This episode, Alex Vlahov talks about his work with the New York Neo-futurists and their collection of 30 plays performed in an hour called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. We also talk about experimental theater in general and some of the plays that Alex has written and directed that have interesting approaches to topics that cover a range of social issues and humanity’s dilemmas. Finally, we discuss Alex’s latest play which is still untitled. The play is about Father Eric, a priest from our high school who was murdered in 2013.
Sup listeners, I’m your host Marissa Comstock and you’re listening to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. You can find us on ITunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.
[Theme music begins]
You can find us on all social media, and on the website at theundefinedgen.com.
This week I talk to my very good friend, Alex Vlahov. He is a writer, director, and actor. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Alex is a member of the New York Neo Futurist ensemble, a theater curator at the Tank, and a founding member at Cliff House Arts, a theater company he created with two of his friends. He also played Brutus and traveled with the Shakespeare theater of New Jersey.
I was just in New York a few weeks ago and messaged Alex and asked if he’d be down to do an interview. He was and invited me to see his show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind with the New York Neo Futurists which was so amazing but I’ll get back to that. There’s so many things happening in this interview. First of all, I went all the way to Bushwick to talk with Alex and as I was four blocks away, it started thundering and I was like seriously, rain in summer? Californians don’t even know what rain is anymore. But yes, there was rain in summer and within a few seconds of hearing that thunder it was torrentially pouring. I had to get a Lyft just to take me the last four blocks with my electronics. And. I was absolutely soaking wet in summer dress when I got there. So in this interview you will hear pouring rain and house shaking thunder. It was actually very soothing to edit. Secondly, Alex had a flu or cold either way, he was such a trooper. He had a really high fever the entire interview and totally pushed through it for me. So grateful to him. Also, how pushy am I? Making him do the interview. But it’s all for the story.
Um, but for this episode, I got to record his show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind so I’m going to staccato our interview with those clips which I think you’ll enjoy.
We start this interview by talking about Alex’s performance that I got to see while I was in New York. It was so fun and crazy and I didn’t know what to expect nor could I have expected this show. Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind is completely interactive. The audience is yelling. I went up on stage a few times. Um, they bring people up to do game shows, dances, they even invited the audience to strip down to their undies and run around this New York city block. The quick explanation is that there are 30 plays and a ticking clock. The cast is trying to finish 30 plays in an hour with the help of the audience. How it worked was there were 30 numbers hanging from clothespins on stage and everyone in the audience had a program with 30 plays numbered. I have a clip here to get you in the mood. It’s Alex’s cast member, Joey and he’ll explain better how this whole thing goes down.
…And you perhaps noticed when you walked into the room this clothesline hanging above the stage upon which dangled 30 integers starting here at one and going there to 30. One through 30. Here above my head. One through 30. Right here. This is not a coincidence we planned ahead. These represent the 30 plays that we are going to attempt to perform for you in the space of 1 hour. Now, are we going to perform these plays in order 1-30?
[crowd yells nos and yeses]
Maybe. Some say yes. If he’s loud and fast enough then yes, that is exactly what will happen but that is up to you. The order of the plays is up to you. What you will do right now. Do this right now. Find a play title that you think looks really interesting. But don’t shout out the title of that play [laughs] look to the left of that title of that play and identify that number associated with that title. Don’t shout out the number of that title until you hear… curtain.
[audience begins to shout different numbers]
What the fuck just happened?! Some of you are saying. That is the battle fatigue of people who have seen the show before. [laughs] thank you friends for coming back to this show. What just happened was, the people who have seen this show before know that they have to shout out the number of the play that they want to see every time they hear the word curtain.
[audience shouts different numbers]
Marissa: So I know you’re excited to meet Alex. First here is Alex performing in one of his plays which is one of the 30. You’ll hear his voice announcing it. It’s called ‘Every Springsteen Song Ever.’
[cut to audio of performance]
Performer: Um, can someone get the clock.
Other performer: Yea.
Alex: Every Springsteen song ever! Go!
Alex: One, two, one two, well it starts pretty simple, maybe something bout a flag!
Other Actor: And a factory man whose a veteran dad,
Alex: There’s a jersey sweetheart waiting on a porch.
Other Actor: An American true blue holdin’ that torch.
Alex: And something ’bout a motorcycle song gets loud
Other Actor: [gibberish in Springsteen voice]
Alex: -riding on the highway
Together: oh, honey, tramps like us, baby we were born in the USAAAAA
Together: oh, honey, tramps like us, baby we were born in the USAAAA
[Audience Yells 3]
Marissa; Ok yea! I got to see your performance.
Alex: Thank you so much for coming. So glad you could see it and sat in the front row. And you know, really glad that you came. Really touched.
Marissa: It was really amazing. I love going and seeing performances and I go to things like the San Francisco Ballet a lot and whatever. But there is like this separation between me and it. And sometimes I’m very aware of that, I’m like oh I’m at the ballet right now. where it’s like your performance was so interactive. like I completely was immersed in the experience.
