Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Crow’s Shows & Pose

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Good Evening:

I like crows and ravens. True, they have little in the way of gaudy colors or feathers; I like them for their intelligence and resourcefulness. So when I disembarked from the 71-Noriega at the last stop (Ocean Beach) and discovered that Muni had run fast and I had arrived half an hour early for my friend’s “table reading” (very early drafts of plays receive these private shows–no acting, just reading the script in one’s living room, sometimes around a table), I went looking for something to photograph and found a crow exploring an uncovered rusty trash can near the beach. Using that marvelous beak (corvid beaks are the Bowie Knives of bird beaks–they can do anything), it deftly pried open a discarded KFC box with a delicate motion, plucked a chicken leg bone that still had a meal’s worth of meat, and flew to a nearby post.

Since the bird had selected a post with a marvelous background, I had to take pictures. It did not appreciate my appreciation of its beauty; it thought I wanted its dinner.

Crow Defending Its Dinner with Show of Aggression

This was one of many shows of defiance, intended to warn me away from his prize. But then something changed in the crow. It stopped acting belligerent and held still. Like this:

The Crow’s Pose

As you can see, that background really is perfect for a crow. But check out this bird! It held still for me as I snapped one picture after another, kept its head held high, and didn’t even ruffle a feather. It did not move at all until after I walked away, when it flew off to feast in private on another bird’s leg.

How did it know I meant it no harm? How did it know that I wanted it to hold still? Did this critter recognize my silvery Nikon as a camera? Was it posing for me??

Pondering Avian Mysteries, I Remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

I Do Not Understand Reality, 27 September 2012; Or, The Dueling Buskers at Castro & 18th Street

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Good Evening:

“San Francisco has five seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Hallowe’en and Autumn.” So I thought to myself at the 18th & Castro bus stop for the 24-Divisadero as a young man in a Catwoman costume (complete with falsies) walked past me. It’s that time of year in the city Herb Caen called Baghdad by the Bay. No doubt the gentleman had just returned from our annual Folsom Street Fair, our annual September celebration of decadence, debauchery, dominatrices and other forms of good clean wholesome fun for the entire family–the Addams Family. That part of reality I do understand.

Shy Busker on Haight Street with Digeridoos

I had spent that Sunday on Peralta Avenue–seen one metal-studded leather corset, seem ’em all–so I had chosen to miss the spanking, sadomasochism, sexual antics and other forms of good clean wholesome et cetera.

Now one thing music fans, activists, and pet lovers visiting San Francisco will enjoy knowing is that some of our finest buskers perform at the intersection of 18th and Castro. This is one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the entire city, and charities, political activists, our local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and musicians will compete for space at the corner where a bank stands. A wide expanse of sidewalk wraps around the bank, and I have seen AIDS activists collecting donations, buskers playing acoustic guitar and singing, and the SPCA playing matchmaker for humans and kittens–all at the same time.

Packing up After the Show

On this particular early Sunday evening, a young woman of about 25-30 wearing what I will call attempted “neo-Bohemian/60’s hippie” clothing performed acoustic guitar and sang for passersby with the aid of a portable amplifier that was less than 18 inches tall. This woman combined a major fail in fashion with major successes in songwriting, singing and guitar, sounding like someone who had started with Tori Amos and Sara McLachlan but then found her own way. She earned a steady stream of dollars from the spectators, including a George Washington from your faithful blogger. I understand this part of reality.

Then the competition showed up. This part of reality I did not understand.

This was an African-American gentleman, slightly older, much bigger, wearing a black suit, white shirt, no necktie, with an electric guitar and a two-foot tall amplifier. He began to set up his equipment.

She said, “Hey, what are you doing?” even as she kept strumming.

He said, “This is my spot.”

She said, “Excuse me, this is not your spot, this is my spot.”

He said, “No, you are in my spot, you took my spot away from me.”

She said, “I got here first.”

He said, “I have been playing here for eight years!”

She said, “I have been playing here for ten years!”

He said, “I have been playing here for twelve!”

He plugged his guitar into the amplifier, turned everything on, and began to play without tuning his instrument–louder than the acoustic guitarist with the tiny amplifier.

She turned up her amplifier until it was louder than his big one.

He turned up his amplifier until it was louder than her little one.

