Friday, January 31, 2014

LMAY: Sex Variants 1941 - Song Preview!

Only three more days till Let Me Ascertain You: Sex Variants 1941 at Joe's Pub this Monday night! All of the evening's originals songs are inspired by, and derived from, 80 graphic first-person accounts from one of the earliest “scientific” surveys of sexual deviancy. Tickets available HERE

Artwork by Gwen Shockey

We wanted to give our friends across the blogosphere a special sneak peek at the evening's entertainment, with this short excerpt from the original composition, "Moses," by Max Vernon, a songwriter lauded as "equal parts bohemia and broadway" by the New Yorker.

Max Vernon

On the genesis of the song: 

Max: This was a tricky song to write because there was a lot to unpack–I wanted to figure out how to honor the sensationalistic and darkly comic tone of the medical journal itself while also being very clear about Moses' depression and dysmorphia and not turning that into a joke. It's pretty obvious to me that Moses, while into some mild kink, was not in fact a "deviant," but rather a transwoman who in 1941 had no language to articulate that. To me, there's nothing funny about that. Writing a song that was equally absurd and painful was the only way for me to make sense of the material.

Check out the lyrics, and take a listen below. And stay up to date on Max's projects by visiting his Website and Facebook!

Excerpt from "Moses" by Max Vernon

Sometimes I dream that I'm a female cat
and another cat is taking advantage of me
sometimes I like to wear my mother's gown
and twirl around while masturbating frantically
until the day my balls shrivel up and die so I can realize
my castration fantasy – and this body will fade
away like a memory.

Hello my name is Moses
I got a cruel and strange neurosis
I get a thrill from panty hoses
doctor what's your diagnosis?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

LMAY: Sex Variants 1941 - Meet The Composers!

In anticipation of Let Me Ascertain You: Sex Variants 1941, we wanted to give you a sneak-peak of our impressive lineup of composers. Check them out below, and then grab your tickets to the show before we sell out. Monday, February 3rd @ Joe's Pub. Tickets available HERE

Tim Acito has received three Drama Desk nominations (book, music, and lyrics), multiple ASCAP composer grants, the GLAAD Media Award, and a Sundance residency for his work in musical theatre, which has been performed Off-Broadway, regionally, and abroad. 

César Alvarez writes about theater, music and science here. He’s a Drama Desk-nominated composer, lyricist, performer and writer. Founding member of The Lisps. Co-founder and resident composer of LA-based dance company Contra-Tiempo. 

Maggie-Kate Coleman wrote the book and lyrics for POP! and From a Childhood, written with Erato Kremmyda. She's been all over the place: The York Theatre Company’s NEO Cabaret (with composer Daniel Maté), Joe’s Pub, Barrington Stage, Laurie Beechman Theatre...just to name a few!

Michael Friedman has written music and lyrics for The Civilians' Canard Canard Goose, Gone Missing, Nobody's Lunch, This Beautiful City, In the Footprint, Paris Commune, and The Great Immensity (premiering at The Public Theater in April). He also wrote the music and lyrics to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Broadway). Check him out performing an original he wrote for The Civilians' nationwide Occupy #S17 here

Andrea Grody's recent projects include Venice at the Public Theater, Love Labour's Lost at Shakespeare in the Park, White Christmas at Northern Stage, and a workshop of Carmen set in Cuba and reimagined by Moisés Kaufman and Arturo O’Farrill. Upcoming: Fortress of Solitude at Dallas Theater Center and The Civilians’ The Great Immensity at The Public. You can actually check out Andrea's most recent output on our latest podcast Holy Matrimony!  

Erato A. Kremmyda is a New York based composer, originally from Athens (Greece).  Theatre (selected): Agamemnon (Irondale, NYC), The Dot (Bios, Athens), We Are Theatre(Cherry Lane Theatre, NYC), Wagon Wheel (Loewe Foundation Development Award, Planet Connections, NYC), Field Trip: A Climate Cabaret (Superhero Clubhouse/ Marfa Dialogues NYC)...and many more! Take a trip over to Erato's website.

Grace McLean began writing ditties as a remedy for her pickled love life and has developed a sparse, plunky style that underlines her often irreverent, always truthful lyrics.  In addition to playing with her band Grace McLean and Them Apples and composing music for a performance piece about 12th century German mystic Hildegard von Bingen, Grace currently performs in the pop opera Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Check out some of her tunes here!