Alex: oh good!
Marissa: yea, I dont know can you talk about so, you’re with the New York Neo Futurists. Yea. Can you talk about like, what that is.
Alex: Sure! It started in 1988. Thank you by the way! for all the things you said. it started in 1988 in Chicago by a guy named Greg Allen. He started building on, um, the idea of futurism in the early 20th century, this Italian art movement. Um, and, but sort of leaving behind a lot of the socially rigorous, there’s a lot, in Marionetti’s Futurist manifest that doesn’t really apply to now like, certain thoughts on women or class. But he had some things about spontaneity and simultaneity and speed that, you know, decades later, Greg Allen adopted into a working model for a show. An hour that isn’t improv but has room for comedy and drama and storytelling. Um. All sorts of expression. With 30 plays in it and the plays are anywhere between 10 seconds sometimes to between 2 and 3 minutes. Um, Yea! It’s really an attempt to break down the, that’s a very trite, Yea! It does break down a lot of the conventions of going to a show and knowing that you are there as an audience member. Because we often get audience members on stage or make them the focus of the show.
It’s been running in Chicago since 1988, um, it had its first run out here in the late 90s or a couple test runs. People were kinda too busy doing other things. It really got off the ground in 2004 so its been running 12 year now in New York. and in San Francisco now since 2013. So yea.
Marissa: Can you um, so you are talking about like futurism and simult– simultinan..enaenism [struggling to say the word]
Alex: Yea yea yea! Simultaneity is a huge..
Marissa: Yea, just explain what that is.
Alex: Yea, if you talk to any Neo Futurist, you are going to get a different take on this, but there are the core tenants of the neofuturists. Aesthetic which is like honesty at all times, being yourself at all times, telling stories that pertain to your reality and the ways that you interpret you reality, which again is different for every Neo-futurist.
I went to a Guggenheim exhibition of Neo-futurism in 2014 and what I was able to glean from all the work is that it is a lot happening all at once. On the, you know, if this is the medium of paintings, it’s a lot happening at once on the canvas, right? so the incomplete action, you’d see a train locomotive journey but from beginning to end and you’d see that happening at once. Simultaneity, everything happening at once. Speed. Action.
It was like, and also coincided with post industrial revolution like you know, churning at factories, it was also expressing sort of the huge capitalism drives. Like war machines going on, too. Simultaneity, things happening on stage at the same time that create interesting stage fixtures. Um, while having to be ourselves, we can’t break off, unless you’re doing something that is meta, you cant just break off in an accent, unless its self referential. Simultaneity might be someone cooking an egg on stage while someone else tells a stories. Or someone is singing a song while someone turns on an off a light bulb. I mean, those are very fassel examples but, um, I, there is something about, two things happening at once on stage and the audience imposing their own narrative on it.
Marissa: Um, the one girl, she is talking about her anxiety, and then it’s like, she’s still talking and acting out her anxiety while the loud speaker is projecting.
Alex: Yea, thats a really good example. That would be her play, yea! ‘Untitled Anxiety Play’. That’s Kaira’s play. And also the, there are discussions about this play because there are balloons going off in the dark, so that’s simultaneity.
Alex: Yeaaa. Yea. The monologues, the balloons happening and sitting in a dark room and just the anxiety that it creates. You know, you don’t have to say, ‘we go to New Orleans!’ Or you don’t have to say, ‘there was a king in 1530.’ It just is immediate and in the room and interesting. And that was a new art form for me to see. It was really really refreshing when I first moved here.
[cut to narration]
We’ll cut to more of the show to illustrate the craziness and absurdity. These next two pieces are both by Alex. the First one was number 19 and titled, ‘Doctors Etc.’
[cut to recording]
Alex: Ok! Hey! Do we have a doctor in the house? Is there anyone– Is there a doctor in the house?
Audience member: no..
Alex: Anyone in the medical profession? [laughs]
Um, can you please come back here with me? we need you urgently, backstage, um, right now, please, thank you so much!
[Alex calls an audience member on stage]
Hey can we get a round of applause?
[cheering and clapping]
Cast Member 1: I need a graphic designer! is there a graphic designer in the house?
[laughs and cheering]
Cast Member 2: is there anyone in the house from Connecticut? [laughs] Is anyone here from the grand, nutmeg state?? [laughs]
[Cut to Narration]
And this one is number 6, how I bore bartenders
[cut to recording with loud music playing, simulating a bar]
Alex: Sick! I like this song! I said I like this song! You have a very nice sound system in here! It’s pretty busy tonight! You must be pretty busy in here sometimes! So, so how long has this place been open?!
[Continue with Interview]
Alex: well the speed and brevity of the pieces allow for when we do take a moment to slow down and distill an image, excuse me, has a stronger impact…
I’m sick by the way I don’t if I should mention that for the recording [laughs] I’m a little under the weather.
