Tagged: Theater

John Ostrander: Comics Writing Lessons from Shakespeare

Ostrander Art 130512When asked my influences, I invariably add William Shakespeare which may seem a bit pompous. Shakespeare? Really? (Aside: this column is not going to deal with the whole “Who Really Was Shakespeare?” debate. If you want to believe someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s play, you go ahead. It’s not germane and, frankly, I’ve read as much on the subject as I care to and so far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays. End of discussion.) Please note I am not comparing myself to Shakespeare; simply that I’ve learned some things about writing from him.

Such as:

Theme is tied to plot. There are famous speeches and soliloquies in Shakespeare, where the character stops to speak his or her mind, none more famous than the “to Be Or Not Be” speech in Hamlet. The action, however, doesn’t just come to a stop while the player addresses the audience. They always advance the action of the moment, of the play. The action during the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy is found in Hamlet trying to decide if he is going to kill himself because of the grief of his father’s death. It is appropriate for him to ask this question. To translate this to comics or movies – does the explosion advance the plot or is it there just to blow things up? All action sequences, all fight scenes, can be used to advance plot or explore character.

Explore all sides of the question. What did Shakespeare think on any given question? It’s hard to tell because he would give convincing arguments to both (or more) sides of a question. Example: in his play Measure For Measure, set in Vienna, the Duke feels that the city has gotten morally a little out of control. Pretending to leave town, he leaves Angelo – very upright, very moral, very strict – in charge. The Duke, however, disguises himself as a monk to see what happens. Angelo decides to close all the brothels and, under an ancient law, execute those who have gotten a woman pregnant without the bonds of marriage. A young man, Claudio, has fallen afoul of that and Angelo decides to make him an example. Claudio is clapped in jail and sentenced to die.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella, soon to be a nun, comes to plead for her brother. Angelo is taken with her beauty and, filled with desire for her, agrees to exchange Claudio’s life for a one night stand with Isabella. Virtuously, she refuses.

In the dungeon, the Count – disguised as a Monk – counsels Claudio, telling him, “Be absolute for death; either death or life / Shall thereby be the sweeter.” It’s a great speech about the acceptance of death and Claudio seems both comforted and made resolute by it.

Yet, shortly after in the same scene, after Isabella tells Claudio of Angelo’s offer, he begs her to do it. He expresses his fear of death with, “. . . to die, and go we know not where / To lie in cold obstruction and to rot. . .” Which attitude speaks Shakespeare’s true mind?

Both. Both are true, to the moment, to the character, to the author, and for the reader or audience. It comes down to which is truer for us and that was Shakespeare’s intent or what I learned from it. Shakespeare had a many faceted mind and he used it in his work.

Write for the now. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were popular entertainments. Poetry might be gathered in a book but plays were not. Theater was a low art form, just above bear baiting. Shakespeare himself never gathered his plays for publication; that was done after Shakespeare’s death by his friend Ben Jonson, himself a playwright of no small fame or self-esteem who felt that his own plays were worthy of publication and his friend Shakespeare was almost as good and so deserved the same respect.

Shakespeare was writing to please the crowd, but also to note and comment on the issues of the day. Queen Elizabeth I was aging and indeed would die in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Until the very last, she had no heir. Shakespeare’s War of the Roses documented what happened to the nation when King Henry V died without an heir, the wars and cruelties of both sides and that could happen again if no successor was named to Queen Elizabeth’s throne. He also explored what made a good, even great monarch.

As writers, we have to work with the time we have, today, and write things that will resonate with our readers today. Shakespeare did so brilliantly and wound up speaking to people of all time – but he wrote for his own time in a manner that was very entertaining.

That’s what I want to do when I grow up, as I grow up. Be entertaining; touch a chord. These are among the things I’ve taken away from Willie S.





By Riana Telgemeier
Scholastic Graphix, 233 pages, $10.99/$23.99

Despite being an adult, Raina Telgemeier has not forgotten what it was like to be an eighth grader when everything, from your body to your relationships, change with startling regularity. She demonstrated this in the wonderful memoir Smile and returns with Drama, a story across a school year.

Callie adores the theater and while isn’t comfortable on stage given her horrible singing voice, relishes her backstage work. This year, the final one of middle school, she’s now charged with the set design for Moon Over Mississippi. Her devotion to Broadway fills her head with larger-than-life ideas, almost impossible to pull off with a school budget coupled with her inexperience at things like hammering. What she does excel at is making friends  and she forms some new attachments during the course of the production.

