Archive for the ‘ Broad Street Review ’ Category

Finding my voice at poetry camp

BY: Merilyn Jackson 07.17.2012

Tom Lux— aka the Wrecking Ball— plowed over my lines.

Suck in that iambic pentameter! Or:
Notes from summer poetry boot camp

I’ve written poetry since I was a kid— not much of it very good, but I wrote it as best I could. In the ‘70s I took poetry classes and attended readings with my professor. At the original Painted Bride on South Street one June night, I met AJ Sabatini reading his poetry.

Six weeks later I broke my husband’s heart (and my professor’s) by moving in with Sabatini. Together we read poetry by Plath, Stevens and Williams, and passages from Finnegans Wake, in varying cadences to each other as foreplay. We didn’t have a TV.

Almost everyone we knew then wrote, composed or choreographed— all language forms that demand attention, interpretation, parsing and translation.

There was Jack, Maralyn, Patience, Jett, Annson, Karen and Joseph. Steve Berg, who had just started the American Poetry Review, left his shoeprints on our wall one night during an impromptu party we threw after an APR-sponsored reading by Robert Bly. Bly left a more impersonal ring on our end table from his icy glass. Unlike the wall, the table— with its cloudy nimbus moon in full eclipse— has traveled with us throughout the years.

Veiled eroticism

Some time ago, I became a little bored with writing arts criticism and began “raiding” old poems for good lines that refreshed my dance writing. Soon I was writing more and more poetry— mostly what you’d call arch-romantic stuff filled with lightly veiled eroticism. I confess I am a tease.

This year I applied to three summer poetry-writing workshops and was accepted to all three. I chose Colgate and Sarah Lawrence, since both gave me some scholarship funding. I just got back, after working with Peter Balakian at Colgate and Tom Lux at Sarah Lawrence.

I have just one question: Why didn’t I do this 30 years ago?

Colgate’s campus in upstate New York is art-gallery print beautiful. The college sits on a hill that seems a 90-degree angle when you climb it in 90-degree heat. The town of Hamilton is a 15-minute walk from the foot of its slope. And that’s about it if you’re without wheels. If you’re there for only a week there’s enough to explore on foot.

Emboldened by drink

But you find little time for sightseeing at a writing workshop. Matt Leone, who has run Colgate’s summer writing program for ten years, wedges in more talks, readings and social gatherings than a day can hold. It’s all you can do to steal an hour or two for writing.

Most of the faculty are published authors— Balakian, J. Robert Lennon, Dana Spiotta and Bruce Smith— who grew up in Philadelphia and got my Philly Girl ’tude as if we were cousins. Participants chatted with them after their readings and talks. Among the pithiest readers were Lennon— whose book of flash fiction, Pieces for the Left Hand, I gobbled at the beach in one afternoon last week— and Smith, whose Devotions are still wending homeward via the mail.

They also comprised a generous audience for the student readings each afternoon and again late into the evenings, when drinks emboldened us. These readings ranged from drab to dazzling, ho-hum to outrageous. Best of all, I got my first opportunity to read my work to an audience.

Finding my voice

Some of my fellow workshoppers weren’t sure my poems read well on the page. But when I stood up and said, “I don’t need no stinkin’ podium” and plowed into the crowd, performing my poems, they got it. I had never read to an audience before, but the minute the floor didn’t open up and swallow me, I knew I owned it. I had a voice, a pretty good one; I just had to find better ways to translate its tonalities from the stage to the page.

The workshops with Balakian had a warm and fuzzy quality, tentative and blanketed in political correctness and politesse. Balakian has a delicious international sidekick in Ioanna Karatzaferi, the Greek-born and part-time Manhattanite author and translator of more than 50 books in Greek. I had the pleasure of riding the six-hour bus to New York with her on my way down to Sarah Lawrence. I learned as much in those six hours as I did in the previous six days.

