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Eric Grunin
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Darkness on the Q train By Eric Grunin So this awful scene happened on the Q train to Brooklyn, around 12:30 am today. It took place over the course of five or ten minutes, about the time it took to get from 34th Street to Canal. Ultimately no blows were exchanged, but it was the closest I've been to an actual fight in many years. On one side of the car, a girl of perhaps eight sat between her mother and father, who appeared to be in their early thirties, upper middle class, and African-American. They were well dressed, the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2017 at Crazytown
Before Reagan, there was Nixon By Eric Grunin The vague sentiments of Reaganism translated into brutal policies that required putting certain groups back in their place. Blacks recognized this right away, and most women did soon enough. Ordinary white male working stiffs took a bit longer to see that they were targets, too. -- William Greider, 1982 Much of the post-election discussion has brought to mind the presidency of Ronald Reagan. His cabinet, like the current slate, was a rogues' gallery: Secretary of State Alexander Haig was all too eager to assert control after the attempted assassination of Reagan: What... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2017 at Crazytown
Some Political Anecdotes By Eric Grunin This past week I found myself singing Christmas carols with a cohort of the old New Left. I don't count myself as of that number (I'm too young by a decade, and met them mostly in the 80s), but back in the day I sought to learn from their experiences, and this meant I sometimes found myself entirely out of my depth. By way of illustration, this shaggy dog story. As you should know, back in the 1960s the FBI ran a devastatingly effective attack on the vanguards of the left, with especial attention... Continue reading
Posted Dec 27, 2016 at Crazytown
A run-in with acting. By Eric Grunin For a period of maybe 12 years I performed regularly as a singer and actor. It's not that I was a good actor (I wasn't), but I was part of a troupe of enthusiastic amateurs and I had one of the better-trained voices. So I performed three or four or five times a week, year after year, in a mix of children's theater, sketch comedy, and agit-prop drama. When I wasn't singing, or acting, or playing an instrument I'd be on the sound board, or occasionally lights. I was also one of the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2016 at Crazytown
Don't Mourn, Organize! By Eric Grunin Here's my thoughts about the week just past—just press Play. I've played that song for a few people lately, and the comments have been interesting: The last verse is kind of on the nose? Angry lyrics plus angry music is maybe a little over the top? That arrangement is totally 80s. Well, the last one is easy to agree with: the track is from 1987, written after seven years of Reagan, and as the tension in the East Village over gentrification was building towards the Tompkins Square police riot. (As a side note: this... Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2016 at Crazytown
Why bother looking at paintings in person? By Eric Grunin Today there were 30 people standing before the Mona Lisa, looking at it. At the same time, there were 120 other people standing before the Mona Lisa, looking at their cameras. It was kind of awful. Ever been in a mosh pit waiting for the band to come on? Pent up energy with nothing to focus on except itself? Yeah, like that. Besides those intent on taking selfies or group shots with the Mona Lisa in the distant background, there were those who would push to the front, raise the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2016 at Crazytown
By Eric Grunin Humans are weird. When a cat sees a bird in flight, it may think "I wish I could eat that," but it probably doesn't think "I wish I could fly." But humans? Every child has a moment where they want to fly, or dive like a fish, or travel into space, or go backwards in time. We want to play in the snow and not die of exposure. We want to cross deserts without dying of thirst. Humans, it appears, are everywhere and always chafing at the limits placed on them by nature. Some of us go... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2016 at Crazytown
Vignettes By Eric Grunin 1. Many years ago I was part of a small theater company, maybe a dozen regular participants. We did political songs and sketches, and we always needed fresh material. We met in living rooms, we performed wherever they would have us. One night we were having a typical meeting where people brought in new ideas. I had drafted a song which contained these lines, meant to limn the typical death row inmate: He's probably black He's probably poor He's probably guilty But of that they're not sure What's their rush? The phrase He's probably guilty was... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2016 at Crazytown
