Monday, August 05, 2013

neoNuma Arts update

It occurs to me that an update is in order. The previous post still stands as accurate with one update.

Able to... has gone out of print. For a print on demand publisher, what this means is that it will no longer be printed when ordered. On Amazon, there are still 4 copies listed, which were ordered for their warehouse before it went O.O.P. So, it's technically still available---until those four copies are sold. Or try contacting me directly, I still have a few copies I can sell.

Otherwise, Becky Haigler, Vincent Craig Wright, and Theodore Carter have all gone on to publish collections of short stories, which include the stories from Able to..., and I recommend them all.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

With Regard to the Publishing Venture

neoNuma Arts has, for intents and purposes, has ceased to exist as a publishing venture. The neonuma.com website no longer exists and I may not bring it back. It sort of slipped out of existence when I was preoccupied with other things and not sure when or if I'll get it back.

The books that neoNuma Arts published continue to be available. Those books are:

Nighthawks by Evan Guilford-Blake. Evan continues to get produced here and there and around the world. Check out this play. It's a lovely piece of drama.

The Comic Flaw by Alan Berecka. I've recently described this as "Sh*t my Dad Says only in poetry." Except it's the whole family. Alan isn't all laughs, as he usually turns the hysterical anecdote into poignant human commentary---which is what makes him brilliant. It seems this book has a special resonance with people who grew up in a strongly ethnic, Roman Catholic family, but that doesn't describe me, so the appeal is broader than that. I'm just saying, in case a Roman Catholic from a distinct ethnic heritage is reading. (There are rumors of a second Berecka collection coming in 2011 --- get this one now so you don't have to buy too many books at once!)

Necropolis by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Jill is the superstar of the neoNuma fold. She had a poem in the 2010 Best American Poetry and her name is on the cover of the January, 2011 issue of Poetry Magazine (on stands now). She's even in a text book, now. I forget which one. A Longman anthology, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway. I'm biased, but I still love this collection best of all, dark and brooding as it is.

The Fatal Gift of Beauty and Other Plays by Christopher E. Ellis. Christopher isn't as produced as Evan, but these plays are such little gems of theater. The title play is a tour de force for two young actors. Give this a chance, especially if you're in the theater world and have need of short plays. There's some beautiful stuff here.

Able to... edited by Neil Ellis Orts. This was the first venture into literary publishing and I only have the rights to publish these stories through the end of 2011, so if you're interested, get it in the next 12 months. These stories about people (not superheroes) with super-powers still remain close to my heart. I always feel like they never found their audience. Poignant, horrific, wonder-filled, funny . . . they run a gamut of emotions. Perhaps that's its weakness---to many flavors between one cover---but I've always thought variety was a good thing. Check it out and see if you can't be persuaded. You'll believe a man can glow. And that a boy can run on water. And a girl can speak flowers. Among other things.

And if you've found this blog while looking for the old neonuma.com and you're needing to contact me, here is one place to do so, or you can reach me at neilellisorts (at) yahoo dot com. (The neo@neonuma.com address died with the website.) The P.O. Box remains available for contact as well:

P.O. Box 460248
Houston, TX 77056

These are rare gems of books and I'm so proud to have presented them to the world. If you haven't yet, won't you purchase one (or more) soon?

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Splaining . . .

Well, my attempt to re-start this blog fell apart pretty quickly.

Let's just say I've been a bit . . . down lately.

Shortly after I started work on the Desert Fathers project, I learned that my day job would be quitting me. The retail store where I've worked for the last seven years is closing at the end of the year. Suddenly, everything seemed overwhelming and I felt like something had to give. The only thing that didn't have either income potential or other people counting on me was the Desert Fathers project. So that gave.

It's been a couple of months and I realize that those few short weeks with the project have been terribly clarifying, so hardly wasted time. When I return to this---probably next summer---it will be with a clearer vision of what it can be.

So . . . stay tuned. It's not over, just postponed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Forward Movement and Problem Solving

In my head, and occasionally with in range of other human ears, I'm calling this Fieldwork session "Desert Fathers, Phase One." What I'm really doing is seeing if the crazy notions in my head will translate into reality.

I've a small group working with me for three sessions now. I'm encouraged. I think there are possibilities that what's in my head might find expression on a stage. The people who have shown up for this are willing to do some odd things and they seem not at all phased by it. Movement, sounds, really exaggerated line readings . . . they're playing along beautifully.

