Sunday, December 31, 2006

Have you bought tickets yet?

Well...have you?


It's okay. I'll wait here. Go do it now.

Good. Was that so hard? Now you can sleep soundly tonight, assured that when you arrive at the 40-seat Red Room on January 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, and/or 27, there will be a seat for you at the world-premiere of Stolen Chair's Kill Me Like You Mean It.

Doesn't that just make you feel all warm inside?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Noir Interview #4: Todd Michael

How did your interest in film noir originally get sparked?
I love old films. Especially those of the 1930's and 1940's.

Do you have a favorite film which for you most clearly defines the movement/style/sub-genre?

Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell and Claire Trevor is my absolute favorite noir film. It has all the elements of lighting, camera angles, dialogue and characters. And of course The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Ideminty, and Out of the Past.

What do you think, generally speaking, film noir has to offer the theatre artist?

A chance for an actor, writer, directors to do a challenging style of theater.

Why do you think the past few years have been so noir-saturated in film, television, and theatre?

I think there are so many creative people who admire film noir, and they try to put that into their work whether it's for theatre, film or TV.

Vice Girl Confidential was quite a hit this summer. Tell us a bit about the piece and how you created it. What were you trying to achieve/explore? Can we expect to see the production remounted at some point in the future?

It was the story of a madam of a high class house of prostitution in New York City getting tangled up wih the law and gangsters. I got the idea after reading about Lucky Luciano, the king of the underworld in New York, and his notorious trial in 1936. He was prosecuted by Thomas Dewey. I read old New York Times articles about the trial, and how the prostitutes, and the madams took the stand and testified against Lucky Luciano. The Bette Davis film Marked Woman is loosely based on the trial. Also, a lot of cheap exploitation films as well. Even a 1937 Broadway play entitled Behind Red Lights. So I mixed the genres of film noir, the exploitation film, and theatre, and Vice Girl Confidential was the result. It achieved more than I had hoped for. That's because we had an outstanding cast of actors who got the material. And they had no trouble with the "lingo" of the period. That's what the audiences really loved about the play. How the characters used to talk in those films. At this time we have no intention of remounting the play...but who knows? I'm always thinking and working on the next one.

Are there any other film styles you are eager to explore in your own work?

I wrote a film parody of 1930's films, but I'd like to delve into it more. I think I only scratched the surface last time. I like to create pieces using different film and theatre styles. Our last play was a total departure, it was a parody of 1950's sci-fi children's TV programs like Captain Video and Space Patrol. It was called The Adventures of Jock Jupiter, Rocket Ranger.

Can you tell us a bit about how Grayce Productions was founded and its mission?

The whole thing started because I hadn't acted in a while and I thought I'd try my hand at producing, writing, and acting. I asked my friend, Neal Sims, if we would be interested in directing. We rented Horse Trade Theatre's Red Room and we've put on a production there every year since 2001. It also started a long association and friendship with Erez Ziv, the managing director of Horse Trade. After we finished our third production, someone told me to submit it to FringeNYC. We didn't get excepted that year, but we did the next with another play I had written. "Vice Girl Confidential" was our second production for FringeNYC. The mission of Grayce Productions is to parody or spoof old film and theater styles, and create a homage to the different genres.

Any other upcoming work to plug?
Nothing right now. I'm busy at the moment writing a play to submit to FringeNYC for next summer. And we're already slated to do another show in the Red Room in the Fall of 2007. So I'll be working on that in the Spring.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Noir Interview #3: Robert Neblett

How did your interest in film noir originally get sparked?

Honestly, I would say the genre first caught my attention through the work of contemporary directors who utilized its style in their own ways, such as David Lynch in Blue Velvet. Once I recognized the fact that these films were borrowing so many conventions, I was curious to see what the originals were like. Additionally, I think that The Baltimore Waltz is one of the best plays of the 1990s, and it owes so much of its tone to Orson Welles’ The Third Man. Watching movies like Sin City is a much richer experience if you know where its methodology and world view come from.

So, what is film noir? How do you define it?

Film noir is, to me, a genre of film that journeys from our everyday world of light into the shadowy corners of an alternative reality, foreign but familiar, in which the societal norms no longer apply and man is reduced to his baser natural state. Yet it is the job of the noir hero to return triumphant from this dark pit, like Orpheus, heroic but never the same. Innocence lost and all that.

Do you have a favorite film which for you most clearly defines the movement/style/sub-genre?

It would have to be a toss-up between The Third Man and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. The latter spoofs the form so well because of a love and understanding of its conventions. The Third Man captures the ironic beauty of the seedy underbelly of society and the eternal appeal of man’s darker side – both which also relate strongly to Bram Stoker’s novel.

What do you think, generally speaking, film noir has to offer the theatre artist?

I think that, today, the theatre artist must strive to separate stage performance from that of television and film, to accentuate the theatrical. Styles such as noir impose their own sets of rules and conventions, which must be followed in order to maintain their integrity. This kind of discipline is exciting onstage because it forces the performers and audience to take an imaginative leap into an impossible world that is not wholly unfamiliar.

Why do you think the past few years have been so noir-saturated in film, television, and theatre?

I think that, since 9/11, we are eager to see representations of good vs. evil in clear-cut scenarios. Noir, at first glance, purports to offer us that, but then turns the classical hero/villain paradigm on its head as we see the good guy stoop to depravity in order to succeed and we see the complexity of the bad guy’s character development, and we can never tell which side the femmes fatales are on. This blurring of the lines is essential to understand the true nature of good and evil, and the relativity of the inner psychological justifications of a gangster, maniac, or even terrorist.

What elements of Bram Stoker's novel inspired you to re-envision 'Dracula' as a noir? How does the noir lens enrich our understanding of the original? Will audiences have a chance to see this play brought back in the future?

The idea was actually proposed to me by David Grapes while I was working with him as a dramaturg on a production of The Taming of the Shrew in TN, in 2003. He had wanted my assistance on “noirifying” the traditional Balderston-Deane stage version of the Dracula story, and I proposed just rewriting it to fit the style.

