ze frank returns

Ze never actually went anywhere. He was doing things. Important things. Life things.

At the end of February, I discovered Ze Frank was bringing back his show, The Show. He created it back in 2006, and it was awesome. My girlfriend at the time, who later became my wife, and I shared these videos back and forth when we were courting. They were special to us. They were special to a lot of people. We bonded. We learned. We played. We grew.

To bring back The Show, Ze ran a Kickstarter campaign, but unlike other Kickstarter campaigns, Ze’s only lasted 11 days as opposed to the typical 45. Just to make a point, his goal was $50,000 in 11 days. He made it. In fact, he almost tripled it. In 11 days, Ze Frank raised $146,752. I am proud to be one of the 3900 sponsors of Ze’s new show, A Show.

How much money he raised isn’t really the point, but if you’re interested in knowing more about the details of this stupendous feat, Ze wrote a really detailed post mortem recapping the fundraiser here.

The point is, Ze posted a “preview” of A Show online this past Monday.

Yesterday, the first episode of A Show launched.

Thanks, Ze, for doing what you do. I’m excited, and many others are, too. Can’t wait to find out what hijinks you have in store.

As for me, I have to start writing down my dreams…

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the secret city’s carnival of love

For the past three years, I’ve regularly attended The Secret City. I’ve written about the good this arts organization does, and this February 14th, they’re throwing their annual fundraiser at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church.

“For this year’s benefit, we wanted to offer folks an artistic and adult version of a carnival as a fun alternative to the highest pressure date night of the year,” said The Secret City’s artistic director, Chris Wells. “Each of The Secret City services are centered around a different theme, so it made sense to create a playful and one-of-a-kind experience for which we are known.”

Called the Carnival of Love, the event will feature gourmet carnival food, a kissing booth, photo opps with Cupid, a mix and mingle in Cuddle Corner, and Love Tarot readings. Against this backdrop will be live music, champagne, chocolate truffles, and a marvelous silent auction featuring original works of art by Secret City members and unique love themed prizes – an erotic photo shoot, custom made lingerie, hotel getaways and more. For this raucous but sweet evening, we’re asking people to dress in Valentine’s attire.

The New York Times called The Secret City “Sort of a Salon, Sort of a Church… From its origins as a kind of fortifying ritual for beleaguered theater artists, [it] has grown into a half-irreverent, half-earnest blend of revival meeting and group meditation session.”

I highly recommend checking out what will surely be a fantastically fun time.

Carnival of Love, a Valentine’s Day Benefit for The Secret City
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Tuesday, February 14th
The Gym @ Judson Memorial Church
243 Thompson Street at Washington Square South
$25 before the event, $35 at the door
For advance tickets, go to: www.thesecretcity.org

About The Secret City
Part tent-revival, part-cabaret, and part ceremony, the Obie Award-winning Secret City is a place where people come to connect with the creative community of New York, and artists come to reconnect to their calling. The Secret City occupies a unique place in the heart of New York’s artistic community. Chris Wells, executive director, said he created The Secret City, “to make a special place to focus on the arts, and for everyone and anybody to connect and feel inspired.” The Secret City typically meets the last Sunday of the month at 11:30am, at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie St. between Rivington and Delancey.

the secret city – join me

This past Sunday, I returned home.

For the past three years, I’ve attended The Secret City, a monthly gathering of artists and art worshipers. Chris Wells, the dynamic director of this innovative, not-for-profit arts organization, started the community driven pseudo-church five years ago, receiving accolades from The New York Times and the Village Voice Obie awards. Last season, we outgrew our modest space on West 14th Street in Manhattan to our current home at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side. Every September, The Secret City celebrates the town in which we reside with The Manhattan Wonderwalk, a 14 hour expedition from the northern tip of the island ending at midnight on the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, participants discover the city through fresh eyes and enjoy performances by various artists at site specific locations.

To say The Secret City has impacted my life is an understatement. For anyone who’s ever felt spirituality in art, our community aims to nurture this core principle: within all of us, there is a nugget of creativity, a light that sustains us from this moment to the next. The Secret City fosters that light.

Once a month, Chris devises a service modeled off a traditional western Christian church service. It’s not religious. It’s spiritual. There’s song, there’s call and response, we pass the plate to support the organization, and, of course, there’s lots of art.

photograph by Beth Rudock

Typically, The Secret City Singers, the church’s choir and Chris’ ad hoc backup singers, kick off the service with the org’s anthem “This is the Secret City”. Its communal refrain, “WE’RE CONNECTED,” is the interdependence themed mission that begs the community to dig deeper and find “it” (Can you…feel it? Can you…touch it? Can you…make it live?) within ourselves.

The service is a trip because initially it feels like it might be tongue in cheek, but upon further familiarity, earnest message of each service permeates the congregation. Each service revolves around a theme. October’s service revolved around “Persona.”

We listened to Nina Simone’s “Who Am I?”, which gave a grave but emotionally reflective tone to the moment, only to be split open with the monthly food offering: sliced apples. We talked about the personality of apples. What makes them unique? How each apple is propagated asexually by grafting. We also did a cultural mapping exercise in which Chris asked questions starting with the phrase, “You identify yourself as…” Examples: You identify yourself as homosexual. You identify yourself as American. You identify yourself as an artist. We stood up for each statement with which we identified and sat down when we did not.

photograph by Leah Coloff

The visual art for October was, perhaps, most moving for me. Sarah Kate Beaumont, an art teacher, makes all of her own garments by hand. The only articles she doesn’t sew herself are shoes. Otherwise, every stitch of clothing is made with her fingers. It was humbling and fascinating to hear Sarah Kate discuss her work, for it was clear: every item is personal to her. She doesn’t just grab something off the rack at Macy’s. She has a deep relationship with her wardrobe.

