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****TO PETER IMMORTAL****

Hi, Peter.

I was in the process of entitling this piece “requiem,”  but a requiem is a composition  for the already dead, and you aren’t and won’t be. Not allowed. Then I thought of “World Without Peter”, but that wouldn’t do either. As long as  those who love, admire and remember you are walking the earth, you will be with us and there can be no world without

PETER IMMORTAL

Not so very long ago, you came into my life as a ninth grader when I was teaching drama at Berkeley High (Well, it was actually West Campus, not Berkeley High proper, but, lordy, you know the rest of the world doesn’t want to hear about that.) You recall we were to do a musical with a cast made up of ninth graders only. Elliott and I settled quickly on Cabaret.  Kind of juicy for ninth graders (you probably didn’t think so), but the male vocals aren’t too demanding, which you know is a major criterion for youngsters. Plenty of female parts. Also a major criterion. And as for you? Even then you could play show piano like nobody’s business.

Well, we did that show to loud applause, and in the process discovered a whole troupe of singers, dancers, actors, and outstanding human beings who went on to perform one show biz miracle after another from Pajama Game to Company and beyond. And you were still the center of the whole group. And come graduation, it didn’t stop.

Many of you in that sterling group went on to higher ed. and professional theater careers. I was privileged to share in all that by virtue of directing most of the Berkeley High shows and becoming friends with many of you. It was an experience richer than most college and many professionals ever touch. And you were still at the center of it all. Whether at the piano or singing or acting, if you touched it, it turned to gold.

Somewhere, in the midst of all this, the way I remember it, you and I decided to create a show of our own. I was the writer, having done some playwriting and song writing. (You’re no slouch at lyrics yourself, of course.) The idea of working with you, an already accomplished musician even at that young age, was heady. How to choose a project, though?

I don’t recall the process we went through to decide on a play about Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper? A musical? Yep. I’m sure the choice had something to do with your adoration of Stephen Sondheim. I’m sure as well that the influence of Sweeney Todd came to bear. All that matters not, though. We finally came up with a show we called Whitechapel, after the hard-knocks district on London’s East End where Jack the R. did his bloody work.

To my surprise and gratification, after you matriculated at Yale, you eventually arranged for Whitechapel to become a senior project not only for yourself, the composer, but for a number of other Yalee’s as well. Set design. Costume design, etc. You assembled a marvelous company. Me, I stayed back in Berkeley teaching and communicating with the production as best I could while everyone else was in New Haven creating and rehearsing.

Then came production time. I flew east for a week or so. The performance venue was a dining hall, but we uninitiated needed to toss out any images we might have had of a typical college cafeteria-style eatery. This is a stone, high-ceiling, Gothic Revival space entirely evocative of the late nineteenth century atmosphere of poverty and violence our play demands. One slight problem was that people insisted on eating there. Daily. No respect for us artists. Thus, each day we moved furniture and scenery back and forth and created our Victorian hell. Then, rehearsal over, we put it all back together for the next day’s feast.

You, of course, had been the main inspiration for the whole project. As the music director, you had enormous responsibility, and you had garnered enormous respect from the entire company from crew to orchestra to cast. Looking back, I marvel at what a stupendous achievement it all was. And, oh, we had those dreams of skipping off from New Haven to Broadway. That didn’t happen, but what did happen was the creation of what the hundreds of those of us involved in creating it, and all the spectators privileged to see and hear it, remember as a perfectly splendid piece of theater. More important, it was and will always be one important aspect of my life with you,

PETER IMMORTAL

My eternal love to you

Carl

 


DIVE INTO THE POST-PANDEMIC WITH TWO FINE FILMS

It’s been a long drought for us moviegoers. Although the lack of big-theater experiences can’t be compared either in inconvenience or pain to the horrors of Covid-19, if I’m honest (and I occasionally am) I still admit missing walking up to the box office, settling back into a darkened house, and watching large people play out their dramas on the silver screen. Now, it’s easily as important to me as the opportunity to go maskless (almost) without fear or to rub elbows in a crowd to return to that somewhere over the rainbow world.

Lin Manuel Miranda shown sporting a jacket from my granddaughter’s (and his) alma mater

I’ve done it only twice so far. Early on, we took in IN THE HEIGHTS, set in (of course) NYC’s Washington Heights. The name that dominated the whole production was  Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, though he had much less to do with this one than he did with that historical tour de force. It’s a multicultural, multiracial production that shows fault lines between two dominant groups of the heights–those of Puerto Rican heritage and those from the Dominican Republic. The conflict, predictably, is as the line from the pop song (not from the show) says, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Same conflict as in West Side Story’s “I want To Be In America.” You’d think the theme would be played out by now, but unfortunately not so. I must say the whole thing is Broadway-derivative and a bit too heartwarming and sentimental if you examine it too closely. But if you accept it for what it is and enjoy the return of movie magic, it’s a winner.