It took us a while to understand that, in the noir framework, we had to center on Van Helsing as the crimestopper, the detective of the story, as well as the femmes fatales nature of the central women’s roles. So, we reconfigured Van Helsing as a Sam Spade-esque private detective, hard on his luck, needing new life in his career, and haunted by his past. Interestingly enough, characters like Dracula and Renfield stay the same, but the other characters like Jonathan Harker become reinvented in the world of 1940s Hollywood.The seduction of Lucy is so perfect for noir, because Dracula literally steps out of the shadows, and his desire for her is two-fold: savage thirst and unbridled passion. Dracula: The Case of the Silver Scream has actually been produced regularly by professional and amateur groups in the US and Canada since its premiere in 2003, and will be performed at the Altoona Community Theatre in Pennsylvania in February 2007, so the chances of catching it are actually pretty good.

Are there other film styles you'd like to montage with well-known narratives?

Yes. I’ve become very interested in Bollywood during the past two years, and I’m actually in the process of working on a Bollywood-inspired musical based on a popular children’s story with a Dallas composer

Any other upcoming work to plug?
I recently completed working on a musical revue based on the music and legacy of Nina Simone with my Dracula collaborator David Grapes, which is scheduled to have its world premiere in early spring 2008.

To find out more about Robert Neblett and all of his work as a director, dramaturg, playwright, actor, and educator, visit's a secret

Word on the street is you can access the Kill Me Like You Mean It podcast directly, here on the blog, before it's posted on Itunes or on

Yeah, who told you that?

I can't say, but let's just say this person told me that I could click here and be treated to the mellifluous voices of none other that Alexia Vernon, Emily Otto, and Jon Stancato as they discuss their work on Kill Me.

Somebody's been putting ideas in your head...there's no podcast here!

That's funny. Real funny. Let's just say I know someone who knows someone who knows Cameron J. Oro and knows that Cameron and Alexia also performed a scene from Kill Me live on the podcast which I have been told can be downloaded here.

Are you looking for trouble?

I'm looking for a podcast! I'm not going to wait around until Stancato gets around to posting it on the website or in an eblast. I need it now. So...are you going to show me where I can download this podcast or am I going to have to go ask Martin and Rochelle Denton myself?

Fine, you can download it here. Don't tell anyone.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Naughty or Nice?

We've only been a little bit naughty this year...

Stuff Stolen Chair's stocking with some non-denominational gelt...

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Noir Interview #2: Ian W. Hill

How did your interest in film noir originally get sparked?

IAN W. HILL: Probably around 1980, my father and stepmother gave me a copy of Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir Encyclopedia for Christmas. I was primarily into horror and science fiction films at that time, but it did spark a little something in me. But just a little.

I began looking at noir a little more seriously around 1991, as I was just out of film school and working in a video store, but still, I stuck mainly to a handful of “classics” (The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Lady from Shanghai, and so forth).

In 1997, living in Maine for a while, I noticed two films at the local video store by Anthony Mann, Raw Deal and T-Men. I hadn’t seen any films by Mann, which seemed a big gap in my film knowledge, so I took these two out, and was completely overcome by them. I spent the next several weeks going through every noir that that store (Videoport, a great and VERY well-stocked place in Portland) had to offer. In about three weeks I had gone through about 50 noirs and was obsessed with the genre. My friend David LM Mcintyre gave me a birthday gift of Eddie Muller’s wonderful book Dark City as well, and then I had a more defined path to follow in my searches for more and more noir.

So, what is film noir? How do you define it?

IAN W. HILL: Hoo-boy. On a noir bulletin board I occasionally contribute to (and have written two articles for), this comes up at least once a year, is vigorously and often angrily discussed, and the best answer yet seems to be much like the Supreme Court Justice on pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” (and there are many arguments, which can get nasty, over whether certain films are or are not film noir).

Well, to begin with, in the most simple terms, film noir is a genre of American crime pictures made from 1941 to 1958 – most seem to agree on the dates (The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil), and a look over the noirs of that time make it clear that there is always a crime of some kind (sometimes the crime has happened before the film begins, and the film is about the aftershocks, sometimes the crime is the final moment of the film, what it has been building towards, but ALWAYS a crime). But not all crime films made in the USA during that time are noirs (for example, White Heat, which is more in the Warner Bros. gangster tradition of the 1930s, though some will FORCEFULLY argue for its inclusion in the noir “canon”).

Noir is a mood that permeates the films. A mood of dread, uncertainty, and doom. A mood that comes from a number of external elements, social, literary, political, stylistic, technical.
Social: Cynicism, a lack of belief or trust in institutions, variously affected over the noir period by the Great Depression, WWII, and the Cold War. An unsettled feeling that there is a huge gulf between The Way Things Should Be and The Way Things Are.

Literary: Reflecting and amplifying the above, the crime literature of the 1930s had taken a turn for the morally ambiguous, or at least confused. Dashiell Hammett is the primary source of noir (there’s a reason the first true noir picture is the faithful 1941 adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, which had been filmed twice before in the 30s as a simple crime picture), with other writers like Chandler and Cain (and non-“crime” writers Nathaniel West and Horace McCoy) close behind. The darker turn crime prose had taken affected crime films. Cornell Woolrich’s work (much of which was adapted into noir films) was another direct influence throughout the 40s.

Political: The majority of noir creators were leftists, ranging from Roosevelt Democrats to fellow travelers to outright card-carrying Commies. They saw the USA as full of problems that needed to be changed, within the system or through the change of it. HUAC, McCarthy and the Blacklist took a higher toll on the creators of noir films than any other genre.

