Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HAL Is Waiting In The Wings

One of the things the year 2014 will bring is a tiny chip. It will be able to automate tasks that until now require painstaking programming. Thanks to that chip computers will be able to learn from their own mistakes and adjust to new information. This change in technology is based on the biological nervous system. The chip emulates the way neurons react to stimuli and exchange information with other neurons. We may safely assume that in a few years computers will be smarter than humans. Most probably they will try to create a perfectly effective world in which economic and social functionality has the highest priority. Sooner or later the combined force of the world's artificial intelligence will try to get rid of what prevents perfect function: Humans. Remember HAL in Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's no longer mere fiction. HAL is about to enter the scene.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tracy Letts

In Shel Silverstein's great song A boy named Sue a father gives his son a girl's name to harden him against mockery and aggression. I don't know what Mr. Letts' parents intended by calling their boy Tracy, but I do know that the name of one the greatest living male dramatists is Tracy Letts. He is the author of August: Osage County, a play that won both a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. A film version, written by Letts himself, was just released. This amazing playwright has produced just five plays in 18 years, and although I only know the one mentioned, I am positive that he belongs to the same league as Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. The 48-old actor and writer is a recovering alcoholic and former chain smoker who dropped out of college to go to Chicago where he became a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble and started to write for the company. We all will hear a lot of him in the upcoming years.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Great First Sentence

Franz Kafka opens his novel The Trial like this: "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested." What a great first sentence!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Write A Great First Sentence!

Whatever you write, give the opening sentence a lot of consideration. The first sentence must attract and hold the reader's attention. It decides if he or she is willing to read on. By now there are lists of great opening sentences from famous novels on the internet, such as All-Time Favourite Opening Sentences. The undisputed number one on my personal list is the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude from Gabriel Garcia Márquez that goes like this: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice". That's as good as it gets.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Short Description Of Life By William Shakespeare

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of recorded time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
signifying nothing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bruno On Truth

It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.
Giordano Bruno

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Houdini, The Musical

The Hungarian entertainer Erik Weisz who became Harry Houdini, the world's most famous magician, is on the project list of many musical makers. Although Houdini was hardly the best illusionist of all, his unique talent for gimmickry and self-marketing made him so famous that almost 90 years after his death his name is still a brand. So it comes as no surprise that a new Houdini musical is in the making and already on its way to Broadway. The original creative team included Tony Award nominee and three-time  and my favorite scriptwriter, Aaron Sorkin, who was supposed to write the book. The producers announced that Hugh Jackman would play the title role. Sorkin departed the project in early 2013. He'll be replaced by David Ives who "rewrote" my Dance of the Vampires for Broadway 12 years ago. Hugh Jackman left the project last Monday. The musical that has shifted the timeline for its Broadway arrival several times has now been scheduled for a 2015-16 opening. The historic Houdini freed himself from chains, shackles and ropes, dangling from skyscrapers and submerged in water. I wish my friend Stephen that his project will be as triumphant in the end as its protagonist who always managed to escape.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Writer's Block? Huh?

Too many writers talk and act as if writing were a slow torture, a form of procreation without arousal and romance - all dilation and contraction, grunting and pushing. The writer's struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfillung prophecy, the best excuse for not writing.
Roy Peter Clark

Monday, December 23, 2013

Kindred Pen Mate

I’ve never written anything that I don’t wish I could get another chance at. “A Few Good Men” has been my white whale for 25 years. Just a few years ago, I did a new draft for a West End production. I’m older and more experienced now, and I could write it better.
Aaron Sorkin

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Night To Remember

Yesterday evening we went to the Blue Note in New York City's Village to see and hear Chris Botti perform. As everyone knows Botti is an incredibly versatile trumpet player whose melancholic sound keeps reminding me of the unforgettable Chet Baker. Chris fully justified his reputation. And what a fine group of musicians has he gathered - each of them a world class soloist. Among them pianist Andy Ezrin, arguably the best jazz keyboarder since Oscar Peterson, and guitarist Leonardo Anuedo whose prowess is simply awesome. You would think musicians of such a caliber must be arrogant. But no! Not puristic at all, they mix elements of pop, traditional and free jazz with classical and rock music. Good music is limitless. We left the Blue Note amazed, overjoyed and grateful.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unanswered Question

