creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Monday, September 30, 2013

Producing Robert Patrick Playwright

poster by Andrew Adam Caldwell
On Sept. 27, 2013 I produced the icon of gay theatre, Robert Patrick, in a brand new, one-man memoir show called "What Doesn't Kill Me...Makes A Great Story Later". It proved to be a very historic evening; not only was it celebrating Mr. Patrick's 76th birthday (our original title for the show was "The Spirit of 76"), but the audience was filled with long-time RP friends, fans, the "newly converted", and several performers from The Caffe Cino, THE historic NY performance venue that became the origin of Off Off Broadway theatre. Robert Patrick has done a great job of archiving much of the Caffe Cino history - one can see his presentation about it here.

Myself alongside 4 Caffe Cino "originals": Gwen Van Damme, Jacque Lynn Colton, Robert Patrick, and Jenny Ventriss
Robert Patrick thrilled the audience, taking them on a 90-minute ride through his humbling experiences of celebrity, with occasional outbursts into song and supported by video clips from various theatrical productions. He transformed the tragic into magic, bringing laughter through his witty remembrances, which hindsight has redefined into a very memorable and informative history.

Robert Patrick was a triumph! (photo by Jason Wittman)
His performance was a revelation to many. Only a theatre professional with the pedigree like Robert Patrick could pull off the amount of memorization, character impersonations, and a cappella singing as he did. Here are a few comments/responses to the show:

"I was expecting a good evening, but this was much more than I anticipated. It was a wonderful evening from a gay pioneer." - Wendell Jones 
"A brilliant evening of theatre. Wonderful to hear of your work through such a talent of story telling. Enjoyed meeting you and every moment of the show." - Robert Babish
"What a fabulous show. I'm so glad to finally get the full story on Robert! It was hilarious, and moving, what a ride!!"-  Ian MacKinnon
"Bravo! The singing, the stories, the celebs, quite the sleigh ride!" - Duane Otis Boyer

Robert watches Shirley Knight perform in his play "Kennedy's Children" for which she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Play (photo by Jason Wittman)
It was a sublime honor to work with Robert in producing this show, and naturally it feels good to have inspired such fantastic, new work from a pioneer of gay theatre. 

PRODUCER'S NOTE (from the program)
Whenever I meet Robert Patrick for coffee or lunch I always leave having been entertained by his stories on a multitude of levels. They usually contain some element of theatrical history, a twist of fate, a dash of wit, a heaping helping of philosophical perspective, a dirty detail or two, and a rotating cast of celebrities thrown in for good measure. 
As a gay performance artist and writer I relish this unique and vibrant connection to the origins of gay theatre and these lunches become extravagant banquets for feeding the mind and spirit leaving me filled with ideas and chuckling amused by his.
It became obvious these memoir stories deserved sharing with an audience. We set a date for the show (which just happened to be his birthday), I left for the summer, I returned and he had a whopper of a story ready to tell as only he can. So now there is a fabulous opportunity to celebrate and go along on his journey with his new piece. One feels there is much more to come! The man is a walking treasure of stories and consummate entertainer, but with a very unique point of view that is singularly Robert Patrick playwright.

Monday, September 16, 2013

BURNING MAN 2013 Cargo Cult: Part 2 Gifts & Dazzling Lights

Framed by Marvin, The Vortexegon - photo by Gregory Frye
Many of my favorite moments and experiences from the week at Burning Man have to do with the acts of gifting, that is one of the main principles of The Burning Man philosophy. It is wonderful to  see it in action everywhere from others and from yourself in a variety of ways, from simple acts of kindness to grand gestures of goodness. It brings a smile to the spirit to be surrounded by that atmosphere, one that seems far too rare at times in the world at large. 

On the first night there, my fellow Sunny Mooners and I spent a lot of our time touring the C.O.R.E. (Circle Of Regional Effigies) art projects on the Playa encircling the main Burning Man sculpture (the man atop the UFO was the centerpiece this year).  A couple members of the Sunny Mooners were members of the Idaho C.O.R.E. and contributed to the building of a sculpture called “Marvin, the Vortexagon” -- which was by far one of my favorite art pieces of the week.  "Marvin" was a marvel, made out of a repeated pattern of geometric squares spiraling programed with a series of LED lights that channeled through it to beautiful effect. The colors and patterns were constantly changing, sometimes displaying solid hues, sometimes shifting into a full spectrum of chasing lights. It was an absolutely stunning achievement - and very exciting to know some of the hard-working creative team behind it.

Video for personal use only - music by (of which I am a member)

Our camp captain, Gregory, designed and built a tower of lights that we set up at our campsite to help define our camp. He brought a bunch of prismatic glasses for people to have fun viewing the lights with. That first night we brought several glasses onto the Playa and our group gazed at Marvin's lights through them, making the experience 10 times more dazzling.

