Just got word that a new play of mine—"The Penalty," inspired by the 1920 Lon Chaney silent film, will be given a developmental reading in part of The Kennedy Center's 11th Annual Page To Stage Festival!
"The Penalty" is a commissioned piece by The Apothetae, along with Dixon Place. The Apothetae is a company dedicated to the production of full-length plays about the "Disabled Experience." They have been invited to The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. to workshop four of their new original works at the Page to Stage Festival this coming September. Here's a synopsis for the play:
New York City. 1920. A legless beggar pleads with the oncoming foot-traffic for spare change. Barely a nickel comes his way. But what these pedestrians don’t know is—this deformed derelict at their heels is none other than Blizzard, kingpin to the seedy underbelly of the Lower East Side. With an army of dancing girls at his beck and call, Blizzard is hell-bent on executing his master plan: Get his revenge against the prominent doctor who left him in this condition—and against the city that could’ve cared less. Enter the good doctor’s daughter, Sofie, an artist living in the LES. When she asks our vengeful vagrant to pose for a new portrait, completely unaware of Blizzard’s history with her father, the stage is set for a showdown between this trio.
Three people. Four legs. One game of revenge.
Inspired by the novel “The Penalty” by Gouverneur Morris, and its film adaptation written by Charles Kenyon and directed by Wallace Worsley.
For more info about the Page to Stage fest: http://bit.ly/MhEbT3
For info on The Apothetae: http://bit.ly/MhEkpQ
August 3, 2012Related: The Penalty
So. Back in 2006, I did a reading. I read a story from my first book of short stories called "the pool witch." It's a rambunctious story about three boys behaving very, very badly at a water park.
In the audience was this children's book editor. We never talked or met each other that night. I never even knew she was there. Two ships in the night…
Fast forward to 2009. I'm at a party. That same editor's there. We are introduced, start talking—and she tells me about hearing me read all the way back in 2006. She said—"What you do for adults, I think you could do for kids. If you've got an idea for a children's book, let me know…"
A month later, we had lunch. I pitched her five ideas. She kinda liked three of them. One rises up to the top pretty quickly. She said: "No promises, but if you write this one and I like it, I'll go to bat for you…"
What else was I going to do with myself?
I didn't tell anyone. I don't even think I told my wife at first. Partially out of fear of failure, partially out of just wanting to write for myself. I wrote in secret for months, working on this… thing. This novel? What was it going to be? Turns out it was a big sprawling massive four hundred pages of craziness.
But I was having a blast. I don't think I'd had this much fun writing in a long time. Waking up every day, I got to work on this thing. No pressure, no promises. Just me and my computer and a story that I really wanted to tell.
Cut to Christmas 2009. My computer gets hacked. I SPAM my entire email list, including an agent I'd been in contact with years back but hadn't chatted with since, lordy, probably 2003. This agent realized that my email account had been compromised, but she responded to me anyways, just to see what I'd been up to. I said: "Funny that you should mention it, but I've been working on this book…" She asked if she could read it, I said of course!
After New Years in 2010, she gets back to me. She said: "We're repping this." You better believe I wasn't going to argue. She got one of her best men on the job, my very own super-hero agent—and off he went to Submission Town.
That children's book editor got first dibs.
Fall 2010, I got a three book deal with Disney-Hyperion.
Suddenly, the crazy thing I'd been working on for months completely under the radar's become Book One in a trilogy of middlegrade children's novels.
What's the trilogy called? THE TRIBE. Book one is titled: HOMEROOM HEADHUNTERS. And me, I've been on cloud nine ever since.