Ioanna and I shared common past adventures in political activism: she for Greek democracy, I for a free Poland. Each of us understood that meant we were working for people to be free to fuck up or succeed— their choice. By the end of the bus ride I reached the conclusion— which I think Ioanna supported— that I should follow my heart as well as my intellect in my poetic choices. That is, I should let the poems find their audiences instead of changing them to please less passionate, less nuanced readers.

Confronting the ‘Wrecking Ball’

Sarah Lawrence, just north of New York City, is more like jumping out of the print into a live, micro-version of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill. Very tony. Its much less sprawling campus put our living quarters within a two-minute walk of the dining hall and most of our workshops and events.

Here on Sunday afternoon the poet Tom Lux, who designed and founded the Sarah Lawrence workshop 19 years ago, sat in wait for our group of 11 on a large round table. We jumped right in with no introduction.

Lux— whom I dubbed The Wrecking Ball— was fiercely devoted to the cause, the sound and the meaning of poetry. He plowed over each of our lines, questioning our choices; then, after demolishing them, he assured us that as poets we are the final arbiters. We were left to pick up the pieces and rebuild our work then, as best we could.

You could sign up for as many one-on-one conferences with other instructors as you could squeeze in. Each of Lux’s workshop participants got almost a couple of hours of his time– that made for about 20 hours out of a week that immersed us all for 12 hours a day in wrenching, hard-driving poetry-talk.

During my freewheeling one-on-one with Lux, I pulled an old poem out of the pile at random. A short one, I figured, and one that had already been published. Lux immediately liked the title, “It makes you want to find out,” he said.

My original read:

How You Warriors Came to Farm

Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet.
My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops.
I turn my back to you.

To you, it is the steppes of Georgia.
You, Cossack, gouge furrows
Spew seed.

The bruised land yields up
unending riches:
The groans of Eve,
a loamy perfume —
so dark and hard to chew,
your eye must soften it
with salty tears.

Lux didn’t get that this poem is about a certain kind of sex (like pretty much all of my poems). Both he and another reader thought I should drop the last line. So I tried this version:

How You Warriors Came to Farm

Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet.
My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops.
I turn my back to you.

To you, it is the steppes of Georgia.
You, Cossack, gouge furrows
along my ribs, spur your seed deep.

The bruised land yields up
unending riches:
The groans of Eve,
a loamy perfume —
so dark and hard to chew,
your eye must soften it.

What was the point of this exercise (not to mention the point of attending poetry camps)? The late Nobel laureate poet Wisława Szymborska, one of my favorites, sometimes wonders who reads poetry. Many poets tackle the subject. So here’s my attempt:

The Efficacy of Poetry

What the fuck’s it for —
poetry – anyway?
It doesn’t give back what was yours.
It doesn’t pick you up from all fours.

When we need it most:
Funerals, the end of love affairs,
the birth of a child,
the cresting of delphiniums
the blistering of desert heat —
does it deaden pain,
mollify our fear of the unspeakable
breathing of cheeses?
(Not to speak of drying your tears.)

Or these tears, cracking laughter,
triangles of reference,
The Finger of God,
chitchat on that porch,
and that halleluwhat?

What is poetry for?
Does it give us closure?
What a conceit!
Who came up with that?
I’d like to stick his hand down
my garbage disposal
before he writes his next.

The only closure is death.

And everything between birth and death

— poetry.

Five poems by Merilyn Jackson were published this year in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse. To read them, click here.


Another Titanic night to remember

BY: AJ Sabatini 04.13.2012

Originally appeared in Broad Street Review

It was sad (so sad):
The night the Titanic went down, again


It was a night that we would remember, but the people in attendance would like to forget. Especially the hostess.

Dateline: Philadelphia, April 15, 1987. Party to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in a loft near South Street. The invitations were embossed; the affair— as we found out— included a replication of the final night’s menu: oysters, consommé fermier, cock-a-leekie soup for first courses, a buffet with potted shrimps, round of spiced beef, corned ox tongue. A well stocked bar, champagne everywhere.

The loft was meticulously decorated for the occasion. In fact, the hostess was an artist working as a free-lance set designer and food stylist for local advertising companies. With her artist’s eye and attention to period detail, everything from the sculpted white drapery to cut glass clamshell ashtrays sparkled with the prim elegance of Edwardian First Class comfort.

