“Bully” Reflections

Katherine Bellantone, Donaldson, Vincent Truman

Katherine Bellantone, Donaldson, Vincent Truman

This weekend, I close a production I had been very worried about for the Chicago Fringe Festival. I took a chance on my most personal play to date, and circumstances led to a collaboration amongst a caucasian cast and an African American cast. I advertised the play as a paying gig (and it’s looking 99% favorable I can make good with the artists who did their work, which I’m thrilled about); I thought, “you know, what a dangerous opportunity for audiences to see an experience from 2 completely different perspectives and history.” I am thrilled to say I close feeling ecstatic.

Stage manager-less, but with the assistant director, Baird Brutscher, placed in both casts, thus always backstage and on hand, and rehearsing in my home to cut down expenses (I love paying actors!), the casts assembled a production with little to no standard “leadership” – I’ve always thought of theater as a collaboration, not a dictatorship – but with personalized direction and a trust and belief in the artists’ own abilities. A director is not a director of a play, he is a director for each artist. Of course, I admitted to the casts openly that I have blind spots to the African American experience. Some might call that a red flag; to me, I would feel disingenuous foisting “leadership” when “listening” seemed a better option. And both casts did their best: they worked on two floors, with the cast who had done their homework getting the first half of each rehearsal and the cast needing to run lines were allowed to work in the basement to catch up, and then working with me on the second half.

Chicago Fringe being what it is (predominantly low-budget), I also asked folks to provide their own costumes (since this is not a period piece, this was no big deal – the lead male actor’s costume amounted to a wife beater and jeans) and help create the atmosphere of a garage by bringing a box or two. I brought several boxes and all of the props, including a bike and a chair, despite the fact I have no car. Fortunately, nearly everyone was happy to contribute.

A personal highlight: one of the actors was cast in a show halfway through his commitment to ours, so, whereas most directors would say, “pick the show you want but don’t compromise the other”, including me, I knew losing him would result in his entire cast being jettisoned from the production. I didn’t want that on his head, so we re-arranged the entire schedule for both casts, solely for his benefit, and everyone rolled with it with professionalism. He graciously reimbursed me for the publicity materials already purchased, and all was well.

Most of the actors in both casts worked above and beyond their capabilities, for which I am grateful. For every uncomfortable situation, there were moments when cast members not only knocked it out of the park, but found new ways to knock it out of the park, even during the run.

Did I learn more about the African American experience? Not as much as I’d like, but then I was working with three African Americans, not the entire race, so there was only so much I could glean (I generally shut up when the three of them were talking, instead of inserting my own viewpoint into the conversation, as that was the best way I could be fair throughout the entire process). I gave up on that lofty goal, and instead interacted with them according to their talents. I never got a ‘thank you for your work’, but then that’s a holdover from my more needy days; my journey isn’t to require validation at every turn, so the process turned out to be immensely satisfying. I know I was responsible for some much-needed diversity at the Fringe, and I’m proud of that. A step is a step is a step.

Mind you, I wasn’t too thrilled with some of the critics’ viewpoints, although I grant them latitude because they were seeing three or four shows in a row and I’m sure that’s taxing. However, too often than not, some of the criticism seemed to swear off every single subtext, allegory or analogy I was making and instead clung to the literal “this happened, then that happened” approach.  This is theater, folks, not a high school sports event.

Nevertheless, as Jake Baker, one of the actors said when faced with similar criticism, “Fuck ’em. We got this.”

What did I learn ultimately? Regardless of race, sex, orientation, we, as artists, need to continue uniting together, being vocal, and respecting each other. Only then can greatness follow. Thank you, guys, for helping me on my way.


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“Bully”: The Promo Videos

BULLY's Jeremy Sonkin

BULLY’s Jeremy Sonkin

This post contains the three promotional videos shot for BULLY, slated to have its world premiere(s) at the CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL 2015. We shot these three to not only feature both full casts, but to give a little hint of the different performance styles each bring to the stage.

PROMO 1 features Donaldson, Katherine Bellantone and Jake Baker.  Their performances will be: FRI 9/4 7pm // THR 9/10 7pm // SAT 9/12 830pm // SUN 9/13 230pm.

PROMO 2 and 3 feature Jeremy Sonkin, Kimberly Banks and Stan King.  Their performances will be: SAT 9/5 4pm // SUN 9/6 530pm // MON 9/7 10pm.

All performances will be at the CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings Street, Chciago IL 60630, steps away from the Jefferson Park Blue Line and Metra stops.