I just pressed send on my copy edits for Book One. It's bizarre to think, but this project that began back in 2009 is slowly coming to a close. The first chapter at least. There's a lot more work to go before it hits the shelves next year, but it struck me how this all came about because of a series of completely random events. Things I had absolutely no control over. If that doesn't make you a firm believe in fate, I don't know what would… All I can say is, I'm very lucky. Counting my blessings. And for every person who had some part in making this all happen, thank you thank you thank you…
Now it's time to get cracking on Book Two…
July 30, 2012
Just in time for Friday the 13th, the NY Times has a lovely lil' story in today's paper about all the various odds and spooky ends of horror theater (and cinema) happening this summer right here in NYC. And look who gets quoted, but yours truly…
To read the article, click here: http://nyti.ms/Nl5jVc
Mama, I'm in the Times! Thanks to Erik Piepenburg for the "Fear-Mongers" shout-out. We're just a heartbeat away from making a huge announcement for our October show, so keep your eyes peeled for updates! T.G.I.F.13th!
July 12, 2012Related: Fear-Mongers
Thanks to the super-cool blog Super Punch for picking the cover for our Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man issue #7 as one of Marvel's best for October! I've never met Ty Templeton before, but I whole-heartedly agree that his cover for our comic is hands down amazing. Take that, Punisher!
For a complete rundown of Super Punch's picks for Marvel's October line, click here: http://bit.ly/N2JGKm
July 12, 2012Related: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #7
It's an awesome day. Last year, I announced that I had started writing for Marvel Comics. At long last, I'm totally psyched to shout it out from the mountain top that my first Spider-Man storyline will officially be released this October in Marvel Universe ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #7.
Today was Marvel's solicitations for their entire October line, which features MU/USM issue #7 along with its kick-ass cover. Here are the details for my story:
Marvel Universe ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #7
JACOB SEMAHN AND CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN (W)
NUNO PLATI AND RAMON BACHS (A)
COVER BY TY TEMPLETON
• The smash Disney XD hit webs its way right out of your TV!
• It’s Halloween gone haywire! Can Spidey stop the costumed chaos?
• And then! Can Spider-Man save Peter Parker’s greatest enemy from being held hostage in a hostile high school haunting?
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99
If you want to read more online, click here: http://bit.ly/OupVax
In the Halloween spirit, my story THERE'S A GHOST IN MY LOCKER is all about our young Peter Parker making the discovery that his locker is haunted by the ghost of a dead freshman. Just in time for the holidays!
This is a total dream come true. You better believe I'll have updates the closer to October we get. Until then, start saving those pennies kids!
July 10, 2012Related: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #7
Somebody pressed record.
The lovely folks at The Soundtrack Series captured this recording of me reading at their June 8th show. The theme was prom and I talked, rather goofily, about my past experiences at that most memorable night. I'm a bit mumbly through the whole thing, but if you care to give it a spin, you can listen here:
It's an okay story, I guess. Pretty safe and silly, all in all. Writing about oneself or telling a story about oneself still feels like putting on a pair of pants that don't feel comfy just yet. There's a reason why I don't try tackling the Moth. I blow at it. I've always found it easier to pick a made up character's perspective and tell their story… Or try to. Besides, who the hell wants to listen to me mouth off about myself? Better leave that to the pros. Like Adam Wade. He shared a great story about his prom experience that same night as I did and it was totally humbling to see him just be… well, just be honest.
This is the second time I've written a piece for The Soundtrack Series. My personal fave was my ode to Led Zep's most makeoutable song. Truth told, it's one of the only things I've ever written about myself that's honest and still feels like fun and doesn't leave me with that ulcer over navel-gazing. It's called "ascending the stairway" and you can listen to a recording of it here:
Noticing a theme yet? I've had school dances on the brain for some reason…
All apologies to anyone I ever went to prom with. This piece is no where near enough of an atonement for my dance floor addictions. Not to mention the truthiness of a few of the finer points of the past. But whatever. I was a big fat idiot back then and I still am now. The more things change, the more they…
(Photo by Emily Bryan, Emily Bryan Photography)
July 6, 2012
Probably the most integral component to any great talk-show is getting great guests. Line up the right roster and they'll make your job a hell of a lot easier. Thank God for my guests at our last "Fear-Mongers" event. What was the biggest boon, however, was how each of my guests went out of their way to turn our last Tuesday's show into a mega-event… Glenn McQuaid ("I Sell the Dead" and "V/H/S") made a special video-mashup of his favorite anthology horror films just for us. Alan Rowe Kelly ("Gallery of Fear" and "I'll Bury You Tomorrow") dissected the original "Dark Shadows" like we were in AP biology class. Rob Kuhns previewed the first fifteen minutes from his new documentary "Year of the Living Dead," focussing on the making of George Romero's original "Night of the Living Dead." And Mac Rogers (The Honeycomb Trilogy) schooled us all with his master-class on Wes Craven's "The Serpent and the Rainbow."
