mad brilliance

Yolanda recently posted this inspiring piece on her blog.

x- posted from House on Red Hill

Moving Heaven and Earth to Make Art Happen

It’s 5:47 am.  At 1:30 am, I had just finished some blog surfing while K napped in his recliner.  He awoke; put on his jacket and asked if I was ready to see The Rock. 

Actually, I was ready to go to sleep.  I had forgotten about The Rock.

Thanks for the Dwayne Johnson photo, David Shankbone

No, not that Rock, silly. 

This rock, the future element of the piece of art that will be known as Levitating Mass.

Thanks for the pic, LA Times.

If you don’t yet know, it’s a big rock, actually a 340 ton chunk of granite and it’s being moved from its once comfortable home in Riverside to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where it will be installed onto a 456 foot long slot.   Apparently, the public will be able to walk under the rock and “experience the illusion that it is floating above them.”  Thus the title, Levitating Mass.

We hatched the plan this evening while I was on my way home from work.  I was stopped at a light when I saw that the traffic light on Wilshire Blvd. was being dismantled.  Of course, I knew it was to make room for the passage of the Rock.  I called K because I thought  this tiny detail might interest him.  That’s when he said he had been thinking we might go to see the Rock on the last leg of its journey.  So near us, why not?

At about 8:30, it seemed like a good plan.  Five hours and a martini later, mmm, maybe not so much.  But K was determined and out the door we went.

It was fun – a bit of a carnival atmosphere.  People were happy and in a good mood.  Everybody was taking pictures.  People brought their dogs.  And you know, it was all about a big rock. 

I don’t yet know how I’ll react to the experience of walking under the rock when the installation is completed.  I actually know very little about the project other than the journey of this rock has been in the news all week.  But this is what I’m taking away from the experience tonight: I feel inspired.  

The artist, Michael Heizer has wanted to do this project for 40 years.  First he had to find the right rock.  And then he just had to come up with the 10 million dollars to do it.  And someone  had to plan a route for a giant piece of granite that would be transported on a truck the width of 3 lanes.  And then the city (of LOS ANGELES! no less) had to dismantle all the traffic lights along its path for over 100 miles and it had to be driven at about 2 – 5 miles an hour for 9 days. 

Most people, if they ever got such idea into their heads, would quickly come to their senses and say, “Naw, that’s never gonna happen.”  But, I just saw it happen.  I saw people cheering at seeing it happen.

Michael Heizer is an impressive artist.  He has a reputation.  He has a lot of support.  But, his pieces are all about big stuff – big, giant stuff – big, giant Nazca Lines kind of stuff. It’s the kind of stuff that any reasonable person would say just can’t be done. 

So . . . what project do you have in your life that you say you really want to get done but you haven’t done it yet because you have this excuse or that excuse?  Maybe it’s too expensive.  Maybe you don’t have time.  Maybe it’s just not practical.  But, your project, your dream, is it as impractical as dragging a 340-ton rock for over a 100 miles at the cost of over 10 million dollars?  And do you have to take down miles’ worth of traffic lights in the most car-centric city in the country?  And then, do you plan to devise the mechanics to float that 340-ton rock over the public?  Probably not.

I have a theater company.  It’s just starting out and right now there are only two of us doing pretty much all the producing work.  Last year we produced our first show, 2 very small plays with 4 actors total, one of the actors being me.  It was a modest endeavor but a good way to get our feet wet in the world of producing theater in Los Angeles.  This year, we have a bigger project.  Much bigger.  It’s a full-length play in a new translation and a cast of over a dozen.  The budget will likely be twice that of the first production.  Sometimes, I think we’ve lost our minds, the director and I.  I wonder how we’re going to pull it off.  I get a little discouraged at times.  The last show was so much work.  I was exhausted day after day after day.  There was never enough time and never enough sleep.  I got discouraged then, too.  I cried at rehearsals.  I cried in my car.  I wondered if we’d lost our minds thinking we could pull off this creation all on our own (and act in it too – all while building a house of cards). 

And this year, bigger play, bigger budget.  Surely, we’ve lost our minds again.  Or soon will. 

But, that’s not the kind of thinking that makes big stuff happen.  That doesn’t get art made.  That doesn’t get a giant rock carried a 100 miles.  That doesn’t get the city to remove miles and miles of traffic signals.  That doesn’t get the crowd cheering.