Marissa: Yea, he’s incredibly feverish. He’s barely holding it together.
Alex: Yea I’m barely holding it together. [laughs] I’m a wreck.
Marissa: Thank you so much for getting out of bed to do this.
Alex: No I know, yea I know, Its really you know, it took, I had to call my neighbor and they had to drag me out of bed [laughs] That’s a lie, uh. No, thanks for coming here and accommodating my illness. um, but uh, it’s so cool. It really is so cool. I’m so grateful how into it you were. Yea, its really like, cuz some people, its different every week and some people respond differently. you know, I have some friends who love it now that hated it when they first saw it. i had some friends who loved it when they first saw it. So you know, its different every time so its really cool.
Marissa: More and more its making sense too, and I feel like so much of our entertainment is going towards that, it was just this really formal model for long, even though everyone has been doing experimental stuff, its just like, what’s popular was formal and it’s like, VR, AR, audiences want to be more involved in the experience.
Alex: Yea! thats such a fascinating take because so many Neo-futurists would see that as totally analogous and I do not at all. I don’t think you should poo poo any sort of art form or aesthetic is exclusive. I mean like if it’s inclusive, it’s inclusive at the end of the day.
Marissa: hmm. yea.
Alex: I think that’s also just pretention.
Marissa: Oh so you like AR/VR and other people are like nah.
Alex: I do. I do. Well its like, AR/VR, I think a lot of it, for being Neo-futurists, I think not even us, but a lot of people in like the sort of, DIY, experimental theater world are a bit suspect of these modes of expression… like digital entertainment… like pixels on screen. This is a real sort of like, weird fear, but it happens with any new art form, it’s happening, decade over decade it happens with any new impending, it’s just the modes of expression, numerous modes of expression having been found yet. It is just reaching audiences, it is so cool that you made that connection. That that connects to audiences in that way and we connect to audiences in a different way but it ultimately connects with audiences. Thats so cool. I totally see it there.
[Cut to Narration]
This last piece from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, that I’m going to play is not one of Alex’s but it serves to illustrate the variety of pieces that hey have in their show. They, um deal with issues of race. There was a Black Lives Matter piece. There was a piece where two of the performers are on stage trying to hold their breath on stage with they huge buckets of water with varying level of success. Meanwhile, the woman is on stage is commentating their competition which eventually turns into an informative piece about Syrian refugees who are drowning every day trying to escape to Europe thorough the Mediterranean. So this next piece is about smoking and about the actors addiction.
[Cut to recording of actor doing a skit in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind]
[Cast Member yells name of skit]
Cast Member: My Worst Experiment in Progress. Go!
Cast Member 2: Mersky Is a fucking idiot.
Cast Member 1: I wrote this play.
Cast Member 2: He calls himself a scientist but he’s a fucking idiot,
Cast Member 1: Still a scientist.
Cast Member 2: Say it. Say you’re a fucking idiot.
Cast Member 1: I’m a fucking idiot.
Cast Member 2: And why are you a fucking idiot?
Cast Member 1: Because Ive been smoking cigarettes 12 years longer than I expected, than I intended to…
Cast Member 2: And when did you start?
Cast Member 1: 12 years ago
Cast Member 2: So what was it? you wanted to be cool? was it peer pressure? Did you just want to experiment?
Cast Member 1: I wanted to know what an addiction felt like. I was young and stupid and I wanted to know what an addicton felt like and I wanted to experience what others are going through.
Cast Member 2: And that’s why you started smoking?
Cast Member 1: At first I thought try some heroine but cigarettes are more accessible.
Cast Member 2: And now its been 12 years?
Cast Member 1: 12 years since I, failed to finish what I started.
Cast Member 2: What happened?
Cast Member 1: Well I hate smoking, I always have. I didn’t even know how to smoke so I just forced myself to one day and then a few weeks later I was addicted both physically and mentally. I still am.
Cast Member 2: You never quit?
Cast Member 1: Its not quitting if you start again.
Cast Member 2: What have you learned?
Cast Member 1: I’ve learned how to hurt myself. Ive learned how to lie to myself. Ive learned how to lie to the people I love. I’ve learned you will probably live longer than I will. I’ve learned I don’t like who I have become. It’s the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever done. I’ve spent years fighting to protect the environment while polluting my own body. I have fought against the most destructive corporations while paying thousands of dollars to them. It hurts my mind. It hurts my body. It, I’ve learned I feel myself becoming weaker with every cigarette I smoke.
Cast Member 2: When was your last cigarette?
Cast Member 1: 8 days, 5 hours ago.
[cheers from the crowd]
[back to interview]
Marissa: Yea, people were exploring their things on stage like the guy with the cigarettes. Like I’m assuming those are real thoughts and problems of his. So, do they encourage you to explore those things in your little plays?
