Sunday, October 08, 2006


Hello from Champaign-Urbana,IL, the cornbasket of America.

The Builders have touched down here in central Illinois and it has been an autumnal blast. For those of you who know nothing of this place beyond what the University of Illinois invokes for you football-wise, it is not all just corn stalks and pumpkin patches here in the heartland.

Champaign is home to the first web browser, Mosaic and IU has all sorts of sophisticated web and digital technologies happening. They refer to this place as the "silicon prairie" and there are lots of folks doing all kinds of incredible research and art and interesting stuff. We had two lovely performances at the Krannert Center for the Arts which is the Lincoln Center of the Great Plains. Ambitious programming and large scope, the building was also designed by the fellow who did the Lincoln Center on the Hudson and there are common architectural themes.

Our time here has been very productive and everyone at the Krannert was really great with us. It is a gigantic building and the university has a big theatre and music department, which includes an opera department. Rehearsals for things were going on a lot of the time we were in the building and it was cool to leave backstage for the corridors and hear choral music or band music or opera floating through the concrete echo chambers of the catacombs.

Let me not forget to speak of our fabulous accomodations. Now, I personally really like a hotel or a restaurant with a good theme. The greater the commitment to the theme, the better in my eyes and the place we are staying here in Urbana is really on my top ten of theme hotels.

It is called Historic Lincoln Hotel, which was its original name, but it has more recently gone by the name Jumer's Castle Lodge. It has a special Illinois hybrid theme of Olde English Inn and Germanic hunting lodge. There are two full suits of armour in the lobby. There are many taxidermied heads peering down at your breakfast eggs in the "Library" restaurant. Every room has a brass chandalier!

Apparently in days of yore, the good people that worked here were made to wear period costumes to do their jobs but now this practice has sadly gone by the wayside and there are no more dirndle dresses or puffy sleeves or codpieces to be seen. Sigh. This does not detract from the magic of Historic Lincoln and I highly recommend this inn as a place to stop on your tour of old theme hotels, if you embark on such an expedition.

OK, gotta hit the road for Chicago friends. You can catch Super Vision at the Musseum of Contemporary Art there, this coming week (October 12-14) if you are in the neighborhood. Please feel free to stay after the show and say hi. It takes me a while to get out of my outfit and all, so be patient. You can talk to any of the folks from the company. They are all very friendly and like to make acquaintances in towns we are visiting so please do stop by and say hello if you come see the show.

corny as Kansas in August,

Saturday, August 12, 2006

fame and fortune is a magnet

Hello Supervisee-

We are still in San Jose, where this ZeroOne Festival is splayed out all over the downtown of the city. It is causing a lot of unusual pedestrian activity and bringing a lot of people into the town core to walk around and look at stuff, just like we used to do in the olden days when I was a child. Some cities still do that but a lot of places we have visited on this tour are in the process of rediscovering themselves in terms of urban space. The inner cities were often abandoned in terms of commerce and that usually leaves the poor folks and the artistic types and the urban pioneers that want a lot of space to live in for cheap rent. Eventually, somebody figures out that the city is being "wasted" and so they start pouring money back into the commercial corridors to "revitalize" things. They may put in some newfangled transit and start renovating former manufacturing districts into luxury condos. They may tear down buildings that are considered eyesores and build shiny new office towers. They may sink a small fortune into a new city hall, like here in San Jose. And people may actually come downtown and hang out. Or not.

I was standing in the plaza in front of the art museum yesterday, in the middle of the day and there were maybe 50 people standing around and looking at the various art projects going on and I heard s woman remark "it's really crowded here today" which led me to believe that it is usually entirely deserted, despite all the spiffy-fication that has gone on. So, I'm glad that the festival is bringing people out to enjoy the pleasure of pedestrian life in their own city. And there are excellent burritos to be had for very cheap all over the place. I love it.