Jill Sobule has made four more critically acclaimed albums, Happy Town, Pink Pearl, Underdog Victorious, and 2009′s California Years, which Jill released on her own record label, "Pinko Records," after collecting over $85,000 from fans who funded the project. She has played the role of political troubadour for NPR stations across the country and for Air America Radio. Check out her nifty corner of the web here.

Max Vernon's work has been performed at venues such as Dixon Place, LaMaMa, Ars Nova, Joe's Pub, and Music Hall of Williamsburg. His musical, WIRED, was a finalist for the 2011 Eugene O'Neill Musical Theatre Conference, and given a 29-hour reading at Ars Nova Theatre.  Learn more about his work on his website.

Come join us at Joe's Pub on Feb. 3rd to hear what these fantastic composers come up with!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Meet the R&D: Sean Cunningham

Sean Cunningham, an artist in this year's R&D group, blogs about his recent trips to Peru, and shares his thoughts on "Making Americans Drink Like Peruvians."

I enjoy drinking. Indeed, with composer extraordinaire Michael Friedman I once wrote a song called "I Enjoy Drinking" for the show God Hates the Irish. (The song was ironic... but not that ironic, if you catch my drift.) So when I get a chance to experience a new culture and learn about international marketing while my hosts not only allow but actually encourage me to have another drink and then a few more after that, I'm there.

In 2013 I went to Peru twice. The first visit was with my then-girlfriend and some mutual friends. We visited Peru's current capital, Lima, before heading to its capital during the time of the Inca, Cuzco, and spent four days hiking the Inca Trail to reach the ruins at Machu Picchu. Click HERE for a recap of the lessons learned on that journey. 

It was something of a transformative experience for me, both because I was concerned enough about being in shape for the Trail that I started jogging (inexplicably, I continue to do so to this day) and, far more importantly, it was the first time I encountered Pisco.

Pisco is a brandy made from grapes beloved in Peru and in Chile, inspiring an epic rivalry over which nation is its true birthplace: since I’ve gone to Peru twice and only visited an airport in Chile, I say Peru. The most famous cocktail is the Pisco Sour, consisting of lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, ice, and Angostura bitters. There are assorted variations, such as the Coca Sour, which I favor because of the extra touch of bitterness. (Sadly, the U.S. bans coca for its connections to cocaine even in this decidedly non-Tony Montana-esque form, meaning one of the minor casualties of the war on drugs is my ability to get my pisco cocktail of choice.)

At this point I should note that, as someone who’s written for an odd mix of publications ranging from Maxim to The Knot, I have wound up on a diverse collection of PR lists (and wound up friends with other people on even more wide-ranging lists), with the result I periodically receive offers to fly away somewhere utterly unexpected for a bit.

And that is why I was pleasantly surprised when, not long after my return, I received an invite to a press trip organized by Pisco Portón. 

This time Pisco wouldn’t just be an aspect of the trip: it would be the focus. That was particularly appealing to me because on my first trek I acquired a taste for drinking Pisco straight, which requires a better class of Pisco. Portón was one of those Piscos that caught my eye -- seriously, it is an impressively cool bottle -- but for the most part it remained defiantly out of my price range. Click here for some quick info about the brand.

Throw in that the journey would take me to a part of Peru I’d yet to visit (in the Ica Region along the southwest coast), and I quickly signed on.

I again flew into Lima before going south to the coastal town of Paracas and finally reaching the Hacienda La Caravedo. Founded in 1684, the Hacienda is the oldest distillery in the Americas (every bottle of Portón pays tribute to it), and this was where I had the chance to chat with Johnny Schuler/consume a huge amount of really choice Pisco.

Johnny -- @piscojohnny -- has been a tireless champion of Pisco for decades, as well as a restaurateur and, as one article in Peru This Week noted, a general “Renaissance man.” (After an American who made a fortune in Peru and married a Peruvian woman purchased Portón, he had the company approach Johnny to see if he would sign on with them. By Johnny’s account, he said he would do it… if his new boss immediately invested an eight-figure sum in the company. The check was written and Portón acquired a master distiller.)

Johnny and I wound up discussing the long-term objectives of Portón: most notably, they want to crack the American market. (This goal is shared by a handful of other Pisco makers.) Indeed, they seek to gain a large enough wedge in the market so that, instead of seeking gin or vodka or another clear liquor, there will come a day when an American can walk into a corner bar and ask, "Do you have Pisco?" and it won’t be strange at all.

(Ideally, they’ll then ask for Portón.) 

Johnny said there would be differences between the American and Peruvian markets, starting with the obvious fact that everyone in Peru knows what Pisco is -- the Pisco Sour is the national drink -- and virtually no one in the U.S.A. has a clue.