A new Golden Age? Not yet. By Eric Grunin Warning: sweeping generalizations ahead. Throughout its Golden Age, the great ongoing subject of the Broadway musical was the struggle of the hero to find a way to individuate and yet also be a useful part of the community. The surface of The Music Man is a romance, something you'd find in an operetta. But Harold Hill isn't a wandering minstrel or a prince traveling incognito, he's a notorious grifter who leaves chaos and consternation in his wake. It's not a romantic comedy, either: what Hill is resisting is not love but... Continue reading
Posted Aug 23, 2016 at Crazytown
Are today's radical musicals reenacting the revolution of 1598? By Eric Grunin I saw Dave Malloy's Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 back in 2013, and somewhere in Act 2 I had a tiny epiphany about where he's coming from, and perhaps where we're all headed. Since The Great Comet is coming back to town, and since the cast album is a good representation of the whole show (and can be heard in its entirely online), I'm going to talk this one out. Let's start with some background. Dave Malloy I saw The Great Comet during the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2016 at Crazytown
I am ashamed that white guys are so simple. By Eric Grunin Back in May, as Encores! was preparing to mount 1776, The Greene Space hosted a panel discussion: On Broadway, Who Tells 'Their' Stories? They posted a video (linked at the end of this blog), which listed the panelists as "Hamilton stars Javier Muñoz and Betsy Struxness; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson composer Michael Friedman, 1776 director Garry Hynes, and host, Encores! Artistic Director Jack Viertel." Among other things, the panel talked about creative, non-obvious casting choices, which provoked The Question from an audience member. I was dissatisfied with the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2016 at Crazytown
The book was beloved, the creative team was sharp, the show was a fast flop. Why? By Eric Grunin The Source Material In 1975, Natalie Babbit's young-adult novel Tuck Everlasting was published to much praise. It takes place in the late 19th Century, somewhere in rural New England, and its hero is Winnie, a ten-year-old girl. The armature of the story is Winnie's encounter with a back country family, the Tucks. They are an ordinary family like her own--except that they happen to be immortal. They are invulnerable, they don't age, and they are profoundly unhappy about it. This unhappiness... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2016 at Crazytown
Bad psychology makes bad drama By Eric Grunin In my experience, people are actually pretty simple. We try to figure what will make life better, we try to figure what will make life worse, we try to calculate the odds. You figure I can probably beat the traffic, and if I don't it won't be a disaster. You figure I shouldn't do this, because I probably can't afford to get caught. You calculate this person is a little crazy, but I can probably handle it. You calculate the Fascist probably won't win, but I should vote for the Democrat just... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2016 at Crazytown
Further Adventures in Incoherence. By Eric Grunin BROWNING: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it. - Rudolf Besier, The Barrets of Wimpole Street This phrase, often attributed to Browning, is in fact apocryphal; but it captures nicely how writers can fall so deeply in love with their metaphors that the end result is unintelligible. In Balzac's novella The Unknown Masterpiece, a renowned and accomplished painter works on a canvas privately for seven years before finally revealing it to his most trusted disciples: "The old lansquenet is laughing... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2016 at Crazytown
Why do we make theater? By Eric Grunin For the past month I've been talking about the How of making art, but the terrible events of this past week have moved me to jump ahead in my plans and say a few words about the Why. In the dark times, Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing About the dark times -- Bertolt Brecht In any theater, anywhere, at the moment the house lights go down, a contract goes into effect: between that instant and the actor's bows, the temporary community of the assembled audience gives... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2016 at Crazytown
Coherence and Chaos. By Eric Grunin Most of the time, we want the various parts our story to hang together: to cohere. Three key ways that stories fail to cohere are contrivance, hermeticism, and bad psychology. Contrivance is when you use arbitrary actions or events to cover a hole in the plot. Hermeticism is when you write material that makes sense to you, but almost nobody else. (This is sometimes unavoidable and even necessary, a situation called supercultivation. We'll get to that.) Bad psychology happens when you make incorrect assumptions about human behavior. This is a big topic, so today... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2016 at Crazytown