As with every service, Chris concluded with a sermon. This month’s sermon was a funny and poignant anecdote about Chris’ ten year high school reunion. He compared his high school self to his 28-year-old self, which were drastically different portraits. Then he contrasted those personas to his current incarnation. Chris’ motivation to share stories from his life to buoy others is a special gift.

The theme for the next service is Community. It’s an important topic for many reasons, not the least of which is The Secret City’s annual food drive for the Food Bank of New York. Chris challenged everyone to bring at least one canned goods item to offer the charity.

Chris also put out a second challenge to the congregation: Bring one friend to the next service. He encouraged us to invite new participants to join this community that seeks spiritual nourishment through personal reflection and celebration of art.

So, I’m going to do one better. Or, hopefully, ten better. Part of the reason I’m writing this post is to invite you to join me. My goal is to bring ten new people to the next service. Most likely, if you’re reading this, you’re a friend or a fellow artist (or both). Perhaps, you randomly follow me on one of many social networks. There’s also the chance you dropped by because a search directed you here. Whatever the reason, I highly encourage you to join me at the next service. All the details are below, and it’s coming up quickly.

Join me on November 20th. It’s a fun, moving and grounding affair.

We’re connected.

THE SECRET CITY
COMMUNITY

11:30 am
DIXON PLACE
161A Chrystie St.
http://www.thesecretcity.org

how i learned to love the playa and hate the game

There are a few things gnawing at me since my return from vacation. I’ve discovered I’ve got issues, and some of these issues also plague others.

Cynicism, overly critical thinking, and downright negativity overwhelmingly permeate society these days.

Conflict is the crux of drama; news organizations, bloggers, and advertisers are all responsible for taking drama’s foundation to create buzz. But, have we entered an era in which everyone is critical of everything?

Over the past eight years, I’ve been a curator and a producer. By nature, these roles require a keen eye and sharp critique. The audience demands it. The curator weeds out bad work and presents the cream of the crop.

Last week, I spent my time at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock, NV. I went with expectations, and if there’s one thing I can encourage of festival newbies: don’t go with any expectations. I thought my mind would be blown at every step of the way, and though many times it was shaken, I found myself criticizing the art with an inner monologue that made me angry. I’d see a giant art car in the shape of a ship sailing across the dark desert, and I’d think, “Hmm…that’s all right, but you can see the wheels when you get up close.”

IT WAS A GIANT ART CAR IN THE SHAPE OF A SHIP SAILING ACROSS THE DARK DESERT!

You seriously aren’t impressed?

This critical nature is a part of me, and I realized as I searched the playa for a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash what a closed minded snob I’ve become about art, performance and theatre. For years, I’d looked at art and wouldn’t even consider it if I’d seen it before. It had to be unique. It had to be earth shattering. It had to be the best thing I’d ever seen.

You know what? That doesn’t exist.

There is nothing new. It’s all a remix. Everything you’ve seen in the art world (whether it be performance, visual or music) has been done before. And, often, it’s been done better than what you’re creating or watching.

It took me the better part of the week to realize this great connection with my soon to be wife, my best friends and the art around me hung in a huge gap of my hyper-critical mind. I spent most of my time theorizing and judging rather than engaging and enjoying. This discovery dawned the day before I left the grand social experiment. I finally found my mind blown. The intense critical eye through which I saw the world became like a child’s, and I soaked up the sun, dust, lights, costumes, art and love completely. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, and I just cried. I apologized to my love and my friends, wishing I could go back to the beginning of the week and experience it all over again with this open heart.

Then, it was over.

It wasn’t until we returned to Brooklyn I discovered @jlbhart and @sparrowhall over on Twitter with this exchange:

@sparrowhall: Does anyone have a #transmedia perspective on Burning Man?

@jlbhart: @sparrowhall talk to @jdcarter, he’s there right now

I read Sparrow’s blog post and shook my head over its ignorant snarky tone. I saw myself in the writing. I realized it was this attitude I feared. The judgment. The elitism. The disconnect. I use to be an open and gregarious person, but these days I spend my time hoping to get the right jab in to get a giggle from some nameless, faceless Twitter follower or blog reader.

Who cares? Really?

I get it if someone doesn’t want to attend a festival like Burning Man because she or he doesn’t want to deal with dust, heat or separation from an iPhone for a week, but why disparage it? The festival didn’t do anything to you. Obviously, everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion; however, creating drama from nothing just to draw people to a news station, blog or Twitter feed is increasingly the norm. Why create drama when there is none?

Often, life is good. Still, people find reasons to destroy and detract – even in one’s own mind – before absorbing the complete experience.

These days, I’m aiming to maintain these fresh eyes opened at Burning Man and look at every aspect of life with love and hope. This isn’t some hippy bullshit programmed from the festival. It’s reviving a memory of how I saw the world before false conflict solidified cynicism in my soul.

I once heard, “If art makes you cry, laugh, dance or think, then there’s something to it. Explore it more.” Burning Man made me do all four. Now, life is, too.

P.S.

In my previous post, I proclaimed I would write a poem for people I met at Burning Man. Another misunderstanding about how things work. The society is a gifting one, and gifts are more immediate and tangible (like sharing coffee, baked goods and misting strangers with spray bottles filled with water and essential oils). Also, I met few new people. Most of the time, I was with close friends. Still, I felt like sharing a little verse to sum up some of the experience. This is for them:

El Pulpo Mecanico breathes fire from
Golden tentacles.
Bikes kick up earth into
Haze of happy heat.
Banana bread, pop tarts and chocolate
Spin brains into joy.
Teamwork
Art work
Disintegrate to dust.
So long, playa.
See ya, pals.
Till we meet again in
Another phantasm spectacle
In the vast imagination
Of time.