For theatre makers and theatre lovers around the world, the last year has been heartbreaking.
One highlight of my career as a theatre maker took place ten years ago in the Spring of 2011. Over the course of a couple months, I Assistant Directed “The Homecoming” and produced a Pinter Festival at A.C.T. in San Francisco, participated in the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange and directed “Lost Cause” at the Old Vic in London, and Assistant Directed “Company” at the NY Philharmonic, while also running the social media campaign for the filmed version’s release. (During tech for “The Homecoming,” I also flew cross country to New Haven for a final call back to Yale, returning to tech in San Francisco less than 24 hours later, because the line between hustle and masochism is often very thin.)
Every few years, I think back on this moment and why it made such a positive impact on my life. It wasn’t the whirlwind. The credits are not the point. It was the joy, the excitement, the growth, the education, the people. I am still so grateful for the amazing collaborators from this time.
Ten years later, in a season where live theatre was all but absent, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about its impending return. What will it look like? What stories will we tell? Will a long-awaited reckoning over systemic racism and abuses finally make it center stage, or be banished to the wings?
I’ve always believed that many of the issues facing the American theatre stem from a lack of government support. The Arts, in particular the theatre, are not seen as an essential service, nor as a harbinger of cultural vitality. In order to survive, about half of regional theatre’s operating costs have come from private donors (mostly white, rich, old – with tastes that follow), while theatre makers themselves usually come from upper/upper middle class backgrounds, or by necessity, have had to supplement their theatre work with alternative revenue streams. On top of that, the average Broadway musical ticket price of $125 does very little to negate the common perception that theatre is a luxury for the elite.
Over my lifetime in the theatre, I have seen, heard, and experienced some truly horrendous behavior from various industry leaders – real traumatizing stuff. I don’t believe in relegating protests to social media. I don’t believe in just changing the copy on your website either. The real change happens in real time, in contracts, in offices, in rehearsal rooms.
We’re all anxious for theatre to return. But I’m already seeing big-lettered declarations of DEI commitments placed at the top of major audition notices, right above, in a much smaller font, “There is no compensation for this show.”
Let’s decode this practice for a moment. What that actually means is, “We’re thrilled to make theatre again and profit off the hard work, labor and sweat equity of people of color.”
If your business model relies on a plethora of unpaid labor, in particular the unpaid labor of POC, I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Period. Full stop.
I’ve worked over the years with All Star Code, an organization that believes the way to empower people of color is through economic opportunity and the closing of the wealth gap. We may not close the wealth gap with theatre, but we can start by paying everyone – EVERYONE – for their work.
Look, making theatre is so hard. We all need jobs. Profit margins are slim and rare. No one’s doing it for the money. I’ll sing “What I Did For Love” for the rest of my life. But if you love it, if you truly love it, commit to making it better. Commit to actually making it diverse, equitable, and inclusive of ALL, for theatremakers and theatregoers alike.
To be clear, I’m not taking issue with any employee of a theatre or producer here. I do not conflate the responsibilities of the two. Accountability starts at the top. But what will it take? What will it take to eliminate these systems of abuse?
You can’t support #MeToo and then continue to work with known serial abusers.
You can’t support Black Lives Matter and then pay Black people $0 for their work.
These are not controversial statements. And we can’t afford to tip toe around them any longer.
Websites are meaningless without action.
Diversity is a checklist without equity.
Theatre is hollow without humanity.
“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”
If we aim to be true advocates for our industry and each other, we mustn’t be afraid to speak up.
I look forward to all the real life conversations ahead. Now’s our chance. Let’s work together to build back a better American theatre. A theatre of integrity and safety. A theatre for all.
I’ve always liked Christmas, and not just because I like Chinese food and movies. I like the spirit of it, the renewed focus on friends and family, the dedicated time to slow down and reflect on your blessings. There is a kindness and a generosity that people can’t help but exhibit this time of year.
It’s always a little funny to be Jewish around Christmas. Every Jewish kid has their stories, from being accused of killing Candy Cane Court in middle school because they questioned the candy cane symbol aloud to their teacher thus canceling that years festivities (only to see them reinstated after graduating from school), to caroling with their fellow Cub Scouts, and after singing multiple Christmas songs together, hearing the Cub Scout Leader say, “Now Michael is going to step forward and sing one of his Jew songs.” (Okay, so maybe those are just my stories, but everyone has theirs!)
I don’t mind when people wish me a “Merry Christmas,” and I laugh whenever I’m in a group and someone says “Merry Christmas” and then momentarily gets flummoxed and singles me out to say, “Oh, oh, and Happy Hanukkah to you too, Michael!” It’s thoughtful for sure, but there’s also a weird feeling to being singled out as a Jew.
Look, if you know me, you know I’ll take any reason to celebrate. I’ve long found that the walls between us crumble when we participate in the celebration of each other’s lives and cultures. That’s why I’ve always invited non-Jews to my annual Hanukkah party. I want them to participate in my traditions, to feel they have permission to learn, honor and enjoy them. I want to live in a world where people wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah during Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas on Christmas, Happy Diwali, Ramadan Mubarak, Habari Gani, and all the rest.