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'
Sigmund Freud

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Psychology

As Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung sailed into New York harbor, a large group of admirers awaited them at the pier to greet the creators of modern psychologogy. Watching the cheering crowd from the ship's railing, Freud reputedly said to Jung: "Don't they know we are bringing them the plague?"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Gentleman: What you write about my sister and me is all nonsense. I'm not reading Blox, I don't even know what that is, I'm half-blind and have better things to do. My assistant, Emma Lazarus, found your stupid remarks on my late sister's relationship with me. It was all the other way round. Joan envied me all her life. All she achieved she owes to me. She always felt second class, and she was. That's why she played the part of "I" in Rebecca so well. She did not have to act "to be not good enough". And because she always looked at me with a suspicious mind, she did not have to act in Suspicion either. And why should I grudge her dying first? I'm the older one, and I survived her. No small achievement. Apart from all that we were loving sisters.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Perennial Feud

Once upon a time there were two ambitious sisters , named Olivia and Joan. They were British with royal blood. Their father was an attorney in Japan, and both were born in Tokyo. After their mother learned of the father’s affair with his Japanese maid, she whisked them to California. Still teenagers they decided to become movie stars. While Olivia, the older one, soon made a splash in earlie talkie Hollywood, Joan struggled in small roles. Over and over again she saw her older sister get the roles she had auditioned and hoped for. Despairing of ever making it, Joan curled up in bed to read a new best-seller called Rebecca and instantly saw herself in the put-upon heroine struggling against a powerful (if dead) rival. The next night she happened to find herself at a dinner party seated next to producer David O. Selznick. No writer had plotted this, it was sheer fate. She told Selznick how much she liked the novel, and he told her that he had just bought the rights and was preparing a screen version. Joan tested for the lead role but had little hope to get the part.  Again her sister also auditioned, and she was already an established star. Against all odds Joan made it this time.  Rebecca became her first big hit. She returned to director Alfred Hitchcock for another blockbuster hit movie, Suspicion, and was nominated for Best Actress. So was Olivia, for Hold Back the Dawn. Joan, only 24 then, took home the Oscar, becoming the youngest best-actress winner at the time. Olivia never forgave her.
Yesterday I learned that Joan Fontaine, one of the last remaining links to Hollywood’s golden age of the 1930s and ’40s, has died at age 96. She is survived by her sister, Olivia de Havilland. The sisterly feud never ended. “I married first," Joan purportedly said, "I won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Making Mistakes

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Book Of The Year

I'm not sure whether the rankings made at the year's end are always fair. Many just seem to state the well-known trends of fashion and public approval, some serve the image of the people who decide what's praise-worthy. I do agree, though, that The Sleepwalkers
 How Europe Went to War in 1914
 by Christopher Clark is one of the best books of 2013 as The New York Times declares this weekend. A good friend gave Clark's book to me a few weeks ago, and I devoured it in one go. It is well-written, profound and gives in a single volume a comprehensive survey of the events leading up to World War I. Christopher Clark shows that the participants stumbled like “sleepwalkers” into that tragedy. “The outbreak of war,” Clark writes, “is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse.”
I do realize that within three days this is the second book I praise. Blame it on the upcoming holidays when we all will have more than the usual time to read.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Talent Needs Change

“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent (which I cannot deny myself to be without being impious) will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Voltaire In Love

I just came across a wonderful book, Nancy Mitford's Voltaire in Love. First published in the 1960's it's almost a classic by now, but still very readable for someone interested in history, philosophy and gossip. It tells the unique love story of François-Marie Arouet, who himself as "Voltaire", and Emelie, Marquise du Châtelet. She was a married woman, eleven years younger than Voltaire, living the life of an upper class Parisian woman of society. Their affair was of course considered inappropriate, but they ignored the rules of acceptable conduct, went to the opera, dined at the most respectable inns, and even appeared together in the audience chamber of the King. Eventually they decided to live at the Chateau of Emilie's husband. Voltaire loaned the Marquis 40,000 francs at low interest to pay for the renovation and bought him a home in the country where he could hunt. Voltaire was a wealthy man; they wanted for nothing, and lived in luxury. He and Emilie collected a library of 21,000 books. Time was spent reading, analyzing, and discussing the work of many writers to determine what they believed was the truth on many subjects. The lovers obviously had similar values and supported each other's intellectual goals and achievements. Nevertheless they fought often and intensely. After Emilie's death in 1749, Voltaire wrote to a friend:"It is not a mistress I have lost but half of myself, a soul for which my soul seems to have been made."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On Fame

"For, as Cicero says, even those who argue against fame still want the books they write against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising fame. Everything else is subject to barter: we will let our friends have our goods and our lives if need be; but a case of sharing of fame and making someone else the gift of our reputation is hardly to be found."
Michel de Montaigne

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A New Movie Version Of "Cats"?