However, she had one of those amplifiers that can “go to eleven,” and she went there.*

He stood there, dumbfounded, alternating between glaring at her and glaring at his larger but impotent amp.

During this dispute, a crowd gathered around the dueling musicians and watched. “Why don’t they just take turns performing?” “Why don’t they just perform together?” “They both sound so awful playing so loud.” “Why doesn’t the City do something about this?” “Like what?” “You know, regulate, set up a schedule or something.”

Here’s something I noticed: during this entire dispute, neither musician earned even a penny. I thought of that other duel I had witnessed at 16th and Mission.

My bus arrived and spirited me away from the cacophany.

Vonn Scott Bair

* Every music-themed blog post needs a good Spinal Tap reference.

Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White, 26 September 2012

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Good Evening:

Ironically, white is my least favorite color (or technically, lack of color). However, add a little texture and then cast a little shadow and perhaps include a little blur and one might find something of interest.

Orpheum Theater Exterior, San Francisco, Extreme Closeup

San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater has a lot of textured exteriors like this. This next picture also counts as part of the “Things on Walls” series:

Sadly, I forgot where I saw it. Sometimes, the perfectly ordinary and everyday can draw my interest…

…when the sun shines at the right time at the right angle at the right time of year. Say hello to a closeup of my living room wall.

My final subject is a pillar by the main entrance of 965 Mission Street.

Light, texture, shadow. Who needs color?

Vonn Scott Bair

Photo Essay: Peralta Avenue, San Francisco, California, 23 September 2012

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Good Evening:

First, a simple question: looking through the opening in the footpath to see the City of San Francisco, California, can you spot Peralta Avenue?

Can you spot Peralta Avenue?

Having trouble? Try again. Look closely.

Apologies to all, it was a trick question. That footpath is Peralta Avenue.

The Part of Peralta Avenue that Actually Is Sort of an Avenue

Visitors know about Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world.” Natives know about Vermont Street, “the crookedest street in San Francisco.” Believe it or not, both statements are true: there are two ways to measure crookedness; by one measure, Lombard is the most crooked with eight hairpin turns in a single block, by the other, Vermont is the most crooked for having greater “sinuosity” between 20th and 22nd Streets. However, for sheer bizarre wackiness, Peralta Avenue might have both of them beat, and both visitors and natives who love photography will find much to love here. Even better, they won’t find tacky souvenirs and trinkets. There is a spot of controversy here as to whether the footpath that connects the two separated parts of Peralta Avenue should be considered part of the avenue. I prefer to call it part of the avenue because after all, that’s just so San Francisco.

Finding addresses on Peralta can be almost impossible: Here are two of the better solutions I found:

32

44

Peralta runs along the north-northeast side of Bernal Heights like a mountain path/hiking trail/animal run. Perhaps it originated as such. Transforming the original path/trail/run into a two-lane street suitable for automobiles presented enormous challenges for the folks who designed and paved the avenue, and judging from the solutions they devised, someone in the crew mastered the art of combining imagination with compromise, or might have discovered imagination within compromise. The architects who came later to build houses along Peralta needed to master the same talents and artistry in their design and construction. Presenting for your enjoyment and possibly your mild astonishment, a collection of the not-so-bad shots from this weekend’s photography expedition.

Garage Door on Bernal Heights, San Francisco, California

Horse

Peralta & York: No Way but Down from Here

How Bernal Heights Does a Sidewalk

One final point: I visited Peralta during The Magic Hour, that period of roughly sixty minutes in the late afternoon/early evening when photographers love the light and what it does to most scenery. However, shooting Peralta during that time of day turned out to pose enormous challenges for my limited technical skills. Almost every shot included sections that were much too brightly lit and sections that were much too dark. Paradoxically, that’s why I recommend Peralta Avenue to all photographers, regardless of skill level: this street poses serious technical challenges that will teach something new to almost every shutterbug, whether it’s camera technique or photo editing skills. This was perhaps my only good shot of my expedition, and obviously, I did a lot of work with editing software:

Peralta Avenue, 23 September 2012

Bernal Heights, because of the steep hils and lack of parking, has almost no businesses on many of its slopes. It really feels more like a small very hill town than part of a city of population 800,000. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal. Perhaps the views are part of the appeal:

View of San Francisco from Small Park Near Peralta Avenue Footpath

Sam’s was the closest store I found heading downhill from Peralta.