From the urban America of IN THE HEIGHTS, we take you now to rural Italy and the adventures of a bunch of old–and I do mean old–guys and their canine companions as they scrabble through the forests in search of the rarest and most expensive fungi in the world.

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS refers both to the humans and their doggie partners who labor mightily to bring this delicacy from their near-poverty dwellings  to the plates of the hoi polloi worldwide.

I’d always thought of truffle hunters (when I thought of them at all) as pigs, but apparently dogs are really good at it also. The film centers on the close relationships between the men (and their families) and the animals who scour the woods in search of this apparently exquisite treat. We see not only the hunt, but the ridiculous attitude economically upper class humans bring to the whole enterprise. Hunks of truffles are ensconced in wine glasses and passed from nose to nose as people make pretentious noises every bit as pompous as those which  sommeliers spout over vintners’ artistry.

As heartwarming and lovely as the truffle warriors themselves are, it is hard to ignore the sense of class oppression and exploitation that comes along with an enterprise that plunders the labor and pain of the workers and transforms it into huge profits for the fat and sassy. But that’s an old story and one certainly not limited to the world of high-class fungi, and it’s certainly not what the  The old guys feel about themselves. They and their dogs are the center of the story, and they are as genuine and honest and touching as they can be.

The film is undoubtedly too slow for some, but I found it overall endearing and a great testimony to the capacity for human happiness even in the face of what from the outside looks like adversity and disadvantage.

 

 

Character Arcs to Come Up with a Great Story

Character Arcs to Come Up with a Great Story

A story could not come to life without characters. They are the ones that serve as the driving force. Without them, readers will not be able to connect with a book. Many people dream of becoming a successful or a published author, and giving great structure to your characters is one way to achieve it. If you are one of them, then you should work on this factor. You don’t know where to start? We’ve got your back. This article will discuss character arcs that you should know before you get started on your writing process.

First, you should know some of the ropes of how character arcs work. As defined by Google, character arcs are the transformation that characters must have to go through over the story timeframe. When a story has a proper character arc, it will make a significant difference. It can be in any writing form, such as scriptwriting or screenplays for films and novels. When you write a story, you start with one sort of person. Authors should provide a significant development from the person from the start to who the person became in the last part. This measures how much the author of the book focused on the character’s arc.

You can learn many things to establish a character arc; one way is by reading books and witnessing how other authors do theirs. A remarkable book to check out is The Yellow Rose by Carl R. Brush and Bob Stewart. This book is a compelling historical fiction that is well-researched and well-written. Not to mention how evident and remarkable the character’s arc in this book. It is a good blend of romance and history. Getting this book will give readers and aspiring authors some strategies for developing characters.

Here are some of the arcs you need to know:

Finding the Character’s Goals

Start a story by giving the main character a thirst for hope and dreams. Turn these hopes and dreams into elements for that character’s strong personality. You always have to establish a character’s strong personality. It will capture the readers’ attention, making them want to know more about the characters you have created. Before that, you must also put out her goals. What does the character want to achieve? Is there something in the past that led them into this journey?

Give Readers a Roller Coaster Ride

You don’t want your story to appear predictable; readers always want to read stories that will surprise them. The technique to this is to play your character’s plot. As they say, feisty readers want to experience a roller coaster ride. It will not be hard to achieve this once you have gotten your character’s attention already. Thus, not sticking to one path will be the best strategy you have to follow. Give readers a happy time and a second later, give them challenges to face. It should keep the fire burning and keep readers’ excited.

Create a Fall

In real life, there will be choices and decisions people have to make. At the end of the day, these decisions do not always end up being great. In your book, you need to make it clear that the character also commits these mistakes. It is an excellent way to make your readers feel connected to them because the circumstances in the book are believable. Your character should not be perfect like you’d want them to be. It would be best if you considered creating declines that sometimes readers would be annoyed by their decisions.

Provide Growth

As stated previously, the characters should have an extreme, if not a great, transformation. It would help if you made your readers learn from the journey of the characters. The ending should not always have to be perfect for the characters. In fact, most of the books that have sold out do not provide a great ending; sometimes, they even make it tragic. Nevertheless, the thing you need to make evident is the growth of the characters. From this, readers will learn something substantial about the book, which they will apply in their lives.

In a nutshell, you should never forget to check if your character arc is in the right place. Remember that your characters will bring color to your story, so you have to focus on them as much as you focus on your plot.