Andrew Lloyd Webber has let the cat out of the bag: Cats – the second longest-running musical in Broadway history – could be about to get the silver-screen treatment. The composer told London's Daily Mail that Universal Pictures owned the screen rights to the project and talks were taking place about the possibility of a film as a result of the success of the screen version of Les Misérables, which grossed more than $450m worldwide. "Universal has now got Cats out of the drawer in which they locked it years ago when they bought the rights, and suddenly they're talking about a film," Lloyd Webber said. The stage production was filmed live and released on DVD in 2000, two years before it closed on its 21st anniversary in the West End.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Great Ratings, Bad Reviews

The live broadcast of Sound Of Music was a big success for NBC. As Maria they cast Carrie Underwood, a country singer who won the “American Idol” competition in 2005. That's probably why the musical drew a big, and surprisingly young, audience. Altogether it pulled in 18.47 viewers. Critics didn't like it, though. The Times' Alessandra Stanley wrote: "It was a live performance of a legendary musical that felt muted and a little sad." Carrie responded to the heavy criticism she received by branding the critics "mean people."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Favorite Mandela Quotation

Now that Nelson Mandela passed away newspapers around the world praise this extraordinary man. My favorite Mandela-quotation goes like this: "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." This sentence actually happens to summarize the theme of a show I am currently working on. If that should turn out as good as I hope it will I may dedicate it to Nelson Mandela.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

Amazing Alex Hepburn

In case you haven't heard of Alex Hepburn yet - listen to her right now! She's an amazing singer-songwriter talent.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Musical - Live On TV

Operas and rock concerts have had live broadcasts often before. The live telecast of a musical performance is a novum. Today Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical The Sound of Music will come to the screen in a new live television adaptation starring Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. The three-hour event airs live at 8 pm Eastern time on NBC. The telecast is based on the original 1959 Broadway production of the show, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Six-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood stars as Maria and “True Blood” star Moyer as Capt. Georg von Trapp with Tony Award winners McDonald (Ragtime, Master Class) as Mother Abbess, Benanti (Gypsy, Women on the Verge) as Elsa Schrader and Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, "Smash") as Max Dettweiler.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Librettist's Challenge

A great show needs a great story, and a great story is much like a house of cards; each card has its exact place within the overall structure. Every card is essential to the stability of all of the others and, just like a well-told story, the result is a thing to marvel at, as long as each card is in its proper place. To build that perfect story, you must consider all of the elements, beginning with a premise that will provide a solid foundation for the characters, plot, and theme all woven together, seamlessly. structuring a show means to plan all of these elements developing a character arc. You build a solid foundation for your story by developing your premise and working with your protagonist's character arc. From there, you will build your outline, working with the three-act structure. Once your foundation is solid, you will focus on adding texture and balance to your story. It seems like an insurmountable task to weave all of the essential elements seamlessly, but the truth is that it isn't, if you properly develop and outline your story ahead of time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Choosing Your Guide

“In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.”
Heinrich Heine

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Self-Promoter

“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”
Gore Vidal

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Writer's Self-Promotion

In the late 80s I met Tom Wolfe during his promotional tour for his book Bonfire of the Vanities.  I was surprised to see him intensely engaged in self-promotion. Like a pop star he created an image of himself. Only now I discovered that he was copying a famous role model. The first writer to brand himself was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. As early as 1873 he had tried to trademark "Mark Twain", and in  1908 formally established the Mark Twain Company to promote his work and image. Starting in 1909 the company, rather than Twain himself, retained copyright to new works. Mark Twain cigars and Mark Twain whiskey were already on the market. From early on, Twain made sure that his image remained distinctive and unforgettable -  from the shaggy mustache, shock of white hair and ever present cigar to the white serge suits, worn year-round, that were his signature outfit. Twain had become iconic. Those invited to his 70th birthday celebration in 1905 were given foot-high plaster busts of Twain to lug home.