Stylistic: As a result of the political problems of the world a sizable number of German filmmakers had come to Hollywood in the 30s, bringing with them dark, expressionistic tendencies. While this is certainly a part of the noir style, I personally feel this aspect tends to be given too much weight by many writers (some of whom seem loath to credit any kind of original style to American filmmakers), as opposed to what I think is a far more important cause of noir:

Technical: Kodak introduced their Double-X 35mm film in, I believe, 1939. This film stock, combined with new lens coatings, which allowed shooting in lower light conditions than had been previously possible, freed cinematographers and directors to experiment more with shadow. And when a technical advance in craft is made, artists will jump in to use it. While Citizen Kane is not a noir, of course, Gregg Toland’s use of shadow in that film was hugely influential on his fellow DPs in Hollywood, who all wanted to try it themselves.

Add ‘em all together you get noir.

You provide an exhaustive annotated list of film noirs on your blog. How did that list come into being?

IAN W. HILL: When I began the process of creating World Gone Wrong, which I knew would be primarily a collage of dialogue from noir films, I realized I would have to immerse myself in the genre as much as possible, both to find the quotes needed for the show and to understand it even more, all the way through. So I complied a list of about three hundred noirs – all that I had seen as well as all of those that seemed to be the ones I should see. Then I began watching. Many of the ones I wanted to see were out of print or otherwise unavailable/unfindable, but I wound up watching around 100 films in two months (thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library and Netflix), focusing mainly on the ones I hadn’t seen before, but also making sure to go back and rewatch even the most familiar ones. I made VHS copies of many of them and watched the most important ones over and over again (and wound up with a library of 95 noirs and neo-noirs that I also knew would be important to loan out to cast members to get them in the proper mood as well).

At a certain point, I had to stop just watching and start writing, and I started making up lists of what I’d seen and categories they could fall in. Putting them chronologically made it clear also that there were certain mini-periods within the larger noir “period,” which could be defined in certain ways (with, granted, a slight element of self-conscious facetiousness about these “definitions”). These lists were also helpful in explaining noir to the performers.
The first draft of the script quoted about 185 films. It was too long (I had to fit in a 2 hour slot for the festival the show was in) and after cutting wound up including quotes from about 160 noirs (plus other sources). I had watched 125 films for the project (the remaining 60 films originally quoted were sourced from books and IMDb).

Do you have a favorite film which for you most clearly defines the movement/style/sub-genre?

IAN W. HILL: If I had to pick one film to point at and say “That’s film noir,” it would probably be Double Indemnity, but it’s hard to limit such a wide-ranging genre to just one.
The other “defining” films for me would include Detour, Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Big Combo. And that’s just limiting it to the “classic” noir period of 1941-1958; adding in “neo-noirs” would double the list. Oh, and The Seventh Victim, to be sure, to make it VERY clear that noir is wider than the “private eye.”

Not necessarily my “favorites,” but defining ones.

What do you think, generally speaking, film noir has to offer the theatre artist?

IAN W. HILL: Hmmmn. Not sure, and in fact, I waver between support and wariness of noir being used as the basis for stage pieces. Support, because I love noir, and wariness because I’ve seen far too many “noir” pieces that take on the surface elements of the genre (or what are commonly seen as the iconic elements of the genre – private eye, femme fatale, shafts of light, hard-bitten dialogue, etc.) without dealing with the undercurrents that actually define the genre (of course, I used all of the above in World Gone Wrong, I hope with more understanding than is usual). There are anywhere from 400-800 noir films of the classic period 1941-1958 (depending on definition and whose count you believe), and less than 20 of them feature the private eye figure that IS noir in the popular eye, which limits the genre pretty much to Bogart as Sam Spade and the various films made from Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. Noir is seen as “cool.”

Noir is not “cool.” Noir is hot. Noir is despair, anger, violent, passionate, filled with dread, regret, bad decisions. Noir as “cool,” just the surface, is sketch comedy. Noir with all its attendant dread can be great theatre. I’ve seen more of the former than the latter, but the times seem to be good for a resurgence of Noir proper, fully understood and used.

IAN W. HILL: Why do you think the past few years have been so noir-saturated in film, television, and theatre?

Noir, while never completely vanishing from the scene, seems to rise up more during times of massive jingoism in the USA. A kind of “ . . . uh, ye-e-e-e-e-s, but . . .” to the status quo. Noir is the dark underbelly of the USA. Noir is about trying to hold on to some sense of honor and moral values and order in a chaotic, random world where the only things that have any value are power, money, and sex, and the willingness to do ANYTHING to get them is the only thing respected. Seems like the USA today.

IAN W. HILL: Tell us a bit about World Gone Wrong. What were you trying to achieve/explore? Can we expect to see the production remounted at some point in the future?

Second question first, I’d LOVE to bring it back, but I don’t know how practical it would be. Maybe someday. I think the cast would be into it, mostly, though getting all 20 of them back together would be a good trick. I did very well, house-wise and review-wise, for an Indie theatre show, but I worry about getting enough people and enough press (to get the people in) to make another run worth it. Though it probably wouldn’t cost much, even with all the things I’d have to fix and re-do . . . I wonder if I’m past the date when you can bring back an Equity Showcase?

Now. Okay. The big answer. Why did I do this show?

The “where it came from” and “where it went” pretty much answer the “why I did it”: I wanted to do an original show in The Brick Theater’s Summer Festival, and the theme of the festival in 2005 was “Moral Values.” This seemed to suggest something to do with the political state of the USA today, given that “moral values” was supposedly such a big factor in the 2004 election.
I don’t generally do political art – ALL art is political, of course, but I mean direct commenting on politics in my work. Generally, I don’t like political art – I take my art and my politics seriously, and there isn’t much political art that doesn’t trivialize one or the other. Personally, I’ll take great art with shoddy or shallow politics any day over the opposite.

