Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reading: Lumottu

I am very pleased to announce that my play Lumottu will receive a fully cast reading at the Arts Society of Kingston on May 31st. Casting will commence soon. As they make clear on the website, "These are workshops rather than productions, whose focus is on process, not product. It is the hope of the Lab that playwrights will listen to all feedback without defending or explaining their work, then sift through the feedback at their leisure. In the end, only the playwright can decide what feedback to use or lose."

The name of the play is the Finnish word for "enchanted" and it explores the power of myth for people in difficult situations. Here's the description they're using for mailings:

Arja lives with one foot in this world and the other in the mythic world of ancient Finland. Her family has moved to the new world, but the old world’s magic clings to their lives — and deaths.

Sound intriguing? I hope so. This play first jumped from my head Athena-like when I was on the boat in Lake Saimaa heading out to see the ancient rock paintings. I saw it as a performance: a woman dressed as Louhi with her eagle wings behind a girl who was telling the story. It's wonderful to have this one step closer to realising that image.

Much unexpected fun last night: John Crowley was reading at the UAlbany Art Museum. Who knew? Thanks, Christopher for mentioning it in time for me to get there. And we all went out to The Point afterward which was delightful as always. In addition to the super-duper volume of Little Big, he and his wife worked on a new Helen Keller documentary that will be part of American Masters this fall.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Tempest

First a quick link: I am the featured writer interview in the latest Text Novel newsletter: "The world is my bison." :-) TextNovel is one of the places that The Mangrove Legacy appeared before its publication and of course, the new serial Airships and Alchemy can be found there as well as on the serial blog. And if you want to know how to pronounce the word, see here.

Be sure to see the round up of all the overlooked films over at Todd's blog.

I love Julie Taymor's vision: she has an imagination that sings and flies and creates some amazing works. How, you ask, how could her film of Shakespeare's wondrous Tempest, the most magical of all his plays, fail?

Simple: bad CGI.

Unconvincing, twee and hokey CGI. Cringe-worthy! Today's audiences expect better graphics. We don't need to see Ben Wishaw's (digitally unsexed) Ariel duplicate like a badly loading JPEG. Almost none of the CGI is good: worse, almost none of it is necessary.

Because the rest of the film is wonderful. Helen Mirren makes a glorious Prospera. Every minute the camera focuses on her becomes completely captivating. Glorious: it's the only word that works. Sally Potter offers another stunning wardrobe -- I want ALL of Helen Mirren's clothes (especially the one above). There's a great cast: how can you go wrong with Tom Conti, David Straitharn, Chris Cooper, Alfred Molina, Alan Cumming? Even Russell Brand didn't annoy me much; after all Trinculo is a fool. Felicity Jones makes for an irresistible Miranda and Reeve Carney provides an adequate Ferdinand (a lousy part: there's little for him to do in any version of the play) looking golden and mooning after Miranda. Djimon Hounsou gives us a Caliban of the earth, who seems to have sprung from its depths like a mudman, his Butoh-inspired movement making him visually Other as much as his strange exterior and race. Wishaw embodies Ariel with some CGI enhancement, which I think doesn't give him enough credit for the way his acting as Ariel must shift gender and aspect so often. When clothed in black wings as the harpy, he's magnificent.

So forget the bad CGI: see this film anyway. It's worth it for Mirren alone, and there is so much more besides. Peg and I were talking about this on the way back; maybe Taymor just doesn't care about the CGI being good. But audiences now want it to look seamless. We saw this at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck which was a terrific theatre except for the fact that they turned up the house lights the second the credits began. The credits in this film are a piece of the story: Portishead's Beth Gibbons sings Prospera's final speech with Elliot Goldenthal's music and it's quite wonderful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rome: Street Art

One of the things I always find myself snapping while I travel is street art and graffiti. I know it doesn't appeal to everyone and some people find it destructive and annoying. A lot of it is truly ugly, but with the rise of artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and SWOON, people (sometimes grudgingly) give it credit. I saw an Invader mosaic as we were driving through Trastevere and I wondered if it were authentic.