Alex: Yes, they really do. It’s got to be, personal, that the only way because, its its, its gotta be, its got to come from a place of reality. That’s what makes the best plays. I mean. You mentioned that play because I think there was something in it that you connected with. I don’t know. I’m not trying to be pop psychologist but like, I remember the plays that I have a connection with. So the fact that he was able to communicate, Mersky, Daniel Merskey, was able to communicate, something, uh, directly, and honestly, is, is, like a tenant of the aesthetic and you know, makes for some of the best theater.
It translates to film, by, some, I, I don’t remember who said this. Some teacher once said that like, the best special effect on film is watching the human face, emotionally react to something. like, and I realize the field you work in, I don’t mean that as an insult at all. His point was human emotion is so fascinating, and to watch him go through some changes of emotion and thought, you follow them as audience members. So yea, we really do try to strive for honesty.
Alex: Yea, there’s no what do you call it, fourth wall, man. Yea.
Alex: Yea, that’s the cool part. It sounds so, ‘there’s no fourth wall mannnn’ so you know [laughs] its very like hippie theater professor but like, yea, that’s really like the coolest part about the show. My favorite part about the show.
Yea, I have a play called ‘Pro Bono Therapy’ where we just ask for something you don’t want to say in front of the audience, to another Neo and then we ask the audience member the same question so you know, it’s different every weekend cuz you hear an audience member say what they don’t want to say in front of the room. and you know some people talked about like, the way they communicate with friends or like the relationship they are in, or someone who is not talking to them. But like yea, weird, interesting therapeutic stuff sometimes gets sort of mixed up on stage.
Marissa: Uhh, so ok you started at UCLA and you did improv in LA and then you transferred and moved to London and were acting, or studying acting at LAMBDA. Can you talk about their philosophy on acting and some of the take away things you learned there?
Alex: Yea! Sorry um, yea, sorry, I just feel like I’m.. struggling with this fever.
Marissa: Do you need water? Are you ok?
Alex: Yea, I, I, have some water here. I should be drinking much more of it.
Marissa: [laughing] Please tell me when you are dying and then..
Alex: I’m not normally a big sweater but I’m sweating a lot right now. [laughs] I’m on medication so that, I’ll be ok in a couple days.[laughs] -But I’m not ok now.
London was great for what it was. I wanted to live there. And that was the biggest impetus for moving there. Um, knowing what I know now, you know. The training was a little myopic.
Marissa: What is myopic?
Alex: Like focused, very focused in, on an actor’s life. Which you know, that is really good, it gives you a lot of tools. It gives you so many different methods to pull from but at the same time. I did find myself being frustrated cuz like, I guess its kind of like a conservatory, you know? Like something with such a high, exclusivity, of um, all other practices? All other fields. You like, I’m very interested in film work and writing and LAMDA really catered to actors and acting career, an actor’s life. Which makes sense, it’s an acting school. So, three years there it was wonderful. I was trained as a classical actor. I realized that so many people graduate from LAMBA and go from audition to audition or career, have a career where they do, wonderful stage work and then like film and tv but like it’s a very unreliable career as an actor. And being practical about it, I’m much more interested in creating my own work and original work.
Marissa: I, ok, I want to get into all of your work. I just want to ask really quickly because I’m curious how you get into a character.
Alex: Yea, totally.
Marissa: What’s your method specifically?
Alex: Um. Ya know, I think that the biggest thing is. The word is what is on the page. Is what the text tells you and that isn’t there for you to rely on or if it’s a piece that is perhaps being improvised or you have some agency in the creation of the character, uh, then it is a bit more relying on your own instinct. Right? Your own taste almost.
For me its like looking at the page, looking at the givens of the role. Like you know, they are never the bad guy. It’s always they are doing things for the reasons that they are doing it. And you know every character has its own thing. You know I’ve only been out there for a couple years now out of college and mostly looking for aesthetic billing who ask me to write for myself for when I do play characters, which is really fun and I love doing. For me, each character has different preparation, some of them like making iTunes playlists and just like listening to that over and over again or some have been physical alterations or just trying to communicate slightly different in the real world with people. Yea. I used to be like study study study and now I’m more like go on impulse and in the room. The answer I think, is in the room. So yea, you know, the character is uhhh, um, ya know, I’m not a put on an eye mask and go on out and limp sort of guy.
Marissa: Like having seen your stuff and reading about all the things you have been involved with, you are into things that involve the audience, or it’s live in the moment so I’m imagining in a play you are working on or a performance the character can potentially be different each night.
Alex: Well it should be I think.
Alex: But but, but, you know the given, acting is uh, for me, uh, acting emotionally honest in fictional circumstances. Right? If anything the character is almost second to the raw honesty to how you are responding in the moment. right. It’s um, it’s less interesting for me to really, really alter myself than it is to just be responding to like, to just make it so the audience knows, like, can see something in what I am doing. If I am just in the room responding to someone, an actual conversation is so interesting. People talking about the hidden impulses you see or think you see. um. yea, that’s far more fascinating and I think that comes from being in the room and being honest to the text and the givens. And if they are not there, then really being open to experimentation with it. But it’s all done with, it’s different for each character.