And in conclusion, a few shots of a decent San Francisco sunset, plus one last look back at Bernal Heights.

Peace – Beware of the Dogs

Footbridge over Cesar Chavez

Sunset & Incoming Fog, Mission District, San Francisco, CA 23 September 2012

I hope you enjoyed this little journey down one of San Francisco’s least-known neighborhoods.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 3: Things.

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Good Evening:

Completing my trilogy of responses to this week’s Challenge, along with People and Animals. One might think that finding anything solitary in a city as densely populated as San Francisco might constitute a challenge, but I still found a few “Things.”

Pink and Sky Blue

I have also classified this one as part of my Things on Walls series, and as is quite common in the series, I have no idea what this thing does.

Streetlight in a Mission Street Alley

I found this in an alley off Mission between 4th and 5th Streets. But let us face the facts: if you want to go Solitary and Things and Picturesque and you live in the American West, you have to go to America’s High Desert.

Cabin Near the Grand Tetons

That’s almost unfairly Solitary.

Native Fireworks, Montana

So is this. Montana is truly one big, Big Sky, country.

Junked Cars on a Trailer, Utah

I saw these junked cars in the giant parking lot of a tiny gas station in Utah.

WordPress veterans will know the answer to this question: ever since the first weekly Photo Challenge, has the overall quality of the submissions gone up over time? I write this because I’ve explored a lot of posts this week, and have either gotten very lucky in clicking, or people have done a great job this week.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 2: Animals.

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Good Morning:

It might come as a surprise that San Francisco has a wild side, but here you are:

“Egret with Reflection.” San Francisco, California, 3 September 2007, Nikon D40

Crissy Field, once a salt marsh, formerly an airfield, now a salt marsh again, part of our Presidio, and the home of a large number of waterfowl. Of course, you would expect some places, such as Yellowstone National Park, to have an abundance of wildlife, but my family did not get so lucky during our 2008 trip. Aside from those bison, this was our biggest catch:

Have you checked out the other responses to this week’s Challenge? Personally, it seems that this week has produced an exceptional set of photos.

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 1: People.

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Good Evening:

The old photo library contains a scintillating surfeit of suitable subjects for selection (ah, poesy): I will divide them into three groups (People, Animals, Things) for easier digestion. Today, the people.

Walking on Folsom Street Near 16th, San Francisco

I had originally planned to zoom in on the corrugated steel and photograph that, but then she appeared in the distance, and yours truly had just barely enough time to capture the shot (Nikon Coolpix 4300 set to black & white). This became one of my earliest pictures in the “Dwarfed” series, so named because humans are one of a very small number of creatures that build structures that dwarf themselves.

I published this one before in The Photographer as Crocodile, but it seems appropriate to the subject. Also a Coolpix 4300.

Because the Laundromat Was Too Hot That Day

This one comes from the iPhone 4, taken in the parking lot of the laundromat on Oak near Divisadero. Looks like a busy weekend of photography.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Surreal Is That Which Lies at Your Feet – In San Francisco, at Any Rate

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Good Evening:

“The surreal is that which lies at your feet.”

Does anyone recognize that quote? Not mine, I thought it was another product of Andre Breton’s fertile, fervid and fervent imagination but I have not found the original yet. But I think of that line any time I walk almost any street in this town.

Are Danny Trejo’s Mickey Mouse Ears in Heavan?

Sidewalk murals and stencils have taken over entire neighborhoods, and have entertained pedestrians in San Francisco for years and years and years. I have the pictures to prove and might someday post more. But tonight I noticed the latest edits to one of the many “Danny Trejo: Adios Gringo” stencils in the Haight. For some reason, this particular stencil on Haight near Steiner has received a few embellishments over the years. First came the Mickey Mouse ears. Second came the double-M addition–for those of us who can’t recognize Mickey Mouse ears when we see them.

The newest addition is “What about heavan.” Who knows what that is supposed to mean: this is just more San Francisco Surrealism. Have a good Friday, everyone.

Vonn Scott Bair

Everyday Life: Homelessness in San Francisco

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Good Evening:

This is not a post of “Everyday Life” photography as art, but rather of “Everyday Life” photography as journalism.

