could stop this kippy! and it was true, i had important meetings in lahore. nothing could hold me back. a few weeks later, i was getting a leg wax (as i’m prone to do every 6-8 weeks) in poland when the wax gal purred “what is?” she recoiled in horror at the sight of my scab-scar. months later, back in nyc, a doctor told me it was probably a sprain. even now, if i brush against this foot spot at a certain angle, and with a certain force, a twinge of pain shudders through me.

but basta injuries! i arrived for the après dîner portion of the evening where i spotted starrs from target margin, the starr’s board (not bored like most other theatres!) and even a couple of those gals from doll parts (brooklyn’s premiere dolly parton cover band). we mingled on the roof adjacent to the theatre espace and i marveled at the new york city skyline which served as a perfect backdrop to karma kharms not so many months ago.

ma che bello


i am a believer in the saying “make new friends, but keep the old.” as a gemini, i find i’m constantly collecting new cohorts, friends, acquaintances and professional peeps i look forward to seeing (or avoiding!) in the downtown theatrical midst. what luck to meet a dear friend in my youth.

todd goldstein and i discovered we sported the same “top siders” (footwear) when we were five years old. later, when i was ten and testing the limits of my confidence, i teased todd. surely i was jealous of his preternatural talents! and who wouldn’t have been?! todd is a magnanimous type though, and upon entering 7th or 8th grade we formed a true and lasting friendship. (there was a paucity of other interesting folk in our nerd-filled french class as i recall… to be the coolest of the nerds like todd et moi … c’etait difficile!)

c’est un nerd comme moi

i was there for “grist harps” (his first band foray) and then “clifford” (i believe that was when todd and i were co-eds)… i even attended shows of “the harlem shakes” (marveling always at the vehemence and asymmetrical haircuts of that group’s fan base).

“hipsters at a concert”

it is with great delight, therefore, that i share with you arms–todd’s current musical outlet (they’ve been around the block for a few years now i believe.) of late they’ve made a rousing (!) music video and you’ll see todd–who is as handsome as he is talented–appear in a bit role. next time give us more than a walk on please!

in my jeuness, todd and i co-wrote (and starred) in a french art film entitled “la vue par d’oeil d’un chien” (c’est vrais!) it is high time we see him on stage and screen again (not to mention hear his beautifully plaintive tunes) this isn’t a farewell… but a hello to arms.

leggily yours,

r.i.p. hostess w/ the mostess

November 16, 2012

my friends and fellow citizens–

i remember as a kindergarten being told that there was “no wrong way to eat a cupcake.” back in my days of gluten consumption i so enjoyed feasting on hostess cupcakes. start at the bottom, nibble around the sides and save that creamy center for last. mmm!

they always did come two in a pack. if you were clever like me you saved one for later and in generous moments shared with a friend!

so it was with a heavy heart that i learned this morning of  hostess’s bankruptcy. i recall and ruminate upon a recent statement by a leading italian economist. “we cannot have a free market if businesses are not allowed to fail. it is like religion without the sin!”

puodarsi. (it could be so)

but i would argue that those sinfully delicious cupcakes with the chocolate frosting and white swirl should continue to exist for the generations after us. perhaps a cupcake philanthropist will come to the rescue?? i hope so. i may even have to retire my gluten avoidance today in order to honor this pillar of my past.

vive la hostess cupcake!


voting, songs for biking and just for fun

November 6, 2012

amici miei

the presidential elections are happening today in gli stati uniti. i hope you are able to go and vote if you have not done so already.

though i am a citizen of the world, i do carry an american passport (among others!) and so voted this morning. it was a thrilling experience. waiting in the line for an hour and a half i enjoyed observing my fellow americans. many were jovial and joking but a few were angry at the general chaos of the public school where voting was taking place.

moreover, the park slope parents were out in full force. “tallulah, what did mommy say about throwing the cupcake on the ground?!” and then “skylar say ‘excuse me’ next time.” my favorite was a woman pushing an enormous baby carriage in which sat two tiny despots playing on an ipad. the lady was not too pleased to be in such tight quarters. she could hardly move the carriage which was on par with (wink!) those unacceptable large golf umbrellas. i wanted to suggest that perhaps the crowd of hopeful voters was not the problem but the girth of her carriage was! instead i bit my tongue and was merrily confused and captivated by the chaos.

who is in charge?