Guests were invited to dress for dinner and, fully in the spirit, men wore black lapel buffed tuxedos and the women gracefully sipped cocktails in floor-length gowns, their hair coiffed (though the younger, cheekier women made themselves up with Betty Boop curls spiraling onto their cheeks). They swayed to recorded band music— and their dates, mostly what were then called yuppies— waved their ridiculously fat cigars in the air and, as guys unaccustomed to wearing tuxedos, were as puffed up as high schoolers at a prom.

A job audition

One couple actually didn’t receive a formal invitation. That would be my wife Merilyn Jackson and me. We met Lauren, the hostess, a week or so before at the home of a friend where we all drank wine and laughed, as we did a lot back then. She casually invited us to her Titanic party, and we said sure.

Now, some of our friends in those days used to refer us as the Arthur & Merilyn Show. No need to go into specifics, but antics were us. Had Lauren known us better, she might have thought twice about inviting us to what she had planned as a party to show the city’s hot, up-and-coming advertising people what she could do. This Titanic party would be her showcase. If things went well, one of these potential employers might offer her a job.

The party was slated for a Saturday night, and I spent the afternoon going to used clothing stores in search of a tuxedo, which I found for $5 by about 5 o’clock. I also picked up a pair of blue-and-grey striped, heavyweight engineer-style bib overalls, a comically large monkey wrench and a long, thick rope.

Merilyn, a beauty, rested, having already decided on a flapper chic black dress. Our imaginations, sad to say, reached Second-Class level, at best. But, then, what attracted us was the word party, not Titanic.

Water, water everywhere

By 8 p.m. or so, inspiration struck: This soiree was intended to celebrate a sunk ship, or water, water everywhere. So I filled up a few gallon containers with water and steadied them in the trunk of our unreliable chartreuse Fiat.

From Queen Village, Merilyn chauffeured us over to Kater Street, where I took the water out of the car while she parked. I dropped the bib overalls and monkey wrench– along with Deep Down in the Jungle..Negro Narrative Folklore From the Streets of Philadelphia (by the world famous Penn folklorist Roger Abrahams)– in the entranceway to the second story apartment.

From the street, it looked like a grand party was in progress. A neat young couple, dressed like movie extras, nodded to us on their way in. When the coast was clear, Merilyn slipped off her jacket, we tied the rope around my waist and she climbed, other end of the rope in hand, upstairs in her black teddy, as if the sinking ship had interrupted an intimate engagement somewhere above steerage but below the swells.

‘Where’s the dame?’

As we’d planned, Merilyn poured gallons of water over my head, soaking my second-hand tuxedo. As I trailed a few steps behind her, she burst into the party, squealing, “Help! Man Overboard,” while I, lay on my side in a puddle clutching the rope.

The hired mock maitre d’ at the top of the stairs, greeting everyone and finding their name cards, was the first one to widen his eyes in disbelief.

Moments later, dripping wet as a dog after a swim, I scrambled to my feet, shouting, “Where’s the dame? Where’s the dame?” as if completing the scenario whereby Merilyn and I had been rudely interrupted down below and I swept overboard.

It took only a few seconds for us to read the open mouths, turned heads and perturbed raised eyebrows as signs that joking still wasn’t the accepted tone when it came to the subject of what happened that night when the great ship went down.

African-American toast

But the umbrage from the cummerbunds and frowns from the gowns faded quickly and turned to laughter. Lauren greeted us and seemed amused, even if we had possibly sunk her career.

Merilyn quickly slipped back into her jacket and headed for the champagne and canapés.

I, always one to compound disaster with calamity, returned downstairs, picked up the book, bib overalls and monkey wrench, and retreated to the bathroom to change.