But . . . I was unhappy with the State of the Union, and wanted to say SOMETHING in my work about this. So I thought about political art that I did like. What came to mind was Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, which, many assumed immediately and which he has since confirmed, is his take on Thatcherite England. You don’t have to take it that way of course -- I remember a friend at the time of its release being very insistant that what was great about the film was that it was “just about a Cook, a Thief, a Wife, and her Lover, and THAT’S IT! No hidden meanings!” – but if you want to, you can see that Greenaway has clearly made the Cook=The Artist, the Thief=Thatcher’s Government, the Wife=the Bourgouisie, and the Lover=the Intellectual (it goes further, with other characters as The Military and The Royal Family and so on, but enough of that . . .). Then he creates a plot around them that is a metaphor for violent revolution, with the Bourgouisie aided by the Artist in shoving the Intellectual (whose specialty is The French Revolution) down the throat of The Government, then killing this Thief with the word “Cannibal.”

Greenaway is English, and is creating a work about the English Government. So, appropriately, he chooses an English dramatic style to create his work in: The Jacobean Revenge Drama.
Wanting to do something similar, but as an American, about the American Government, I looked at the world around me, the state of it, specifically of my country, which I love and am also horrified at the current status of, and looked to the American dramatic style that seemed to represent this world gone wrong, Film Noir.

I had been slowly creating a series of theatre pieces, the NECROPOLIS series, which I’ve called “stage elegies for 20th Century art forms” in collage form, with all sound, music, SFX, dialogue, pre-recorded and the actors performing as if “dubbed.” Previously, I’d presented NECROPOLIS 0: Kiss Me, Succubus (2000, Nada Classic, based on the films of Jess Franco, Radley Metzger, and Jean Rollin) and NECROPOLIS 3: At the Mountains of Slumberland (2001, Access Theatre, after Winsor McCay and H.P. Lovecraft), and “held” numbers #1 & 2 for a film noir collage.

So, since it was a collage, I started assembling text, and not only from noirs. I had noticed that much of the public language of the Administration (especially the amazing words of Donald Rumsfeld) were noirlike in their semantic twists and turns, so I grabbed lots of those as well and mixed them in with the noir language (as well as other sources . . . Lewis Mumford on Cities, the last words of Joan Crawford, etc.). As I assembled text, I imagined it spoken by the actors I work with frequently, using them like a studio’s “contract players” in my head. Three lines in my notes would sound like they should be spoken by, say, Josephine Cashman, and then I would think of what kind of noir “archtype” Josephine might have once been cast as that would speak these lines . . . ah, a tough-talking diner waitress who’s seen it all and knows the score! Then I would consider what segment of current USA society this character/archetype would represent in the overall metaphor of the show.

I also knew that the show was inside the head of a dying man – though I knew this wouldn’t necessarily be obvious – and was his dying dream/vision in two parts: World Gone Wrong, in which he translates the world around him, including the circumstances that are killing him, into a noir metaphor for the current USA, and Worth Gun Willed, a fantasy in which the dead man arises as a new character who goes on the same journey as the first, ultimately revenging the death of his original persona.

Part One would be based primarily on the noir D.O.A. (and allowed me to incorporate ideas from an aborted adaptation of that film I was going to do for my friend Frank Cwiklik’s Dark Stages series of noirs for theatre), with the Fall Guy from that film rising from the grave in Part Two as Lee Marvin in the neo-noir Point Blank.

And this is what NECROPOLIS 1&2: World Gone Wrong/Worth Gun Willed wound up being. And, it seems, rather successfully so – it did well both critically and with audiences.
Some people “got” the political dimension, but as with the original noirs that inspired it, it wasn’t necessary to understand the message to enjoy the work. Almost no one “got” the idea of it as a dying person’s dream either (an element influenced in no small way by David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.), but that also wasn’t important – though it explains why the “plot” makes next to no sense, really, except the sense of a dream.

So it was a film noir pastiche, a political statement (the climax is the killing of the businessman/gangster/President figure with the only non-prerecorded sounds in the play: actual gunshots and the spoken word, “Traitor”), a piece of experimental theatre, and/or a fun stylistic parody.

Something for everyone, I guess.

Are there any other film styles you are eager to explore in your own work?

IAN W. HILL: Not right now. I’m sure there will be, but after WGW and the classroom/industrial/corporate film elements of this past Summer’s play, That’s What We’re Here For (an american pageant), I’ve kind of exhausted my film studies for the stage for the moment. My script for NECROPOLIS 4: Green River is a kind of “road picture for the stage,” but it’s not so film-based (it’s also huge, beyond any means I would ever have to produce it, and will need rewriting to make it producable).

There’s no way I’ll be able to leave certain things behind in anything I do, and noir is a huge part of me in any case – looking back at the reviews of all the shows I’d done before World Gone Wrong, the one word that keeps showing up is “noirish,” so I’d been heading that way for years. There are lots of elements of silent movie acting in what I try to get from my casts at times.
But really, noir for me wasn’t just a style to work in, but a form to work through. It was a way that I could make a very personal and meaningful statement from my heart in a theatrical form. I can’t think of any other genre, except maybe horror (which I’ve also dealt with in my zombie production of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room), where I could use the form in full to express myself, rather than just using it as a stylistic surface overlay.

I’m as much interested in using “non-art” forms of theatre to express myself (religious pageant, 19th-Century temperance play, corporate trade show, etc.), or even more so. There’s still a large part of me that’s a filmmaker at heart – it’s what I grew up wanting to be, it’s what my degree is in – and I have rules about being true to your forms: Do in film what can ONLY be done on film and do in theatre what can ONLY be done in theatre. World Gone Wrong was film-based, but it was still totally a theatre piece, and wouldn’t work in any other form.

Any other upcoming work to plug?

IAN W. HILL: I will almost certainly have a show in The Brick Theater’s Pretentious Fest, coming Summer, 2007.

My current plan is, with the festival theme finally giving me the nerve and “permission” to do this, to finally direct and play the title role in Hamlet.

I have nothing else scheduled, and probably shouldn’t; I’m sure Hamlet will be enough, though I am hoping to bring back That’s What We’re Here For for a full run, as well as some older productions I’d like to remount, including Richard Foreman’s Harry in Love and Mark Spitz’s The Hobo Got Too High. Among others.

