Who Are You (Oscars 2017 Edition)

Friday 3 March 2017

First, you’re Warren Beatty.

A few moments earlier, someone handed you an envelope. You didn’t really inspect the envelope, but if you had, maybe you would have noticed that printed on it were the words “Actress in a Leading Role,” not “Best Picture,” the award you are presenting. The nominees have been reviewed, and now you’re opening the envelope. And now you’re a bit confused. Because the card inside says, “Emma Stone, La La Land,” and you know that doesn’t make sense for a Best Picture award. Those awards go to the producers. Emma Stone is an actress.

You know this isn’t right. You know something has gone terribly wrong; this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. But you have the power to right this wrong. You have the power to avoid what is to come – a disaster, a situation that extends far beyond yourself. You aren’t fully responsible for this problem, but now you’re a part of it, and you have a part to play in fixing it. There may not be one right way to move forward, but avoiding the problem, choosing to ignore it, transferring it to someone else, hoping it will go away: that would be cowardice, and that is not you.

Now, you’re Faye Dunaway.

You don’t understand why Mr. Beatty is taking so long looking at the card and doesn’t just get on with it. The show’s been going on now for more than four hours; get it over with already.

He then turns the card to you.

And of course it says “La La Land.” You don’t think twice about the other words on the card, you just blurt it out. You voted for it, after all. And so did so many friends you know, white and older though they may be. But still. Who wouldn’t want to be taken back to the Hollywood of old, when everything was glamorous and golden? Who wouldn’t want to go back to the days before identity politics, before #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter? Who wouldn’t want to “Make Hollywood Great Again?”

Now you’re Brian Culliman.

You hear Ms. Dunaway say La La Land – and you know that’s not right. That’s not right at all. In fact, you and Martha Ruiz are the only two people in the world who know the truth, who know that Moonlight, not La La Land, was voted Best Picture. You look in your briefcase and pull out the envelope for Best Picture. You realize your mistake: you had given Mr. Beatty the wrong envelope, a duplicate from the previous award.

But now it’s been a full minute, and you’re still not on stage. You’re still not using your body to shut this thing down, to correct this wrong. You’re implicated in this, big time, and you realize it now. You’ve discovered your place is the system, your role in the injustice, and you know you need to take action. But you don’t want to rock the boat too much, to cause a commotion. You don’t sprint out on stage with the envelope, call a halt to things right there and then, before the speeches can be given, while the rightful winners marinate in the sting of defeat. It’s more important for things to be proper—or as proper as possible, given the circumstances—even if that means extending the suffering of those who’ve already been suffering far too long.

Now you’re Fred Berger.

You’re holding a golden Oscar statue tightly in your right hand, a statue you’ve dreamed of winning your whole life. It’s been 90 seconds since Faye Dunaway called out the title of your movie, a movie you spent countless hundreds of hours pouring your time and soul into, a movie with six Oscar wins before this one. Your co-producer Jordan finishes his speech, and Marc, your other co-producer steps forward to begin his. And you start to notice the commotion next to you on stage. You try to stay in the moment, but it’s impossible. Someone in a headset comes up and inspects Jordan’s envelope, the one Mr. Beatty had opened just two minutes ago. You see Emma Stone’s name on it, and you know it’s all a mistake; you didn’t win at all. It’s the wrong envelope, obviously. But that’s not the problem, for if your movie had actually won, no one would be on stage, trying to fix this.

But then Marc says your name, beckoning you to take your turn at the microphone. You know you don’t deserve this moment. But you step up and start talking anyway. They called your name, your movie’s name, after all, and the show must go on, right? You’re caught up in the moment, sure, but you still know this is wrong. Why not sit back, for just a moment, to let things get straightened out? You’ve had you turn at the Golden Globes and too many other award events to count. Would it be so hard to step back and share the spotlight?


In the end, they got it right, but why did it take so long? Why didn’t Warren, or Faye, or Brian, or Fred – YOU – why didn’t YOU stop it sooner? Why didn’t you step up when you had the chance? You had the power and the opportunity. You have the power, and the responsibility to make change happen, to right the wrongs of the past and of the present, so they don’t continue to be wrongs into the future.

Now you’re you.

But who are you? And who are you going to be?

“Make ‘Too Much Light’ Great Again!”

Thursday 8 December 2016

On Wednesday of last week, an unexpected press release sent shock waves through the Chicago theater community: Greg Allen, creator of the Chicago staple Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, had decided not to extend the (Chicago) Neo-Futurists’ license to perform the show, letting the forthcoming New Year’s Eve performance mark the end of the shows 28-year run by the Neo-Futurists, a company Allen himself helped found.