This wasn't just your run-of-the-mill geeking out… This was thesis work. This was a sharp intellectual eye turned towards a genre that deserves this kind of attention all day, every day. Because these guests… well, they really raised the bar. So thank you for all your hard work Glenn, Alan, Mac and Rob.
Click here for pics: http://on.fb.me/MOwuXu
Our next show will be in October… I can't say anything just yet, but we've got a surprise line-up for the Halloween season. This show's gonna be one for the history books, believe me. Check back here for updates soon enough!
June 24, 2012Related: Fear-Mongers
I went to a lot of proms in high school. Ten altogether.
Between 1992 and 1996, I macarenaed, tootsie rolled, rumpshaked, and electric-slided my way through more school dances than any other classmate alive.
This isn’t pride. This is pathological. I had a problem.
My name is Clay—and I am addicted to school dances.
If each year inaugurated a newly crowned king and queen to the court, then that made me the village strumpet—some hussy in a tux, a dance floor floozy ready to cut a rug with just about anybody willing to cut loose with me.
I crashed dances in neighboring counties.
I crossed state lines.
I jaunted up and down the eastern seaboard, from the outer banks to the District of Colombia—just to get my groove on.
My goal? Blow the lid off of every gymnasium between me and my diploma…
...So. This is the first bit of a new essay I'm writing for Dana Rossi's awesome event The Soundtrack Series on Friday, June 8th at (le) poisson rouge here in NYC. Dana enlisted an intimidating roster of authors and storytellers to dust off their tuxes and taffeta gowns in order to tackle their memories of prom.
Want to hear the rest of mine? See you this Friday: http://bit.ly/JpnEtA
And for my dates to each dance, all ten of you… I'm sorry. Please forgive me.
June 2, 2012
Last night's performance of COMMENCEMENT rocked so hard and hurt so many people, they've added a bonus show tonight! If you didn't catch it, you've got one more chance!
Commencement explores the lives of three women as they grapple with fear, grief and ultimately growth that comes in the aftermath of a tragic event. Hanna has performed this one woman show for years, touring throughout North America, culminating in a sold out run in New York. It's a dooooooooooozy.
Monday, May 14th—8 PM. FREE.
The Daniel Stern Studio: 2636 South La Cienega Blvd (btn Venice and Washington)
Share some wine, cheese and theatre. Space is limited so get there early!
"Commencement will leave you wringing your hands in helpless empathy."—SEE Magazine
Facebook invite: http://www.facebook.com/events/433573863339082/
May 14, 2012Related: Commencement
Kyle and I just got back from Chicago where we caught Signal Ensemble Theatre's production of our musical HOSTAGE SONG. We had a blast. Total red carpet treatment. The show's great—but don't believe me. Here's what the critics have said:
“Hostage + Song = Masterpiece.” –Chicago Now
“Consider it a grim, melodic and ultimately heartbreaking mash-up of Arcade Fire and A Mighty Heart. …(U)ndeniably moving to its breathtaking end.” –Time Out Chicago
"Hostage Song is a show with a haunting presence and, at its conclusion on Saturday night, the unusually attentive and clearly shaken audience spent a good few seconds just sitting in silence, drinking in what they'd all just witnessed.” –Chicago Tribune
“(Hostage Song) conveys the most fraught and nightmarish situation with unexpected humor and heartfelt pathos… Clay McLeod Chapman’s dialogue is strong, with just the right balance of gallows humor and tragic interactions.” –Chicago Theater Beat
"When spoken words can no longer capture the pair's frustrations and feelings, powerful scenes are transformed into crystallized moments of song. Soaked in painfully lovely tones and poetic lyrics, the indie-rock score bleeds raw frustration and hope."—Flavorpill (Editor's Pick!)
