GRAND THEFT TSOUREKI!
May 21, 2015, 09:23 AM posted by Maria Choban
After years of true modesty and feeling intimidated by great writing like Richard Taruskin's, I finally fancy myself a writer . . . although my editor probably considers me a dilettante for all the excuses I give him regarding my unforthcoming drafts of pieces he's been requesting for months.
Following a quick and dirty seduction by theater, thanks mostly to David Mamet, I fancied myself a budding playwright. My first and only Intro-to-Playwriting class did not support that.
And now I fancy myself a baker. After years of baking delectable Greek treats for family and friends around the Winter holidays, I had the opportunity to convince my father to let me have the kitchen in a building he owns. All last winter I cleaned and painted. Last week I passed the inspection and baked my first batch of Greek Sweet Bread (Tsoureki) that I took to the Beaverton Farmers Market. Selling less than half of what I brought, I froze the rest intending to cut it up for free samples the next Saturday.
The following evening I went to my parents to get caught up paying their bills. Walking through their kitchen into the family room where they were watching t.v. I noticed on the kitchen counter 2 bundles of wax paper . . . suspiciously like the bundles I wrapped the left-over tsourekia (plural) from Saturday's market.
I asked mom and dad when I walked into the family room "Did you take tsourekia from the freezer at the commercial kitchen where I was baking?"
Dad (sheepishly): yes.
Me: I wrapped and froze those to slice and use as free samples for next Saturday's market.
Dad (still sheepishly): we ran out of tsoureki here.
Me: Don't touch the tsourekia in the freezer! it's not about the profit because I'm at least $650 in the hole right now NOT counting utilities or labor. It's about the ungodly amount of time/labor producing a batch. I haven't got it down yet and I need to re-purpose every unsold tsoureki.
Dad: How did you know we took tsourekia from the freezer? did you count them?
Me: THEY'RE SITTING ON YOUR KITCHEN COUNTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
March 24, 2015, 06:19 AM posted by Maria Choban
I must once and for all accept I am not a Shakespeare fan. Re-reading Sophocles' Oedipus the King (for the 100th time) and pinging on yet another new thought/feeling (Influence - Creon vs. Power - Oedipus), I contrast this with making my way painfully and with plenty of online help through Hamlet. I hate puns and self-absorbed word-play. I get them and wonder why those macro-seconds it took to utter them, amalgamated over the whole of my life, can't just be swapped for the empty space I could use doing something useful like reading real wit (Sophocles). I hate northern European angst-y self-absorption. Where Oedipus is rash, impatient to find out why something is rotten in the State of Thebes, I just want to put away my bullwhip and pull out my gun to help Hamlet find the end of his play before I have to listen to yet another long whiny tirade...fucking pretty-boy, Matrix-imitating wannabe philosopher in his long black leather coat. Someone's gotta tell him "You're not cool and you're wasting my time!" And that someone is me (Alitisa: tearing down cultural icons one at a time).
On the other hand, Stephen Greenblatt's bio on Shakespeare - Will in the World - is one of my favorite books of all time - combining an almost mystic, trance-like state of Perry Mason detective work with Sophoclean efficiency and passion.
On the other hand, I will most likely give Shakespeare yet another try in a few years just like I do Tori Amos.
Back to the Drawing Board
March 14, 2015, 05:49 AM posted by Maria Choban
Writing is hard. Writing good plays is impossible. David Mamet is a fucking genius.
I have a wee gift for writing something fun to read under 100 words if I'm inspired.
I have a great editor who can take any drivel I draft over 100 words and turn it into something fun to read.
I have NO chops for writing plays. In a 3 week series of Saturday workshops with Matt Zbreski, a teacher I adore because he's simultaneously funny, direct, smart as hell, opinionated and nurturing, the most I accomplished was realizing that this play based loosely on my crazy family is not going to write itself. And I'm not going to write the first draft in the 20 weeks I'd assigned myself (one week per scene).
Our assignment after the first Saturday's workshop was to draft our opening scene and bring copies into class to read aloud. I thought my concept was brilliant - weaving scenes from Shakespeare's Lear as I introduced similar characters from my family. Matt squashed it like a grape, flopped back in his chair, legs and arms stretched out, my scene in front of him - dead: "This won't work. You've confused the audience. If you start with excerpts from Lear in your opening scene, present Lear or some adaptation thereof."
Now I know how the mid-century music modernists felt.
So at home I re-wrote the first scene, axed Shakespeare and thought about the audience.