From Rome

Turns out Invader had just had a show in Rome and had gone around putting up mosaics around the city. I didn't get a picture of the one by the Museum of Modern Art, but I did get this one at the top of the Spanish Steps.

From Rome

I love the mash-up nature of a lot of street art: you can combine anything and see the parts in a new whole. This artist uses the tag "hogre" it seems.

From Rome

In the ancient living history that is the Coliseum, people still want to leave their mark.

From Rome

We were intrigued by posters with enigmatic messages when we went out to dinner in Trastevere. I remembered to look for some clues online and found this was part of an exhibit by Jeremy Mende called "100 Years from Now" which looks back to the Italian Futurist movement about a century later. The Futurists fascinate me -- and always make me want to write manifestos. There was a terrific Futurist exhibit at the Tate Mod not long ago, which I really enjoyed.

From Rome

And of course I was welcomed to Rome with some very heartfelt art: Thanks, Edo!

From Rome

Friday, March 25, 2011


A new way to spread sound -- well, newish. It's been getting a boost, mostly via other social media outlets and DJs. Of course now that people like me are starting to use it, the DJs are looking for something new. Way to suck the cool out, eh?

My page at Soundcloud features things you might have heard before: a couple of the conceits and an early reading of "Rothko Red." I got a new digital recorder, so I'm going to put more things up with luck a little more regularly. Maybe even some music...

Yes, still working on getting the Rome photos online. A good number added since you last looked. I'll tell more about my adventures when I get a moment. Still catching up from being gone and working on a million and one things. Life may slow down a little by, oh let's see -- May?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BitchBuzz: Why Elizabeth Taylor Mattered

My column pays tribute to the luminous Ms. Taylor; I want to sit down and enjoy Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with some friends. Such a good and harrowing film! I altered the last line of my bio as a nod to the movie :-)

Why Elizabeth Taylor Mattered

By K.A. Laity
I don't think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I'm not sure he even knows how to spell AIDS. - Elizabeth Taylor

Accolades abound upon hearing the news that Dame Elizabeth Taylor has died at the age of 79. The most common theme seems to be that she was the last of Hollywood's glittering stars, rocking the old school glamour. From her dewy-eyed youth as the doomed Helen Burns in Jane Eyre and of course the allegedly-boyish National Velvet to her seven tempestuous marriages and her rock star lifestyle, the camera loved her luminous face.

But there was much more to the star as she ably demonstrated in her finest film role: Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Viriginia Woolf? where Taylor transformed into the foul-mouthed Martha to duke it out verbally with the love of her life, Richard Burton, as the hapless yet vicious George. Under all the glamour, she was one tough broad who didn't get enough credit for her accomplishments and her loyalty.

Read the rest:

Still working at getting the photos up: bit by bit they're getting there. I'm adding captions as I go along so you can know where things are. Oodles of things to do in the meantime. It never ends!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rome: Pretty as a Picture

I've just begun to add the pictures: the process turns out to be a slow one, by means of the travel computer, mostly because I have to keep trying to clear memory on it. Then I have to upload pictures one at a time because I can't use up memory by downloading the little helper program. But slowly and surely, they're getting there! Take a look at the slideshow and enjoy a little armchair travel. If you click in the middle of the picture, it should open up full size in another page.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Caravaggios, Artichokes and Agnes' Skull

First off I have to say this is Alessandra's photo. I tried to get the pictures off the camera and onto my travel computer only to find that it overloaded the memory and now I can't upload them to the web. Argh. So kind thanks to Alessandra and she's started writing a blog, so you should check it out :-)

On the second day, we wandered down to the Jewish Ghetto area where the Theatre of Marcellus can be found as well as the fabulous restaurants with giant displays of artichokes. The roasted artichoke we had with lunch was so good! I can still taste it, mmm. All the food was good, but I have generally thought of artichokes as far too much work to be worth it, but this inspired me to make one when I got home. Nowhere as good, but still tasty. My favourite fountain, the tortoise one, is near here in Piazza Mattei (and apparently Bernini added the tortoises!).