“Brazen and unconventional.” –Chicago Reader
"Harrowing, gutsy, brazen, relevant, mind-imploding, yet also tragically, poignantly, beautifully human."—From the Ledge
We are the love-child of Arcade Fire and Angelina Jolie. Doesn't get any better than that. Thanks to Signal for treating us like indie-rockstars. The show runs until June 9th, so for all you in the windy city: http://bit.ly/yfvWhZ
May 11, 2012Related: Hostage Song
When it rains, it pours. Two of my personal fave plays are popping up across the country this month. HOSTAGE SONG has its Chicago premiere tonight, courtesy of Signal Ensemble—while next week, Hanna Cheek delivers COMMENCEMENT for a special presentation in LA.
Bound and blindfolded in a war-torn country, two hostages take refuge in music, memory and each other in the Chicago premier of this provocative indie-rock musical. The New Yorker called it "A high-decibel romantic comedy with a seriously unnerving edge" and Time Out New York called it "A devastatingly poignant, strangely philosophical meditation on salvation that just happens to sport a sick downbeat." Stories and book by Clay McLeod Chapman, music and lyrics by Kyle Jarrow, and directed by Ronan Marra.
For more info, click here: http://bit.ly/yfvWhZ
The Daniel Stern Studio is presenting a special one-night only performance of Commencement in Los Angeles. Hanna Cheek has performed this one woman show for years, touring throughout North America, culminating in a sold out run in NYC. Commencement explores three women as they grapple with fear, grief and ultimately growth that comes in the aftermath of a tragic event. Come see the show that SEE Magazine says "...will leave you wringing your hands in helpless empathy." Fair warning: Hanna will destroy you.
For more info, click here: http://on.fb.me/IUdqEQ
Feeling pretty blessed at the moment to have these shows out there in the world. Hostage Song was a labor of love for a lot of my friends when we performed it here in NYC—so now that other companies are starting to produce it elsewhere, it's hard not to get a little sentimental. Who knows? Maybe one day, we'll bring it back to the Big Apple…
Commencement, too. Seeing Hanna tackle three different characters in the course of a one-hour show, how she moves fluidly from one polar opposite personality to the next… I swear. Blows my mind every time.
If you have friends in either Chicago or Los Angeles, please—spread the word! Well worth your time, I promise.
May 5, 2012Related: Hostage Song
1. Ten months old.
Two identical doors were nestled just next to each other in our kitchen. One opened up to our pantry while the other lead to our basement, a ten-step plummet onto a cold concrete floor.
Mom plopped me into my walker—one of those plastic saddled donuts on wheels, designed to teach kids how to waddle along on their own two feet—occupying my time by butting into the kitchen cabinets while she washed the dishes.
When I battle-rammed the basement door, I took all ten of those wooden steps still strapped to my walker, a newborn Thelma and Louise, tumbling head over heels before cracking my cranium against the concrete below.
As mom scooped me up, she used her left hand to cradle my body, the length of her forearm lining my backbone, while cupping my pulpy skull in the palm of her right. She ran out of the house, straight into the street, stopping the first car that drove up by presenting them this fissured infant, begging the man behind the wheel to take us to the nearest hospital.
2. Three years old.
I’m jack-rabbiting through the crowd at the county fair, bobbing and weaving within this pedestrian thicket. Mom can’t keep up, calling out for me to stop, slow down—but I’m not listening, already lost to her.
Up ahead is this young couple on a date, just teenagers holding hands, walking my way. I try cutting through the middle of them, only to get clothes-lined, hooking my chin with their joint fist and back-flipping.
I land directly on my head, again, smacking asphalt at the exact same spot as I had when I was a baby, only two years and however-many-months back, cracking open my cranium all over.
