Sunday, May 29, 2005

Stage Invades History by David Hare

David Hare's piece in today's LA Times is a great read for anyone interested in recent history and theater. The buzz surrounding his new play, Stuff Happens, which I've been blogging about throughout our production weeks at the Mark Taper Forum, has grown into a steady drone, I would imagine not unlike the sound made by one of our military's predator drones.

Hare explains how the play came to be, and how it became what it is: an amalgum of facts and well researched imaginary goings-on in the halls and offices of the most powerful people on earth. If you can't get to LA to see it, don't worry, it will be in New York soon enough, I would imagine. And you can buy a copy of the Stuff Happens script here.

Also in today's LA Times is a great article about my friend Gordon Davidson, who is directing Stuff Happens. He chose this play as his last, after 38 years as Artistic Director at the Center Theater Group, because he wanted to do something important and timely as his last hurrah. I'd say he's done that, and more. He's an icon of American Theater, and he will be missed. Read what Davidson has to say about Stuff Happens in the Play's Program (pdf).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

If you're not frothing at the mouth, you lose and election, and then really bad Stuff Happens

I bought the book form of the script for Stuff Happens so I could quote a couple of passages that I really like. Much of the play is made up of direct quotes from the various characters like Bush and Rumsfeld. The play starts with a quote from WH Auden:
The inevitable is what will seem to happen to you purely by chance.
The real is what will strike you as really absurd.
Unless you are certain you are dreaming, it is certainly a dream of your own.
Unless you exclaim - "There must be some mistake" - you must be mistaken.
It's certainly a great way to start a play about the neo-con run up to war. But I discovered a quote at the front of this book that is not in the play that I like even better:
All of us have heard this term "preventive war" since the earliest days of Hitler. In this day and time... I don't believe there is such a thing; and frankly, I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. -- Dwight Eisenhower
And then there's this one to follow that up:
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. -- Jonathan Swift
Well, that certainly explains why, despite his passionate pleas to Bush as imagined by David Hare, the author of Stuff Happens, Colin Powell eventually caves in and stops trying to convince these narrow minded fools that they are doing the whole thing wrong. If it all unfolded the way Hare imagines, and it seems likely, then Powell managed to talk Bush into going to the UN, Cheney didn't like it much, and a series of blunders and arrogance turned the whole thing into a debacle, leading to Cheney and Rumsfeld getting their way in the end. Powell comes out looking good, since a play like this needs a good guy of some sort... But in the end, he sells out, plays the good soldier, and does what he's told. We all know how that story ends. The man who could have been the first black President is in a garage somewhere working on his Volvo. At one point, Powell is talking to Bush. Rice is there. He goes off on an impassioned speech about how fucked up this war will be once you invade, and how wrong Wolfowitz and his source (Chalabi) probably are. When he finishes, the audience has applauded every night! It's a great theater moment. But he goes on. Rice asks him what he wants. He says he wants his country to be less arrogant.
POWELL: I want us to go abut this in a different way. Three thousand of our citizens died. They died in an unforgivable attack. But that doesn't license us to behave like idiots. If we reach the point where everyone is secretly hoping that America gets a bloody nose, then we're going to find it very hard indeed to call on freinds when we need them.

BUSH: I've said before: this isn't a popularity contest, Colin. It isn't about being popular.

POWELL: No, it isn't, you're right.


POWELL: It's about being effective. And the present policy of being high-handed as possible with as many countries as possible is profoundly counter-productive. It won't work. There's an element of hypocrisy, George. We were trading with the guy [Saddam]! Not long ago. People keep asking, how do we know he's got weapons of mass destruction? How do we know? Because we've still got the receipts!
This has gotten a big laugh and even some applause every night. During the moments like this during the play, it's a lot like the Fahrenheit 9/11 audiences.