Alex: Yea and it’s finding the honesty in it. That’s really the truth.
Marissa: And yea, so you cofounded, um, a like, ensemble, called Cliff House Arts
Alex: yea! it’s really small. Andy and I, I think you met Andy
Marissa: Yea I met Andy and I also saw Mike Belanti was involved.
Alex: Yea! Mike Belanti was involved. yea yea yea yea yea. Mike has done a bunch of stuff with us. He’s like our official videographer. yea so cool. yea, Cliff House is like, um, right when I moved here. I just wanted to give the work i was doing a monochre. So you went to our album cover concert in 2012.
Marissa: yea! Which was also raining like this so I’m going to associate that with you.
Alex: That’s really cool. [laughs] so every time you see me it has to rain profusely and you have to get soaking wet. That was a shit show. You guys- What happened to you guys?
Marissa: Sooo. yea.
Alex: So this is September 21st 2012 by the way, just for context.
Marissa: [laughs] Yea.
Alex: September 21st, 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar. and it’s out in Tomales Bay. God there’s, so this almost sounds like Madlibs. This is like Tomales Bay in the middle of the night. We’re doing a beach boys cover concert at Pet Sounds. So you arrived with Laura. Something happened to you car. right?
Marissa: Yea so, I went down with Kenny Dolan, Cameron, and my best friend, Laura, yea we kind of took the wrong way. We took the Google maps way and not the way that you had told us which we’ve never told Kenny. [laughs] Because he would probably be so mad about it. But we kept, there were three detour signs, and we like- ok, so we go around one and it’s fine, and we’re like ‘yea! see it was bullshit’ and we go around another, it’s fine. The Third one, there’s a road that is covered in water. but we, you can’t tell how deep it is. It looks like it’s flat you know because I think the road dipped down. So anyway, someone was like, or we were all just like, yea! Let’s just power through it and just like speed Kenny’s car into that thing and all of the sudden we are just like 4 or 5 feet deep in water and his car turns off. [laughs]
Alex: I’m sorry that is the part I forgot, that the car just died.
Marissa: Yea but anyways, so the long story short of it is that Kenny needed a new engine.
Alex: Oh shit.
Alex: Oh my god.
Marissa: But yea, the party was great. It was like, it was so insanely beautiful. Thunder and lightning. We’re in that old barn house.
Alex: yea that’s all grown over now. You can’t go in there.
Marissa: oh really?
Alex: Yea it’s all weeded. Yea, they just left it.
Marissa: Oh my god.
Alex: Yea so right in the knick of time.
Marissa: Yea, it was just an insanely beautiful old barn and the like, the lightning, we were inside and it’s just like shaking the wood on the barn and then like you guys are doing covers of I can’t even remember now.
Alex: Pet sounds
Marissa: Pet sounds.
Alex: which is also funny because like I told, I told so many people. Myself included. do this concert. It’s going to be an awesomely big deal! And I got there and half the people didn’t really know their songs. Or like, like, so many little things happened. I mean it was a fun night. and there where some amazing performances. but like for getting people that far from the Bay Area it was like, man, it should have been an amazing, really good show. It was more like a really fun party. Than it was like a night of excellent music. [laughs] you know what I mean. I, I, I love all the friends involved and the people involved I just maybe It was on me. I just wish I curatorially pushed a bit harder to like maybe just practice?
The reason I bring that up because I was doing those still and I wanted to put them under name. so the first event Andy I did was a Tom Waits Album cover concert in Brooklyn which was Goodbye Blue Monday which was again, now closed yea so we wanted to put it under a name. We did Tom Waits. Then we did a Beckett festival. Then we started creating some original work. We, we kept doing album cover concerts till 2013. Did one in 2014 but then we did Furniture Porn. This show was about the internet and Andy was heavily involved with the production design and all the tech design, sound, lighting, textures. I mean he is like a wiz with all that. And he’s really good with director feedback. He’s a great performer. Andy is really awesome.
Marissa: And like, I was reading on your website about Cliff House arts and it says, You know you have a social justice vision. so the stuff you’ve worked on is schizophrenia and um, the prison system, yea I was so fascinated by the Russian guy who killed himself. It’s such an interesting story.
Alex: Do you remember that video from high school at all. Impossible is nothing?
Marissa: No I don’t remember.
Alex: Aleksey Vayner. Yea. It, it’s like, 2006, I think 2007, yea. I might be getting the year wrong. Yea, ‘Impossible is Nothing.’ He, he was a business, Harvard business grad. Wow the details. it’s been a while again. He made a video, resume. A video resume where he talks about how great he is. His skills, um, it has, it has like, him tangoing, playing tennis, doing karate moves. And he just spouts off this corporate double speak of like inspirational goals but like he became this internet laughing stock. Um. And then right when I moved to New York. I found out that he had overdosed and no one knew if was accidental or on purpose and it originally was going to be like, to investigate what happened to him. Right. talk, maybe talk to his family. But I thought it was too close and he’s already gone through enough so I used him as a leaping off point. Uh, as a jumping off point into how the internet has changed the way we communicate. And in just the most minute ways and this is 2013 when we did it and you have to keep in mind that memes were a huge thing back then and really think about this. They aren’t really that big now. right. like, memes are still there around. But Scumbag Stacy, Scumbag Steve. do you remember?
