Posts Tagged ‘jack’

soothing pooches and comfort dogs

March 3, 2015

mes amis,

i recall many years ago sending out an email to some friends requesting they think good thoughts and send good energy / vibes / prayers to my mother who was undergoing a scary surgery. william burke was one of people that replied with a surprisingly heartfelt and deeply moving message. surprising, perhaps, because i did not consider him a dear friend but merely the beloved of a dear friend and so–to my limited mind of a year’s ago–he was a friend by proxy. in any case, my estimation of william changed after the brief but potent email he sent. this was a man of depth and a man who offered incredible solace while i was fretting for my maman.

since then (and before then, for that matter) i’ve always enjoyed le burke, weather (wink!) it’s when i see him hosting one of this famous polar bbqs, or out and about cheering at a doll parts concerto or guffawing at a theatrical ouvre. william is unafriad to march to his own beat, grow out his beard, or cackle when others remain silent.

his latest piece de theatre, comfort dogs, barks at jack theatre through mar. 14 and features not only his splendid wife (and aforementioned dear friend) julia sirna-frest (of doll parts lore), but also a host of other marvelous performers canine and human alike. i caught up with william and julia over email and here’s what we discussed.

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a burke, a beard, and his bronco. photo by kevin frest.


william, what sparked the idea of Comfort Dogs for you?
I read an article about a nursing home that was being over run with people who had been displaced from their home and didn’t have the means to recuperate their losses. They had been given a therapy/comfort dog who was trained specifically not to be afraid of wheels, machines and certain smells to give solace and comfort. After six months it was taken away because of lack of funding and I found that to be incredibly heartbreaking and it made me interested in exploring  why that was heartbreaking. Dogs and other pets are probably confused by us 90 percent of the time but we put such a huge expectation on them to give us comfort and solace.  We put such a personification or anthropomorphism onto dogs where we analyze the hell out of an eyebrow movement or a scratch and lay our human behavior on top the animal. I started to wonder if that is a fair thing to do. So I thought I wanted to see what it was like to create world where we put the microscope on that and see what happens.

mmm you always twist things in an interesting way. like complicating the tale of elmo in times sq. tell me, what was your writing process like?
I don’t write straight linear or plot driven plays. I depend on an emotional trajectory as opposed to an obvious throughline. Until I figure what the structure of each piece I’m kind of drowning in my own words and ideas. Levon Helms of The Band died while I was just compiling lists of dog mannerisms, needs and movements. I went down a bit of rabbit hole of The Band videos and thought he and his bandmates were very dog like.

curious! i must familiarize myself with this musical group.
They also sing songs that had very comforting or cathartic intentions behind them. I rediscovered Martin Scorsese’s concert documentary of the their last show in San Francisco. I was taken by how fluid it was and how it seamlessly moved from their performances to moments of them kind of rambling and reminiscing about certain aspects of their experiences together. I laid that over any text I had realized that the dogs should be a band and be able to try and reach people with their music. I brought the first couple pages into my writing group (Wook Taut Majesty) and heard it out loud and realized that the dogs should be reading letters from humans asking for comfort and the music could be a response. Then I got Shane Chapman to compose the music and it kind of went on from there.

Let’s talk about the dogs .. who are they? What are their tails ? (wink!)
Bluet: chihuahua. instigator. Artist living in Brooklyn. The David Greenspan of Dogs.
Gypsy: Lab mix. Grand Dame. Loves her hedge hog chew toy. The Zoe Caldwell of Dogs.
Bronco: Too many mixes to Count. Dog of the People and of the earth. Always trying to improve his craft. The Reed Birney of Dogs.

william i am obsessed with these descriptions. i have a tear in my eye. how i love these dogs and our theatrical tribe! julia, you are performing in the piece ..

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jsf is in the building. photo by kevin frest


how is it to co-star with your dog bronco? are animals hard to work with?
Working with the dogs is pretty exciting. You don’t know what they are going to do so it keeps you very present on stage which I love.

“presence is the inversion of ghosts” (#pointyreckoning. continue.)
‘Tis true. The strangest thing is Bronco is my dog so relating to him as a dog not his loving caretaker is different–I sniffed his butt one night because it was there and that is what a dog would do. All the dogs in the piece are incredible and have been a total joy to work with. I don’t know if I can ever do a tech without dogs again–it was amazing!

