Thursday, February 10, 2011

Somewhere in Time: The Playwright Explains His Obsession For You

When people ask me why I wrote Slumpbuster, I sometimes tell them it was to give hope to long-suffering fans of one of the world’s true underdogs. I know everyone assumes I’m talking about the Cubs, but actually I’m referring to the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time. I don’t know if people truly realize today just how reviled this film was when it first came out. If you think Sandra Bullock in All About Steve got bad reviews, check out New York Times critic Vincent Canby’s comparison of Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time to a “giant, helium-filled canary.”

I first saw this movie as a film student at NYU.  Here’s something about NYU you should know. You’re taught to worship at the altar of the greatest, grittiest New York filmmaker of them all, Martin Scorsese, and if your career goes just right, the professors would constantly remind you, then maybe you too will make a tough-minded, two-fisted, searing masterpiece about the dark underbelly of the human condition like Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. A syrupy sweet time travel romance directed by the guy whose biggest credit was Jaws 2 doesn’t really fit that profile. Is it any wonder that my friends couldn’t wait for Somewhere in Time to end so they could make fun of it? Is it any wonder that they (yes, Joel, talking to you) have never let me forget that I was the only one that day to sheepishly admit, I kinda sorta liked the thing. Okay, loved it. It’s hard to explain why. Maybe it’s because I’m always fantasizing about erasing my mistakes that I’m a sucker for any story where the hero travels back to the past. Or maybe because when I first saw it, I was fresh off my first major heartbreak. So that scene where Christopher Reeve finds the penny spoke to me in a way that Jake LaMotta getting punched in the face just never did (sorry Marty).

For many years, SIT (as fans abbreviate it) was my love that dare not speak its name, a secret shame only to be whispered to the most trusted non-NYU friends. But a funny thing has happened since I was first vilified for loving this movie. Other people have come out of the closet and admit they love it too. The film now has a fan club so large it meets annually on Mackinac Island (where SIT was shot). WGN in Chicago actually had a marathon showing of the damn thing a few years ago, a landmark occasion re-created in Act One of Slumpbuster

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a Chicago TV station might spearhead a Somewhere in Time revival. There’s something of a hometown interest there (Reeve’s character is a Chicago playwright), and of course Cubs fans know what it’s like to wait a long time for fortunes to change. It only took about thirty years for Somewhere in Time to achieve a measure of respectability. Gotta figure the Cubbies, 103 years and counting, are due. 

The Chicago Cubs of writers, Robert was thrilled to bust his slump by winning PianoFight’s ShortLived 3.0 for Anton Chekhov’s The Three Minutes. Other credits include Saratoga at Chicago ScriptWorks and Someone Like You starring Lea Thompson at the AFI Writers Workshop. Robert is currently a reader for HBO and adjunct instructor at National University. He has no comment on rumors that Somewhere in Time always makes him cry.

Slumpbuster opens Today, Thursday Feb 10th and runs thru Mar 6th
8PM Thursdays and Sundays
Asylum Lab
1078 Lilian Way, Los Angeles
Tickets $20 online or at the door

Monday, November 29, 2010

PF LA Sponsors Original New Comedy: Happy Holidays

The LA chapter of ShortLived 3.0 featured two very different, but equally funny and witty writers James C. Ferguson and Thomas J. Misuraca.  We chose a piece from each writer, having no idea that they were friends and writing partners who often collaborated on other theater pieces and even film.

Misuraca's piece, "Communication", about two friends who randomly run into each other, is just as much about their friendship as it is about the writing itself. It's one of those plays, with it's rapid-fire witty banter, that is chock full of hidden jokes, bits and clues into their questionable relationship (are they friends? lovers? ex-lovers?) that it is equally fun the first time you watch it as it is the second and third because you take away something new each time. 

Ferguson's short, "Jingle Ball Rock", which also won the first round of ShortLived, isn't about people at all but, rather, Christmas ornaments. A red, blue, gold, white and hand-made popsicle stick ornament discuss, rather humorously, what Christmas means to them as they are hung, one by one, on a little boy's Christmas tree. Despite that performances would be in middle of spring, we couldn't help but include this piece that was so amazingly absurd.