The amazing thing about the Caravaggios in Rome is that so many of them are where they were intended to be: in churches. Small churches -- dark chapels in the small churches! The Basilica di Sant'Agostino and the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi that day. When you walk in the church you can always tell where the Caravaggios are because there's a knot of people all staring up. To light up the space there's usually a little box for you to throw your euros in and then the light comes back, so it's a amusing to watch the mini-drama each time the light goes out. Who will be the first to put a coin in the box?

What can I say about the paintings? To see Caravaggios where they were meant to be, to contemplate them in baroque churches that were chock full of gold and art and massive pillars and ornamentation? I always loved the line in Brideshead where Charles talks about being "insular and medieval" in his tastes and how Italy converted him to the Baroque. I won't say I've been converted, but I was certainly dazzled time and time again. One of the truly spectacular things about seeing Rome with Alessandra is that we could turn any corner and she would say, "oh, there's something you must see here." We would step inside a small stone church and suddenly a Baroque paradise! How were the Caravaggios? Indescribably awe inspiring. You'll just have to go to Rome and see for yourself.

We saw the Pantheon and marveled at how lovely it looks still -- as Michaelangelo said, "the work of angels not men." Then wandered over to the Piazza Navona, once a stadium for sports, home of an amazing Bernini fountain, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi -- partly inspired by the artist's desire to show his superiority to his rival, Boromini, or so the story goes. The fabulous Palazzo Pamphili overlooks the piazza and it's also home to the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. Agnes' chapel was open, so we had the chance to peek at her little skull. Agnes was a popular figure in medieval martyrologies, patron of chastity and gardeners, always pictured with her little lamb. People wanted to touch her and feel some reflected glory -- the way that people want to grasp at celebrities now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

This is Spring?

It's snowing here. First full day of spring?! Ay yi yi. Looks like Persephone is still struggling to leave the underworld, eh? I had some deadlines to meet and a few places to be over the weekend; consequently I have not yet managed to wrangle my photos online, so enjoy this video that visits the Borghese Gallery and gives you a close up of Caravaggio's and Bellini's works.

Did I remember to mention my new page at SoundCloud? A new place for readings and podcasts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

BitchBuzz: Women's History Month WTFs

It's the middle of Women's History Month and we're facing some of the most aggressive attacks on women ever in this country, while people are overwhelmed by the terrible tragedies in Japan and the desperate battles for autonomy in the Gulf as people fight against dictators who have traditionally been propped up with help from our government. So you may find this week's column reflects some of that bitterness.

A Series of WTFs for Women's History Month

By K.A. Laity

 "I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves." — Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

It's Women's History Month and I have to say it depresses the hell out of me this year. I'm old enough to remember the second wave feminists, and all too well the backlash and splinter groups and the endless, endless "You've come a long way, baby!" smug pats on the back or behind. All of which tried to give the impression that we'd had enough already, missy.

Third wave feminists have re-energized the key issues, trying to keep the momentum going and forging bonds beyond class and beyond the borders of the privileged West. On many days, I can be hopeful, I can see the progress, I can admire all the men who do not see a woman's strength as a threat to his masculinity, all the parents who don't park their daughters in front of the Disney channel to brainwash them into Princesses, and I revel in being surrounded on a daily basis by charming, energetic, creative and awesomely smart women.

And then there's today, where I feel overwhelmed by the virulent attempts to shut women down in all possible ways. This is only a small part, but I've got a little list:

Read it here:

I also received the most sublime negative criticism from an academic peer: "the anti-academic tone is off-putting in the extreme" and "The author’s desire to drug the audience seems self-aggrandizing." Seems?! Well, yeah! I'd like to think I am a Dalí-esque drug. I should explain that this was the paper I gave last year at the Alan Moore conference in Northampton. It was never meant to be a traditional scholarly paper: it was a performance about Moore's performances. The editors had intended to publish the proceedings and thought it fortunate that a newish journal expressed interest, though now that the journal has nixed several of the presentations, the editors are regretting that decision. C'est la guerre. Unless I can think of another place for it, I may just record it and make a video from the Powerpoint pres when I have a spare moment (which looks to be about July now). 

