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Friday, November 13, 2009

USB Flash Drive Earrings

At last! I've been meaning to do this ever since I bought a Super-Talent Pico_B 8GB flash drive a couple of years ago.

  • 2 x earring wires of some description (I used shepherd's hooks with a coil and ball)
  • 2 x Super-Talent Pico_C drives (They come in capacities up to 32GB, but to keep costs down, I bought two 4GB drives for $11.99 each from NewEgg)

Mmm, my camera takes nice macro-mode photos of USB drives.

  • Attach wires to drives. Duh.



I love them! They're coming to Egypt with me.

Ah, yes! A couple of weeks ago, Matt divulged that he has six days of paid vacation left in this year. By taking his break over the New Year break, he finagled two-and-a-half weeks of paid vacation goodness. I insisted we leave the country because my new US passport needs stamps. The short list was Hong Kong, Peru or Egypt, and we decided to give our inner prepubescent Egyptophiles the Christmas they've been coveting for twenty years. We leave December 22, and we leave Egypt on Coptic Christmas day.

I am so inexpressibly excited.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Sometimes, a name won't stick in my memory. One such name is Robert Rauschenberg. Matt and I saw the wanktastic White Paintings at the Guggenheim years ago, and were inspired to rip them off by painting white canvases white and hanging them around our house as decor:

Yet still, whenever I start to talk about Rauschenberg to other people, I can't remember his name. So tonight, while driving home from Ekta, I invented a song. Hopefully it will act as a mnemonic. It goes like this:


I think you're supposed to yell it over punk guitars, or maybe intone it over a Casio preset a la Wesley Willis.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Melissa Dunphy's Guide to obtaining a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy in Philadelphia 2009

So, you've found a nice unoccupied or unlicensed venue and you want to hold a Fringe (or other) event there.

This is a guide based on my experiences acquiring a TCO. Hopefully some of this information will help you. Please note: if it doesn't, I can't be held liable. I'm not a lawyer, and this document does not constitute legal advice.

STEP 1: Contact the owner of the venue.
STEP 2: Temporary Certificate of Occupancy form and instructions
STEP 3: Architectural drawings
STEP 4: Get to know your friendly Licenses and Inspections local office
STEP 5: File the TCO
STEP 6: Meanwhile - what to get done before inspection
STEP 7: Inspection

STEP 1: Contact the owner of the venue.
This may seem very obvious, but in case it isn't, approach the owner of the venue before you do anything. Their approval is necessary, and they may even be able to help you with other parts of this process. Find out from them if you can use the venue for free, or negotiate a price for renting the venue. Ask the owner if they have a fire alarm system in operation, and if they do, see if you can get a copy of certification for it. [top]

STEP 2: Download/Print the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy form and instructions
  1. The Temporary Certificate of Occupancy form is actually just a Building Permit Application form

  2. Read and know the instructions forward and backwards. They give you a very good idea of what is going to be required of you. Note that you can occupy the building for 15 days. This technically includes rehearsals. List every time and date you are using the building within these 15 days (i.e. don't just say your event is from "May 10-17." List each day separately with the event/rehearsal time.)

  3. It might also be useful to look at this Building Permit Checklist, though note that not all of it will pertain to your application

The TCO application will cost $250 to file. Don't file it quite yet - you have a lot to get through first.

Pro-Tip: if you are applying for a TCO for the Rotunda, the legal address is 4008-26 Walnut Street, not 4014.

Under "BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF WORK" on the application form, describe your event in about four words, and use the rest of the space to list dates and times and detail how you plan to fulfill the requirements listed in the instructions - go through point-by-point. For example: "All policies on Variance of General Application B-0923-05 shall be complied with. Maximum occupant load for rehearsals is 50. Maximum occupant load for performances is 350. Entrances and three exits shown on plan. Exits will be announced before each event. Illuminated exit signs and emergency lighting to be installed. Six (6) fire watch members will be present at each event and intructed on how to activate manual fire alarm system. Set dressing will be flame resistant. Toilet facilities on premises are adequate and market on plan. Disabled access to the building is provided and marked on plan." [top]

STEP 3: Acquire architectural drawings of the space for the TCO application
First, ask the owner if they have CAD or PDF blueprints of the space as it is. Having these will make your architect's job much easier and save you time and money. If a TCO application has been filed before for the space, ask if the owner has copies of previous plans so you can see what went into them. If you can get copies or take pictures of these, you can give them to your architect to help with her/his plans. The more material, the better.