She’s gaga for Greg, the older brother of her best friend Matt, but he has eyes for someone else. Then she meets twins Justin and Jesse; one wants to be the star, the other is equally good but more comfortable working behind the scenes. Their integration into the school’s theater culture forms a large chunk of the story, especially as it becomes apparent one of the twins is out and proud. Of course, drama kids tends to be more accepting of gay friends, but in middle school it’s never easy and Telgemeier doesn’t shy away from, ahem, the drama inherent in this.

The entire graphic novel is set within the framework of a play with opening and closing curtains and even a brief intermission. Aided with subtle and effective coloring from Gurihiru, Telgemeier’s accessible style makes this an easy, entertaining read.  She doesn’t crowd her pages and makes her characters look and speak in distinctive ways, yet retaining that youthful exuberance we all recall from those years in school.

There is plenty of tension during rehearsals and performances and Callie’s attempts to perfect a cannon going off is a metaphor for the entire experience. There is a lovely rhythm to the character arcs as things go from complicated to easy and then veers into the “it’s complicated” territory. By the end of the play, bonds have been forged that helps prepare all of the cast members for the leap into high school. Growing up is never easy and you survive school thanks to your friends and Telgemeier sees to it Callie is well loved as people respond to her devotion to theater and all its trappings.

John Ostrander: What Mary Gavin Crawford Meant To Me

As you read this, I will be in Chicago for a reunion of those who were in my theater department at Loyola University back in the Sixties and early Seventies. The Pleistocene Era. I’ve been looking forward to the event; many of these people I literally have not seen in decades. My years at Loyola University’s Theater Department were extremely formative for me and I was gifted with many special teachers while I was there.

One won’t be there – Mary Gavin Crawford. She died a little bit more than a week ago. She, in fact, directed me the first time I ever set foot on stage. I was a sophomore in high school, having left the Catholic seminary in which I had spent my freshman year. I left because I had discovered girls. I mean, I always knew they were here – I had sisters – but there was always a sort “yuck, girls” factor before. The girls had shed the yuck factor and, having discovered girls were not yucky, I – as most teen-age boys my age – was now trying to figure ways of getting closer to them and spent more time with them.

One girl in particular went to Marywood School for Girls and I learned the school was looking for boys to be in their play that year, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. I cajoled my buddy, Rick Rynders, to go with me and that was a pretty good idea since I almost chickened out on the steps of Marywood. We went in because he threatened to thump me if we didn’t; I had made him come all that way and we were going to do this.

We auditioned and we both got cast and it was because of Mary Gavin Crawford – Mrs. Crawford. She was tall, blonde, I think in her forties by then, thin, intelligent, acerbic and she knew her stuff. Keep in mind, I don’t think I’d been in a live theater even to watch a play at that point. So I knew nothing.

On opening night, my family came to see the play and my twin brother, Joe, much to the chagrin of my mother, afterwards said eagerly, “Mom told us to say you were good even if you were bad but you really were good!” I was and it was a revelation to me.

Acting was the first thing, outside of reading books, that I discovered I could do pretty well. I discovered I had a passion for the theater. All the basics of acting I learned from Mrs. Crawford. All the basics of theater, I learned from her. From the theater, I learned so much more – the basics of plot and structure, how dialogue moves the action, how theme is intertwined with story. I’ve never had a writing class; the theater was my writing class.

Putting on a play is also a group effort and I learned the basics of that as well. It’s about collaboration between all the aspects of the production. From all this, I learned life lessons as well. Being in theater opened me up, helped me question things and accept many more answers that I would have otherwise done. It brought me experiences and friends that I still have and still treasure. I would not be the writer I am without the theater because I would not be the person I am without the theater. And I would not have been in the theater without Mary Gavin Crawford.

So – thank you, Mrs. Crawford.

From – your former student, John Ostrander

Monday: Mindy Newell



TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT- All Things Pulp Reviewed by Tommy Hancock

by Guido Henkel
Published by Thunder Peak Publishing

I’ll admit that I’m usually (with a few exceptions) an easy reviewer of initial books in new series.  And there’s a few reasons for that, but that doesn’t mean my praise on the first volume is false, it isn’t at all.  The true strength, though, for me in a series is not simply how good the first book is, but if the second book in the series meets or exceeds my best thoughts of its predecessor.  That’s how I gauge whether or not I’m going to stay with a series for awhile.