With a little luck, I will get some pictures from Rome up tomorrow and tell a little more of my adventures. Promise! With the usual caveat that unexpected things keep arising...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Madness & Montemartini

I am madly flailing today, so here's someone else's video at the Montemartini museum, which gives a nice sense of the unique place. I promise to get my pictures, video and adventures up soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

At last, Mr Hitchcock

Last night Peg and I headed off in the direction of MassMoCA to catch Robyn Hitchcock and Joe Boyd perform their show Chinese White Bicycles, which links together readings from Boyd's memoir in the music business in the 60s and Hitchcock's performance of the songs from the artists including Dylan, the Incredible String Band, the Move, Fairport Convention and yes, Syd Barrett. Many of you know how much I adore Mr Hitchcock, but I've never had a chance to see him live because he always seems to be touring here when I'm in another country, and touring elsewhere when I come back. So squees a-plenty when I got tickets for this.

We stopped off at the Man of Kent pub for lunch then, on a whim, stopped at the Clark Art Institute where I have never managed to go. We caught the final day of the Dürer exhibit, which was delightful, then explored the rest of the museum which ended up having unexpected delights like Bouguereau's Nymphs and Satyr, Turner's Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water, and Monets, Degas and Singer Sargent, including his Fumée d'Ambre Gris.

By the time we got to MassMoCA, the exhibits had closed (I was hoping they'd keep them open a bit later because of the concert), so we wandered around the rolled up sidewalks of North Adams and then tried out the new rib place (good!) before wandering back and taking up our seats. It was not a sold out show, which amazed me, but what do I know.

I know I was grinning like an idiot when they came out, Hitchcock in purple trousers and his purple glasses and one of those wild shirts. From the start, Boyd's low-key delivery of pivotal moments from White Bicycles where his personal history and rock history collided (meeting Dylan at breakfast with a young woman he'd hoped to bed) meshed well with Hitchcock's music, "setting the scene" as he said because like jelly it had to be. Boyd deflated some long-repeated mythologies -- he was there when Dylan went electric and no, Peter Seeger did not have an axe -- and Hitchcock infused familiar songs with renewed meaning. I haven't heard "Masters of War" in so long; it's easy to forget just how powerful it is. "Mr Tambourine Man" was magic and The Move's "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" a delight.  In between typical Hitchcock banter both with the audience and with Boyd: "Interesting is a word with a lot of "i"s in it... okay, it starts off with two, but the more you look at it, it grows extras..."

Boyd had a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stories, connecting the reborn Fairport Convention to their reawakening at The Band's Music from Big Pink, then relating how the guys from Los Lobos said they would have remained a bad heavy metal band had they not listened to Fairport and turned to their own folk music for inspiration. I don't know the Incredible String Band that well, but I loved Hitchcock's rendition of "Chinese White" and laughed at Boyd's story about how leaving the band alone in New York for three days while he flew out for business in LA ended up leading to their joining Scientology (and perhaps consequently derailing their career).

Boyd had been the owner of the influential UFO club, that really gave the big boost to the then unknown Pink Floyd. If you only know the post-Syd Floyd (as most people seem to do) you're missing out. The genius that was Syd Barrett! Boyd read his encomium to Barrett which appeared in the program for a tribute concert the two worked on. It brought tears to many eyes, including Hitchcock's and then he performed "Bike" which is a just about perfect song, and delighted everyone.

They signed copies of the book afterward, so I actually got extra squee. Joe Boyd liked my Ganesh scarf and I asked Robyn to sign my Moleskine, so now I can take a little inspiration with me everywhere. Happy sigh. Looking forward to reading the book, too!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bella Roma

In the nineteenth century, wealthy Americans went on "The Grand Tour" of Europe, visiting famous historical and artistic sites and hoping to run into other wealthy Americans whom they might marry or titled aristocrats if they wanted a little more social cachet. Now we Americans run off for our ever-so-brief holidays and hope for nothing more than keepsakes. My eyes were the chief repository of keepsakes: the glory of Rome fills your vision and the colors of that golden afternoon light live in memory. The extraordinary blue of the sky, the yellows and oranges -- breathtaking!

