Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dave Awl Outtakes

DA: I got a lot of inspiration from The Kids in the Hall. They were the healing side of my rejection of the comedy world. The first couple of years I was in Too Much Light, I had never had cable TV, so The Kids in the Hall? I had never seen them. And people would come up to me after Too Much Light and say, “Have you ever heard of a show called The Kids in the Hall? Because you really remind me of this guy in The Kids in the Hall.” I’d be like, “No, I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And later on, once I did know, I assumed they were talking about Scott Thompson—that it was a gay thing. Although, in my crazier moments, I like to think they were talking about Dave Foley or Mark McKinney and that it wasn’t just a gay pigeon-holing thing.

But at any rate, I was hearing that a lot and I think that that company was on the same wavelength I was on, or trying to be on. And when The Kids in the Hall moved to CBS, finally, the little people like me who couldn't afford cable could watch it. I would watch it every week. I would tape it, in fact. Greg K and Ayun and I would come home on Friday night after Too Much Light. We’d go up to their apartment because they lived upstairs from me. I’d run down to my place and pop out the VHS tape, bring it upstairs to their place and we’d all sit, drink cheap merlot and watch The Kids in the Hall. Those were some of the best Friday nights of my life. I remember watching it and thinking, “Oh, yeah — sketch comedy can be smart and imaginative and inventive and cool.” It just revived the whole idea of comedy for me. Because before that, I was feeling like the idea of comedy as a genre was kind of stupid. You shouldn’t do something for the sole purpose of making someone laugh. What you should do is try to write something smart, and if it’s good, laughter will happen along the way. Being funny is a product of being good. And after The Kids in the Hall, I was able to say, “Okay, yeah, you can start out to write comedy and write something that’s worth watching and it doesn’t make your brain shrink up and die.” It’s funny, when people were accusing me of trying to imitate The Kids in the Hall—if that’s what they were doing—I wasn’t, but then after that, for a while, I was. [both laugh]

JP: That’s happened to me. When I was in high school and college I was instinctively drawn to physical comedy, pratfalls and stunts. Also I have always been a huge fan of reading philosophy. And I would get frustrated because my brain had trouble grasping many of the concepts. So I began writing to try to help myself understand these philosophical ideas, and my natural inclination was to incorporate my passion for physical comedy. When I began showing this work people began saying, “You’re influenced by Samuel Beckett. I had never heard that name before but then once someone says that, and you investigate, then you’re caught in that thing where now you are influenced by him or her.

DA: Exactly. There was a good stew of influences and some of the best plays I ever wrote were just funny… not sketches. We don’t do sketches. But plays that maybe leaned in that direction.


JP: This is probably off the book for me, but a lot of people I’ve worked with and the people I see that are successful are callous, and some always have been. This is what what I call the Asshole Principle. You get farther and quicker if you don't allow yourself to be affected by people. I think that’s one of the things that slows me down incredibly. I seem to be caught in a gray area where I feel I am not an Asshole but that I am more distant than I would like to be, perhaps resisting using others.

DA: Being thick skinned—there’s nothing like it. And if you’re really thick skinned, and maybe even a little bit insensitive, it doesn’t always endear you to people but it allows you to keep charging forward where other people are daunted.

JP: And it creates a mystery, or an ironic obsession. There is a mystique in being an asshole. And often if ou try to befriend them you end up hurt.

