first in half a month

picture courtesy of Victor Desroches

OK… maybe a little more than half a month.

Yeah, I’ve been a tad busy. First half of March always is… and has been for lo these 16 years.

DA ROGUE (2017 edition)

It was that time again when just like in nature, blossoms of creativity were popping up all over the Tower District. Although somewhat scaled down the fest delivered what it promised.  Kudos to the present organizing team and the many volunteers for a bang-up job. I know for a fact that it is not an easy thing to do… and they did it with class.

Not unlike the last few years I was hired to shoot some of the 50 odd shows on tap. I did six this year. It would have been seven… but six is better than none. Work having a bit of a dry spell since October made me (and the old bank account) a lot more appreciative for the work.

Apart from the shows I shot I only got to see 4 or 5 others this year. I usually catch at least 15 but my schedule was somewhat impacted with a different (and slightly related) project… that I’ll get to later.

It was also due to this impacted schedule that I didn’t run into as many folk as I usually do at this time of year. Despite the need to conserve energy I had a good time.  As per usual, Salon was in full swing and conversations revolving around the business of the business and other stories were both a delight and informative.

As in years past, I was hoping more from the locals… at least in terms of theatre offerings in the fest. Some might argue that this is not really a theatre town. My counter to that argument is… it is more of a theatre town than when the festival first started. Ultimately, it still boils down to the local love for the safe haven of the tried and true instead of venturing into the bold and new.  There is hope though… and kudos to the handful of locals who did throw their hat into the ring.

This year it was also fun to chat with the producers of both the Nugget Fringe and the Applecore Fringe. Both young fests are located in Northern California and the producers came the first weekend to check out the Rogue as well as pitch their fests to performers in the fest. This is not unlike what I used to do at the SF Fringe in the early years of our own festival. Yes, my brain was picked but I’m more than OK with that.

SHOOTING A PILOT…

… right in the middle of all that. Actually it was during the three “dark” days of the festival.

It happened six weeks before the festival when I was approached by Rogue veterans Kurt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Nugent about shooting a pilot script for a possible TV series they had developed. If I agreed they would both fly in to get the deed done. Also, that way they could use the talents of certain Rogue performers already here for their shoot.

The long and short of it is I agreed… despite the fact that we were slated to shoot 20 pages of a 30 page script in three days. So, we went about the task of putting together a small local crew to get the deed done. At the wrap on the last night I declared that we should all be mentioned in the bible because what we did accomplish was nothing short of a minor miracle.

Anyway, I’ll end this post here. That project is still gathering funding and if you are so inclined to contribute… GO HERE!

Below are some of the shenanigans from the shoot thanks to Kp Phagnasay of KP1 Studios who was part of our production management.

Until the next one… Cheers!

freedom and expression…

image from here.

… and why I champion it. I am writing this not just because the annual Rogue Festival is around the corner… though the festival is proudly tied to this principle.  But I will get to that later in this post.

Of late, in conversations with a couple of my more conservative leaning friends, the idea that “the press is the enemy of the people” has been bandied about. I must add that I dearly love and respect these folk but I respectfully disagreed with their assessment. In fact, when I said that this is part of freedom of expression one of them actually said, “No, this is about the freedom of the press.”… as if the two were separate elements.

Frankly, I was a little gobsmacked by this response… simply because I know from personal experience they are inextricably linked. Trying to separate them is a dangerous idea. And just for the record, several years ago I had a similar friendly tangle with some liberal leaning friends. The point being, if the story doesn’t skew your way the first thing to do is try to find a way to shut it down.

Are there media outlets that are biased? Yes. Are there news stories that are sloppy about the facts? Yes. But these have always existed since the advent of the the news business. What is different now is there are more sources of news and platforms to share it than ever before. Something else that has also existed is that there are just as many reputable sources of information back then as there is now. So, if you are not finding actual news then it is you who are lazy and not the entire profession.