Grabbing a bottle of wine, I found a corner. When a few guests drifted over to applaud my role and ask about my costume change, I read aloud the African-American “toast,” Shine on the Titanic (quoted in Deep Down in the Jungle)

A “toast” is what we might call today a rap. It’s a satire based on a character named “Shine,” who supposedly worked in the Titanic’s engine room. Shine repeatedly tries to warn Captain Smith that the ship is sinking but is ignored. At one point he rhymes:

Shine went downstairs, he ate a piece of bread.
That’s when the water came above his head.
He said, “Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my bread
And the motherfuckin’ water came above my head.”
He said, “Shine, Shine, set your black self down.
I got 99 pumps to pump the water down.”

‘Let it sink’

Eventually, Shine realizes what’s going on and saves himself. The refrain, “and Shine swam on” in Shine’s euphemistic way of saying, “Let the ship and the people on it sink.”

So I sat with my book, wine and monkey wrench, toasting away in my best mock-Shine style. Lauren looked on from time to time to make sure there wasn’t a third act in our show.

So now it’s the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking and Merilyn and I have just one question: Is anyone out there planning a Titanic party this month?

for Broad Street Review
Mar 17, 2012

I don’t know why you’d call German a guttural language, especially when you hear it sung. Depending on the singer, it can be soft and lush like Polish, leering and lurid like English, or seductive and sexy like French.

A singer who captures all these nuances and thousands more is Max Raabe, whose burnished baritone voice veers on the oleaginous with its faux-obsequiousness and then slides into girlish sincerity. Raabe does this by sending the voice exactly where he wants it. Whether he stretches his lips into a large O to throw it to the roof and back of his mouth for a falsetto or relaxes his chin into his chest to drop it into a lower register, he brings it to light with elegant deliberation.

Sometimes Raabe pitches it into his sinuses so that it takes on a more sinister quality— read the silly-sounding word dunkel in German, for sinister. In this instance, dunkel would be a perfect English word for the quality that skirts the edge of the absurd and the contradictory senses underlying everything Raabe sings.

He appeared at the Merriam Theatre for one night only with his Palast Orchester, which was formed with Raabe in the 1980s and still includes many of the same musicians. I’d downloaded some of his songs on my iPod and owned some of his CDs and watched him on YouTube, but I’d never had the chance to see him in person until that night.

Courteous seduction

The experience was anachronistically transporting in the strangest way. Rather than bounding onstage like a vaudevillian or like a louche Weimar cabaret singer of the ’20s and ’30s from where many of his songs spring, Raabe seduced us with his calm intensity, elegance and faux-naif reticence. His pomaded hair, white satin bow tie, tails and patent leather shoes— even his gracile and courteous body nodding his temple away from us as he repairs to the piano to give the musicians some solo moments— all speak of a gentler time, before the unspeakable crimes committed in World War II.

Of course, Raabe carefully never allows any sort of hubris to allude to that grisly episode, as if he hoped time would have stopped while all this delicate and amusing music was popular. And in that suspension of disbelief he made us all complicit.

The wistful Küssen Kann Man Nicht Alleine (“One Cannot Kiss Alone”) is the name of his newest (and I think best) CD, written with the German songwriting sensation, Annette Humpe. Many of the songs that night came from that album.

A lover’s hurt

The title song is one of the best examples of how Raabe pits disparate ideas against one another to jar the listener. It conveys the deep hurt the lover feels when that second, most essential person has gone AWOL:

Kissing is a dual feat
I’m ready for the heat
I can sing alone
And I can break my own wishbone
On the couch with you, my sweet,
I’m ready for the heat.

With a cool hand, in both German and English, Raabe sings the sort of lilting songs that our grandparents danced to. In the end, these are almost all dance tunes. In bringing them back to our ears, I hope they find their way to our feet as well. They do find mine as I foxtrot, quick-step and paso doble around my living room alone.

Yes, you can dance alone. But how much better with a willing partner and a great kisser.

Intimate journey

As in the reading of a post-modern novel, intertextuality plays a role in that Raabe creates a level of ambiguity and reference to other times, songs and places, allowing the listener to bring his own interpretation to the lyrics and the presentation of each song. By the night’s bittersweet ending, you feel as if you have been on an intimate journey with Raabe and his band of co-conspirators, the old world/new sound charm of the Palast Orchester.