So, maybe we have lost our minds. And maybe Michael Heizer lost his mind a long time ago.  But right now, he’s got a big rock sitting on the grounds at LACMA.  And soon, we’ll have another play to be proud of.  Better to lose our minds than our nerve.


Meet the Costume Designer for A Man’s A Man

I am delighted to announce the addition of a Costume Designer to the team for A Man’s A Man, Gwyneth Conaway-Benson. Gwyneth has the honor of designing in repertoire for the Rogue Artists’ Ensemble in Los Angeles, contributing also in puppet design for their company, and has been awarded an Ovation honor for the production D is for Dog. She costumed the world premier of Ryan Scott Oliver’s Jasper in Deadland, and has won several awards through the American College Theatre Festival, hosted by the Kennedy Center. Every year, Gwyneth acts as a cultural guide/translator for the National Partners of American Theatre in taking one national design awardee to Seoul, South Korea and has shown her portfolio at the Korea National University of the Arts. You can visit her website and check out her remarkable portfolio. We are delighted to have Gwyneth on board, and I am looking forward to bringing you an interview with her very soon.


meet the composer

Meet the composer who is setting Brecht’s lyrics to original music for our production.


Shakey’s Pizza and My Moment of Brecht

So this past Saturday, the good people of Uranium Madhouse threw a fundraiser, gathering supporters for a few, spirited rounds of Balderdash. The first thing to note is that I won. I say this not only to shamelessly boast but also to assure all the other dramaturgs out there that our position as one of the nerdiest groups in all the land is secure thanks to my ability to come up with plausible-sounding definitions of obscure words.

The fundraiser was to support Uranium Madhouse’s upcoming, planned production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s A Man. Not only did the event raise needed funds for what I promise will be a memorable theatrical production, it also provided some insight into the play itself. Because let me tell you this: there is no place more Brechtian in all of Los Angeles than Shakey’s Pizza in Hollywood, the location of our Balderdash bonanza.

“Brechtian” is an adjective that gets thrown around rather cavalierly in theater circles. It’s sort of like the way people use the word, “ironic.” But for me, a play that’s Brechtian is one that actively seeks to separate the audience from the story told on stage. It’s that feeling of alienation that causes an audience member to really investigate the ideas that are being put forth. I think it’s safe to say I felt a little alienated at Shakey’s. I’m not sure if it was when I first entered and, like the gentleman that I am, held the door for a transvestite prostitute arguing with what I presume was her john. Or perhaps it was when Balderdash wrapped up and the PA system we were using was quickly taken over for Spanish language karaoke. There was something performative about it all; something bizarre and scary (the trannie) and alluring (the karaoke, which I definitely would have participated in if I wasn’t so damn white). It felt alien. It felt like a good Brecht play.

Anyway, we ate (really bad) pizza. We played video games (the version of “Deal or No Deal” is surprisingly addictive). I won 80 bucks. It was lots of fun. Most importantly, it set the stage for a great play to come.


Uranium Madhouse video update

Here’s the latest on our production effort for A Man’s A Man.


Patti Smith Lights Up Your Life on Kids Are People Too, 1979


translation receives final approval from Brecht estate

Uranium Madhouse had entered into an agreement with the Brecht estate that allowed us to produce a new translation of the play, but that translation, per the agreement, was subject to approval by Brecht’s heirs. We submitted the translation to them a few weeks ago, and yesterday we received word that my new translation of the play has been approved. Another milestone irradiated!


Balderdash Big Bang 2012 Pics

And the winner, Dylan Southard, receiving his winnings:


Mark Hoppus channels Bertolt Brecht

Hoppus, 1/3 of Uranium Madhouse Muse Blink-182:

Questioned on what the aliens would think of their songs, he joked: “I think they’d be more distracted by the fact that our sexual reproduction organs are the same as the organs that eliminate waste from our body.

“I think they’d be more distracted by that hypocrisy to really care about music.”

Bertolt Brecht:

…The Lord God, who sufficiently declared his true nature once and for all in combining the sexual organ with the urinary tract”–Baal, Bertolt Brecht


Why You Should Come Play Balderdash with Uranium Madhouse (Fake Elephant remix)

How to Convince Someone to Go to Balderdash
by: UraniumMadhouse