Making a blanket statement that “the press is dangerous” just because it may be inconvenient to one’s bias, puts everyone on the edge of a slippery slope… and that is dangerous. It is as dangerous as making a blanket statement about any ethnic or group of faith is suspect as a collective of nefarious deeds because a few dunderheads acted out.

Let me provide you with some context as to why I feel this way. I was born and raised in a young country that gained independence a mere two years before I was born. Before that, the country was under colonial rule for about 400 years under the British, Dutch and the Portuguese respectively. Because of this fact, and presumably the presumption that the “locals” hadn’t self-ruled in all that time, we had what I loosely call a “guided democracy”. In such a system the “guided” quotient is applied to the press… and in turn to all other mediums of expression.

In the middle of the rehearsal period of the first (self written) play I was directing, our production company was informed by the venue that copies of the play had to be sent to 7 different government departments for approval. We complied and sent those scripts off pronto so as not to miss the opening dates of the show. Around the same time, another playwright/director was producing one of his new works. He too complied by sending his script off for approval. Approvals for his show came in from 5 departments. The two that did not provide approval were the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) and the Prime Minister’s Department.

In lieu of the fact that he was not allowed to mount his play and charge the public money to watch it, the playwright decided to hold 3 “open rehearsals” for an invited audience so that the cast could at least perform to a small audience what they had worked on. I was present at the first of these three performances in a hot sweaty rehearsal space along with 20 others… and was impressed by all the work the company had put in. The play soared and to great effect through the bare-boned staging I witnessed that evening.

A few days later we were informed that at either the second or third “open rehearsal” the authorities shut it down mid-performance and detained the playwright for possibly “sensitive and seditious” material in the play. (BTW… he was incarcerated for quite a while under what was called “the internal security act”)

This confused me because I witnessed  nothing of the sort at the performance I was at.  It was the era of the “boat people” and the play was about refugees. Part of the play was indeed about the exodus occurring at the time but also posed the notion that we are all refugees in some form or other… be it via familial, societal, employment or even inter-personal circumstances.

I learned two important lessons from that. First, if the content and substance of a piece is strong… coupled with creative staging and confident performance… it could play in just about any space. The second is that the (free) press is at the fore-front… a firewall as it were and is attached to all the other freedoms. Once the press is guided… everything else follows. “Guiding” means the state decides what the public should consume (as it did with this play)… and that is blatantly not freedom.

I will confess that up until that point I too subscribed to the virtues of a “guided democracy” for our young nation. After all, I grew up in that system. It was then I began to see and realize that this created an insidious complacency which discouraged real progress. Rights we once enjoyed were eroded and was rarely questioned by the “guided press” because it “threatened national interest”. A steady diet of “government approved stories” in turn stifled sources for critical thinking. Is that the drone-like society we want to live in?

It is no accident that the Rogue Festival is unabashedly a first amendment zone and celebrates those freedoms. Yes, the Rogue (like many fringe festivals) is a non-curated and non-adjudicated festival. It is no accident that 16 years ago when a small group of us created it, this was what appealed to us most. As such, it is the public that decides what it wants to consume and like… instead of “experts” or (God forbid) “officials” guiding our tastes. It goes a step further and even encourages the press as well as the paying public to sound-off by reviewing the shows.

Yes, performers are not thrilled by bad reviews… and yes, some reviews might be way off the mark. And guess what? There also exist great reviews… that also may be way off the mark. The ones you read and go to the show based on those reviews and think, “What was that person thinking when they reviewed this?” But that is part and parcel of freedom. After licking one’s wounded ego the intrepid performer can use this feedback to hone a better product.

Yes, I will continue to champion the freedoms enshrined in the first amendment because they are all interconnected. That is what festivals like the Rogue is ultimately about… a fun and adventurous way to celebrate these freedoms. May we never lose them.

maybe it is the rain

Lord knows we’ve had our fair share this season… and it continues. It is some relief for the last 4 years of drought. That is one of the many upsides. The other significant one being that the air gets washed out which in turn makes the act of breathing much easier. All good things, right?