Tonight, I will be doing the final show of this venue with my friends here. I want very much to put a picture of the interior of this theatre on the blog because it is INCREDIBLE, so I will try to make that happen. Then after the show, we are all going to see a performance by the acclaimed apocalyptic performance group Survival Research Lab, who have not done a show in a number of years. They got kinda turfed out of SF, their home, because they explode and burn a lot of things and somebody decided it was too dangerous. I am very excited to go see a show that might hurt somebody or destroy property in an unplanned way.

I will report fully, of course.

Meanwhile, keep on truckin'.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

do you know the way

The Builders are back on tour, after a couple of months of doing whatever for the summer. We've currently in San Jose, CA as part of a festival called ZeroOne which is here because of the ISEA conference. For those of you not aware, ISEA is the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts and that's what it's all about here in San Jose for this week. The whole town seems to be involved in one brand of interactive electronic art or another. There are projects involving cell phones, pigeons wearing GPS chips, and making music as you walk down a rigged street, to name a few. It's quite impressive and bursting at the seams with creativity and we're here to put our Builders' spin on the concept.

Everyone seems good so far. I haven't seen the entire company quite yet, though most and everyone looks a little sun-exposed and happy after some time off. San Jose is a little odd since it's kind of like they tore down the old downtown and rebuilt it all nice and I just don't trust that. I know the crappy part must be around someplace and god knows there must be poor folks here but so far, I haven't seen it. In time, the urban grittiness will reveal itself but for now, it's all clean concrete with not even pesky skater kids to be found. I will seek out the countercultre and report back.

If anyone out there has some tips for me on where to look, I'd appreciate it. Please write in.

Must go off to rehearsal now. It's been a long time since we've done the show so I will have to brush up on my lines. Got new makeup when I was in New York so that I will be all looking pretty again in no time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

milestones of euro touring

As everyone drifts to their various post-show corners, there are a few milestones of touring that need to be mentioned, the little things that perhaps did not make it into the blog entries, but are nonetheless worth noting. Some of these are true, some are fictional, all are affectionate.

Claire Hallereau, Tour Producer & company Manager: June 3, 2006, Madrid. Claire takes Jamie and Neal to a macrobiotic lunch and not only do they clean their plates but they do not perish, much to her astonishment.

James Gibbs, Co-creator: June 9, 2006, Salamanca. James is followed by suspicious ham leg in a supermercado. Manages to ditch it in impressive 2-aisle section of orange beverages.

Marianne Weems, Artistic Director: May 21, 2006, somewhere over the Atlantic. Marianne is subdued by air marshals after attempting to remove navagational equipment from 747, "for the next show".

Rizwan Mirza, Actor: June 2, 2006, Madrid. Rizwan completes the doner kebab trifecta, after eating at least one kebab in every country we have toured to.

Kyle Decamp, Actor: May 5, 2006, Liverpool. Kyle discovers a doorway on one of her many walks that leads to 1987.

Keith Bomely, dbox Partner: June 10, 2006, Madrid airport. Keith is refused exit from Spain until sketchy "bacon tax" is paid to customs official.

Dan Dobson, Sound Designer & Composer: May 25, 2006, Liverpool. Dan creates sound cue that silently downloads credit card information from audience members and uses it to order complete boxed set of Jethro Tull for cardholder.

Harry Sinclair, Actor: June 10, 2006. After final gig in Salamanca, Harry flies to Portland and attempts to take the Pences out for a "family dinner".

David Pence, Actor: May 5, 2006, Liverpool. Inadvertently discovers location of elusive Beatles' artifact, Paul's second girlfriend, by walking backwards down Penny Lane.

Jamie McIlhenney, Technical manager: May 4, 2006, Liverpool. Jamie witnesses fistfight in the middle of the night; some loud drunk guys vs. sleep-deprived members of the Slovakian handball team that were staying in our hotel. Blood on pavement the next morning.

