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jason
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« on: December 02, 2009, 02:00:36 PM »

Hello fellow Dan fans.  Just wanted to post an update on the new Daniel Johnston play, opening tomorrow night in Houston.  Here's a great preview article:

http://www.29-95.com/time-suck/story/catastrophic-theatres-life-happy-and-sad-preview-sorts

CATASTROPHIC THEATRE'S LIFE IS HAPPY AND SAD: A PREVIEW OF SORTS

JOE MATHLETE AT 9:50 AM ON DECEMBER 1, 2009
I am appearing in The Catastrophic Theatre’s production of Life is Happy and Sad, director Jason Nodler’s follow-up to his previous Daniel Johnston-based rock opera Speeding Motorcycle. Believe me, my participation is not meant to be a selling point; I’m onstage for maybe seven minutes total and out of the three things I do in the play I’m still ****ing up two of them with only a couple more rehearsals to go (no worries, I’m sure 48 hours is long enough to learn how to play the piano). Synergistic conflict of interest or not, I wanted to share a few things here on 29-95 about my experiences so far with this play.

Last year, during Speeding Motorcycle’s run at Austin’s Zachary Scott Theatre, Nodler was given an audio cassette by David Thornberry, one of Johnston’s closest friends. The tape was a piece of correspondence from twenty-five years ago; Johnston taped himself in a practice space at the University of Texas talking to his friend, ruminating on art and loneliness and playing songs. The tape became the basis of Life is Happy and Sad. I’ve been a humongous Daniel Johnston fan since high school, and when I finally got my hands on the recording I tore into it. It’s a complete revelation, an uncensored look into the thought process of a legendary artist early in his career, but besides being a fascinating historical document it provides a compelling (and surprisingly cohesive) narrative that anyone who’s ever painted a picture, written a story or recorded a song could relate to. It’s been amazing to watch it brought to life.

When I heard last summer that Matt Brownlie was going to play Daniel Johnston I was thrilled. Brownlie is the frontman for Bring Back the Guns (and their previous incarnation, The Groceries), one of the first bands to get me excited about local music. The way Matt captures Johnston’s earnest intensity and nervousness I could swear he’s been acting for years, but this is the first play he’s ever done. Considering the first half of the play is just him alone onstage, talking and singing and playing piano, I’d have to say he’s got more guts than almost anyone I’ve ever met. After years of loving his music I only got over being intimidated by him earlier this year; now I’ve got another reason.

Casting three-fifths of local glam rock act Roky Moon and Bolt in a play was a stroke of genius. I don’t know if Mike, Aaron and Jeoaf have ever acted before, but they’re natural vaudevillians, and some the nicest guys you’ll ever meet to boot. The other day Mike asked if I wanted to see “something crazy” and held up his phone to show me a video. Usually when I’m in this situation I end up being shown something awful like Two Girls One Cup or Mr. Hands, but it was the opening credits of Jabberjaw, the old Hanna Barbera cartoon about a shark who drums for a pop band and sounds like Curly from the Three Stooges. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was about the clip he found so compelling (besides the fact that that is a really stupid premise for a show, even a cartoon for children from several decades ago), but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make my day.

As far as my duties in the show go, I pretty much lucked out. As with almost every play I’ve ever been in I have to wear a stupid and uncomfortable hat, but it is at least a really cool-looking hat. Adding insult to haberdashery, I was sort of tricked into being a mime; I didn’t sign up for it but there I am, wordlessly gesticulating onstage and tripping on things (the tripping isn’t part of the mime thing; I’m just clumsy). But mostly I spend rehearsals watching Matt channel one of my favorite musicians and wishing I knew the intricacies of rawking the **** out as well as RM & Bolt (besides acting, the boys play a couple of songs, and yes, they play them loud as hell). Not a bad gig.

While I'm usually careful not to abuse whatever platform I have here, I have no qualms that I might be throwing all integrity to the wind. Come out and see this show. It opens Thursday at Diverseworks and it is great. I’m not saying that because I’m in it (if anything it’s great despite having me in it); I’m saying that because it’s great. Granted, I’m essentially the target audience for a play about Daniel Johnston, but at this point I’m almost wishing I wasn’t even in the show so I could just watch it. Of course, if that were the case I wouldn’t get to wear such a stupid hat. Never mind, things are fine the way they are.
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jason
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2009, 02:03:56 PM »

All tickets are "Pay-What-You-Can."  Here's another preview...

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/6749066.html

Daniel Johnston's eccentricities comes to life on Catastrophic Theatre's stage
By EVERETT EVANS Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 2, 2009, 11:36AM

Jason Nodler knew he wanted to build another theater piece around the life and music of indie-rock cult figure Daniel Johnston — especially after 2006's Speeding Motorcycle, his Johnston-inspired rock opera, played to sold-out houses here and in Austin and drew national attention.