Actually, now that I think of it, it would be VERY interesting to bring back World Gone Wrong and That’s What We’re Here For in rep with each other for a month . . .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Noir Interview #1: Trav SD

How did your interest in film noir originally get sparked?

TRAV SD: In high school, my best friend and my girlfriend were both far in advance of me in the noir department – their enthusiasm got me interested. They introduced me to dozens of films. That was my initial impetus. As a theater artist, I am extremely interested in the possibility of using American popular culture as raw material. I love to take on different voices and styles and parody them as a touchstone leading to deeper satire. Noir is just one of countless reference points I work with.

So, what is film noir? How do you define it?

TRAV SD: The phrase is widely mis-used. A lot of people think it refers to any sort of 1940s picture with fast-talking detectives and gangsters. That’s not it at all. “Mysteries” and “crime dramas” are entirely different genres from noir, although there’s often an overlap. Film noir is about corruption. A person with whom we strongly identify is subjected to trickery or temptation, or both, succumbs, and is sucked into a vortex of degradation, danger, and retribution. The phrase was coined by the French auteurists.

No one really knows why this type of film thrived in the years after World War II but there are a couple of theories. 1) Having just uncovered the extent to which millions of ordinary people were transformed into moral monsters under Nazism and Fascism, many people found themselves giving in to cynicism. After all, if a housewife can give herself over to a program of genocide, is there any hope for any of us? So the film noir is populated by the bete noir—which lives in all of us. 2) Another theory has to do with the death of utopia. The Soviet Union, if anything, exceeded the Fascist and Nazi governments in atrocity, at least in scale. This brings us to the same conclusion as point one. There is no hope for mankind. Everyone has his own slippery slope, and some day, if you’re unlucky, you’ll step on yours.

Do you have a favorite film which for you most clearly defines the movement/style/sub-genre?

TRAV SD: Couldn’t name just one. My short list would include The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Laura and The Maltese Falcon. Classic modern examples would be films like Chinatown, Body Heat and Blood Simple.

What do you think, generally speaking, film noir has to offer the theatre artist?

TRAV SD: If done properly, a chance to bring great emotional drama, combined with some metaphysical soul searching, to the stage wrapped up in a package unsullied by what Charles Ludlam called “the stink of ‘art’”.

Why do you think the past few years have been so noir-saturated in film, television, and theatre?

TRAV SD: Two reasons. One is, that we find ourselves in a similar place to where we were at the end of World War II. The Soviet Union is under wraps, and the U.S. is the lone Super Power. We find ourselves without a compass. We’re struggling to define ourselves, and at the moment we seem to be failing that moral test. The rest of the world hates us. Ironically, the actions they hate us for are purportedly for moral motives. We begin to wonder, are we as a society weak? Corrupt? Stupid? All of the above? Noir addresses those questions.

Secondly, we have unprecedented access electronically to the entire canon of noir. Cable tv, dvds, on and on. Not just the most famous ones, but entirely obscure ones are now available. Any of us can become a complete expert on the genre. I can go down to my local discount store and get a noir classic for a buck.

Tell us a bit about COLD FIRE. What were you trying to achieve/explore? Can we expect to see the production remounted at some point in the future?

TRAV SD: It’s based on a student film which I wrote and was directed by the very same high school friend who turned me on to noir in the first place. His name is actually Matt Mania. Later we tried to develop a full-length screenplay out of it, but we wanted to go in two different directions. I turned my direction into a radio play, because the form suits the story. It’s about a paranormal private eye who’s investigating a rash of spontaneous combustions. For me the process has been almost entirely formal, but that’s the way I work. Invariably, the process of writing leads me to deeper concerns: my own psychology, my own “issues”, philosophical and moral speculation, political screeds. Cold Fire is only “noir” in the sense that it’s dark. The hero is definitely battling evil forces, but he’s never corrupted himself (except by a female who temporarily throws him off the scent).

As for plans, we presented it recently at Joe’s Pub. As a radio play, I can’t really see taking it farther than that as a live event, although we are planning to do a recording of it soon.

Are there any other film styles you are eager to explore in your own work?

TRAV SD: I’ve been sitting on a beach party musical for years that I’ll probably produce soon, and I’ve also written a play about the Manson family that is very much along the lines of Roger Corman. Probably my next effort along those lines will be a 30s style “wit” based comedy. I hesitate to say “screwball comedy”, because like noir, that’s a very distinct genre. I am also interested in westerns, though my literary efforts along those lines are screenplays.

Any other upcoming work to plug?

A reading of my play The Strange Case of Grippo the Ape Man at LaMama on March 12.

If you want to read more of Trav SD's writing, you can also check out NO APPLAUSE JUST THROW MONEY, his exhaustive and entertaining history of American Vaudeville.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


An open letter to the fans of The Stolen Chair Theatre Company, especially those who have seen, read, or heard of our live silent film adaptation of The Man Who Laughs:

Stolen Chair would like to bring this "utterly tremendous" (Trav SD, TimeOut NY) "bona fide tour de force of theatre" (Martin Denton, back to NYC stages this summer and we're asking for your help.

Please post a comment here if you would like to see this show return for another New York run. You can post a simple "Yes, please" or wax on and on about how the show has changed your life. If you missed the short workshop run last year, feel free to post if you are eager to see the show for the first time.

Thanks and Happy Holidays from all of the Chairs!

Wheels in motion...

I've asked Untitled Theater #61 (who organized the city-wide Ionesco Festival a few years back) and Phoenix Theatre Ensemble (who have an Ionesco double-bill in rep through the winter).
We'll see what happens...

Ionesco Lives!

...says Check out their review of two Ionesco one-acts currently playing downtown.

Now that almost all of the film noir interviews are sitting on my desktop, I think it's time to start chatting with indie theatre's Ionesco-philes. I guess we'll just have to launch another interview series...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Q: That's everything you did yesterday? A: No, at night, I slept

That little nugget above from 1949's City Across the Riviera really could not better encapsulate how I (and I'm sure the rest of our cast and crew) feel after the marathon 17-hour rehearsal weekend we had...except most of us didn't sleep too well either!

