Why I Stopped Watching “Red Band Society”

I have never found a more perfect example of how misplaced direction and intent can ruin a show.

For those who don’t follow Network Television, Red Band Society premiered this fall with a promising pilot that centered around the inhabitants of a children’s hospital.

I find a small amount of Irony in the fact that these kids with Cancer, Anorexia, Congenital Heart Defects, and Cystic Fibrosis will have a happier ending than their show will. But don’t get me wrong, I’d be very happy with a happy ending. But when you place characters in a position of adversity, especially one as adverse as being a mostly parentless dual-citizen minor without health insurance, then you expect them to be dealing with something more serious than the Love Triangle they found themselves in.

This was the root of the problem. Out of all of the stories that could be told about the state of medicine in the US, or dealing with your own mortality before society legally considers you an adult, they instead chose to have the cheerleader fall for the tooth-pick chewing bad-boy.

It was as if the reality of their situation was superseded by what someone thought kids would find important. You could have taken these same exact plots and moved them to any other location and all you would have had to change  “Cancer” to “I didn’t get the iPhone I wanted for christmas”.

But this is a common theme in most of these “Youth Dramedy” shows, isn’t it? The inability to let children have Adult problems? And when they do, A La ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’, there is the assumption that someone who is 16 (Who can be tried as an adult in most states), can’t face their own problems.

What is absolutely (and very hyperbolically) killing me about “Red Band Society”, is that every single production element is spot on. The show looks gorgeous, every single one of the actors is great, and the writing, when it is allowed to be, is fun and inventive. This show failed on only one front: It didn’t challenge anyone.

These are children who are fighting for their lives in a healthcare system that is likely bankrupting their parents. An Underweight young woman who is fighting her own Mental Illness surrounded by people fighting very physical illnesses; A Cheerleader with a cocaine addiction; a young man whose cancer has been neglected in favor of folk medicine. You can’t tell me that the show they wrote was the only one they could have written.

We deserve better.

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Devil’s House: For You To Listen To.

Well I guess I’ve strayed into multimedia.

My friend and housemate Scott Key helped me out by throwing a little voice acting onto Devil’s House. I’m pretty damn pleased with the product, and this may be the mode of distribution from here on out.

The first two chapters are currently being hosted on SoundCloud. I encourage you to give a listen. They aren’t yet available for download- but they will be at a later date.

Please listen! Enjoy!

 


Greek Jokes Aren’t Funny (Excerpt)

Larry: (pounding back a shot) well shit.

 

(Arlus walks up, Larry is poured shot after shot after shot of something clear, Arlus approached Barkeep)

 

Arlus: (worried) what’s he drinking?

 

Keep: Water

 

Arlus: …you keep water in a vodka bottle?

 

Keep: keeps the underage happy and paying

 

Arlus: (nods, then to larry) Larry, what happened? Wife leave you for a white bull again? Pregnant with a monster, is she?

 

Larry: nope (prepares for shot, takes it)

 

Arlus: Did Daddy cause another earthquake in Sparta?

 

Larry: Nope

 

Arlus: Hade’s steal your daughter away to the underworld and… something with a pomegranite?

 

Larry: (grunts)

 

Arlus: Did…

 

Larry: Nope

 

Arlus: I didn’t even finish!

 

Larry: already knew the answer

 

Arlus: well what was I going to…

 

Larry: Dionysus visited me today

 

Arlus: … hm?

 

Larry: Dionysus-

 

Arlus: no, I heard you, that one wasn’t all that funny

 

Larry: I wasn’t kidding

 

Arlus: yeah

 

Larry: he honestly did

 

Arlus: (pause) so why water?

 

Larry: just popped into my-

 

Arlus: seems a little weak for-

 

Larry: and just whipped it out-

 

Arlus: I mean, I know you can’t hold-

 

Larry: and it was just gigantic, then he-

 

Arlus: showed you how to take them, just-

 

Larry: told me to get up, started yelling-

 

Arlus: and the whipped cream makes it even better-

 

Larry: Told me to PROduce a play!

Arlus: and that’s how you take a shot!

