Today marks 4 years since my last drink.

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When I was trying to get sober, I wanted to read something current about recovery – something with a sense of humor – but I couldn’t find anything.

So eventually, years later, I tried to write what I was looking for. It’s entitled THE WHITE CHIP and I’m lucky enough that Sheryl Kaller is directing it, Tom Kirdahy is producing it, and it’s happening at MRT in January of 2016.

At MRT, we’re raising money so that anyone in – or recently out of – a treatment center can attend THE WHITE CHIP for free.

I think there’s tremendous power to seeing yourself on stage, the power of gathering with others you don’t know to see your collective story told, and how through laughter we can lift the stigma of shame that keeps so many of us quiet.

You can help us be of service to people in need by donating to our “White Chip Shot” campaign.

And for right now, all donations are doubled by an anonymous donor.

Thanks friends.

http://www.mrt.org/support/white-chip-shot

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“That’s how we win the universe” – Lauren Gunderson

Lauren“The Wedding of Veronika and Sean

 a la Lauren Gunderson, their biggest fan

 

Prologue!

 As we begin the exuberance of this day celebrating two joyful, kind-hearted, creative, resilient, smart,

and very attractive theatre artists…

I would feel remiss I didn’t say….

Please turn off your cellphones and unwrap any hard candies, note the exits (which are basically anywhere), lean back and enjoy the…

Fact that we are gathered here today

because of two incredible people…

and the fundamental forces of the universe.

Atoms from the centers of far off and long gone stars have crashed through chemical reactions large and small to land us in the wonder of consciousness and community right here and right now. Out of those ancient relationships of space, time, and energy comes

not just life, but the truly mysterious, confounding overwhelm of love.

Because Love? Is totally unnecessary.

Atoms don’t need it, photosynthesis doesn’t need it, even human reproduction doesn’t actually need it.

A truly rare thing in the universe, rarer than life itself,

is love. Which is pretty great for us.

Well done, humans! What a win, right? What a get!

But what do we do with it, this strange and beautiful accident of chemistry and biology?

Well. We should probably use it. A lot.

We should love each other, we should make peace,

and make jokes, and make a bunch of art.

That’s how we win the universe.

And that’s exactly why we’re here today.

To celebrate the – I’m gonna go ahead and say – cosmic love of Veronika and Sean.

This love is shared with each other, with all us gathered here, and with all of those people we so very much wish were here. And it’s even shared with those wild little atoms that have journeyed so long and won’t ever realize the wonder of which they are a part.

But we do.
Now let’s get these two married. ” – Lauren Gunderson

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“For Veronika and Sean On Their Best-Dressed Day” by Topher Payne

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“With love and admiration from your pal Topher

My parents met at age nineteen, eloped after six weeks, and have been married for forty-three years. Imagine, just for a moment, the horrible example this set for their children. I grew up thinking their experience was normal, which led to a series of romantic pairings that could charitably be described as “overly-optimistic.”

We are artists. We want to experience the world, to challenge it and test its resistance. We want to be our most authentic selves and speak unfiltered truth. And who the hell would want to live with that?

So sometimes it takes us longer to become marriage material.

In life, it’s tempting to look back and say, If I could do it over again, I would’ve said this, or done that, or not set that fire, but ultimately, every step you’ve taken- everyone you’ve loved, everyone you’ve lost, every choice- has brought you here. Which makes it a journey worth celebrating, because look where we are.

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You managed to find someone in each other who sees you for everything you are, everything you want to say and do, and amazingly, they really wanna live with that.

Sean, Veronika. Marriage, if you nurture it, is awesome. Someone is always on your side. This is particularly handy when you are completely in the wrong, because that’s when having someone on your side really matters.

This is not the most important day of your life together. This is the best-dressed day of your life together. On the most important day, you’re going to have a bad moment. It’ll be your worst moment. You’ll still love each other, but you won’t like each other much. You will be afraid, and you will say things borne out of fear, because we are achingly human. It is what we do.

You will ask, maybe just in your head, maybe out loud, if you’re capable of keeping the promise you made today. And on that most important day, exhausted and wounded, you will decide the answer is yes. You are better together than you could ever be apart. On the most important day, you will truly feel the full weight of committing your life to another person, and you will decide it is totally worth it.