So in the spirit of inclusion, I’m happy to write this note next to my first Christmas tree. Gosh it smells nice. Merry Christmas, my friends. (And since it’s still Hanukkah, Happy Hanukkah too.)
AROUND NEW YEARS
What are the little things you’ve noticed this year?
Perhaps by spending so much time at home, with the same people, walking the same streets gasping for early evening air, you’ve come to look differently at some small things in your life.
When I look back at 2020, I’ll remember nights of uncertainty, loneliness and claustrophobia, but I won’t pay them much mind. I’ll remember city wide cheers at 7 pm. Writing letters to swing state voters. Digital Dance Parties, Cinema Club, and elaborate home-cooked meals. I’ll remember the teachers and parents, health care professionals and essential workers, each of whom inspired me with reverence and awe.
And I’ll remember these two trees. I don’t even know their species, but from our rooftop, they look to be the tallest two trees in Brooklyn. They loom large over our deck like ancient guardians, protecting our tree house, our secret escape. I’ve photographed them every day this year, watching their leaves die and flowers bloom. I’ve witnessed them stand tall as storms billowed through their trunks. I’ve closed my eyes and listened to their branches rustling in the wind. They stirred my heart and gave me comfort. They even inspired a new ending for my book, one that feels truer and colored with hope.
The tree on the left keeps its leaves longer. It doesn’t sway as much. It’s heartier, more lush. The tree on the right houses a small plastic bag. I’ve watched this sad sack toss and stretch, balloon and swell. It’s shredded now, flapping in the wind like some war torn flag from an enemy that won’t surrender. For most of the year I hated this damn plastic bag. Now I can’t imagine the tree standing tall without it.
In a few months, we’ll move. I’ll miss the rustle and the shade, the dead leaves and plastic bag. The comfort now is knowing so many new trees await, anxious for my attention, ready to be seen.
“Lifelong Vegetarian. Cultural Carnivore.” That’s been my life’s subtitle since I was 10 years old.
“Culture. Creation. Community. Connection.” Those have been my four core values since I was 20.
In high school, I remember asking my World History teacher why armies at war destroyed cultural centers first. He kneeled down, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Culture is civilization, Michael. Culture is humanity. When you attack a nation’s cultural centers – libraries, theatres, museums – you attack their humanity. Without our humanity, who are we? What are we? Like the rubble, we are dust.”
Now I *may* have given this memory a sprinkle of Dead Poets Society heft, but the sentiment landed, and it’s stuck with me to this day.
The history buffs out there know that following the destruction of cultural sites in WWII, the UN put together “The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.” For the most part, this international treaty made destroying another country’s cultural centers a war crime. However, there are still no protocols in place for when countries destroy their culture from within.
We must not give up on our culture. We must continue to create and commune and connect. Your efforts do not go unnoticed. I see your perseverance, your artistry, your grit. Keep going.
I love how the government of Ontario defines culture on their website: “Culture is the lifeblood of a vibrant society, expressed in the many ways we tell our stories, celebrate, remember the past, entertain ourselves, and imagine the future. Our creative expression helps define who we are, and helps us see the world through the eyes of others.”
No matter the medium, I live to tell stories. I live to connect humans. I live to build culture. Better Work Week was my small attempt to help build a better culture. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped make it a reality. I’m thrilled that it was free and open to the public. I’m thrilled by the assembled talent’s diversity and expertise. I’m thrilled that it brought a little joy, a little ease, a little connection to people scattered across the globe. (And to keep the goodwill going, I’m giving away free SunBasket meals to anyone who reads this. E-mail me and I’ll send you a link.)
Let’s collaborate and build back our culture together. A culture of empathy and wonder. Let’s reclaim our humanity. I know sincerity can feel retro. Sue me. Call me old fashioned. We all could use a little sincerity these days. Chins up, my friends. We have work to do.
Eight years ago today, as Hurricane Sandy prepared to batter New York City, I stuffed my soaked limbs into the last train out of the city. I traveled back to New Haven, where I was directing and choreographing The Drowsy Chaperone at Yale. (Ah, theatre. <clutches heart> Remember theatre?) We were scheduled to start a weekend of tech less than a week before opening. The weekend of tech was cancelled.
Despair was not an option for this incredible group of theatre makers. (Kudos always to this amazing creative team.) Everyone pushed through – theatre makers are experts in pushing through – and a few days later, we managed to open one of my favorite productions I’ve ever directed. While mounds of snow encased the gothic arches of Yale University, I watched friends and strangers huddle in a theatre to watch a man in a chair, alone and lonely in his dark apartment, find joy and meaning in his favorite piece of art.
Do you like theatre? Or maybe film? Perhaps you like music or dance or museums or literature or TV? Over the last 7 months, have you turned to a book, a show on television, or even a song to bring you a moment’s comfort?