Marissa: This is when I wasn’t using the internet really.
Alex: Totally, totally, yea yea yea. But memes are good at delivering a simple message and they are often jokes and I was looking at what happens to the people behind these memes or videos in real life. Um, and it, meanwhile, and using them as a sort of structural point. so the Star Wars kid, we looked at him. we looked at boom goes the dynamite, the college sports anchor that flubbed. We did Clint Eastwood talking to the chair in the 2012 election. And uh, Paula Dean, the chef, her like, myaculpua. Myaculpa, I might be mispronouncing it. We used clips from her. And you know, uh, we had people look up on Google, asking the audience, where in the world is the largest and then have the audience say a letter from the alphabet and then have Andy type that in and you, like, project it. And it would show google responses based on different questions. And the NSA Edward Snowden had happened that year so we had stuff about surveillance. Thinking back it was a wonderful [Loud Thunder booms]
Wow! That was awesome.
That was incredible.
Yea, it was a messy pie of a piece but that’s kinda what I. It was almost like a bunch of different sketches of real world interactions with the internet. With 7 different people.
Marissa: Yea reading it was like, it’s so fascinating. you know it’s so easy, and we are all the time sharing these memes and looking at these videos and this and that and it’s like you’re not bullying them, and like, you’re not saying anything hurtful, you’re just like laughing at it but it’s just like the collective conscious of millions of people even sharing it becomes like a bullying thing because these people are applying to jobs and it’s like every time you share it, it’s like 10 millions more people who have seen it and who associate it with that person rather than all their other accolades. You know?
Alex: I’ll send you the video, the original Youtube video. I mean it’s, it’s still funny but knowing the real life side of it, it’s like what is the human cost of the internet?
It is like we are living in an era. That’s going to be the thing that defines this era. We’re all going to die and it’s going to be like they lived through the internet. We saw it before. It’s just kinda weird. Ya know?
Marissa: oh and that one was called Furniture porn. I love that name. [laughs]
Alex: Aw thanks man.
Marissa: Why did you call it that?
Alex: Well you know, in a much earlier draft, we had people screaming at, audience members would give their stuff to the stage and we would arrange them in like, erotic position on stage and scream at them to fuck. And it was this thing of Rule 34. Have you heard of this internet law?
Alex: It’s that anything, I think I’m getting it right, Rule 34, anything that can be turned into porn… exists as porn.
Alex: Yea, so that’s like where there’s like, Simpson’s porn. I mean that’s a pretty big one now. There’s a lot of Simpson’s porn online. It’s a good joke. rule 34. Like, if someone calls Rule 34 in a chatroom or like on Reddit or something, then someone will like photoshop said thing, if it’s a leaf. it’ll be like the leaf having sex.
Alex: Yea so it was like a sketch on rule 34, we got like purses, someone’s glasses and we like ‘YEA! FUCK, like FUCK, FUCK THAT PURSE!’ It was like glasses right, there’s nothing happening on stage and we realized it was just sort of aggressive and loud and it came from like, then we got chairs, and we had the chairs try to fuck and then it was furniture. Then we had furniture catalogues going in the background. because people just swipe on Pinterest and look at pretty furniture. But then it was a bit too much, so we cut that piece out but the title stuck.
[cut to narration]
This last section of the interview is about a play that Alex is working on for the New York New Futurists. He had previously released a version of his play for the company Tank but is now revisiting it with new ideas. The play is about a priest from our high school named Father Eric who was brutally murdered in 2013. Alex investigated his death and did a lot of interviews gathering first hand accounts for his play.
[continue with interview]
Marissa: So yea A Simple Art is about a priest that, er, worked at our high school and was murdered.
Marissa: So can you tell that story?
Alex: I mean it’s so fucked up. [pause] I mean I was, um, I was curating a noir festival at Tank and a group dropped out and I needed to, I wanted to, I needed a replacement, so I was like maybe that’s a good impetus to create my own, um, piece. Because I know, it was a noir theater festival and I knew someone who had been murdered. And I had just finished Furniture Porn and I was like well if I’m so interested in documentary theater and real life cases, I should maybe do something about this. I don’t, um, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but it ended up being a collection of interviews played on stage, along side a record player, a tape cassette player, a cd player a radio and I would sort of mix these analog devices and narrate over these interviews forming a uhh, uh, cohesive story around Father Eric, the town, the murderer, sort that little world. Um. And hope, what I hoped to do, what I hope to do next time is sort of focus on a hyper-specific example. The audience and hopefully us, and yea collaborators now working on it with me. But focusing on this very true crime, very specific example, we learn things about storytelling and how people perceive narrative and tell the story about our own lives.