Guido Henkel’s THEATER OF VAMPIRES, the follow up to DEMON’S NIGHT and the second in the Jason Dark series definitely set the hook I’d already swallowed with the first volume.

In this adventure, Investigator of the Supermatural Jason Dark and his now apprentice/partner Siu Lin (one of the best parts of the first book) set out to investigate killings that may center around a theatrical production new to England.   This extravagant, wildly weird stage show, considered an example of Grand Guignol, is allegedly about vampires and how they feast on humans.  When Dark becomes concerned that reality may be stranger than staged fiction and a real threat might haunt the aisles and back stage of this production, he and Siu Lin turn to one of Dark’s old friends and jump neck first into the bloodiest, boldest adventure yet.

It’s a foregone conclusion with this book that Jason Dark will encounter something monstrous, something supernatural. As a matter of fact, that point is driven home even more in this volume due to a certain Doctor spying Dark at the Theater and imploring that Dark visit this Doctor and his ‘friend’ soon, a friend who, though in the same field as Dark, did not believe in the supernatural, only in the logical.    Henkel fantastically weaves a believable world in his own version of Victorian England, even sprinkling it with real and fictional personages.   One of the neatest is Dark’s inventor friend, Herbert, who although he doesn’t appear in this volume, casts a long enough shadow that I have a fair idea who he is.    Combine this wonderful name dropping with Henkel’s horrifying descriptions, crackling dialogue, and excellent pulpy pacing and THEATER OF VAMPIRES is an excellent second chapter in the literary life of Jason Dark


Real Steel’s Hugh Jackman Talks Boxing Bots

charlie-coaching-300x200-1649725Hugh Jackman stars in Real Steel, out on home video this week, and the native Australian is best known to ComicMix fans for his work as Wolverine in  X-Men, X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand before spinning off into X-Men Origins: Wolverine and cameoing as the canucklehead in X-Men First Class.

In the fall of 2009, Jackman made a return to Broadway in the Keith Huff-penned A Steady Rain.

On February 22, 2009, Jackman took on the prestigious role of hosting the 81st Annual Academy Awards live from the Kodak Theater, he wowed those in attendance and helped ABC score a 13% increase in viewership from the previous year. Previously, Jackman served as host of the Tony Awards three years in a row, from 2003-2005, earning an Emmy Award for his 2004 duties at the 58th annual ceremony and a nomination for his 2005 appearance at the 59th annual ceremony.

In 2008, Jackman was seen in Twentieth Century Fox’s Deception opposite Ewan McGregor and the romantic action-adventure epic Australia, directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Jackman has also starred in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and Woody Allen’s Scoop. He has lent his voice to the animated features Happy Feet and Flushed Away. Other films in which he has had leading roles include Someone Like You, Swordfish, Van Helsing and Kate and Leopold, for which he received a 2002 Golden Globe nomination.

For his portrayal of the 1970s singer-songwriter Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz, Jackman received the 2004 Tony Award® for Best Actor in a musical as well as Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards.

Previous theater credits include Carousel at Carnegie Hall, Oklahoma! at the National Theater in London (Olivier Award nomination), “Sunset Boulevard” (for which he won a Mo Award, Australia’s Tony Award) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Mo Award nomination). (more…)


MIKE GOLD: Movie Theaters Suck

gold-column-art-120118-4888446I’ve said it before, and I can’t say it enough: John Ostrander is my oldest friend and a virtual brother. We grew up as Northsiders in Chicago, as Cubs fans and as comics fans, and we believe that politics is a more interesting version of cage wrestling. I’d take a bullet for the guy, I’d pull it out of my ample gut, put it on a chain and give it to him. I’d leave it to John to wash it off.

In this space last Sunday, John explained why he loves going to movie theaters. I agree with his points; I think I agree with each and every one of them. But we differ in the conclusion.

Movie theaters suck. They are stupidly expensive. They are a drive to a long parking lot. For the price of a mid-sized carton of popcorn at the multiplex, you can make enough of the stuff to feed most of East Asia. At least one asshole (someday me) is going to forget to turn his cell phone off. Other assholes are going to be texting like a crackhead chicken playing tic-tac-toe on a hotplate. Because they have to pay so much to get into the joint, half the audience thinks they can abandon the concepts of common decency and babble like a crackhead chicken playing tic-tac-toe on a hotplate.