So, why am I feeling a tad bit melancholic and nostalgic of late? Maybe because the weather has hampered my daily routine for a walk. Or perhaps my personal quota of dreary days was surpassed a couple of weeks ago.  It could just be that I’m looking for an external reason to blame on something I’m feeling internally. However, that does not hold true because this feeling lingers even on the days when it is nice outside.

I did think about it last night… and the other thing I could blame is the political turmoil for this feeling of malaise. But I thought harder… no, it is not that either. It is actually something deeper.

I think it actually is the nostalgia of a social sort. There used to be a time (at least in my life) when reaching out and being reached out to was more a part of life than it is now. And I’m pretty sure this is true and not just for me.

Some may argue that we are more connected now in the age of social media than we ever used to be. Are we really? Beyond the quipy 140 character tweet or posting random activities on FB are we really experiencing the essence of each other? Sure, we are made aware of each other’s daily doings but are we really getting to know each other?

Admittedly I don’t go out socially as often as I once used to. So, I will take responsibility for that… but remember when we used to make and take phone calls to say “Hi” and just catch up? Now it seems like every call I make I leave a message and rarely is the call returned.

Used to be when one left a message it was because the other person wasn’t close to a corded phone… but in this wireless mobile age that ceases to be an excuse. This is not exclusive to phone calls… it even extends to “catch-up” emails as well.

It has occurred to me that perhaps my reaching out is unwelcomed… because I do reach out. But on balance it feels like I’m reaching out more than I’m being reached out to. And of late when folk do reach out it is mostly because something is wanted of me. That is not a bad thing… but that is business… not engagement.

Sure, there are exceptions… for which I am grateful for. But actual engagement seems to be rare these days. I could take solace in blaming the weather but more and more I’m becoming convinced that perhaps we are over connected… and that sort of hyper sensory assault blocks meaningful engagement.

Despite this, I will continue to engage… or at least make attempts to engage… but at the moment it feels like a losing battle… and it should never feel like a battle.

 

The Sixteenth Edition…

… of the Rogue unfolds in a few weeks. Soon the Tower District will be abuzz with local and out of town performers flyering their shows and patrons hopping venues to catch what may be the next hot thing.

16 years and still going. And as I’m always reminded… most recently at the unveiling of this year’s muse, “Look what you started?”  And yes, I am pleased that it is still going. But I didn’t do it alone… it was a group effort to get it started… and continues to be a group effort to keep it going. My Thanks to those who have put in the time and effort to make sure it remains part of the local cultural landscape.

Also, after 15 years… this year the festival is now part of the CAFF and USAFF. I was chatting with the latest chairperson of the board of directors about her recent trip to Montreal for the annual CAFF meeting. She said that when she introduced herself and who she was representing there were murmurs of, “So, you’re the nice guys!” that rippled across the room.

Hearing that filled me with a warm pride. For years I’ve heard from touring performers that the Rogue has that reputation on the circuit. Not that I doubted what I heard but it was gratifying to know that hospitality is a strong element of the Rogue culture. We tried to infuse that into the mix when we first started the festival… and I for one am glad it stuck.

The Rogue does have a culture all of it’s own. Along with hospitality I am also proud that it continues to be a bastion of creativity, collaboration, and free expression. The latter is important at any time… and especially (and more so) in the present. These are all aspects that I personally hold dear and continue to champion.

Yes, those can be heady qualities but ultimately the Rogue is also (and really is) a bloody good time. So, if you live in and around the Fresno area and have never been to the Rogue yet… come on by… I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you have been a rabid “roguer” bring a friend or five to the festival… they’ll thank you for it.

And as a bonus… click the graphic above for a pdf version of this year’s program to read show descriptions and map out your upcoming Rogue experience.

Cheers and Rogue on!

Virtual Returns

Just watched the movie Lion. I liked it… a lot.  We’ve probably all seen films like this before. Many within the “heart-tugging-movie-of-the-week” variety. Yes, this is one of those but rises above the genre in many ways.  The script is actually quite strong. The direction allows the story to breathe.  Dev Patel‘s performance is stronger than what we have usually seen him in… and generously supported by the likes of Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman.  Also, the little boy who plays Dev’s character as a child is riveting and dominates the first half.   So… yeah… it is a good film that is well worth the watch.

