Sunday, July 31, 2011


Me, 1997, in a performance of Christopher Durang's "The Actor's Nightmare."

I'd only acted once before--a rather snooty butler in Lord Dunsunay's "The Jest of Hahalaba," directed by concerned TVB reader God Is My Codependent--and got the lead in this sort of as a fluke. I was thrilled--it's a very funny one-act comedy, usually performed as half of a double bill with Durang's "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You"--but as opening night grew closer, there was one problem. Memorizing dialogue I didn't find very hard. But a 6-minute monologue consisting mostly of non sequiturs? Hard, and I do mean hard.

The setup of the play: The lead character finds himself in a theater, not knowing how he got there. He's pushed on stage, unfamiliar with any lines he supposedly has, and tries to fake his way through. The play he's the star of starts out as a Noel Coward takeoff, then, just when the character starts to get comfortable, turns into Shakespeare. Then he finds himself totally alone and has to make do by reciting bits and pieces of classic theater that he only half remembers, plus fragments from his biography, until another character turns up. This happens after 6 excruciating minutes. After that, the play takes a turn toward Samuel Beckett, then "A Man for All Seasons." And--SPOILER ALERT!!!--he ends up executed. (Wacky high jinks!)

Anyway, a few days before opening night, I still hadn't nailed that monologue. I guess it was two days before opening that I finally made it through the rehearsal without blanking on that speech or skipping parts of it. It just clicked, and I thought, hey, maybe I can actually do this.

A couple of hours before going out on stage on the opening night of my first (and, as it turns out, only) Big! Lead! Role!, I called my parents from the office. I don't want to get overly personal here, so let's just say I got some bad news. I spent the next 20 minutes or so weeping uncontrollably. By that I mean: I could not stop crying and had trouble breathing successfully.

And, after that, I had to dry my eyes and drive to the theater. I sort of got myself together and prepared to be pushed out in front of the audience.

Then, problem No. 2: In the opening scene, the actress playing the stage manager skipped, oh, about a page of dialogue.

I stood there, surrounded on three sides by the audience--we acted this part of the play sort of in the round, before the action moved to the stage--not knowing what to do. At all. This was not only the first time I had a lead role, it was also only the second time I had acted, and I had never taken an acting lesson. Do I give the cue to her again? Proceed with my line as if nothing had happened? Skip ahead to where she'd skipped? I didn't know, so I just stood there. I entertained the idea of saying, "Um, can we start over?" and prayed for the floor to open up. After a good long time, the actress remembered where we were, came up with the right line, and we continued. I somehow got through the rest of the show, including that monologue, hopped in my car, drove back to my apartment, closed the door, and proceeded to pick where I had left off on weeping.

The next night's show went better, if not brilliantly. We did six shows all told, and I'd say one was transcendently amazing, one excellent, two middlin' (the video above is from one of the middlin' ones--the only tape I have), and two horrible.

About the transcendent one: One of the most amazing moments of my life. Everything went perfectly, and the audience totally got every single joke--and some of them are pretty obscure gags that depend on a knowledge of theater. I have never felt so high in my life.

About the other terrible one: It was the night after the amazing show. I think everyone in the cast gave pretty much the exact same performance--but the audience would not laugh. Absolutely refused. In the second scene, where we had gotten the previous night's first big laugh, we were greeted not with a small laugh, but none whatsoever. I looked over at the actress on stage with me, and her eyes got really big, and I knew she was thinking exactly what I was thinking: Uh oh. It went on that way for the play's duration, about 35 minutes or so. As soon as I could, I fled.

And as I left the theater, I overheard two old ladies discussing what they had just seen. One of them glanced down at the playbill, saw the play's title as if for the first time, and said to her companion: "Oooooh. It was an actor's nightmare."

Yup, pretty much.

(Many thanks to my friend Carl for posting this clip to YouTube.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shock and awful

Hey, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is on Netflix streaming!

Let's see what we're in for, and then liveblog watching this sucker!

This may be difficult. Well, here goes, as marked by time code.

00:01:30: Lots of driving. Lots and lots of driving. Perhaps a homage to the opening scenes of Manos: The Hands of Fate?

00:03:00: You know, if you're going to do a multiminute credit sequence, get enough score. The same complete piece has now played three times.

00:04:15: The lead actor cannot even walk convincingly. Has he ever walked before?

00:05:00: Oh, great, he's a stalker. And he's WAY out of his league. And he speaks worse than he walks.

00:07:15: Please tell me the fashion model he's hitting on has given him a fake phone number.

00:7:45: Is there an all-An Inconvenient Truth channel? All global warming news?

00:08:45: The score is now ripping off the theme to Chariots of Fire for another driving sequence.

00:11:00: "What does it take to win your business? I'll give you that AND 50% off!" I'm only vaguely acquainted with business, but if you meet what consumers want and knock 50% off, isn't that cutting into your profit margin?

