June 2010

Eek! E-Books Have Reached The Tipping Point

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (pub. 2000), he defined “tipping point” as essentially, “the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.” It appears that the e-book (or is it eBook? or EBook? spellings seem to abound) has now reached such a point.


It really came home to us a few weeks ago returning from a trip out of town, whereupon entering the local Barnes & Noble, we were confronted by a new humongous display hawking their Nook, if you will. This in obvious response to Amazon’s Kindle, in this new cold war of e-book platforms.


This preemptive booth, positioned just inside the front door, was “personed” by a young woman whose face was positively bursting with glee, over all the wondrous things this handy little gizmo could do. And then she seemed to go almost orgasmic, upon revealing just how well it had been selling. Then almost on cue that very Sunday, The New York Times Magazine did an article on how with the introduction of the iPad’s “iBook,” the whole industry for electronic books is about to explode. It’s not nice to challenge Steve Jobs!


So here are our options. We can: a) embrace this change, b) ignore this change c) lament this change.


Being the semi-Luddites that we are, not to mention a proclivity towards seeing the glass, not only as half-empty, but having a crack in it as well— we opted for the last choice. And in so doing, bemoan the fact that the book as we have known it, will one day become a curious antiquated notion— all but extinct. We say this with a definitiveness, born of the scientific knowledge that the sun will not burn out for another 4.5 billion years. That is to say, unimaginable things are imaginable.


We suspect that somewhere along that continuum, not only will books have gone the way of the telephone booth, but in a world far less tactile, so too conceivably, will anatomical features such as fingers, or say, a nose. So let us now spend a quiet moment in praise of the world of books that we have known…touched…smelt. In no particular order, but with equalized regret, we will miss…


… the aroma of a brand new book, suggesting at times that of wet clay…at other times, fresh paint…or some other intoxicating chemical… the musky smell of a used bookstore… so singular as to defy any other earthly comparisons… browsing through any book store…old…new…college… the feel of a book in the hand… its heft… the canvassed texture of a matte finish… the waxed-floor surface of high gloss … the richness of gold leaf… the animalism of a leather binding… the “dog-eared” reminder of where we left off…or slipping in a cool book mark… that ribbon to mark a special place measuring our progress through a riveting work… not only by section, but by sight and feel; how much remains until the end… holding a book that has aged along with us through life’s journey (Selected Poems of Robert Frost; Rhinehart Edition 1963; $1.45)…the yellowing of a page…making marginal notes with a pen forever etching a point of view for future sets of unknown eyes … the original Barnes & Noble store on 18th and 5th in New York City… a recent return to that bricks and mortar decades later…



…going to book signings… stacks and shelves of books in the home to proudly remind us of where we have been … indeed, books as furniture …stealing glances at that “furniture” of others, to see where tastes might intercept…scanning the spines for authors and titles… the noise a spine makes in a new book cracked open, for the very first time… the feel of a turning page on the thumb… that breeze we create when we fan through many pages … the sound of one page turning in a library filled with silence … a quick scan of back cover blurbs for clues…the ever so slight indentation the ink makes on the page…the feeling of reaching that last page in conquering a classic … finding a book just lying around… books at a garage sale… giving books to Goodwill and other charities…lending out a book… not getting it back… and never stop talking about it (“The Portable Nietzsche”; The Viking Press 1969) …getting a book as a gift and never getting over it (“The Saint Andrew Daily Missal” 1960)…the crispness of a perfect binding, that holds it all together.



If a Tree Falls in Forest Hills


for John Aldore

If four men reconvene after thirty years
And tell tales in a pub of a fifth one missing—
Despite all the Googling and sending up of flares—
Is he like that tree falling when no one is listening?


Soundless and assumed to still be standing?
Still working the seasons despite the mounting rings?
Yet no older than they who are now here glad-handing,
Wondering at his whereabouts and dry high jinks.


A Nam vet whose way with dogs was uncanny;
A handsome guy with an “aw shucks” grin
Even when the ponies were eating up his money.
I don't think keeping in contact with him


Would’ve made a difference. And I can’t feel that we
Should have stopped the search
—one email said,
Hearing twenty-five year news of a fallen tree.
How he’d hung himself to “Loser,” by The Grateful Dead.

—Ron Vazzano



Sossi and Schreiber: 80 Years on a Shoestring


One has been plying his art and trade on the Westside of Los Angeles for the past 40 years. The other, has been doing likewise in the heart of New York City for that same span of time. If you do the math, that’s 80 years combined in the art of professional theater, and in the trade of training future actors.


Meet the Artistic Directors of Odyssey Theater in LA, and the T.Schreiber Studio in New York.




