Friday, October 7

Return of the Blogging Dead

So, I Googled something this morning that, uncannily, led me back to an old blog post of mine. And suddenly, I remembered:

I had a blog!

A blog seems like something from a bygone era these days, and, sure enough, sifting through some of my old posts reveals such timeless cultural references as MySpace and Blackberries and my being in my 20s.

It also made me, strangely, miss having a blog. Yeah, now I tweet and do the social media thing to the degree with which I can summon the energy. But there was something gratifying about the longform-ness of blogging, of shaping some mundane experience into a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

I also see how so much of what I wrote -- i.e., what was on my mind -- made its way into the shows I was writing at the time. Tilling the soil makes for fertile ground, I guess.

So here I am, again, and maybe this will be the start of a Blogging Renaissance here at Going...Going...Gwon. It's been nearly 6 years since my last post, and a decade (?!?) since my first one. The world's different. I'm different. Who knows what this will be or if I'll manage to keep it up with any regularity.

But, like all things I've eventually liked a lot, I'm starting this just for me. Not gonna publicize or promote it via other channels. Maybe Google will bring it to peoples' eyes, maybe not.

Welcome back, blog!

Sunday, November 28

Lessons from Sufjan, Lenny, and Mary.

In my doddering old age, I find myself scribbling lots of notes to myself, littering my apartment with reminders of things I know but imagine I will forget I know:

"Email Noah."

"Reschedule jury duty by 12/2."

And, of course, endless variations on:


Recently, it occurred to me that the best theatrical experiences are like little reminder notes, scribbled to us by someone else, in some other language. They stick with us, cluttering up the deskspace of our brains, reminding us of things we know, but that we forget we know. Over the past couple weeks, I've had two such experiences, so thrilling in the moment, as great theatrical experiences should be, yet rich enough to yield little gifts that stay potent long after I've left the theater.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, and my apparent penchant for sending notes to myself, I received the following two emails, with the aim, I imagine, of reminding my future self what my past self was certain he'd forget.

From: Adam Gwon
Date: November 16, 2010 3:28:41 PM EST
To: Adam Gwon

Don't be afraid to be big, bold, messy, crazy, day glo
If it comes from the heart, it will be clear

sent from my Verizon BlackBerry

My past self, of course, had just seen Sufjan Stevens in concert at the Beacon Theater. Sufjan Stevens is a cultishly popular "indie" musician known mostly for his achingly beautiful, banjo-laden folk songs. This concert, however, was supporting his latest album release, in which he went in a totally different direction: it's pulsing, it's electronic, it's ambient, it's at once dark and powerfully peppy. The first lesson is pretty self-evident: just go there if you want to. Wear neon and dress like a robot and write big. You can pull it off. In fact, dare yourself to.

The second lesson came about halfway through the concert. Sufjan and his band were soaring through this intense, electro-heavy instrumental number from the new album. I wasn't so familiar with his new material, and as I sat there listening, I started getting overwhelmed with emotion. But it was so specific: I started thinking, seemingly out of nowhere, about a specific event that I had a specific emotional reaction to; it was all I could do not to start sobbing as the throb of the music swelled and swelled.

The song ended, and Sufjan, as he did with a number of his new songs, told the story of what made him write that song. And his story was the same as my story, the one that came into my head as I was listening. Like, freakishly, Twilight Zone theme-inspiringly the same. And I was reminded: if you really feel it when you write it, the audience will feel it, too.

Another email.

From: Adam Gwon
Subject: What I learned from candide
Date: November 28, 2010 8:00:32 AM EST
To: Adam Gwon

Truth is beauty
It's never too late to make changes for the better

sent from my Verizon BlackBerry

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I popped down to Washington, DC to see a production of Candide at the Shakespeare Theater. I had a bunch of friends in it, and the production was directed by Mary Zimmerman, of whom I'm a fan. And, of course, I looooove Candide.

Candide is sort of notorious for being a classic piece of theater that just doesn't work. It was written in the 1950s and has this mind-bogglingly amazing score by Leonard Bernstein. I mean, just shimmering magical musical genius. Over the decades, it's undergone many re-inventions, with a number of bookwriters who've attempted to make something good enough to support the brilliance of the songs. I've seen a couple productions of the show, and was always mystified at the disconnect between the power of the songs and the flimsiness of the script. They all tended toward this strange, Vaudeville-like, over-the-top performance style, which never really captured the emotional or thematic depths that the songs did so well. Which is not to say the show shouldn't be funny--it should be funny, but not false.

