Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Carita Day, 1900's Vaudeville Star

I've done a little online research into Carita Day, stage name for Carrie Washington, who's the original singer of "I Can't Keep My Eyes Off Of You" that we perform in many of our shows. She has two Broadway appearances, both in musicals by Ernest Hogan; apparently she was his wife, we say apparently because keeping track of Hogan's wives seems to be a bit difficult, one Hogan bio puts the number at possibly four. Nonetheless, before hand, she was doing pretty well on the vaudeville circuit. Much was made of her very light complexion in a lot of the articles you see about her.

A lot of how we find out about her is through newspaper snippets written by Lester Walton, who had a music-sort-of-gossip column back in the day. Walton (1882-1965) is from St. Louis and graduated from Sumner High School. Walton met up with Hogan in St. Louis and they partnered on a few projects, the last of which would have been The Oyster Man, the play where the song comes from.

Walton also reviewed the play even though he was involved in it, and while he wrote the lyrics to "I Can't Keep My Eyes Off Of You." he was critical of Day's performance of it, saying she was too showy, he said that Hogan's performance was the only thing that held the play together, and even he could use a little help in the acting department, and the play in some parts relied too much on racial stereotypes. Not everyone agreed, necessarily; Hogan was quite the celebrity back at the time. In his later reviews, he was much more complimentary of Day, so either he came around, or she got better, but she had a good career in what was mostly a male-dominated industry, most of the reviews of her performance urge patrons to go see her.

Oyster Man didn't have a long run because Hogan was ill with TB and he passed away in '09, and after that Day continued her vaudeville career, touring the states and even doing a stint in Havana, where they noted how she brought some American-style dancing to Cuba. She settled in Chicago where she remarried (again we know this thanks to a Lester Walton gossip article) and another newspaper article says she set up an upscale dress & lingerie shop on State Street in Chicago. She still performed regularly and one of her short sets still included "I Can't Keep My Eyes Off Of You."

I can't find any info for what she did later on or how long she lived; Walton went on to become ambassador to Liberia for a time. The Oyster Man, for all it's faults, enters history as the first play where an African-American both produced and starred in the show. Hogan made sure to include a love story in the play, in an effort to break stereotypes, and thanks to that, we've got this cool song from back in the day.

Here's an instrumental version of the song:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Full! Frontal! Nudity!

So every time I said I was going to put on a play, someone invariably said "Is there any nudity in it?" and if I said it was a "gay play" I was even told "without nudity good luck getting an audience." or "why aren't you doing it naked if it's a gay play?" People think it's funny but the 100th time you hear "Isthereanynudityinit?" it's harder and harder to smile.

So I used to joke that I was going to call a play Full Frontal Nudity because that was the best way to get an audience. It worked, too! (Having a cast of 21 didn't hurt either.) In my years of producing plays it was our second highest attendance after Angel Project; we averaged about 40-50 folks a show.

Heuer Publishing published the script and it's had three productions since, on tap for two more this year, which is pretty cool actually. Apparently the title puts some people off. It's basically a sendup of community theater where they spread the rumor of FFN to get people to com3e to the show. And the preacher who says his flock must stay out but he must go in to see. I lampooned critics (scene one shows the critic had written the review before the play even started), actors who say "I can't make rehearsals but I'll learn my lines," directors, writers, and other theater companies who use ridiculous tactics to sell tickets. Plus people who are so prudish they refer to body parts as geography, e.g. "Your Fort Lauderdale" or "Your Baja California."

Can't we just call it what it is? asks someone?

So, it was fun to write. This season it's on tap at Reedy Point Players in Delaware City DE and Oakland Community College near Detroit.

Break a leg! as they say...well not any more. End of act one...there's a scene where two people are arguing by shouting over someone in between them. The guy in between was a lot taller so they would jump over him to say their lines. One guy landed and cracked his ankle. He had to do act 2 on crutches (fortunately we found a pair), but since the play is kind of a farce, people didn't even realize it was an "add on" until he came out for a bow.

Another performance treated us to some drunk audience members who were upset that the weren't getting their nudity as "promised." They were being really disruptive. The question is, what do you do? Well, they also snuck in some alcohol into the church where we performed, and as this church prohibited alcohol, we kicked them out. It was not pretty. Since I had a role, I was torn between breaking character and getting involved or not, but I chose "not."