So, as we all look forward to a day off (from Stolen Chair, not "work") tomorrow, I wanted to jot down a few things that will make me happy as I (hopefully) drift off into the first 8hrs of sleep I'll have the chance to get in nearly as many days:
  • Cameron, Emily, Kiran, and I sat down to watch clips from some noirs last's never too late to keep making discoveries and we even made a few in those short hours between the end of Saturday's mammoth rehearsal and the beginning of Sunday's. Combing the noirs again helped us find some great little moments to work in, but we were also pleased to discover that we had emulated the world of 1940s noir (or at least what that term means to us) very faithfully, even with all of the absurdist components we've injected into Kill Me's style. So: good for us. We can enjoy patting ourselves on the back for a few days until other doubts and worries take over...
  • As the sets/lights/costumes/props/music were progressively unveiled over the course of the weekend, I feel we can safely say that the show looks and sounds fantastic. At this point in the process, though, I always get so excited by the purdiness of our production values that Kiran really takes over in the "notes" department. My notes, of late, have tended to be along the lines of: "Your hat/shadow/gun/chair made you look so great in that scene." Real useful stuff. That said, besides making me giddier than Dick Powell's Philip Marlowe, the design elements really do give the actors such a wonderful gift and it's so thrilling to see them discover new ways of frolicking in the jazzy red, white, and black playground that May Elbaz, David Bengali, Jon Campbell, and Emily Otto have created for them....and the show just keeps getting better and better (or "bettu and bettu" for you, Emily)
  • Do What Now Media's (The Sinister Urge) Frank Cwiklik has signed on board to be #8 in our interview series. He's been doing an ongoing series of homages/parodies to/of the oeuvre of Ed Wood, Jr. and has directed stage noirs quite a few times, working both Trav SD and Ian W. Hill while he was creating under the umbrella of DM (Danse Macabre) Theatrics.
  • Kiran recorded a NYtheatrecast today and I envy her the duo she got to discuss theatre with: John Clancy and Rob Reese. That podcast will be out sometime in early January.

Friday, December 15, 2006

$300 a day, plus expenses: ABC hires Philip Marlowe

From's Josef Adalian:

Humphrey Bogart as Philip MarloweABC is teaming with producer Sean Bailey for a fresh take on Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective. Greg Pruss and Carol Wolper will write and exec produce the potential series along with Daniel H. Blatt, Phil Clymer and Bailey.

Hourlong drama "Marlowe" -- one of three scripts Bailey has set up at the Alphabet this season via the LivePlanet banner -- would be a present-day procedural crime drama with noir aspects and set in Los Angeles.

Touchstone Television, which has an overall deal with Bailey, will produce if the project goes to pilot.

Bailey said "Marlowe" will be "a detective show, but very much a character-based one.

"He's a guy who can travel in the highest echelons of power and the darkest and dirtiest corners of the city," he added, noting the new Marlowe will still "get his ass kicked every once in a while."

As of now, there are no plans to use any of Chandler's Marlowe books ("The Big Sleep," et al.) as source material for storylines.

Still, "You can expect to see your femme fatales and very wealthy individuals," Bailey said...

Read the rest of the article here...

Adalian also wrote an article about ABC pulling another neo-noir, Daybreak.

Blog tease

I am now in possession of the first transcript of our noir interview series.

It's the Trav SD installment.

It's good.

Real good.

So good it hurts?


But I refuse to post it until one of you readers out there in the blogosphere (and I know you're out there because I've been using Google Analytics which shows 50 page visits a day...including 1 hit from Mishukucho, Japan) posts a comment somewhere on the site.

Okay, it's true: I will probably post the interview in the next couple of days...but that's because I just can't deny you all the radiance of Trav's brilliance.

Invasion of the Podpeople: More NYtheatrecasting

If you haven't heard enough from Stolen Chair, subscribe to the NYtheatrecast on Itunes to get our voices delivered straight to your desktop. Episode #74 is all about Kill Me Like You Mean It, featuring the production's director (me), composer/dramaturg Emily Otto, and actor/creator Alexia Vernon. I think the conversation, moderated by Martin Denton, will be interesting to Stolen Chair and/or noir devotees, as well as those new to our work and/or film noir.

As a special bonus feature, Cameron J. Oro and Alexia perform one of the first scenes from the play and hot damn was it exciting to just hear Kiran's text spoken--I think quite a bit of it actually flies as a radio play and I was thrilled to hear it sound like someone threw an Adventures of Philip Marlowe transcript (you can download a few of the old radio programs for free here) in a blender with Ionesco's Bald Soprano.

The broadcast will be available beginning December 27. (I'm a little worried about the photo that will accompany it as Martin had to retake it to make me look less "distorted"...hmmm.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lucky # 7

Todd Michael, director of Vice Girl Confidential has joined our big ol' noir party.

You can expect his interview and 6 others to be staggered over the next two weeks as we try to whet your appetite in advance of Kill Me Like You Mean It's January 5th opening...

Light Bondage: On Restraint in the Theatre

Les Freres Corbusier's Executive Director Aaron Lemon-Strauss (whose Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant is now playing at NYTW--go see it now!) was kind enough to sit down with Stolen Chair's management team and chat about his company's work. He said quite a few interesting things, but one quotable quote which seemed blog-worthy (and which I can't actually quote because I didn't write it down so I'll paraphrase) was Aaron's comment about the relationship between artistic direction and management. According to him, it's the job of the producer/manager to restrain the artist and the job of the artist to challenge that restraint, creating a Hegelian synthesis of risky but responsible art (okay, it's true, he said nothing about Hegel, but I've got a quota of continental philosophers I've got to mention on this blog...).