Joe Silovsky, Actor & Tech Director: June 7, 2006, Salamanca. Using available spare parts and a donated kidney, Joe builds a stagehand with English and Spanish voice recognition feature.

Neal Wilkinson, Production Manager: June 6, Salamanca. Neal finds cellar where devil's magic was supposedly performed in the 15th century and is disappointed to discover it was merely devil's basement rumpus room.

Hal Eagar, Video Associate: May 27, 2006, Glasgow. Hal buys plaid skirt for "someone else" and decides to keep it for himself, claiming it is a kilt.

Jeff Morey, Video Associate: May 30, 2006, Madrid. Jeff is cruised by hunky nude statue in the Prado; becomes separated from Moe and Riz when he stops to politely refuse mobile number.

Tanya Selvaratnam, Actor: May 24, 2006, Glasgow. Tanya bums cigarette AND rice pudding off of Dan for that perfect smoky sweet goodness.

Miranda Hardy, Lighting Lady: June 7, 2006, Salamanca. Miranda carves 38 top hats for the lighting instruments out of the local sandstone.

Kim Whitener, Executive Producer. May 6, 2006, Liverpool. Kim demands refund for day tour which covered neither the liver nor the pool. Or the pool of liver.

Moe Angelos, Actor: June 7, 2006, Salamanca. Moe is first company member to use the bidet in her room, without irony.

Monday, June 12, 2006

more salamanca

The tour is on vacation for the time being and we Builders head home to our day jobs, partners, pets, depression, unemployment, creative pursuits and if we are really lucky/insane, all of the above rolled into one tasty morsel, destined to overwhelm. But we are always up for a challenge.

There are a few things left to be said about our last host city, Salamanca. For instance, did I mention that Salamanca also featured the additional personnel of dbox on board with us? No? I forgot to say the best part? Que bruta!

So, on this last leg of Le Grand Tour, we were ever so fortunate to have Mister James Gibbs and Mister Keith Bomley of dbox with us who came along to document visually the process of loading in and loading out the show. Along with their stellar personalities, they brought with them some incredible cameras to capture the setup and takedown of SuperVision. It was most pleasant to have them along on our voyage and to get to hang out with the two of them and share the stranger-in-a-strange-land vibe with them.

I would also like to say a word or two about the festival we were a part of, el 2 Festival Internacional de las artes Castille y Leon ( This is a new but a tremendously ambitious festival and we were honored to be a part of it. The streets and theatres and museums of Salamanca, already rich on their own, were flooded with performances for the time we were there. The work came from all over the place in Europe, North America and beyond and was very impressive in its scope. Especially for a city the size of Salamanca, which is a university town full of lots of students there to learn Spanish or medicine, but is not a huge city. It was really something to see the Plaza Mayor filled to its renaissance max with dancing fans of Asian Dub Foundation the night before we left. Now that's a cultural mix I probably wouldn't have come up with.

Last Thursday morning, we were treated to an incredibly special thing. Sonia and Guy, the producers of the festival, arranged for a few of us to take a tour of the archival library of the university. It is the oldest library in Spain and the first one to have a paid librarian. It houses about 16,000 volumes, if I remember correctly, and they are all beyond the belief of someone like me who has been raised in a place where we consider anything more than 50 to be old. These books start around the 15th century though some are from earlier, the oldest being from the 12th I think. Those that escaped the editorial "process" of the Inquisition did so with a few scars, at least those that were not purely non-secular in nature. The librarian showed us some interesting techniques that the Inquisitors had for getting the books to come out kosher, so to speak. Scratching out, pasting over and just outright removal of undesirable parts left some of the books looking like they'd had a very bad day at Kinko's. Nonetheless they were beautiful and more than one of us had tears in our eyes to see such precious volumes.