Much of my street photography does not include the wonderful, beautiful, unique or quirky aspects of life in San Francisco. This is not a perfect city, and one thing San Francisco does not do well consists of its response to the many forms of homelessness and the sheer numbers of homeless in this town. I do have some photographs to share, plus a story I sent to my friends and online buddies on July 23, 2011.

Sleeping Homeless Person with Traffic Cone. Evidently, people had stepped on/tripped over this person once too often.

Fidelity and Love on Market Street

Good Evening:

First, a caution. This is not one of my happier or funnier pieces. You might want to revisit at another time.

I took the bus downtown tonight to attend a mixer for Bay Area film artists, but the action was out on the sidewalks. The 71 Haight-Noriega pulled up to the stop at the intersection of Page, Franklin and Market. A homeless man strolled over the crosswalk on the street in front of the bus, followed by his white pit bull. There’s an abandoned storefront at the intersection, and the homeless like to sleep on the Page Street side as it is comparatively sheltered from the wind.

No homeless individual is lucky, and this 50-ish looking blonde man with a wispy moustache was no exception. However, some homeless people will lose everything–marriage, car, job, home, family–and still keep a dog. It’s an extra expense and hassle for someone with no money and plenty of hassles already, but they will keep the dog anyway. Everyone on the bus watched these two. The reason we watched the pair was because of the dog–he was wearing a heavy people coat, with his forelegs sticking through the sleeves.

Mentally Ill Homeless Woman Walking Past Strip Joint on Market Street

The other passengers returned to their normal business, but I kept watching. The man did not seem to have any food for himself (perhaps it was hidden in his backpack, perhaps he had already eaten), but he did have some doggie treats in his coat pocket, and he gave a pair to his sartorial friend. Then he started to unwrap not his own bedroll, but his dog’s blanket, setting up his dog’s bed first. Throughout, the pit bull wagged his tail nonstop, nuzzling his friend’s hand, sniffing his crotch (perhaps the one canine trait humans would do well not to imitate), and pawing the man’s leg in a dog’s typically affectionate manner.

I know what homelessness does to the life spans of humans and dogs alike, and it is not good. Barring miracles, these two are not long for the world. In particular, the dog will have a hungry, diseased life, and a short one. But tonight he had a nice warm coat, he had a few doggie treats, he had an entire city that was his for the exploration, he had a place to sleep, and he had the best friend a dog could have in the whole wide world, a human who loved him and whom he could love in return.

As far as the white pit bull was concerned, he had a great life.

And you know something? His coat was in much better condition than the man’s.

Sleeping in Front of the Asian Art Museum

The bus rolled on, and I was lost in my thoughts of a white pit bull and the fancy bar and restaurant where I was meeting other film artists. A few blocks later, loud shouting interrupted my reverie as the 71 pulled up to Market, Eighth, Grove and Hyde, the same five-way where that cop had fun with the truck driver (“Cop Humor at 8th and Market”). Another homeless man stalked angrily across the middle of Market Street behind our bus, so oncoming traffic couldn’t see him emerging into their lane. Fortunately, the driver who could have hit him was not talking on his cell phone, so he braked in plenty of time. This homeless man (20’s, brown crew cut) screamed at the driver, screamed at the other cars on the road, and screamed his companion following behind him. Both of them, the homeless man and his companion, made it to the other side of Market without injury. The homeless man continued to yell at his follower.

But he wasn’t yelling at a dog. He was yelling at his girlfriend.

You Can Be Here, or in Baja…

She wasn’t walking fast enough for him. You would think he might have a little more understanding: he wasn’t carrying anything, while she carried all of their worldly belongings on her back, a backpack with a bedroll tied to the top and a sleeping bag tied to the bottom. The weight bent her forward at a 60 degree angle, but still, she couldn’t walk fast enough to please her boyfriend.

“Come on! I’m not even walking fast!” he yelled. She followed him, face blank, her eyes looking at nothing but the sidewalk at her feet.

The light turned green, the bus moved on, and I thought, “Lucky dog.”

