Monday, August 27, 2007

Fall Lineup

I finally decided to splurge and plan ahead by purchasing tickets to several of those shows I know I should see this fall and that I was far too likely to put off buying tickets until they were sold out or I was too busy. So now I have all sorts of exciting shows to see this fall. Yay!

First of all, I succombed to pressure and renewed my tickets for The Mark Taper Forum. I know this is hypocritical, since I've been complaining loudly about how atrocious and boring almost everything I saw there last season was. But I was determined to see Sweeny Todd and it was cheap and easy to add on tickets to Avenue Q. The History Boys should also be fun. Yes, I'm totally a sucker for musicals. Of course, the seats will all be atrocious, and I'm a bit worried that I'll have moved somewhere before The House of Blue Leaves and School of Night happen, but I'm a sucker for a good Christopher Marlowe story. I find this a crazy season, and still really really white and heterosexual and male-dominated, but I subscribed anyway. Sometimes I fail to live up to my own ideals, but I think it's better to err on the side of seeing more theater rather than less.

More interstingly, I also ordered tickets for a few events at UCLA Live before the cheap student tickets sold out. So I'll be seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company doing both The Seagull and King Lear. I'll be seeing Ian McKellen as King Lear but William Gaunt as Sorin in the Seagull because that was the way it worked with my schedule and ticket availability. I'll also be seeing Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Blind Date. So I'll be getting a little bit of culture this fall.

I also purchased a ticket to Culture Clash's Zorro in Hell, which I totally put off to the last minute.

And finally, I'm going to see Invasion! The Musical, which I'm totally excited about. Maybe I can put it in my dissertation.

Speaking of dissertation, there's one more dissertation-relevant performance that I want to see: Rufus Wainwright performing Judy Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall Show at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 23. My problem is that I haven't yet found someone to go with me to this one, and the Hollywood Bowl is one of the few places I'd feel really weird attending on my own. So my dilemma is, do I buy a ticket anyway and be alone and proud, buy two tickets and hope I can convince someone to come with me later, or put it off until I can find company. This is my eternal question, to attend theater alone or not, and it's often a reason why I put off seeing things. I tend to be reluctant to buy just one ticket, and hope that later I'll be able to find someone to go with me. So if there's anyone out there who knows me and is interested in Rufus doing Judy, I'd love company.

Monday, August 20, 2007

State of LA Theater

Frank's Wild Lunch points to this article in the LA Times in which Charles McNulty describes the problem with LA theater as a lack of directors and the general decline of the director as auteur. It's an interesting and in some ways incredibly insightful observation of the LA theater scene, from a man who admittedly has seen a lot more theater in LA in the past year than I have (hey, if I were getting paid to do it, I'd be there). But, while I think he's dead on in describing the LA theater as intensly (perhaps overly) actor-driven, I'm not sure the auteur-director is the solution. I think that there is a problem with a general lack of intelligent vision in theater here in LA. And I think McNulty does a pretty good job at pinpointing the major directors that we know to follow (Bart DeLorenzo, Jessica Kubzansky) and a few less well-known ones to watch. But in crediting the director, McNulty ignores the ensemble, which produces some of the better LA theater in my personal opinion. A creative ensemble can produce amazing work, while the vast majority of director-auteurs, brilliant or not, tend to be straight white men speaking from a position of ultimate power. While it's good to have someone intelligent making the decisions, instead of all of the actors' vanity projects running around LA, I think our local theater scene is designed around companies that need good playwrights, good directors, good actors, and good artistic directors working together. The problem for me is a lack of cooperation around a shared vision, rather than a lack of one person with a dominant vision. We need smarter, more dedicated, more visionary theater people of all stripes, but subsuming everone else to a dominant vision is not the answer. I agree that we have a lot of actors doing a lot of not-so-good productions here, which would be helped by more and better direction, but I think it's better to get more good people committed to a good project, rather than just skillfully but mindlessly following the vision of a leader. Theater in LA needs more passion from everyone, not just good directing.

