Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Blog

Comical weekend

March 27th, 2016

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This is a little bit of graffiti in my neighborhood.

Okay, it’s the Warner Brothers water tower (still in my neighborhood). On Thursday night, the folks at Warners were kind enough to invite a couple hundred of us to a screening of “Batman v. Superman” on the lot. I won’t say that you’re looking at the best part of the movie (that would be Wonder Woman), but I will say that even with a masters in writing and almost 25 years of teaching dramatic writing, and with five decades of reading comic books starring Batman and Superman, I couldn’t make any sense of whole chunks of the film.

The next day, I went to Wonder Con, the baby brother to Comic-Con, with a couple of friends. Wonder Con, which began years ago in San Francisco and has more lately been in Anaheim, was in downtown Los Angeles this year due to scheduling difficulties with the Anaheim Convention Center. I’m now going to show you the absolutely most wondrous thing I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles. Look closely.

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YES, that is my car parked at a white-striped FREE parking spot right on Figueroa Street, immediately across from the Los Angeles Convention Center. You’re going to want to save this photo. Some day, you will tell your grandchildren that you’d once seen a FREE parking spot in downtown LA and they will sneer at you. They will say, “But Gramps, all parking near the Convention Center is $20, or $30, or frequently even 45 bucks! FREE parking? You’re nuts!” But there it is — absolute proof, and unlike Bigfoot photos, obviously not staged or Photoshopped. It exists! At least, it turns out, until 3 p.m., whereupon it becomes a tow-away zone unmarked by signs.  Good thing my good friend the redoubtable Dr. Trek checked for me. Whereupon I moved my car… into $20 parking. But until then, I had this, I had the FREE PARKING! Another grail quest completed!

Wonder Con, as stated, is much like Comic-Con, if Comic-Con were Galactus and Wonder Con were Ant-Man. (You’ll note that unlike Comic-Con, Wonder Con doesn’t even merit a hyphen. That says a lot.) Still, it’s possible to catch up with old friends and have a grand time. Here I am digging in comics boxes looking for a surprisingly hard-to-find copy of From Beyond the Unknown #8, with a couple of old pals.

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Even Spidey-Sense couldn’t help me find that issue. The search continues.

Unlike the San Diego Convention Center (and, indeed, the City of San Diego itself), where the structure is laid out sensibly, the Los Angeles Convention Center is the product of a twisted mind whose architectural style pairs M.C. Escher with the Marquis de Sade. The Center has no center — there are actually two large buildings separated by a street and an enclosed overhead byway that gives no hint that one is crossing between buildings — and is shaped overall like clumps of organic matter with roots growing through them. You know how sometimes you’ll find a section of an airport closed for renovation and you’re shunted down narrow passageways serving as temporary workarounds? At the Los Angeles Convention Center, these claustrophobic corridors are permanent. Someone actually designed them this way. (And I’m not the only one to remark upon the terrible Los Angeles Convention Center. Mark Evanier has been going on about it as well.) Take this example:

 

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See the people up top? Perhaps you’d like to join them. Now, barring the power of flight, how could you do it. Well, if you back up 20 feet, you find this:

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Yes, that’s a lady in some sort of blue costume. It’s also a stairwell. How do I know it’s a stairwell? I went all the way inside to see what it was. There’s no sign, there’s no window, it’s completely shielded, so there’s no indication that it’s a stairwell — in this case, with a  female Deadpool lying on the steps taking a photo of this lady’s rear end for some reason — but trust me, it’s a stairwell. But then, one shouldn’t be surprised that it’s unmarked:  Most of the interior of the convention center is unmarked. Including access points to the parking garage. It took my friend Larry and me 45 minutes to find my car inside the convention center parking structure on Saturday night, and that was after consulting with a convention center supervisor and a helpful guard who walked us out and still couldn’t find access. (After walking about an hour on our own, Larry and I found it. By luck.)

Even with  the frustrations of parking and navigation, as well as scheduling that left me traversing one end of the convention center back to the other repeatedly over two days during which I burned 550 calories each day just by walking (thanks, iPhone tracker), Wonder Con was great fun. Two added great finds from the Con.

1. I finally got my dream job, and a sense of the benefits.

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2. I finally, actually, really got to see someone dragging toilet paper on his shoe. I guess it isn’t just a classic movie joke.

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Shandling and Shatner

March 24th, 2016

William Shatner’s 85th birthday was on Tuesday — and just now we learned that Garry Shandling won’t be having any more birthdays.

In honor of both, here’s a scene that’s every bit as fun now as it was when it aired.

Now I’ve seen everything

March 11th, 2016

We’ve got a socialist who has emerged as a leading choice for president.

We’ve got a reality TV star as one of the front runners. The other “front runner” is a woman most people can’t stand.

We’ve got presidential candidates calling each other “liar” and measuring dick sizes during nationally televised debates.

And we’ve got a major party holding secret meetings to try to figure out how to defeat their own probable nominee.

But, in a year in which I thought I’d seen everything, I have to admit, this is surprising. Now we’ve got a presidential candidate urging — URGING — people to vote for one of the other guys.