If you know that the space has been used before for a LiveArts show, it's worth asking the Live Arts office (Carolyn Schlecker) if you can take a look at the TCO application and associated plans for that show, since they keep them all on file.

Now it's time to find your own architect.

Warning: architects are expensive. Seriously, I almost used a blink tag. You will need a licensed architect, as the drawings must be stamped with the architect's professional seal. The architect for the LiveArts Festival does not donate or reduce the price of his services to Fringe shows, and he quoted me over $1,200 for a TCO application. Look around for recommendations from friends and colleagues or ask local colleges to recommend recent graduates, and hopefully you'll find someone who can give you a good price.

Recommended architect:
Jeff Goldstein, DIGSAU
340 N. 12th Street, Suite 421, Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 627-0808 x102
Jeff was our architect for the Gonzales Cantata TCO application. He was an absolute pleasure to deal with, very professional, fast, reasonably priced, and his drawings received unsolicited compliments from the L&I inspector.

If you couldn't get CAD drawings from the owner of the venue, your architect will need to survey the space and create them from scratch.

Discuss with your architect what, if any, changes are being made to the space for the event, as all these will need to be put into the plans for your application. This will include marking on the plans which areas will be used by performers, which areas will be used by the audience, any seating structures, any set structures, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

The more information you can give the architect at the start, the less time it will take them to create your drawings and the less money it will cost you. Here's what I gave my architect:
  1. A copy of the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy form (see above)
  2. Instructions for filing a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (see above)
  3. Photographs of the space, particularly of any areas I wanted to alter for the event
  4. A mock-up of the complete building plan including markings for set and audience seating, drawn as near as possible to scale

If you're handy with Photoshop, definitely give the architect a mock-up as in number 4 above; if you aren't handy in Photoshop, at least draw it by hand and include measurements so the architect has a good idea of what you want.

Once you have the plans for your space, print out at least eight copies of the plans. Yes, eight: six for the permit application, one for you, and one for the venue owner. You'll need to go to Kinko's or somewhere similar, because the minimum size for plans is 18" by 24", and I'm betting your home printer can't handle that paper size. [top]

STEP 4: Get to know your friendly Licenses and Inspections local office
There are 5 district offices of Licenses and Inspections. One of these offices will be handling the inspection related to your application, so contacting them early isn't a bad idea to develop a little rapport. You can show them your building plans and see what they think or ask them if they've done inspections at your particular venue before and if there's any advice they want to give.
  • Northeast Philadelphia
    Rising Sun Ave. & Benner St., Philadelphia, PA
    (215) 685-0581

  • Central Philadelphia
    990 Spring Garden St., 7th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19123
    (215) 685-3787

  • South Philadelphia
    11th & Wharton Sts., 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19147
    (215) 685-1576

  • North Philadelphia
    217 E. Rittenhouse Street, Philadelphia, Pa 19144
    (215) 685-2276

  • West Philadelphia
    43rd & Market Sts.,Philadelphia, PA 19104
    (215) 685-7681

If a TCO has been issued for your venue before, see if you can find the certificate itself - it will be signed by an inspector, and he or she may be the best contact person. [top]

STEP 5: File the TCO
Once you have all your ducks in a row regarding the application form and the architectural drawings, find yourself two spare hours, preferably first thing in the morning (filing is allowed between 8AM and 3PM, and note that the office closes at noon on the last Wednesday of each month), and take your completed Building Permit Application and six copies of your building plans to:
Department of Licenses and Inspections
940 Municipal Services Building
15th & JFK Blvd., Lower Level, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Take a number, and be prepared to wait for an incredibly long time for them to call you up. Give them your application. They have 30 days after the time you file the application to take any action, and they'll probably use the entire 30 days. Make sure you get an application number from them, and keep it safe, because you'll need it when you start chasing them down in a month's time. [top]

STEP 6: Meanwhile, back at the ranch, make sure the following are up to scratch:
Liability Insurance
This isn't necessary for your TCO, but your event needs to be insured. Some venues have special insurance requirements, so again, check with the owner about these.

Recommended insurance broker:
Chris Garrity, Domenick and Associates
325 Chestnut Street, Suite 916, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 629-5701 x200
Chris does the insurance for all the LiveArts and Fringe Festival shows, and is very knowledgeable and helpful about this kind of insurance. A no-brainer if you're doing a Fringe show, and I would probably go to him first even if I were doing a show outside of the Fringe.