We just don't have that kind of stuff in our country. Plus, it was very, very special for us to be allowed into this room at all as it is temperature controlled and restricted to scholars only. Too many warm bodies and the books don't like it. It felt like we were in a good scene from the DaVinci Code, the one where the foreigners are in awe of the scope of human history contained in the room where they stand.

So many thanks to Sonia and Guy for making that visit possible and also to Javier, who escorted us around and to the charming fellow who was the librarian and patiently showed us the books that he has the priviledge of being collegial with every day. I never got his name but please, Sonia or Guy or anybody a the festival if you read this, please thank him for us. It was an amazing visit.

Not to change the subject and harp on the whole ham thing too much but I had a revelation about the pork situation that I feel I must relay to the blog-reading public. This is of course the great danger of the blog itself: too many people with ideas they think everybody else needs to know about. I realize too that this entire blog is a prime example of that but I figure if you've read this far, you will indulge me this once more.

I was thinking about the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors in the 15the century form Spain. OK, first of all, let's just talk about the 15th century for a minute, shall we? Those Spaniards were busy little beavers during this century, running all over the world "discovering" things (OK, Cristobal Colon was italian but at that point he was from the Aragon/Castille hybrid), building incredible castles and palaces and cathedrals, making all manner of Inquisition and kicking people out who didn't make the grade. So the Jews and the Muslims fell into the latter category, despite the fact that they had been in Spain for hundreds of years.

After spending time in Spain I have come to the conclusion that this was all a question of pork. It was simple test back then: you eat pork, you stay. Sin comida puerco, salido por favor.

That is my little revelation upon the history of Spain, its peoples and its eating habits. Viva Jamon Nacion! Pero con todos los gente de todos typos! Please excuse my terrible Spanish and I hope I have not said something bad by mistake!!!

con besitos de jamon,

mira, el toro

Madrid, 3 Junio 2006 (photo by Jamie)

Yes, mi gente, we went to the bullfight in Madrid at Las Ventas. This beautiful photo was taken by Jamie, who was part of the cultural search party sent out by the Builders to take in this extreme sport of Spain. Also in attendance were Neal, Claire, Jeff and myself. I will try and relate what happened, though I am still in a state of disbelief about the whole thing.

First, there were the snacks. Jeff and I arrived at the appointed hour after spending the day on a lovely trip to Segovia with Rizwan, who did not opt for the bullring but had other plans. He loves the nightlife, he's got to boogie, what can we say? Anyway, Jeff, or "Yeffie" as we have taken to calling him in Espana, went to the street vendors in search of pre-bullfight snacks while I waited for the rest of the group to find us. Yeffie came back with bottles of water (good move) and these delightful roasted corn kernels covered in salt and I believe cheese flavor. The rest of the group arrived and brought a whole other snack option, tortillas and cerveza frio. Tortilla in Spain is sort of like a big round omelet with stuff cooked into it. We trundled happily into the arena and found our concrete seats. Jamie rented little butt pads for us to sit on, as he is a gentleman.

So the thing began. There was live music coming from two bands which featured lots of brass, as in the Tijuana kind. Bullfights and Other Delights, but in a totally classical Spanish style. There was no public address and absolutely not a scrap of advertising anywhere in the place, unless you count the colors of Spain, red and yellow, which were everywhere. This was going to be serious business, which sort of worried me as I had convinced myself that the bullfight had to be more than just fighting the bulls and that there had to be Solid Gold Dancers between the acts. How wrong I was.

Horns blow, a door opens on the perfectly circular beautiful ring and out comes el toro numero uno for the night. He is not happy, and I could not blame him as someone has stuck a little thing in his back with a couple of ribbons flying off of it. He runs around looking for someone to express his anger towards and these guys that look fabulous in their shiny outfits come out and flap their bright pink and yellow capes at him. El Toro runs towards the taunters and they run behind some big wooden thing so they don't get hurt.