Beyond this, since Pisco usually is served as an ingredient in a cocktail in Peru, Peruvian bars often give in to the temptation faced by speakeasies all over the globe: get the cheapest brand possible, based on the theory the other ingredients will hide the low cost/quality.

An example of a "less" upscale Pisco brand
Finally, Peru is a nation where only a small percentage of the population has the disposal income necessary to indulge in top-shelf liquors: the per capita income is $6,796, compared to $11,340 for its neighbor Brazil or $51,749 for the United States.

The U.S. Pisco approach is different.

To crack the American market, the initial outreach would be aimed at tastemakers in select cities as something for the sophisticated and adventurous palette. (Indeed, ideally it would be taken straight so people could learn to appreciate and enjoy the nuances, just as they do with scotch.)

It would also be put forward as a decidedly upscale product, which is why a press release for “Portón Pisco” described it as an “ultra-premium brand made specifically for the U.S. market.”

And thus America would get to experience the most Peruvian of beverages…only not in the most Peruvian of forms.

I’ve been exploring the question: can Pisco manage this conquest? It’s certainly established a foothold with me personally. I even brought some back and shared a bottle with my coworkers, which they enjoyed far more than they expected.

That said, to the best of my knowledge none have consumed any since then, despite the fact we’re one of the rare American offices located within a block of a Peruvian restaurant. (I’ll be at your sensibly priced Happy Hour again soon enough, Raymi.)

And yet…

I still remember as a 7th-grader in Carson City, Nevada having a teacher bring in this exotic treat called “sushi” -- “Come on, Mrs. Pown, we know it’s not really raw fish” -- and being one of the few students crazy enough to eat it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I didn't mind the taste, but I also assumed it was something I wouldn't experience again unless I unexpectedly found myself in Tokyo.

Now it’s my comfort food.

I have no idea if Peru will equal Japan’s achievement and a significant number of Americans will reach the point where, after a tough day, they get home and instinctively reach for the Pisco bottle, but the attempts of Pisco Portón and other Pisco makers to make that a reality are oddly inspiring to me.

Maybe they’ll be a huge success, and Portón will find itself with the equivalent of an iPhone in liquid form.

Maybe it won’t ever quite mesh, and it will turn out to be a drinkable DeLorean.

Maybe America will change it into something so heavily modified for our tastes it will be rendered unrecognizable by the nation that originated it.

And for me, the challenge is locating the core to all this so it isn’t just an accumulation of data: I’ve increasingly found I’m combining aspects of my two trips together, so that while the story is about the challenge of taking something central to one culture and trying to make it palatable to another culture all the while turning a profit (which I learned about on my second visit), the action takes place on the hike to Machu Picchu (which occurred on my first).

Machu Picchu was a magnificent experience, but also at times a grueling one (and a humbling one, particularly watching the porters literally sprint up the mountain ahead of us to set up the base camp before we arrived), and I’ve found there’s something nice about having people talk about matters of finance and national identity while what they’re really thinking is, Holy shit do my knees hurt…

Finally, all this is shaped by the fact that on my first visit I was in a relationship with one of my traveling companions, on my second I was traveling alone (and we were essentially separated) and now I look back on all this knowing that we’ve gone our different ways, giving the whole thing a pleasantly bittersweet quality, which I tend to enjoy in theater (if not my personal life: nothing but unadulterated sweetness for my personal life, please).

Whatever the future holds for Pisco, it’s a fascinating journey and I remain appreciative of Portón for letting me take a few of the steps with them, as well as to my ex for booking a trip to Peru in the first place.

I’ll be at the bar if you need me.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sean. For other posts about our R&D Group artists, please click HERE!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Holy Matrimony! Part III

We’re here with episode three of four podcasts of our Let Me Ascertain You: Holy Matrimony! series looking at all things about weddings. Our crew of artists talked to real-life couples as well as the people in the amazing and strange world of the wedding industry. And all these interviews were performed live by actors at Joe’s Pub in our hometown of New York City. Our first piece is a little bit of a twist: one of our Associate Artists Donnetta Lavinia Grays interviewed and will play here, her very own wife, Shalema. Then, we’re off to New Jersey as Brian Sgambati and Emily Rossell portray the couple Dominick and Rachel. And for this episode’s song, we have something written by composer Andrea Grody inspired by an interview we did with a high-end wedding dress saleswoman in Chicago. "Best Dressed" is performed live by the vivacious and talented Miss Emily Rossell, with Michael Friedman on piano.