By the way, that’s not necessarily the teenaged and young adult half of the audience. I’ve had to tell yentas old enough to be my grandmother to shut the hell up, even resorting to whispering to one “shut up and learn some fucking manners!”

Oh, yeah. Did I mention the commercials? Commercials?? Really? Commercials? That’s just an insult. I don’t care if it reduces the already outlandish ticket price. That’s like selling a bag of shit for only $12.00.

But it’s the other part of John’s argument that I wish to address.

Last year, our ancient 35” cathode ray tube died. Soul daughter Adriane and I immediately performed CPR, to no avail. After sitting in stunned silence for a while, I mentioned I had planned on this happening eventually. The very next morning – no time to sit shiva – we went out and bought a 55” LED HDTV, 240 mHz, with Wi-Fi. Later on we enhanced the sound system and still later found a Blu-Ray player in a box of Post Toasties. Combined, the whole operation cost less than the 35” CRT it replaced – and I’m not even talking constant dollars. For the price of two-dozen movie theater outings, we can conquer Hollywood.

Nonetheless, Adriane asked why I was insistent on getting a 55” screen. I said that when she’s 60, she’ll understand. I also warned her I’ll be moving the couch a couple inches closer to the screen each year.

It is not the same as seeing a movie in a real theater… but it’s damn close, particularly on Blu-Ray. If there’s somebody babbling at the screen, chances are it’s me and I am exceptionally entertaining. The popcorn is better and comparatively free of charge. If my cellphone rings, I turn it off. There’s no driving involved. I don’t even have to get dressed – sometimes.

And there are no commercials.

Different strokes for different folks, and I’m not knocking John’s choice. I’m sure the theaters in the Flint Michigan area are less expensive than they are in the New York metro area. Still, John and I grew up going to many (if not all) of the same, glorious movie palaces that were often better than the movies they showed. If I had a chance to do that again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And I haven’t sworn off going to the movies, but these days it’s a rare event involving a large group of friends, an impulse choice, or a multiplex in the middle of nowhere but within a short drive of whatever motel I’m staying at off an Interstate.

But I’ll try to go to a matinee.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

The Point Radio: Justin Timberlake Defends IN TIME

This weekend the science fiction thriller, IN TIME, opened in theaters. Is is really LOGANS RUN redone? Star Justin Timberlake says NO and explains it why right here –  plus remember WILD CARDS? It might be coming to a theater near you!

The Point Radio is on the air right now – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun for FREE. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE on any computer or mobile device– and please check us out on Facebook right here & toss us a “like” or follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

Tree of Life

tree-of-life-300x358-4860061The story goes that in Stamford CT, so many people walked out of Tree of Life and demanded their money back that the management had to post a sign explaining the movie was not your traditional story and that no more refunds would be issued. On the one hand, it says people pick movies indiscriminately and it also says without being prepared, more thoughtful works can be poorly received.

Director Terrence Malick is an artist with film, turning the moving picture into portraiture. Since his first film, Badlands, the cinematography alone is a reason to seek out his films. There’s usually a long wait between his movies because he takes his time conceiving, making and editing each one, building up anticipation from his fans and the actors who love to work with him. Few get to do it twice although the current movie does feature Sean Penn for a second effort. Recently, though, he has bad mouthed the film, wondering what he was doing in it and yes, Tree of Life can be a real headscratching experience.

But, Malick gets credit for tackling the big issues of life, the universe, and everything. He focuses on a single nuclear family, seemingly set in the 1950s, but all the themes are large ones. So large, in fact, that when there’s a fissure, everything cracks apart. And when that occurs, Malick takes us back to the beginning, and I mean the beginning. We’re talking the Big Bang, a cooling planet and the beginning of life. The lush origins of our world through the early days of the dinosaur is a wonder to watch and it transfers brilliantly to the home screen in the Blu-ray edition coming this Tuesday from 20th Century Home Entertainment.

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are a happily married couple, raising three boys in an idyllic American suburb. Most of the film follows their development through those pivotal childhood years and like a work of literature, says more through what is not spoken than is conveyed in dialogue.By setting this in the past, it automatically evokes a sense of longing in the audience. Curiously, this is a past without much in the way of technology: no radio or television, just a phonograph. (more…)

The Lion King

The second age of Disney greatness made raising children in the 1990s a real treat. Taking youngsters to an animated film recreated some of the magic the parents experience when they were first brought to the theater. To its credit, Disney continued to carefully curate its collection of classic films, filling in the gaps left by the far more mediocre fare that marked the 1970s and 1980s. Interestingly, one of those final films was where one of the current age’s greatest was born.