The press release cites as Allen’s motive a plan to create a new ensemble that will use Too Much Light “to combat the Trump administration and all of its cohorts.”

And while Allen’s press release mentions the irony that the artists of Italian Futurism (of which the Neo-Futurist aesthetic is based) eventually supported Mussolini, it fails to recognize the much greater irony of the announcement itself: a white, cisgender male is declaring that only he can do Too Much Light justice in combating fascism and Donald J. Trump’s presidency—he alone can Make Too Much Light Great Again!

I have had the pleasure of seeing over 20 performances of Too Much Light by the Neo-Futurists in the past five years, and they have never ceased to be socially relevant and culturally critical, and I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, they would have continued to use Too Much Light to combat all the forces Allen proclaims he is seeking to upend.

The idea that Allen would need to discontinue the Neo-Futurists’ ability to perform Too Much Light in order to move forward in his (stated) mission speaks loudly of a scarcity mentality, a stalwart of white people thinking. The proliferation of first-person storytelling in Chicago, with dozens, if not hundreds, of outlets across the city for individuals to share their stories and ideas, would serve as a great example of how a format like Too Much Light could serve as a vehicle for multiple ensembles to speak truth to power using the Neo-Futurist aesthetic. Instead, Allen had decided that he (like our President-elect) is the one and only (man) who can save us, and that his Baby, with none other Allen himself at the helm, is the way to do it.

Allen’s decision and plan to create an ensemble “comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+ [sic], artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices” is also patronizing to the very same “disenfranchised voices” he claims a desire to empower. Allen implies that these voices are incapable of using their own theatrical methods and outlets to impact change and need Allen to “[give them] space and voice” in the “predominantly white, patriarchal Chicago theater community,” of which Allen would seem to be a shining example. (Update: even if Allen says he will not be in the show or distance himself creatively from it, his need to pull the plug on the Neo-Futurists’ production is simply an exertion of white, male power at its best/worst.)

Megan Mercier, a former Neo-Futurist Artistic Director and ensemble member, in a scathing blog post (which was later verified by current Artistic Director Kurt Chiang), noted additional ironic, if not fully hypocritical, aspects of Allen’s announcement. Mercier notes that the current, active Neo-Futurist ensemble consists “almost entirely” of individuals with the identities with which Allen plans to fill his new ensemble. Additionally, Allen’s press release cites a desire “to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression,” yet Mercier cites a specific example of Allen’s attempt at censorship as the reason Allen received a one-year suspension from the Neo-Futurists in 2012.

Mercier notes the incident that led to his suspension consisted of Allen trying to subvert the ensemble’s established policy to eject a piece of work “about child abuse, written by a survivor of child abuse” that he found “personally offensive,” walking out of rehearsal and refusing to perform if the piece, which had already been publicly performed, was included. While he could have petitioned to rejoin the ensemble, he never did and has remained estranged from the group since. (Update: as articles below note, this was simply an example of a cycle of domineering and oppressive behavior.)

As the press release also notes, “this change in Chicago” will not affect groups in New York City and San Francisco, who will continue to perform Too Much Light. Both of those ensembles showcase similar demographics to the current Neo-Futurists, yet they hold one key distinction: Allen still holds a sway in the productions happening there, making Allen’s revocation of TML rights from Chicago’s Neo-Futurists appear all the more disingenuous.

Theater has always been at its best when it can shine light on the realities of the world around us. In this case, it was not on-stage theatrics but rather behind-the-scenes antics which will hopefully teach us that the fight against tyranny starts within ourselves. We must recognize the great abundance that exists when we join as one to cry out against injustice and oppression, wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.

You can donate to the Neo-Futurists fundraising campaign to keep them going during this time of transition HERE.