That's not to say there aren't problems to solve. This is almost like a sketch comedy show (except not everything is comedy) where every few minutes we're in a new scene, and everyone is playing a different character. How do I simply, effectively, QUICKLY denote that the not-so-bright character in one scene and the centered, peaceful, wise character in the next scene are, indeed, different characters even though they're played by the same actor? I have some ideas, but I've yet to start practically solving that.

And this phase one isn't really about solving all those technical things. There are stories from the Desert Fathers that I've adapted but are prop heavy. I don' think this Fieldwork session is props. That's at the very least a phase two problem to solve, but it's in the back of my mind. I've cobbled together a short script that we'll perform for the Showcase in November. No props in this one.

Because, really, the big part of what I have to solve at this first stage is how to make transitions between the scenes. Some scenes are very short---as quick as two lines---others are longer. I feel in me a rhythm for these transitions that I think is going to be rather hard to put on the stage. I'm working on a device that is either going to cue the audience that we're changing scenes again, or is going to drive them absolutely crazy by evening's end. I think the answer to this problem is in the rhythm, the timing of the transitions. And if I end up doing small costume changes between scenes to denote change of character, the rhythm becomes even more difficult.

This probably makes no sense at all, and I'm not ready to explain it. I'm ruminating in public. I'm simply finding this to be a great deal of fun while noting some struggles ahead.

But, you know, if art was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I'll just repeat: I'm encouraged by what's happening so far and leave it at that.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Fieldwork with the Desert Fathers

Let me first just say, I'm a doofus. And I owe my cast this enormous crazy big apology. So I asked them if they could be at the first Fieldwork session a little early, to go over the bit we were showing. Well, they could, but obviously I couldn't. I'd forgotten how far it is from my apartment to Barnevelder, especially by bus. Also, I've not met this facilitator before. I always intend to make better first impressions and never quite manage.

This first snippet of the project is one of the funnier stories from the Fathers. Two monks who have lived in peace together for years attempt to have an argument and fail. In my adaptation, I have two of us (the two men, in fact) cross the stage in a ridiculous, cartoonish argument. The two monks are played by two women.

The feedback I received was both encouraging and troubling and I plow ahead with the hope that the larger context that will grow around this snippet will ease some of the troubling feedback. I also didn't give any background or information about what we were doing, we just got up and did it. Even so, I'm not sure a program or show publicity will completely erase what I don't want to convey.

Here's the thing. I think it was Balanchine, in talking about his abstract ballets, who said, "You put a man and a woman on a stage and you have a story." (Or something like that---maybe one of my readers will know the exact quote and correct me if it wasn't Balanchine.) I got a lot of feedback about gender roles, gender traits, that sort of thing. The two men arguing were displaying masculinity and abundant testosterone, the women were being woman who are more peaceful. I actually hadn't considered all of that, but I had considered that if I had a man and a woman arguing, that's a whole other rack of luggage to unpack. And a man and a woman living in peace together for decades leads us to another type of relationship. So I went with the same gender pairs (using, by the way, the people who came to play---I didn't cast these looking for any particular sex to play any role), thinking we'd at least keep away ideas about comparing marriages. I didn't completely---people still spoke of both pairs as "couples," which is its own sort of progress. And I wonder if we'd had the women arguing and the men living in peace together, if we would have had the "male=calm rational thinking, female=irrational emotion" dichotomy (cf Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund).

So, I'm left with no good solution with a mixed sex cast. And, well, we control what we can, we must let go what we can't.

It does cause me to reflect on the fact of humans having sexed bodies. I really don't want that to matter, but I'm always confronted with it. Whether it's on a stage where a man and a woman on stage creates a story, no matter how abstract the material presented or whether it's in real life where I meet people for whom having the correctly sexed body is worth surgeries and prescriptions to have some peace of mind. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." My desire is to focus on the Imago Dei, but the male and female of it keeps causing me troubles. Which, of course, means the Imago Dei causes me troubles. And really, depending upon the person in the audience, personal histories, other "texts" (to use the deconstructionist term) will influence what is seen anyway. Any two bearers of the Image of God on a stage creates stories that the storyteller can't control.

The work before me is going to be challenging. And worth doing.

On a lighter note, I remain crazy happy with the people I have working with me on this. One of the familiar Fielders asked me, "where did you find these people?" I said, "I posted some things on an internet site and they showed up." Which is a long way of answering, "Grace."

Sunday, September 05, 2010

And So it Begins . . .

Just home from my first rehearsal for my Desert Fathers performance piece.

Could I be happier? I don't know how.

After posting for actors/movers on various websites and bulletin boards, there were five of us gathered in a room at my church. We moved around, we made loud, interesting noises, we laughed, we got a really good start on the style I'm going for in this production.