 


HEART OF FIRE– MAZIE HIRONO’S BURNING MEMOIR

“What the fuck happened?” Not a quote I expected to find in a memoir from a petite, modest, and soft-spoken Asian lady. Said lady, Senator Mazie Hirono, was explaining to Hillary Clinton what she thought was missing from the title Clinton’s recent memoir of the 2016 elections entitled What Happened? It’s a moment that typifies both the spirit and the evolution of this shrewd and fiery Hawaiian as she battled her way from her poverty-filled and a non-English-speaking childhood to a seat in the U.S. Senate, sitting among the highest elected officials in the land.

Hirono’s parents labored in the cane and pineapple fields of Hawaii in conditions that approached slavery. Her father made things worse with his drinking and philandering. It was a situation scripted for failure. What happened, indeed? I have a friend who contends that if you want to change a culture and economy, forget about the men. Support and educate the women. That’s where strength of the family, and by extension, the society, lies. Hirono’s mother proves the point. I won’t catalogue the times and ways that she saved that family. How? Certainly not with a $200 million gift from daddy. Daddy was mostly absent and drunk. In fact, there was no money at all most of the time. So little that one of the children had to live apart from the rest in his earliest years, and everyone paid a high price for the separation. That circumstance fostered her all-out assault on Trump’s child separation policy. But Hirono’s story does raise in my mind an even bigger question. How do you go from a semi-literate Japanese speaker toiling in the fields, married to a useless and even destructive husband, to an English language typesetter and raise and educate three kids at the same time? Read Heart of Fire and find out. However, if you’re like me, even after reading the story you might still wonder how such a thing is possible.

But I guess the how of it is not as important as the fact of it, and the fact is that one of the strongest and most authentic voices for compassion and liberty in the country is one we can hear and treasure regularly in print and on the small screen. From her finding ways to change the lives of her constituents to her skill in helping shepherd the Affordable Care Act through congress, her story is one that defines the idea of public service. Public service, not self-service. She became one of Trump’s fiercest critics not because she wanted to make headlines but because she was one of his “others.” A woman, first of all. A woman whose family were immigrants. A woman who knows from personal experience what it means to be poor with all the demonic forces of a hostile society arrayed against you and yours and still come out on top.

Mazie Hirono

 Heart of Fire is an astounding story, and once you read it, you’ll understand the title and it will give you hope.


TREKKING THE MIND, HEART, AND LANDSCAPE OF INDIA

I think I can safely assert that you’ll never read another book like this one. Unlikely bedfellows such as philosophy, religion, and adventure seldom sit down at the same high-altitude table as they do in Ways and Weighing, all the while sharing legends, prayers, and traveling tales fit to take the breath and challenge mind and heart.

Martin, a New York native, taught university-level philosophy and was on his way to a tenure track job when he headed to India and got so wrapped up in it all that he never returned. Why? Well this passage is one example of the philosophical bent of his mind:

…it is tempting to consider decisions not as mental events but as doings performed prior to . . .the ‘intended’ act. . . . Does buying an airplane ticket constitute an action that commences the trip, part of the trip itself, or is it the decision to go on the trip? . . . these matters are fixed retrospectively. Only after the trip, does it become evident when the trip began and what constituted the the decision to embark. . .

Such musings, which are both personal and academic/philosophic recur throughout the narrative and provide the foundation for  this splendid and unique memoir. Noval’s story includes exhausting “trekking” (in his case often closer to mountain climbing) over some of the highest and most rigorous landscape in the world. The scenery itself is worth the read, but when interspersed with the history and insights of Hindu history and religion Noval provides, it becomes a three-dimensional journey like no other. I think a passage from the book itself shows how fluidly Noval slips back and forth from the physical experience of trekking to the mental experience of meditating upon it.

These Nepali porters are the most elegant of walkers. You wouldn’t think it, in their half-worn-out sneakers or rubber beach thongs  with hundred pound loads of Coca Cola or beer bottle cases on their backs, . . . yet every step is a paradigm of efficiency, precision, grace, and elegance. . . . Mountain people[s’] lives are studies in elegance–in the way a mathematical proof may be elegant: pared down to  perfection.

Ways and Weighings is thus a memoir chock full of physical experience infused with a moral and spiritual perspective that makes it almost a religious experience in itself.

At the risk of sounding a bit like a commercial, I feel compelled to mention that my wife and I participated in a  in one of these Noval-led tours. Not at the physically rigorous level described in the memoir, but still challenging and educational and, yes, thrilling, nevertheless. Martin and wife Carol still lead these treks. Read Ways and Weighings (before, after or during your travels. It matters not.) Your mind and life will be the richer for it. https://www.novalandtours.com/india-tours.html

MARTIN NOVAL