The Arts are essential. Our culture, our humanities are essential. I’ve already shared the staggering data around arts employment and economic output. The Arts are one of our country’s biggest foundational industries. So here’s a different bit of context:
The United States government spends less money supporting the Arts than EVERY OTHER country tracked by The Arts Council of England. (As an example, Germany, a country comparable to the U.S. in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), spends more than 14 times greater than per capita U.S. spending, and even Ireland, with less than half the per capita GDP of the United States, has higher public spending on the Arts than the U.S.)
Right now, workers in the U.K. who cannot do their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have up to 80% of their wages covered by the government. On top of that, the U.K.’s public funding body for the arts announced a $190 million emergency relief package for artists and arts organizations affected by the ongoing public health situation, specifically earmarking $23 million in emergency relief to freelancers in creative industries who were not sufficiently covered by the government’s existing bailout package.
With all this in mind, did you know that every year for the last four years, our current administration has tried to significantly cut or eliminate altogether the federal funding allocated for our arts and humanities? In their budget proposal for 2021, these cuts can be found under the header, “Stopping Wasteful and Unnecessary Spending.”
I’ll tell you again. The Arts that you enjoy, that relax you, that thrill you, that comfort you, that serve your communities, that create millions of jobs, that withstand plagues and wars, that give your life pleasure, connection and meaning, they are not unnecessary. The Arts are essential.
We’ve done it before. During the Great Depression, the U.S. government invested $27 million with The New Deal, a huge sum in those days, to employ artists, musicians, actors and writers via the Works Progress Administration.
The Arts are essential. Dear reader, I hope you’ll vote for candidates that feel the same way. I know, this simple bout of nostalgia turned left real quick. But so be it. So much is at stake. Now excuse me. I’m gonna turn up some music real loud in my apartment and dance with joy around my living room.
Fun Fact: I’m smiling because I have my kippah from Jared and Ivanka’s wedding stashed in my pocket and I’m willing to perform a hex if necessary.
No, no, no. I’m smiling because I voted!
Okay, false promises of ancient Kabbalistic witchcraft aside, there are a thousand reasons I proudly voted for Joe Biden. As we near the finish line, I’ll share with you just one. (And it has nothing to do with policy.) Joe is a healer. He has endured the most painful personal tragedies imaginable and instead of retreating or growing hard, he continues to model his life with dignity, compassion, and a drive for national unity. It’s easy to forget we are The United States of America. It’s easy to choose cynicism, to believe our wounds can’t ever heal. They can. We can unite. We can heal. In fact we must if we’re ever going to survive.
I would never rely on Joe to heal our nation’s wounds. That’s on us, as individuals, as interconnected communities. But with Joe as our President, we’d have a leader who leads with empathy, not division. Who believes in science and equality. Who champions working families, not with empty words, but with action plans. He’d be an advocate for all US citizens, not just his followers. With Joe, we all can start to thrive. With Joe, we all can start to heal.
You could call my words unbridled optimism. Not sorry. Optimists get shit done. They imagine and work towards that “more perfect union.” Republicans are going to do everything they can this next week to steal the election. They can’t win if we make it a landslide.
Every day for the last month, I have written personal, non-partisan letters to swing state voters through Vote Forward. It’s been a heart-stirring experience to spend time with each name. To imagine what life might be like on their street, or how they’ll react upon reading my words.
Big ups to all y’all waiting in long lines, phone banking, texting, writing letters, volunteering, and donating. Big ups to all y’all having hard and painful conversations with loved ones. I am so inspired by you all. Your efforts to save our democracy and our planet do not go unvalued.
See you on the other side. Godspeed and love to you all.
1. To everyone out there seeing canceled projects or financial hardship ahead due to coronavirus, you are seen and valued. Hang tight. Take care of yourself. Join me for a digital dance party. When the dust settles, know that we will rally around you and lift you up in full force. ♥️
2. A friendly reminder that there is a lot of misinformation on the internet. Unfortunately, the fallout from the 2016 election has yet to cure the uniquely human impulse to click SHARE in half a second flat. Every day I see good, smart people reposting clearly doctored videos of politicians, memes with lies intended to cause aggravated sharing, and secret, alternative or “expert” opinions on coronavirus from sources like “unnamed doctor in Japan.” Before you click SHARE and enjoy that fleeting rush of endorphins, do a little research, fact check, phone a friend if you have to. Your intentions are good. But good intentions don’t save lives. Facts do.
3. I impulsively decided to make vegetarian matzoh ball soup completely from scratch without a recipe for the first time ever at 7 pm this evening. These are the crazy things we can do now. Since this was my first time, I accidentally made, like, 100 servings. I’ll be bringing soup to doctors tomorrow. If anyone in Brooklyn or Manhattan is craving some homemade vegetarian matzoh ball soup, let me know. I’ll leave a container at your door. 🍲
4. This is Dave, five minutes after learning he’ll be starting on COVID service this Monday, three weeks earlier than anticipated, discovering the cheers and applause for essential workers from New Yorkers on their rooftops, their balconies, their windows, and on the street. To Dave and all the essential workers around the world, please know that you are admired and appreciated by us all. #ClapForCarers#ClapBecauseWeCare
Also, this is Dave getting a quarantine haircut.