Vonn Scott Bair

Everyday Life: Mother & Son Crossing Masonic at Haight

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Good Evening:

An old but very true saying: “The best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand.” The camera I had in my hand on that Sunday afternoon was my iPhone 4, and I had maybe 3 seconds to get set to capture what I knew could become a good shot of a mother on skates and her son on a push scooter crossing the street. Here was the result:

Woman and Son Crossing Masonic at Haight Street on a Sunday Afternoon, 9 September 2012

I did get lucky enough to capture a good composition (look at the triange formed by her head, her right foot and his left foot) that depicts an interesting scene and a contrast between light and dark, but let’s face it–I jiggled the camera. It’s a bad carpenter who blames his tools, and I won’t blame my phone. But as I have written before, it’s easy to take a bad photo these days, but even easier to make it look decent. So I present to you now the results of my experiments with various photo editing programs.

Color Splash Studio IMG_2523, 9 Sept 2012

Color Splash Studio performs one trick very, very well. It will turn every part of a color photo into B&W except the areas you want. Worked pretty well here.

Flare Daguerrotype IMG_2523

I chose the Daguerrotype setting in Flare, a program that will make your photograph look like a daguerrotype, vintage Kodachrome, or other old-tyme photos.

Sketcher Watercolor IMG_2523 72-100-100-40 Watercolor Paper 091612

Sketcher, a program that will turn photos into a variety of paintings, created this “watercolor” effect. It has four settings for adjusting your picture that you can adjust from 0-100, hence the “72-100-100-40” notation. I might want to use that setting again someday.

FX Photo Studo Pro IMG_2523 Edited 2

FX Studio Pro is a more sophisticated version of Flare, with a lot more options and settings. Here I chose Pastel, and added a sort of stippling effect.

Finally, just for fun I uploaded IMG_2523 to my telephone and edited it with a few graphics programs there. First is a fun little one-trick pony called Popsicolor, which basically posterizes your picture with 1-2 colors.

Popsicolor, “Mint” and “Cotton Candy” Settings

I used the “Mint” and “Cotton Candy” (light blue) settings. Finally, something called Grungetastic, with a setting that had a particularly psychadelic effect called “Bleached 7.”

Grungetastic, Bleached 7 Setting

Of course you won’t read any silly and extravagant claims here that any of these “works of art” are masterpieces. Nonetheless, I hope this inspires you to take another look at some of your allegedly less successful photos. Perhaps you’ll see some means of salvaging a decent work of art.

Now before I conclude, be honest with me here: how many of you read the phrase “uploaded IMG_2523 to my telephone and edited it with a few graphics programs” and failed to realize just how shocking that phrase is? Think about it: I uploaded a photograph to a telephone to edit it with software found only on said telephone. Do you realize that only a few years ago, that phrase was impossible?!

Vonn Scott Bair

Writing an Entire Play in One Night. The Performance.

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Good Evening:

Continuing the exciting adventure begun in my previous post

Perhaps the single most useless person taking part in a playfest (or a “play-in-a-day” festival) is the playwright. Yes, I am describing myself. You see, once I delivered the script via email to the producer, I became almost but not quite completely useless. If the director or cast had found something catastrophically wrong with “Le Bistro de la Verite,” a script based upon the theme “That’s Not True!”, I would have scrounged together a few desperation rewrites to repair the damages inflicted upon my unfortunate cast and director. However, after the initial read-through shortly after 9:00 on Saturday morning (September 15), they felt that the script was in excellent shape.

Lisa, our director, giving direction to the cast whilst downloading French cabaret, bistro, jazz and accordion music on her iPhone. In the end, we didn’t use the music.

At which point I became completely useless. But the Playwrights Center of San Francisco had brought donuts and coffee to our rehearsal space, presenting an excellent opportunity to load up on caffeine, sugar, fats and processed flour. Yum! And you would say yum, too, if you had spent most of the night writing and entire play between updates to your blog. Lisa the director did come to me with a few observations and questions about the script (and I will never cease to feel astonished at what people find in my scripts that I never knew existed), and devised a simple, pitch-perfect production.

Colin taking a break during rehearsals.

I have worked with Colin (“Ernst”) on numerous theatrical projects, so I have learned how to play to his strengths. One of these is something that causes most other actors to stumble; Colin knows what to do when he has nothing to do. At the end of my ten-minute play, when it becomes clear that his character’s girlfriend might still have the hots for her ex-boyfriend, Ernst doesn’t say anything, he just sits there–and Colin looked great doing that. When Ernst finally says something, Colin delivered the speech without moving at all, without making any faces, without any changes in timbre, and the audience roared with laughter.