One of my favorite songs is Ich Küsse Irhe Hand, Madame, from 1928. Raabe and the Orchester didn’t play it that night, but it’s on a couple of his CDs and you can find it on YouTube by many crooners, including Raabe, and a wunderbar rendition by Richard Tauber in a clip with Marlene Dietrich from 1929.

Flirty and charismatic as only certain seven-year old boys can be, Raabe exudes an innocence dripping with teasing playfulness in songs like Ich Bin Nur Wegen Dir Hier (“I’m Only Here For Your Sake”) and In Geheimer Mission (“The Secret Mission”), the rollicking Doktor, Doktor and the devastatingly lovely Du Weisst Nichts Von Liebe (“You Know Nothing About Love”):

The greater the love, the higher the fall,
Final collision is the fight for the sofa.

Now, what could that mean?

Tomorrow’s generation

You don’t need to know much German to catch the meaning in some songs, as in Crisis:

Hallo, Guten Tag, Mein Name ist Krise,” Crisis says when he knocks on your door.

Raabe’s and Humpe’s Lullabye is one I’m learning to sing to my seven-year-old charmer.

Swarms of birds in evening light play tag high in the skies.
Mama Gnu sings baby gnu old bedtime lullabies.
Sun has wandered far to Timbuktu.
Close your eyes so dreams may come to you;
Venus watches over us from outer space;
The moon stares down in disbelief at all that is taking place.
The ocean’s full of tired fish, the squids have gone to bed,
A whale blows bubbles from behind and suddenly turns red.

I think he’ll get it.

One more reason to move to Arizona

for Broad Street Review
Posted: 3/10/12

In Warsaw 12 years ago I attended an afternoon concert and afterward dashed across the square to the Teatr Wielki to see if I could get into a Nijinsky Gala on just that one night. The box office was closed, but I stuffed 20-zloty notes into the pockets of two apple-cheeked ushers— “For piwo (beer),” I explained— and they sneaked me in.

The choreographer Emil Wesolowski’s fabulous reconstruction of Nijinsky’s Jeux was just beginning, with Slawomir Wozniak Sr. dancing lead. After Wesolowski’s over-the-top Rite of Spring, I went backstage to meet him.

When each of us exhausted our respective supplies of Polish and English, Wesolowski took me to Wozniak’s dressing room. Still in his dance belt, Wozniak became our interlocutor. Upon hearing his excellent English, I asked if he’d been to the States.

“Oh, every year I go to dance Nutcracker in some place called Phoenix,” he replied.

When I laughed, he asked archly, “I said something funny?”

Oczywiscie (of course),” I explained. “I have a home in Phoenix where my husband teaches, but we’re never there over Nutcracker season.”

The dance world can be as small as it’s grand. Wozniak eventually moved to Phoenix permanently and now is the director of its Master Ballet Academy, where the recent Bolshoi defector David Hallberg trained as a youngster. Wozniak’s sons, now entering their 20s, are dancing with Ballet Arizona.

Sneaking in, again

Now fast-forward 12 years. I was flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix a few weeks ago, planning to see the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and hoping to see works by Will Bond and Michael O’Connor in Phoenix as well. I’d also hoped to pop in on David Krensing, the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal, who now lives in Tucson but teaches at Ballet Arizona on alternate Saturdays.

But once seated on the plane, when I picked up US Airways Magazine, it opened to a page about Ballet Arizona and its director, Ib Andersen. Lucky me. That weekend Ballet Arizona was dancing Sleeping Beauty, and I immediately changed my plans so I could catch the last show at 5:30 Sunday night.

Yes, Phoenix is still a sleepy town, with just about everything happening an hour or two earlier than we Eastern folks are accustomed to. The State of Arizona was celebrating its 100th anniversary— that is, it’s been around as long as Sleeping Beauty slept.

At the box office, I introduced myself and asked if they could get me in. Once inside, I went to the bank of dancers’ photos to see who was new and whom I might remember from years past. I was happy to see Paola Hartley was still there, dancing that night as Fairy of the Enchanted Garden with her Cavalier, Zherlin Ndudi. The great Astrit Zejnati was still there too.