00:11:30: The professional fashion model our hero has his eye on is having audition photos taken at a one-hour photo store. She should probably get her passport photo while she's there.

00:14:00: He: "How about dinner? I know a great Vietnamese restaurant."

She: "Great, I'll see you there." [Click!]

I'm hoping that she just blew him off, as she doesn't know the name of the restaurant, where it is, or when they're meeting. But I have the feeling the writer/director has never had a conversation before and doesn't know how they work.

00:16:00: More all-green news. On the stock footage, you can see a huge Getty Image watermark. Were these clips not paid for?

00:18:00: Natalie, the fashion model, has somehow been able to correctly guess the time and location of dinner.

00:19:00: "Why did you get into sales?" Worst conversation starter ever.

00:20:00: I cannot wait for the birds to show up and kill these two. Where the hell are they?

00:22:00: "If I could afford it, I'd have 10 cats." Now I don't know which character to feel sorrier for.

00:27:00: Do couples generally have sex while wearing bathing suits?

00:28:00ish: "We're going to be acquired by Oracle... for $1 billion!" Or Dr. Evil. Yeah, probably Dr. Evil.

00:29:00: How many takes were spliced together to form this endless clapping scene? And, why?

00:35:45: Upon seeing a painting:

He: "Oh, lovers on the moon."

She: "Yeah."

This has been your Art Criticism Minute of the Day.

00:37:35: The sound seems to have been recorded with the built-in mic on a home camera. I can't hear the dialogue over the ocean waves. Not that I'm complaining.

00:38:45: "Don't touch it--it might be infectious!" A useful sentence in many ways. The dead bird on the beach appears to be clip art.

00:40:00: Shorter mother's monolog: "My biggest hobby is interfering in my daughter's life."

00:42:15: Ooooo, he dances worse than walks. This song is really ratcheting up the tension.

00:44:00: Make it stop. Please make it stop.

00:45:00: When I said "Please make it stop," I didn't mean end that scene so that we could start a love scene instead.

00:47:15: At last, birdemic has begun! Birds have evidently gained the ability to blow up on impact.

00:48:30: And the ability to hover in midair.

00:49:30: And hide car keys?

00:51:00: Methinks coat hangers are not the best weapon against exploding birds.

00:52:15: Did I miss something? Are our heroes' new friends survivalist maniacs? Why do they have a machine gun and various other guns?

00:55:15: "I'm hungry! I've been under the car for a long time."

00:59:00: A picnic? Birds are diving bombing people and exploding on impact, and you're having picnic?

00:59:30: "Hey, look, it's an old guy on a bridge!" Does bird flu make birds explosive?

01:03ish: "Why can't we just give peace a chance?" BECAUSE BIRDS ARE ATTACKING US!!!!

01:04ish: If a film script asked me to die of bird attack while taking a dump, I'd pass.

01:07: "No, I don't want to get off this bus and be in your stupid movie! No!"

01:08: What was that? Now the birds kill by throwing up?

O1:09: Dead extras, we hardly knew ye.

01:11: Even when their parents have just recently been killed and birds are exploding all around them, kids still love candy.

01:13: If that's all it takes to die, I'd have killed myself while shaving.

01:18: "I hear a mountain lion! I'd better get back to my house. Nice meeting you!" Except for the killer birds, I mean.

O1:19: Only you can prevent terrible CGI forest fires.

01:21: Music now blatantly ripping off "Imagine" while a dead character sports an "Imagine peace" t-shirt. Just a little too on the nose. And plagiarismy.

01:24: She: "I've got some seaweed!"

[Pinteresque pause]

He: "Good!"

Seriously, you could have driven a truck through that pause.

01:27: Dialogue now completely inaudible. Brechtian device?

01:29: The birds have given up for some reason.

01:30: Last line completely indecipherable. Q: Why did the birds give up? A: The movie was over.

Tippi Hedren was in this somewhere?!

Wow... that was... wow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Random 10

Rilo Kiley, "Silver Lining"
David Garza, "Float Away"
Jorge Ben, "Ponta de Lanca Africano (Umbabarauma)"
Gothic Voices, "Columba aspexit"
Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, "I Want to Break Your Heart"
Swan Dive, "Caprice"
Harry Nilsson, "Salmon Falls"
Leonard Nimoy, "Spock Thoughts"
Harry Nilsson, "Dayton, Ohio 1903"
The Zombies, "Care of Cell 44"

Yes, "Spock Thoughts." Deal with it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

#9,157,713 with a bullet; Or, the very long tail

Many years ago--the year was 1995 and I believe the kids were all playing with hula hoops and listening to that crazy new rock and roll--I ghostwrote someone else's memoir. It was an "inspirational" book from the point of view of alcoholic who became paralyzed, and then turned his life around and became an wheelchair athlete.