And you can read about this story in more depth and context at the links below, including this Chicago Tribune article which quotes a lot of people and provides, I think, the most comprehensive information on this event and the history that brought it about.
End of ‘Too Much Light’ brings a longtime schism in the Neos out into the open

After a schism, casting a new light on Neo-Futurists

Former Neo-Futurists Speak Out Against ‘TML’ Creator, Charge Abuse Of Power

Neo-Futurists reject their founder’s attempt to blame Trump

Chicago’s longest running show will go on

An Assortment of Analogies For Our Presidential Choice This Election Cycle

Thursday 3 November 2016
  • Taking a flight while sitting between 8-year-old twins who were not given any in-flight entertainment options, in a seat that doesn’t recline
    Taking a flight with Amelia Earhart
  • A bowl of soup where the recipe called for 2 teaspoons of salt but where the chef instead made it with 2 Tablespoons of salt
    A piece of T-bone steak containing botulism, e-coli, and hepatitis A
  • Getting bit by a mosquito
    Getting bit by a mosquito carrying malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile Virus
  • Microsoft’s Clippy popping up on your screen and asking, “It looks like you’re trying to delete some e-mails. Can I help you with that?”
    The blue screen of death
  • Being stuck in an elevator while easy listening versions of Miley Cyrus and Drake songs play on a loop
    Being stuck in an elevator with Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Hannibal Lecter
  • Investing in a Samsung Galaxy 7
    Hoping to turn a quick buck, investing in the Samsung Galaxy 7, by pre-purchasing 1,000 units at 70% retail cost and storing them in your studio apartment
  • Being forced to walk with your family and relatives thousands of miles across the country to relocate on a piece of inhospitable land, only to later be told you’ll have to move again and never having full confidence that some day it might all be taken away anyway
    Having to take a cab instead of an Uber
  • The bike lane ending so now you have to “share the road”
    Driving the bus in the movie Speed, in that scene where the bus has to jump across an unfinished bridge, except the entire country is riding on the bus and there is actually no other side of the bridge for the bus to land on

The Greatest Love Actually Take Down Ever

Sunday 22 December 2013

Perhaps with the 10th anniversary of the “classic” movie Love Actually upon us, you’ve seen some of the variety of cons and pros and cons about the movie and other general articles about its applicability. And what it’s all about.

But last week i discovered this one on jezebel.com, and I just had to share:
I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You by Lindy West

It is priceless, and you should read it — but I also wanted to share it with those who haven’t seen the movie or don’t want to read the full thing. So below, check out some of the awesome amazing quotes that work just as well even if you’ve never seen the movie and (until the end) are completely lacking name/relevant plot points and spoilers. Enjoy!

[AAA] falls in “love” with [BBB] at first sight, establishing Love Actually‘s central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.
None of the women in this movie fucking talk. All of the men in this movie “win” a woman at the end. This goddamn movie.
[XXX] falls instantly in love with [YYY], which is understandable, because she hasn’t yet exceeded her Love Actually attractiveness word quota. (Twenty-seven. The quota is 27 words before you become Emma Thompson and must be destroyed.)
This is a movie made for women by a man.
To be perfectly honest, Liam Neeson is really acting the hell out of this movie.
…but she doesn’t know he exists. Probably because he’s been hanging out with the men of Love Actually too much, so he just sits around being a self-pitying douche instead of FUCKING TALKING TO HER LIKE A HUMAN BEING.
Hey, idea: Could someone respect a woman for one second in this fucking movie? Or could we at least confine the misogyny to women who are actual characters in the film?
This entire movie is just straight white men acting upon women they think they “deserve.” This entire movie is just men doing things.
Thanks, Love Actually. Thank you for telling a generation of men that their intrusiveness and obsessions are “romantic,” and that women are secretly flattered no matter what their body language says.
[XXX] decides he needs to fire [YYY] because she’s 2 tempting 2 believe. Then he has this Actual Conversation with his secretary:
Secretary: “The chubby girl?”
[XXX]: “Would we call her chubby?”
Secretary: “I think there’s a pretty sizable ass there, yes, sir. Huge thighs.”
Can we not refer to a woman who worked her way up to a job in the prime minister’s office as “the chubby girl”? Also, can we fire the entire government for sexual harassment?
[QQQ] is still totally stumped about the best way to force [RRR] to love him against her will. I mean, he’s tried everything. He tried staring at her, he tried never ever talking to her, he tried complaining

Love Actually puts a lot of stock in the idea that people are either good or bad. People either love or they don’t, reciprocate or they don’t. The grander the gesture, the greater the crime of not reciprocating. LOVE GOOD. NOT-LOVE BAD. It’s a pleasant fantasy, I think, because if you accept the difficult truth that people are more than just good or bad, then you have to question whether or not happiness really exists. Because if people are more complicated, then happiness must be more complicated, and at that point is it really happiness?
Oh, god, why am I bothering. Actually.