Both occasions had me wearing a plastic satellite dish wrapped around my neck like some vet’s collar that keeps a dog from scratching at a healing wound.
Now there’s a crater in my skull from both fractures, a solidified ditch that starts at the parietal bone, running all the way down to the occipital.
You can still trace the indentation with your finger.
3. Four years old.
There’s a root beer lollipop in my mouth that this dachshund is dying to bite.
It doesn’t help matters that I keep thrusting my face straight into its snout, poking the poor pup with the lollipop’s stick—or that we’re both sitting on the bow of a motor boat, drifting down the Roanoke River with the engine in neutral.
I lean into that dachshund’s face, taunting it to try and bite—only it snaps this time, really snaps, those mouse-trap jaws nipping the stick in between my lips. I jerk my neck back quick, sending the rest of me overboard, right into the drink.
As I sank, tangling up into crystalwort, I distinctly remember the flavor of root beer on my tongue.
That lollipop was still in my mouth all the way down.
4. Five years old.
Grandma’s wearing a mumu to a neighbor’s barbecue.
There’s a pool in their backyard that nobody’s swimming in, so I take it upon myself to get this party started and jump in.
I remember grandma standing at the pool’s lip just before she leapt, her body warping and distorting along the water’s surface as I drowned.
When she carried me out of the pool, cradling me in her arms, I noticed how her mumu clung tightly to her body. Floral print skin.
5. Eleven years old.
I crawled out from the ocean on my hands and knees like some primordial fish ready to shake off its own tail and wriggle up onto its newly evolved feet.
Only my chest cavity kept clamped. My lungs were refusing to inflate.
That wave had balled itself up into a fist around my boogie board and pounded me against the sand. I landed flat on my chest, the impact flushing the air clear out from my lungs.
The ocean was punishing me for boogie-boarding by myself.
All those familial admonishments about riptides and undertows had gone in one ear and right out the other—and here I was, learning my lesson the hard way.
It took a slap on the back from an uncle to reverse the polarity on my lungs, pumping the water out and bringing the air back in.
6. Fourteen years old.
It’s the end of eighth grade. Middle school is hereby officially over.
Tim Showalter is throwing a rager at his neighborhood civic association and anybody who’s anybody is now crammed into the pool.
Somehow, I’ve found myself on Mark Kaiser’s shoulders, announcing to the graduating class of Robious Middle that I was about to perform a backflip right then and there in front of everyone. The execution was near-perfect, spinning end-over-end before diving face-first into the shallow water.
What I hadn’t calculated was the distance from the peek of Mark’s shoulders to the pool’s bottom, only a measly three feet below, my face instantly kissing the concrete basin at everyone’s heels—including Lindsay English, who I’d been crushing on hardcore all year long.
I could hear my neck crack, tamping my spine in this 24-vertebrae pileup. The water clouded up into a chlorine pink all around my face.
When I resurfaced, a bit dazed, Lindsay and her swarm of swimming girlfriends started shrieking, pointing at the gash in my forehead, my nose, my chin—this singular strip of peeled back tissue lining the entire length of my face.
It took the whole summer for those scabs to clear up.
7. I know I should be dead by now. Could’ve been six times over, easily.
Not to mention all the bike-jousting collisions. The pencil impalements. The tree-branch dive-bombings.
How did I even make it this far?
So, as I’m writing this, it’s the night before my wife and I find out if you’re going to be a boy or a girl—and I have absolutely no idea how I’m supposed to protect you from the million-and-one near death experiences waiting for you around every corner. I don’t even know how I survived them myself.
I’m maudlin enough to chalk this all up to some higher power sparing me every broken bone and close-call decapitation. Or maybe I just have super powers.
But I’ve never felt this lucky to be alive—because now I get to meet you.
Then it’s your turn to survive childhood.
April 28, 2012
Jahnavi Caldwell-Green. We've never met. Until this morning, I'll admit I didn't even know you existed. The distance between us is pretty staggering, geographically and/or otherwise. You're a senior at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. I'm some guy in my mid-thirties over here in Brooklyn.