Also, this is Dave getting wrangled into joining a pop duo.
5. Hey all you cool cats and kittens! 🐯 Home used to be a haven for many of you, the one place where you could shut the world out. Now the world has infiltrated your home, and everyone and everything seems to be vying for your digital attention. This perpetuates anxiety and depression. (Noted by a guy who keeps perfectly calm during emergencies and high-stress situations but gets sweaty palms and heart palpitations when he doesn’t immediately text someone back.) I encourage you, friends, to pivot how you are mindful of your own space and time. Limit screen usage. Make a schedule. Set virtual boundaries. Go easy on yourself. Most of all, take a moment to invent your unique set of rules for living a healthy life at home. 💫
6. I took this photo outside a bar called Mission Dolores in Brooklyn in 2012. It was my first time in Park Slope. I remember feeling like I was so far from home, a world away from the Upper West Side, a galaxy away from the real Mission Dolores in my hometown of San Francisco. A couple months ago, I realized that this bar is on the block where I live now, where I’ve called home for the last two years. And in this moment, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I see rainbows on windows during the day. I hear cheers for essential workers at night. I feel the greatest sense of solidarity I’ve ever known. We’re all in this together. And we’ll all get through it together. #NewYorkTough#NewYorkStrong
7. On this #EarthDay, I find myself thinking about the Redwoods. My shelter as a child. My high school mascot. The tallest trees on Earth, nearly as old as the dinosaurs, capturers of CO2, refuge for plants and animals, resistant to fire and wind and rot.
How have these towers of wonder withstood the test of time, the wrath of the elements, and still managed to stand taller and stronger and more majestic than anything else on Earth?
Redwood trees live in communal groves where they extend and intertwine their roots with friends and neighbors. Think about that. What a heart expanding reminder during these days of isolation.
Friends, I’d love to know how you extend your roots to your neighbors. What commitments are you making to treat the world better from this day on? How will you show more respect for the animals, for the air, for the trees?
We are guests here. Let’s leave the world a better place for when new guests arrive.
8. Happy 50th Birthday to the musical Company. I count my lucky stars for the experiences I had with George Furth on a production at USC’s Bing Theatre and with Stephen Sondheim on a production at the NY Philharmonic. Every few years this show manages to rise (rise, rise) to the top of my mind. It will forever play a huge role in my life. Happy 90th birthday to Mr. Sondheim too. And three cheers for his collaborators and interpreters. I love his world of characters, as if they co-exist in one celestial plane. I love how specific yet universal his stories are, granting all kinds of people profound, individual relationships with the shows as if by magic. I love how his shows are never finished, and how generous he is with letting other artists interpret his work. I love how his music burrows itself under your skin, how the lyrics can simultaneously feel like a philosophy class and a scavenger hunt. What a gift we’ve been given. Like last night’s tribute concert, may we all sign off our Zoom calls for the rest of the month with, “Happy Birthday, Steve.”
9. I’m a GIF. I’m a lover. I’m a WASP undercover. Quarantine. So obscene. Going crazy in widescreen.
10. Today would have been the Tony Nominee Luncheon, the first flagship event of the Tony Awards season. Over the last couple months, I’ve seen a number of people say that streaming will be the future of theatre. As someone who has split their entire career between live and digital work, I have to respectfully disagree. The digital space can help theatre makers reach a wider audience, of course. Technology can help elevate and deepen theatre and live events, just as live experiences can help market and broaden the appeal of digital content. Live storytelling and digital storytelling help amplify one another. One medium does not negate the other’s intrinsic value, let alone replace it. If there’s one shared quality that runs through the veins of all theatre makers, it’s adaptability. Play stages have become sound stages. Campfires have become coliseums. But don’t for one second think theatre makers will forfeit the urgency and vitality of gathering in-person to share stories. They’ll do the same thing they’ve always done. They’ll adapt. The future of live storytelling is live storytelling. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t made a piece of theatre. #TonyAwards#Broadway
11. This weekend, I finished a full manuscript of the novel I started writing a year and a half ago, started mapping out five years ago, started researching seven years ago, started dreaming about eighteen years ago. This digital stack of words feels both perversely inconsequential and yet still worthy of a moment’s celebration. It feels like a joke, to finish writing a novel in quarantine, but it’s a joke that stings with laughter, with bruises, with distraction, with purpose. I learned so much. I dug holes inside me and filled them with dirt and flowers. I’ve been editing the book as I go, but now I get to edit the manuscript in full. The fun part, I think. I hope. God I hope. I normally don’t talk about unfinished things, but there’s great value in acknowledging markers, and I wouldn’t have climbed this mountain without a wealth of support. I’m crazy thankful for all the friends and family who have participated in this story’s development, aided me in my research, inspired me to keep going, and encouraged me to serve up proud my wild, bloody mess of a heart. There are more mountains to climb, but for a moment, I’ll stop and enjoy the view.