I saw the signs - emergency signs and lighting
After the architectural drawings, the next biggest headache of the TCO application will probably be the emergency signs and lighting. Check the instructions for all the particulars, but you'll need to make sure there are adequate emergency signs and lighting around the venue, so that if there is an emergency, all egress routes are lit - including routes from the bathrooms. If there aren't emergency lights already installed, you'll have to install them yourself. According to the application, you need a licensed electrician to sign off on the emergency lighting if you install it yourself, and this may set you back a few hundred dollars unless you know a licensed electrician.

I bought cheap exit lights from Exit Light Co. and wired lamp cords into them so they could be plugged into regular outlets rather than wired directly into the walls.

Disabled accessibility
Since you read the TCO instructions and know them backwards, you already know that the venue needs to be accessible to the disabled. If your venue isn't compliant, you'll need to buy or hire portable ramps - I don't have any recommendations on this front, since I haven't had to do it yet. If there are already ramps at the venue, check that the ramps are compliant: there cannot be a step of more than 3/8 inch anywhere on the accessible path - if there is, you'll need to buy transition strip molding from Home Depot or Lowes and fix the ramps yourself.

Non combustible materials
All fabrics that you use in set dressing, etc., must be non-combustible. You can find a spray from Turning Star which can be sprayed on most fabric to make it comply with these regulations.

Fire watch
You'll need volunteers to act as "fire watch" for each public event. If your building has fire sprinklers, you'll need one person per exit. If it doesn't, you'll need two per exit. Fire watch should have a "uniform" (can be a "STAFF" shirt), a cell phone and a flashlight. Use a cheap notebook as the "Fire Watch Log," which the fire watch will sign. Instruct fire watch on how to use the fire alarms and how to get people out of the building.

Check the regulations for how many toilets you will need on the premises. If you don't have enough, you'll need to hire portable toilets. I don't have any experience with this. [top]

STEP 7: Inspection
Be prepared to play the waiting game. After 30 days, call your district office of L&I and ask to speak with whomever you contacted in STEP 4. Hopefully they'll remember you. Give them the application number that you saved in STEP 5 and ask them to check how it's doing in the system. If you're in a hurry, go back to the office of Licenses and Inspections on 15th and JFK with your application number. Take a number, wait your turn, and ask them if they can give you the business card of the engineer dealing with your application. Once you have that business card, you can start politely harassing that engineer to look at your application.

Don't bother trying to get the name of the engineer or deal with the main office over the phone. You'll waste far more time than it would take you to go down in person, unless you live in Pittsburgh. Maybe even then.

Once the engineer has signed off on your plans, you will get a notification in the mail, and the main office will send your application down to your district office. Then you can call the district office to arrange an inspection. First thing the morning of the inspection (8AM), call the district office again to confirm/double-check that the inspection is taking place that day.

During the inspection, the owner of the property must be available and in attendance, and you must be able to shut off all power to the venue to prove that the emergency lights and exit signs work. Also have copies that you can give to the inspector of the fire alarm certification and certification for any electrical work that was done. Make sure you have made a maximum occupancy sign and have the fire watch log with you.

The inspector's main job is to make sure that you have complied with all the health and safety regulations. Your set doesn't need to look perfectly pretty and the place doesn't need to be spotless, though it probably helps if it isn't a dump. Mostly, the inspector will be fixated on emergency provisions such as exits, alarms and lights, and will check that all emergency provisions on your plan have been installed and are operational.

If you pass inspection, you're done!! The district office of L&I will print out a certificate for you, sign it and seal it. Display it on your venue, and you're legal!
(Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

Where is my head? Where?

After the Gonzales Cantata wrapped up a few weeks ago, I ran headlong into my Ph.D. at Penn. Dived. Plummeted. Note to self: if it ever transpires that I hit the national spotlight again in the future, try not to start an intensive college degree immediately afterward without some kind of vacation in between. I feel so behind at everything. My brain can't find enough peace to organize itself. Whither creativity? I can't even wrap my head around keeping the house clean.

Sometimes I stare into the middle distance and fantasize about moving to some kind of mountain-top or island lair with nothing but the internet and enough food to last me about a year. Maybe after about six months, I'll write some good music.