The three reasons

March 10th, 2016

There are only three good reasons to write plays. They are:

  1. Because you have to.
  2. Because of the audience.
  3. Because of the actors.

For much of my life, reason #1 was it. I had to. And I still have that feeling. But it’s sometimes mitigated by other sorts of writing — essays, or reviews, or fiction, or (help me God) poetry. After four decades of writing, playwriting is still the default, but those others call to me too.

As I started to get produced, the lure of #2 was inescapable. Especially in the 1990s, I was getting produced frequently while getting published a lot, especially in literary journals, magazines and newspapers. (Y’know, those paper things of a bygone time.) What I found:  when you’re published, there’s no audience response. You’re not there when someone laughs or gasps. But with the theatre, when you’re the writer, frequently you are there. There when someone audibly *gasps* at the final revelation (as someone once did — and I still remember it); there when someone stands up and howls in protest, “Where do you find people like this? I don’t know where you find people like this!!” (as someone once did in 1989 — and I still remember it, his distraught infuriated Irish brogue and all); there when the lady literally falls out of her seat laughing at your comedy (as someone did, rest her soul). There when Fred Willard, whom you grew up watching on TV, comes to see your play.

But the thing you never expect — at least I didn’t — was that you’d love to write plays because of the actors. There is no feeling that compares with having a great actor fully embrace your role and bring it to life, adding that special stuff that permeates his or her core, that something that he has that no other has, that perfectly matches with your writing and the role you wrote, that adds surprising insight and depth, that explores every laugh you hoped for and pulls up others you had suspected but hadn’t dared count on, and finds wholly new ones that belong like an essential organ. That sort of actor it is a thrill to write for. That person becomes an odd extension of you — an extra set of talent that you’re connected to through an invisible web.

I just now found out that one of those actors, one of those actors for me, is going to be in town in May. I haven’t seen him in a few years, and he hasn’t been in a play of mine for too long (!), but just knowing he’s going to be here and that we can plot future productions together and maybe read my new pages — that seems like enough for right now.

Until I write a new role with him in mind.

And figure out how to fit all the pieces of our schedules and our lives into place so we can actually do the damn thing together next year or after.

Because life is short, but art is long.

Music masters

March 9th, 2016

George Martin certainly had good taste. In honor of the late George Martin, here he is exchanging insights with Brian Wilson (and, Wilson says, improving the mix for “God Only Knows”).

A surprise performance

March 8th, 2016

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No, that’s not an environmental staging for our latest production (or a remount of our production of “Cockroach Nation”) — that’s an actual car crash into the Moving Arts building. While our theatre was damaged, as you can see, the clothing boutique next to us in the same building was demolished.

Here’s one story about it,  and here’s some local news coverage:

 

Just the previous night, about 20 of us were sitting in there discussing the rest of this season, including a plan for a potential bonus show some of we playwrights might put together. Right there where the building got hit? That would’ve been the back of my friend and director Ross’s head.

Glad we weren’t there for this. But we’ll be back.

Untried

March 2nd, 2016

Re Donald Trump’s ascendancy into serious contention for the presidency of the United States of America:

One could argue — and I may argue this, after some thought — that this is the triumph of the American concept that anyone — ANYONE — can become President. It’s something we tell ourselves from school age on. The election of Barack Obama, a first-term senator with almost no relevant experience, was another step in this direction, paving the way for Trump, someone with a background completely irrelevant to the presidency.

Re Obama — he turned out to be an excellent president, and one I wish we could keep, someone of fine judgment and character — but note that he defeated a woman with four decades of experience in Washington, DC (starting with the Watergate impeachment hearings). This election cycle, Republican voters have ruled out everyone with real experience (whatever one thinks of that experience): Bush, Pataki, Perry, Christie, Graham, Jindal and on and on — in favor of a bilious naif and two first-term senators.

Although Trump’s skills as a reality television star are serving him well, these election results are not just about Trump. They reflect an attempt to throw over experience for something newer, something “outside,” something entertaining.

Sound & Vision

February 24th, 2016

The Grammy tribute to David Bowie was bad. I don’t blame Lady Gaga, who is talented and who seemed 100% committed to what she had been asked to do (learning a lot of choreography and complicated song switches very quickly); I blame whoever strung together all those little bits of music and brought a Las Vegas approach to it.

But here’s a far better tribute, because it marries a strong singer (Lorde) handling a song she’s suited for, with Bowie’s actual backing band, and starts off with well-chosen video clips from Mr. Bowie himself — for whom the visuals, as someone who was always more a complete artist than just a singer, were always an essential element.

With great fame comes great exposure

February 23rd, 2016

When Marilyn Monroe died young, one wag said, “Good career move.”

Bad career move? That might be Stan Lee outliving his legacy.

Put another way: Stan gets plenty of movie cameos… but I haven’t noticed any art shows of his work, or any biographies not authored by himself, or any museum in the making. All of those things are going to Jack Kirby.

Familiar sounds

February 20th, 2016

I know what you’re thinking:  These baby rhinos sound just like the latest album from Radiohead. (Unfortunately.)

Baby Rhinos Sound Like Whales Crossed with Elephants

For an animal built like a tank you'd expect them not to sound like this…

Posted by Break on Tuesday, February 16, 2016