I totally have to see this

OK, I've been hiding my head from the LA theater scene recently. I have absolutely no excuse for the fact that I haven't yet seen Zorro in Hell. I haven't even reallly been following the listings or reviews for local theater. But today, I checked the list of shows opening last week, and I was delighted to discover Invasion! The Musical. It's even set in the '50s!

Invasion! The Musical, with book and lyrics by Aaron Matijasic and music by Billy Thompson, is a provocative satire reminiscent of Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show, with a dash of “South Park” and a spritz of Mel Brooks thrown in. On a hot summer night in 1952, the residents of Tucker County, New Mexico are at a moral crossroads. Suddenly, aliens attack! Faced with their impending doom, the townsfolk seize the opportunity to do and say all the things they’ve been keeping bottled up inside. As one would expect, all hell breaks loose. Themes of discrimination, social immorality and political hypocrisy are skewered without mercy.

Just as I was wondering about sci-fi theater, along comes a sci-fi play just for me. I must see it. But maybe I should watch the 1950s Invasion of the Body Snatchers first.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Science Fiction Everywhere

I didn't know Frederic Jameson wrote a book about science fiction. Clearly I must read it. Even though I'm not a huge fan of Postmoderninsm, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. It's not because Postmodernism isn't brilliant; it is. It just seems to me (in my admittedly brief and superficial reading of his work) that Jameson really wants to claim that James Joyce is the epitome of all culture and everything after moderism is just a poor imitation. His aesthetics and biases seem very privileged straight white male to me. I could be wrong; this isn't really my subject. I wonder if his opinions on sci-fi are equally biased. But anyway, yay for academics writing about sci-fi.

Speaking of sci-fi, I just finished reading The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld's sequel to Peeps. I need to talk about it because I have a very conflicted reaction to Westerfeld's books in general, and Peeps in particular. I find them both brilliantly provokative and terribly unsatisfying. First, I must congratulate Westerfeld for writing female characters who are important to the plot and demonstrate skills and confidence in their chosen fields of endeavor. Peeps was dominated by the voice of Cal, the geeky male protagonist, and that might have been part of my problem. Also, the concept behind Peeps and The Last Days is excellent; it's about vampires but recasting vampirism as a parasite, so the book talks interestingly about vectors and infection rates. It's a mythology that I'd love to see in queer hands with echos of HIV and lesbian vampires. But while the idea is great, the book itself didn't always keep me engaged. It seemed like it would be great for geeky teenage boys, but not always for me.

The Last Days is set in the same world as Peeps, but it focuses on several teenagers forming a band as the infection comes to a head in New York City. And I also found it frustrating, but for different reasons. It focuses on the members of the band, with the world seemingly coming to crisis behind them, but the potential end of civilization was not quite threatening enough for me. While it's probably brilliantly accurate in describing how purposefully ignorant people can be about the crumbling of an empire or a civilization, I wanted the bigger picture. I wanted to see the loss of infrastructure and feel the world fearing that this really was the last days of the U.S. or technology or the world. I wanted the characters to experience what it would be like if cell phones and power grids and the internet were unreliable. I wanted to feel the power and hope and terror of teenagers facing the crisis by playing weird new music, or just going to clubs and hearing weird new music. Again Westerfeld's concept and world are excellent, but the story itself is not enough for me. I want more. I want a bigger picture.

I've also been watching Masters of Science Fiction on ABC, and I must say, I'm rather enjoying it. These one-hour TV sci-fi mini-movies remind me of The Twilight Zone, which is awesome. So far, I think they're a little too obsessed with being contemporary and politically relevant and risk making the storytelling secondary as a result, but overall I'm very much enjoying them and glad such things are making it to TV.

Plus, I watched the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a friend the other night. I have thoughts on this, but I'm going to hold them until I've seen the 1950s version. I don't hear good things about Invasion, but I am curious.