But now we are forever linked, bound by the boards, thanks to your senior thesis project.
Jahnavi, you see, has decided to direct herself in a solo-show I wrote a few years back called COMMENCEMENT for the Lewis & Clark College Theatre Department's 2012 Senior Thesis Projects Festival.
I've got to hand it to you, Jahnavi… As far as senior thesis's go, you really picked a doozy. It's one thing to perform all three characters within the piece, navigating your way through sixty overwrought minutes— but to direct yourself as well? Sweet Jesus up above, girl! I would've picked a David Ives play instead. Something, anything, other than this melodramatic hand-wringer that I wrote. A better playwright + a better script = Diploma.
Knowing that this is the culminating effort of your undergraduate career, I can't help but feel partially responsible for the outcome of your project. I'm a little anxious, I've got to say. Maybe even a bit worried. Were you graded on this? How did you do? Did you pass? Just please tell me you passed…
And what about the audience? Did they stay with you? Did you survive your two performances? How are you? Is everything okay?
This is what Jahnavi has to say about COMMENCEMENT: “Three women with deeply complex histories speak their truth, each in a state of stuckness, and struggle to act, to move forward, to commence.”
Jahnavi—I just hope, I pray, that you make it to your own pending commencement, graduating with full honors at the end of the semester.
Here's more info on the festival: http://bit.ly/I0qP12
Here are lighting designer Kaye Blankenship's pics: http://bit.ly/I0qVWq
April 21, 2012Related: Commencement
Look at them. All those blurry Q/A-faces. Staring back at me.
Our film HENLEY screened this last weekend at the 19th Annual James River Film Festival, playing before Rick Alverson's bad-touch THE COMEDY. Screening a short before a feature is like being the opening band to a huge headliner. Not many people come out to see the warmup. When the night's over, most folks will have forgotten who the opening act even was. That self-conscious voice at the back of my head had me believing everybody had promptly consigned HENLEY to backburner oblivion, so it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon the blog called I Could Go On And On who had this to say:
"Showing first was a short, "Henley," shot in Cumberland, Virginia about a kid who lives at a motel and collects road kill.The actor, Hale Lytle, was chosen from a host of SPARC kids, most of whom possessed the kind of "jazz hands" acting that they director was trying to avoid. For the record, Lytle couldn't be at the screening tonight because he's in NYC shooting a feature film. They grow up so fast. Actually, he causes road kill, which was the disturbing part of former local Clay McLeod Chapman's script from a chapter in his novel. But since I'd seen Chapman's work performed before, I knew to expect a twist and he'd delivered."
Thanks, Karen. If you'd like to read the rest of her post "An Ode to Film Devotion," click here: http://bit.ly/IXlOC4
April 17, 2012Related: Henley (short)
A quick trip down to ol' Virginia this weekend lead me to the Richmond Public Library, where an essay of mine is on exhibit for a show titled "Why Children's Books: Inspiring Generations." A handful of authors were asked to write a love letter to a children's book that continues to resonate with them today. Here's what I wrote:
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
Written by Alvin Schwartz. Drawings by Stephen Gammell.
Essay by Clay McLeod Chapman
There’s a campfire burning through my book. The pages crackle and hiss with each flame I flip. The lights have all been turned off, sending my bedroom into darkness, save for the words casting their ghastly shadows over my imagination.
I want to share a story with you…
A scary story.
A pair of feet dangles down from inside an old woman’s chimney. Or how about a hook-handed madman who hitches a ride home with an unsuspecting couple? Or the one about the Wendigo (my absolute fave), an evil spirit who whisks you off the ground so fast, your feet burn down to nothing but stumps? Or, since we’re on a roll here, what about an ode to worms working their way through your intestines well after you’re dead and buried?