It was put out by a then-new, small publishing house in Texas, owned by some local businessman who promptly decided that publishing was unprofitable and closed up shop. (He was way ahead of the times.) The book was in and out of print in a matter of months.

Periodically, I've taken a look at Amazon's ranking as a lesson in humility. This is what Amazon's page looked like this morning:

You're reading that correctly: #9,157,713.

Did you even realize there were that many books in existence?

Out of curiosity, I decided to buy a used copy (a bargain at 21 cents! plus $3.99 shipping, which isn't quite a bargain) to see what would happen.

Anyone want to take a guess how high it rose in Amazon's rankings?

Go ahead, I'll wait.

OK, here it is:

Yes, #91,068. One copy caused the ranking to jump 9,066,645 other books.

If I buy one more copy, I'm pretty sure it will be #1. (Right?)

UPDATE: In the last 24 hours, the rank has sunk to #308,382. The numbers may be out of date, but this post explains a bit about Amazon's rather arcane ranking methods.

UPDATE UPDATE: Three days later, down to #579,623.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Bananas Week on The Velvet Blog!

Yesterday's disturbing outbreak of banana-on-gorilla violence spurred me to do further research into the state of bananas--and what I found isn't pretty.

Did you realize that you sliced a clone over your Rice Krispies this morning? Yes, I mean that clone you paid for to take over your life while you ran away to that island in the Pacific, but then changed your mind when Clonie started persuading your friends that he was the original and you were the clone.

But I digress. I also mean that banana on your cereal. Did you realize it is a clone, too? It's true!

From Time:
This study is bananas. Millenia of inbreeding have made the yellow fruit delicious and nutritious--but vulnerable to disease.

Scientists tracing the banana's wild family tree found that the plant hasn't crossbred for 7,000 years. In fact, bananas don't have sex at all. The typical supermarket specimen is an infertile clone with the prim name “Cavendish,” genetically identical to its banana brothers.

Creepy? Not really.

Speak for yourself, buddy.

This has given me the courage to dust off an old film proposal of mine and start contacting the studios again:
They live on an island, in a boarding school, where they're told they're "special," but they don't know why. "One day ..." they are told. "One day, you'll go to the mainland." But they have no idea that when they get there, they're going to be eaten.

I'm thinking of calling it Never Let Go of My Banana, or maybe Banana Island, or Banana Parts: The Clonus Horror.

By the way, cloning a banana isn't especially difficult. You can even do it with Jello.

News story of the day

Is it the debt ceiling? Terrorist threats? A missing blond girl?

No. Concerned reader God Is My Codependent points out the story of a man dressed as a banana attacking a man dressed as a gorilla.

I highlight this mainly because ... well, it doesn't happen every day. Plus, it gives headline writers free rein. A few examples:
Banana at large after fight with gorilla
Banana attacks gorilla then splits
Banana Attacks Gorilla, Ohio in Shock
Police Called After Banana-Man Attacks Gorilla-Man in Ohio
Banana Attacks Gorilla, Currently on the Loose
Ohio Cops in Search of Violent Banana
Police: Banana Attacked Gorilla

Most weirdly specific:
Banana-suited man attacks gorilla-suited man

Monday, July 11, 2011

Postcard of the day

Aug. 4, 1945

My Dear Darling Albie.

Well, honey here I am at Ralph house. We had a swell trip. they are all well here. Honey have you ever been to this place. Whhen with when we come to pittsfield we will come up to this place.

Love Margie.

I'm assuming this card was obtained by Albie when he was in the service. And this one is probably to his son.

Click image to embiggen.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Some people collect stamps; others ...

From spam:
Please find a special message below from our friends at Citizens Committee For The Right To Keep Bear Arms. We appreciate your support.

I don't even want to know what they're doing with the rest of the bear.

Friday, July 01, 2011

There's no "I" in "We"

As I noted a few months back, I handle a series of CIO profiles for the magazine where I work. The CIOs fill out a questionnaire, and I turn their responses into English.

In the earlier post, I mentioned my incredulity that one subject responded to the question, "What business leader would you like to have lunch with?" with the answer "Dagny Taggart" of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad--the fictional creation of Ayn Rand, in the novel Atlas Shrugged. (I should remind you at this point that the publication where I'm copy chief has a circulation of 400,000-plus, and a very-well-trafficked website. And he's a corporate bigwig.)

What I didn't notice till now, because I had a ton of responses to go through and won't be running the Q&A till August, is his response to the very next question.
-- My biggest business-related pet peeve is …
Use of the pronoun "I" in formal business communications.

There you have it, folks: The world's first collectivist Randian.

(As a belated part of our blogoversary extravaganza--by the way, folks, where are my presents?--previous thoughts on things Randian here, here, here, and here.)