12. America is not broken or upside down. America was designed this way from the beginning. Accept the discomfort. Lean into it. Don’t wait for others to tell you how to help. Do your research. Read the books. Have the conversations. Sign the petitions. Donate to the funds. Get involved. Make the time. Support black businesses. Amplify black voices. Follow black artists. Write to your city or town government. Vote in new leaders come November. Make sure everyone you know will vote in new leaders come November. Imagine a better life for marginalized people. Now listen to them imagine a better life for themselves. Ask how you can help make that a reality. Take care of yourself. Take care of your loved ones. Do what you can from where you are. Start somewhere. Start anywhere. Keep it going. Take it offline. Be an ally in your actions. That makes you an advocate. #BlackLivesMatter
13. Thank you Malynda Hale for having me on this week’s #WeNeedToTalk. I’m in awe of your art and advocacy, always. Thank you Drexel, Farelle, Jill and Amber for sharing your stories, ideas, and resources. We’ll keep the conversation going. It’s not enough for white people to rest on passive allyship. We must listen, and commit to taking action as advocates.
Also, this Summer will be the first since All Star Code was founded in 2013 without a live Summer Benefit. For the last seven years, working with these young men has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. They inspire, motivate and amaze everyone they meet. All Star Code envisions a country where all young men of color have access to the tools of success. If you’re interested in sponsoring a student or attending this year’s virtual benefit, you can find more information here.
14. In an alternate timeline, I would have been prepping The Tony Awards gala right now. Instead I’m marching in the streets. I hope theatre makers across the country are using this time to reflect and plan a more inclusive industry for the future.
On the first day of quarantine, I planted California poppy seeds on my roof. Every day I watered them, studied them, tended to their roots. Every day I witnessed color and beauty and growth. Every day I watched in amazement at the elements collaborating. Every day I learned new things and refined my commitment.
The work was not for nothing. Today, they bloomed. 🌼
15. I’m excited to share with you all a brand new personal website for the first time in many years.
My favorite part of this streamlined but mighty site is seeing the faces and work of so many other people I’m lucky to love and admire. Every piece of storytelling is forged in communion with others, whether its a team, an audience, or the storytellers who came before us. More than the stories we’ve told, I’m most proud of how we’ve told them. I’m most proud of the collaborators we’ve assembled to join forces in dreaming big.
Thank you to the brilliant actor and web designer Adri for crafting this website with so much talent and skill. If you’re ever in need of a website or pitch deck designer, I can’t recommend her enough. ProximaDesigns.com.
My design inspiration for the site came from the video and electronic stores of my youth, with stacked TV’s in the window beckoning you inside to explore different worlds of magic and wonder. So come in, have a peek around, and let’s continue working together to use storytelling as a catalyst for community building and positive change.
As I reflect back on the last decade, it is a collection of small moments, professional and personal, surprising and spiritual, some in solitude, most in the company of friends and family, that stay with me, give me joy, and drive me forward with humility, gratitude, and optimism. I’ve been asking friends lately to share with me their favorite moments from the last 10 years.
Here are 15 memorable work moments for me.
1. COMPANY – New York Philharmonic. Sitting in front of Stephen Sondheim on a rapturous, sold out Opening Night, discreetly mortified that it’s my job as AD to take notes on his show in front of him.
2. RESTORING LOVE – Cowboys Stadium. Choreographing an entire Baptist gospel choir in the basement of the largest venue in America, just a couple hours before live broadcasting across the world.
3. LOST CAUSE – The Old Vic Theatre. Reveling in the cheeky anarchy of our actors Alison and Zoe trashing the stage of Olivier and Dench with literal American garbage, all to the sounds of a hard rock rendition of Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
4. PETER PAN – Mt. Tamalpais. Arriving at the top of the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre to encounter our set designer Erik’s massive, wildly imaginative playground set being assembled on site, the San Francisco skyline floating on clouds in the distance.
5. THE WIZARD OF LIES – Rosa Mexicana, Upper East Side. Improvising three takes of a three hander scene with Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer (that was later cut from the film.)
6. CONDÉ NAST – 1 World Trade Center. After a whirlwind, 48 hour prospective Editor-In-Chief initiation, suddenly pitching my ideas for the future of this global brand one by one to every executive at the top of 1 World Trade.
7. THE TONY AWARDS – The Plaza Hotel. Walking the empty halls for the first time, wearing my Tommy Awards bowtie, gazing at black and white portraits of Monroe and Sinatra, minutes before the mad rush of after party attendees.