Phil testing his memory of “Joey’s” big speech during the rehearsal.

Phil (“Joey”) had never worked with me before, so I didn’t know that I had accidentally tailored his role to conform so well to his talents. Phil’s greatest strength is comedy, and his greatest strength in comedy is The Awkward Pause. “The Awkward Pause” isn’t an actual acting term and no one else capitalizes the phrase, but I think they should. Running into an ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend at the bistro they used to frequent presents many opportunities for The Awkward Pause, and Phil nailed all of them.

Rosalie is a native of France who moved to the United States quite recently, and unlike her character “Antoinette,” she has not yet become the same passionate fan of baseball in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular (who, by the way, won 2-1 on Monday night!), so terms like “WHIP,” “Infield Fly Rule,” and “Lincecum” posed quite a few challenges. However, once again I got lucky; Rosalie has a gift for portraying intelligent women with sharp tongues who can cut somone down to size with a single word. When Antoinette said, “Food” in response to one of Joey’s lame questions, the audience had a big reaction.

I wrote in the previous post about how I remembered that I needed garbage bags and liquid hand soap during my writing, and since I knew of a Walgreen’s only two blocks away, took care of that little domestic problem. I returned home to the aromas of pizza. Pizza, donuts, coffee: this is how the arts survive in America. I tried to catch up on sleep during the afternoon’s rehearsals, but all of the casts were practicing in the same large cafeteria and meeting space, which meant that glockenspiels, kazoos, plus actors portraying yowling cats and howling dogs produced an echoing cacophony that “murdered sleep” (one of the plays was a take-off on Macbeth), and would have convinced any innocent bystanders that a large number of lunatics had taken over the basement of a multimedia firm.

Finally, showtime.

24 hours after I had received the cast, director, and the theme “That’s Not True!”, the playfest begins. 7 plays in all, 10-15 minutes each. “Le Bistro de la Verite” was probably the shortest. My play was the last play before intermission, and I sat in the furthest corner of the house as far from the stage as possible. I had driven the director crazy with my own nervousness (a consequence of sleeplessness) and finally exiled myself from Lisa and the cast so that they would work in peace.

I’m sorry you couldn’t have attended. 24-hour playfests are notorious for the wildly inconsistent quality of the plays and frankly, tend to uh, um, well, uh, below average. This was the first play-in-a-day I’ve ever seen where all of the plays were good or better. 7 for 7 just doesn’t happen. It isn’t even supposed to happen. Period. Frankly, 1 for 4 is typical. Despite a few stumbles, “Le Bistro de la Verite” proved one of the better ones: all of the parts I wanted to be funny were funny, in fact, they were almost as funny as the parts that I had no idea were funny (another common occurence in my plays). Because the entire play was one 10-minute awkward situation, the occasional awkward moments became opportunities for the cast to make their characters both clumsy and sympathetic at the same time.

All of which made the post-show party very easy to enjoy; no one sat in a corner bemoaning disaster. Instead we gorged on cookies, chips and salsa, and wasabi rice crackers (yes, this was my dinner).

So thanks to the Playwrights Center of San Francisco for producing a great show. And a super-ultra-special thank you to Lisa, Rosalie, Colin and Phil for all of their efforts and triumphs.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I finally arrived home, I ate an entire four-pound Sharlyn Melon.

Writing an Entire Play in One Night. Again.

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Good Evening:

So-called “play-in-a-day” festivals or “playfests” have popped up here and there in the San Francisco theater scene, enjoying brief vogues, fading into unfashionableness, enjoying brief vogues again. The premise couldn’t be simpler: write, produce, and perform an entire play within one 24-hour period.

JOEY: I’m sorry, I take it back, I–was–wrong. Especially to Netty–Antoinette. Especially her. The thing is, um, Ernst, is, you know, with all due respect, you weren’t there. The thing is, I learned from her, too. Not just how to pronounce “Meursault” without the “L” sound just like the hoity-toity types up on Nob Hill, I learned about San Francisco and its literature, I mean, seriously, do I sound like the kinda guy who can quote a big shot poet like Lawrence Ferlinghetti?!

Yeah. Simple.

Serious Actors Preparing Seriously for a Serious Show. Seriously.