In the meantime, over this past weekend, we seem to have acquired a new kitten. She followed Matt home on Friday afternoon when it was very cold and wet. He might possibly have encouraged her, but only a very little. I made it worse when they got to the front door by feeding her and fussing over her and generally falling for her. Matt made "We shouldn't keep her" noises for a while, but it was obvious he was taking to her as much as I, and as much as she was to us. For two days, we left her outside (with food, a cat tent and heated bed), thinking (hoping?) she would go home, wherever that might be, but she didn't budge. I guess this is home for her now.

When I left Australia, I gave my cat Kenya to my parents, thinking they would take care of her. They didn't, and she disappeared. I've felt guilty about it ever since; Kenya was an excellent cat and one of my best friends. The new cat looks a great deal like Kenya:

Naming the new cat Nairobi after poor Kenya.

Nairobi meows like a Burmese, Jesus.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gonzales Cantata: YES WE CANTATA

There aren't words to describe how I've felt this past week.

I can, at least, use words to divulge the facts: my composition the Gonzales Cantata caught the attention of the press and the imagination of the public last week, culminating in national television attention and a number one spot on Google Trends for about three hours on Thursday night. Not bad for a new concert opera based on political transcripts.

The extra press contributed to a very successful run at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this past weekend at the Rotunda.

People have asked me many times: "How did you do it? What's your secret?" I keep thinking of Slumdog Millionaire. I have a particular set of skills which prepared me for a particular moment, and in an unbelievable stroke of luck, the moment presented itself. Cue fairytale.

Here's a handy table explaining what I mean.

How did you ...
...write the music?I spent a lot of time in my youth playing and listening to Bach and Handel. I stumbled on a copy of Portrait of PDQ Bach in a secondhand CD shop in Brisbane in 1994. I once arranged Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" as an Elizabethan madrigal, complete with fa la las.
...know how to put on a show?In 1999, I directed two shows for the New South Wales University Theatrical Society (NUTS). From 2004-2006, I worked at Gamut Theatre Group both onstage and off. I've worked as an actor and musician in Philadelphia long enough to have some great contacts (like my excellent stage manager Dina Steiner, who is worth more than her weight in gold).
...know how to promote?I was the Public Relations Director at Gamut, which means I know how to distribute a press release. Maybe even more importantly, I was a "wine consultant" - a fancy word for telemarketer - at Cellarmasters Wine Club when I was 19/20, which taught me to resist as much as possible feeling defeated by the repeated (and repeated, and repeated) rejection or indifference of strangers. Ditto my "promo girl" experience - I've worked campaigns for everyone from Microsoft to Dove Soap to (God forgive me) Marlboro cigarettes.
...create a web presence?I made my first website nearly ten years ago. It was a pretty embarrassing first effort, but I've had one ever since. Nowadays, I freelance in web design and implementation. I'm married to a web developer -- we laugh about the fact that we argue about website code more than just about anything else (he's way better than me, but I argue anyway). I'm also horrendously addicted to social media and thus understand its importance. And, having worked in television and watched the rise of YouTube, I knew enough to get on top of that too.
...navigate the TCO application?I immigrated. I'm not afraid of bureaucracy. The first architect I contacted tried to charge me $1200 to navigate it for me. I found a better architect and did the red tape myself.
...find such awesome performers?While I was at West Chester University, I made it my business to find singers who (a) could perform my compositions and (b) were wonderful people. For this performance, I also placed an audition notice on YAPtracker. (I didn't actually know to do that - they contacted me.) I used to work as a legal secretary, so I know how to draft up a contract.
Any other relevant skills?TV news (understanding the importance of footage), closed captions (surtitles), conducting (first conducted a choir in Somerville House's 1996 Choral Festival), sewing (came in very handy for costuming), printing/photocopying (seriously, I am a photocopier whisperer).

Most importantly, this summer, I had some spare time and some spare change* (or, at least, a sturdy credit card). Every day, I sent out press releases, e-mailed press outlets, made phone calls and mailed CD's. I hated doing it. Full-time promotion is horrible; it gradually destroys your self esteem, motivation, energy, and possibly also your soul. I wouldn't want to do promotion this extensive for money. In fact, I would happily pay someone else to do it, if I could be assured they would work as hard.

Of course, I had invaluable help from publicity liaison Dan Williams and my husband Matt. One of Matt's publicity jobs involved posting about the Gonzales Cantata in the comments of relevant news stories. We never absolutely confirmed this to be the chance source of our break, but on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week, Matt left a comment on an article about Alberto Gonzales in the Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday, (the wonderful) Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog called and interviewed me. You can see the result here.