More horns and out come the picadores on horses. There are two of them and the horses have stuff covering their eyes so they cannot see that a very angry bull is about to run towards them, which he does and rams full-on into the side of the horse. The horse wears an outfit that seems to be made of a giant horse basket that protects him from being poked by Senor Angry Toro. The picadore has a big long stick with a pokey thing at the end that he jabs into the bull's back repeatedly as the bull is trying his best to ram the only thing that he is allowed to ram, the horse.

More horns and the horses go away and then comes the baderilleros who run on foot at the bull and stick six pokey things with little ruffles on them into his back, two by two, while the other guys in the team distract him so El Toro won't really have a chance to poke the guy back. The pokey things can be bought in souvenir versions outside Las Ventas and all over Spain. I think my brother had a set when we were kids, though I now can't imagine why.

More horns and out comes the main man, el torero, the one who is really going to fight the bull after he has been put through the provoking phases by the others. He has a fabulous outfit which glitters in the low sun of the Madrid evening. His movements are very graceful and strangely balletic, considering what his job is. Which is to mortally wound a bull weighing at least 1200 pounds with a sword so that he falls down. This is done by thrusting the sword up to the hilt into the top of the bull between his shoulder blades. At least, that's what I think was his objective. As I said, there are no announcements and you are just expected to know what's going on. When the bull is dead and being dragged off by a team of horses, there is no mistaking what has occurred.

So what can I say about this event without sounding like a militant vegetarian tree-hugger with an animal-substitute bone to pick? The outfits were fabulous. There was beautiful music. The dance of alpha male vs. alpha male was fascinating. The ladies in front of us where very, very sweet in explaining to us what was going on and when someone was good or bad. We were sitting in the next to top rows and it seemed to be populated by "real" fans of the bullfight. We were the only foreigners I spotted and it was nice when the people disapproved when a bull was not killed cleanly.

But still, the bull was killed. Except for the ones that were deemed not good enough to fight and were sent out after the initial tormenting by the guys with the pink capes. These lucky few get to go home and get their bullfighting instincts in order before they are shown the ring again. A herd of white castrated bulls with bells on come into the ring to get these spared toros offstage. The failed fightee joins the herd and trots off. That was a happy moment for me.

There are eight bulls for each night of fighting. No dance numbers in between, no Torovision scoreboard with highlights, no audience member winning a Ford Explorer by poking an untested bull with a sharp stick. Just angry bull against guys in good outfits. There is a fair amount of ceremony, the code of which I could not always read which makes it all go on for a substantial time.

Claire says that there is a "big polemic" happening in Europe right now to abolish the bullfight. I find it hard to imagine that this thing which is so a part of this culture will disappear from the landscape. I don't understand the appeal of watching this on a regular basis as a sport, but it is not my culture. It is for the Spanish to decide I suppose though for me, it was way hard to watch. I went to the bullfight, but did not see much of the important action, as my eyes were covered by my hands, which were salty with tears for the bull and cheese flavor from the corn. And call me unsportsmanlike, but I was rooting for the bull to get one of the teasing men in their fancy outfits and Strictly Ballroom hairdos.

I could go on at Hemingwayish length about this experience but I will close now. Like seeing the fantastic Goyas and El Grecos of the Prado, the bullfight is also a cultural slice of Spain. There is deep beauty but also there is deep pain, and that is life. At least I think that is the message.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

que rico!

Teatro Liceo, Salamanca (photo courtesy of Dan)

Greetings from the land that vegetables forgot. Spain and more specifically Salamanca would be by my account, the ham capitol of the world. There is ham in everything, including the very buildings themselves, according to James who knows a thing or two about architecture. During the war years and other lean times, the locals apparently subsisted off the well-known"“ham bricks"” that have been used in construction here since time began, giving all the areas edifices that warm pink glow. Some of these ham bricks dated back to Roman times and it is also well known in the area that even a ham brick from the years before the Christian era can be eaten for nutritional value if boiled properly for long enough.