You can find them all—and many, many more—waiting for you inside Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Alvin Schwartz was the first writer I ever encountered as a kid who seemed capable of distilling the oral tradition onto the page, taking those rustic bits of folklore that I had heard spun around the campfire and somehow encapsulating their ethereal magic into print. These were words I wanted to read out loud—to myself, to friends, to anyone brave enough to listen. Pair up these eerie tales alongside Stephen Gammell’s pulpy pen and still dribbling ink sketches and you have every explanation necessary over why I lost so much sleep as a youngster. These illustrations seem to bleed right off the page. Touching them with my finger has always been a dicey prospect, even today, given the fact that they look wet. Very wet. Open this book up carefully, slowly, with both hands, lest the soft matter of The Dead Man’s Brains come spilling directly into your lap.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Books can be interactive. Even if the words remain static, frozen forever in their sentences, there is still a back-and-forth between what’s on the page and what brims within the reader’s imagination.
The campfire is always there, nestled within their pages—ready to be lit. It’s merely a matter of reading.
If you’re not too scared, that is.
Sure hope you brought some marshmallows…
April 15, 2012
A few weeks back, my wife and I went to see the Brooklyn Philharmonic. The concert was a blast, but what has really lingered in my mind more than the music itself was watching one of the violinists struggle through a choking fit onstage.
I witnessed a slight tickle in the throat mount into a respiratory mini-melodrama of operatic proportions, all to the tune of “Am I Born” by David Little.
With our balcony seats, we were practically hovering above the performers. This bird’s eye view had my sightlines centered directly on the string section for most of the evening. It’s safe to say I’ve never been so close to a symphony in the midst of a recital before. Beholding the mechanical precision of the orchestra from above was like popping the hood on a car and letting its engine rev, observing all the various cogs and pistons as they operate in harmony with one another.
Which was why this gagging violinist caught my attention pretty quickly.
Somewhere within the second act, her neck started to strain.
I could tell she was trying to suppress a cough. Swallow it back down. There was a lull in the strings, which gave her a chance to hold her hand over her mouth—but the cough wouldn’t dissipate. If anything, from my vantage point, it looked like it was intensifying. This poor performer continued to wrestle with her own throat from the string section, the tendons in her neck stretched to the point of snapping.
But she refused to cough. She refused to disrupt the music.
She kept pushing, pushing it down into her chest—while that assiduous hack, mounting in its own unremitting intensity, continued to claw its way back up.
When it was time to pick up her violin and play, it was easy to see that she was in a considerable amount of pain. Her face was flushed, eyes watering, almost as if she were responding to the beauty of the music itself—but no, that was actually a volcanic reflex against her glottis, a swell of trapped air yearning to burst free from her lungs.
But she wouldn’t let the cough win. Even at the expense of her own physical well-being, her own comfort, she would not upset the cantata.
I felt helpless, absolutely helpless, stuck where I was, watching this all transpire. But what was even more prostrating was, once the show was over and I asked my wife about the choking violinist, she said she hadn’t noticed…
Had anyone else seen the torment this woman had gone through?
Had I been the only one?
Whoever you are, ma’am, I just wanted to let you know I saw everything. I saw your phlegmatic battle—and I saw you win.
Your struggle wasn’t in vain.
April 11, 2012
Confession: I'm a big fan of "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!"
So. When I found out that our short film HENLEY would be screening directly before Rick Alverson's new feature THE COMEDY, starring none other than Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, at the 19th Annual James River Film Festival, I got a little, you know… pants-poopy about it.
It's not like either of them will be at the screening. Probably not. Of course not. Right? But this is as close to Tim and Eric as I'm ever going to get. I'm feeling a little bit like "The Six Degrees of Icarus Bacon" flying too close to the sun here. Or something like that. You know what I'm talking about.
Here's a synopsis for the double-header of HENLEY and THE COMEDY at the James River Film Festival website: http://bit.ly/He1n11
Rick Alverson is from Richmond. I'm from Richmond. His movie played at Sundance this year. My movie played at Sundance this year. Now both of our films are screening back-to-back in Richmond together.