The next day, we were on The Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish on The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, The National Review, and The Chicago Tribune. That evening, as we prepared for a preview performance, we received word that we were on FOX News.

At this point, I was already on cloud nine. I'm a news junkie. I may be a musician, but all my rock stars are journalists. If I could have anyone in the world over to my house for a dinner party, the first two invitations would be addressed to Helen Thomas and John Simpson of the BBC. When the chorus of the Gonzales Cantata angrily lists the administration's crimes, I quite deliberately make them sing "harassment of the press" twice.

After the preview performance, Matt checked his iPhone and the murmur went around: Rachel Maddow had tweeted about us. "Got nothing done today. Have spent the entire day obsessed with this (pdf)." She linked to the Gonzales Cantata libretto. Honestly, that would have been more than enough for me, even if Josh Groban totally didn't get it. But half an hour later, while I was changing in the dressing room, I got a phone call from a Maddow producer, warning me that they were about to crash our website. With this:

Most of the cast and crew, myself included, are too poor for cable, and watched the broadcast on a television at the bar next-door to the Rotunda, huddled under a single stupid overhead speaker with a painfully low volume output. There was a moment, staring at the television with my hands cupping my ears upward, when I really thought I was imagining the whole thing.

Our website crashed for about 10 minutes - Matt and I had to run back to the Rotunda, grab my laptop, leech a wifi connection from a nearby cafe, and pull the streaming mp3's (they are now hosted through Bandcamp, a rather excellent service). At home later, we discovered we were number one on Google Trends.

And that absolutely seals it, right? We did it. We won the Internet.

Since then, the Gonzales Cantata has been featured on more news outlets, numerous blogs (including this great article on Sequenza21 and this post on the Daily Show/Colbert Report blog) and received interest from several performing groups across the country. I started my Ph.D. at UPenn this week, but I can barely think about learning because I'm still coming down.

As if that weren't enough, Rachel Maddow talked about the Gonzales Cantata again tonight, comparing me to the influences I listed in our press release, John Adams and Phil Kline. Just being mentioned in the same breath as Adams or Kline is pretty fantastic in my book:

I am so damned happy. I'm also really happy and grateful for all the performers in the show, and I can't wait to give them each their percentage of the profit once I get it from the Fringe Box Office in October - payments which will be far less than they deserve (try splitting anything 33 ways, and see how far you get), but I hope they've at least enjoyed the ride too.

*It cost about $4,000, give or take, to mount this show. That's pretty cheap, but with the new skills and knowledge I've picked up, I think I can stage future performances on an even tighter budget. If you're wondering how I did it so cheaply, the trick is to be a complete control freak and do everything yourself, because then you don't have to pay anyone else.

The Gonzales Cantata: the Humble Beginnings

Clips show blog entry!

Two years ago this month, I blogged:
I've embarked on a ridiculously ambitious composition project for the semester - I'm writing a cantata based on the senate judiciary hearings of Alberto Gonzales. Come on, if you had an idea like that, you'd sacrifice sleep and sanity to follow through as well. The only question in my mind is whether to call it Gonzales! The Cantata or stick to something more straight. I spent my first semester weekend cutting an 11-page libretto out of 240 pages of transcript from two separate hearings and his resignation speech.

A few months later:
I had the overture and an aria from the Gonzales cantata played at the end-of-semester composition final, and they've been picked up for the New Music concert at West Chester University on January 31st, which is exciting. I really should devote some of my newfound and short-lived free time to finishing as much of that sucker as I can; I'm terrified that if I delay too long, Gonzales will blow over in the news, given the fickleness of the American press and public.

March 2008:
Because half the reason I'm writing it is that hardly anyone I speak to in the real world seems to know anything whatsoever about Gonzales, it's pretty unashamedly pop neo-Baroque. It's about half-finished; I guess it will be about 40-45 minutes long when it's done. I created the libretto from the actual transcripts, and for shits and giggles, I reversed the genders of all the performers, so every role (Gonzales, Specter, Leahy, etc, who also all double as the chorus) is sung by a soprano or alto, with the exception of Diane Feinstein, who is a tenor. Instrumentation is chamber strings and harpsichord.

A year later, the premiere was given at West Chester University for my senior recital, then a 20-minute excerpt was performed at one of the more public New Music Concerts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Gonzales Cantata at the 2009 Philadelphia Fringe Festival

I have been so busy, I haven't had time to blog about this outside of Twitter.