Familiar faces

I found many new faces since I’d last seen Ballet Arizona. But Ilir Shtylla, an Albanian (like Zejnati) who first danced at Pennsylvania Ballet when he came to the States in 1999, has been with Ballet Arizona since 2003. So the Ballet Arizona boasts a strong core that upholds its institutional memory while bringing in fresh and hungry young upstarts as well.

As I pored over the photos, it was déjà vu all over again as I caught the young faces of two such young upstarts: Michal and Slawomir Wozniak, sons of the dancer I’d met in Warsaw.

In Sleeping Beauty, they performed several roles, with Michal dancing Bluebird the night I saw it, to thrilling heights in his jêtés, but also as an equally thrilling stage presence. The brothers alternated in the Bluebird role on different nights.

It was one of those unforgettable nights in the theater. The newly refurbished Phoenix Symphony Hall’s fantastic acoustics perfectly caught the conductor Timothy Russell’s sparkling reading of the Tchaikovsky score. The sumptuous sets (which filled the huge stage) and costumes were borrowed from the Boston Ballet, via the Royal Ballet circa 1970. The house was almost sold out, with many yummy little girls in gumdrop-like outfits on display.

In a big, story ballet like Sleeping Beauty, all 34 of Ballet Arizona’s dancers had roles. But best of all was Ib Andersen’s faithful yet fresh interpretation of the original 1890 Marius Petipa choreography.

From Taiwan, via Pennsylvania

It’s in the big ballets that Andersen’s light touch and meticulous attention to detail really shine. Even at over two and a half hours (minus intermission), Andersen’s Beauty never put anyone to sleep (other than the court on stage).

On my program, Natalia Magnicaballi, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2002, danced the Lilac Fairy and Shtylla played her Cavalier. The exquisite Taiwanese and Pennsylvania-trained Tzu-Chia Huang took command of the stage as Princess Aurora. In Act II, a century later (well, it seemed that way, waiting for him), Zejnati finally appeared as Prince Désiré (yes, can you take the subtlety?).

Zejnati’s pas de trois with Magnicaballi and Huang, after he kisses her awake, gave a taste of the glory to come in his grand pas de deux with Huang. There, his footwork and strength as a leaper contrasted with Huang’s unutterable delicacy and poise. The Wozniak brothers acquitted themselves like true Slavs in the Polonaise/Mazurka finale. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to follow their careers for many years, whether in the East or the West.


Spammer Alert!

Note to Spammers: I am a professional writer with more than 20 years experience. I write every single word that I upload onto my blog and use the blog as a repository for my published work. I would have no need to hire any writers especially at .01 cents per word. What sort of person would write for such peanuts? But you can hire me for $1.00 per word. Merilyn

by Merilyn Jackson on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 12:51pm

The following is a brief remark I add to the interesting and dynamic discourse taking place on Lisa Kraus’s FB page regarding the meaning of meaning and undiscerned meaning in dance reviewing. More than a dozen people have weighed in with some 40 remarks regarding the question: If you are on FB and have something to add, please go to Lisa’s page. Lisa Kraus

Must it mean something?

I found a great deal of “meaning” in Jasperse’ Canyon. I would even say he was dismissive of the audience during the 10 minutes or so he forced us to watch his crew pull up tape. But in a longer review would ponder why and posit some answers. I would describe the Catherine Wheel this discussion has sparked as if we were dancing around Ellen having said “there was no meaning.” She said “it was difficult to discern much meaning out of the piece.” She has a right to say that, for as critics we must identify with the audience no matter how insiderish our knowledge is. Is the audience ever wrong? You bet, and history often proves it. The best writers struggle to inform the audience and lead them to thoughtful reversals of their first reactions.

More on this in Broad Street Review next week.


Sept. 8, 2011


Theatrically, Headlong Dance Theater’s Red Rovers has a beginning, middle and end. So why was I always waiting for it to begin, until the end? By then I realized the little dances by Christine Zani and actor David Disbrow that took place around the middle, were going to be “that’s all there was.”