Love is not the solution to all of life’s problems. Love is the reason you look for solutions. Some days will be filled with joy. Other days, less so. The constant is not happiness, the constant is the partnership. Face the challenges of life as a team, without blame. And when you feel fear or uncertainty, admit it.

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All of us have gathered here for your best-dressed day- some of us using an iron for the first time in recent memory- for a simple reason: In a world filled with uncertainty, we believe in this union. It fortifies us, it brings us joy. We know without question that with the two of you joining forces, working as a team, doing what you do best- making art, telling stories, nurturing communities- the world we live in will be a better place. And we are grateful.

You have frustratingly little control over the length of time you’ll have together, but you have absolute control over the quality of it. So, whenever and however you can, save the best of yourselves for each other.

It takes a lifetime to really learn to love someone properly. We’re so glad you’ve decided to learn together.” – Topher Payne

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How I Learned Comedy (from Stan Freberg and sugar)

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My father had an amazing sense of humor. He had a great laugh. He had impeccable timing, and he had a joy that made you laugh in even tough situations.

Strangely enough, the only thing he didn’t have a sense of humor about was: the airport – we would arrive hours early, well dressed. We actually have video of us as a young family, having lunch, in slacks and ties, at the Arizona airport.

Clearly we got there with enough time to not only get lunch, but to make some short films.

One of our favorite repeated phrase as a family was what my father yelled to us once as we were racing thru an airport – we were running on the moving sidewalk to make a connection – and my father turned to us, red faced and yelled “this is no time for a stroll”. I believe it is a credit to my father’s great sense of humor that we all immediately exploded with laughter, many of us falling to the floor, and eventually even he had to stop and chuckle.

We made it to the gate with 42 minutes to spare.

And in the way that sons can only mock, and then repeat the actions of other father – none of us would now would be caught dead at an airport less than an hour before a flight.

Anyway, how did we all get this sense of humor? I have friends that claim they will love their children no matter what they are, but are secretly worried that one part of who they are as parents won’t get passed down to their kids – and for my friends, this has absolutely nothing to do with the big things like sexuality, religion, vocation, or even whether or not their kid is an asshole or not.

No, this is about more serious stuff….like will be my kid by a Red Sox fan, will she know we’re a Nascar family, will they appreciate that we are geeks and celebrate geek holidays?!? They’ll laugh when I say it’s bigger on the inside, right?!?!

For my father, it was “will my kids be happy and have a great sense of humor”. The idea of dull kids was too much for him to handle. So, he stacked the deck early.

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We would listen to Stan Freburg recordings, which my father found to be the pinnacle of comedy – especially his “History of the United States”. My brothers and I would be rewarded with Necco Wafers when each section was done. Yes, he was employing every pavlovian response that was available to him. We would laugh, we would repeat our favorite bits to each other, and then he would give us candy.

Simple. Straight-forward.

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If we listened to lots of Stan’s bits, he would give us more candy. It makes total sense that even today as I hear those comedy bits – anywhere – young Sean gets excited and thinks that a variety of wafer flavors may be on it’s way.

So, yes, that ridiculous style of humor: subversive, smart/stupid, political, punny, observational, deeply charming – is now mine also. My father was successful in passing on the thing he wanted us to get most (and also we go to airports really really early, which wasn’t his favorite, but would make him very happy, or at least relieved – I mean come on, you miss your flight and it takes forever to get rebooked. Don’t be that guy at the service desk yelling)

When my father passed away, and we were cleaning out his office, I found a few packages of Necco Wafers that I had given my father as a sentimental Christmas gift about 5 years prior. I was pleased to see that one of them was open and he had eaten about half of one pack.

I decided then that I should write a letter to Stan Freburg and thank him for all the great comedy that he had provided my father and I. I emailed it to about half a dozen email links I found on-line that seemed like they may actually be Stan Freeburg’s – never thinking that he’d get it, but maybe an intern somewhere would pass it on, or at least have a chuckle.

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And then Stan called me.

On Speakerphone with his wife.

He wanted to say that he got my email and he was incredibly moved by it. That most people just send him letters, but offer no way for him to contact them.

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It was a little like being on the phone with Santa Claus. There it was, the voice from my childhood, talking about what he was up to. I thanked him again in person, trying to convey how many Sunday afternoons he had been a part of, though failing to really say anything that even glimpsed at what he had meant to us.