(perhaps this is an obvious question but .. ) what do we gain from having live animals in the piece?
jsf: There is an energy that the dogs bring that humans cannot.  There are truly always in the moment.

wb: I think the dogs are there to guide through these kind of cloudy difficult questions of existence and meaning and purpose and kind of put a mirror onto ourselves that blurs the lines between species and just accentuates idea that we all just living beings, sharing the earth together. Or…They are just fun and cute.

The Jack website says that “an ensemble of musicians and live dogs will howl, scotch and poop their way through the evening” .. what does it mean to scotch and do to Humans poop?!
jsf: It depends on the moment….

jsf: scotching is dog language. Make of it what you will. And to answer the second part of your question…Hey, shit happens.

lol! Best part of working as a couple?
jsf: Having both of my loves (William and Bronco) at tech was pretty magical.  It made the 10 hour day feel like home.

wb: This is the first time Julia has performed in my work. The best part is watching Julia using all of her personality traits, talents and quirks that I have come to love and depend on and take for granted during our over 14 years of being a couple to craft such a poignant and touching performance that has truly elevated my writing and work to place I never thought it could go.

Hardest part?
jsf: Knowing when to check my ego because I need to support William.

wb: Trying to figure a way to request that she not ask me get her water or tea while I’m focusing during Tech without getting in big trouble.

Best part of having a pet?
jsf: everything.
wb: Having a remind that you’re with a living being that is always in the moment is never concerned about the bigger things and know that we are here as companions and explorers of whatever that moment turns out to be.
Most challenging part?
jsf: This is dark but just knowing that their life span in shorter than mine make my heartache.  It’s amazing how much unconditional love I have for Bronco.
wb: Cheesy but…Sometimes you love your dog so much it hurts.
Guilty pleasures / secret influences?
Korean Action Movies. George Carlin. plus Jean Claude Van Damme Movies. Particularly Blood Sport. The Arena for the fighting Tournament is a huge influence on my design choices.
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lotta feelings in this photo. pictured: bronco. photo by kevin frest

and there you have it mes amis! i shall be attending Comfort Dogs on March 6 .. when will you be howling?
a bientot,

quit yer harpin’! (a record of paul’s experience)

February 7, 2015
mes amis
far too long has passed since our last communique! where to start? a year has come and gone. a pair of snoopy pants has debuted in the kitchen and in the forum. most importantly perhaps i have been reminded of the importance / indulgence of going somewhere warm in the cold winter months. a dose of sunshine from an archipelago does a body good! not that i ever get too much soleil, mind you. they don’t make an SPF high enough for this kippy!
is this enough protection?

is this enough protection?

anyhoo, we are here to talk about a one paul ketchum. there are many things to say about paul.
he is tall.
he has a beard. (one sense he would sport one regardless of current fashions.)
he bakes bread.
he is famously a virgo.


the sixth sign

most of all paul is a thoughtful and hilarious human and friend which is in part what makes him a fabulous playwright. i recall a time when paul showed some of us hooligans pages of a new piece that were absolutely beyond my comprehension. i believe they were an adaptation of something greek. paul is that level smart.

i mean, duh.

i mean, duh.

his latest piece, the harper’s play, is (perhaps not surprisingly) an adaptation of an issue of harper’s magazine. now go back and read that sentence again! the show premieres at jack this month. ketchum and i caught up over gmail to discuss the show’s origins and other important matters. here’s what we wrote.