My assignment for the following Saturday was to draft a duet scene. I thought my closing line in the fight scene I chose was brilliant, achieved with great direction and acceleration. Matt thought it was dead in the water: "No one fights like that. Who listens to their opponent reel out 100 words before butting in? In fact, who listens??" So he made me re-write the scene allowing each of my 2 arguers only 3 words per turn.
Trying to finish the scene at home I realized great material (my family) and a quick dark wit which often translate into funny Alitisa pieces do not a David Mamet make. The more I re-wrote, the more I put myself to sleep re-reading, so boring did I make it. So I'm taking the long road; re-reading two excellent playwright primer books AND NOT SKIPPING THE EXERCISES!
My only consolation: Have you ever read any of Mamet's books?
"Such a Lot of Wonderful Terrible Things DID Happen!"
February 15, 2015, 10:23 AM posted by Maria Choban
Two weeks to showtime. We're adding the Barbara Song by Kurt Weill.
Not as straight forward as Mack the Knife but with the arrangement I tracked down on the interwebz and the practice time I've had, I'm expecting us to align - if not at tempo, at least slowly in sync at this first rehearsal.
Oh so wrong!
We do align. And we're almost at tempo. And I'm playing most of the gypsy-spicy chords correctly. One more run through and 9 out of 10 dentists would deem this ready for concert. I look at Anthony Hudson whose avatar, Carla Rossi, Portland's Premier Drag Clown, will be performing this in The Hiding Place: A Queer Story-Telling Cabaret.
With charming quick grace, Anthony appreciatively cheerleads this first run-through:
If not outright great!"
He did not intone the first or last lines.
To attempt explaining/describing genius or God is to immediately relegate me to the loony-bin file folder. But I'm going to try anyway.
Usually I don't have to think about these things because I have plenty of lead time to live with a piece in solo practice and later with rehearsal. The slow work-up time where a piece goes from well aligned with all the characters/ciphers on the page observed correctly to Magic, I call "Internalization." Stuff happens so slowly and is folded into or edited out so organically that it's easy to pass judgement on groups or performers who do not give an adequate amount of time for internalization to happen, settling only for the correct observation and articulation of the marks on the printed page, perhaps extending this (with careful analysis) to rubato or meta interpretation not included on the page; usually with an eye toward "What would the composer think?"
Even when internalization happens instantly as with me and Winterreise partner Ken Beare - I usually chalk it up to luck, chemistry, experience.
But now I'm thrown into a situation with Anthony where we both know that with everything observed, this piece falls way flat and we have limited time for Magic to happen. Anthony is shooting for Megan Mullally's interpretation which we more or less observed in our initial run through having worked up our parts in solo practice with this in mind. Now the hard work begins. Not the work of parsing the piece analytically and assigning a logical interpretation, but the work of becoming one with The Force, both of us totally open with each other while still retaining the director's ear for audience and context. We will be performing this as part of an Anne Frank exhibit. We both feel this piece is bigger than Mullally's interpretation in this context; bigger than feminism or social morality. We go to the most powerful verse - the last - and open the throttle full. Anthony is bent over in near pain at the climax. We go over a line Anthony targeted near the end of the verse several times with him asking for various different things pianistically and me keeping a wide open ear and eye. He loves the dead silence after he utters the last word in that line. I love the take he did 3 times back where instead of setting up the punch with a slight pause, he accelerates into it while still broadening, tearing his voice apart. We're getting close . . . with just this phrase. One line. 9 short words. We have an entire scene/verse to set. And then we have to work backwards to feel and figure out the ascent to this pinnacle.
Two hours later I'm exhausted. Fuck yeoman's work, this was the work of The Universe, Genius work, God-Smacked. Under alien possession since 7:30pm, I'm unable to string together a coherent adieu as Anthony leaves.
February 11, 2015, 10:44 AM posted by Maria Choban
Mendelssohn is sitting on my lap. I know he understands English but I'm wondering if he's literate as well. He's staring at the screen and I'm about to divulge last night's dalliance with Muffin.
Not sure whether the Laughing Planet on Jefferson was on the north or south side of the street, I missed my last opportunity to park but luckily did not miss my last easy opportunity to circle the block and try again. This time I maneuvered quickly over to the left lane on Jefferson where I serpentined my tonka-toy into an angled parking spot in front of a little doggy on a leash talking to a bigger doggy on a leash. I'd just finished playing a show and I was meeting my partner and a friend.
Lo! the little doggy was a kitty-cat!!!
Jumping out of the car, forgetting about my partner and our friend and the fact that Laughing Planet was closed, staying open only until I showed up for the rendezvous, I dropped half my IQ and my ability to both speak and understand English.