Then he asked me what were my Dad’s favorite bits – what were the jokes that he loved the most. I told him – when Washington is on a ship, and one of his captains says “there grumblings of mutiny, sir”. Washington says “let me hear”, then we hear the door open and the men all in unison say “grumble, grumble, grumble, mutiny, mutiny, mutiny”.

He used to laugh and laugh about that.

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Then Stan did the bit for me.

This want back and forth for about 20 minutes. I’d tell him the jokes that made my Dad and I laugh the most, and then he’d do them for me. He knew them all perfectly – his timing was perfect, as though he rehearsed them daily just in case of this phone call.

At the end of the phone call, I tried to search for something I could do for him, but he said my email was enough and it had made his day.

And really, what am I going to offer him?

He did the grumble, grumble, grumble, mutiny, mutiny, mutiny for me one more time and got off the phone.

I stood there with the phone for a good five minutes. Just standing, not wanting the moment to end.

Then I laughed, a really great loud laugh, because it’s kind of ridiculous, and in addition, I have a great sense of humor – my father’s actually.

You make your own luck/theatre

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Reflections on Dad’s Garage’s home on August 6th, 2013

The building is being torn down to make way for a giant ugly parking deck.

Inman Park is hoping that reaping and sowing are no longer connected ideas.

I have just left the building for the last time, on a plane to Edinburgh, and am inspired to write down my memories of it, quickly, before those brain cells go.

So…..1995….I knew that once we graduated from the Florida State School of Theater that no one was going to hire us.

None of us could get cast when we were there – one of us was kicked out of the school of theater, and another was given a worse punishment: allowed to stay but blackballed for “not taking the school seriously enough.” Only Gregorio got cast and he was a Communications major.

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I had recently directed and adapted a staged version of Three’s Company starring everyone. It was really hated by the school staff for being “not of the quality” they do. (I had cast the school receptionist in the show, as well as myself as Larry.)

It was also extended as everyone wanted to see it. My first of many “poorly reviewed, well attended” shows.

So, upon graduating, we figured our only option was to take a chance on ourselves.

We could prove them all wrong by hiring ourselves.

It makes sense if you say it fast enough.

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So, the day after graduation we packed up all our stuff into one van and moved to Atlanta. We got apartments in the same complex so it would seem like we all had friends.

We rented out a warehouse space down the street from where we lived (the former Actors Express space) and started with the brilliant business plan of doing theater until the money ran out…a plan I do not recommend to anyone.

Luckily 18 years later, it hasn’t.

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Why Atlanta? Well, The Olympics were coming, and we figured that when people came to the Olympics, they’d also want to see some locally flavored not for profit theater. That didn’t really pan out. Oddly enough, when people came to the Olympics, they wanted to see, um, the Olympics. But bad business model and Olympic miscalculations aside, everything else actually worked out.

Maybe even in ways we’ll never even know.

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Chris Blair, Marc Cram, Matt Stanton, John Gregorio, Dave Keeton, Matt Young, Joseph Limbaugh, George Faughnan and myself – with Jed Broitman, Allen Simpson Steven Guarino and Brian Griffin arriving later that summer – Matt Young leaving that winter.

The months leading up to our opening party were spent with the majority of us building sets, rehearsing scenes & sweating-off hangovers while I sat at a tiny table in a corner of the room and worked on paperwork. I was self-teaching myself how to put together a corporation and such. Other members were teaching themselves how to build a stage, how to exist without structure, and how to have adult artistic conversations. The jump into the “real world” is tough for everyone, but when you’re in this weird alternate reality of being an adult starting a business, and trapped between college tendencies and adult responsibilities, it’s a tricky one. Too many huge decisions were made at 3 in the morning, and too many hurt feeling were cried out at 5 in the morning.

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But then sometimes, Joseph and I would arrive early in the morning and cook little smokies for everyone as they arrived, and all would be mended. Then we would go back to building our dream theater.

We definitely had our share of “first year moments.” One time we performed for one guy, though I am proud to say that he gave a standing ovation. One time we performed for 3 people, one of which was a woman on a respirator that pinged every time she laughed. As the show got funnier we heard more and more pings. We were worried that we were going to kill her.

After a few weeks of low audiences we started giving out free tickets on the street, like we were busking at a fringe festival. The next week we had a staff meeting about not giving free tickets to homeless people – as they were taking us up on it and sleeping in the air conditioning.