Cage wasn't rejected by Schoenberg - he studied with him. And the pieces which seem absurd come from a very specific and consistent way of thinking. You may find his work uninteresting or trivial, but it was always sincere. Perhaps it's easier if we think of his work as "performance art" instead of music? (Cage didn't care.) You might enjoy this:
Toggle Commented Jun 30, 2016 on JOHN CAGE: GENIUS OR CON MAN at Crazytown
You can't mess with content and form at the same time. - Taylor Mac, Hir By Eric Grunin The Goldilocks Principle When we take in a work of art, we evaluate each and every aspect using The Goldilocks Principle: separately and collectively, each aspect must not be too simple or too complicated, it has to be just right. This sounds limiting, but in practice, the just right zone is pretty roomy. Each of us had different boundaries, but everyone's got their limits. In prose fiction, for example, some people get impatient with Hemingway's short sentences, while some get impatient with... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2016 at Crazytown
The Top Five Reasons By Eric Grunin Learning from failure: an annotated list of some recent cases of near (and not so near) misses. Let's start by clarifying our terms. Usually, flop show means: it didn't make its money back. That's a good yardstick for producers, but for writers? Not so much. In 1963, She Loves Me's 301 performances would usually have meant a hit, but didn't; Sunday in the Park with George ran twice as long and didn't pay off; and Ragtime ran for over three times as long and still lost money. Yup. So let's not put the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at Crazytown
Truth and Art By Eric Grunin Ever heard this one? Fiction is lies that tell true things. -- Neil Gaiman, 2013 Or this? We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. -- Picasso, 1923 Yeah, they're smarter than me, and greater artists too, but they're wrong on this. Fact Fiction Which one helps you when you're lost? The map does what good fiction does: clarify what matters, separate what's important from what's just big, and even shows you what's out of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2016 at Crazytown
The problem is being misdiagnosed. The question to ask isn't "Why won't composers & lyricists create the stories I want to see?" but "Where are the composers & lyricists who want to tell those stories?" And the answer is: they're in very short supply, because the system that brought non-rich kids into the theatre no longer exists. Once basic music education was taken out of the elementary schools, the "feeder system" for theatre diminished drastically: kids never learned serious listening. Once disco returned pop music to its dance roots, narrative (theatre) music disappeared from the airwaves. Once directors discovered the unique possibilities of movies (in the early 1970s), theatre itself was no longer considered the apex of narrative entertainment. So for most of the country -- even most of the NY Metro area -- there is no awareness of or exposure to theatre AT ALL, except as a once-a-year novelty, and there hasn't been since PHANTOM opened. Jukebox shows started crowding out original scores back in 1978. The 2000 "Best musical" had no live music. I suspect most of the new generation of writers got their love for it handed down from their parents, whereas formerly there were many other ways. A concrete example of positive action: Rosie O'Donnell founded Rosie's Theater Kids in 2003, specifically to go into poorer schools and provide music theatre training. (Little that wouldn't have been available to any schoolkid of 1960.) The kids loved it, of course, and many alumni of the program are pursuing professional careers. tl;dr: We're never going to get a diverse crop of composers & lyricists until we resume teaching music to 3rd graders.
Toggle Commented Aug 13, 2015 on NEW MUSICAL THEATRE'S RACE PROBLEM at Crazytown
I'm not sure I understand your position here. Let's say Godspell is a sell-out smash, and you raise the top price so the bonus goes to you instead of the scalpers. Fine. But you keep a block of tickets cheap, because you want to keep the students coming, partly because they're great PR and partly because they're the full-price audience for your *next* production. Fine. But when the scalpers show up asking 3x face value, do you really want to keep that "within your brand"? Won't that lose you all your positive PR?
1 reply sells Broadway/Off-Broadway gift cards. All you need is a little fancy packaging and they could be sold by Times Square retailers.
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