Enter Mary Zimmerman, who's done her own completely new version of the script around the existing songs. It's a production that's so inventive and beautiful and full of humanity because it's all so true. Pair Bernstein's music (see lesson #2 from Sufjan) with refreshingly honest performances (Geoff Packard and Lauren Molina as the two leads are funny and heartbreaking and, in the middle of a big, wacky comic operetta, real people) and you'll be reminded: truth is beauty, and beauty, truth. Honesty shines through above all else.

And the long story of this Candide, surviving, if not thriving, through the generations to its most current incarnation, is a huge reminder in itself: sometimes really great things take a huge amount of time and effort. There's never an excuse to not make something better. Some things are worth all the hard work you have to put into them.

Just before sitting down to type this blog entry, I'd jotted down another note to myself in preparation for the start of the week:

Chad video
Car rental?
Mp3s to Dennis

And on and on and on. But the reminders that were written down and gifted to me by Sufjan Stevens, and Leonard Bernstein, and Mary Zimmerman, are so much better. Because they're as much about their work as they are about life, that mysterious thing perpetually at the top of our to-do lists, that thing we're all, ultimately, writing about.

Wednesday, July 28

LA concert goodness.

I was invited by the amazing folks at ASCAP to be part of an exciting concert in Los Angeles...check out these clips!

Monday, July 5

Piano on a pier.

All last month, there was this public art project going on in New York City: 60 pianos were strewn across the five boroughs, out on the street, for anyone to come up and play. (It was, charmingly, called "Play Me, I'm Yours.") Before the pianos vanished, I grabbed a couple of my uber-talented singer friends and brought my living room to a pier on the Hudson River. Below, the results.

Tuesday, February 9

24 Hour Musical madness.

Last night (and, I suppose, the night before!) I participated in this super awesome thing called The 24 Hour Musicals. It's a benefit for these great folks where writers, actors, directors, you name it, get together and write, memorize, stage and perform 15-minute musicals all in the span of 24 hours. Its inherent impossibility makes it kind of an amazing experience, which I thought I'd try and chronicle the highlights of here. (And for fun, I will do so alongside actor Julian Fleisher's own tweets from the event...)

Sunday, February 7

8:15PM - I arrive at the super-fancy/creepy/fascinating National Arts Club, where four composers' stations have been setup and Jeff Blumenkrantz has baked cookies. I discover I've been paired up with playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman. Our writing area contains two life-sized, red statues. It is super-fancy/creepy/fascinating.

9:30PM - At the meet-and-greet over at the Gramercy Theater. We all introduce ourselves. Strange props, like a zebra-striped snuggie and a scarf decorated as a piano, are introduced as inspiration. All the actors sing a few bars. They're damn good. I meet my musical director, Oran Eldor.

Julian tweets: At the meet and greet for the 24-hour Musicals. Um...Yikes!!!

11:00 PM - The writers are back over at the National Arts Club. Casting time! We draw numbers and one by one snatch up actor's polaroids. Jonathan and I have our cast: Julian Fleisher, Darius DeHaas, and Nancy Opel. We are very excited about our cast. Very.

11:15PM - We are very excited about our cast. There are their polaroids on the table. What sort of world would these three people exist in? What kind of dramatic relationships would they have?

11:23PM - Hm.

11:25PM - Still very excited about our cast.

11:32PM - Hmm...

Monday, February 8

12:01AM - Jonathan and I have an idea and a paper cup filled with animal crackers. Jonathan's typing and I'm piano noodling.

2:30AM - It's all been a blur, but there's been more typing, noodling, and animal crackers.

4:30AM - I finish one song. And then realize with terror that I need to write three more by 6AM!

4:31AM - I type furiously.

4:44AM - Type type type.

5:00AM - Can't really see straight anymore.

5:30AM - I reach what will henceforth become known as "the 5:30AM moment," where the lyrics turn all kinds of crazy. "Step one: I put my hand out/Then smack it on your face./Take out my magic lasso/And spin you all around this place."

5:39AM - "Step two: piano scarf/Gets thrown around your neck./Make sure your pulse is racing./Zebra snuggie? Check!"