what prompted this theatrical adaptation? pourquoi harper’s and not .. let us say .. the atlantic or the economist or — gasp! — the new yorker? did you ever consider, for example, harper’s bazaar? (har har)
Too many people think that the Harper’s Play actually is about Harper’s Bazaar. Maybe some day Kippy. Maybe someday.
we can hope!
Truly, I don’t read many magazines. Harper’s is pretty much it. I remember reading an issue of the New Yorker from the 1940s for a report I did for a freshman comp course while I was in college. When asked what the New Yorker was like in the 1940s, I said it seemed like it was written by a stuffy boy’s club who think their inside jokes are really funny. The professor said that not much has changed.
So, that’s why Harper’s. In the March 2013 issue, there’s an excerpt from a guide to playing the video game Dwarf Fortress. It’s an incredible piece of writing that actually started this whole idea. Allow me to just excerpt a part of it: “Finally, dead dwarves who aren’t appropriately respected by their surviving brethren will come back as ghosts and haunt your fortress. We can avoid these problems by building coffins at a Mason’s Workshop in which to place our dead dwarves, and installing the coffins somewhere convenient. Once this is done, you will probably also want to toggle “Allow Pets” to “(N)” so that your coffins aren’t filled with dead cats.” Amazing! There’s an entire play right there just waiting to be written!
you are an optimist i take it! well then. might you tell us a bit about your process? how did you go about making your adaptation?
I knew that I wanted to get at least one piece from each page of the magazine. I read through the magazine a dozen times, writing new adaptations of each part each time. At the end, I put together the parts that were the most interesting. There’s a lot in the play that isn’t in the magazine. Sometimes, the text veers into my own opinions on what I’m reading. There are places that are linguistic adaptations of the pictures. There are even parts that have nothing to do with the magazine at all. It’s really more of a record of my experience reading the magazine.
ah ha. a fine and fascinating distinction! i recall a short viewing presented at prelude festival .. what new bits does this iteration include?
All of the bites from Prelude are returning! Oh yes! Favorite new parts include a romp through the first annual Romance Novel Convention in Las Vegas, a mash up of public speaker extraordinaire Dale Carnegie and mega-rich mega-church pastor Creflo Dollar (that’s his real name), and lots of punctuating with forked sausages.
i cannot imagine what that means…
you went to brooklyn college with the greats (wellman and courtney) of our day .. can you tell me a couple of your fave mac-isms? i understand you and le sitko kept a running tab of mac koans, c’est vrais?
This one I really took to heart:
It is good to write stuff that worries the reader about the writer’s sanity.
oh yes
Mac describing exactly how I felt about Les Mis the first time I saw it:
This is a normal play: “I’m the important emotions of this play, the other emotions are not important, and my shoes look good.”
i recall one of the best naps of my life while enduring that one, why did they never stop singing?!
And when it comes to talking about and understanding plays:
Talk about plays on your own terms. If you employ others’ language you will become part of their system. You don’t invest in a play. It’s not a fucking bank.

i reference that one a lot .. so true.
what is your secret inspiration and guilty pleasure?
I really really really love video games. Can’t help it. Not really the shoot em up ones so much. The ones with deep worlds and loose narratives that let you create as you play. I have no doubt that playing video games developed my ability to be creative within well-defined and unbreakable constraints, which is very important when I am writing plays.
My secret inspiration remains Buster Keaton. What pacing. Such flailing limbs. So good.
ma che c'e buster?

ma che c’e buster?

mmm he and i had a love affair back in the day…
what do you when you’re not changing the face of the american theatre?
Am I doing that? Well, I usually am walking my dogs and cooking food for Alaina. Except when Erin Courtney demands that I bake bread for her. You don’t say no Erin Courtney. Have you seen her plays? Horrifying.

i have never felt more dread than when watching a one map of virtue, simple marvelous!
back to you, after the grand success of your play .. what is next for you?
Maybe I’ll become an attorney.
But before that, I’ll be acting in William Burke’s Comfort Dogs, also at JACK. So go see that.
I most certainly shall.
a bientot,
The Harper’s Play runs through Feb. 14 at JACK.
pretty cute toots

pretty cute toots

play dough and plato

March 14, 2014

mes amis

In my salad days as a philosophy major, I often wiggled out of end of semester essays with the following proposal to my teachers. “May I take a creative approach and write a dialogue between Rousseau and Nietzsche and Pascal?” I was no secret I yearned for the theatre.

huba huba

huba huba

Inevitably my professors acquiesced, perhaps if only because such a proposal would result in a different kind of paper. One free of the dry and academic verbiage most coeds try on for size. Naturally, my paper was rife with other problems but I prefer to think of them fondly. In these philosophical playlets I always took liberties to set the philosophers in some French café amidst copious cappuccinos and cigarettes. A plethora puns and long monologues, with straight up quotations lifted from the ancient texts were other features of these mini-plays. There was also always a sassy-yet-wise waitress named Daisy whose off hand remarks would send the philosophers into thought tail spins. I was writing roles for myself even then!

