Friends, this week I’m featuring an upcoming NYC production I’m excited about, which was written, composed, and produced by my dear friend Christian De Gré Cárdenas, and co-produced and directed by Brian Freeland:
On April 13, Mind The Art Entertainment (MTAE) is opening ACEDIA Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, which run until April 30th at the Brick Theater, 579 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211. Saturday performances feature all three parts as a trilogy.
You can learn more and get tickets here: https://www.bricktheater.com/mind-the-art-entertainments-acedia/
The three plays, which each run less than 90 minutes, can be seen individually over several days or in chronological order in one day.
A Cheery Exploration of the Morose and Existential
Sappy Tales for a Frozen Heart (ACEDIA Part 1): Set before The Apocalypse, can a broken man find humor and meaning as he listens to tales of romance on an old radio in an isolated cabin as the world comes to an end?
Fish Food for Feelings (ACEDIA Part 2): Set on the eve of The Apocalypse- Four adopted siblings meet at an abandoned cabin on the 2nd anniversary of their parents’ death for a surrealist dueling sibling dramedy unraveling during the end of the world.
Sent from Ampathy, miscreated by a non-writer (ACEDIA Part 3): Set after The Apocalypse, a Wisp, a Tuft, a Lint and a Dandelion float in a broken, meaningless, post-apocalyptic world as a deranged Listener seeks to reinvent art, purpose and connection.
Christian De Gré Cárdenas has emerged as one of the most influential contemporary voices in the development of new works in New York City. He has spearheaded numerous international projects in film, theater, television, music, publishing, web-media, fine-art and radio such as “Fatty Fatty No Friends” (FringeNYC Excellence Award Winner, Innovative Theater Award Nominations for Best Music and Best Musical, New York Musical Festival Best of Fest Concert, National Alliance of Musical Theater Semi-finalist, Time Out New York Critic’s Pick), “Beware The Chupacabra” (FringeFAVE, FRINGE ENCORES), and “Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg” (Audience Favorite at FRIGID New York, Showscore Critic’s Pick, off-broadway premiere at HERE.
A self-taught composer/playwright, De Gré Cárdenas has written and produced 30 original award-winning plays, musicals, operettas, operas and song-cycles in New York City at world renowned organizations like Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, Feinstein’s/54 Below, HERE Arts, and La Mama E.T.C. He has been commissioned to write music for The Discovery Channel, The Drama Desk Awards, The United Nations, The Alchemists, and The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York.
He is an alumnus of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and The Broadway League’s Commercial Theater Institute and is a member of the Advanced BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. He is a Yaddo Colony and a SPACE on Ryder fellow.
Having served as the General Manager and Director of Operations at The New York International Fringe Festival for five years and as Artistic Director of Mind The Art Entertainment for over a decade, De Gré Cárdenas has overseen the opening of over 1,000 new theatrical productions.
In 2018 he was appointed Director of The National Opera Center in New York City and is currently serving as Chief Operating Officer for OPERA America, and Resident Artistic Director for Mind The Art Entertainment’s “The Alchemists” program, where he is developing 25 original works.
This promises to be a creative and unusual performance. You can learn more and get tickets here: https://www.bricktheater.com/mind-the-art-entertainments-acedia/
Last Friday afternoon I took the train to New York for the sole purpose of seeing Christian De Gré Cardenas for dinner. The following morning I took the train back home to Baltimore. The only reason for that trip was because he is a friend I just had to see.
It was also a very personal post-Covid-lockdown tip of the hat to celebrate my belief that change is a gift from God.
After my first career as a business trial lawyer I decided I wanted to enter the professional world of theater in New York City, if I could in my late 60s and early 70s.
The only way to get across a chasm so deep was to jump.
Because I was old and no one would read my scripts, I decided I had to take an alternate approach. I decided to use my background as a lawyer so I read all the legal contracts required to be a producer and I took a class in producing theater.
All the young future producers started to ask each other what they wanted to produce. When it came to me I would say: “Nothing. I want you to produce me.”
After I had taken an introductory class at the Commercial Theater Institute in New York, I got a chance to go to the O’Neill Conference in Waterford, Connecticut for an advanced class so I could meet the future big shots.
That trip was a life changer. I hit a gold mine. I met three people within 24 hours who would change my life forever and are my friends to this day: Christian De Gré Cárdenas, Sue Marinello, and Aaron Sanko.
Today I want to talk about Christian and how he has changed my life for the better.