Sometimes, you don't know what you're looking for, but the right people show up.

Well, I'll probably post more about them as the process progresses. But the energy and openness to exploring some of my odder notions . . . it was all so welcome and surprising. One woman ended the evening with telling me I wasn't all that weird after all, that I could get weirder.

Nothing like encouragement. Or was that a challenge?

I'm approaching this thing a bit as a workshop, a bit as a rehearsal. The first half of the evening, I took us through some movement and vocal exercises. I noted my influences, I noted a few of my theological thoughts about them. I admitted where I took someone's practice, baptized it, and think if it as "practicing resurrection." No one seemed to think that was weird.

This makes me very happy, very encouraged that the right people have shown up to let me get some ideas out of my head and into practice.

Anything can happen. That includes bad disappointing things, I suppose, but tonight I feel like the "anything" is wide open and exciting and full of exploration and discovery.

After playing around physically and vocally, we looked at one piece of the script I'm developing. It was awesome. I gave direction, they took to it with ease. They had ideas and everything became better.

This may be the best I've felt all year.

It's only one rehearsal. But I'm crazy encouraged. And maybe a little inarticulate. I don't know if I'm saying anything. I'm just trying to record how I feel right now after one rehearsal. It'll be something to look back at when/if we hit a snag in the development of this thing I'm creating. We're creating.

More another time. It's a ridiculously crazy week and I have other responsibilities pressing. I'm just spilling here. I'll come back another time with more about the process. I think I want to record the process of this thing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Starting Something

This fall, I am going to be working on a brief performance piece. The hope is that this will grow into a full evening's work. I'm looking for people to join me in this endeavor.

Who I'm Looking For:

You are a performer who has maybe some dance training, maybe not, but are interested in the ways bodies can be expressive. You are interested in exaggerated physicality. Maybe you can't leap across the stage, but your body is expressive. That's the key word here: expressive bodies.

But that's not all. You are also interested in being vocal. That includes speaking lines of dialog, but it also means making sounds that are not words. This might include singing, but only if you define singing in the broadest possible sense. The performers I'm looking for are not afraid to make noise. That noise may or may not be beautiful, but it will definitely be interesting.

So, in other words, I need people who are not afraid to be foolish in rehearsal in order to find something extraordinary for performance. A sense of humor (and some comic timing) will be vital.

A tolerance for, affinity for, or belief in Christianity would be helpful. Read on below.

The Project:

I have been adapting some of the sayings and stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers into script form. We will not be portraying these in historical (i.e. 4th Century) context, but in modern dress (albeit in modern rags). This first outing for the fall will only be presenting maybe three stories, intertwined. The working title for the piece is The City, A Desert (in homage to the classic work on the Desert Fathers, The Desert, A City, by Derwas Chitty). This will be more theater than dance, but have dance elements. It will definitely be influenced by modern and post-modern dance techniques.

Regardless of what else I say below, the main point is to create a piece of performance art. It will be serious art but with a sense of humor. Much of what I outline below will not be "seen" by the audience in any tangible way.

The Process:
We'll meet once a week, according to everyone's availability and schedule. These meetings will be as much workshop as rehearsal. I have some definite ideas on how to build the look of this performance, those ideas being more starting points than anything set in stone. We'll be working on not only expressive bodies but on things like stage presence.

The project itself has religious content. The process will, as well. Theological ideas such as resurrection, incarnation, spirit, and creation (to name only a very few) will be brought up and used as imagery.

We'll be making this work in the context of the Fieldwork workshop, sponsored in Houston by Several Dancers Core. Fieldwork is a series of sessions during which artists show work and get feedback from the other artists in the session. Dates for this fall's Fieldwork are not nailed down yet, but will most certainly be on Wednesday nights, most likely starting on September 8. You may not be needed each week for the Wednesday night session. A public showcase will be produced at the end of the sessions, currently tentatively the first Sunday of November. I'll update this information as it becomes available.

Theory:
This may be my work more than participants, but I'm hopeful I'll find participants who will be animated by these two inverse ideas:

Doing theology is a site for making art.
Making art is a site for doing theology.

Theology and art, in my mind, have these things in common:
Both require occasional leaps of faith.
Both are about learning how to see.
Both are concerned with creativity, creating, creation.
Both are personal but not isolating, that is, both are best undertaken in community.

I hope that discussions will spin out of the process, and maybe some fresh theological insight for broader consumption will result. As noted above, however, this is not what the audience will see on stage. It will merely inform the making of the performance.

Interested? Intrigued? Email me at neilellisorts at yahoo dot com.