TIX: http://chicagofringe.org/shows/bully/
WEB: http://www.vincenttruman.net/bully/bully1.htm


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Music Video: “Girl Shake That Laffy Taffy Time”

The Vincent Truman Trio

The Vincent Truman Trio

Full disclosure: I did not know there was actually a song called “Girl Shake That Laffy Taffy”, and now that I’ve heard it, I’m still not sure it’s a song.

This song is a three-hour song; that is, I elicit random phrases, lines, words and thoughts from my friends on Facebook and use those words to be the muse in putting together a song in, you guessed it, three hours.  Going for a rockabilly vibe, I play two acoustics, one electric guitar, a Hofner bass and synth drums played without a click track.

Some of these three-hour songs get nary a listen; some, like this one, chalked up nearly 200 in a week (small potatoes, but pretty nice, considering it’s a three-hour goddamn song).  My friend Andrea particularly liked it, so I dusted off the green screen and created this 1950s-style video.


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“Bully”, or How To Write A Play You Don’t Want To Write

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

“Bully” was the next play I had to write. The problem is I didn’t want to write the damn thing.

Life is a series of thousands of experiences; none are disconnected from each other. I’d go so far as to suggest that, if you put them in a single chart, most life events in a single person’s existence would resemble far more a web than a flowchart. Repercussions from one event invariably show up in seemingly independent actions years removed from said event. I think, if you were to ask, any successful playwright would admit to a thread being present, or felt, from one work to another. Certainly one can draw a line fromAlan AykbournAlan Aykbourn’s 1959 play “Love After All” with his magnificent, trilogy “The Norman Conquests” in 1973, as one could certainly draw subtle parallels from that work to 1979’s “Sisterly Feelings.” Similarly, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Play About the Baby” reveal common fires in Edward Albee’s work, despite over thirty years separating them.

Following on from my plays “Venus Envy”, “Killing Angela” and “Featherstone”, all of which dealt with hidden or manufactured agendas, “Bully” was fully ready to be written, even if its author was reluctant.

“Bully” recounts a man named Alex, who, after thirty years of living in shame and fear, decides to confront the bully of his youth, in the form of a freelance electrician, husband and father of one named Darrell. Despite having no contact in those intervening decades, Darrell’s bullying tactics served to nurture a life in Alex of just not wanting to be picked on or harassed; the result being that nobody notices Alex at all anymore and his ability to withstand this predicament has led him to Darrell’s garage on a crisp Saturday morning. Alex goes there to confront Darrell and extract an apology, but he is well-armed with tools to use in the event an apology isn’t coming. And it isn’t coming.

I’ve got a bully of my own in my past, who, by no coincidence whatsoever, is named Darrell. I occasionally spy his Facebook page and am excited by, and terrified by, confronting him. But after all these years, what could he say to me in real life? From his pictures, he’s still the slit-eyed, tough-looking fellow he was thirty – nearly forty – years ago. And unlike my counterpart of those many years ago, I see a woefully unhappy man, trapped within the posturing of a high school dropout. Certainly any confrontation I would have with him would only serve to retrigger that power he thought he felt over me those many years ago. So, while I still maintain traits that make me uneasy – I’m uncomfortable in crowds, I tend to avoid confrontation, I constantly think of myself as not “manly” enough to stand up for myself, to say nothing of my tendency to pick friends, and a spouse, who exploited those weaknesses, either to re-enact past battles or to punish myself – I have convinced myself that such a meeting would be pointless and that I shouldn’t overestimate a schoolyard bully’s power over me as I drift into middle age.

But, aha. I have also been Darrell. There was a time, in my drinking 20s and careless 30s, that I would use just about anyone who got me what I wanted, and I would wreck those who stood in my way. I proudly waved the banner of “I Don’t Give A Fuck”, which was easily, and occasionally accurately, called out as grave insecurity. I slept with married women – kept my own personal log of exactly how many that was separate from my usual conquests – and was basically no good. That particular thread was given new life recently, as a very good friend of mine is basically doing the same thing. And I find I not only have no time for it, but I am like a ex-smoker who is very quick to judge anyone who might light up in reaction to stress or addiction.

To write “Bully” has forced me to inhabit several of my lives, and it’s been absolutely horrifying and panic-inducing. A workshop was planned for the beginning of April; in terror, and when things weren’t falling perfectly into place, I canceled it with a couple of days’ notice. The rewrites, which followed the actual workshop in late April, have depressed and panicked me, alternately. Yet I do know this: “Bully” is the most intimate, personal and risky of any work I’ve done. That alone has meant that it had to be written.