We both got off the northbound train from NYC in Connecticut in the early evening. We were picked up by a van driven by Aaron Sanko, who transferred us to a small motel where we would stay during the conference.
Aaron and Christian knew each other from the New York theater world. I was the old guy in the backseat who didn’t know anything or anybody who had instantly become a groupie.
The next day, Christian and I would be in the same class with Sue Marinello, and we have been bound together with Aaron Sanko ever since. I will talk more about these, my collaborators and friends, as we approach the opening of Mind The Art Entertainment’s (MTAE) upcoming performances, which will be premiering in April, July, and November in New York.
When Christian and I got off the train we looked like two Willy Lomans walking on stage in Death of a Salesman. After we were delivered to the motel and were waiting to register, I decided to talk to Christian and asked him if he would like to go get a drink after we checked in. He never got a chance to answer because the night clerk interrupted to tell us: “Forget about it. Everything is closed.”
Sue Marinello and I sat next to each other at the conference, and she committed to reading my play Onaje. Shortly thereafter, Christian suggested we apply to the upcoming New York Fringe Festival.
After the remarkable success of Onaje, Christian offered me a chance to write Vox Populi, his final operetta in a series based on the seven deadly sins. I immediately accepted and we agreed to meet at a restaurant in Spanish Harlem next to his apartment, where we would sketch out the plot and talk about the tone and temperature of this comedic operetta.
We had the restaurant to ourselves and the waiters brought us food and mescal throughout the afternoon, until the restaurant was set up for the dinner crowd to come in. It was magic.
I went back to Baltimore and went to work at a feverish pace and completed a rhyming rollicking first draft that Christian liked. He invited me to go to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to marry the music to the words.
Each morning we would get up and go to a little breakfast place that had a wide open garden with a little pond, a beautiful flowered fence, and a balcony with tables for breakfast. We were often alone as we started our day of work.
During breakfast we would go page by page editing the draft, and in the afternoon Christian went to work writing the music while I made changes to the script. Later in the afternoon, Christian would play back the music he had created. In the evening we went to magnificent restaurants in San Miguel and drank more mescal.
Around the plaza and the magnificent church, mariachi bands would sing for the locals, as well as the tourists, and we would walk the streets and listen for music coming from the rooftops. When Christian liked the sound overhead we would enter, go up the stairs, order another drink, and listen until we moved on to the next venue. It was magic.
When we got home at night Christian would go back to work, and in the morning, before we went to breakfast, he would play back what he had composed the night before.
This routine went on for well over a week and somewhere during that time we became brothers in creativity and laughter, and deep friends.
It is amazing how we all step in and out of unique worlds as we change careers or grow older. In my case, as my second career evolved and as I grew older, I stepped into an amazing world of people and experiences that have made me richer and more fortunate.
Unlike any profession I know of, the theater welcomes humanity into an opportunity for friendship in a way somehow the world cannot achieve.
During our dinner in New York last Friday, we were talking about something but I can’t remember what. I just remember Christian looking up straight into my eyes in a moment of surprise and saying: “Do you realize I am exactly half your age?”
Okay, I may have a problem. I am a recovering lawyer and now aspiring playwright and poet. Is it possible that I miss time sheets? “Every six minutes” for a lifetime?
People used to say: “You are what you eat,” but what if you are what you “do” or have done?
Maybe I’m getting worse. At the law firm, I made a rule that if anybody could finish a story that I was telling I would stop telling it.
Now I don’t care. If I can get a second laugh or even a third from the same story I will repeat it, again and again. (And I’m going deaf so I’m the only one who doesn’t have to hear it.) It could be senility. It could be I’ve lost any sense of embarrassment, but it definitely demonstrates no merciful memory loss, at all.
The other thing is, even in retirement I must “work.” I have grown even more intolerant of delay because everything I’ve written should be on stage by now! Damn it!
What has happened to me?
In the past year, I have written or rewritten three plays. One (Onaje) has been produced in New York, two will be produced in New York (Vox Populi, for which I wrote the libretto, and The Grace of God & The Man Machine). Another, The Naked House Painting Society, is looking for a home.
Yes, I used to be impatient as a lawyer but now my stuff is not produced fast enough? Do I still need litigation? The need to measure work on massive conflicts in tight building blocks of measured time along with a new project have made me afraid.
I have started working on a poem based on Dante’s Inferno. Dante’s Inferno has 34 cantos and 23 six-line stanzas in each canto. That in itself was my wake-up call. How sick is this?
The law can definitely create “delusions of grandeur.” Might it also imprint the structured, ordered, anal impact of time sheets?
Is it now that I require 34 cantos and 23 six-line stanzas in each canto? Seriously? But I haven’t given into it yet, I think.
Still, as I started the Prologue and began to “write about what I know,“ I found a schizophrenic litigator’s theme begging for harmony. This is how it starts:
With first light, or birth, or perhaps before/
And maybe after, comes the dialogue:/
The debate in the mind. Waves on the shore/
Each overriding the last. No monologue./
Two nagging voices in constant conflict./
One “as doubt“ the other “as hope,“ both spent/
Bickering on some path I did not pick/
Living the daily schedule of events/
As I wake and wonder where each day went:/
The debate in the mind. Waves on the shore/
Each overriding the last. What event,/
What plea, what prayer from my central core,/
What keeper of my life long travel log/
Can cure me of this endless dialogue?/
I start with a sonnet? How sick is this?
T.S. Eliot said:
“evenings, mornings, afternoons,/
I have measured out my like with coffee spoons;”/
And the poor man was just a banker.
Still, it will be funny and too long for me to repeat, so that may be progress.
Ever since I finished the operetta with Christian in beautiful San Miguel, Mexico this August I have been having withdrawals. I have been waking up laughing from nightmares because they are in perfect Hallmark Card couplets:
“Happiness is when all your dreams come true/ ❤️❤️❤️
And become the job you really want to do./” ❤️❤️❤️
Instant dry heaves. What has happened to me? I can’t go back to sleep after something so sappy/awful as that. Probably because I’m afraid to… What is my mind trying to tell me? And I think it is permeating other aspects of my life!
“It also seems to happen when, without regrets/ ❤️❤️❤️
You start a blog and confess to dreaming couplets./” ❤️❤️❤️
Terrible! Terrible! OKAY! Think deep! What could be the cause of this?
Last Tuesday at noon on the eighth floor of the National Opera Center at 7th and 29th, I found myself looking out the window as the actors and Kevin R. Free were entering the room behind me. I should have been nervous.
I had reworked the script with Kevin and he had called for a table read to try it out with many new actors he had chosen. The room was on a corner of the building, so I had a view of 7th Avenue heading north and 29th west. From the eighth floor, even the traffic jams and people zigzagging past each other on the street below seemed to provide a calm order which I took for granted.
Kevin took control and the reading began. I decided to just listen. Predictably, but quite remarkably, the gifted actors brought the story from the page and built the characters and the relationships with their inflections. I was hooked. Every one of them was brilliant. They give a new draft its birth.
After discussion and feedback, Kevin, his agent John Essay, our producer Sue Conover Marinello, and I went next door for a drink and quick dinner.
The actors had universally loved the new rewritten play and those who had performed it before had said the already successful play had been substantially improved. Kevin, John, and Sue agreed and made wonderful additional suggestions. Only then did I realize, both the script and I had been on trial.
Being nervous would have been more than appropriate. But somehow the suggestions, the collaboration, and the successful result all were just steps heading for the more perfect production. Ok — so why am I dreaming in the language of heart-throbbing greeting cards? ❤️❤️❤️
The night before, I had been lucky enough to have dinner with Christian. He confirmed that in the second week of November he would have rehearsals of several of our songs for the operetta and then do a recording of them for marketing purposes. We discussed a new opera that he wanted me to sketch out. It all seemed so natural.
I decided to stay another night so I could see and study “Hadestown” which was chosen as this year’s best musical on Broadway. Christian had told me how much he liked and respected it. Without a second thought, I felt it was important for me to stay and study it.
That night after the theater let out, I walked through Times Square to get home. There were mobs and mobs of people taking photographs of each other below a massive screen, which showed the riots in Hong Kong in the constantly bizarre flashing neon that lit up the remainder of night. I felt oddly detached but quite comfortable.
The next afternoon on the way home, I chose a seat on the train that would allow me to look at the town of Havre de Grace as we crossed the river back to Baltimore. The sun was warm through the windows as it occurred to me: maybe all of this was normal. Maybe it was, just as I dozed off…
“Happiness is when all your dreams come true/
And become the job you really want to do./”
And then again, I couldn’t believe it! What is happening to me? I woke up laughing. ❤️❤️❤️
So his fool tells King Lear: ”Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
I am 72 years old today and one step further into my next life. No not the afterlife… the next step and the opportunity of freedom which that entails. As it’s my birthday, I hope you’ll allow me this time to reflect…
I decided to start this blog several years ago to chronicle what would happen to me in retirement. I loved the practice of law, but concluded that there is a time to retire before you get in people’s way and can’t find the bathroom. I wanted to stay a little bit ahead of that curve so I got out early.