“Daniel is so prolific and his body of work so remarkable that I feel I could make 10 of these things,” Nodler says.

Life Is Happy and Sad, Nodler's follow-up to Speeding Motorcycle, opens tonight at DiverseWorks. Nodler directs this production by his company, the Catastrophic Theatre.

Motorcycle was a freewheeling, shape-shifting fantasia. Life is a more tightly focused “play with songs” about Johnston's early days in Austin, after moving there from West Virginia in the 1980s.

“Act 1 is the content of a taped letter Daniel made in a practice room at UT and sent to his best friend David Thornberry in West Virginia,” Nodler says. “Act 2 is a fantasy concert, songs and scenes relating to themes on the tape. It's about his preoccupations at that time. He hadn't made any connections in Austin yet, and had had the first of several nervous breakdowns that made him feel even more alienated.”

Despite Johnston's reputation as an eccentric, Nodler feels his sense of alienation lends universality.

“Everyone has struggled with feelings of not fitting in,” Nodler says. “He's just felt that in more intensified form. What I'm trying to convey is how his sensitivity makes him similar to the rest of us – not how it makes him different.”

Johnston, who now lives in Waller, has struggled for years with manic-depression. Inevitably, Nodler says, that aspect is part of any show about him. Otherwise, Life will have a spirit, style and format quite unlike those of Speeding Motorcycle.

“That show was about the mythology around Daniel and dealt with unrequited love. This one is about creativity and friendship. It's about how lonely he feels; also, about how special David is to him, the importance of their friendship and how important it is to Daniel to create. He refuses to give that up and he and David (a poet) support each other in their creative goals.”

The spark for Life Is Happy and Sad dropped into Nodler's lap. It happened when he cast Kathy McCarty (Thornberry's wife and Johnston's ex-girlfriend) as herself in the Austin production of Speeding Motorcycle.

“Her band Glass Eye was one of the hottest Austin bands in the era we're depicting and Daniel got his first break opening for them,” Nodler says. “When she was in Speeding Motorcycle, David came to see it, and after the show he gave me the taped letter Daniel had sent him in 1984. The makers of The Devil and Daniel Johnston (the 2006 documentary about Johnston) hadn't known about it. No one had heard it except for David and Kathy. Listening to it in my car, I thought: ‘Wow! This is the basis for a show.”

“The material is 100 percent from Daniel,” Nodler says. “I constructed it, but it's all his words and music.” Nodler created the show during his residency at New Hampshire's prestigious MacDowell Colony.

Nodler then faced the challenge of finding a distinctive talent to portray Johnston. He cast Matt Brownlie, frontman for the band Bring Back the Guns — a rock musician making his acting debut.

“This is practically a one-man show,” Nodler says. “It's a gigantic project for one guy, especially for his first job as an actor. I knew Matt was a strong performer, that he plays piano, that he looks enough like Daniel did at this time. But Matt has turned out to be this remarkable, natural actor.”

Brownlie never considered acting until Nodler offered this role. Though the two have discussed other possible Johnston-related projects, Brownlie has no plans for further acting after this run.

“It doesn't feel like a debut,” Brownlie says. “More like this crazy, awesome anomalous thing that dropped into my life and may well drop back out when the show's done. It's a huge challenge. Memorizing 25 pages of monologue has been one of the toughest parts, he says. But Johnston's music has been a joy to learn and perform.

“I'm proud to be portraying a songwriter of this magnitude. Previously, I was a casual fan. Since working on the play, I've grown to be awed by his songwriting talent, as a songwriter myself.”

For the uninitiated, Brownlie says, the way to appreciate Johnston is to immerse yourself in his music.

“Even though he writes these very immediate, beautiful pop songs, there are barriers to really getting into his music: the extreme low-fidelity of his early tapes, the weird voice, the strange references. It's like any artist with an uncompromisingly idiosyncratic and hugely personal style. I think that's why musicians love to cover his songs. Once you've worked your way past those barriers and can hear the unbelievably personal and beautiful stuff going on, you want to get others closer to his work. I've grown to love Daniel the person, even though I've never met him. I think anyone who spends any time with his art will feel the same.”

LIFE IS HAPPY AND SAD
• When: Opens today. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 19
• Where: Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway
• Tickets: Pay-what-you-can; 713-522-2723
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billybob
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« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2009, 05:09:04 PM »

check out this link to read about this bizarre funny coincidence:

http://w3.catastrophictheatre.com/forums/forum-topic/39
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