8. ART BASEL – Miami. After a long, hot day, carefully placing the final inflatable ball on a makeshift art installation in the empty swimming pool of a beautiful waterfront mansion.
9. MONTANA – Lake Champlain. Sitting down for dinner at the lake house with our entire cast and crew the night before Day 1 of shooting, an image I’ve wanted to manifest since I was a little kid.
10. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE – Yale University. Barreling through a snow storm with my parents to arrive at our warm-in-every-way theatre on Opening Night, a week after Hurricane Sandy postponed our tech, eight months after my final grad school call back at Yale.
11. SPICE IT UP – Burbank. Sharing a very specific look with my co-writer and one of my oldest friends Elspeth Keller Scott when an executive divulged some surprising information during our first pitch on the Warner Brothers lot.
12. FIRE ALL OVER YOU – Venice Beach. Rehearsing and discovering a common movement vocabulary with our two remarkable and unique dancers, Rachel and Brianna, on the Casa Karmina rooftop at sunset.
13. THE HOMECOMING – A.C.T. Wordlessly communicating with Director and Artistic Director Carey Perloff across the Geary Theatre during tech, immersed in the language of a playwright I’ve loved since high school.
14. JULIUS CAESAR – Lincoln Center. Running around my rooftop screaming in disbelief after somehow managing to memorize Brutus in 4 days-time. (And then, in keeping with a week of quick turnarounds and bizarre career offshoots, finding out I was cast as Ryan Reynolds Body Double and needing to report to set the following morning. My screams quickly devolved into prayers that the title was not meant to be taken literally. My prayers were answered well.)
15. ALL STAR CODE – General Assembly. Leading team exercises and group conversations with our All Star Code students while the Black Lives Matter march roared on the streets below.
Travel has also been one of the greatest joys in my life. It is my primary method for learning, exploring, adventuring, expanding. Travel has provided the right challenges for growth. It’s been my most dependable education. I’ve been crazy fortunate to experience some otherworldly luxury travel, but many of my trips have been full-on frugal, bootstrapping adventures. (I’m always happy to share insights from my frequent flier programs and color coded spreadsheets.) I think it’s important to place a greater focus of pride on unexpected moments of joy and wonder over accomplishments, accolades, and wins.
In keeping with this week’s reflective focus on all the small surprising moments from the last 10 years, and because long subway rides afford me the time to make long, introspective lists, here are some of my favorite travel moments from 15 different places around the world. (Unsurprisingly, food, dancing, mountaintops and bodies of water seem to be the running theme.)
1. JAPAN – Exploring the Hakone Open-Air Museum on a misty morning mountaintop / Surrounded by bowing deer and rainfall in Nara, turning the corner to discover the overwhelmingly majestic Tōdai-ji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha / Meditating with a Zen Buddhist monk in a temple outside Kyoto / Sitting in silence in the Teshima Art Museum
2. JORDAN – Meeting with Queen Rania in Amman / Chasing after my flying hat in Wadi Rum / Smoking hookah and watching the World Cup on the beach with my parents in Aqaba
3. CALIVIGNY ISLAND, GRENADA – Jet Skiing around the islands at sunset / Dancing with a massive beach bonfire under a starry night / Enjoying a thought provoking conversation over dinner with Grenada’s Minister Of Health
4. RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Riding the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain / Strapping myself to a man named Zero, jumping off a mountaintop and hang gliding down to Ipanema Beach
5. CROATIA – Watching the sun set over the Southern islands and Adriatic Sea from the top of Srd Hill in Dubrovnik / Driving from Dubrovnik to Split, stopping to jump into the Kravica waterfalls of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Roaming the empty streets of a lavender scented mountain town on the island of Hvar / Fulfilling my #1 life goal of running around an inflatable, floating playground
6. SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN – Pintxo hopping the streets of Basque country at night / Laughing my way through a water massage at the beachfront spa La Perla
7. THAILAND – Dancing with elephants in a river outside Chiang Mai / Playing with room controls at The Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok / Learning how to make green curry in a stranger’s waterfront home on the Chao Phraya River / Praying at the golden mountaintop temple, Doi Suthep
8. CERNAY-LA-VILLE, FRANCE – Dancing like mad with beautiful friends in the catacombs of Abbaye Des Vaux De Cernay, a Cistercian monastery, into the wee hours of the morning
9. MEXICO – Dining cliffside with friends old and new at El Farallon in Pedregal Resort, Cabo / Savoring one of my favorite meals ever at Arca, from Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza of Noma in Copenhagen / Surfing in Todos Santos / Reading on the back porch at El Banco
10. BALI, INDONESIA – Questing through the monkey jungle in the middle of the night to discover the Nyepi parade’s final ritual / Riding the cliff tram down to Uluwatu Beach
11. CHIPPING NORTON, ENGLAND – Walking into our full fantasy cabin at SoHo Farmhouse, where a warm loaf of bread, a jug of fresh milk, and 1940’s radio was playing/ Feeding dear friends dessert across a table with extra long forks/ Dropping my mouth to the floor upon seeing a hot air balloon lighting up out back
12. SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA – Getting lost in Angkor Wat / Exploring the floating villages
13. GUATEMALA – Hiking Pacaya, an active volcano, outside Antigua / Visiting a voodoo priestess on Lake Atitlan / Sitting with monkeys atop Temple 4 in Tikal / Volunteering with my Dad at Hospital de La Familia in Nuevo Progreso, where he’s performed free eye surgeries for three decades, and watching a formerly blind Mother come out of her operation and see the face of her teenage son for the first time in her life
14. BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA – Taking 48 hours off work and soaking in Esalen’s cliffside hot springs with three of my best friends between 1 and 3 am on a warm, clear, starry night
15. MONTREAL, CANADA – Bike riding around a new city with dear friends, stopping every hour to eat somewhere unexpected and wonderful
Thanks for reading, friends. Cheers to another ten years of story telling, heart opening, mind expanding, globe trotting, community building work with you all.