This weekend ends my run on the production phase of Stuff Happens (click the link for tickets and info). I'll be back to fill in for my boss, the master soundman, from June 24th to July 10th. Drop me a line if you're interested in saying hi when you come to see it.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hissing from the Audience at David Hare's ANTI-BUSH Play, Stuff Happens

Well, I think David Hare, the author of Stuff Happens, would have a problem with calling it an anti-Bush play. But it is. It's a history play, with a decidedly ironic view of the events leading up to the Iraq war. Most of the narration points out the facts that guide the theater-goer down the path to depression and disgust. I can't think of anything that's pro-Bush that mentions Chilabi intellegence source Curveball.

We've had two previews now and the audiences have loved it. Partial standing ovations. Hissing in the appropriate points. Lots of laughter. It's like going to Farhenheit 9-11, except it's more in-depth, better researched, very factual, and 2.75 hours long.

As I mentioned in last night's diary, there is a short program being handed out to the audience for the previews which include a note from the author and some quotes of interest. I asked Hare last night if those quotes were his choices, and he said "some." This Pope Urban II quote about the first crusade was not chosen by Hare, although it is certainly fitting.

Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted this in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let that, then, be your war cry in battle, because it is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon your enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"-- Pope Urban II, summoning the faithful to the First Crusade, 1095

One quote that Hare did pick is from George HW Bush:

Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-conciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nation's mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different -- and perhaps barren -- outcome. -- George HW Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed

Copies of the script are being sold in book form outside the theater, and I'll grab one tonight. There are many quotes in the play that are very memorable, and I'll put a few up here.

You can get your copy of the David Hare play Stuff Happens here.

Crossposted at Supak's Daily KOS.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

First Preview of Stuff Happens

They're laughing, applauding, and even guffawing. I think David Hare, with whom I've had a few conversations now, has a hit on his hands. When the pro-war monologue in the beginning of the show got applause, Mr. Hare thinks that's because there are some pro-war people in the audience. But this is LA Theater. Not exactly a conservative hot bed. The pro-war speech comes from a new labor leader in England, and it is compassionate, about how we've freed an opressed people and they're better off now. I think a lot of Americans, even the ultra-liberal LA theater goers feel a lot of guilt for what's happened to Iraq, and the speech helps relieve that guilt by suggesting that because Iraqis are better off now, everything else doesn't matter. Maybe they just clapped because they want to believe that.

Problem is, as I told Mr. Hare, as he nodded, we have to question now, are they better off? Are less people dying everyday now? Is sewage, electric, transportation, and all the other measures of a society BETTER?

I see a lot of nodding in the audience, a lot of head scratching, and I hope to catch some conversation bits on the way out tonight. I hope this thing does well. We need more people questioning the direction this country has taken, and we need more art to make people think about it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What is a mainstream American?

"Rush Limbaugh has been married four times and divorced four times. He's got a drug problem. He's 53 and he has no kids. Tell me how he's mainstream American."--Ed Schultz
My Boss, who's sitting on the other end of the aisle, teching the audio for Stuff Happens, sent me that quote a few minutes ago, from this story at Big Ed's site.

I got to thinking about that, since I've been busy writing this big post about the play over at the Daily KOS. These Americans in the White House like to act like they're mainstream, but they're not. The rabid ditto heads who vote for them like to think of themselves as good Americans, but they're not. Good Americans educate themselves before elections. For example, in the last election, I would say a good American would be able to tell you who attacked us on 9/11. I'll give you a hint. It wasn't Saddam Hussein.

Here's another hint. "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."--GWB, 3/13/02

Mainstream Americans these days, when polled, say they don't approve of Bush, and they say, by a BIG margin, they'd rather have Democrats in control of congress.

Mainstream Americans don't lie and cheat to get what they want. They play by the rules, they work hard, and they do their homework.