Alex: It was a one man show when I did it was just me and a table and like speaking. Um it was very very lo fi. and I like that. but yea, it’s going to be a bit more involved now.
Oh yea sorry! so what happened with Father Eric, he um, I mean ok so again, it’s so, the details might be shady here because I just recently dived back into it. Oh so I should say, ok yea, so the Neo Futurists are going to make it a Prime time show. So we are going to be doing a Simple Art next year in the Spring and I don’t know if it’s going to have the same title but yea it explores the murder of Father Eric who um, we knew and uh, he is, the guy was arrested, John Lee Bullock, he was arrested, like, [thunder] that’s so crazy!
Marissa: I know
Alex: It’s really beautiful
Marissa: It is
Alex: He was arrested the day before, um, for acting recklessly and was held 6 hours and police around midnight of New years eve. So yea this was New Years Eve, 2013 going into 2014 and then he was wandering around Arcadia and was seen again by security officer and questions. So like there’s all these interesting details right. So first of all, this guy had two interactions with the police leading up to Father Eric being Murdered. The second thing was that Father Eric didn’t have the alarm on in the rectory because he had this very, very close tie with the scripture of Jesus, like the textual Jesus as it is and he thought that people wouldn’t put that barrier between him and the community so he didn’t have the church alarm on. that’s why the guy got in. There’s these really interesting details there that are really worth exploring. And Eric himself was beloved, I mean he was liked by everyone, and um, uh,
Marissa: And your family is close to him?
Alex: Oh, no we’re not.
Marissa: Oh you’re not.
Alex: That’s the thing, I only had, I have a couple interactions with him, when I had class with him a couple times but it wasn’t like he was this, like, really close family friend. And in a way that’s good because there’s an object– object– objectivity there.
Alex: Yea yea but, there’s also this level of atonement because there’s this weird memory I have of making fun out him one day like, the specifics of it are sort of lost on me. I just remember using his name as a punchline in the quad and him hearing it and like sort of like doing an acknowledging that he heard it and I just remember thinking aw, aw that didn’t feel good. I didn’t want to, I liked him, I didn’t want to make him feel bad. So there’s this whole other element of this long distance atonement but that’s like a very paltry reason, it really is to explore. yea [laughs]
Marissa: You are just feeling so eternally bad.
Alex: I feel so bad! The two strongest memories I have of him and the other one is like the first day at St. Francis, he took us in that little chapel, you know? that one in Brothers with the big tree and he was like alright, who here last night made uh, every part of their meal from scratch. Then I raised my hand I was like yea, I cooked it. And he was like alright, did you grow the vegetables? did you give it sunshine? And I was a little like okkkk, I get, I get, I get where you’re going. I get where you’re going. [laughs] but he was right? It was a little thing, he made me consider, all the shit, I mean, it was, the, the, the leapin’ thought there was where was the stuff I’m eating coming from? That’s really what it was. Where is the stuff coming from? And it was like a slight shift. I have like these anarchic punk, experience these little at school experiences with him. Never really knew the guy, like personally though.
Alex: I didn’t know him.
Marissa: But you, and there’s like other things about him. He’s very educated. He spoke Japanese. I remember him speaking Japanese at school.
Alex: 25 years. He spent 25 years there.
Marissa: Yea, ok he spent 25 years in Japan and was really into bringing that culture and I feel like he did a lot with the multicultural masses and stuff.
Marissa: If I remember correctly.
Alex: He translated the poems of a Hiroshima survivor, in the area, in the Humboldt area. I think she’s in the area but yea when the community lost him, like, they lost, someone who could translate, speak Japanese fluently and could translate. I mean that’s a loss to the community beside the other obvious reasons like a priest and a wonderful man. I mean. Um, it is, it is a very lay piece. although it about a priest, and touches on his ties with [thunder] uh scriptural Jesus, is that , it is very much about Noir Storytelling. It’s like a documentary but the advantages of it being live is that it can be a little different every night. I mean mix it up with different, we want a lot of devices on stage, record players, radios, and tape players, we can like create, a sonic landscape underneath these accounts of what happened to him and what happened in the area.
We have two prime time shows a year, some do well, some get nominated for awards, some do well, it’s a cool thing and they have some money to put towards them, um and it’s a chance to do a like along form piece and they said specifically we want something with a work history and I, I’ve wanted to revisit this and go back to Eureka so I’m hopefully going when I go back in August, but if I can’t and with standing, I’m going to go back in December.
This new version is so in the beginning stages right now, yea it feels weird to talk about. But yea, you know the guy. But what were your experiences with Father Eric?
Marissa: Um, honestly like, I never had class with him. I maybe talked to him a few times, I thought he was like, um, it was obvious to me that he was a kind person.