Thinking about sci-fi across all of these genres and time periods makes me want to talk about theater. But I can't think of a lot of sci-fi theater that I've seen recently. Or at all, really. I remember in high school we did a project that adapted some Twilight Zone scripts for the stage. And I think I saw a stage version of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles also when I was in high school. And in college we did R.U.R. But I can't think of any professional theatrical sci-fi. Unless you count Evil Dead: The Musical. So, theater folks and sci fi geeks out there, do you know of any good sci fi on stage? Or have any theories about why we don't see it as much? Is it because of the fear of being cheesy? Lack of special effects? Some other demand of the genre? Is it really out there and I have just failed to see it? Does it happen places other than LA? What do you think?

Things to do

There are a couple fun events on my calendar, so I thought I'd encourage others to check them out.

Tomorrow (Saturday 8/18) El Vez, my very favorite queer Chicano punk rock Elvis impersonator, is doing a free show downtown at California Plaza. It's part of that whole revitalizing (and gentrifying) downtown project, but free shows are pretty cool anyway and El Vez rocks. Yay!

And then next Saturday, there's a night of queer performance about queer female sexuality. From myspace:

She/Ze Sex: the varying degrees of gender identiy and sexuality"
Saturday, August 25th
LA Gay and Lesbian Center's Village at Ed Gould Plaza
1125 N. McCadden Place Los Angeles, CA 90038
7:30 pm
$10 event
What is feminine sexuality? Our show will explore feminine sexuality (or not) through enjoying the work of high femmes, butches, FTM's and MTF's artists/performers. Join us won't you?

With emcee D'lo.

Gabriela Garcia Medina
Adelina Anthony
Ryka Aoki de la Cruz
Miracle Whips
Nova Jade
DJ Claw-d
Trannysaurussex (from SFO)

They're also screening a couple of short films and have vendors selling queer-friendly clothing. It should be a great show!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Gay Debate

I just watched the Logo/HRC Presidential Forum. Yes, I'm a couple of days late.

I liked the structure of the event, with each candidate getting a short interview on a very specific topic. What the candidates actually said, however, was not particularly novel or suprising.

Since it was the HRC, the focus of the whole thing was heavily weighted toward marriage, which means that all of the major candidates (Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Clinton) spent a lot of time trying to explain that they were for fully equal civil unions complete with all the rights and benefits of marriage, as long as we don't call it marriage. Which is an inherently stupid and essentially indefensible position.

Personally, I thought Obama did it best, convincing me that he actually understood that this was a civil rights and equality issue. He said that the focus should be on legal rights under the law and not the word marriage, which I happen to agree with (even though I also firmly believe that separate but equal is not equal).

Edwards started his interview pretty badly, seeming stiff and uncomfortable, but he warmed up by the end. He did his best to dodge the marriage question by saying that he sees why the word marriage is an issue for gay people, but he's still not for it. I was impressed by his closing statement, in which he brought up immigration issues and antidiscrimination.

Kucinich was awesome. Total hippy. Actually in favor of gay marriage. Gravel was also in favor of gay marriage. They both talked about love and equality. Good for them!

Richardson was the loser in this 'debate.' He said more or less the same things as everyone else about marriage, but looked uncomfortable and unsupportive while doing it. And then, he got asked "is it a choice?" Which I personally think is a stupid question to ask a candidate. How would he know, really? Is there a good way to answer this? But he didn't deal with it well, said it was a choice and then mumbled something about science. Basically sounded dumb.

A lot of people apparently liked Clinton at this event. I wasn't particularly impressed. While she was in favor of civil unions and equal rights, she seemed to think it's OK to leave marriage up to the states rather than actually legislating for equality, which is honestly unconscionable when you have states like Ohio that keep working to take away rights for queer folks whenever possible.