 

Both: Wait… What?

 

Larry: you told me to take a straw and drink through my nose

 

Arlus: Dionysus told you what?

 

SILENCE

 

Arlus: I may have been drunk at the time

 

Larry: He, uh, told me to PROduce a play

 

Arlus: that’s not how you pronounce-

 

Larry: I don’t care

 

Arlus: yeah

 

SILENCE

 

Larry: so what does that even mean?

 

Arlus: Fresh vegetables for sale at a market

 

Larry: no, the-

 

Arlus: yeah, you pronounced it wrong

 

Larry: Don’t Care

 

Arlus: Figures. Hm… I think its when an asshole shows up and tells the director what to do.

 

Larry: well that doesn’t sound very helpful

 

Arlus: I could be wrong

 

Larry: yeah, that doesn’t sound right.

 

Silence

 

Arlus: does it mean…? Yeah, I’m out

 

Larry: me too.

 

Arlus: well, we could just go around and ask people what producing is, this is Athens, after all, someone should know.

 

Larry: Oh yes, that sounds like a fantastic idea. We could go to Lickus, the street lecher, and ask him, “do you know what a producer does?” and he flashes us and we say, “not that kind of producer, what a Theatrickal producer does” and he tells us he doesn’t know, but would sure as hell like to find out. So he follows us when we go to ask Scandalus, the politician, Acrylica, the beautician, Little Pintus, head of the league of orphans and the president of the competitive drinking league. We can ask flicus and Bickus, and kalamazoo! And then go and ask mr. floppity roo! And then we’ll take this great big mob of people up to mt. Olympus, stand in front of Dionysus, and say, “Listen here, you schmuck, none of THESE people know what the hell a producer does, why the hell should I?”

 

Arlus: You’re drunk… ( pause, picks up shot glass of water sniffs it, looks at Larry, who continues line)

 

Larry: (dawn of realization) Oh god Damnit! (leaves)

 

Arlus: yeah he probably has (moment, follows)

 

(Dionysus walks on, hands jug to Keep, asks for a gallon, Keep looks confused)

 

Dio: (to Keep) Think I was too hard on the fellow? He was pounding the drink pretty hard

 

Keep: (stunned) it was water

 

Dio: (looks angrily at Keep, grabs back his jug, starts to leave, glares back, and struts out)

 

Keep: Bye?

 


Oh What a Rogue and Peasent Slave Are You (For Not Understanding “High Art”)

Screw. You. Shakespeare

This isn’t an open letter to good old Bill, mind you, I hold, and have always held, a deep love for all (Most) of the Bard’s works. Even still, screw you, Shakespeare, for ruining shakespeare for me in high school. Its not the words I hate, its not the writer, its not the content, its the way that people read them.

Nothing in the world can possibly be more sexually deadening to me than a perfectly enunciated Romeo and Juliette said in a perfectly iambic metronome. Its something akin to imagining the sweaty effort your parents made that earned your little white tadpole a seat on the 9-month egg express.

The joy of acting isn’t found in the words, its found in how they are said. I am of the firm belief that anyone can be inspired by Henry V’s “St. Crispin’s Day” Monologue, or that anyone can know pain by hearing Titus lament the destruction of his daughter. The power of those words isn’t as much in what they say, its how people say them. That seems obvious, doesn’t it, that the power of the Bard’s words are in how they are said. But we have a habit of taking ourselves out of the equation when it comes to Shakespeare’s works.

The joy in seeing one of Shakespeare’s works isn’t watching a perfectly rendered period reproduction with original accents, its in seeing an actor take words we have heard thousands of times, and saying them so we listen like its the first time. Like that first time that we actually heard the words spoken with emotion, not from a high school teacher, not from a monotone reading, the first time we heard someone actually MEAN those words.


It Wasn’t Just “English” Pt 1

English itself, as a language, is made up of two component languages; how it is Written and how it is Spoken. We tend to see these two as a pair, believing them inextricably linked. But they aren’t. As anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language can attest, proficiency in reading is not necessarily matched by proficiency in speaking, and vice versa.

