Monthly Archives: April 2015

Directors’ Notes for Directors

So, a few days ago, you were sitting in an audition and you realized, “Hey, I’ve been acting for a while; I know how most of this stuff works. I could be a director, because, man I so wouldn’t let that bimbo keep reading no matter how hot she is.” Well, guess what, fictional actor I just invented, you totally can be a director, because directing is so much easier than acting.

Directors never have to get up in front of people…except before the show, when they are often required to make theatre announcements…and during intermission and after the show, when they are expected to schmooze with the audience–especially season ticket holders and big donors…and at every single rehearsal and at auditions…you know what, scratch that.

I kid. I’m sure everyone who’s ever sat through a show or seen a director work and thought, “I can do that,” has quickly realized (on further thought) that directing is hard work, and not for the faint at heart. That doesn’t mean that you can’t or that you shouldn’t. Directing is incredibly rewarding work; it’s a different payoff than acting, but the payoff is huge, anyway.

Directors don’t get the full rush of the audience’s responses; that “Holy cats, they really like me,” moment is reserved for actors. They do, however, get a small piece of every response. When the audience laughs at a joke, or cries out at a scare, or goes dead silent for a deep and heartfelt soliloquy, the director gets a tiny piece of that, and all those tiny pieces add up over all.

A good director doesn’t even need that percentage-off-the-top of audience-love, because he has the satisfaction of knowing that he tied a bunch of performances together into a show, and that is immensely satisfying (it’s also crushing to realize that you failed in that regard). From auditions, through rehearsal, to the final curtain, the greatest joy of directing is translating another person’s words into a world that can only exist on your stage. That’s the ultimate joy of directing.

It does come at a cost, however. Directing is stressful in ways actors never have to think about. A good director has a working knowledge, not only of acting and the script, but of costuming, lighting and sound, and property and set design. A director needs to understand the story and the world created by the script on a level deep enough to assist the actors in properly portraying their characters. And the director is the last person applauded when everything goes right, and the first one condemned when anything goes wrong.

So, I’m going to cough up some hairballs of wisdom for beginning directors, too. I mean, why should actors be the only ones forced to listen to an old man ramble about the way things should be done. Of course, I emphasize that these small pearls only apply to small theatre. I’ve never worked in a large theater, or even one that was allowed to award Equity points, and I fully understand that the difference between the theatres I’ve worked and professional theatres is as huge a gulf as that between professional baseball and beer-league softball.

So watch this space. You might learn something. I’m pretty sure I have.

You’re Not Wrong

Friday, I talked about how the debate on climate change isn’t over, and how the human culpability for any change in the climate is questionable. It boiled down to, the world is huge, and we, no matter how much we want to think otherwise, are very small. There are a lot of us, however, and like ants, we can have a negative influence over comparatively large areas.

The Southwest “Drought” has been going on and getting worse for decades.

Understand that “drought” is not in quotes, above, because I don’t think that those areas lack water or rain. The Southwest States are in dire need of water, and their sources are quickly disappearing. The problem, however, is that these places aren’t suffering a drought. A drought happens when an otherwise wet area suffers a sudden and ongoing lack of rain. That’s not the case with the American Southwest. California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada all occupy a complex of climate zones known collectively as the Great Southwestern Desert. Those areas never had that much water to spare. The history of Los Angeles is written in the mud of stolen rivers and dry wells. What changed is that, starting in the 1950’s, people started moving into these areas. Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City have all grown by leaps and bounds in the last five decades.

Even more, the rural areas and river valleys of the desert became crowded with farms, as dustbowl refugees and their children found their feet and rebuilt in their new home, a home conveniently clear of trees and scrublines. Almost immediately, these cities began tapping the nearby rivers for the water the sky refused to give them. The Colorado, the Sacramento, the Green, all became dotted with man-made lakes where dams for irrigation and power sprang up. Waters were diverted in canals, sometimes for thousands of miles to meet the needs of a growing populace.

As the trees grew back in the Ohio Valley and the Upper Peninsula, the Southwest Desert became a jumbled network of borrowed resources. By 1990, the Great Colorado River, the monster that carved the Grand Canyon and had a hand in a hundred other striking natural monuments, stopped short of its mouth in the Gulf of California, and has been walking up its bed since. And the problem isn’t just legitimate use. Last century’s civil engineering has left us with a mountain of waste. Lake Meade alone loses more than 257 billion gallons of water to evaporation every year. That number only gets more alarming as you expand it to seepage and evaporation along the irrigation and city supply networks.

Clearly, we can do better. Perhaps the interruption dams currently in use can be replaced with side draw reservoirs like the ones being tested along river valleys in Southeast Texas. Or, maybe fifty million people will wake up one day and realize they have created an untenable situation.