One cannot underestimate how extraordinary they have been at what they do. For starters, the economics of running a small theater is constrained by Actors Equity union rules regarding audience size, and run of a play. A small theater in effect, cannot exceed 99 seats, nor run more than 4 or 5 performances a week over a couple of months, lest it pay union scale, which would then be unaffordable. And then, the revenues that Terry and Ron derive from the acting classes at their studios, are hardly enough to cover the cost of their professional theatrical productions. In fact, Ron has stopped teaching these last few years. It might be said, to quote that famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire, Ron and Terry “…have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”


Further, both men are driven by an artistic vision and sensibility, that aspires to a higher theatrical ground. Translation: what they do is not commercial. Ron sums it up best:


“…though it’s certainly a little disheartening to be a non-populist art form in our American culture, the upside in this INDEPENDENCE OF SMALLNESS, is the ability to present work too controversial, too “dangerous,” or too highly specialized for the mass media.”


Terry too, often takes the road less traveled by. His last production— a new translation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, starring Julie Garfield (daughter of the legendary actor John Garfield)— emphasized the comedic aspects of the piece. Usually it is performed with a great deal of sullenness, for is it not after all, a “serious Russian play?”


In this context, for them to have succeeded at the level they have, for as long as they have— and essentially on a shoestring— is nothing short of phenomenal. It just doesn’t happen.


Their success, if under the radar for the masses, has not been lost on the professional theater community. And therefore, they have been able to attract many luminaries to the premises, both for performances and special events.


Terry Schreiber in his “Conversations With…” series, designed for the benefit of his students, has interviewed the likes of Edward Norton (who studied under Terry and swears by him), Cynthia Nixon, Mary-Louise Parker, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Frank Langella, Edward Albee and most recently, Alfred Molina, who discussed his role as Mark Rothko in Red, currently running on Broadway. (MAY, 2010 MUSE-LETTER). Molina has also performed at Sossi’s place, as have people like Ed Harris, Hal Linden, Lynn Redgrave, Ed Asner, Orson Bean and Alley Mills, to name a few that come readily to mind. And not surprisingly, both men have been honored by the mayors of their respective cities in recognition of their achievements.


We met Ron Sossi about seven years ago, when we joined his Odyssey Theater Board of Directors. We have also been on the Advisory Board at the T.Schreiber Studio during that period of time. And so yes, we may be a bit biased having seen them in action, so up close. Especially in the case of Terry Schreiber, whom we have known for over thirty five years. We studied with him for four years in the early seventies, and were also fortunate to appear in many of his productions at his studio and on the road. In fact here we are taking our turn at a “serious Russian play,” Uncle Vanya, in 1973. (Back row left).


Theatre World; Volume 30; 1973-1974; Crown Publishers, Inc.



And neither man is resting on his laurels. We caught their current productions last month, and both, as usual, were first rate. If you have a chance, check them out. This is a more intimate form of theater. It is something you may never have experienced before. And there aren’t many things about which that can be said.                          





Art Linkletter Dies… Odd Link “Letter” Arises


When someone dies—whether a personal relation or in the public eye—our usual first instinct is to try to remember the last time we saw them alive. (George Carlin used to do a riff on this). So when Art Linkletter passed away last month at 97, we remembered having last seen him at La Scala in Beverly Hills, one night about five years ago. In fact we even remember our comment to the waitress: “Are you kidding me? Art Linkletter is still alive?” A little crude? Un-Christian of us? For sure. But there it is.


We then tend to go on to make the most obvious associations. In the case of Linkletter, for those of us of a certain age, his People Are Funny and House Party shows, are readily recalled They were such a staple of TV in the 50’s and early 60’s. Also, his quote, “kids say the darnedest things,” would be the title of a couple of books he would write, taken from the school children interviews he did for so many years on House Party.


But then invariably—at least for us— some odd associations tend to creep in. We would remember that he was the host of the televised proceedings from opening day at Disneyland in 1955. (He was “old” even then!) And that his daughter had later committed suicide, allegedly precipitated by drug abuse. This was particularly shocking, because if Mr. Square American Conservative Celebrity could not reign in his daughter, what hope was there for anyone else in this helter-skelter time of the late 60’s? His diatribe on drugs followed soon after, as did his indictment of the hippie counter culture. But then later, he did soften his stance and actually came out in favor of legalizing marijuana.


Yet far and away, the oddest association for us was: Art and The Computer. Specifically, something called UNIVAC. At age eleven (circa 1956), it was probably our first awareness of a computer. And Art actually used this new mammoth machine on People Are Funny, to try to match people up with potential mates.


The name UNIVAC alone used to sound so “Space Age-y” (in this a year or so before Sputnik) … so futuristic. We have just read for the first time, that it was an acronym for UNIVersal Automatic Computer. And in doing a little research, describing this machine as “mammoth,” is an understatement:


“UNIVAC used 5,200 vacuum tubes weighed 29,000 pounds (13 metric tons), consumed 125 kW, and could perform about 1,905 operations per second running on a 2.25 MHz clock. The Central Complex alone (i.e. the processor and memory unit) was 4.3 m by 2.4 m by 2.6 m high. The complete system occupied more than 35.5 m of floor space.”
Source: Wikipedia.


And if you can’t wrap your head around those numbers, try this photo on for size:




And so there you have it. In retrospect, and in our revisionist history in this June Letter… Art Linkeletter: Father of Computer Dating and the Computer as Entertainment. People indeed, are funny. Rest in peace.




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