I already knew that eccentricity and determination always trumps a loss of intelligence. So this was my chance to be free to try something entirely different, but I still was not free of trepidation. Delusions of grandeur are a wonderful thing until you start to think you might act on them.
Nonetheless, I first decided I would become a “political force” as a Democrat in an entirely gerrymandered Republican district because I was very concerned about how we, as a country, were being divided by political forces and I was going to change that. This was Trump country. I raised more money than all my Republican opponents combined and knocked on almost 7000 doors for more than a half a year. I was resoundingly defeated and Trump became our president.
Because I obviously had learned nothing about impossibility, next I decided I would become a professional playwright. I bought a Shakespeare coffee mug and applied to the Yale Drama school, fully believing that I would be the oldest applicant ever accepted to Yale’s drama school. I succeeded only in becoming the oldest applicant ever rejected by Yale’s drama school. Nonetheless, I had decided this is what I wanted to do.
Obviously I had to rethink this thing again, with just a little more of my failing intelligence. So I applied to the Commercial Theater Institute (CTI) of New York for a class in producing theater. I had a plan. When the first morning of class broke up the students got lunch and inevitability they talked about what plays they were considering producing. When it came to my turn to talk I informed them I wasn’t considering producing anything. I wanted them to produce me. It worked. The impossible happened. A young producer agreed to read my work, liked it and arranged for professional staged readings in San Francisco and later in New York.
Because I had excelled in something I didn’t want to do and I had completed an introductory class in it, I applied for an advanced class in producing at the prestigious O’Neill Conference in Waterford Connecticut. I got in and there I met Sue Conover Marinello, who produced my play Onaje with great success last year in New York, and Christian De Gré Cardenas of Mind the Art Entertainment who has an amazing history of producing and also writing the music for a number of amazing operettas in New York. Both became friends.
After Sue Conover Marinello’s production of Onaje in New York, Mind the Art commissioned me to write the libretto for an operetta, Vox Populi, a comedy about the seventh deadly sin of pride, for Christian’s music. Last month, Christian and I completed the operetta in San Miguel Mexico.
Because Onaje had done so well, Sue convinced Kevin R. Free, the wonderful NYC director, to read the script. Kevin had fresh and original insights which lead to my reworking the script and his commitment to direct its next production.
The blog has become a happy travelogue. It is a history of mistakes and opportunities. It has taught me that even though I may not succeed in any of this, I’ve lost the fear of failure and each day is more fun than the last. The next step into a new thing is the hardest thing I ever do but it is getting easier with age.
Blessings come in little revelations.
I have thrown myself headlong into my new career as a playwright, but always with the lingering regret that I had not committed to this career sooner. All my new friends in this artistic world are half my age and struggling artists, working, and in many cases raising a family at the same time. I have told people that I have 40 years to make up before I can accomplish what I want to be. I have set up a little office where I write and edit from 9:30 to 4:30. I work hard everyday.
I rarely stop to appreciate the success I have had. Within the last year, I have seen one play extremely successfully performed in NYC, been commissioned to write a libretto for an operetta with the highly acclaimed Christian De Gré Cardenas, and just this month, traveled to Mexico with him, where we finished the operetta. I am very fortunate to be working with an extremely accomplished director and actor, Kevin R. Free, to bring a new and more vibrant Onaje alive in a broader venue in New York City. I have been a man on a mission because of my age and late start.
While I was working on the operetta with Christian in Mexico, he casually mentioned that a mutual friend of ours, Brian, said to him: “You know, Bob has done it right. He made sufficient money so now he is free to work full-time on his art.” That surprised me. I have thought about it and I am not late. I am extremely fortunate to be where I am right now.
I love what I am doing. I have a lifetime of experience to draw from as a writer and a gathering of friends who can help me mature into what I hope to become. I have just finished reworking a new play and am about to send it to my producer, Sue Conover Marinello, for her review and distribution and to Parker Bennett and Katie Marinello for comment and publicity. I have already outlined another play and am researching for another libretto, both of which I will complete before spring.
As I approach my 72nd birthday in September, I am taking a deep breath and realizing that Brian is right. I am unusually fortunate to be able to be living this second Curtain Call. Blessings come in a little revelations.
Now back to work.