“Bully” has been selected to be featured in the maximum amount of performances (seven) in the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival.

To be continued.

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Music Video: “Vas Sueve” by Zem Complex, Euro Crooner

Zem Complex, 1996

Zem Complex, 1996

“Vas Sueve”, which translates loosely as “Very Sueve”, was a 1996 #1 smash in Moldova for Zem Complex, Euro Crooner and part-time proctologist.  With its monotonous, I mean, insistent bass guitar and pedantic, I mean, pulsing synthesizers, “Vas Sueve” captured the feeling in Eastern Europe, just like the Rutles’ “A Hard Day’s Rut” captured the zeitgeist of Minshull Street in Manchester, UK circa 1964.  Compared favorably to other hits such as “The Macarena” and “Call Me Maybe”, “Vas Sueve” is a tribute to songs you may never want to hear again.

Not much is known about Zem Complex outside of his massive hit, which actually has nothing to do with this song but rather refers to an unfortunate fender bender outside of Blechinstrad, Moldova’s most ill town.  This video pulls in various footage from the wacky virtual reality game called Second Life and was compiled by his widow, Industrial.  Says Industrial, “The song is about nothing, really, so it seemed fitting to couple it with a game about fuck-all as well.”

Zem was once interviewed by Rolling Stone, but the interview was removed because it turned out the reporters called the wrong place.




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Three Hour Song: “Boats and Hos”

Vincent Truman, Boats and Hos

Vincent Truman, Boats and Hos

Upon occasion, I create what I call a Three Hour Song.  How it works: I invite my friends on Facebook to comment with words, phrases, keys, tempos, anything (I rarely try and implement a theme) and from that I write, record, mix and upload a song from scratch in, you guessed it, three hours. None of these exercises come with any warning; generally, it’s when I have nothing to do in an evening – of have things to do I’d rather avoid – and I have a decent stock of alcohol at hand.

In June 2014 came “Boats and Hos.”  With the exception of  another experimental song called “Alan Rickman”, “Boats and Hos” has received the most consistent plays over time, amounting to an impressive – or paltry, depending on your perspective – 250 plays.  For whatever reason, my friends kept on suggesting nautical-sounding phrases, including, of course, the title.  While I kept my screen on the comments, I played piano until a suitable sounding melody emerged.  A few strings, bass, percussion, drums and harmony vocals later, a song appeared.

I should admit that I am never, ever in a good mood when I do these songs.  I am directionless (or rudderless, if you will) or cannot cultivate any imagination or inspiration. Bypassing my intellect altogether, these songs come from a wholly other place.  It is not muse-driven.  It just needs to be done, which, for some reason, works quite well.


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The Girl Who Wears Your Face #tbt

Vincent Truman, 1992

Vincent Truman, 1992

I’ve been on a past life journey lately, roaming through recordings I made through the late 1980s and 1990s, thanks to a newly acquired TASCAM Porta One four-track recorder I picked up on ebay (after acquiring, a month earlier, a TASCAM Porta Two, which played everything at an unreconcilable fast speed).  These cassette recordings, all of which feature me playing – or rather attempting to play – various instruments are like a photo album of sound.  For every recording, I can remember days, temperatures, apartments, studios, electric guitars, locations of the “recording studio” (often a corner or a disused small room), relationships, lack of relationships, highs, lows, and cats.

One of my favorite tunes is a song called “The Girl Who Wears Your Face”, which I recorded in 1992 using various drum patterns and a very 1980s-style synthesizer, complete with so much echo that it attempts to cover the many mistakes played throughout, and a fairly clever, if basic, bass pattern.  This song was really liked by my friend Keith, ever the music expert, who dubbed it his second favorite song of 1992.  Keith and I both created documents with our top 10 or top 20 songs of the moment or month or year, and it’s one thing that bonds us to this day.

In 1992, I had just come out of film school, and was doing all of the things that people come out of film school doing, which are: (a) not getting a job in film; (b) being exceptionally critical of filmmaking (it was years before I could just watch a film and not judge each pan, close-up or post-production vocal overdubs) and (c) dying my hair various colors.  Of course, I continued filming as well, using a huge monster of a VHS camcorder.

This video is a composite of those films and the music I was making at the time.  Although it is certain not to do me many favors in terms of my creative career, it remains one of my favorite tunes.


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