Anyway thanks to the folks involved in the productions, best wishes for the upcoming, and for choosing the play! Find a sample at hitplays.com

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Country Wife, and Black Bean Burritos

Random thoughts on William Wycherly's The Country Wife...

Really? there we go. It's funny and depressing at the same time. So really? This is a "you can't make this shit up unless it's really going on around you" kind of play. Basic premise is Mr. Horner pretends to be impotent so he can gain access to married women. The women pretend to be pure and prudish so they can gain access to Mr. Horner. Hilarity ensures, and a lot more sex than you think would happen in a play from 1675. seems to me with a bit of tweaking, this could just as soon be set yesterday.

Plus, I'm noticing a lot of domestic violence, between this, Wuthering Heights, and The Way We Life Now, women get clobbered and threatened pretty often. It doesn't seem like the authors look kindly on this but the way it's reported, it's definitely a matter or course for all these folks involved, say 1675, 1800-ish, and 1873.

There's lots of funny stuff in Wife, as one can imagine, and at the end... well nothing comes out the way you'd think. Trolloppe ends The Way We Live Now with most folks finding happiness that has been denied them for the past 800 pages, or the villains get theirs. The actual wife of the title falls in love with Horner (who as you can see is very busy) so while you root for her to get what she wants, what would she get? I'm curious what people thought of it back then as well as women playing those kinds of roles.

On another note, I'm trying to rethink how I write plays. Like totally and completely. I don't know exactly how to do this, but after to many it would be kind of dull to keep up the same model. Maybe dull isn't the word, but... I remember reading a bunch if Ibsen and thinking "here we go again," and I'd like to not be that person, should anyone read a whole bunch of my plays in rapid succession. What I'd like, to be honest, is a little less plot and a little more "happening."

I have a few reasonably plotless plays. "Black Bean Burritos," "Livin' Life on De Fly" are more random scenes with a bunch of songs. "Woof the Road Show" is kind of like that as well. You can do a lot if you junk the plot. You need a story, but do you need a whole bunch of too-familiar tropes of storyline? Probably so if you're going to get produced. I don't know how to even go about with BBB. The songs we do in the band, Grave Injustices, Letter from Liberia, and Over the Trumpet, are from BBB. It's about race, about politics, and it's kind of a "Groundhog Day" experience with a guy ordering burritos. There's a scene of Obama trying to buy a car, with cash, and the dealership not trusting where the money came from. And a scene that makes fun of late night TV fundraisers. And an actual story around it, of street musicians and homelessness.

I had to cancel it because the cast couldn't rehearse. So there it lay, throughout the entire Obama administration, hoping to see the light of day. Maybe sometime.

There's a boatload of plays from England, so I could read them forever. It's got quite a theatrical history which is pretty cool. Was just thinking London is kind of like classical Athens, in the accomplishments of so many in a small population, and the arrogance of empire that came with it. but that's a long treatise for another day.

Still, if your play from 1675 is still trotting the boards, you must have done something remarkable.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rolla, and then Maplewood

The band's show in Rolla was fun, but HOT. Like 104 degrees outside hot. We played at the Public Brew House, and those folks are really awesome. Plus their beer is getting around more, if you're into microbrewery, try it. I don't drink beer but people who do like what they've got!

Thanks to Ellen Saracini joining the band we've been able to revive a few songs for female vocalist, so it was the first performances of Good Times Comin' Round and Letter From Liberia in quite awhile. LFL seems like it's hard for some folks to sing, I had a few former band members that didn't love singing it but Ellen's got it nailed. It's kind of a gospel/South African sound mixed together. I'd hang at the PBH a lot, I think, if it was closer.