Those are the people who I hope come to see Stuff Happens.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

During the long, boring process called tech rehersals, my boss Jeff Bryan, Master Soundman at the Mark Taper Forum, and I sit in the backrow of the theater taking cues, and surfing the net on our laptops. Jeff took the time, perhaps inspired by the depressing factual events of the Bush administration in the play we're doing (Stuff Happens), wrote a great letter through the site protesting the Frist Nuclear Option about to take place over Senate filibusters of extreme judegs.
Dear Senators,

As I am sure you must be aware, the consequences of the so called Nuclear
Option are far reaching and devastating to our country and our freedom.
For over two hundred years the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional
duty of advice and consent. This process has never been a rubber stamp
and nor should it become one. Both parties when they found themselves in
the minority have used the filibuster as a tool to promote full debate,
compromise, and consensus. This process minimizes the potential disaster
of courts filled with the ideological extremes, either from the far left
or far right. Unfortunately there are those of you who now would choose
to destroy that time tested process. I urge you to reconsider your
actions. Just as FDR was not allowed to "stack" the court to obtain short
term goals you should not change the rules to do like wise.

To those of you who insist upon this disastrous course I would
respectfully call your attention to the ancient roman tradition of the
triumphal march. In the same chariot with the triumphant general there
rode a slave who kept saying "Look Behind!" Meaning "Look to the
aftermath- look at all the years that remain. Do not be puffed up or
elated at your present good-fortune." A bell and a whip were fastened to
the chariot, and these signified that it was possible for him to meet with
misfortune even to the extent of being scourged or condemned to death.
Senators, history has taught us that no party stays in power forever and
what you seek today may come back to haunt you terribly in the future.
Well, said, Jeff. Sometimes I wish we could send the entire Republican party to a world history course. There is so much they seem destined to repeat.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Finally, Some Meaty Stuff Happens

I just sat through the best scene yet, where Colin Powell takes Bush and Rice to task over the arrogance of the administration in going to war with Iraq, and arrogance and hypocrasy in general. I'm sitting here wishing that this actually happened. Maybe it did. Maybe Powell really did bitch to Bush about how we went to war too quickly without the UN and a real coalition. One thing's for sure, if Powell really did give this moving speech I just heard, Bush still blew him off. It would certainly explain why Powell is no longer in the White House. It would also explain why he's one of the few Republicans I ever liked.

But it doesn't explain why, if he really felt this way, once they failed to get the UN and a real coalition, Powell went along with it. He didn't come out and tell the truth, like Paul O'Neill and Richard Clark did. Maybe it's just the good soldier in him.

And if this is even close to what really happened, then I sure wish Powell had been the president on 9-11 instead of Cheney, er, Bush. But then again, I wish anyone would have been president instead of them.

Great scene.

Oh, and print out the Stuff Happens Discovery Guide before you see the show.

Stuff Happens and We Need to Make Them Step In It

Stuff Happens Again and Again...

First full day of rehersal for Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum (see previous posts for details). It's a lot of starting and stopping, since it's a tech rehersal, but I've seen several Bush quotes used that are worth mentioning. One of my favorites is used in the segment of the play where Tony Blair calls Bush to say that British special forces were tracking Bin Laden when they were ordered out by American forces.
"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."--GWB, 3/13/02
While Bush tells Blair it was an operational thing, not an order from the White House, Cheney sits smugly frowning, and there can be little doubt that these guys are screwing the poodle.

This is cross-posted at The Daily KOS.

I'm starting to see a pattern in this play, where the Bush administration is viewed not so much by a fly on the wall, but as a Brit on the wall, with the kind of in-depth critical eye on the goings on that seems to be missing in America these days. For those of us who actually read internet news from a wide variety of sources, including British ones, a lot of the facts in the play are common knowledge. Many people, hopefully, will wonder how much is real and how much is made up, and hopefully they'll go look things up. And many others will think it's liberal bullshit, although I'd be suprised if any of them will shell out the cash for a ticket.

There are some Republican season ticket holders to the Taper, I've followed them to their Escalades and Jaguars with W04 stickers after shows, and I wonder if they'll be here, or if they'll have the balls to walk out. I hope so. That's the kind of head-in-the-sand reaction I would expect from right wing blinder wearers, and the kind of controvery creating action that will sell tickets.

I've also seen a couple of thoughtful monologues from various characters that frame the issues in very enlightening ways, and set the action in terms of times, locations, and philosophies.