Marissa: And he was, like, very apart of the whole community there and then just, you know, I’m not religious at all and I don’t have a lot of respect for Catholic Church and stuff like that.
Alex: Right, right
Marissa: But I mean he was, I mean, yea, he was obviously very apart of the community. I really respected that he did all that multi cultural stuff and was into really into learning. Like, and like yea. I think, to go into what happened to him, without having to go into gory detail about it, he was brutally murdered by this guy. Very brutally murdered which is crazy, it’s sort of like a once in a lifetime thing that you know someone who was savagely murdered like that. And so, I was reading about like, so the reason why you titled the play like that was because it came from a book about murder right?
Alex: Yea yea, Raymond Chandler, who I discovered in London. I got like, homesick and I was like well, I found, LA Noir. I lived in LA for like two years and I like Noir a little bit, movies, so I read Raymond Chandler and I fell in love with his style. He, so, it’s like him and Dashiell Hammett, are like the early 20th century noir writers, Hammett is the Big Sleep, Chandler is the Maltese Falcon. Those are the big ones associated, but chandler is just like sooo, his vocabulary and just like his, his, he has these idioms. He has these phrases like she was crazier than a bag of waltzing mice. right? And like you know, he looked as out of place as a tarantula on a fruitcake. All these like weird phrases, or like, a tarantula on an angel pie. Like what we associate with Noir now as like a stereotype but like he invented it seemingly, I might be wrong.
But like, I started reading all his books and then I got into his essays and one of his essays is called the Simple Art of Murder and it basically talks about how in fiction the murder has to be neat, there has to be good guys and bad guys and bad guys that sometimes are good guys and, people that are maybe morally, ambiguous or ambivalent but they all lead to an endpoint. Something has to be discovered. And he talks about how in reality it’s so messy and how real intentions, you can’t really ever capture the real intentions. And also like police work, like, police are so different in fiction than they are in real life. Just the differences in murder between in fact versus fiction.
The original impetus for the piece was just to explore that. Just like, the simple art. Like murder is like this in noir, meanwhile here is a real life case of a guy I knew and talking about how it’s not neat at all. But what became the interesting part about that was, life is not neat, narrative is not neat, personal history is not neat, we try to hard so hard to make it and weave our own rug of like autobiography, right? And we can’t really do that and what’s left of us is determined by the people who speak for us. So yea, it’s much more about story telling in general than just investigating true crime versus fiction crime but it does lend this wonderful noir design element because now we can have noir music and lighting. And it’s a little bit costumey without going overboard. Hints to it. Yea, yea, that’s where it gets the title from.
Marissa: And so like, you had one format that you worked with a couple years ago, and then now it’s evolving into this other thing with a new format
Alex: And two different women. There’s two different cast members
Alex: Kaira and Nessa. Oh you saw Kaira! She was in the anxiety play.
Alex: She’s going to be in it.
Marissa: Fantastic yea
Alex: She’s a wonderful actress and comedian, she plays the French horn. She does stuff with UCB and Nessa is awe– amazing director in her own right and does international work and is a Neofuturist and are both amazing people that I’m- I want to bring their stories into it, too. It’s going to be a bit more bigger. Big more bigger. That’s what I wanted to say.
Marissa: A bit more bigger.
Alex: A bit more bigger.
Marissa: That’s going to be like the quote I use to use–
Alex: A bit more bigger! [laughs] good! I like that.
Marissa: How is your work evolving? A bit more bigger.
Alex: A bit more bigger. [laughs] put more spaces in it. Abitmorebigger. Just-
Marissa: a bit more bigger
Alex: get rid of all vowels. Oh wait that makes no sense.
Marissa: And so you are releasing that in 2017, right. Do you have more, like, a month that that is coming out? I’m so excited. I definitely want to come to see it.
Alex: Thanks dude. Please do.
[cut to narration]
That wraps up this week episode with the ever talented Alex Vlahov. I can’t wait for his play next year. It will be in New York so you can take that trip you have been planning. But actually, if you want to see Alex perform and you are in the Bay Area, Alex is home for all of August and you can see him perform with the San Francisco Neo-futurists every Friday and Saturday this month. Definitely go to a show. I’m going to another one for sure because they are so much fun. I promise you’ll love it.
And to remind you if you forgot, I’m Marissa Comstock and you’re listening to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. You can find us on Soundcloud, Itunes, and Stitcher with links to anything and everything on our website on theundefinedgen.com. please contact me with feedback. I’d love to know how I’m doing. And if you know anyone who you think I might be interested in interviewing, let me know.
Next week I talk Sylvee Esquivel. She is a 29-year-old restaurant owner in Oakland. Her and her partner own Hella Vegan Eats where they make artful, crazy, flavorful vegan food. They started selling tamales from a stand. Eventually, bought a food truck and then in the last five months opened their brick and mortar restaurant which I got to visit last week. So tune in, Sylvee is amazing, uh alright. Bye listeners! Catch you next week!
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