We opened on June 23, 1995 with a show entitled FUN WITH SCIENCE, written by some friends of ours. We followed it up with an improv show.

fun with scienceCreative Loafing, the weekly rag in town, reviewed the show and proclaimed, “it is aimed at 20 something males and friends of the cast.” Years later, we would receive a review in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that stated, “not what most adults would call theater.” We put that on the front of our brochure the next year, and I still think it’s our finest notice.

In the first 5 years, we perfected the written work at 8, improv at 10:30 routine – though really the improv caught on immediately and the taste for scripted material grew later. People wanted to see more of their favorite improvisors, so they took chances on watching them perform in scripted materials earlier in the evening.

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Our real secret strength was our performers. We started off with 9 actors, which is a terrible make-up to start a group—as someone has to tear tickets, market the shows, paint sets, etc. The benefit was our performers were some of the most fucking charming people you had ever seen. To this day, that remains true.

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We quickly were a hit, locally and nationally. We had a young audience, the unicorn of the American Theater, and people wanted to know why.

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I think the truth is, when we were in college, we didn’t see ourselves on stage. We were 20 and when we watched THE MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST. While we appreciated it, we weren’t in there. That show wasn’t about us, and didn’t care about us.

So, we did shows that had us in them, and then when we couldn’t find those shows, we wrote shows that had us in them. We wanted to see ourselves on stage, so we put ourselves there.

My first directing gig was Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia. Following the opening I wrote Eric a letter that said “Eric, I did a fantastic job directing your play, you should really come see this.” Once again, a plan I do not recommend to anyone.

But he did.

He flew down with his wife Jo Bonney, a prominent theater director; and Richard Linkletter, who had just directed Dazed and Confused and would soon be directing the movie of this. Afterwards we all went to the Marriott Marquis and drank gin and tonics and talked about the show.

He wrote us a letter of recommendation that said, “if you want theater to exits in the future, you should support this theater company.”

Suddenly we were the company with a letter of rec from Eric Bogosian.

My parents floated us money to get started and thru the tough months. As a gift my parents bought us a marquis for outside as they thought it was hard to find, and an insulated roof as they thought it was hard to hear. Subtely is not one my family’s strong suits but generosity is. All money comes with a price though, and I remember long conversations with my father where he scolded me for not turning a profit fast enough on the place. I am proud to say that after 5 years I was able to pay back all the money they, and my brothers, had loaned us. Though many things they gifted and didn’t want to be repaid for.

The theater almost closed about a dozen times – and while it (like all theatres) has tough moments from time to time, these times felt especially dangerous as with no support, or no history, it could easily just close and go away.

I remember crying on the side of the building, just wanting it to disappear and not slowly die. Matt Stanton came out with a bottle of Old Granddad, and promised me that it would go on forever. When I doubted him, he read me the story of Old Grandad that came on the bottle.

what it all means

It makes sense if you say it slow enough.

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Even when the crowds were small, the improv was inspired. And even when the shows were charming and effort-full but not yet to a real standard, the improv was inspired. It was an improv theatre really from the moment it opened.

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Our next big break was when had been watching a video tape of a show called CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL. I wrote to the two creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to see if we could adapt it. They hadn’t started their TV show, South Park, yet so they said “sure.” While we were in rehearsals for it, South Park debuted. A kid in Georgia wore a Cartman shirt to school and was sent home, which lead to national coverage and boom….we were the ones doing “The South Park musical.”

Right place, right time. I guess you do make your own luck.

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Next, the Graham Chapman Archives was having a conference in town and thought it would be funny to see some Southern British boys doing farce. They came to mock us as we were doing Joe Orton’s WHAT THE BUTLER SAW.

Jokes on them, it was really fucking good.

Following the show, they decided to let us do the premiere of Graham’s OH HAPPY DAY. The only problem was, Graham had died while writing it, so they would need us to work with John Cleese and Michael Palin to finish it. Um. OK.

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We won “Best Theater” in town 5 times in row. The staff went from just me full time (unpaid) to 5 people. We won “Best Improv” almost every year for 11 years. People got married, people had kids, people got divorced, more and more audience members came. I remember someone telling me that when they first came to Dad’s in 1996 they had heard that the “shows were ok, but the parties were really great” and that in 2003 they had heard that the “shows were really great, but the parties were just ok.” We were getting older, and better.