The set is large and black. All black. Walls, floor, chairs, tables. On our color monitors throughout the house it looks like a black and white movie. I've been working at the Taper on and off since 1998, and I've never seen a set so dark, or one that forgoes the typical thrust stage in this horseshoe theatre. A large chunk of the action takes place at the same level as the front row audience, making the whole theater seem like congress during the state of the union speech, for example.

It raises the question of dark comedy vs. a tired liberal audience verging on depression already. I wonder how much we can take....

Since it's only a tech rehersal today, the actors are kind of cruising, knowing they can and will be interupted at any moment, so it's hard to get a good feel for how they're playing it. The scene they're working on at the moment is Tony Blair visiting the Bush ranch in Crawford, trying to convince Bush that he needs UN support to make the Iraq invasion legal. Bush follows along to seem interested and polite, but Keith Carradine is very adept at playing the guy who listens and nods enough to look like he's getting it, then goes off and does whatever he wants. At the end of the scene, Bush tells Blair the same thing he was spinning to the public, that there were "no war plans on the table." That they're "just looking at their options." It becomes obvious that Blair's long eloquent speech about diplomacy, UN apporval, and being able to convince his cabinet and people that this wasn't something that a "group in Washington" had already made up their minds on, is a big waste of time to Bush, who has no qualms lying to his face about the decision.

This thread of the sneaky kind of we're-not-actually-lying (heh heh) childish bullshit is pervasive throughout the play's Bush administration hired marketeers who had obviously made up their minds to invade Iraq even before 9-11. This isn't a play for the conspiracy theorists who are convinced Bush knew about 9-11, or even that a missile, not a plane, hit the Pentagon. This is a play based on a very basic fact: the neo-cons were going to war with Iraq and everything else, including lying to Tony Blair, was Madison Ave. meets Pennsylvania Ave.

Friday, May 20, 2005

More Stuff Happens

Anyone who can get to LA between May 25 and July 17 should come see Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum. I'm setting up the projection, as I've mentioned before, and resisting the temptation to plug in all kinds of fun images. There's only one projection, for now, at the very end, and it's a portrait of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Tenet. It's like torture having to look at their faces while I tweak the images.

This is cross posted from Supak at the DailyKOS.

What I saw of the play last night, in the first visit to the stage by the actors, was brilliant. David Hare, the author, has researched what went on behind closed doors in the Bush administration from Day One, and the play is a chronology of actual, and assumed, events. The assumed events are quite likely, given the actual ones. All of the quotes to the press I saw in the small rehersal last night were actual quotes. Scenes like the first National Security briefing were based on actual accounts, like from Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's book.

Stuff Happens was performed in London (here's a preview) but the cast here in LA, featuring Keith Carradine as Bush, and Lorraine Toussaint as Rice, will be completely different. This will be Gordon Davidson's last play with the Center Theater Group of LA.

Yesterday, Gordon saw me and asked me what I thought so far (he and I have talked politics many times) I told him I was extremely happy he chose this as his last play, and that it needed more projection (just a gentle kid since I won't actually be on this show, except to replace my boss as the soundman for three weeks).

Next time I see him, I'm going to ask him if they have plans for heckelers. The stage is very wide, and the main action happens at floor level, eye-to-eye with the audience. The set, designed by Ming Cho Lee, tries to make the audience feel like a part of the play, and I'm hoping they'll have some pre-planened anti-heckler lines.

One other set note, which will clue you in to some of the craziness that goes into a play like this: they had an exact replica of the president's mahogany desk built, and it ways about 400 pounds. I'm sure it looked beautiful and precise, before they painted it black to match the rest of the set... Sounds like something Bush would do.

"I wanna paint this desk black, heh heh, to blot out any stains Clinton might have left on it..."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Stuff Happens is Underway

When the actors, who have been rehersing Stuff Happens for weeks, finally get on stage for the first time, it's an interesting moment to say the least. Some are overly dramatic, testing the space for echos, walking around the audience, while others simply go right to work, getting the spacing right, the distances from off stage to on, the distances down steps, etc. The general "getting the feel" of the place attitude is different for every one of the 22 actors.