As it turns out, these two writers wrote a film together, Happy Holidays, which will have its LA debut in the same building that housed PianoFight's ShortLived. I would imagine that their distinct brands of humor blend for some really fantastic story telling.

If you're in LA, go check it out. This Thursday, 8PM, at Theater Asylum.

Written by James C. Ferguson and Thomas J. Misuraca
Starring Paul Hungerford, John B. Crye and Tommy Rhoads
Directed by James C. Ferguson
Screening in LOS ANGELES on Thursday, December 2nd

Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica Blvd. 
Hollywood, CA 90038
$ 10.00

(Become a fan of the movie for addl. info. at the HAPPY HOLIDAYS Facebook page here -!/HappyHolidays)

Friday, October 22, 2010

American Theatre Magazine / Readership HATES Technology and Youth

The following is a post which makes the case that American Theatre Magazine, and a good chunk of its readership, hates technology and youth.

Exhibit A - AMT recently posted this status update on their Facebook page:

"Has theatregoing etiquette seriously declined in recent years? And if so, what's the cause, and what might be a good solution?"

Objection Your Honor, leading. Seriously this is the baseball equivalent of a full-count hanging curve lumbering towards a 280 pound steroid chomping salivating monster. Think I'm exaggerating? Here are some of the responses (WARNING: Lots of typos and vitriolic-ALL-CAPS-language directed at technology to follow):

"I'm gonna blame technology, stupidity, and the arrogance that the world revolves around you in such a way that you must constantly keep your cell phone on - since I opened a show last night and the HM told the audience TWICE to shut off their cell phones and not one, but TWO, decided a good time to shut off theirs would be after we had started the show. So a few lines, LOUD AS HELL SHUT OFF MEDLEY!"

"Etiquette in general has declined in recent years. Everyone is too busy texting or has a cell phone glued to their ear. You will find this annoying behaviour not only in theatres, but churches, doctor's offices, courts, restaurants...Ban cell phones. And start the shows on time with late - comers locked out! RESPECT."

"Yes there has been..cellphone use being the biggest well as my own pet peeve..people not being able to go 50 min's w/out a sip of water, so right at some pivotal poignant moment in a play, you hear the chug-a-lug glurp glurp of someone w/a 32oz Poland Spring being brought up to their lips."

Oh yeah, and don't forget this guy ...

"There is absolutely a decline in theatre etiquette. Reasons: partly our narcissitic, entitled society utterly oblivious to those around them; partly our inability to disconnect from our technology for a couple of hours (why this compulsion... to respond to any phone, text,or email immediately? There are times I don't want to be found, the theatre being one of them); partly the inability to dsitinguish between manners appropriate in public and one's living-room TV manners (this ain't a DVD; if I miss something because you're jabbering, I can't go back. And it isn't American Idol; we don't need the excessive, overwrought "applause sign" behaviour of whooping and cheering nor meaningless standing ovations). I'm in favour of aggressively chucking out crass yobs and using the technology that is already there to block cell phone signals in theatres, restaurants, churches, and cars (make it legal in these cases). It should be like smoking...if your priority is to yak on the phone, go outside and don't inflict your bloody boring life and rude behaviour on the rest of us. I've already been chased out of the movie houses by boorish behaviour; I don't want it happening in the live theatre."

And you thought I was exaggerating. But if you still don't believe my thesis, that American Theatre Magazine and a large portion of their readership hates technology and youth, here is Exhibit B: They Don't Have an Online Version of the Magazine

If AMT wants anyone under thirty-years-old to peruse their pages, those 20-somethings need to be able to download that shit on the iPhone.

But that'll NEVER happen because apparently their readership is actively engaged in coming with newfangled plans to disable and destroy cell phones:

"Cell phone scramblers in public performance venues!"

"Ban cell phones."

"I recommend lead-lined theaters."

"All theaters should have Cell Phone Blockers on their rooftops so no phones work in the theater."

More Evidence:

Just from earlier today, a status update from AMT reads: "What (theatrical) topic would you like to discuss on Facebook today?"

Cue the chorus of bitching and misspellings ...

"The annoying prevalence of microphones snaking down the sides of actors' faces and millimeters from their mouths, often obscuring their expressions. Why does every show end up looking like something out of a Madonna concert? It's especially anachronistic with costume dramas. Whatever happened to the time-honored tradition of teaching DICTION and PROJECTION? Really? In this day and age of technical theatrical marvels, how have we become so sloppy?"