an older gentleman in a baseball cap was volunteering directing people where to go. a well dressed young man approached the volunteer, “can i give you my address and you’ll tell me where to go?” he asked politely. the older fellow, with borscht belt verve replied, “you can give me your blood type! now was district you in?” it was a joyful kangaroo court and i am grateful to live in a democrazy even if it is deeply flawed!

this is a banana republic

well then. basta politica! in recently days i’ve been tooling around on my bicycle and a number of songs have been repeating on my head. sure, there are the usual au courrant pop classics. i love a call me maybe. but some other tunes have jammed their way into my ear worm. my favorite one to hum while peddling is by ludacris. but watch out… the lyrics are not for the faint of heart!

as i nod to this ditty i imagine myself a powerful predator of the road and i swiftly sail along.

naturally queen’s bicycle race is a classic.

ding ding!

my friend in tehran suggests bon jovi’s undivided.

i was hitherto unfamiliar with this tune. thanks salar! i’ll be sure to think of this one in the future.

and while we’re on the topic of tunes allow me to remind you of this chanson.

it was the theme of free willy. what are marvelous homemade video this is! the young chap is clearly having a ball and his little whale is most cute. let us all recall the joy and innocence of youth and smile on lives well lived.

vote and be well and a bientot!

end times! sandy and other ruminations

November 4, 2012

my friends and fellow world citizens–

let us assess all that has occurred in this past week. the ‘cane has come and gone. the frankenstorm resulted in terribly untimely deaths … and left many without power, transit, school/work and proper plumbing. and yet meanwhile across the globe it was business as usual. teenage couples went about coupling, married people had their continual misunderstandings and forgivings and business people ran late for luncheons. artists every where tried to fundraise for their dear sweet art projects. alas. but something seismic seemed to occur. on halloween night one friend opined that super storm sandy has effectively closed the nine eleven chapter of american history and opened one about the global warming crisis. (i won’t go on about our presidential prospects and lack of climate change discussion in les debates)

each more handsome than the other

at first the news of a storm excited me. it was fun to overly dramatize people’s reactions to the ongoings. the panic reminded me of a film from my youth. i quoted it thus, loudly from the steps of my brownstone:

sillyness aside, something in that panic unites us universally. in the final days of my studying philosophy, i recall pondering a meteorological related theory to human connection and community. the theory was thus: crazy weather unifies people and creates true and local kinship that may be fleeting but is nevertheless wholly authentic.

at the time i was playing in a show: the pirates of penzance. it was a bit part (my forte, naturally) and the theatre was located on the MIT campus. i felt so at home with the nerds that i voyaged to and fro from my own campus far away, taking a shuttle, a train and then a long walk across the mass ave bridge to reach rehearsals. one night, on the way home with gilbert and sullivan on repeat in my head, the skies opened for a torrential rain. “apres moi le deluge!” i mused. as i made my way across the bridge, fighting with the wind, my umbrella and the heavens, i spotted a fellow journeyer. he too was soaked from the storm and we shared a hearty grin-grimace. ahh to be alive and braving the elements! i understand you stranger! my face said.

c’etait moi

anyhoo. i have tried to further develop this theory  but people seem uncomfortable talking about the weather in philosophical terms. [sigh]


speaking of community though. on thursday i went to see ich, kürbisgeist by the allustrious sibyl kempson in collaboration with the enviable big dance theater company at the delightfully jankity chocolate factory in long island city. (tanti aggettivi!) it was already a monumental day pour moi. i had already made my first interborough passing in the morning in order to arrive at the office-i-frequent-mondays-through-fridays. why not head over to queens?

and so it was. and what a fine night of theatre viewing! i was joined with friends and comrads. the audience was full of hard cord theatre nerds. they had braved the post-sandy city to see a play in mostly gibberish! mamma mia. one section in which an actor pretended to get high off a pumpkin really tickled my funny bone. but there were many others too! i recommend the show highly.

do yourself a favor and go see this

as for me, while i doubt i’ll continue to cycle to the garment district on a daily basis (my thighs are large enough as it is!) i was pleased the storm managed to push me out of the old comfort zone. strange and stirring and humility inducing. a good trifecta especially if you have the tendency to boast comme moi.

but my revelations are hardly important. here’s how to help those in need post-storm
how to help in new york city after hurricane sandy.

stay safe,

ps last thing: another storm seems to be brewing on facebook. artists getting up in arms about other artists who continue to fundraise during a natural disaster. readers: i am dying to know what you think. is it right to keep kickstarting and wearing indiegogo boots in times of serious stress? what is the moral choice? is it passe? déclassé? risque? or all the reggae? fammi sapere (!) comments are welcome!