In a fit of masochism, I am bringing my composition the Gonzales Cantata to the Philly Fringe Festival this September. Earlier this year, after it was premiered at West Chester University, I was considering shopping it around to chamber choirs, but quite suddenly in April, I realized I wanted to do it again myself. It was one of those out-of-nowhere revelations that occasionally birth themselves fully formed into my head, like the moment I decided I wanted to switch to the viola when I was 14, or a couple of years later when I decided to move to Sydney to go to college, or the snap decision I once made to realize my dreamed-of solo American vacation plans and possibly meet up with that one guy I'd been talking to on the internet for a couple of years. These things always seem to turn out quite well.

Once the revelation comes, there's no stopping it. The Fringe Festival submission deadline had passed, but the form had been left online, and I filled it out and pushed through my payment before anybody could protest. I set aside a large chunk of my savings to finance the project. I was recommended the perfect venue: the Rotunda, a cross between a Capitol building and a church which is owned by the University of Pennsylvania, fortuitously the school where I will be starting my Ph.D. two days after the performances.

Since I have quite a lot of spare time this summer (my only employment commitment is a theater camp at Village Productions), I'm going all-out control freak. Directing, producing, conducting, preparing the space, promoting, costuming. It's all down to me. In other words, I'm a certifiable nutjob, or at least, as I mentioned, an extreme masochist.

I am being helped, though, by the wonderful Dina Steiner, who is stage managing, Becca Burrow, who is designing the marketing materials, Dan Williams, my marketing liaison, and Doug Durlacher, tech director. And most of all, of course, by Matt, who is helping in all kinds of ways, not least by being very patient with my "artistic temperament."

The cast, aside from a couple of instrumentalists, is now locked in, and I am so excited to start working with them. The Cantata is being sung by talented performers from as far as Baltimore and New York - graduates of Peabody, Juilliard, Oxford University, CUNY and Temple, and undergrads from the University of the Arts and of course my alma mater West Chester University. Two of them are currently at the Tanglewood Institute, one as a vocal fellow and one as a member of the faculty. I'm so delighted by the cast's enthusiasm, especially since the only financial carrot I can dangle is profit sharing -- which doesn't amount to much money in each performer's pocket with a cast of thirty. I'm especially thrilled and grateful that so many West Chester students are on board to sing the Cantata yet again after our two efforts in February and March. I regard that as a very high compliment.

Right now, one of the challenges I'm focused on is securing the venue. The space I'm using at the Rotunda, the Sanctuary, is unoccupied and not up to code, so I have had to apply for special permission from the Philadelphia city council to hold a temporary event there. The process has been so arduous and stress-filled - and expensive - that I'm planning on writing a complete guide in a future blog entry so that future event planners have an easy step-by-step process and budget to follow. First, however, I need to have my application approved, so that I know I've done everything right. Cross your fingers for me.

It's going to be worth it, though. Here's a photosynth (3D multiple-photo view) Matt created of the Sanctuary a few weeks ago. It's absolutely beautiful, acoustically terrifying (ten-second decay, with nifty dome reflections) and perfectly fits the line from the show: "It's almost as if the walls are actually crumbling on this huge department." The walls are crumbling. There's a giant 9-foot iron chandelier lying on the floor as though it came crashing from the ceiling. If I had millions of dollars in my back pocket, I would blow it on bringing this space fully back to life.

Also coming in a future blog entry: a full report on a 12-minute phone conversation about the Cantata I had with former Attorney General John Ashcroft at the end of May. Possibly, though, I'll just link you to the Live Arts blog; I'm being interviewed by them tomorrow afternoon, and that brush with the Justice Department is definitely being discussed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

But you'll look sweet upon the seat of an Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak built for two

From June 6 through June 12, Matt and I kayaked nearly 113 miles on the Schuylkill River Sojourn, paddling by day and camping by night, and eating VAST amounts of delicious food provided by the organizers at least three times a day. Along the way, we saw egrets, snakes, turtles, raccoons and bald eagles. Occasionally we saw the ill effects of human beings on the river environment - such as a fairly sickening gasoline spill all over the water at Reading.

Pictures speak louder than words, and there are links to a bunch of pictures below by the sojourn photographer, Cody Goddard, but if there are any words to be said about our awesome adventure, I should probably spend them on our kayak, which almost monopolized our conversations with other kayakers. When we showed up at the crack of dawn on day one with our Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak (in tandem mode, though it converts to a single) in the back of the hatchback, we were met with skepticism by the sojourn organizers. "An inflatable? That won't do. We had some sojourners with an inflatable kayak once. They swapped it out before lunchtime on the first day." But we argued our way onto the water and proved them wrong.