DA: Exactly. We choose different people for artistic and literary idols than we choose for friends. There are a lot of people that I idolize that I know from what’s said about them that I wouldn’t necessarily want to have lunch with them. That they wouldn’t be very easy to go on a long car ride with. But that’s different from what they’re giving you when they’re onstage and I am a very thin skinned person. I have learned that is one of my greatest failings is that I really internalize criticism. I collapse with one blow to the stomach and curl up into a fetal ball and I lose a week of my life detoxing and getting it out of my system. Again, going back to my astrology days, my whole chart is full of Neptune energy. I’m a 12th houser. All these planets in the 12th house and Pisces and a direct opposition between Neptune and my Sun and symbolically what that means is I am like a box of baking soda in a refrigerator full of onions. In a refrigerator full of onions, I soak up all the stinky fish and cheese and internalize all the negative aroma of my surroundings whereas I think, again, people who are more like tanks that keep rolling across the battlefield, regardless of what gets fired at them. Those are the people who often cross the finish line. I have always tried to use my sensitivity and turn insecurity and anxiety into work. And I think that worked much better for me when I was younger, partly because when you’re younger, you’re more resilient and you bounce back a lot easier. But also, when you’re younger—this is not true of everyone in the world, but it’s true of people like me—we witness less tragedy when we’re younger. It takes awhile to really sink in on us that our bones can break. When you’re young, you read about tragedy and it makes you sad, but you sort of feel like you’re in a bubble and it’s not going to reach you. And then you have a bad night that gets you scared and rattled, that something bad could happen to you. You wake up the next morning and you shake it off. You get older and you lost friends and loved ones and you witness a few flaming car wrecks and you know, watch some people’s hopes go down the drain and it’s a little easier to get spooked. You think, “Wow, sooner or later your number’s going to come up and if I’m not careful, that could happen to me.” But yeah, I think you’re absolutely right about what you call the Asshole Factor and I think of it as having a thick hide. That’s very, very valuable to the people who have it going for them.


DA: There’s a spoken word piece on The Remain in Light album by Talking Heads. This is an album that was the first Talking Heads record I bought as like a freshman in high school. First or second. But there’s a piece on there that’s David Byrne doing a kind of a little prose poem called “Seen and Not Seen.” And it’s about a guy, who, it starts out, he’d see pictures in magazines and newspapers of people and he would see their facial features and idealize what he wanted his face to look like and imagine the perfect face for himself and then, by an act of will, try to make his face become this perfect face he had imagined for himself. And for some reason that was archetypal for me as a spoken word piece because I liked the idea that it was written in the conditional voice. “He would blank and as a result of blank, he would…” and there was this sort of hypothetical idea that it would just follow to an interesting or surreal or absurd conclusion. And that became almost a stock writing technique for awhile. I think if you look over my monologues, you’ll find a number of things that start out in that conditional voice. “He would do this… She would do that…” Because if I can write one, interesting, compelling sentence in the conditional voice with a little twist to it—a little surreal idea behind it, then I can just start milking that like the udder of a cow to see what else comes out of it as a writer. I can just start saying, “If he or she does this, then this is what would happen next and then here’s this bizarre direction that might all go in.” So maybe it was a writing exercise that I learned from David Byrne that really…

JP: That’s another track. That’s seems a little more in the middle then because it’s not stream of consciousness, but your sort of starting point may be stream of consciousness, but then there’s sort of hypothetical following.

DA: Not so much stream of consciousness as saying, “I’m going to pick a spot in my brain and start scratching it and just see what happens.” You know, in argumentation, there’s an arguing tactic called Reductio ad absurdum, reducing something to the point of absurdity. You take your opponent’s position and say, “If you want to make it legal for gay people to marry each other, then next thing you know, you’ll have people marrying goats or coat racks or blah blah blah.” Reductioabsurdum ad sometimes can be, I think, useful and then other times it’s just a fallacious arguing technique. But as a literary device, it’s really good fun. And I think that maybe a lot of what I do in that sense of what Richard Cooper was talking about: taking an idea for a walk and to see where it goes. It’s taking an idea and making it a little more absurd and a little more absurd and a little more absurd. Or you can substitute the word “surreal” for “absurd” there. But starting with that first sentence and then seeing what else I can load onto it with the second sentence, then how much I can keep loading onto it before the whole thing collapses.

JP: I always love talking about people’s writing styles. When I first started writing plays, what fascinated me was and what I found out what I was good at is I would write out a sentence or an image and then the rest of the play was just justifying that sentence or image.