Written language is almost universally a system whose purpose is to contain and store the phonetic syllables that make up a language. It is interesting to note that those languages that aren’t written to hold phonetic data (Say, for instance, binary or hexadecimal) are much more efficient at holding data, but nearly impossible to learn how to speak fluently.

Now take for instance, your average English peasant in the 14th century. Here is a person who works, accomplishes complex tasks, knows more about nature than most of our current generation ever will, but he cannot read. Not knowing how to read does not in any way inhibit his ability to communicate, or does it demonstrate anything about his intelligence. The only difference is that he just hasn’t learned the Written Language. All told, this metaphorical peasant knows his spoken language as well as you or I, his lack of knowledge surrounding the written portion does not stand in his way of that.

But, could you try to imagine someone just learning the written language, without the spoken portion? Take a hypothetical world where suddenly no one may speak, but they are forced to learn to write. It seems weird, doesn’t it. This is because spoken language is at the core of our language, spoken language is why our language exists. Learning how to read the letters that represent the syllables without learning how to say the actual syllables seems a little inefficient, doesn’t it. It seems in this way that learning a language requires first the form of its sounds, then the forms of its letters. Here is why.

In addition to the two languages we have learnt once we are free of grade school (being written and spoken English) we learn a third language, and we learn it from birth. There is a reason why a fight is a fight in any language, or why smiles don’t require you to learn Swahili just so you can see if they are smiling. The third language is that Universal Language that most everyone on this earth understands; Emotion.

It seems bloody obvious when I say it, doesn’t it. But of course it’s always the obvious factor that we miss. This human language is the most essential language we ever learn. Imagine not being able to tell someone’s emotion, not being able to pick up on subtle body language, and everything else we don’t even notice anymore. There are some forms of autism, brain disorders, and psychological problems that can prevent someone from learning to “speak human” as it were, and the handicap they suffer is as great as any paraplegic’s.

We don’t notice how ingrained emotional language is in our culture, nor do we have any great need to. But it is helpful when looking at any social interaction to realize the depth that such an interaction contains. Looking at a transcript is not the same as hearing a recording, which pales in comparison to being able to actually See the social interaction. Body language is just as important (if not more) to diplomacy as good rhetoric is.

I know this seems like a bit of a non sequitur, and I can freely admit that it started as such, but the significance of this is not to be downplayed. Part 2 will cover how this effects performance.


The Asses in the Audience

Theatre is all about one’s ass, everything we know and love about the stage has everything to do with our asses. Its about how many asses are in the seats, how comfortable those asses are, whether those asses need to pee, whether how often they move, how sore they are, or even how much those asses paid to be there.

And let me make this abundantly clear, it is not about the actual audience members. The audience itself thinks too much, is too swayed by reviews of people they believe to be knowledgeable. Audiences Talk, answer their cell-phones, throw things at actors and they are almost universally know-it-all children. An audience is an exceedingly ungrateful lot. Their asses, however, are remarkably honest. An audience member may say that they loathed a show, but if their ass is happy, then the show was well made.


Monologue as Music

So this is a thing I discovered via the usual route (being Stumble, of course), and something in it struck me. Zander, herein, talks about Impulses. This is best seen, he says, in young piano players pounding out a sonata or prelude. They hit every single note as an impulse, and the key to exciting and interesting classical music is to take one impulse, one thought, one motion, and use it to carry the entire piece. Some similarities between this and acting intrigued me.
It is increasingly common to have a director tell you that you should know every motivation for every single line you say; each line has to have a motivation. While I don’t doubt the validity of this statement, it leads to what Zander might call “two-cheek” playing.
Think of motivation as Impulse. Having a different impulse, and a different motivation for each line leads to a way of reading lines more befitting a nervous high school student than an actor. Find out where your impulses are, and use them sparingly. The longer you can carry a single thought through a monologue, the better. Big simple thoughts are more easily transmitted through a piece than hundreds of small ones. In an audition monologue, for instance, you should only ever use one impulse, one thought. And that impulse carries from your first words, until you walk off the stage.