The flight over from Philadelphia was not only sold out, but there was a large contingency from a Baptist college, including one ebullient young woman right behind me who could not be more excited about going to Italy. Fortunately I had earplugs so I could get some sleep -- once the grumpiest man in Italy changed seats with his wife so his very loud music didn't resound quite so harshly. Most folks tried to get some shut-eye on the flight, but some of the Baptists were too excited to sleep and kept up a steady stream of chatter, that I only heard when waking occasionally. I got enough sleep that while I was groggy on the first day, I was fine by the second. I bet the Baptists were dragging, however.

How wonderful to land in a country for the first time and be greeted by friends :-) Alessandra and her son Edoardo met me outside customs and whisked me away to their lovely home. After a little refreshing, we headed out to the Baths of Caracalla, that gathering place of old Rome where Keats and Shelly found inspiration. You can see where the pools stretched out, hot and cold, gymnasium and more. Some of the mosaics remain, though most of the statues had been taken away to museums or homes long ago. It's a beautiful spot and like so many landmarks of the ancient world, nestling right in the heart of the busy city. In Rome the ancient and the modern live comfortably side by side. NB: Alessandra and Edo took these pictures. I find that the camera I borrowed from Catherine does not speak to Macs, so once I get that sorted out, I will post mine.

Not too far away lies the Protestant Cemetery, final resting place of both Keats and Shelley as well as other notables and home to many cats! There are cats all over the place in Rome, especially at burial grounds it seems. More on the cats later. We stopped by Shelley's grave which is also by Gregory Corso's and Shelley's friend Trelawney's. Nearby is the famous Angel of Grief. I suppose Edo and I look a little too happy here, but we were having fun despite the light rain. The beautiful spring flowers  brought color to the greenery, especially the lovely violets on Keats grave. The cats peeked through the gravestones everywhere and the amazing pyramid overlooked the scene. It's quite a sight to see.

For a more unusual sight, we headed over to the Centrale Montemartini museum. On the way we saw a rather wet cat riding on the shoulders of a scooter driver -- quite amazing! Rome is full of surprises. Here's the thing: when you travel, be guided by one who knows. Alessandra seems to know everything about her beloved city, and can turn any corner and have something interesting to show you. I never got over my amazement at her encyclopedic knowledge! I usually have a good sense of direction, but Rome is such a sprawling organic tangle that I found it impossible to keep oriented, but delights permeate the city. One of them is this fantastic power station that's been turned into a museum. At first it seems incongruous to see classical statues from gardens and temples ranged in front of turbines. But these are the engines of our lives, both the practical and the creative. Here's me with the Muse Polyhymnia, trying to look thoughtful and inspired. Not too difficult! This trip has replenished my muses for sure!

Videos to come soon...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Re-Entry: A Challenge

Hundreds of emails and more to wade through: bear with me and for the moment, enjoy this lovely photo Alessandra took of me at the top of the Spanish steps with my "Bright Star" badge from the Keats house and Rome behind me. Pictures, videos and more to come!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ciao, Bella!

UPDATE: read my review of the Winter's Bone soundtrack over at Night and Day, the Spectator's Arts blog.

Yes, I am off to Rome today assuming all goes well. I have my boarding passes printed and surely I will be all packed and ready (!). I am not taking a computer with me (gasp!) except for Ianto the iTouch (mostly so I have music on the flight). So, I'm not sure how much I will be online. So I'm going to put the Twitter feed here as that's an easy way to check in and if I can, you will see what I am up to. I'm returning late on the 9th and I'm sure I will have much to share upon my return. Arrivederci, America!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Text as Art

Get a peek at the exhibit via the magic of video: choose your video outlet. We had a great time and it was fascinating to hear the genesis of the (all very different) projects. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by the Arts Center and check it out.

Text as Art from Kate Laity on Vimeo.

Phew -- so much to do today! Somehow it will all get done, somehow it will all get done, somehow...