DA: It was also kind of easy to use that technique when I knew was only going for a two-minute piece. It’s harder to thing of writing a whole short story or a novel that way, but it’s really great for a one or two-minute piece, or even what would for me, very often turn into a four or five-minute piece. And one of the people who inspired me early on to want to do performance poetry was Lori Anderson. I mean, I just absolutely ate, breathed and slept Lori Anderson when I was in high school and college and I think she was a big influence on that voice as well. And she also would tell a little story and just introduce a twist. And so, just like that David Byrne technique, sometimes I would have what I guess was my Laurie Anderson technique, which sometimes would come more out of the words and the rhythm of the words, then a narrative device.

JP: I’ll look at a sentence and I’m not happy with it. I mean, it’s saying what I want, but it doesn’t sound right. Then sometimes I realize that the perfect sentence will actually have the rhythm and then I realize by changing those words, it actually clarifies what I was trying to say. That tuning into the rhythm also helped me with the meaning.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lisa Buscani outtakes

Starting with the Big Godess Powow

LB: Yeah. Those happened in the mid-90s where, okay, I had just been booked by the Museum of Contemporary Art to perform at their benefit to be held at The Metro. And Shanahan, forever the impresario, said “Gee Lisa, you know, we’ve got bands here every night, we sell out crowds. If you ever wanna be an opening act…” and I’m thinking to myself, I mean I knew poets that opened for rock bands and stuff, and sometimes it was great. When Hal Sewar used to open up for They Might Be Giants it was fabulous because that was the right crowd for a poet to be opening for. But, you’re gonna have me open for Gigi Allen? Really? And I was like, alright, Joe? How about…how about an evening of female spoken word? Well, you know there’s really, there’s some really great females in this town who are turning out some really awesome stuff. What if we gathered like six to eight of them together and just did an evening. And I said I’d put it together. So I get on the phone to Paula Killen and I say, “listen, Joe Shanahan and The Metro, they made this offer.” Big Goddess Pow-Wow. Big Goddess Pow-Wow, she had used that name for a show she did with Lower Links. Whose is that? And she said, “it’s mine.” I said, “let’s do a Big Goddess Pow-Wow at The Metro. That’s a really great name.” Let’s do it at The Metro. Let’s do it with the girls who are out and about right now and who are big pulls. And she said, “okay.” So me and Paula Killen and Marsha Wilkie who’s now in L.A., Paula’s now in L.A. Cin Salash, who’s here. Jenny Magness, Annie Halliday I think was in that first one that subsequently she would be in it (??). And we all just did ten minutes of, maybe I did poetry, Paula did a monologue, Marsha did a monologue, and it was outrageously successful. One of our musical acts was Liz Phair before she hit. It was…I don’t know where the spoken word in Chicago came from, maybe it came from this is a theatrical town, but not as much theater was going on but not as much as it was in the hay day, in the 70s when the Steppenwolf guys started. Actors were looking for opportunities so they were writing their own work. I don’t know, I don’t know where it came from. People saw poetry slams and got excited. Maybe they weren’t use to the poetic language but they still wanted to do stuff. There was a whole performance art movement. Some people are writing monologues and combining visual elements and stuff like that. It’s just a step away from Too Much Light in that it was a little bit longer. And those were women that were, you know, had big followings. Marsha Wilkie’s shows were sellin’ out at the Live Bait, she was doing really well. And we did a bunch of ‘em. You know, we did them annually or bi-annually depending on where we were and Gwendolyn Brooks did it one year, she was the Poet Laureate of Illinois. And it was just a good angle? Just all women, and that subsequently Pantsie Cakes Cotillion (?? 1:10:30) came along.

JP: Did you find your audience were a specific type, or were you—did that help you reach—because that was at The Metro, was it?

LB: Yeah.

JP: Did it help you reach people who normally wouldn’t go? Because that’s what’s great about Too Much Light is we’re basically doing performance art for people who would never see performance art.