This got me thinking more generally about the effect of restraint on theatre. Would Moliere have written Tartuffe if he didn't have to continually battle against the Catholic Church? Would Stanislavsky have emerged with, well, the entire basis of naturalistic performance if he didn't have to bump against Lenin and Stalin?

And how does restraint affect process? A large portion of Stolen Chair's looooong development period is devoted to finding the creative constraints which will allow style to emerge. But the balance between "freedom and structure" (a favorite phrase of Stolen Chair's Director of Education Alexia Vernon) has been a little bit different with each project.

In Commedia Dell'Artemisia and Stage Kiss, Kiran acted as a literary ventriloquist, doing her best Moliere and Shakespeare imitations, respectively, while I reconstructed/paid homage to the physical stylings of Commedia dell'Arte and Ridiculous Theatre, respectively. At the end of the day, we could make sure we were on the right track by checking back in with our source material.

One could say there was considerably more "freedom" in Kill Me Like You Mean It, at least insofar as in our pursuit to create a hybrid of Ionescoan absurdism and Chandleresque film noir, neither Kiran nor I had any clear models to mimic, er, "draw inspiration" from. But, lacking our familiar restraints from projects goneby, I must admit the entire creative process has carried much more anxiety. Are we being faithful enough to noir? Are we being faithful enough to absurdism? Have we successfully merged the two in a way that provocatively comments on the parallels between the societies that gave rise to both them and us?

Who knows? I suppose if the show's a wild success, we'll come to respect the anxiety which accompanies risk and perhaps give ourselves permission to swing a little further towards the freedom side of the spectrum. And if we flop, it's paint-by-numbers from here on in :)...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interview update

I've got some more writers and directors lined up:
That makes 6 altogether. If that isn't enough for an "interview series," I don't know what is...

Maybe 7?

I'll keep working.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Noir Interviews

Just about the time that the idea of doing a stage noir first burrowed itself into my head, I was lunching with (the excellent critic and one of Stolen Chair's good friends) Leonard Jacobs. I asked him if he had any idea how we could distinguish our film noir for the stage from every other film noir for the stage that seems to be opening on NYC stages every day. He didn't think it would be that serious an issue for us, and just advised me to make it very clear in our press release why we had taken on the material.

Well, I could not have prophesied a year more filled with film noir. In addition to 4 FringeNYC noirs, and an American Living Room noir, there have been radio plays, podcasts, and the two productions at 59E59 bookending Kill Me's run--I won't even mention the ways that film, tv, and even videogames became noir-saturated this year as well.

Rather than look upon these other voices as competition, Stolen Chair has decided that the best way to even further articulate for ourselves how Kill Me Like You Mean It differs from each of these other projects, is to interview the creators of these pieces here on the blog and find out what drew them to film noir and how they're processing the genre in their own work.

So, we've already got interviews lined up with Trav SD (Cold Fire, a noir radioplay that was at Joe's Pub a few months back), Ian W. Hill (World Gone Wrong, a 2-part noir epic that montages texts from nearly every noir film with quotes from Bush, Rumsfeld, et al), and Sheryl Kaller (Adrift in Macao, a noir-parody musical created in collaboration with Christopher Durang). Those will all happen before the New Year.

I'll be sending out some more interview invitations to a few other noir-inspired directors and playwrights in the next few days...and I'll post when anything else starts to take shape.

The urge to dramaturge

Saturday's rehearsal was funny.

One would think that after developing this project (Kill Me Like You Mean It) over the course of 5 months, with a director, playwright, dramaturg, 3 designers, and 5 performers combing over all 17 drafts of the script, one of us would have noticed that the climax of the play was more or less unstage-able. Somehow, it took actually seeing the guns in the actors' hands to realize that there were some pretty significant dramaturgical issues with the scene. And since I'm nearly certain that Emily Otto is the best production dramaturg who has ever helped birth a new work, it's just a symptom of how incredibly complicated it is to make a structurally coherent noir (one element of noir which we consciously decided not to emulate was the Big Sleep-style labyrinthine plot in which the mystery is actually so difficult to follow that it becomes dull).

So, with 3 actors on stage and a director, playwright, and dramaturg sitting in the house, we had to collectively bail out the sinking scene. First the actors and I tried to find a physical solution to the problem. That just created more problems and all of a sudden we found we had even more we needed to explain away. But luckily, since the playwright was in the room, we were able, right there in the moment, to see if a few script changes could make the scene work. And then, since the dramaturg was sitting right next to the playwright, we were able to get confirmation from her that the line changes and subsequent directorial choices were structurally sound and stylistically consistent with the rest of the play.

Though it certainly wasn't one of those happy-go-lucky-kumbaya-collective-creation-lovefests that our company is wont to have, it was one of the clearest reminders for me (in recent memory) why we've chosen to work the way we have. I mean, really, how do other directors do it? Unless they feel comfortable rewriting a playwright's words to serve their staging needs, how do they slog through the challenges of mounting a new work? If you're out there in the blogosphere and you're a director or playwright or dramaturg who has had to salvage unstage-able scenes in a original work, post and let us know how this all works when one doesn't have the luxury of having the entire creative team on hand at all times...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Lots O' Updates