On every day of the sojourn, we were at or near the front of the pack, and we didn't feel the wind affected our kayak any more than any of the others. The boat never sprang a leak, and the hull remained sound despite traveling through class two rapids and being stuck on jagged river rocks several times. We did benefit from an unusually wet season leaving the river quite high -- I probably wouldn't have been comfortable dragging our boat over rocks as frequently as the veteran sojourners said the trip required in drier years. But by the end of the trip, just by virtue of being there, we had worked wonders for the reputation of inflatable kayaks in the minds of every paddler on the river.

Seriously, Advanced Elements should just pay people to go on these sojourns. Best marketing for them ever. We did write to the company to tell them of our success, and they sent us some swag. But ... Advanced Elements, if you're reading this, seriously, pay us to go on future sojourns! People were remarking as we reached Philadelphia that they wouldn't be surprised to see more inflatables on next year's paddle because of our example. They only need to see them perform to become believers.

And now ... photos! We are still deciding which of these to buy (photographer's gotta earn bread.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

How are you? I am fine.

It's almost your birthday here in America. Happy birthday! Do you celebrate birthdays when you're dead? Is it weird that we celebrate your birthday? Do you measure time at all when you're dead? I am unsure. Are you in any discomfort? If so, I hope you don't measure time. Or maybe it would be better if you did. I am unsure.

I am currently, this moment, acting in a play you wrote: Hamlet. I think it's a very good play. My favorite part is the "What a piece of work is a man" monologue. I am playing Ophelia. She's a bit damp sometimes, but I guess it's a pretty good role. You should have written more stuff for women. I'm not sure what you really thought about us. All the tragic ones go mad and die. It gets a little repetitive after a while. I say this because I've kind of built half a career on your shoulders, so it's hard not to notice these things. I would like to play Hamlet one day, but everyone would make a big deal out of it because I'm a girl. I don't want to play him because I'm a girl; I want to play him because I think I get him. Ditto Richard III. His gender wasn't really your fault, though.

The last time I played Ophelia, my dad died. This time, my dad's dad died. Do you see them around? I don't really believe in an afterlife, but if you do see them, say hello for me.

People talk such a lot about Ophelia, which is funny, because she's not even on stage all that much, and she doesn't really do anything, aside from go mad and die. Hector Berlioz wrote Symphonie Fantastique after falling in love with an actress playing Ophelia, and he couldn't even understand what she was saying, being French and all. Did you know that already? Do you know everything when you're dead?

Anyway, happy birthday. I have a curtain call now. Thanks for your work.

P.S. What was your inspiration for writing Hamlet? Don't answer that, it was a joke question.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Firstly, many thanks to Matt, who took time out from his busy server-moving, Linux-crunching schedule over at the NIN Hotline to iron out a few bugs on the performance page, huzzah. While he was at it, I replaced a couple of the sidebar widgets on this blog page which were unsatisfactory. The Flickr slideshow I had been using, for example, suddenly started sprouting ads. Goddamn.

Last week, Network for New Music performed my latest piece, Tangled/Triangle, a sound/art collaboration with the amazing artist Becca Burrow:

This Thursday, a 20-minute selection from my Gonzales Cantata is being performed at the West Chester University New Music Concert (free admission!), along with lots of fantastic music from fellow WCU students and some lesser known amateurs named Lutoslawski and Corigliano. Once that's done, I'll augment the rehearsal session and full performance with the new audio, and hopefully have a really good recording to add to the official cantata website and send around with the score.

In the meantime, I am desperately trying to juggle Macbeth performances, Hamlet rehearsals, my teaching schedule, and the final weeks of my undergraduate degree. Despite this craziness, I managed to find time last week to discover the perfect necklace, which I would probably buy if I had ever spent anything close to $250 on an item of jewelry in my life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A dream, and dreams

Right before I woke this morning, I dreamed I went to a doctor complaining of feeling tired all the time (I do. IRL, I mean. It's disconcerting. I've slept 8-9 hours every night this week.). The doctor listened to my symptoms, nodded sagely, and gave me his verdict: "You have meningitis."