LB: Right, right. In a small, bit sized kind of thing, and that was with Too Much Light. And again—

JP: Did you find any of that with this show? People that would not normally have gone to performance art?

LB: Uhhh, yeah. They wouldn’t have normally gone to—this was a rock club, and they could sit and have a beer and it wasn’t the stuffiness of a theater, it was only ten minutes. Those were things like the Millie’s Orchid Show where Brigid could book David Sedaris next to two little girls who did rope tricks or, one night it was me, David Sedaris, and Blue Man Group before they hit. And then out of that This American Life, because Ira was very interested in capturing our stories because that’s how his aesthetic was formed.

JP: Was that originated in Chicago?

LB: Oh yes. Before This American Life he had a thing called The Wild Room which was his show out of WBEZ and early 90s we would go down to the crappy little offices over on LaSalle Street. They were really awful and he’d be on the air at like 11 ‘o clock on a Saturday night. He’d sit down and read our stories. One time he wanted to have a show called “Poultry Slam” and what I wrote was what ultimately became Keeping Kosher, so that that became Ira’s The Wild Room. I still remember him coming up to me once after This American Life got started, or no, no, it was This American Life that he actually did, he said, “David Sedaris has got this story of being an elf in Macy’s. Do you think he would want to read that on the radio?” Like he was really hesitant about it, too, and I was like “Oh geez, yeah Ira, I bet David would have a problem with reading on the radio. It just kinda, this thing that mutated. Not just into Too Much Light but into all sorts of ways. The poetry slam was so low in the theatrical community, spoken word area that made it onto the radio, and then within the performance poetry area, people that didn’t compete as such but just read and did characters and were very theatrically oriented, they didn’t really like the competition aspect of it. The 90s were hoppin’. And then I think just people got tired. But it’s still nice to see that I don’t, you know, we may have rough times because of the economy but I don’t think people are tired of Baby yet.

JP: Yeah yeah. It’s great to learn about a lot of those. That’s why I am excited about these interviews, too, just learning everyone’s influences and where they came from during that time period as performance artists. I’m gonna have to leave soon. But I will probably try to get more specific information about the Goddess Pow-Wow, so—

LB: We’re gonna do another one February 7th.

JP: Oh, that’s good. Then I’ll make sure this is out. Is there a site or something where there’s information about that?

LB: Well, it’s part of the Rhino.

JP: Part of the Rhino.

LB: Yeah, so whatever the Rhino puts out, it’ll probably be attached to that.

JP: But is there like a history of that group anywhere? Remotely organized?

LB: Remotely organized. Naw. I mean, because it wasn’t that permanent. We did it, like, ten times.

JP: It seemed like it inspired a lot of things to happen, too. I mean Dave raved about it and said that’s what provoked ??? (their half ?? 1:15:16),to feel like they had to get together.

LB: But then we all kinda went our separate ways. It was interesting, when those women left I never really thought to myself, well, I’ll never see those women again. I thought, you know, I’ll be seeing those women around the circuit in some way. They’ll be in Los Angeles where I’ll be performing or—I just never thought I would just never see them again, and such is the case. It was very, it was very interesting and maybe it’s just a regional thing but, it was just very incestuous. Everybody was in everybody else’s show. We, I feel we work together in a way—at least this little section of the theater community work together in a way that I’ve never seen in other communities.

JP: So you’re saying all the things that you’ve talked about, these people were together.

LB: I mean, I don’t even know of an appropriate musical analogy. Did other people gig around in other people’s bands in the punk…?

JP: What would happen is in our scene a lot is that people were sharing songs more which reminded me a lot of the earlier days before there were like, famous bands there were just like these writers that were approaching a mission (??). But I thought that was kind of cool, like Screeching Weasel would write a song for The Queers or we had a split seven-inch that was done by this hard core band that had a completely different audience than us be we loved them, they loved us so we wrote a song for each other and on the seven-inch we did one of their songs and they did one of ours, so there was a lot of that sort of going on. Band wise I think we just sort of had our own bands and what we were writing was often exchanged.