The interviews for this podcast were conducted by Nora Sørena Casey, Donnetta Grays and Leicester Landon. If you like what you hear or if you have an opinion, please write us or tweet us or facebook us, we love to hear from you.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let Me Ascertain You: Sex Variants 1941

Do you consider yourself a “Sex Variant?” Don’t know what that is?

Well, dig out the skeletons from your closet and join us for the next Let Me Ascertain You. Joe’s Pub is having us back on Monday Feb 3 at 9:30 pm for a stimulating look into America’s secret sexual past. Get your tickets HERE!

Ever heard of Havelock Ellis? Magnus Hirschfeld? … no? How about Alfred Kinsey? They are the forefathers of a global sexual liberation movement started in the late 19th century toward the acceptance of people who identify as something outside the norm: Sex Variants.

Another less known (perhaps less liberated) pioneer in the field of sex research is Dr. George W. Henry of Cornell University. In 1935, he teamed up with the Committee for the Study of Sex Variants to publish the subject of next month's LMAY cabaret. "Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns" hosts 80 interviews with volunteers who ran the risk of losing their jobs, blackmail, or arrest. We hear everything from the early childhood exploration of the body to orgies. Sometimes funny, often shocking, these stories illuminate the myriad of ways that humans have always explored and expressed the most animal of our instincts.

Here’s a little bit of what we’re talking about...

Nathan T’s personal sex history:
“Since puberty I've had a vague sex interest in dogs. For more than ten years I used to get them to lick my penis. I still feel vaguely sexy about dogs I like… If I saw anybody having sex with a dog I would think it rather nice.”

Rowena K on her endurance: 
“Sex averages four or five hours. We just stop and wait and keep feeling good all the time. It takes her that long. In five or ten minutes I have an orgasm but I continue feeling good. I can have ten to fifteen orgasms and still feel good.

Henry divided the subjects of his study into three groups: Homosexual, Bisexual or Narcissistic. He was determined to make progress on the treatment and prevention of “sexual maladjustment,” so he evaluated the family history, psychology and physiology of the subjects hoping to find a pattern, maybe even a cause. And there are graphic physical examinations too and diagrams to prove it.

Yes: in the book, you can see a gay vagina compared to a ‘normal’ vagina; there’s a cross-section showing how a dildo works; you can witness studies of dozens of labial folds and areola.
Myrtle K: “My clitoris enlarges when I get steamed up...My clitoris natural is two inches long. Enlarged it’s three inches and the thickness of a little finger. I think it’s grown half an inch in the past year. I’ll have to get a jock strap if it gets much more.” 
Salvatore N: “I often ask myself whether I am really a homosexual or merely a person who performs homosexual acts through association. I never want to have an affair with another homosexual. Taking the penis in my mouth does not satisfy me. Homosexual practices disgust me. Men who speak with an effeminate voice, who refer to each other as “she” or who make feminine gestures, are repugnant to me." 
Join us on Monday, February 3rd at 9:30pm at Joe's Pub as we transform these graphic first-person accounts into a provocative, pansexual cabaret of monologues and songs about first times, dreamy fantasies and excessive fetishes. 
The evening will feature original songs written from material in the book from these exciting 8 composers:

Tim Acito, César Alvarez, Maggie-Kate Coleman and Erato A. Kremmyda,  Michael Friedman, Andrea Grody, Grace McClean, Jill Sobule, and Max Vernon.

Pictures and quotes from: Henry, George W. Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns. New York: Paul B. Hoeber, Inc, Medical Book Department of Harper & Brothers, 1941. Print. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Holy Matrimony! Part II

We’re back with the second episode of Let Me Ascertain You: Holy Matrimony! For this series we did a deep dive into the wonderful world of weddings in America. Or maybe more like a face plant into a three tiered wedding cake. So with icing on our faces and hangover from too much cheap wine… here are a few more interviews performed by actors live at Joe’s Pub in New York City. In this episode, we’re going from Minnesota to the Mississippi Delta and then we’re going off the grid to a Hippy wedding on the land. Greg McFadden and Colleen Werthmann perform Minnesota high school sweethearts Randy & Diane. Emily Ackerman plays Amy, from the Mississippi Delta who is something of an expert on marriage, though as you’ll hear largely through trial and error. And to wrap things up the very talented actor singer and songwriter Rebecca Hart wrote a song “Bad Hippy Wedding” based on an interview we did. Thanks for listening.

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Talya Klein and Leicester Landon. Please subscribe if you haven’t already, and if you’re feeling extra generous write us a review. It makes a big difference! Until next time.