Marvin, The Vortexegon by Idaho CORE
It became clear as we stood in awe of Marvin with the glasses, that we were not the only ones who ought to witness the "augmented" beauty. So we handed out glasses to various spectators and invited them to put them on. The reactions were priceless; big gasps of joy, smiles, laughter, and the continuous passing on of the glasses on to their friends or the next person who stepped up to the sculpture with phrases like “Wow, you have to see this! This is amazing!”  Strangers were united in on the Playa by their enjoyment of art and beauty. It was a terrific way to start the week and tap into the spirit of gifting. We hadn’t planned on any of this, making it all the more wonderful to allow spontaneity some space to manifest. It didn’t take long for us to pass out all the glasses we had on hand that evening, some people took the glasses with them to witness the effects at other light sculptures, some gazed at the sculpture of lights for a few minutes and set the glasses down on Marvin so others could happen upon them.

Rand takes a photo of his fellow Lollipop Guild campers framed by Marvin
At one point an eight-year old girl dressed in pink furry vest and boot covers came up to marvel at Marvin. I asked her if she wanted to try on the glasses. When she put them on, her face lit up as bright as the LED lights and she started giggling with glee. Her guardian mentioned how great that the pink glasses matched her ensemble and I invited her to keep the glasses. A few minutes later I met her parents, who live in Reno and have been to the Burn 5 times previous, but that this was their daughters first. They thanked me for the gift. Later, I saw the girl again at a different location. She was looking at another art piece with her eyes normally, and then placed the glasses on for an enhanced view. The sharing of a gift becomes its own type of gift to yourself and makes you feel good for contributing to another Burners experience.

More gifting stories and Burn experiences to come!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

BURNING MAN 2013 Cargo Cult: Part 1 - Virgin No More

These fabulous feet enjoying this year's Burning Man alien/UFO related theme!
At long last, 20 years in the making, I attended my first Burn and am a Burn virgin no more! Now I see what the hoopla is all about.

It truly is a remarkable and hard to describe event, involving among other things, hundreds of official art sculptures and thousands of art occurrences/happenings/events co-created by the over 60,000 people who set up camp for a week in the middle of a harsh, barren, dusty landscape. A magical wild city pops up like Brigadoon for a short period of time, then vanishes leaving no trace behind for the rest of the year. During its brief time it is a non-stop city that pulsates with life 24/7, containing everything from the sacred to the profane. People ride around in decorated bikes and strange art cars spew fire or glow with lights, many of them thumping along to the pulse of a DJ playing music and gathering the masses to follow and dance alongside. Various workshops are held all week long and the main economy for the week is gifting - so once you buy your ticket in (and bring along everything you need to survive a week) then everything you experience is free.

The week culminates in the burning of some of the sculptures from Thursday through Sunday night, reminding us all about the ephemeral nature of our lives. For me, watching sculptures burn is both a heart-wrenching and breath-taking experience. More on this aspect in another blog.

Feeling the smile of a first Burn
I still find it hard to believe I have known about Burning Man since 1993, when I did some research about the origins of rave culture and alternative art scenes for a speech & rhetoric class presentation. Incidentally according to my research, some of it comes from the legacy of good ol' Woodstock and Woodstock like events in Great Britain - where traveling bands of a music and arts scene would just  take over a meadow or farm pasture and camp out doing performances until they were kicked off the land - eventually making their way to into abandoned warehouses or applying for venues.

As a performance artist in Los Angeles, I have hovered around some of the Burner culture and friends who go for years, but never found the right moment for actually attending. I appreciated the Burn from afar, knowing that in some way my life was filled with similar experiences, but without really knowing what a true Burning Man experience was. All that changed when some new friends encouraged me persistently to attend. My Labor Day was uncharacteristically open, so I figured the time had come at long last to dive in. It was both what I expected and beyond what I expected. One cannot truly grasp the full scope of the event until they are there. I took to it fairly easily, as the spirit and aspects of it are all familiar terrain for me, but I still found myself in awe by its staggering and beautiful magnitude.

The Sunny Mooners camp tower and sign at sunset - designed by Gregory Frye
I attended with a new theme camp group called The Sunny Mooners. I wanted to create something for each member of our 10 person group, but knew I didn't have a ton of time, so decided that making some camp themed bandanas would be great, as I heard they were essential garb to have handy for the heat and dust. Winds frequently kick up the dust and a mask and goggles are needed in such times. While in Iowa over the summer, I bought some material from my aunt's quilt shop in the small town where I grew up (the beautiful Inspirations Quilts). I found two different batik fabrics, one that looked like abstract suns and one abstract moons. I sewed the two lovely fabrics together using four different colors of thread, did some trim work, and viola - we had our Sunny Mooner bandanas! I loved seeing the various members proudly wearing their swag out on the Playa (the desert stretch of land where the art sculptures are), and it felt good to immediately be part of the gifting spirit of Burning Man - which happens to be the theme of another blog...

Passing out the stack of bandanas
Batik fabrics suggesting our theme camp