Next for me is a Stone Spiral show, and I'm trying to bring out some "nemesis rags," i.e. rags that are challenging and refuse to be learned. One is "Buzzer" by May Aufderheide, and I have it pretty buzzed up for now. "Don't Jazz Me - I'm Music" by James Scott is one from the end of his career, and you can sort of hear a "farewell to ragtime" in it, I think. I really like it and I've performed it a few times, so out it comes. It jumps octaves a lot, and has a cool drawn-out syncopation that I've not come across in any other rag.And finally "Fontella Rag" by Ethyl Smith; she lived in St. Louis and she's got two rags to her credit. There's a passage in it that just eludes me but it's finally coming together. Plus she does a nice job of brining elements from one strain into another, which you don't see that often. So then you get to where you can play all this, and it's like "why was that so hard?" It just takes more practice than you think.

As a play director - and that's where this is suddenly going - I wondered at actors who didn't know a line or ten for a show and then... didn't know it the next, and at the end of the run had boffed it up all six times. Who does that? Not any performer who cares for their craft. So anyway I've learned that basically if you don't know it, you need more practice and that's about what it needs. But some pieces are beyond your capability at a certain time, perhaps. I don't need to dive into Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerti tomorrow.

We have one guy in Rolla named Dave who's a super fan... he was so excited to see us! It's cool to have folks that really love what you do. Yep I know some bands have millions of those, but you have what you have, and you need to appreciate everyone. So Dave, we appreciate you. And Josh and Josh and Layne and Jason and Dirk and Colin and everyone else at PBH, thanks for having us & bein' cool.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Women In Literature

My literature, anyway...

one thing a writer tries to do (or not, in some cases) is to write well-rounded characters. But that means sometimes they don't sit well with other folks reading that character. The question is this: is the character "badly written" or just that you're unhappy with the portrayal? Do you think this is a portrayal of ALL women, when it's meant to be a portrayal of just one?

Many men have a problem with writing women, and vice versa. I've been on both ends of this, I've been praised and burned for my female characters. I wrote a play called Cowboy Logic which went on in 2001, and many of the women in the audience said the female characters were masterfully written. I didn't ask, they just said as much. A review of my book The Prophecy says the two women in the book are NOT well written because they're petty and whiny and all kinds of things, plus one character's love for a man is questioned... (there are four major female characters, did she miss the other two?...)

Seeking Asylum has been lambasted for Renee, who constantly fights against having to play a support character in a male dominated script (but she's not always the nicest, either). I would say Renee is lonely and acts out of that, and in order to fight that loneliness she sometimes hurts other people.

It's kind of this, I think, to repeat...is the portrayal wrong (stereotypical), or just something you don't like... the women in The Prophecy have the power in the book; the queen rules an empire the point of the book is she has to stamp out a new religion to save her country according to... a prophecy! So in order to keep that power and stave off annihilation, they do some stuff that's cruel, and as a result of that power, they do some stuff that's selfish. Like men do. Some folks loved Queen Jayde for her sarcastic sense of humor as the world crashed around her (largely her responsibility), some didn't.

One of my favorite things to study in history is women in power, because it was so rare, and because they either had, it seems, all the power as Queen, or none of it, or very little, as someone's wife. I wonder why some Queens didn't appoint women to other state offices, but probably it wasn't allowed, and they had enough trouble keeping the throne as it was.

Arielle is Star Bryan's sister in my book conveniently named Star Bryan, and she's often the most popular character there, or close to it. She doesn't take no shit, more or less... and has an interesting way of dealing with things.

I did write a novel at age 19 and upon reflection, the women are horribly portrayed. I do wonder looking back if it's because my male characters were "in the closet" and should have been "out," so the female characters were stuck with a bunch of closeted men. I dunno. Maybe I just needed to grow. I want to just toss the book, but I don't have the heart. I might anyway.

The editor at Brooklyn Publishers said I can really "get into the mind of a teenage girl" and I don't know if that's good or not! But when you write plays for schools, you need to put in a lot of girls, and they tell you not to just make them all secondary characters. So I have written some strong female characters, Naomi in Z-Town, Sadie in For a Pair of Prom Shoes, for example.

I think though too many people make the mistake of thinking that if a writer writes a woman a particular way he is saying Cosi Fan Tutte, so at they all... or any other minority, ethnicity, etc. If you're going to expect to be portrayed realistically, sometimes that means you won't come out on top. For what it's worth Xena seems to be a great example if strong women in literature (or whatever you call Xena, if not that)

In a lot of literature the men DO and the women REACT, so having some more powerful female characters, whether they are "good" or "bad" can't hurt.