This seemed a perfectly acceptable diagnosis. "Oh no! What do I do?"
"There's a treatment I can give you, but in order to qualify for it, we must find the worm on your body that gave you meningitis."

This was also reasonable. There was a hitch, however. "I haven't seen a worm on my body."

The doctor gave me a knowing look.

"Oh! I mean, sure! There was a worm on my body, sure!"

Just to make the lie more believable, the doctor took a scalpel and made a small cut on my face. "There," he said. "That will be where we took the worm out."

He handed me some kind of prescription, and I walked out of his office. I had nearly reached the street when I felt a sudden wriggling in my shoe. Upon removing the shoe, of course, I found a fat, maggoty worm coming out of my foot. The worm fell to the floor, then morphed according to weird four-dimensional dreamland physics into a black two-headed cat. That is, a cat with a second head where its tail should be. The bidirectional Janus cat ran through a nearby restaurant and dove into a hole in the wall, astonishing the dining guests.

Thus ended the crazy dream. What the hell is that all about?

On another subject, for those who don't follow my Twitter account religiously or converse with me physically, I have proven that if you talk about wanting to do something enough, it will probably come true. I've been accepted into the University of Pennsylvania's Ph.D. program in composition on a Benjamin Franklin fellowship. Come fall, it's Ivy League for free! For better than free, actually; I get a lovely stipend on top of having the tuition and medical comped. And I get to skip my master's degree, which is a nice saving of time and money too.

This means that I will have to give up acting for at least four years. Good thing I'm going out with a bang. Right now I'm playing Lady Macbeth for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's touring version of Macbeth, and I'm in rehearsals for Hamlet at the Lantern Theater, in which I'm playing Ophelia. There will be days later this season when I play Lady M in the morning and Ophelia in the evening. They both end up the same way; if something goes wrong in any of my performances, all I have to remember is to lose my mind and stumble off-stage to die.

I suppose it's possible that all this craziness has something to do with the crazy dreams.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Popular Culture Says: Black men and Asian ladies love each other.

I've always hated the way we're all conditioned by the media and pop culture to stick to our own race in relationships, no doubt because I'm a mongrel. Age three: blonde Barbie was encouraged to date blond Ken, and [insert ethnicity] Barbie ended up with [insert ethnicity] Ken. It made sense to everyone after the lesson about fitting round and square pegs in their respective holes. On TV through the 80's: mainstream families were one race (Family Ties) or another (The Cosby Show), but rarely both or anything else, unless a big deal was made of the racial issue. Even today, I always get a good chuckle about the predictability of movie couples pairing up because they look like one another*. I scored free tickets to the egregious Dungeons and Dragons movie a few years ago, and of course, the white hero ended up with blonde heroine, while his black sidekick didn't give her much of a second look after spying a hot black female elf. Oh, she was an entirely different species, and hundreds of years older than said black sidekick, but she was black, so naturally they hooked up.

*What's up with that? Hello? Inbreeding?

Speaking of Marlon Wayans, see also Requiem for a Dream, in which he played a black sidekick of a very different nature, who also had a black girlfriend, unlike his skinny white friend, who had Jennifer Connolly -- who proved by the end of the movie that mixing races and sex is every nightmare come true at once.

In the last decade-and-a-half, though, ethnicity cocktails have become suddenly cool, at least on TV. It seems Hispanic people look the most like white people (before moving to the US, I never thought of them as separate), so having J.Lo and George Clooney fall in love onscreen was easy. But what about those other pesky races? Black people and Asians look very different from whites, and Mr. and Mrs. Middle-America may not be quite comfortable yet with the thought of them bumping up against white genitals (except in Mr. Middle-America's porn collection). So why not pair them with each other?

Wait, silly me, I forgot that Asian men are invisible. OK, black men and Asian ladies, then? Perfect! Like Ming-Na and Mekhi Phifer on ER. And Sandra Oh and Isaiah Washington on Grey's Anatomy. And Tamlyn Tomita and Joe Morton on Eureka. And others I've spotted which you can probably name.

Apparently it's called Blasian love or something. There's a Facebook group for it.

Why not? After all, Thurgood Marshall married a Filipina. And now all those Blaxploitation films make sense. Maybe we'll get a few more Tiger Woods out of it, too, and eventually a Hiro from Snow Crash. And if they practice hard and do a good job, maybe one day minority men will earn a chance with some of those magic untouchable white wimmin. Yes, we can!

EXTRA: I <3 you, Yahoo Answers. Q and first A are pure gold.