...this was in my salad days, mind you

…this was in my salad days, mind you

None of these playlets survive my cannon. These were written on type writers in a pre-computer age after all! And now that I am retired I wish I could go back and read them.

In any case, it was with great zest and zeal that I visited JACK the other night to soak in Republic, a take on Plato’s great oevre directed by downtown scamp Alec Duffy. Mamma mia! I cannot write about it because I don’t want to spoil it for readers unlucky enough to have not yet seen it. Don’t wait, hurry yourselves!



In the meantime, dear readers, I urge to you take a look at this fine TDF article at Republic in which there are no spoils only toils of labor and love of wisdom.

a bientot!

p.s. working at the town rec department in my beloved brookline, ma, i recall an older gentleman with a delicious boston accent saying, “ooh shu-ah. phil-aw-sa-fee. that’s with umm ahh, plato and his little friend aris-taw-tle, right?” ooh how i miss the patois of my childhood homeland!

oh my lawd

oh my lawd

san patrizio, fake laughter at the theatre and other ruminations

March 18, 2013

mes amis–

greetings from skibbereen, the most southerly town in ireland.

it was most curious to be here for the festa di san patrizio. when i have experienced green themed days in the past it has most often been in the U.S. and i have oft had rather knee jerk reactions.

heh heh

heh heh

c’est vrais. i confess… in my youth i was a bit repulsed by people who celebrated their irish heritage. why was this? i have never had the same aversion to other groups of people celebrating their distant homelands. not in the least! i love a bastille day and a puerto rican day parade. i guess it seemed that st. patrick’s was a holiday of oppressors (though historically speaking the irish have been a rather oppressed group!) o, the misguided thinkings in one’s youth! perhaps the corny decorations are what truly horrify me (and these are surely the American icing on an Irish cake)



i guess i prefer to keep my heritage as a personal matter. after all, i am an international citizen of the world! why should i let my bloodlines limit my self expression? that said, i have come to have to appreciate st. patrick’s day. and even the people who celebrate it. i love how it is all encompassing it can be and how, with a wink and a smile, people of all stripes can sport green and feel festival.  it was a most authentic experience to be here in ireland for it. even more so .. i have come to appreciate the great land of ireland, which i am finally proud to call a distant homeland (among my many others!)

ma quanto e bello!

ma quanto e bello!

in other news, i caught two wonderful theatrical shows before i left for the land of ire. the flick by the illustrious and lustrous annie baker and a raisin in the sun. they were both rather delightful experiences.

in attending the flick, my companion and i thought the curtain was an hour earlier than it really was. as a result we had plenty of time to amuse and bemuse ourselves in a local diner. i ran into old friends and new ones. a community experience! i was most vexed, however, by some of the audience members at the show. the play is hilarious and heartbreaking… but it is not the stuff of a comedian’s stand up set! while many of the lines were dangerously dark and packed with punch it seemed like an unnatural reaction to guffaw like a hyena.


there was one young man in front of my companion and i who was really slapping his knee and throwing back his head in a most exaggerated manner. don’t get me wrong: far be it from me to prevent laughter. it is the medicine of life! but the laughter of this particular young man rang false to me. it seemed as though he was trying to prove something with his loud chortles… how he really “understood” the play or how he “got” the humor. kudos if he did (you’d have to be a dummy if you didn’t) but alas,  some of the lines got drowned out by this holligan’s outbursts.

remarkably, later in the show an elder-of-the-state leaned over to her elder date and loudly whispered, “the glass menagerie, this is not.” i was touched by the old fashioned grammar and syntax of this statement. nor did i take it to be a negative judgement of the play. the flick is certainly not the glass menagerie: and thank heavens! they are both wonderful and wonderfully different plays. the young man of the loud guffaws snapped his head toward the elder-of-the-state who had uttered this remark and shushed her. really shushed  her!

i was incensed! if you are going to laugh like a maniac at least let others have the occasional comment exchange. in any case, the flick was excellent. the performances were tip top and the language brought me to the teetering edge of the void more than once. i look forward to ms. baker’s next contribution to the american theatre.

speaking of american classics, a raisin in the sun was truly wonderful. i dont know why i was somewhat dragging my feet a bit. perhaps it felt like going to eat broccoli since it is such an american classic (and one that i was hitherto unfamiliar with). a fine, fine play with a great production at the huntington theatre in boston. so sad that lorraine  hansbury didn’t live a longer life.

classic, elegant and beautiful!

classic, elegant and beautiful!

if you are around in the clinton hill district ce soir i advise you check out the inaugural Hi-Lo performance series at JACK. that theatre space draws a delightfully eclectic mix of people and artists and i, for one, look forward to the start of what is sure to be a fine ongoing series.



i’ll be there… will you?





baals to the wall (artlog #6)

August 2, 2012

my friends and fellow world citizens–

there is much to discuss regarding the mysteries of art, silence, and speech. allow me to work backwards in time.