I still remember sitting in the theater with the kids and saw the trailer for The Lion King, which consisted of the opening song, a gutsy move but a brilliant one. Everything you needed to know was present; the sheer majesty of the animal kingdom, the quality of the animation and color palette, and the amazing score.

The fourth film from the Jeffrey Katzenberg/Michael Eisner regime, The Lion King felt special from the outset and has remained that way despite repeated viewings. Now finally out on Blu-ray today, the movie looks and sounds better than ever.

One of the reasons, the movie works is that it deals with universal themes, notably those of coming of age and the relationship between father and son. While the notion of the “Circle of Life” may have been beaten to death since it was reinforced here, respecting the life cycle is a good lesson for audiences young and old alike.

In the best of the Disney tradition, the film also nicely blends action, drama, and humor so it has a rhythm of its own. The littlest viewers can giggle at Timon and Pumba’s antics while others can feel the adrenaline pump during the battles, but there is certainly something for everyone, done with style and panache.

What’s interesting is that once the film’s concept was put into active development, it had to compete for animators with Pocahontas, which most saw as the next slam dunk film. Freed from the same level of scrutiny, the younger animators who signed on rose to the challenge and then some. It was inspired to blend Tim Rice and Elton John for the songs while Hans Zimmer delivered one of his finest scores.

The usual array of extras for a Diamond Edition film are all on display, and actually had me ready for more. The package contains Blu-ray and a standard DVD discs and comes with a fine user interface. New to this collection is a 39 minute “Pride of the Lion King” featurette that reunites former Chairman Katzenberg, Zimmer, producer Don Hahn, and co-directors Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff. This is followed with an additional 21 minutes of memories, “The Lion King: A Memoir”, hosted by Han. The co-directors introduce five previously unseen Deleted Scenes, explaining how these did not make the final cut. Also represented is the missing song, “Morning Report”, which was restored for the Broadway adaptation. The affection for the movie is demonstrated with the freshly animated Gag Reel with outtakes produced specifically for the disc.

The extras from the previously released Platinum edition return here so you get the audio commentary, Art Gallery, and the Sing-Along Mode.

If you have an iPad, the film comes with the new Disney Second Screen app stuffed with production art and interactive games. For those who use the BD-Live function, this one comes with  the “Virtual Vault” access which will show you “The Making of ‘The Morning Report'”, three additional Deleted Scenes, “Stage, Film, Story and Musical Journey” featurettes, Elton John’s “Circle of Life” music video, a Film-to-Storyboard Comparison, two short Demo Sequences and an Unfinished Scene.

One thing I wish they addressed head on was an acknowledgement in some way that the film owed a debt to Osama Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion. The parallels are too striking for it to have been sheer coincidence.

As we enter the holiday season, this goes on your Must Have list.

Blu-ray Releases Of “Big Lebowski”, “Scarface” Gain Special Theaterical Screenings

Some eagerly anticipated Blu-ray debuts are making noise by hosting limited screenings in theaters. First up is the Coen Brothers’ now classic The Big Lebowski. The DVD comes out on August 16 and that day there will be a screening at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. that will include a special Q & A with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore and T Bone Burnett, as well as a screening of the film and other festivities. Not only will the Blu-ray be out that day but it also is the debut of Jeff Bridges’ self-titled album.

Tickets are now on sale on Ticketmaster. 

A few weeks later, on August 31, Universal Studios will release their Al Pacino hit, Scarface, for a one night run at more than 475 theaters across the country. The showing will be a t7:30 local time from coast to coast and is being presented by NCM Fathom and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Fans who attend this special event will also get an exclusive look at a 20-minute special feature that showcases interviews with popular filmmakers and talent expressing how this epic feature redefined the gangster genre, leaving an enduring influence on cinema.

Tickets for the Scarface Special Event are available at participating theater box offices and online. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom website (theaters and participants are subject to change). The Scarface Special Event will appear in more than 475 select movie theaters across the country via the new digital cinema projection systems.

The newly restored print will make its appearance on disc September 6. For a limited time only, the Scarface Special Limited Edition Blu-ray comes with collectible SteelBookTM packaging, 10 exclusive art cards, a digital copy of the film and a DVD of the original 1932 Scarface.