"The downward spiral of theatre photography, brought about by every Tom, Dick and Harriet owning a digicam, making them erroneously assume they are now able to produce stellar publicity images, even though they barely know how to press the shutter button, let alone know how to make a representative image that will fill the theatre's seats."

"The death of interpersonal communication from the use of social media sites."

And of course, this guy again ...

"you have hit on one of my great laments of today's theatre. Miked actors. Are we just not teaching diction and projection anymore in theatre schools? I've ranted about this at length on my blog: , under "Where did you get your training?" And while we're looking for topics, how about: Why can't actors write a proper professional programme bio anymore? They all sound like acceptance speeches for those Tonys they've yet to win."

What I think these folks are failing to realize, is that they sound eerily similar to the stodgy old curmudgeons who railed against new media and furiously claimed it would never replace print ... right. The world has changed, and it's on us to keep up. Till AMT realizes its need to catch up, I recommend reading - from what I can tell, this guy is a real hoot.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cool Ass Shit To Do This Weekend

Thursday, August 12:

Opening Night of the San Francisco Improv Festival
- 7:30pm at The Eureka Theater - TICKETS

Featuring Big City Improv, Awkward Face and the SF Comedy College All Stars

hosts a kick-ass local line-up of improv comedy groups with German minimalist surf rock house band Das Haus Band holdin' down the beats and leading Das Sockenhopfen after the show.

Friday, August 13:

Dead Certain by Marcus Lloyd - 8:00pm at The Royce Gallery - TICKETS

Featuring Diana Brown and Andrey Esterlis

"A standing ovation for this deadly jewel of a play." - SF Station

Saturday, August 14:

This World is Good
by JC Lee - Sleepwalkers Theater - 8:00pm at The Phoenix Theater - TICKETS

Saturday Night Special - JC + Shots: Post show talk back with playwright JC Lee - Before he heads off to Julliard for Grad School, do some shots and get silly with this awesome new voice in American Theater.


Bohemian Carnival by The Vau de Vire Society - 10:00pm at CELL Space - TICKETS

Fucking Awesome.


Also, I hear there's some big concert going on this weekend ...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Low Shoulders film - discussions of Sex n' Violence

We've updated the Low Shoulders blog, which chronicles the creation of PianoFight's first short film project. Check out the new post on sex and violence as it relates to our film, Low Shoulders, and others here.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Low Shoulders film - movie night fundraiser, the Toxic Avenger!

We're having a fundraiser movie night to raise money for Low Shoulders, PianoFight's first short film project! Date is Saturday, August 7th, doors at 7pm.

Check out more info about it, see the flier, scope some raffle prize potentials, at our blog,


If you wanna check out the post on the Toxic Avenger event specifically, this is the place to click.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Devil Driver's 25 Part Behind the Scenes DVD Series

PianoFight homie and occasional collaborator Dan Burke is putting together a 25 part behind the scenes video series on kick-ass metal gurus Devil Driver. Dan has been shooting video for Devil Driver since they got together in 2003 (his brother, Dave, has also been galavanting around the world with the band on tour as a guitar tech for a number of years now), so I've had the opportunity to see these guys play live a few times and they are friggin unreal (also had the opportunity on more than one occasion to get tanked with the band which I am positive I enjoyed much more than they did).

What's incredibly cool with the first two chapters of this series are that much of the footage is from seven years ago when the band first formed as Death Ride. Burke then splices that footage with recent interviews to create both an oral and visual history of the band that's artistically insightful, funny, endearing and TOTALLY METAL!!

The next chapters of the series are focused on each member of the band with candid clips and interviews where other band mates rag on the video's star. It's all great, and the first two chapters on how the band formed are embedded below. Enjoy!

DevilDriver "You May Know Us From The Stage" Chapter 2 - The Beginning Pt. 1 from Daniel J. Burke - MBARRIER Prod. on Vimeo.

DevilDriver "You May Know Us From the Stage" Chapter 2 - Pt. 2 from Daniel J. Burke - MBARRIER Prod. on Vimeo.

Check it: