Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Odds & Ends (or a Pogue Palate Cleanser)


"If you can't write a play without being taught -- don't."


I was in a restaurant last night eating my solitary meal and realizing how loud and obtrusive the music was. One couldn't call it background music, because it was the type that prohibited conversation (had I a dinner companion) or any sort of contemplative serenity.
I realize that Muzak or what was commonly called "elevator music" was often the butt of a myriad of jokes about its innocuous blandness, but that was the point...it was supposed to be. Sadly, now that it has disappeared from the scene, I miss its soothing, non-instrusive, easily-ignorable, almost somnabulistic tones.

These days I walk into a store and the music is assaultive...usually geared to the younger crowd...lots of American Idol-style bad rock or country-western (or worse, Christian Rock -- just what I want...to be "saved" while I'm eating a hamburger or buying toilet paper)...played at ear-bleeding decibel levels that can't be tuned out and which makes neither shopping or eating a pleasure because all the while I engage in the activity, I must be inflicted with someone's crap taste in music at what they mistakenly deem a suitable volume.

And let us not forget the Madison Ave. Factor. Often interpersed between the music...particularly in your local Wal-Mart or grocery store...are cheery-voiced announcers pitching the latest product or sale item at you. I usually just want to run from the place, screaming. At least Muzak didn't have any commercials.
And it didn't overwhelm you. It was discreet. It didn't get in your way. It didn't force you to pay attention. It wasn't some pitchy wailer bludgeoning your ear-drums with a cacophony of electronic guitars and dubious notes and bludgeoning your intelligence by rhyming "I" with "eye". It's hard to figure out what you want for dinner trapped in a grocery aisle pulsating with both migraine-inducing noise and mind-numbing illiteracy.

Muzak was mostly inoffensive instrumental versions of standards songs from the Great American Songbook that occasionally made you unconsciously whistle or even hum. Okay, the arrangements were often a bit twee...and their sporadic interpretations of popular rock tunes were about as hip as your parents getting up and embarrassing you by doing the Twist or Mashed Potatoes (realizing, of course, for a sizable percentage of my readership, I represent that same decrepit generation as their parents.).
But Muzak was, in its boring fashion, rather calming and relaxing. The worst you could say about it was that it was insidiously insipid...as opposed to what we get today-- the obnoxiously insipid.

I suppose it is all a part of our ever-evolving culture where noise pollution has become de rigeur. Seems we can't be disconnected from anything that might distract us and, Heaven forbid, leave us alone with our own thoughts...we've got to have i-pods going, cell phones ringing, blackberries twittering. The loud, surly voices of Fox News or the excessive commentary of some sporting event blaring on the twenty televisions in the bar. We're determined not to miss a damned thing with all our electronic gadgetry; we just keep missing life going on all around us.
News flash to all those stores that cater to a younger crowd with their cranked-up music selections; it's the 35 and up crowd that still has the most disposable income to spend. More of it might get spent in your place if you reconsider the musical ambience you're creating...remembering its not about your taste -- or the taste of your eighteen year old clerk. Cole Porter as interpreted through the mellow strains of Montovani and his Orchestra or the Melachrino Strings doesn't sound so bad to these aged ears anymore.

My AGE OF KINGS Dvds mentioned in an earlier blog arrived last week and Julieanne and I are working our way through it an hour or so a night. We're through the first of five discs, halfway through Henry IV, part one. The transfer is quite good and clean, considering this is almost fifty years old. And the acting is remarkable, mostly with actors who never reached any prominence or name recognition on this side of the pond. Sean Connery, just two years away from Dr. No and his debut as James Bond, makes a terrific Hotspur and shows a smooth facility with Shakespeare.

I did cheat and take a sneak peek at Paul Daneman's Gloster/Richard III, Gloster's great speech in Henry VI, part III, "Ay, Edward will use women honourably/ Would he were wasted, marrow, bones, and all..." It may be a more defining speech for Richard than his "winter of discontent" soliloquy. I learned an abbreviated version of it off a John Barrymore recording years ago. "Can I do all this and cannot get a crown?/Tut, were it further off, I'lllllllll pluck it down" (That's for Kevin Lane Dearinger...who will get it).

(Paul Daneman as Richard III, Birmingham Rep)

(Barrymore as Richard III)

Daneman does the speech right nicely. Other than his radio performance of Richard, the only other thing I know Daneman from is the movie ZULU as the delirious Sergeant Maxfield in hospital who keeps tormenting the malingering scalawag Hook played by James Booth. Both nice performances in a movie full of nice performances (Michael Caine in his debut, the stalwart Stanley Baker, and the great Nigel Green as colour-sergeant Bourne).

Anyway, this is a bit of trip for me, as I really haven't explored these plays for many years. I'd forgotten what a maudlin, self-pitying windbag Richard II is (although a very poetic one)...no wonder they kill him. I'm particularly looking forward to the Henry VI, part I...as it is the probably the history play I know the least.


Brian Hampton's CHECKING IN, which had its World Premiere at our own Actors Guild of Lexington will play the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC this summer. Our fearless leader, Richard St. Peter, our Artistic Director, will direct the show and local actress, Allie Darden, has been invited to perform the role she played in the original production. This is yet another example and benefit of Rick's efforts to move this theatre to a fully professional dynamic and establish not only a regional, but national awareness of the theatre.

Here's a play that had its beginnings here as did my adaptation/translation of TARTUFFE which has since gone on to have another successful production in San Franscisco garnering good reviews and eliciting more interest at other theatres and with other directors. Our multi-media production of HAMLET was featured in AMERICAN THEATRE magazine and Rick recently re-staged the production (retaining his original Hamlet) in North Carolina at the Temple Theatre. (Below Adam Luckey as Hamlet, me as Claudius in the "now might I do it pat" scene from AGL's Multi-Media HAMLET.)

Rick was the right man for the job at this theatre. The Board at the time wisely chose to bring in someone from the outside with a different and necessary perspective. For though the local theatre community boasts many talented folk, most have their roots in community or educational theatre and none were qualified to spearhead the particular mission which became this theatre's mandate. It required someone who had experience, contacts, and an understanding of the professional regional theatre environment to move the theatre toward that dynamic and expand its profile beyond the local scene. Under Rick's leadership, the theatre has been able to begin to forge a strong network with other professional theatres and institutions across the country...and even abroad.

Sure, the theatre still struggles (what professional theatre doesn't?), we have had our share of mis-steps and growing pains and will probably have more. But the professionalism of the work has certainly increased, with quality performances that feature our best local actors sharing the stage with artists of regional and national rep and work that is getting recognized beyond local borders.

Now if we could just find those angels who would drop generous chunks of change on us.

Lots of interesting articles in this month's DRAMATIST MAGAZINE:

1)The second part of Edward Albee's round-table with several prominent New York critics, centering around the demise of newspapers and, with it, the demise of serious Arts journalism and how that can or will affect the support, promotion, and production of serious work in the theatre.

2)Another article about how Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman teach playwriting at Juilliard I found very helpful with my own approach to teaching dramatic writing. I've done a fair amount of short-term instructing and guest-lecturing. But I have always eschewed taking any kind of long-term gig, because I don't really consider myself a teacher nor do I have any sort of proscribed method of teaching or a syllabus or any of those academic underpinings. I sort of teach the same way I learned...via the-seat-of-the-pants school of theatre.
But the article actually confirmed a lot of my approach and my attitude toward how one needs to go about it. They also gave me some ideas to incorporate into what has become my ever-evolving method.

One of my favourite quotes: "Writers who are really gifted need to be careful who they listen to" and "So writers have to be careful about not trying to please, and not assuming that all comments are equally valuable."

I have long avoided Writers Groups as mostly a waste of time...particularly where a bunch of amateur, unproduced writers gather together to read and critique each other's work. Firstly, if you invite someone to be a critic, they will usually go straight for the negative...or, worse, tell you how much they like everything...or, even worse, ignore what you're trying to say and do with the piece and tell you how they would write it.
But mostly, why would I want a bunch of unproduced playwrights advising me how to write? What do they know about it? They're still on the outside looking in. I want advice and criticism from the people who've actually been in the trenches doing it day-t0-day...or from the people who have the power to produce it and make it a reality. I think far too much of that round-robin-I'll-critique-you-if-you-critique-me becomes masturbatory navel-gazing or rah-rah cheerleading to little or no productive purpose.

I think most successful writers are loners who go their own way. I've always found value in Paul Schrader's comment: "Why should we open the doors for young talent? Those who knock the doors down are much more interesting."

I think the most important part of being a writer, after having talent and having something to say (it's not enough to want to write, you have something worth saying), is being able to think critically...to be able to articulate your thoughts and to scrutinize, analyze, and assess your own work objectively and honestly.
This is one of the things I harp on in any class I teach...an artist must have the ability to judge his own work. If you don't, how will you be able to justify it and defend it against all those opinions that will want to take a piece of it? If you can't stand behind it or stand up for it with cohesive intelligent arguments, why are you doing it? It drives a lot of young writers crazy when I bark my mantra: "A professional knows when he's done good work." "But how do you know when you know?" always comes the lament. "When you're a professional, you'll know," I answer, increasing their frustration.

If you need grandma or one of your peers to pat you on the back to give you confidence, then you're probably not focused, determined, or dedicated enough. You have to be the one to know you're good and that your work is good, so that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you get up and keep coming at 'em.

3)Another article in The Dramatist talks about how the Copyright office has pretty much de-bunked and given the death knell to the nonsense of any such thing as director's copyright. They consistently refused Broadway's Urinetown director's attempts to copyright his direction.

Here's some of the directions he tried to copyright:

a)Using red scarves pulled from actors' pockets when they are shot to signify blood.

b)Using the chorus to march and fight in slow motion for comedic purpose.

c)Using blue fabric stretched across the stage to symbolize a river.

Rather vague, donncha think? And things like red scarves to represent blood and blue fabric to symbolize water seem rather familiar...I don't know how many times I've seen blue fabric to represent water or waves, we used it in a production of THE TEMPEST in Odessa , Texas, back in 1973.

But directors like this and their organization SSDC, that apparently has supported directors' attempts to copyright stuff, create a chilling effect on their own profession. One of the directors the Urinetown director was suing for copyright infringement was also an SSDC member; the theatre, involved in another suit, closed...it was not clear if it was because it had to defend itself against this spurious absurdity.

The result of validating this nonsense would be to inhibit other theatres from doing productions for fear of getting sued. It could also lead to playwrights directing their own plays to keep greedy directors with an absurd sense of auteurism from inhibiting said productions. This would hurt directors who would end up not getting jobs. And it could hurt plays...for all playwrights are not directors. And self-preservation is never the best artistic reason for directing one's own work.
The auteur theory in film is the greatest French farce since Feydeau. Let's not infect the theatre with its false premise.

This past week I and several other area playwrights had a meet and greet breakfast with Ralph Sevush, the Guild's Executive Director of Business Affairs, and Tari Stratton, Director of Education & Outreach, who were in Louisville for the Humana Festival. They had rsvps from nine playwrights, expected possibly twelve, and got five. I was the only one from outside Louisville. We five had a nice and informative time with them, but the small turnout nettled me. I don't understand why people don't take advantage of these opportunities...particularly those who always profess to have such a great love or aspiration toward the profession. As my old theatre mentor at UK, Charles Dickens (yes, his real name), used to say: "Ninety percent of talent is knowing what to do with it."

(Below: UK Theatre Professor, Charles Dickens...my mentor, Julieanne's mentor, and a whole lot of other people's mentor...during a notes session of PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD).


Harlan Ellison calls me up this afternoon to read me the opening paragraphs of a new story he's working on. First of all, no writer reads his work with more panache than Ellison does; secondly, I'm one of only four people who's heard it. How did I get so lucky? And the opening is a pip. If the rest of the story is as good (and I have no doubt it will be), it's going to be a doozy!


"He that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose."

--Anne Bronte--

And how was your week?

(I apologize for the odd spacing of paragraphs in this post. But I've been back a dozen times to correct and edit and save everything. And somehow none of it stays saved. It will take my corrections of typos and the like, but not the spacing. So excuse this Luddite's ignorance about what's going on. If anyone has a clue, please explain it to me. )


  1. Chuck-

    Thanks for the shoutout...there are times when I wonder about this gig!! As for the notion of directors trying to copyright their work, it all began when Joe Mantello sued I think the Caldwell Theatre in Florida over a production of LOVE VALOUR COMPASSION I believe it was. He claimed they basically came to New York, saw his Broadway production and literally copied it for their production. I have always thought it was a slippery slope in terms of contributions by directors to the creation of new work...certainly I will not deserve any kind of extra credit for Silas House's play any more than I did with Brian Hampton or you on TARTUFFE. As an SSDC member, I have always opposed the union's support of these suits and I think it adds to our overly litigious society. What is interesting about the Urinetown guys is THEY weren't even the original director/choreographer team. When the show got picked up for Broadway, they came on board...so how much of the original production did they keep or discard. Who knows? And that is my point...the real fall out is in the acting editions of scripts at Dramatists and Sam French, if you notice none of the new ones have the setting laid out in the back...that came about because of Mantello's suit...(By the by, he won his suit against the Caldwell, they had to pay him a directors fee, which to his credit, he donated to SSDC's educational wing)

    Rick St. Peter

  2. I always have a problem with folks eating their own. Directors suing fellow directors is not good. Not good for them. Not good for plays. Not good for theatres. Not good for business.

    We have a similar problem in the WGA over writing credits issues, where writers will gleefully leap over the fallen corpses of their fellow writers who have been fired off a project to get those high-paying re-write jobs. And as back-end money is tied to writing credit, re-writes don't become about fixing the script...but rather writing enough to get credit so you can cash in.

    My solution...very popular among the rank-and-file, very unpopular with the much more visible well-known re-writers...was "one writer, one script". First writer gets credit...everyone who comes on after is an anonymous script doctor who commands the highest fee he can. That way everyone knew the rules going in and there would be no internecine throat-cutting for credit and dough. It might also teach producers and studios to go with a writer longer...or be much more careful about who they pick for the job. My stands on writers creative rights were what got me elected to the WGA Board for two terms (and two terms was all I could stand...I refused to run for a third).

    I think a director's work to any play is invaluable...just not copyrightable. Certainly your interpretation and invention in terms of staging my TARTUFFE enriched the script. I could have never come up with all wonderful physicality you brought to it. I'm sure your contributions to Brian's and Silas' scripts are adding a resonance to their performance...and that is something that is often forgotten. A play may be literature; but it is also a thing to be performed. That's why we can see great Hamlets, good Hamlets, and crap Hamlets.

    But more importantly is that fact that AGL is doing new work which is having a life beyond the theatre, which is one of the reasons it's raises its profile outside the confines of the area. And that's because of your efforts to connect us to the national and world theatre community.