In what is apparently the beginning of the play (I don't have a script and haven't seen one), the players are introduced with a bit of background. From Hans Blix to Condoleeza Rice, each of the major players is introudced with some ironic bit of the history (Cheney dodging the draft, Wolfowitz preaching that Vietnam was an abuse of US power). Many of the actors play alternate characters, like the press, while various speakers take turns narrating bits of transition.

Law and Order fans will be happy to know that Condoleeza Rice is being played by Lorraine Toussaint, or Shambala Green, who kicked Stone's ass in court a few times (who didn't?). I can already see that this is going to portray Secretary of State Powell as a decent guy who is dumbfounded by the singlemindedness and ignorance of the new administration. Same for Paul O'Neill. George Tenant looks like he's on board with the agenda from the get go.

Hard to tell too much now, but it has potential, that's for sure.
I posted the following at the Daily KOS yesterday, where it got lost in the great flood of liberal opinion there. This play is going to be very important. From what I'm seeing right now, with the actors on stage for the first time, it has a very historical feel, yet with a bit of irreverance and some very dark humor. Here's yesterday's post:

I'm sitting here in the back row of the Mark Taper Forum, where my IATSE Local 33 brothers and siters are installing the set for Stuff Happens, a new play by David Hare, Directed by Gordon Davidson. After over 35 years as the Artistic Director for the Center Theater Group in LA, Gordon is going out with a bang (much like he came in), doing this play about the Bush administration's charge to war. After this it's retirement for the man who changed the face of Los Angeles Theater.

There is a 50 foot wide reflective drop that when back lit, has a large picture of the front of the White House. The set, designed by Ming Cho Lee, drops down to floor level, where the actors will be on the same level as the front row of the audience. Everyone who has seen rehersals says it's great, that you laugh to keep from crying, and that it's meticulously researched. The flier reads:
Stuff Happens is a brand new play about the series of events that led to the conflict in Iraq and the parts played by world political leaders, in particular President George W. Bush and his inner circle of foreign policy advisors. From the early search for weapons of mass destruction and the long shadow cast by 9/11, to the drive to remove the tyrannical Saddam Hussein from power, to the thousands of questions relating to oil, terror, Al Qaeda and more, Stuff Happens explores through public record and through David Hare's meticulous research what most likely happened behind the closed doors of power. Hare has fashioned a compelling narrative on recent history, and a riveting drama about the frustrations of power and the limits of diplomacy.
The play stars Tyrees Allen, Henry Brown, Jane Carr, Keith Carradine (as Bush), Mitchell Edmonds, Brian George, Kip Gilman, James Gleason, Francis Guinana, James Handy, Jay Harik, John Michael Higgins, Anna Khaja, John Ratter Lee, Dakin Matthews, Paul Messinger, Alan Oppenheimer, Julian Sands, Stephen Spinella, Lorraine Toussaint, Inger Tudor, and my friend John Vickery, who played Scar in the LA production of Lion King (which I ran the automation on).

The title of the play is, of course, based on the famous Rumsfeld Iraq looting quote from April 11, 2003: "Stuff happens... and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

I'm setting up the audio and the projection for the show (the projection is just one cue at the end), and I will be running both the audio and projection for three weeks when my boss, Master Saoundman Jeff Bryan, goes on vacation in June and July. I will be logging my experience at my main blog: Backstage with Supak. I'll do some cross posting to here as reminders to all the KOSsacks who I hope to see in the theater! I'll be in the audience opening night, and I'll be running the audio/video June 22 through July 10. Drop me a note if you plan to attend: ssupak at yahoo dot com.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I've been beefing up my anti-Bush blog, Bush Treason and Treachery. Figured I'd be posting here a lot in the coming weeks, while I help set up the new play, Stuff Happens, at the Mark Taper Forum.

I'll be setting up projection, which will probably be cut, for one projection cue, presumably at the end. The last time I set up a projection for a Ming Cho Lee designed set, he cut the water that would have washed over the set of Enigma Variations at the Taper, starring Donald Sutherland. What a beautiful set that was. I have heard that the set for Stuff Happens will actually be a lowered stage, ripping up the regular floor at the Taper to make the stage as low as possible.