I got home last night from the heat, back seat of a car.
Blackouts and whack routes got me home last night.
Brooklyn can feel so far.
I got home last night and with little might did something I’ve longed to do
Since I was a little light.
Top of the trees, feeling the breeze, under the stars and even Mars, I slept on my roof.
Yesterday was one of those not-so-good writing days. I probably wrote three paragraphs in six hours. I snacked incessantly, took multiple breathers on my roof, and tried repeatedly to convince myself that committing a life to anything other than telling stories would be a hell of a lot…easier.
Most of the day was spent drowning in an ever swirling wormhole of unnecessarily over detailed plot mechanics. How could a man from Eastern Europe meet a woman from North Africa during World War II, and how could they have children who would eventually start a new life in America? This backstory would seem relatively simple to figure out, but an insatiable curiosity led to 54 open tabs, multiple lunches and an eventual state of high anxiety. At twilight, I closed my laptop, disappointed in my three paragraph progress, a frustration calcifying my bones into boulders.
Last night around Midnight, in a cab ride back home, the driver asked me what you call it when little droplets fall casually from the sky. “Sprinkling,” I said. He laughed at me. “Sprink-ling,” he echoed back in his thick accent, enjoying the way in which the syllables escaped his mouth. “People always say, oh God, it’s raining! It’s pouring! But sometimes it’s just sprinkling, and then it will pass.”
I asked him where he was from. He proceeded to tell me the story of how his father from North Africa studied abroad in Eastern Europe during World War II. That’s where his father met his mother. They fell in love, moved back to North Africa together, and had children who eventually moved to America in hopes of a better life. Imagine my mouth hitting the bottom of that cab. He smiled at me when I left. “Thanks for listening,” he said.
Martha Graham once said to Agnes DeMille that her only responsibility as an artist was to “keep the channel open.”
I take that to mean when you feel like you can no longer write, no longer speak, no longer sing or paint or play or dance, you can still listen. You can receive. That synchronicity is divine.
This life is indeed filled with a blessed unrest.
It is too easy to say, “It’s raining! It’s pouring!”
A small story of joy at the end of a dark week in our country.
As some of you know, I build experiences across unused, Class A commercial spaces for one of my clients. My job is to essentially engage, strengthen and connect disparate communities in any given building.
One of the ways we recently achieved this for a particular building in Midtown was by inviting all tenants who had side passions as creators, makers, and artists to exhibit their work in our common space. So an HR manager at a hedge fund brought in her homemade greeting cards, an executive assistant at a law firm brought in his 3D paintings, a front desk associate at a beverage distributor brought in her photographs, and so on. Once we collected and proudly displayed all their work on the walls of our common space, we threw everyone a big Art Party. They could invite their colleagues, friends and family to attend in celebration (and hopefully sell some of that side hustle work too.)
I was particularly struck by a series of prints that appeared to be images of microscopic specimens, so I tracked down the artist. She was unbelievably sweet. Her name is Stephanie, and she’s been a secretary at the same company for nearly 30 years.
I asked her about her work. It turns out they were prints of various recyclable objects found around her desk. For the last three decades, whenever she’d get bored at work, she’d collect discarded staples, trashed packaging straps, and wayward hole punches, and make beautiful pieces of art out of them.
I asked her if she had ever shown her art before. She laughed. These prints had been accumulating under her bed, collecting dust for thirty years. No one had ever seen them before. In fact, she had hundreds and hundreds more where these came from.
I then asked her why she hadn’t shown her art before. She said she didn’t think she was a “real artist.” She said she didn’t think people would like her art. She said she didn’t think she had permission.
So I told her I wanted to buy a piece. Her mouth dropped and stayed open. I changed my mind. I told her I wanted to buy three pieces. She fell to the floor and sobbed. What seemed like a small gesture on my part felt like a tidal wave to her. Later that day, she submitted a few of her pieces online to a contest. And this weekend, her work will be shown publicly for the first time in her life at an art show in Red Hook.