"Can I pet him?"
"Her name is Muffin, and yes. She's very friendly."
"Her name is Muffin."
"Doh, dou are toooo adohble putty-tat!!!"
Playing for more time with Muffin, I kept asking questions. Although he's been Muffin's slave for over 4 years, Muffin only began leash training 2 years ago. Now they frequent the Esplanade with Muffin on his shoulder whether he's walking or biking. You have no idea how hard it is to formulate questions when all you long for is to bury your face in Muffin's fur.
They both live in the building attached to Muffin's sidewalk. I'm pretty sure everyone in the building knows Muffin and I'm pretty sure I can press any button at the entrance, utter "I'm here to see Muffin" and be let in.
I have no idea what Muffin's slave is called.
Mendelssohn emits a bored, slightly disgusted sigh at my puffed up cat-erotic confessions. And I must admit, Muffin was about as interested in me as Mendelssohn diagnoses from reading this slop on my screen.
January 30, 2015, 11:35 AM posted by Maria Choban
I am a tool. I use myself shamelessly to change situations or milieus I care about. Brought up in classical music because my immigrant parents/grandparents thought it was the mark of good breeding and assimilation, it was also the first time I was able to access places in my self. The music and the playing of the music moved me in, you might say, a holy way.
To see it slipping away in a society that gravitated to something rougher, less holy (to use Peter Brook's words in The Empty Space) scared me. If this was all I knew, the thing that allowed me to connect with my self and to magically share my world with others, at what point would I suffocate and die in a tar pit?
I love rough. I feel but do not understand holy and when it's undertaken in productions I mostly judge it (unfairly perhaps) as half-baked concepts with no attempt to connect to the outside world. So schizophrenically, half of me is immersed in my historical holy of classical music that moves me while the other half rides rough with David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. Because we are here and now, and me being a practical Greek (we are insanely practical if nothing else), it seems more efficient to move classical music from the antiquated hollow holiness of mired European tradition with all its inherited handed-down interpretations and bygone sounds (which, btw, does NOT move me - it's imitative, derivative, caricature, fake) and into the visceral rhythm, chant (hip-hop), in-your-face stimuli (lights, amplification), etc... of today.
And I evolved and became my vision of my epitome of visceral, embracing violent/rock&roll Svoboda, finding the rough Bach, grooving when I'm playing like I'm listening to Kashmir rather than orbiting around my ass while playing a Chopin waltz.
It wasn't enough. Yes I have a devoted following and I know I'm one of the few who embody the future of this genre. But I'm insanely practical and I need more numbers. So I added writing to increase my reach. I write with the anger, hipness and half the knowledge of Lester Bangs and Richard Taruskin. Maybe less than half the knowledge. I have a GREAT editor.
It still isn't enough. In Portland we have Ronni Lacroute who funds the hell out of Portland theater and some classical music. I want to become the Ronni Lacroute of classical music. I want to fund the hell out of certain groups, individuals, projects that I think have a good chance at cracking the holy bland rigidity of this ancient religion. I need to make lots of money.
It still won't be enough. I have to become president of the United States and mandate that everyone listens to those groups I have chosen and funded. Insanely impractical.
January 11, 2015, 12:35 PM posted by Maria Choban
December 1994, Pismo Beach CA. My partner and I lie draped over chairs like cats suffering severe torpor, wondering what to do on a vacation day riddled with rain. The movie Pulp Fiction came out a couple of months before and we'd both been attracted to the trailers. Trading one set of chairs for another in a movie theater seemed an okay choice for our afternoon stint.
My ennui seeing movies back then matches my ennui attending concerts now. Back then we'd dissect movies we'd just seen much the way my partner and I now dissect concerts we attend - me with anger, he forcing a more rational analysis, cataloging where the movie/concert lost our interest and why. Back then, we didn't understand the success of Forrest Gump (which was released 3 months before Pulp Fiction) when Being There was so much funnier and tighter. We felt we were watching happy shiny movies narcotically designed to make us think we actually felt something.
When the lights came on after the movie ended no one moved. Pulp Fiction produced the same impact as a guerilla attack . . . without the death toll: numb shock. Eventually, my partner and I turned and looked at each other and he slowly said "Let's go get a drink and figure out what the hell just happened."
What just happened was that someone - Quentin Tarantino - finally rose from the murk, unobserved, with a radical new impassioned vision and without draining the fucking life out of it with rewrites and Ambien, got it in front of us - raw and pulsing, like an open-heart surgery.