Seriously, these folks take their ham to heart. There is a ham store on almost every block that is usually covered with drying whole hams, chorizo and all manner of sausages. The hams are very Spanish hams and so they feature the intact hoof on the business end, just so you know you are not getting Spam or some likewise ersatz pork rendition. At breakfast every morning in the hotel, there is a ham bar which features about five or six different configurations of pork. For the vegetarians, Hebrews or Halalistas, Spain is a challenge.

But, the picture above tells the other tale of Spain: beauty wherever the eye lands. Salamanca is especially chock full of jewels of medieval, baroque, renaissance and even some Franco-era gems. It is truly incredible and fully deserves it's designation as a world heritage site. If you are ever in Spain Dear Reader, try and make the trip to this incredibly rich artistic and hammy place.

Tonight was our first show of two and I apologize for not dropping in sooner with you all but we have been busy and the internet has been spotty for me. This lovely theatre above is where we are playing. It is called Teatro Liceo and is another gem in the tiara of Salamanca'’s architectural crown jewels. Part of the theatre was at one time an ancient church and the backstage and rear wall of the stage feature Roman (not Romanesque!) arches made of big old stones that scream out indentured servitude to us. You cannot swing a dead gato without hitting some other piece of antiquity.

We are making our way with our broken Spanish and it is interesting to see who is pulling the high school Spanish from the cobwebs of their mind and who has some command of the language a takes charge of communication and who just plunges ahead, chopping the lovely language to bits but making themselves understood on some very basic level nonetheless. It all reminds me once again that I need to learn this language, as it is so useful in my very own city, as well as here where the franchise began.

Another quick note on an interesting feature: red wine comes in the catering snacks provided backstage to the cast and crew! Viva Espana! Ole!

All right, I must hasten myself to the bed. Tomorrow is the last day of sight seeing and the last show. I still have not been to a convent, though there are at least four that are still in operation, still cloistered and accepting visitors. And apparently there is a church where some kind of nefarious black magic was practiced back in the more expansive, pre-Inquisition days of the catholic church. Gotta see that.

Sleep well todos, y hasta manana (sorry I don'’t know how to make the correct accents on the words).


Thursday, June 01, 2006

la vida es sueno

I had a dream the other night, here in Madrid. So, the Builders were doing a new show and Marianne, as usual, was taking it to a new level and this show was going to be in... outer space! And this new dimension in theatre required a big, complicated mechanism that had to be built by Joe and Jamie and Neal and to top that off, it had to all happen in sub-zero temperatures.

So, there we all were, living together on some kind of scientific station on Antarctica and parked right outside where we could all see it was this huge oil tanker which housed the mechanics to make the show happen in outer space. This thing looked like some kind of oversized heating system like you would find in the basement of a huge building. Big pipes, covered in some silver protective wrapper, shot up above the deck of the tanker, spewing out steam, elecric bolts and fire at intervals.

Plus, the ocean that the tanker was in was some strange combination of salt and fresh waters so that the fresh water floated on top of the salt water and did not freeze, but the brine beneath was solid, making it possible to walk on water. Freaky.

All the company was there, pitching in with the huge amount of labor that making the show go into outer space was going to require. It was costing an incredible amount of money to make this thing happen and in the times we were not directly working on the show and using the rig, we were renting out the thing to "space magicians" to use for their shows.

I ran into Neal and Joe in the science station and I started complaining to them that the tanker was just spewing fire all day long. They explained to me that it was because we had a renter in the thing and he was apparently sort of a space magician hack and was wasting a lot of resources. When I asked what all the fire was about they explained to me that it was liquefied natural gas that had to be forced through a chamber that was filled with six feet of granulated sugar, at the rate of one and a half gallons per hour.

I have no idea what all this means, but I felt compelled to document it here on the blog. Anyone out there who understands about "space magic", please send in your knowledge. I myself know nothing, except for the part about the natural gas and the sugar.

hasta luego,