Coming (very) soon from The Stolen Chair Theatre Co:
  • The launch of Sure, the domain has been registered for months, but it has just been redirecting to Stolen Chair's Kill Me Like You Mean It page. Aviva Meyer has designed a gorgeous site (our first show-specific site) based on the gorgeous postcard (see right) she also designed for the production. Everything should be up and ready to go by Tuesday, though if you're on our mailing list, you'll get the official notification.
  • Press photos. They look good. And, thanks in part to David Anthony's kind help during the Stage Kiss photo shoot, we actually had a very clear idea of how to take some print-worthy shots--directing a play (even the physically and visually detailed work Stolen Chair creates) and directing a photo shoot are actually vastly different skill sets and I sadly have zero ability in the latter department...luckily we had just enough cooks in the kitchen to make it all work! Pix will be posted on and on tomorrow.
  • Three, count 'em, three podcasts at
    • Aviva Meyer (Stolen Chair's Managing Director) in a roundtable discussion about audience outreach and marketing in the indie theatre world. It will be posted later tonight or tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how busy things get over at headquarters)
    • Jon Stancato (Stolen Chair's Co-Artistic Director), Emily Otto (Stolen Chair's Dramaturg and Composer), and Alexia Vernon (Performer & Stolen Chair's Director of Education) chatting about Kill Me Like You Mean It. It's recording next Friday (12/15) so it will probably broadcast sometime around just before Christmas.
    • Kiran Rikhye (Stolen Chair's Resident Playwright) will be discussing The Man Who Laughs in a Playing with Canons panel discussion with Rob Reese (Artistic Director of Amnesia Wars and adapter of Frankenstein) and John Clancy (Obie Award-winning director and writer of Fatboy--truly excellent; one of Stolen Chair's all-time favorite NYC productions). This is recording next weekend and should be posted just before the New Year.

Posting Frenzy

There is a lot to talk the next few hours or so I'll be churning out a few blog postings so stay tuned.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The More Noir the Merrier

Looks like the run of Stolen Chair's Kill Me Like You Mean It is bookended by not one but two other film noirs for the stage, both coincidentally playing at 59E59.

So, you noir-connoisseurs out there, check 'em out:
Post here if you've seen either of these (the Durang one had a recent run in Philly where it got this review)...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ominous Music

I was watching Scarlet Street (highly recommended, if only for Edward G. Robinson's incredible performance) with Kiran Rikhye (Stolen Chair's resident literary ventriloquist) the other night...femme fatale Joan Bennett gives a melodramatic headturn quick enough to give her whiplash as the ominous music swells in the background. I turned (much more slowly and far less melodramatically) to Kiran and asked, "How did people in the 40's not crack up with this camp?" Kiran sagely responded that there's nothing new about the suspension of disbelief: just like we want to be scared in a horror-flick so badly that we're willing to indulge the silliness of the spine-tingling scores and the cgi-monsters, 40's filmgoers let themselves be sucked into the high stakes worlds of the noirs, even when the killer's identity is telegraphed in the first frame.

Which reminds me of a discussion I was having with John Clancy a few nights ago, about what makes a noir a noir. Or rather, it reminds me of something I failed to say when I was listing the other key components of a quintessential noir...most noirs are mysteries in which actually solving the mystery is about as important as resolving the dramatic tension in a porn movie. So, why do we watch them (noirs, not porns)? Well, we watch horror films knowing full well that our protagonist is likely to emerge safe and sound--it's not about the destination, it's about the journey, and the best film noirs offer a road studded with brilliant visual compositions (see I Wake Up Screaming), snappy dialogue (check out Double Indemnity), twisted romantic unions (Scarlet Steet), censor-dodging allusions to sexuality (Laura and Gilda, anyone?), and transgressive gender performances (Maltese Falcon, Lady in the Lake, or Gilda, depending on your vision of transgression).

Off to bed. I leave you all to contemplate what sort of car you would need to drive on a road studded with transgressive gender performances. Oy. Must stop with metaphors.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Roleplaying: The Long (and sadly un-sordid) Story of Stolen Chair's Co-Artistic Directors

So last night marked the final revision of the final scene in Kill Me Like You Mean It. It has been a long developmental process (more on that in our next blog posting), and it's good to feel "done" (a few minor pencilled-in changes will happen up until opening night, I'm sure), but last night was special for other reasons: it reminded me how incredibly fluid the roles of playwright and director are within our company. Some of the lines we were happiest with were written by our director (me) and some of the stage moments we found most satisfying were directed by our playwright, Kiran Rikhye.

Kiran Rikhye and I (Jon Stancato) are the Co-Artistic Directors of the company and have been since its inception, but our specific roles have been in flux since we started collaborating nearly 8 years ago, and I think it's a rather unique theatrical partnership.

A brief Stolen Chair history: A Tale of Two Writer/Directors

Support Group: We began working together as partners in an undergraduate playwriting class; we were from opposite sides of the tracks: different theatrical passions, different processes, different personalities. Soon after, we were the only two students in a directing class at Swarthmore College; we supported each other's work as two novice directors each trying to develop our own visions. After the first workshop performance of our pieces, Kiran's parents remarked on how very different these visions were: I was all about space and physicality and Kiran focused on text and character.

Piecemeal: Kiran and I co-directed a production of The Tempest, using each other's strengths to balance our respective weaknesses. We more or less took turns directing. I would take the first few passes of the scene until its spatial dynamics were roughly established, and then Kiran would dig into the subtleties of the text.

Contract Labor: For my directing thesis, I commissioned an original adaptation of The Dybbuk from Kiran. I gave Kiran specific instructions for each scene: plotting, key lines, tone, etc. She delivered a script; I directed it.

Partnership: Stolen Chair was founded shortly thereafter and ever since then, Kiran has been specifically credited as the writer of each of Stolen Chair's performance texts and I have been billed as the director. This is more or less accurate insofar as there is no way that I could have written any of those scripts and there is no way that Kiran could have conceptualized and staged them. That said, I am in the room offering suggestions during nearly every single moment Kiran is writing, and Kiran is in the theatre during nearly every single minute of rehearsal, offering suggestions to me or directly to the actors.

Over the years (going on 5, happy birthday to us!!!), Kiran and my diametrically opposing styles as writers and directors have nearly merged into a (much more interesting) synthesis. A little part of me burns up everytime an audience ooos and ahhs at a moment that Kiran directed and, for her part, my (admittedly less petty) partner always feels a little bit sorry that my writing contributions remain uncredited, but at the end of the day the divisions of labor are as right as they are wrong...

And who knows? Maybe we're just being lazy and neither of us wants to take on more artistic responsibility...At 11:45pm last night when we are all getting a bit punchy, we (only half-jokingly) asked one of the performers, Tommy Dickie, to stage manage and direct the scene he was acting in...