See how that all came full circle? I'm just about one degree away from touching Tim & Eric… A boy can dream, can't he?
April 3, 2012Related: Henley (short)
Did a children's book change your life? Do you have special childhood memories attached to a certain book?
Check out this kick-ass event that's happening in my hometown. There is a wonderful exhibit coming to the Richmond Public Library in April that explores the role of children's books in our lives. "Why Children's Books: Inspiring Generations" will feature essays from many notable Richmonders including Shaka Smart, Michael Rao, Alex Nyerges, Jack Spiro, Mayor Dwight Jones, Tim Kaine, Anne Holton, Jason Mraz, and many more.
Me, too. The folks at the Richmond Public Library were kind enough to invite me to write a piece for the exhibit. Guess what book I chose from my childhood? Alvin Schwartz's one and only "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark." The Wendigo! The Hearse Song! The Hook! They're all right here in one book.
To this day, Stephen Gammell's illustrations still linger at the back of my brain. Encountering his hellish watercolors as a kid first cracking open that book… Now that's the stuff nightmares are made of. I recently saw that SSTTITD was reissued with completely different illustrations by someone other than Gammell, which to me is simply sacrilege. Absolute sacrilege. Don't whitewash my childhood away! If you find yourself in a position to pick up a copy of the book, please, for the love of all that's good and (un)holy, find the original edition with Gammell's masterfully murky ink drawings. Please.
From the Library release: "These essays are personal stories from all over Richmond on children's books that make a real difference. Each story illustrates the power of children's books and their ability to inspire us."
...Or ruin our childhood sleeping habits. Take your pick.
To read more about the event, go to the Richmond Public Library blog: http://bit.ly/GZyw6H
For details and directions, go to the Richmond Public Library website: http://bit.ly/GZyWtK
March 29, 2012
Well, if you weren't at last night's "Fear-Mongers: FIreside Chats about Horror Films," you really missed out. We kicked off our third season with probably one of our best events yet. Beyond my nerves tying up my tongue at the beginning of the evening, it was an absolute blast.
Slowly but surely, I'm finally getting the hang of this whole interview give-and-take. Honestly, it all boils down to the guest. Get the right personality onstage and they do most of the heavy lifting. Lucky for me, I had some real pros last night. Big thanks to Jim Mickle & Nick Damici (Stake Land), Trav S.D. (No Applause, Just Throw Money), Jack Ketchum (The Woman) and Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Pictures) for making my job a hell of a lot easier…
It's just fun to hear these folks tell their stories. I try and do my homework beforehand, preparing dozens of notecards worth of questions… But the second the show starts and it's time to sit down with my guests, all the prep-work melts and it's just me listening to good people share their experiences. Class is always in session and I'm the nerd sitting in the front row.
Time to start the hunt for our next lineup… Any suggestions? See you in June!
March 28, 2012Related: Fear-Mongers
Broadway World announced that Hostage Song, featuring a book by me and music/lyrics by good friend Kyle Jarrow, will be making its way to Chicago this summer. The folks at Signal Ensemble Theatre are just crazy enough to bring our indie-rock musical to the Windy City.
Read the story here: http://bit.ly/GDDoZY
This will mark the second regional production of Hostage Song since its premiere in NYC in 2008. It's a tough show to wrap your head around, given the fact that on paper it sounds like an awful, awful idea… A romantic comedy that takes place during a hostage crisis? With our leading pair of young lovers blindfolded, hands bound, throughout the entire show? With singing? Really?
And yet… It works. At least that's what Kyle and I think.
Not to mention everybody who helped create the piece in the first place. This show is pretty near-and-dear to a lot of people who were involved in the original production, from our director Oliver Butler to our cast. Now that Hostage Song is slowly making its way out into the world, with a presentation at NAMT to a production in Colorado last year and now Chicago, it's heartening to think more and more people might feel the same way we do.
Chicago: You be the judge. See you in May!
March 21, 2012Related: Hostage Song
“...Like a hard blow to the reader's solar plexus.”
— Virginia Living