Los Angeles isn’t going dry because David Duchovny has a nice lawn; it was already dry, with an average rainfall of only four inches per year, but twenty million people live there, demanding three quarts of water each, every day. The Edwards Aquifer isn’t consistently low because Texas is in a drought; that drought ended in 2012. What didn’t end is that Austin and San Antonio have more than doubled in size since 1990 and continue to grow.

It’s going to suck, and we’re all going to pay. Food prices will rise as farms leave the flat, easily managed former sea beds of the Permian Basin and Cadillac Desert and return to the less machine-friendly, rolling hills of the Midwest. Cities and towns west of the Texas Hill Country are going to have to face the fact that they cannot survive if they continue growing the way they have. Already, the interests in Northern California and Oregon are balking at Los Angeles’s demand for more diverted water. Nevada and Arizona have been in and out of court since the last century over the Colorado River watershed.

It’s a hard thing for those of us who live in water-rich areas to understand. Our water concerns center around poisoning the supply with exotic chemicals and undertreated effluvia. We, living in and around Houston, live in fear of the day that the EPA declares our neighborhood the next Love Canal, but we can’t really conceive of the idea of the water not being there at all. Because it was never there. Now fifty million people spread across some five million square miles, will have to suffer in the short term, or cause a catastrophe. Because if they don’t learn to use less, there won’t be any more.

The Climate is Falling!

Here’s the deal: If you’re a liberal (and, if you’re still talking to me after last Christmas, it’s almost certain that you are), everything you’ve said or thought about conservatives and climate change is probably a load of crap. There are exactly zero conservatives with IQs high enough to need two hands to count that believe the climate isn’t changing. Of course, the climate is changing, that’s the cost of living in a dynamic system…you know, the sort of system capable of supporting life.

We don't know what we were thinking.

We don’t know what we were thinking.

What many conservatives do question is the assertion that humans primarily (or humans alone) are responsible for all climate-change trends. It’s a gross over-simplification to say that we deny the evidence before our eyes, but it goes a long way to make conservatives look like dumbasses while doing nothing to support you assertion. And make no mistake, it is your assertion that must be supported, because the rules of debate say that, since you can’t prove a negative, the positive assertion is the argument that must self-verify.

But, of course, there’s 97% (or 85% or 162% depending on who you ask) consensus that climate change is real and it’s all our fault! Yeah, but that’s consensus among climatologists, people who have a vested interest in promoting the hypothesis of HCCC and developing means of countering it. If that is a valid and final statement of proof, then the fact that at least 90% of theologians agree that the Universe is shepherded by an omnipotent, omniscient god means that the debate is over; there is a god and he is pissed at all of the atheists out there. I mean, these guys are the recognized experts, right?

See the thing about climate change is that the climate is huge. The earth is huge. Think of the biggest thing you can. I have safe money that it is too small to see while you’re still in breathable atmosphere. By the time you’re far enough out to see the earth in a single view, all but the hugest parts of the landscape are rendered insignificant. Mount Everest? Part of a wrinkle in the spot where India is humping Asia. Manhattan Island? too small to see; that’s Long Island poking off the southeastern tip of New York (and even that disappears in deep space photos). Depending on your screen size and resolution, you probably can’t even see Hawaii.

"I can see my house from up here! Wait...did I leave the back door open?"

“I can see my house from up here!
Wait…did I leave the back door open?”

When you have a huge system like the earth’s climate, you have multiple gigantic influences that must be calculated just to get an idea of what’s driving it. You have the sun’s radiation, the atmosphere’s ability to trap or release that energy, the oceans and their ability to trap various gases (and heat), the continents and their albedo, even the constantly-changing cloud-cover of the earth has an influence on how much radiation we absorb and retain, and, yes, to a certain extent, you have the influence of industrialized society. How big or how small that influence is, and how much it pertains to current changes has yet to be determined.

I can say it has yet to be determined because we still haven’t determined the full effect of the other influences. The sun heats the earth, but the sun is remarkably unreliable in its output, because it’s an explosion, one on so vast a scale that we can barely comprehend it, but yeah, 4 billion years ago a bunch of volatile gases collapsed on a point and we’re living in the ignition phase of the inevitable combustion of those gases.

The truth is, human influence on the climate is probably not all that great. We could have as much influence as the bug you ran over yesterday had on your driving, or it could be something insidious like a ridge in the pavement that, over time forces your car partially into another lane. The only thing that’s for sure is that constantly screaming, “The climate is changing! The climate is changing!” Isn’t even a little useful. Saying that the climate is changing is like telling a swimmer that water is wet. It’s true, but it does nothing to help him avoid drowning.