It took several drinks for us to calm down and make sense of what went right. Mostly we giggled maniacally and reveled in our insides being so rearranged by the experience.
David Mamet did this for the theater with Glengarry Glen Ross. Trent Reznor did this for pop with Pretty Hate Machine. It doesn't last forever. But for the brief time it energizes the genre, what a ride!
My Parents' Epic Big Fat Greek Wedding Anniversary
December 26, 2014, 04:59 PM posted by Maria Choban
10:00am: I phone my mom to wish her and dad a happy 54th anniversary.
10:05am: mom's voice is shaking, angry at dad because he's going to throw a dinner at their house for 11 people and she's not up to cleaning, cooking, planning this event. She's right.
10:20am: I call my sister and plan an intervention on dad.
10:30am: Sis and I meet at mom and dad's.
Sis and I: Happy Anniversary Dad!
Dad: Thank you - now let me tell you about this dinner I'm going to host in 2 days.
Sis and I (in unison): NO DINNER! Mom can't handle the pressure!
Dad: DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!!
Me: ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL MOM?!??
Dad: FUCK YOU!
Me: NO - FUCK YOU!!!!
Believe it or don't you can actually escalate to infinity and beyond just starting from trading Fuck Yous! at fairly high decibel levels. Dad started screaming "I CAN GET LOUDER THAN YOU AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" but I'm not sure if that was after or before he disowned me. My sister sacrificially placed her body in between us.
I sat down and buried my head in my hands in disbelief at the moronic childishness of it all.
Mom walked in the room, dad told her in Greek that I screamed fuck you at him, mom said that meant he was full of poo and not that I meant fuck you, my sister tried to tell my dad I said fuck it and not fuck you (I said fuck you). Dad called her a liar, sis retorted with "Well goddamn it, then, I'm leaving!" and we were off and running once more.
Dad: You're damning me??!!!????
Sis: I said goddamn it, NOT goddamn you!!!!! (she said goddamn it).
Dad: I'm canceling the dinner but I'm not going to forget what went on here today. I can forgive, but I won't forget.
Me: Forgiving IS forgetting.
Dad: You use your definition, I'll use mine!
Me: Fine! But that makes me a better person!! JUST KIDDING!!!!!!!!
Believe it or don't he actually chuckled.
The problem with starting with a bang is where do you go from there?
My parents are 85 years old. Both my sisters and I pitch in to help wherever we can. I was cleaning old papers off the kitchen table with dad a week ago and dad came across a note mom penned in all caps to him about 3 weeks before. Dad smiled as he handed it to me to read. I pocketed it already thinking anniversary gift.
With help from online clip-art, I found a stylized fly, carefully cut it out, pasted it to the top of the note, laid the note in an anniversary looking frame my sister dug up in her closet and wrapped it up as their anniversary gift from all of us - dogs, cats, children, grandchildren, spouses and partners.
My other sister and her family took us all out to celebrate.
During the course of the meal the gift was unwrapped by both parents together. We howled as it was read out loud then passed around. Mom's a lioness, a protector, a killer, a comedian. Her daughters inherited all of the above. What chance does my father have in a house full of . . . what did he call us by the end of the meal? . . . Conspirators!
WE GOT A VERY BIG AND BAD FLY IN THE KITCHEN AND FAMILY ROOM.
I HOPE YOU CAN KILL IT OR GET THAT FLY OUT.
I DID NOT HAVE THE TOOLS TO BE ABLE TO KILL IT!!!
I DID TRY. MAYBE YOU CAN DO IT!!!
THE GREEK NAME - VROMOMYGA [dirty fly in Greek]
GEORGE - GOODNIGHT. I KILLED THE FLY.
December 21, 2014, 07:45 AM posted by Maria Choban
I am reading Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon; his account of Lebanon between 1976 and 2001. He lived and still lives in west Beirut. I am concurrently reading Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.
They are kind of the same side of the same coin. Fisk unsentimentally details atrocities that unarmed women, children and old men endure by brigands (regardless of their allegiance because as Fisk points out - every leader, every faction is a bad guy in this book). I punctuate reading long stints of ideology advanced with realpolitik diplomacy (with its impending atrocities) - with romantic ideology practiced by the ridiculous Quixote with equal impending atrocities that befall not just him but benefactors of his chivalry: flogged slaves and cruel masters he blindingly separates, blithely riding off into the sunset with only his romantic and-they-lived-happily-ever-after scene in his head, impervious to the realpolitik outcome that ensues when he departs.
My only self-centered question: Why am I reading these books during a season when I go fetal anyway??
Back In The Building
Gifts from three kings
American Piano Duets