Naturally, the playwrights do not write three-hour epics. The producers will impose a ten, fifteen or twenty page limit. In order to prevent the playwrights from cheating and writing the play ahead of time, producers force them to write a play to a set theme that they don’t reveal until the night before. I have always played the role of the playwright, the vanguard if you will, staying up all night, foraying, foraging, forcing my way into the thick unexplored undergrowth of the theater to try and write something comprehensible to normal human beings 10-12 hours later who will perform said script in front of an audience of other normal human beings 14-12 hours after that.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Esmeralda’s Farewell to the Hunchback
Quasimodo: Vonn Scott Bair (your faithful blogger). Esmeralda: Piper Corbett.

The Playwrights Center of San Francisco, of which I am a member, will host a fundraising event tonight featuring seven of its playwrights members, all of whom are scribbling away at this very moment (this very moment being 12:09:58 a.m., Pacific Time, on September 15, 2012). The producer of the show increased our challenge with multiple draws from a hat: first, how many cast members must be in our plays; second, the director; third, the names of the actors, and finally, the theme of our show.

The theme for tonight’s show? “That’s Not True!”

Naturally, most Americans’ first thought will be, “How appropriate for an election year!” Actually, the first theme drawn from the hat was “Election Year,” but everyone–actors, directors, and playwrights–booed the selection, and, led by a rebellious Libertarian actor, waged a successful revolt.

The Libertarian Rebel: I’m glad he’s in my play.

So I met with the actors and asked them to toss out situations from their lives where they or someone said “That’s not true!” Then I collected personal data: one actor is a native of France, one is a banjo player, one speaks fluent German. Hey, I almost called for the banjo, but changed my mind, but I will use both French and German in the script.

Showing off Her Costume. The actor in question had made a significant number of changes in her life, all of them positive, and asked me to photograph her backstage during a performance because she wanted a record of her achievements. This is my only flash photograph I have ever taken which I can state is pretty darn good.

Here is the first bit of dialogue I wrote:

ERNST: I have won the girl, but I feel like, feel like, what is that American word? I feel like–what is it?–ah, yes! I feel like a dummkopf.

The rest has flowed pretty naturally. The key to my success in these 24-hour projects–and all of them have proven great successes–lies in three areas. First, the actors; I have enjoyed phenomenal good fortune in having very good-to-excellent casts. Second, I have enjoyed equally phenomenal good fortune in having directors who could understand even my most wildly avant-garde works and interpret them well.

The Difference Between Backstage and Offstage. The actress relaxes backstage whilst the cast of the next play wait offstage.

Third, when writing the plays I have allowed myself to allow the plays to surprise me. I had no idea this comedy I have chosen to call Le Bistro de la Verite (I hope it’s a comedy) about a chance meeting between a woman, her current boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend would turn into a meditation upon language barriers, what becoming an American means, mastering the San Francisco Burrito, and learning the Infield Fly Rule. And all of this will take place in only ten pages!

ANTOINETTE: No, I meant that I cannot believe that this is happening. Zut alors. Smile, Ernst, act normal. Joey, what a surprise!

It is now 1:16:33 a.m., and I have taken a break whilst dealing with the only serious challenge to arise during the writing of this play. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking that the rest of the script is a masterpiece; I only want to state that only one part has given me any trouble. The very middle of the script. Need a connection, a transition, something plausible to explain why Antoinette changes from snotty toward Joey, her ex, to suddenly missing him and the good times they had when he taught her to love baseball and the San Francisco Giants (not necessarily in that order).

1:49:02 a.m. I might have solved the transition problem; no, I might have had the intelligence to allow the transition problem to solve itself. The transition should be abrupt. I still need to polish the language. I have written a ten-page play and one of my longest blog posts in less than six hours. 1:53:11 a.m. Someone in my apartment building (a three-story Edwardian, almost 100 years old) has started a shower. I wonder if it is the restaurant owner on the first floor.

2:06:05: printing what is now the second draft of the play. Must proofread, because the director and actors need all the help I can give. Time to play some music to keep me awake. Something mentally stimulating, with a beat. Oh, yeah: Over-Nite Sensation, an evergreen immortal by Frank Zappa (with the Mothers of Invention), the only musician to have a gene of a bacterium that causes urinary tract infections named in his honor. Yes, I believe that everything in Wikipedia is the absolute truth. “Camarillo Brillo:” will I ever write something that freaking freakishly fracking brilliant?! Why have I suddenly remembered that I have run out of garbage bags and liquid hand soap?

