Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flashing the Bride

It seems any great event in life these days is an excuse for a Youtube moment. These days, it's no longer just home videos (like those VHS tapes that my parents still have of our first trip to Disneyland and to Vietnam, that none of us have watched in years). Instead, it's digital videos that you can upload online, so the personal becomes communal.

It's like a fatter cousin of the village mentality - you grew up in a village or small town, USA where everyone knows each other and every personal event automatically becomes a communal event. When I visited the village where my dad grew up, my aunt invited the neighbors and their children in for dinner.

These days, those events are not personally shared via face-to-face interaction. Instead, it's digital and the community is in the hundreds to the thousands (depending on how many FB friends or Youtube subscribers you have or hits you get on the video). And if you're lucky, you might even get to do it on the Today Show.

The "New York Times" published an article on Friday about flash mob proposals, citing the numerous benefits of such a large-scale proposal, the most amusing being:

Men have done astounding things across history to win a bride, and a mother for their young — in battle and in romance. This is just another very imaginative approach. And she won’t forget it. When they hit some bumps down the road, she will be able to recall this moment and perhaps forgive his other foibles.

I had no idea that a large-scale proposal was also a get-out-of-jail-free card for any future arguments. "I'm sorry for not mowing the lawn/coming home drunk/cheating on you, but remember when I proposed to you via flash mob?"

Then again, I guess the answer of "yes" isn't enough, especially when you're probably spending upwards of $2,000 to organize an event around a question (that hopefully you know the answer to), especially one that can turn you into a Youtube sensation.

But, like the gargantuan diamond ring or the multi-thousand-dollar wedding dress or the 200-guest-list wedding, I guess it's just another facet in an industry that already prizes ostentation uber alles. Not to say that "Bridezillas" and "Say Yes to the Dress" aren't entertaining, because they are.

And so are flash-mob proposals. Especially this one:

But sometimes I wonder, isn't the almost an unequal foundation for the rest of your life? After all, he is the one who is organizing the big question event, and all the girl needs to do is say yes. Then during the wedding, all eyes are on the bride and her wedding dress and her engagement ring. The groom, as always, decoration and subservient to the bride.

The big, over-the-top proposal is almost a modern day equivalent to bringing over cows and chickens to convince the bride (and her father) that she should marry you. What is the bride worth to you? Is she worth a flash mob? Public artwork?

Though my question is: What happens if she says no? That is, literally, a world of humiliation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Latests on NightinGate

Because this blog is also not just for the reference of the denizens of the Internet, but for my references as well (in case I want to go back to it later), I wanted to put in an update on what has gone down on, what I will call, NightinGate.

And in that time, La Jolla Playhouse had a passionate panel discussion (complete with an apology from Moises Kaufman), and bloggers have responded. The response, in my opinion, which stuck out the best was from writer Han Ong, who posted on Facebook about how a white face is supposed to be a proxy for universality, whereas a yellow face...

Let’s say you’re a colored person. You are inclined to go to the movies or to the theater. When the lights go down, your whole world shrinks to the few square feet in front of you, your attention on high alert. You’re looking to be entertained, moved; or as an aspiring creator yourself, you are looking to take instruction from the movie or play before you. The use of the word “instruction” is no accident. Spectatorship at movies and plays is really like going to school or like going to church. All your senses massed for engagement, absorption.

You go to movies and plays, too, because you’re on the market for a heroic proxy. Somebody up on screen or the stage who allows you to engage in the necessary fantasy of a grander life. Or a more witty life. Or a more poetic life. Before you return to your own life, which, like most lives, is just ... life-sized.

Colored people going to movies and plays and on the market for heroic proxies (and who doesn’t that cover?) have long learned to transfer their hopes and identifications to the white heroes presented before them. Because given the paucity of colored faces in movies and plays in general (much less colored faces in heroic roles), who else are you going to transfer those hopes and identifications to?

This business of heroic transference is like child’s play used to fulfill a very adult need: to be grander; always, more amplitude. Not shrunken, not limited -- please, not that.

So for two hours, you say: I am Tom Cruise. I am Bruce Willis. I am Sandra Bullock. I am Hamlet. I am the Duchess of Malfi. I am Algernon -- or wait, am I more Lady Bracknell?

White is the universal solvent.

Into a white face goes so many hopes and identifications. In white is black, brown, yellow, red.

You have learned that without knowing that you were learning that.

Decades, a lifetime of movie-going and play-going.

In white is the whole world itself: venal and kind, calculating and compassionate, galvanic and moribund, word-drunk and tongue-tied; in white is ingenue, lover, fighter, villain, protector, monarch.

The reverse has rarely been true.

An Asian man walks on stage and suddenly the machinery of heroic transference is stopped.

Yellow in America, it turns out, is no solvent of any kind.

I saw a play at Second Stage last week, in an ironic turn, "Warrior Class," by Kenneth Lin (which I had planned before NightinGate flew up). It is about a Chinese-American assemblyman trying to run for Congress, while sorting out the inevitable skeletons in his closet. And there's a line in it where Nathan, who is vetting Julius Lee, says:

You got that Virginia Tech guy, you just had that guy in Oakland shooting everyone up. There was a doctor up at Yale. We had that guy up in Binghamton, shooting other immigrants. We had that guy in Minnesota shooting hunters in the forest... All these guys are wearing your face.