I share this story as a reminder, friends. Please don’t hide your art under your beds. I say that both literally and figuratively. Show your colors to the world. If you’re angry, share your anger. If you’re happy, share your happiness. Enjoy your process. Share your work. Share your passions. Share your story.
This world could afford a little more of your light.
And if you’re interested in purchasing a piece of Stephanie’s, I’ll gladly put you in touch.
Montana will continue to play the festival circuit in the new year, and be available to watch online late Spring 2019. In a surprising but worthwhile development, I’m now hard at work writing the novel adaptation,
the manuscript of which has a target finish of mid Summer 2019.
Some of our annual projects continued in 2018 with event directing
Since February, I’ve additionally been Experiential Creative Director
of Better Spaces, a leader in tenant engagement. We’re creating and operating experiential amenity spaces in top commercial real estate portfolios across the country. It’s been an exciting opportunity to bring programming, design and a bit of theatricality to commercial spaces nationwide.
2018 was unequivocally Boat Ashore Productions’ most successful year yet.
I am most proud of the fact that we employed a record 75 different people on various film and event projects, and are on track to continue growing in 2019 with new experiences and TV projects in development.
On a personal note, this year included a number of new travels,
from Tulum, Mexico to the Cotswolds of England
to Calivigny Island off the coast of Grenada.
2018 will likely be remembered as the year
I officiated my first wedding, moved to Brooklyn, and became an uncle!
Let’s continue to spread joy and make great things together in the new year.
Michael / The Adventure Addict / Boat Ashore Productions
I never share my craziest stories publicly, but this article gave me some major #TBT last week, and I think, I hope, the lesson is worth sharing.
Last Summer, smack dab in the middle of my Tony Awards Week, I suddenly found myself in ten interviews, from the Yale Club to the top of 1 World Trade, as the sole candidate for the newly created role of Editor-In-Chief, Experiential across all of Condé Nast’s titles. It was to be the first non-magazine, Editor-In-Chief role in the company’s history. (A role that, for the time being, would two months later become obsolete. But just imagine for a moment my wide eyes and slacked jaw when they told me that the in-house stylist was going to redo my entire wardrobe!)
I’ve had too many major job almosts to count. This one was certainly one of the most fascinating. It was a bananas, super “who me?” experience, and everyone I met with during that period was beyond wonderful and encouraging.
But through this experience and a confluence of other well-timed events, it was the first time in my life, at age 32, when I realized I was worth something. I’m not speaking of monetary value. I’m speaking of human value. Over the course of this wild year, I recognized something so essential: I was a human that was worthy of respect and worthy of love, just like everybody else. Perhaps I always knew that on my skin. But now I knew it deep in my bones. My college mentor told me “You are enough” on graduation day. I guess it took me a decade or so to finally listen.
Maybe it was the years of working some of the most degrading gigs I could find to barely make ends meet. Maybe it was the hundred No’s after auditions and festival submissions and directing program applications that came with every once-in-a-blue-moon Yes. Maybe it all goes back to my at times fanciful, at times miserable childhood. Maybe it was all the other external factors I could name that would ultimately take the responsibility off of looking after myself. “You can’t blame nobody but you,” Janet sang. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror,” Michael sang. Whatever it was, I don’t think I had much self-respect. Not love. “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” (Aretha SANG.)
After I started to respect myself a little more, that’s when I found love.
After I started to respect my opportunities a little more, that’s when I found strength.
After I started to respect my life a little more, that’s when I found joy.
I’ve been talking to a lot of friends and family lately about Pascal’s Wager. “You might as well believe in God.” I can’t vouch either way for that statement. But I do believe, “You might as well believe in Good.” In this life, you might as well try to be good. You might as well try to feel good. You might as well try to do good. You might as well believe that humanity as a whole has the capacity for good. Every person’s unique circumstances could certainly argue otherwise, and this current administration does nothing to support my claim. But I can choose only how I aim to live. And for me, I think this is a directive worth aiming for.
Social media has become a scientifically proven dust bowl of psychosis, misinformation, and ultra targeted marketing. It’s the ultimate “You are NEVER enough.” Whenever I log on, I see that congratulations are in order for a multitude of things – a big job or promotion, a marriage or a baby. Heck I’ve seen people sincerely congratulate others on finding their light in a grungy bathroom selfie on the Lower East Side.
If you’ve read this far into my meandering, 2 am thoughts, here’s what I want to say to you:
I AM PROUD OF YOU.
Yes, YOU. I am proud of the jobs and the babies, yes. I am also proud of you on just a regular Monday like today. I am proud of you for taking the time to apply to all those jobs. I am proud of you for soldiering on after heartbreak. I am proud of you for busting through barriers on a regular basis. I am proud of you for waking up every morning and charging ahead when the world wants to eat you alive.
I am proud of your optimism. I am proud of your kindness. I am proud of your resilience.
If you ever need a reminder, let me know. You have to remind yourself every day.