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And things changed: Marc Cram’s father made a bunch of signs for us as a gift before we opened. He passed away. My father who loaned us the money and visited whenever he could passed away. Time waits for no man, or as I remember Matt Stanton saying one night in a drunken moment of clarity “Tom Waits For Snowman”.

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Since then FSU has named me an “Alumni Done Good.” Following my winning of “Best Director in Atlanta” two years in a row, I wrote to my college Directing teacher to see if I could get my final senior grade changed from a B- to something higher. He said no, and I was lucky he gave me a B-.

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I think Atlanta is an amazing place to start out as artists, and I’m glad that we did it there. Atlanta is hungry for what’s new, as it continually tries to race away from it’s past. We received support – in terms of donors and press that we’d never have received in other cities. New York would have eaten us alive, and we wouldn’t have had the time to grow as artists, to take a bold step and then begin to figure out who we were as artists, and more importantly, people.

I should give thanks to Dan Hulbert, who was the theater critic at the AJC. He quickly saw something and championed us. Getting ink in the main paper was huge. He proclaimed us the hot new thing in town, and it helped to make it so. We all have love/hate relationships with critics, but he was one of the greats. Whenever anyone talks about the early years of Dad’s Garage, I think of Dan and am grateful for what he did.

It should be noted that when we started, we really didn’t know what we were doing, and that meant that we did a lot of things wrong. Even in the afterglow of 18 years of success and awards, some of us are not as close as we were when we started. In your 20’s everyone grows at different times, and not everyone grows forward. Therefore feelings are hurt, egos are bruised, and there is a real cost to building something bigger than yourself.

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My favorite thing anybody ever said about Dad’s Garage was said in 2004 by Jamie Warde when asked who was the MVP of the year. He answered “everyone that leaves and takes what we do out into the world.”

I was leaving that year. I was given a wondrous plaque at the going away party, and I was asked to speak. I had nothing prepared so I blurted out that I loved everyone but I had to leave as I wanted to be a director. Later I felt guilty that I hadn’t said something more eloquent – but as time has passed, I found that to be the truest thing I could have said. Dad’s Garage is an ensemble, and it’s a place where people in their 20’s make theater for people in their 20’s. I never wanted to build a place where people in their 40’s make theater for people in their 40’s. I think those theaters are plentiful and already dying. I wanted to go be a director and I wanted someone young to come in and tell everyone that my ideas were full of shit and here’s our newest ill-advised plan.

That’s happening now, and it makes me proud, sad, proud and nostalgic all at once.

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The theater is moving, not closing, but it’s hard to not romanticize when it was just a warehouse space, we were 22, and we all just sat in it, on the ground, and brainstormed about what type of theater we wanted to start.

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Cohort Year 2 Wrap Up: “one of the greatest testaments to human skill, ingenuity, and spirit that I know.”

Geva Journal

photo2“If you enjoy watching any creative process, an artist creating their work, this is something you just have to see!!“

We just finished up our second year of the Cohort Club.

As reported last year, our first attempt was a smash success. In the same year that we initiated this program, Geva saw a rise in both subscriptions and individual giving…and while we know many factors contributed to that good fortune, the buzz from the Cohort Club’s first year was addicting. So we thought, “Let’s expand!” For the Cohort Club’s second year we decided to launch two groups of Cohorts (one in the fall and one in the spring), each following the creation of two shows.

katieWhy two shows? We had a lot of feedback from the first Cohort group that it wasn’t until after witnessing the process of creating a production once that they knew what to…

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman did not have choice or free will and neither do you.

As always, science is the answer.

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In the wake of the tragic loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a great artist, partner, father, brother, and son, I offer the following facts about the neurological disease of addiction.

The overwhelming majority of adults in the western world have passed through experimental stages in their lives where they have dabbled with some kind of brain altering addictive substance, i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, prescriptionpain killers, ADHD medication, anti-anxiety medication, and yes, even marijuana (save the ‘it’s not addictive” arguments for later, please).  And the overwhelming majority of these adults will emerge from their experiments unscathed, believing that their free will and good choices are what saved them from becoming addicted.

The problem with this thinking is that it is factually incorrect.  In other words, they are all wrong.

What saved them (you) from becoming addicted is that their brains did not respond in the same way that…

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