3:54:02 a.m. Done. Finito. Time to email Le Bistro de la Verite to the producer over 3 hours ahead of the deadline (7:00). Time to apologize to you, my patient reader, for all the typos that must exist within the brambles of this rambling bramble of ramble. Time for me to go to bed and sleep until Sunday.

Except I can’t. I have to meet the director and the actors because I have the props. And the spare copies of the script. And they will have questions probably caused by some typos I inflicted upon them.

Sleep? What sleep?

It’s another 24-hour play-in-a-day.

Vonn Scott Bair

Fear This! Peace: A Mixed Message in the Mission (or, I Do Not Understand Reality, 12 Sept 2012)

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Good Evening:

Some people use their motor transportation as a form of self-expression. I saw this whilst walking on Harrison Street near 16th:

Fear This! Peace: A Mixed Message in the Mission

I still have no idea what self the owner wanted to express.

Vonn Scott Bair

Near and Far: Wyoming, August 2008

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Good Afternoon:

One more post and I promise I’m done with this week’s Photo Challenge. Western Wyoming, like much of America’s High Desert areas, will pose surprising challenges to photographers who are not prepared for the intense subalpine light that can transform a vividly colorful landscape into a somewhat washed-out, faded picture. The simplest solution consists of affixing a polarizing filter to the lens, which worked superbly during my 2011 visit, but in 2008 I didn’t have one for my Nikon D40 and it led to a few complications. Consider this photo:

Bison & Grand Tetons, 11 August 2008

Near the Grand Tetons you will find a growing herd of bison that have taken up a permanent residence on a vast tract of land that offers them a great view of potential predators such as wolves, plus lots of food. The only disadvantage is that each year, increasing numbers of humans discover the herd and stop for close examination. I haven’t seen any trouble so far; the humans either stay in their cars or keep their cars between them and the herd. A very good idea, as the American Bison’s seemingly placid temperament conceals a maximum weight over one ton, speeds up to 40 mph, a streak of unpredictability and an explosively violent temper. I’ve seen a lone bison suddenly snap and attack a string of automobiles.

As for the picture, frankly it is not a great effort; the colors washed out a little. I made a copy of the picture and then opened the editing tools in iPhoto with the intention of creating a vintage-looking B&W:

Bison Near the Grand Tetons, 11 August 2008

Looks vintage 1940-1950. I used the following settings in iPhoto: Exposure = -0.22; Saturation = 0; Definition = 100; Shadows = 100; Temperature = -100; Tint = -70. A satisfactory result, albeit a result that makes me want to return with a proper camera setup next time.

Yellowstone Lake with Submerged Geyser, 11 August 2008

Yellowstone National Park is well known as possibly the single most dangerous location on the planet, the home of a supervolcano that erupts roughly once every 700,000 years and kills a significant portion of life on Earth, and the last eruption occurred about 640,000 years ago. So you might want to start preparing for the next one. This is not that supervolcano, just a probably extinct little geyser in Yellowstone Lake. Geyser in the foreground, mountains in the background, lake in between and a suitable response to this week’s Challenge.

Vonn Scott Bair

Near and Far: San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

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Good Evening:

I wonder how stunned people felt centuries ago as they reached the Pacific Coast and beheld the ocean. Who could not wonder what might lie beyond the horizon? What lands, what people? For that matter, what monsters?

The Last Seconds of Sun, Ocean Beach, San Francisco 30 June 2007

A great sunset can prove hard to find in San Francisco. Sometimes you see only a cloudless sky, big deal, not much of interest there. Sometimes you don’t see anything: Clouds, fog, rain, sometimes all of the above. I sometimes have to wait months for both an adequate weekend sunset and free time on my schedule.

I can wait; a Pacific Coast sunset combines peacefulness and beauty as can nothing else. Even when the wind comes in loud and hard.

Near Sunset @ Ocean Beach, 30 June 2007 (Edited)

This is an edited version of a picture published in an earlier blogpost; with only adjustments using the basic tools in iPhoto, I discovered that the shadows and bright spots could be reduced, revealing more detail in the scene. This version also feels more true to life as I recall, although vision, cameras and memories are tricky little beasties.

Vonn Scott Bair