This post however is not so much about reviewing the movie. Part of the premise is that a young Indian man adopted by an Australian couple (25 years ago) somehow retraces where he originally came from by using Google Earth. I do sometimes play Geoguessr so that was my first pull into watching this film. But when I did watch it something else kicked in.

Part of it was my own nostalgic look back from whence I came… but more so were the people I grew up with. Be it neighbors, cousins, school-mates… along with all the little adventures I had growing up. And along with that… the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of that time came flooding back.

The reminiscing was pleasant but it also triggered a little melancholy. Mostly because a lot of what I grew up with ceases to exist anymore. The home I grew up in… the entire neighborhood is no more… replaced by a block of flats. Progress, eh? And how do I know this since I have not been back in over 20 years? I’ve taken virtual journeys via Google Earth from time to time… sometimes with friends who are curious about my earlier life. With the “street view” feature I can travel to places I used to frequent… if they are still there. It’s actually a fun thing to do.

More importantly though are the people. I remember them well… and mostly fondly. Sometimes I marvel at where I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had… some of which, if it had gone a differently, I would not be here writing. But ultimately it is what I’ve learned from those people and experiences that is a big part of me today. This is not to negate the people I’ve met and lessons learned since I first left the land of my birth.  Those are just as valuable… and some more so. We are after all the sum total of our life’s journey.

Tis a journey indeed… life. There is more to go… but sometimes we need to stop and look at the markers on the road behind. That way we can access where we may have veered off the path… or found our way back to the essential essence of ourselves.

Anyway, here is the trailer to the film… catch it if you can.

to my DEM supporting friends

I’m an independent watching over half the voting populous lose their ever lovin minds over the results of the last election and the upcoming inauguration. These feel like uncertain times for many especially after the rhetoric flung about during the course of the campaign. I can tell you that many independents and a goodly amount of republicans have similar feelings. So, how did we get here?

Let me first attempt to explain (in my view) what happened. Perhaps by taking stock it might help you formulate a game plan for what is ahead. This post is not about policy so save me any grief in the comments you have about that.

Sure, we can all go round and round about the zaniness of the last election cycle. But let us go back in time… eight years ago to be specific. Back then, the country elected your candidate Barack Obama to be president. You were dazzled by the message of hope… etc… You were jubilant. One of the reasons that happened is that the winning candidate’s message was simple… I’ll get back to this point later.

What you didn’t do however was support the person after you had elected him into that high office. It almost seems as if you were so dazzled by something bright and shiny you didn’t turn up during the mid-term elections… both of them. As such, both houses of congress went to your opposition. Bottom line… you did not have a plan. Let’s face it… you got complacent.

The Republicans did have a plan. Even though they got trounced that election they worked their plan on the local, state and federal levels. They had a plan and they organized. Perhaps being the smaller of the two parties helped them… nevertheless, they had a plan and as a result not only did they hold congress for 6 years but also controlled over 30 state houses and governor positions.

This is one of the factors that came into play during the last election. Sure, your candidate won the popular vote by close to 3 million… but there wasn’t enough in the right places to turn the electoral collage for a win. The Democrats may have had better organization and infrastructure in place but as we’ve all discovered… it’s a numbers game… and the numbers side with those in power.  And those in power in more states than the Democrats were the Republicans.

This is evidenced by the general consensus (including many Republicans) that their primary process (compared to yours) all the way past their rocky choice of candidate was topsy turvy at best. Yet, they still won… via the leverage they gained on the local and state levels.

Am I hearing defensive mutterings such as “obstructionism”, “citizens united”, “birther”, “misinformation”,  “russians”, “elitism”, etc? Fair enough… you’re entitled. But are those buzzwords just excuses and distractions for not having a plan?