Band update!

So what's going on these days!

The band took about 6 months off and then we went 0 to 60 pretty quick! It's been an exciting summer, plus we have, as mentioned before... new songs for YOU (and us too, I've seen bands disintegrate because they never learn new material.) On July 22 we're playing at the Public Brew House in Rolla, MO. They're having Blues and BBQ. We'll supply the blues and eat some of the BBQ. We play at 3, and another band starts at 7, so it's a whole day of BBQ and BLOOZ! come and enjoy!

We've been playing at Public House since its first year, I think, and it's been cool watching this company grow into two locations and state wide (at least) distribution. If I drank beer I'd recommend giving them a try, but I know folks who do enjoy their brew, so... give 'em a try!

In August we're playing at a private pool party, which we've done for two years now. This is a fun time, easy going, plus again FOOD for ALL. well, you gotta eat.

Back to Price Chopper Stage at Kauffman Stadium on Sept 9 where we'll open for a Royals game. We've learned Kansas City Blues by Euday Bowman. I'll have to say everyone in the group was not into this when we started, but now it's become one of our favorites. For one, we don't swing it (you can't, it just doesn't work) and for two, it's a bit unusual in how it's constructed. So it didn't sound so good until we got it right. It took me awhile to figure it out as well, but I was determined to see it through... I picked the sax part from a trombone part that's on a really old recording of the song, and that adds a lot. There's a certain wild and wooly-ness to very early jazz and blues that we seem to have lost, or decided against.

You can't... well you can but you shouldn't... OK well I've seen people try out a piece of music, hit approixmiatel 50% of the notes, and say the music stinks. Well how do you know, you haven't heard it?

anyway that's the scoop for the band... oh and we've added Ellen Saracini on vocals, and she's helping us revive some tunes we haven't been able to do for awhile... look for Letter from Liberia and Good Times Comin' Round, cuz they're BACK!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Adding to the schedule

The band has gigs! Which you can find on its Reverbnation page at www.reverbnation.com/theraggedbladeband.

Or I could list them here, but anyway a couple are far off... we'll be at the Ferguson Farmer's Market on Oct 21, and The Public House Brewery in Rolla on November 4. We'll be at Magpie's in St. Charles May 18, June 3, and June 15 at 5 PM.

Oh,and North City May 13 at around noon. I like playing on that stage across from Crown Candy Co. For one, it's across from Crown Candy Co., and who can beat that? they have great malts and egg salad to die for. And BLT to die FROM because it's enough for three BLT's in one. Seriously it is, and you can get it to go and have BLT for days.

But something about playing up in the old North City, playing songs that were big when North City was "happening" instead of "has been," connects you. Old North St. Louis is coming back, it's being built up one house or storefront at a time, and I hope it succeeds. There are parts now that are pretty cool. So I'm not saying anything out of turn to say that it needs a lot of work. Anyhoo, the band's been playing up there for several years, and it feels good to be part of it.

My trumpet's been sounding more like a small cow lately, the valves stick so I need to soak it in hot water and hope that it fixes itself up. Or take it to the shop. Time to do that I guess, soon. what I really remember, on a more personal note, is playing the opening to Stormy Weather unaccompanied on the trumpet, and it bounces off the walls and the streets and the old buildings and it's all about the old times and what was, and I really hope the folks up there make it work. We have half a city out of commission.

Tomorrow I've got a show at Urban Eats, it's a "you eat while I play" show, so I'm practicing up a bit. Some days you practice and you're great, and some days you wonder why you bothered. But... tomorrow is another day. I'm all for admitting that some days are better than others. To say you're perfect, never had a bad show, never had the fear of messing up... it's not realistic. Even Beyoncé falls down now and then, and I'm sure Adele's sung Hewwo or something like that.

This is Livin' Life on De Fly
which features the band, so enjoy. Plus it's from a play called... well... Livin' Life on De Fly that could use a production someday. So if you want to live on de fly, start flappin'.

So go mint your money on mountains of lies
Success a disguise word for greed
A poor man I'll live and a poor man I'll die
But a miser I'll never be