1. putting the rigor back in sigor rós

tuesday evening i attended un certo concerto given by icelandic band sigur rós. for many years it was a dream of mine to hear them play. (i recall a cousin’s description of seeing them strum their sounds…she had a near religious experience!) in fact, i have often considered marking down sigur rós as my religion on various forms and faxes. (the impudence to even ask a person’s religion!)

i recall first hearing the group’s mystical music at a collective sleep over in dear cape cod. ooh those salad days of late nights and early risings! it felt transcendent hearing this music–and very cool. i was amazed years later when i had the good fortune to travel to island not once but twice. the music made so much more sense seeing the other worldly moonscape of that country.

not the most moonlike of scapes but hopefully you get the drift

and the joys of introducing lovers and friends to the find sounds of sigur rós is a gift that keeps on giving…

anyhow, it was a delight to hear them play. to me, their music is about possibility. possibility of another world to live in. i imagine the elves of dear old island living in a kind of world that is unimpeded by such foolishness as gender dichotomies, class struggles, ethnic turmoils and dreary old capitalism. not to mention war and killing! hmmph! rather, i imagine a space–a universe, even–where the soul–and a searing one at that–is put to the forefront! where everyone can just exist in bliss. perhaps i wax on too much but it is the truth. that is what this kippy hears when i hear those specifically amorphous tunes.

che possibilita!

leave it to a bystander to burst the bubble of my reverie. the young woman (specimen, really) had a kind of “california voice.” you know the kind. it pieces the ear (and the air) with vapid comments and an up talk tick, not to mention an overly confident vocal fry. “i don’t know why i’m even here?” she droned. “i don’t know any songs of their except the famous one. ohmyg-d, is it starting? this is it, right? omg this is it”

ugh. i have never wanted to shhh someone so much! and yet i felt it would not have been in the kindly elfin spirit of sigur rós. so i bit my tongue.

2. baals to the wall

there was no tongue biting at hoi polloi‘s baal–only teeth gnashing! what a marvelous experience it was. everyone should go. and everyone can afford to: it is pay-what-you-can. (and you even put the $ in a can!) one can even do the can-can pre-show in the smartly decored newly minted jack space.

che spazio!

i don’t think i’ve even seen such a crazy play that “breaks all the rules” actually staged (and staged in such a manner that was similarly of an enfant terrible nature!) what a refreshing wind of misogyny that ruffled my feathers. it was almost sweet and quaint to see his treatment of les femmes  (and consider modern dramatists like mr. rapp who aren’t so far from the brechtian apple tree). let us remind these auteurs that misogyny rhymes with gynecology. hmph! go to baal to see a crazy play with similarly terrified participants. the actors careen through the space and there are many of arresting images and sounds. (not to mention a taiko drummer who thrums throughout).

one of the most deliscious moments came during a quieter scene (sadly, these ears managed to hear probably only 60% of the play’s text–but the acting and design were so good it didn’t matter) in it, the characters are in a bar having a quotidian chat and one could detect from a tiny radio operated  by an actor the sounds of a pop song.

the tune was this:

the first time i heard this ditty i was in the back seat of a cab en toot (i mean, route) to omaha, nebraska. one of my many international homelands. it was early in the morning and as the cab driver and i whizzed past hideous brooklyn billboards in the early grey morning light these words caressed my ears: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! … could it be nietzsche’s anthem applied to pop?! how horrifying and meraviglioso all at once! i wanted to burst from a brain jam. then i wanted to tap my foot.

whoever chose this song during baal is a genie.

i will write more on silence and the last 13P play in a following post. for now i am off to see the girl of the golden west.

a bien-toot!

ps. look how i have been noted on jack’s website… grazie tutti!