LB: I remember when Dave told me that you were joining the ensemble and Dave said “Did you ever hear of a band called Screeching Weasel?” and I’m like, “Yeah.” You know, one of my earlier boyfriends was a big Screeching Weasel fan. You know, I learned a lot from Bruce. I remember Bruce’s fetus tapes, you know? Just the shit that he would come in with that I’d listen to. “Yeah, well John from Screeching Weasels has just been cast in The Neo-Futurists.” And I remember thinking nothing, meaning like didn’t think, oh how odd that a punker would wanna be in our group. That, for some reason, made absolute sense to me. And I think it’s because we were still deeply into—and I had just talked to this—Plez Gayman was a spoken word artist who I’d made friends with out in Los Angeles and Plez was a punker from way back. She and Nicole Panter were like these punker Bandaids sort of, you know? She was a rock critic for awhile. And they kept talking about DIY in the spoken word scene as in the punk scene and that made absolute sense to me. You know, it’s like, just very grassroots, very DIY, not—they do not model to the whole, what am I trying to say? Not mired and managed, not mired in how, like, the Chicago Shakespeare thing, how everything has to look—paid, paying designers and the costume people more than you may the actors. A flashlight is enough for us and I think that’s very low rent, but it’s also like populist and very DIY. So I didn’t think when you were trying to get cast, I never thought twice about it.

JP: I honestly, I mean I didn’t even know the show before I auditioned. I had never experienced it through the punk world and my first couple of years didn’t even realize there was much of at. I think our punk generation was where that was sort of dividing. Like you would still see punks come to the show, but it was nothing like—there was a period where there was more. And I think it was sort of a, the fans are sort of the—like we’ve created a new genre and that new genre is, sadly, is not as much crossover with—as performance charged or politically charged, self-aware theater. Sadly. At times I feel partially responsible for that split. But I’m here doing it and I love it and whenever a punk comes in I’m always so happy, and hopefully just maybe because they know me and they love the show they’ll start bringing people again. I hated that that divide sort of happened. Like I hardly see those really, you know, I love the odd people. I’ve always friended the odd people that come to the show. Sometimes other cast members will fear them? Those are the first people I wanna talk to.

LB: Why do you think that is?

JP: What?

LB: Why do you think that is?

JP: I don’t know. ‘S probably they—I always felt odd growing up but also being part of the punk scene, that’s always sooo, it’s these kids that have nowhere else to go. You’re in these small towns where there’s nothing to do, so I really sorta just gravitated towards what makes people unique and decided who cares? Who gives a fuck? I’m gonna be whoever the hell I am. So—and I don’t see as many of those at the show as I used to and I miss that. I’m always trying to think of ways to captivate that again.

LB: Yeah, Nicole Patrick (?) had been The Germs’ manager for a short period of time until she just couldn’t take Darby anymore and you know they would talk about just getting outta California or getting out to California and just find a group of people that would accept them and their fucked up ways, getting out to California and they could change their name if they want to. Who’s to tell them otherwise? You know, Darby Crash. I don’t believe that’s his full legal name. You know, Pat Smear—I don’t know. And they didn’t care and it was, the way she would talk about it, incredibly liberating. I don’t know. I still remember when I was a little kid somebody asked me in a play to do something that I felt was embarrassing and he just looked at me and said, “Lisa, this I the theater. We are allowed to be jerks. We are allowed to be embarrassing. Nobody cares.” and that made an early impression on me. Just like, wait—you can do whatever you want? Ohhhh my. And when the theater becomes a thing that doesn’t allow you to do whatever you want, I become less interested in it. And what I mean by whatever you want, I mean, the rules are established with the world of a play or whatever but I mean you gotta just—within that—

JP: The play within a structure.

LB: Yeah, and you don’t have to be yourself.