It's an unfortunate reality that when you see an Asian face on the stage and in life, you see a colored face, a foreign face, or as Han Ong says, "Yellow in no solvent of any kind."

Steven Sater says that he wanted to make "Nightingale" a universal story, not "a story about Asian," and the only way to do so was with multiracial/colorblind casting, as if plays with an all-Asian cast are not universal. If that's the case, then "God of Carnage" or "August: Osage County" is really about white suburbanites bitching at each other.

I guess to close for now, let's see what happens in casting from this point on, and how "Nightingale" will live past La Jolla. But let me quote Uncle Ben in Spider-Man, in regards to casting: "With great power comes great responsibility." It's up to playwrights, directors and casting agents, those are the gatekeepers. The rest of us can only bitch. Loudly.

As for me, I'm hoping to not talk about race for a while (my boyfriend likes to point out Asian people on stage to me now). Hopefully, the next step will be less talking and more doing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The (Yellow-ish) Nightingale

An illustration from "The Nightingale" by Hans Christian Anderson, image by Edmund Dulac

To preface this: my colleague Rob Weinert-Kendt, associate editor of "American Theatre," musician and theater junkie, told me I should write about this, spawning from a debate we had in the office. So here it is, even though I have written on this topic, or something close to it, multiple times before. And also, Rob brought this up on "American Theatre"'s Facebook page. The responses are worth a read.

Today kids, we are going to play a game of "perfect artistic world" (PAW) vs. "real artistic world" (RAW). For example, in a PAW world, anybody who wanted to make art could make it, however they wanted to and make a living off of it. In that world, I would have become a painter and spend my days being a less-impressive version of Georgia O'Keeffe.

In the RAW world, I realized that I did not have enough gumption to lead the life of a starving, thankless artist. So I now work for a non-profit. Which is not that much of a step up but it does have health insurance.

In PAW, I would go to the theater (or watch movies or TV) and see main characters that looked like me. Instead, in RAW, the lead characters are usually white (unless you're in a Tyler Perry movie or in a David Henry Hwang play).

And in a PAW, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik can write a musical fairytale set in ancient China, and cast a white male as the Chinese emperor, another white male as the young Chinese emperor, a black female as the Chinese queen, and two Asian-American actresses. And no one would mind, because it's an artistic choice and reflects nothing on the state of American theater, which has equal representation of all races on its stage.

But we live in RAW, where that is not true. And out of 11 "Nightingale" cast members, only 2 are Asian or Asian-American. Neither are Chinese though. Steven (who I spoke to for "American Theatre" and who is a very kind and generous with his time) has responded to the hubbub with, because the story is set in “mythic China. We’re not trying to do something that’s completely authentic to its time, because it’s a fairy tale.” 

"The Nightingale" is being presented at La Jolla Playhouse and my new Twitter friend Erin Quill writes a very hilarious, and astute, blog post about it in the aptly titled "Moises Kaufman can kiss my ass," from the POV of an actress.

I'm going to look at this whole thing from the POV of an audience member, and journalist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Vindication on the Rights of Women, to be Badasses

Last week, I caught a Friday night showing of "Brave," the newest Pixar film, which takes the typical mother-daughter tale of alienation and misunderstanding, and ricochets the drama up, by having Princess Merida accidentally turn her mother, Queen Elinor into a bear.

(Just a quick aside, I am obsessed with Merida's head of fiery and wild red hair. So much so that I want to chop it off and put it on my own head, even if it's going to matte down and be completely disgusting in the freakishly-hot NYC summer.)

Before "Brave" was released, Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly surmised that, because of her lack of romantic/traditionally feminine inclinations (aka, she likes to ride horses and shooting arrows), Merida could possibly be a lesbian. Ignoring the arcane notion in the article which posits that just because a woman chooses not to be "like a man", she could be a lesbian, Markovitz does make one point that I find interesting:

[Merida] brings a new free-thinking attitude to the slightly staid club of Disney princesses, one that’s sure to appeal not just to gays, but to anyone who ever challenged an identity that was pre-assigned to them. Her strength in the face of opposition and her urge to forge her own identity...both have the potential to ring true for moviegoers of all stripes, rainbow or otherwise.

After watching "Brave," I was walking home and it occurred to me that Merida probably does get married eventually. After all, the film operates in a world where a woman's source of power was her ability to bear children (hence why Elinor didn't settle for one ginger child but instead, had three ginger boys too). But what Merida was trying to get Elinor to understand, becoming the source of conflict in the "Brave," was that she wanted the ability to choose when and who she married. I like to think that eventually, Merida found someone she loved, who was her equal, and who let her take long horse rides in the woods. But the operative notion is that she was allowed to choose.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

And Now, A Little Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

Not to toot my own horn, but I have two articles in the latest version of American Theatre, and one un-bylined interview with Alan Cumming (the official answer is because I was not interviewing him as myself, but rather, as American Theatre).

But you should read them, either in print, online, or in our new digital (via Zinio) form. So many options, however will you choose? I had a mixture of fun and frustration writing these articles, though the research for them (which included flying to Louisville, KY and Costa Mesa, CA) was so memorable and, in the case of talking to Alan Cumming, a perverted hoot.

One is a summation of the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville and the Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa. I saw 15 plays in the course of two weekends, which meant that when I got back to NYC, I was pretty theatered-out.

The other article is about theater trailers, for those who are interested in creating one, how to go about doing it. Fun times...