Posts Tagged ‘julia sirna frest’

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,

if you can get to buffalo (wing dings)

February 12, 2014

mes amis—

I’ll save my very belated 2014 apologies and winter festival musings for another post. For time is of the essence. Trish Harnetiaux’s If You Can Get to Buffalo: An exploration of ‘A Rape in Cyberspace’ by Julian Dibbell is due to open at the Incubator Arts Project on Thursday.

I met Trish years ago when she was living above Tina Satter in a cute Williamsburgish loft owned by an older Italian gentleman. Still remember the aromas of that mahogonay hallway and the lace on the front door. Trish’s warmth matches her wit and it was with great pleasure that I found out more about her latest progetto…via the interwebs of course! Ours was an emailed interview. 


initiate, for our readers, just what the “rape in cyber space” story is about
“A Rape in Cyberspace” is an article that Julian Dibbell wrote in the Village Voice in 1993, about one of the very first online communities called LambdaMoo.  It was a virtual mansion where members created characters, entirely through text, and created a community that interacted socially online.

my, my! I recall the chat rooms of my youth .. a snowy saturday, a young man from kentucky, and my mother’s expression concern as my father made me a grilled cheese.
well then, tell me more about how you adapted/riffed on dibbell’s oevre.
I was doing research into the beginnings of the Internet, was really interested in the origins of online social interactions and found Julian Dibbell’s article from a 1993 Village Voice article called “A Rape in Cyberspace.” It was not only a fascinating story of the demise of one of the very first online ‘utopia’s’ but the article was written in this amazing voice that somehow captured the spirit of this new world—both the freedom and the dangers of it. Then, poking around Julian’s personal site (… total stalker)

…aren’t we all!
I stumbled upon a subsequent Charlie Rose Show episode that he was on.


charlie rose and i used to play tennis you know. carry on.
Again, in 1993 people, of course, didn’t have the vocabulary we do now (except for people like Julian) when talking about how things worked on the internet. It was amazing. So I took the idea of a Charlie Rose show being part of the structure of this play (there are actually fictionalized Charlie Rose scenes) and mashed it all together also including a look inside the odd, beautiful and occasionally disturbing relationships we find online. It’s been 20 years since the article has come out and as a society we’re in a much different place, we like to think that we “know” how the internet story ends, but what’s been so interesting is seeing how confusing the anonymity aspect still is.

I mean, we still argue over the question of whether we are responsible for our own online experiences… Interestingly enough, the episode of Charlie Rose that I reference has since been completely erased from the web.

i smell a conspiracy theory.
Then, director Eric Nightengale and I began the real work over the last four years of drafts, readings, workshops, long hiatuses and basically trying to find a way to tell this complicated story theatrically. Which I really believe we’ve accomplished with If You Can Get To Buffalo. It’s funny though, it’s probably not the play I thought I was writing back at the beginning, the process has been as much about elimination as it has been about crafting.

aye, the mark of a true artist is knowing what to edit. allora, what were your first experiences like with the internet?
Well, early on, I remember trying to hack the White House website.

c’est vrais?!
I spent hours thinking I could find something, some evidence or something, that was hidden… But, of course, I didn’t find anything, probably because I’m not a hacker, and probably because what I was actually doing was just clicking on links. But I didn’t really know that. Besides some early chat room dabblings however, I haven’t ever committed myself to an online community, so researching this one has been eventful. I definitely consider myself in the generation that uses email as a huge tool and also aware enough to recognize it’s full of tonal dysfunctions, but that’s different. Or is it?  I mean, in a way when you’re using the Internet as a basis for communication, which is partially what we’re examining, I’ve found in my life that it’s easier to be bolder or more measured or it can easily go the other way and the immediacy of your actions can be more hasty and reactionary.

what has changed/developed since when you did it back in may?
The production we did with the Acme Corporation in Baltimore was instrumental in the show we have today. I’ve made a healthy amount of rewrites and Eric and I took everything we learned—both good and bad—and made major adjustments. Besides this, I think that us working with Rob Erickson on the mostly original music has been huge!

love me a lumberbob!
Not only in finding a new tone, but Rob’s helped us fill out the world of the play through a sound that’s so authentic to the time period. And, not to give anything away, but he’s also contributed some sly choreography.

stop! now i am on tenterhooks. well then. he’s not the only star in your cast, why there’s starr busby [wink!] and julia sirna-frest among others. what’s working with them been like?
I can’t say enough good things about our cast. I mean, did you know that Starr Busby is actually playing Charlie Rose?

busby in a rady & bloom production

busby in a rady & bloom production

shut up. this means that by the theatrical transitive property starr and i must play some tennis together!
And playing the role like an absolute badass.

i’d expect no less from such a starr.
And Rob, aside from all his other artistic contributions, is playing the role of Mr. Bungle—

i know a Mr. Burgle! Who is your Mr. Bungle?
Well, he’s our strangely poetic puppet master who… well, I can’t really ruin it, right?

ruin us!
Kippy, you temptress! All I can say is that we’re definitely tapping into Julia’s songstress superpowers.


...from sirna-frest's myspace era

…from sirna-frest’s myspace era

she of the magic pipes.
The rest of the cast—Demetri Bonaros, Greg Carere, Ifitaz Haroon, Minna Taylor & Alex Viola are a goddamn JOY. So much talent.

an embarrassment of riches. what is your secret artistic inspiration or guilty pleasure?
Secret… hmm. Oh god, I like to back myself into corners and then crawl out of them.

how did you survive winter festival and why should people see your show?
Man, so many great shows the last month—most of which I missed being in rehearsal. But I was so glad to have seen both Eliza Bent’s wizardly show and Tina Satter’s House of Dance before all the madness began!

aye, the house of dance was toe tapping fun.
People should see our show because it’s about them—since they all use the World Wide Web, and this is an origin story about other people, just like them, maybe even them, that did too. Only before, say, Twitter.


Well mes amis, you heard it here first. If You Can Get to Buffalo runs Feb 13-23 at the Incubator Arts Project. The cast is killer so shake your tail feather and buy a ticket. I will attend Sunday evening .. that is, if I am not paralyzed by the cold and winter travel travails!