And now on to messaging. The general rule here is “keep it simple and catchy”. As a candidate running for highest office in the land, Barack Obama’s messaging was effective… both times. However, once in office… not so much. Yes, he is a powerful orator… no one disputes that. I dare say even George Bush (who is not known as an orator) in office had better messaging during his term in office. Whether you agreed with it (the message) is not the point… if it’s on everyone’s lips it permeates the collective psyche.

A perfect example is the term “Obamacare” coined by the Republicans.  The effectiveness of this is illustrated by the fact that many (especially Republican supporters) think that Obamacare and the ACA are two separate entities. You may scoff and say, “That’s their problem.” I contend that the problem is yours… it is now, anyway.

The reason I bring up messaging is this simple fact… most people are lazy and don’t want to read to find out facts. Sad but true. This is one of the things I have learned in the short time I’ve been on this earth.

Another thing I’ve learned is that complacency will kill a system… any system. Think about it this way… if it is true in a marriage, it is probably true in just about anything. The price of democracy is vigilance and engagement. Sure, the theatre of protest is one of the democratic rights of the first amendment… but if it is not backed up with organized engagement, all it becomes is a noisy sideshow.

Calling someone stupid and ignorant whether in real life or on social media is not helping your cause either. (BTW… I saw a lot of that going on in the last 8 years… and without giving your candidate the ground support and leverage to enact many of the policies you wanted.)

Sun Tzu’s “The Art Of War” says that one should never corner the opponent. By doing so, the opponent is given no choice but to go on the offensive with gusto… and with nothing to lose. Thus, any rules of engagement go out the window.

Is that what we really want? And whether you do or not we are currently in the thick of it. Some of you may come back with, “Well, they started it first.” or “If they believe that… they are ignorant!” No, that just means that the messaging on the other side was effective. Also, if you don’t like being called stupid… no one else does.

Because, if this continues the republic may survive but the democratic ideals could very well fade away. So, my advice is to make those democratic ideals you cherish real by actual practice… be vigilant… actively engage with the system and each other in the process… and improve on the messaging. If all you are doing is posting (posturing) on social media…. then all you are doing is whining. Take the energy of your anger, etc and channel it into something constructive. Above all… have a plan and act on it.

Will this work? Probably not instantly. It will be a process. But it sure as hell is better than running around screaming with your arms flailing in the air.

And lest you think this post is pro – Democrat and anti- Republican… or vice versa… it’s not. Like many, this independent is not comfortable with government by a single party… any party… and all branches of government is currently that.

There always needs to be a strong and constructive opposition. It is time for you to be that.

And that’s all I have to say about that… for now.

it is the middle of the week…

… and close to the middle of January. Locally we have experienced a series of storms and everyone is buzzing about it… especially the downpour last night. A friend posted on FB that it came down so hard it activated his outdoor security lights.

Don’t get me wrong… the rain is very welcome in these parts. We’ve been living in a drought for quite a bit now and last year’s El Nino did not exactly produce the expected rainfall levels. Truth be told, this year’s dollop of tears from the sky feels more like an El Nino than last year’s El Nino did. I contend the little bugger was just late to the party… a year late.

On the home front I have a new tenant. This is good on several fronts… not the least of which is slowing the outflow of my savings. In fact, I canceled… no… postponed my annual early in the year trip up to San Francisco to avoid added outflow of cash.

I’ve also been getting some much needed clean up accomplished around the homestead. It has been a deliberate attempt to also downsize… stuff. The basic rule I adhered to was, “if I have not used it in the last three years… it is out of here.” Yeah, I actually feel good about this… it’s sort of freeing.

On a personal level… it’s been a slow rev up. Perhaps I haven’t been pushing myself as hard as I should. Though part of the reason is that plans are still nebulous. Yes, there is a pile o projects I could sink my teeth into but I’m not… just yet. That time will come.

For now, there is a little sorting out to be done internally… in mind, spirit and body. Though I’m feeling that process will be ending soon. Then, it will be forward motion in a more deliberate fashion again.

Cheers!