It was another clever setup/sendup by the three wizards of wisenheimery, David Brick, Andrew Simonet and the ever-charming Amy Smith. In the lobby beforehand, audience members were given fake name tags (I chose Donna Galuska) and were greeted by Smith as if we were arriving for a conference. Inside the cool set, designed by Chris Doyle, we were divided by into four groups and taken away (Amway-style) to confer so that no group knew what the others were up to.

Donna did Disbrow…

Disbrow’s swell and sweaty nerd/scientist was trying to get the Mars Red Rover working again. But as he explained how things got so screwed up, clearly his mind and Freudian slips were on trying to get his marriage to his partner and colleague Zani working again. Zani played her role with severity and danced with disdain for Disbrow. They texted mathematical solutions back and forth, with Zani mostly seen remotely on a skype-like screen. The clumsiness between them, the show’s conceit, and the two little remote controlled robots made by students at Central High, were adorable. But just as with Headlong’s 2009 More, there was a lot of stuff that just didn’t add up.

The dances, which could have summed it all up, were too little, too middling.

Instead of leaving Red Rovers excitedly chattering over what we had seen, we were puzzling over what we hadn’t. Has Headlong forsaken dance? John Cage, whose birthday was just yesterday, could get away with doing a piece for four minutes and 33 seconds in silence. But there has to be someone sitting motionless in front of the instrument to create the tension in the audience. Will she or won’t she play?

Creatively and collectively, the Headlongers need to rebalance their somatic and cerebral processes.

Live Arts Studio

919 North 5th St.

(at Poplar)

Sept. 8-10

Tickets: $25-30

BY: Merilyn Jackson 05.21.2011

A report on priestly sex abuse prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pins the blame not on celibacy but on the sexual revolution that began in the ’60s. Take it from one who was victimized by a priest even before that era began: The 1960s were the best thing that ever happened to victims of clerical sex abuse.

To read full article:


Who needs borders, anyway? 

Phillips: Nervous energy above all.


Several years ago, I painted my office a color called Spalding Gray. Yes, Sherwin Williams actually has such a color– SW 6074— and when I saw it I thought, what better way to make a small commemoration to the monologist/raconteur who had died earlier that year.

I had first seen Spalding in the 1980s in Swimming to Cambodia, his narrative one-man show at the Painted Bride about the making of the film The Killing Fields. Like everyone who ever saw Spalding, I was taken by the vividness of his storytelling and saddened that he most likely died by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry after a long and painful struggle to recover from a car accident.

Thaddeus Phillips— international theater creator, actor, writer and one-man verbal cyclone— follows in Gray’s wake, though I trust that will remain a metaphor. After receiving his B.A. from Colorado College, Phillips studied scene design and puppetry in Eastern Europe, where he may have acquired some of his pitch-perfect accents. He is artistic director of The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, whose original theater is often based on Phillips’s actual travels and laced with references to current events. He premiered his latest work in a string of idiosyncratic successes— 17 Border Crossings— at the Painted Bride earlier this month.

The new South Philly

When he’s in Philadelphia, Phillips happens to live around the corner from me in South Philly with his wife and collaborator, the Colombian-born Tatiana Mallarino. The area south of Washington Avenue has become peopled with the city’s dancers, actors and performing artists who frequently collaborate or otherwise interact with each other, if only by attending each other’s performances for moral support.

Phillips transcends the kind of one-man sit-talking, water-sipping show that Spalding Gray created. He ramps his performances up with physical movement (he’s a pretty good tap dancer, when he’s of a mind), acting, a plethora of authentic-sounding accents in any language he affects, and ingenious stagecraft that includes lighting, the latest high-tech gadgetry and the oldest low-tech slight-of-hand.

As the audience settled in, Phillips worked the crowd like a maitre d’ in a fine restaurant, greeting people, hugging some, guiding some to better seats. Was it all part of the show or just his way of sloughing off some nervous energy before getting down to business? But nervous energy is what seems to drive Phillips.