So he abandons Christmas dinner with his loving family and flies back to France. The one expression of genuine love in this movie and [AAA] peaces-out to go hump a stranger.
He’s like, “I am here to ask your daughter for her hand in marriage,” and the dad is like, “Say what!?” because he thinks [AAA] means his other daughter, who is fat and gross, and that would obviously makes no sense, because women who are slightly larger than some other women deserve to be alone forever unless they’re the size-6 kind of fake fat like [YYY]. Then the dad offers to pay [AAA] to take fat daughter off his hands. [AAA] is like “Ew, no. I only want to purchase/marry HOT women I’ve never spoken to in my life.”
Once the truth gets sorted out, fat daughter says: “Father is about to sell [BBB] as a slave to this Englishman.”
Oh, also [QQQ] has now chased [RRR] all the way to the airport, where he’s broken through security and is leading TSA agents on a “wacky” chase to the gate.
I feel like this scene would have been way less wacky if that was a brown kid instead of a white one.
When they get there, [BBB] looks horrified and is like, “What the fuck are you doing at my work!? I don’t even know you, dude! Get out of here! Oh my god, I’M TRYING TO RUN A RESTAURANT HERE. GO AWAY, YOU CREEPY ENGLISHMAN.”
No. Just kidding. She agrees to fucking marry the guy. Forever. Even though they have never spoken.
In a painfully fitting finale, [ZZZ] returns from America with the woman he got. He literally brings her back to England with him like a fucking airport souvenir. But don’t worry, [WWW], HE IMPORTED AN OBJECT WITH NO AGENCY FOR YOU TOO. HERE, PUT YOUR MOUTH ON IT.
That’s love, kids.
Oh, wait. Actually, it’s shit.

ginger ale in the sky

Saturday 30 November 2013

What beverage choice do you make when they ask you what you want to drink on a flight?

These are pretty much my sentiments exactly:

The Oatmeal: How I interpret my beverage options on an airplane



Banksy as true street artist

Sunday 27 October 2013

(This happened a few weeks ago, so I’m a bit behind in posting, but this is quite amazing.)

If you don’t already know Banksy, you should. He/She (do we really know?) is an artist doing art in public places (mostly), making you think. Banksy is currently doing a residency in NYC with lots of awesome stuff that you can see on the official residency website. The residency is for October 2013, but some pieces are likely to last beyond that, so if you’re in NYC, check it out!

Anyway, even though Banksy mainly does works in public spaces, he/she also has had pieces obtained by museums and individuals, and they are worth A LOT. That’s why it’s so amazing that Banksy set up a little stall outside Central Park to sell pieces at $60 a pop, each worth tens of thousands of dollars, to people that appeared to have no idea what they were getting into. If some art dealer or similar knowledgeable person would have found out, they probably would have tried to clean the stall out (if Banksy would have allowed it… unlikely).

You can read more about this event in a few different articles, too:
Banksy Sold $225,000 Worth of Art at a Central Park Stall for $420
Banksy sells original works worth a fortune for £38 each in New York booth

You can also find out more about Banksy in Exit Through the Gift Shop, a pretty sweet little movie.

Larry the Ghost crashes CTA train

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Paper Machete is a great live magazine happening every Saturday at the Green Mill in Chicago (with a great podcast as well). Every month the host, Christopher Piatt, hosts an open mic incubator series called The MASH, which I attended again this evening. Below is the piece I wrote for this iteration. For those of you outside of Chicago or didn’t catch it on the national news, the context for this piece is at the bottom.

It was performed in character, so imagine a voice a little bit like Yogi the Bear but more depressed. Enjoy!


Hey guys—my name’s Larry—some people call me L Train—it’s my nickname—but you can call me Larry.

I’m a ghost.

First off, I just want to say, I’m sorry. You probably all heard about that CTA crash Monday morning in Oak Park on the Blue Line, where a train seemingly driven by no one ran into another train sitting in the station: well, that my bad.

I wanted to come out tonight and publicly take full responsibility for my actions. I had no intention of hurting anyone, sure as hell not injuring more than 30 people just hanging out in one of those fresh, almost potpourri smelling CTA cars.

See, here’s what happened: I’d been visiting CTA stations off and on this summer and kept seeing these signs for Ventra, you know? And it was really piquing my interest and everything because I didn’t know if maybe it was some kind of new Starbucks coffee size or some player for the White Sox or new female orgasm tool or whatever, you never know what they’re advertising in there.