Unfortunately, because everyone was asked to defend their position on marriage, there was very little discussion of other issues. They all seemed to be in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act (although Hillary was rather defensive of both, but I guess she'd have to be because they're Bill's laws). Everyone seemed to be in favor of an Employment Non Descrimination Act that includes sexuality (what about gender and/or gender presentation?) Obama was asked about homophobia in the black community, and I think he answered that beautifully, saying that it's important to talk about gay issues not just in front of a gay audience but in all his speechs. Edwards got asked about whether or not he supports transgendered people, but in a way that he couldn't have said anything but yes. I think there could have been a much better transgender question*. I would have liked to hear everyone talk about immigration laws and health care and how to combat homophobia. What about asylum for people who are persecuted for sexuality in other countries? What about adoption?

Overall, I think the candidates did OK, and I'm still generally positive toward Obama, Edwards, and Clinton even though Kucinich and Gravel were the only ones with decent positions on gay marriage. I wish Biden were there - I would have liked to see where he fell. But I just keep asking, why the hell can't Obama, Edwards, and/or Clinton just come out and say, "I believe that men and women and straight people and gay people are equal, and must be treated equally under the law." Why, in 2007, is that still a position that is too revolutionary for a mainstream candidate? Why don't they support equality and civil rights for everyone, without exception? I don't even like gay marriage as an issue, but I do believe in equality and I don't think there should be a single presidential candidate (even Republicans) who should be able to get up in front of the nation and say that any law should treat people differently based on race, religion, gender, or sexuality. If men and women are truly equal (which they aren't yet) then why does it matter which one you marry? And since men and women aren't equal yet, how in the world can we go forward until they are? Why isn't this everyone's issue? Why aren't we talking about it in those terms?

UPDATE: Read this post at Pam's House Blend on trans issues and the debate!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Summer Movies

I saw Transformers this week. Honestly, I actually quite enjoyed it. it was pretty much what a summer movie should be. It had a serviceable but not particularly intelligent plot, but exciting battle scenes and lots of explosions. I feel like perhaps it got a little more attention than it actually deserves, but that's OK, it was fun. Annalee Newitz says it's ok to just enjoy the movie at face value, so I'll go ahead and do that. At least it gestured toward having a kickass female sidekick (Megan Fox) who knew something about cars, even though she didn't actually do much except look hot.

Speaking of summer movies, I'm super excited for Startdust, which opens tomorrow and looks like it will be a fabulous action-packed fairy tale film with witches and sky pirates and a fallen star and all sorts of fun things. I'm predisposed to love this movie because I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan and I absolutely loved the book. It's sweet and clever and fun and I highly recommend the Charles Vess graphic novel version to anyone who's interested. The movie opens on Friday, and Neil himself is encouraging people to attend the opening weekend, since that's so important with films.

As appropriate for a summer movie, I attended Transformers on a date, and I must say that I was dissapointed that the parts where Transformers dragged didn't involve more date-related activities to keep me entertained. Stardust, however, seems like the perfect movie to attend with a date. It's got nice cuddly romance as well as fun action and adventure. Now, if only I could find the right girl (or boy) to take me.

Friday, August 03, 2007

On Genres and Media Recommendations

I read a lot of fiction. More fiction than is strictly justifiable for a grad student working on a dissertation and therefore morally compelled to spend vast quantities of time reading history, theory, and other non-fiction works. But I find solace in fiction, and I'm frequently reading several fun books at once. I read sci-fi and fantasy, queer literature, occasionally mysteries, graphic novels, young adult lit and, in the summer, chick lit. I tend to plow through these books pretty quickly and generally gravitate toward things that are fun and lightweight.

But at the moment, I'm in the mood for something different. I wouldn't say I'm interested in something heavy, exactly, but none of my usual standbys or the things in the "to be read" pile is really calling to me and I'm not sure what I want to read. I might want to read something more literary than my normal genres. Probably something by and/or about a woman. Maybe with some serious emotion. Perhaps I could use a tearjerker, I'm not sure. So, if anyone is out there reading this, tell me about your favorite novels. Can you recommend classics that I've missed in my education? Books with drama or romance or heartbreak? Amazing female protagonists? What should I read?