6:05AM - Tech guru Grigor comes by to record my songs. I still have one and a half to write.

6:27AM - We record the two written songs.

6:29AM - I write the last one and a half on the fly into the microphone.

6:37AM - I transcribe those last one and a half.

7:00AM - Done! I eat a bagel and go home to take a nap! The directors have arrived and are choosing which pieces they want as I walk zombie-like to the subway.

Julian tweets:
Oh shit. I'm in a musical with Darius DeHaas and Nancy Opal. Um...little help?

11:30AM - I'm en route to rehearsal, long since in progress.

Julian tweets:
update. Celebrities and heavyweight galore. Lines, lyircs, melodies. Harmonies too. I'm playing a love MD. Need antihistamines stat.

12:15PM - I arrive at rehearsal; Trip Cullman is directing and they're on their feet.

2:40PM - The whole show is staged.

3:30PM - We're in a van back to the Gramercy Theater for tech. Actors get costumes and mics. There are lights. And a band. And a show poster.

Julian tweets:
Ok. In shock. Too panicked to tweet. Ah-5-6-7-8!

4:30PM - We're back at the rehearsal studio. The actors are starting to panic. We keep running things. Actors run off into corners muttering lines to themselves. The room is something akin to a cell at an insane asylum.

Julian tweets:
update: pronosis: seriously fucked. I and my Castmates are seriously underprepared for this material. At they're professionals!

5:35PM - I run to get a grilled cheese sandwich, and chicken soup for Darius.

6:45PM - Back in the van to the Gramercy. The cast is getting more hostile toward me. (They have a lot of lyrics.) There is a huge line of people waiting to get into the theater.

Julian tweets:
My career is about to be damaged. Before I even have one.

7:25PM - I come up from the green room and find a seat in the audience. The theater is packed.

Julian tweets:
Holy shit. Why why why why why why why why. Not joking. Need help. Will settle for a minor injury. Please please please.

7:40PM - House lights fade. Holy crap.

8:32PM - The world premiere of "The First of His Heart" by Jonathan Marc Sherman and Adam Gwon.

8:47PM - The actors and the band kick ass. Sure, they flub some lines. But that's part of the fun!

8:48PM - Whew!

8:49PM - I would totally do that again.

Monday, December 21

Ordinary Days, Hollywood style.

In this photo, the ridiculously attractive West Coast Ordinary Days cast and creative team tries to look well, just ridiculous.

Clockwise from left: David Burnham (Jason), Dennis Castellano (Musical Director), Ethan McSweeny (Director), Deborah S. Craig (Deb), Nick Gabriel (Warren), and Nancy Anderson (Claire).

Come check it out, January 3-24 at South Coast Rep! All the info here.

Saturday, December 19

Brewing my religion.

Since an adolescent, I've always been suspect of religion. For instance, dedicated to my role as a rebellious, angst-ridden, pre-teen, I would often call out my mother (our Hebrew school principal, no less) on just how little sense it made to congregate in a room and intone words in a language from which we derived little personal meaning.

(In response, my mother enrolled in a conversational Hebrew class, which didn't last long, since I'm guessing she wanted to say more to God than, "The ball is red." Love you, mom!)

Anyway, religion's always seemed a bit weird to me; I haven't been able to wrap my brain around the idea of having faith in something as intangible as an invisible man in the sky.

Until today, that is.

I had two meetings scheduled about two hours apart, leaving some time to kill (and only 20 blocks to walk) in between. It's freezing cold here in NYC, so I wondered what to do. I just started walking down Seventh Avenue, when my Great Religious Epiphany occurred.

Perhaps this is what it's like when people say they hear the voice of God: I was walking in the cold, aimless if not exactly lost, when as clear as day a voice said,

"Starbucks. Keep walking, Adam, and you will find a Starbucks. You need not take out your Blackberry, nor ask the man on the corner for directions. Keep walking, believe, and ye shall find."

In a rare moment of blind faith, I just kept walking, knowing with religious certainty that I would encounter a Starbucks perfectly situated between where I was and where I needed to be.

And lo and behold, there it was, at Seventh Avenue and 27th Street: a Temple of Caffeine, offering me warmth, comfort, and a place to sit for a lot less than my parents' synagogue dues.

I mean, if that's not faith in action, then paint me green and call me Jesus.