But then one night not too long ago I snuck into this woman Sharon’s place. It’s kind of nice over there: she lives in this first floor walk-up and leaves the window open; the fact that she walks around naked really has nothing to do with it. Anyway, she had on that WGN TV station and I heard ‘em say “Ventra”, so my ears perked up, you know, as much as ghost ears can—with about the same ineptitude as my you know what can’t perk up any more either, but that’s another story—but anyway, I heard ’em saying Ventra’s this new way to pay for bus and train trips, and it all starts to come together, you know, just like the end of that movie the Sixth Sense, which I can’t mention here without also making sure you’re aware just how much every ghost hates that movie, because every ghost KNOWS they’re a ghost, from the get go, there’s none of this thinking you’re a person shit that Shamalamadingdong guy pulled on all you gullibles out there. But I digress.

But this Ventra shit sounds kind of crazy, am I right? Do you know all about this? I mean, first it’s run by a private company, which isn’t so surprising here in Chicago where you don’t even own your parking meters, but still, strike one if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself. Then you have the fact that you’re basically signing up for a credit/debit card with this thing, and then you get all the fees for all the bells and whistles the company is planning to charge. And then, if you just want to buy a one ride ticket, it costs $3 instead of $2.25. And there’s not even an option to pay with cash, even on the bus. To all that I give a big BOOOO, if you don’t mind the expression…

Anyway, I got to the CTA station Monday morning, still kind of pissed about all this Ventra stuff—and a bit of an aside, I suppose, pissed is apparently how lots of people riding CTA elevators feel, if you catch my drift—but I decided, what the hell, I’ll jump the turnstile today, who’s going to see me? Ghost joke! Am I right? Am I right?

So I head up to the station and there’s no train around so I just kind of mosey over to the rail yard where they keep all the extra cars and I find one I like and head inside. And I realize I have never been in a train car by myself before, and it’s pretty cool in there. I mean, there’s no one’s ass for me to grab and pretend it’s “because it was bumpy” or whatever, but there’s also no one trying to sell me any candy for their youth sports leagues so it all kind of balances itself out.

And then I’m like “Larry, you should go into the cockpit or whatever that place in front is called where they drive the fuckin’ train.” That is literally the sentence that ran through my head. I’m sorry I’m kind of slow sometimes, but I haven’t slept since 1953 when they demolished my house with me still inside to make room for the Eisenhower Expressway. You all seem like smart people, you all don’t need that history lesson, right? Maybe another time.

Anyway, I head inside the cockpit or whatever and then I got to thinking… “Hmm, what if I, you know, drive this thing?” So I hit a few buttons and before I knew what was going on the train was moving. I mean, I was surprised I could even go anywhere, right, since the crash, I’ve heard or all this stuff that should have stopped me: the breaks, obviously, which would have needed a key to release them, but also—and I know when I tell you this you’ll be all like “L Train, you better not be shittin’ us”, but I swear this is real—something called a “dead man control” which has to constantly be pressed or else the motor shuts off and the brakes are applied. I guess they have that in case a train operator had a heart attack, or, you know, there’s a ghost who wants to operate the train.

Maybe if they funded the CTA half a shit all those things would have actually stopped me, but the train just kept on barreling down the tracks, and I’m all on the intercom, shouting shit like “L Train in the house!” and singin’ “Peace Train, sounding louder, ride on the Peace Train” all Yusif Islam style and then WHAM! Impact. I ain’t felt that kind of crash since that wrecking ball came through my bedroom window. Anyway, I’m kind of freaked out, realizing what happened, and I just get the hell out of there.

I felt kind of bad, but it’s kind of cool, too; I mean, the Trib even called it a “ghost train”, which is kind of validating for me and Tim and Sparky and all us other ghosts who never get any respect. It took me a couple days before I felt comfortable getting on the train again, but today I decided I’d give it another try. So I was on the Green Line this morning, sitting on some lady’s lap and reading the Red Eye, and I couldn’t help but start laughing to read that the National Traffic Safety Board, who was investigating the crash, had to stop working Monday night because of the government shutdown. To that I say, “Thank you Mr. Boehner!”

So once again, I just wanna say I’m sorry for injuring those people and delaying the blue line for the west side and northwest side hipster riders. It’s hard out here for a ghost. Thank you.


CTA crash likely caused by ‘mechanical malfunction,’ suburban mayor says

Half-mile journey of CTA ‘ghost train’ baffles investigators

CTA: Ventra

Ventra CTA Cards Get Mixed Response

Ventra cards in service on CTA, Pace transit

Paying cash for L ride will cost more under new high-tech system