Less frenetic

He must have been considered a skeptical and irrepressible student. Yet he is not so neurotic as Gray was, and in Border Crossings he slows himself down to a deliberate, less frenetic pace than in earlier works like Lost Soles, Flamingo/Winnebago or ¡El Conquistador!, all of which were hits at recent Live Arts/ Fringe Festivals.

Shakespeare is a frequent source for Phillips. To set the tone for Border Crossings, he recites the lines from Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, which mentions what was the first passport: a letter of passage signed by the king. Traveling in the last decade has become a trial, but even more so with the itinerary Phillips took on. He really did travel (and study) in the Czech Republic, and then on to Slovenia, Israel, Jordon, Cuba and Colombia, not necessarily in that order.
His retelling of how he experienced the border guards and how the culture of baksheesh varies from country to country is authentic. It reveals how freedom and free access to common goods and money informs value.

Israel $50, Jordan $2

In Eastern Europe, for instance, a pack or a carton of cigarettes gets you through customs. At the Israeli border, a $50 bill gets you by, while a short while later in Jordan only $2 suffices, except that you might have to submit to multiple shakedowns by the same guards at different border stages.

For each of the 17 crossings, Phillips updates the old vaudeville card and easel mode of announcing a change of scene by flicking on an iPad to indicate the number of the next crossing. A simple bar of fluorescent lights across the stage, designed by Maria Shaplin and operated by Bob Adamski, performs multiple duties from a rickety train to, hilariously, a ski lift, but I won’t give away how.

In this work, Phillips becomes his most frenetic, drawing the Amazon across the stage with chalk to illustrate the confluence of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. In this curly little delta there are no border guards and you can cross from country to country freely.

Costly stupidity

With dizzying incisiveness, Phillips shows us the irony, costliness, stupidity and inconsistency of crossing borders. In the end Phillips is talking to Pablo in Juarez, where Pablo asserts we are all aliens and then manages, finally, to sneak across the border to the U.S. Phillips is already at work on a new piece, Whale Optics, which he’ll workshop at the Live Arts lab on Fifth Street on April 18 and 23. For more details, click here.

Spalding Gray may have had a paint named after him, but Phillips’s work is so heady and criss-crossed with twists and turns that they ought to at least name a screwdriver after him.♦

Originally published by Broad Street Review, 4/11/2011

Just read your Druid article and had a good laugh and see your point, of course. But the Inquisition, Crusades et al were far longer ago than nine years— not that that makes them any less heinous. In this case I have yet to hear the American Muslim community decry Jihad or religious Fatwahs. Did one prominent Muslim ever speak out on behalf of Salmon Rushdie? I would even suggest they build and use the community center as a place of asylum for those abused in the name of Islam. That includes women and girls under threat of clitoredectomy. That would be a fitting memorial to the Muslims murdered on 9/11.

Practice: Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy), Type II (commonly referred to as excision) and Type III (commonly referred to as infibulation) are the most common forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Nigeria. Type IV is practiced to a much lesser extent. The form practiced varies by ethnic group and geographical location. It crosses the numerous population groups and is a part of the many cultures, traditions and customs that exist in Nigeria . It crosses the lines of various religious groups. It is found among Christians, Muslims and Animists alike.

NOTE: although this cites the use of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) as practiced by Christians (not a group I would normally defend) I can cite Catholic apologetics and religious teachings which condemn the practice as a sin or crime.

an estimated 97 percent of Egyptian women have undergone the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (“circumcision”), which was banned by the Minister of Health in 1996. Egyptian and international institutions are now mobilising to reduce its spread.

“Every disgusting Islamic custom is not only coming to the West, it’s on the rise. Like honor killings — they are skyrocketing in the west. To the credit of the UK, at least they are talking about it. It’s happening here but to speak of it would insult CAIR….In the case of clitorectomies, if they insist upon such torturous mutilation, we should insist upon reciprocity. For every clit, a johnson.” Pamela Geller on Atlas Shrugs

I second that motion.


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