Opening Tonight in Brooklyn: Safe Spaces

I’m thrilled to have my play “Safe Spaces” open tonight in Brooklyn at the Gallery Players Theatre as part of their Black Box New Play Festival. Unfortunately, I’m sitting 12,000 miles away and will miss the show which opens tonight and runs through Sunday afternoon – 4 shows!

So if you are in the NYC area, please do stop by and enjoy this and other plays this weekend. “Safe Spaces” is a satirical look at cultural appropriation with this premise: Madison, editor of the university campus newspaper, has been put into a safe space, isolated from the rest of campus, for an op-ed he published. He’s joined by Garner who was brought their after serving a pulled pork sandwich with the wrong cultural overtones. Madison and Garner deal with Dawes who shows up to give them insight into how they can be re-aligned and released from their safe space if they do as she says. Mayhem and ridiculous banter follows as Madison tries to understand the logic behind the safe space. Good luck!

I had a blast writing this play and I hope the audience will enjoy this world-premiere rendition of it.

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One View on the Paris Accord Pullout

Well, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords and the anti-Trump pundits are in a full tizzy about him doing exactly what he said he was going to do during his campaign.  You can debate the merits of the Paris Accords all you like, and you’ll find people on both sides of the issue, hotly touting their view as the one which will “save the world from a climate cataclysm” or will “finally put America first, dislodging it from being the world’s lapdog for punishing the neo-colonial forces of the world.”

I’d like to stay away from those arguments to look at this issue in a couple of different ways. Trump’s pulling out of the accord is President Obama’s fault. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not using the Obama administration tactic of blaming the previous president for everything. Obama set the stage for a withdrawal by circumventing the way U.S. treaties are supposed to work. The U.S. constitutional lays out very clearly that treaties with foreign entities must receive Congressional approval. The Obama administration didn’t even attempt to pass the accord through Congress because he knew, as written, it would have never passed. So he signed it as an accord, approved only by the executive branch, which allows the next chief executive to rescind it at will. If it had passed through Congress, President Trump would not have been able to pull out of it without, again, Congressional approval. Perhaps the Obama administration thought that his legacy would remain due to a favorable election outcome in 2016. Well, we all know how that went. The Dems walked away with egg on their face. And now they have a non-binding Paris agreement which falls by the wayside because they didn’t involve Congress.

It’s easy to see why Obama didn’t involve Congress. He knew that the Republican controlled House and Senate wouldn’t have ratified it. But this was his greatest mistake. Ours is a republic, a pluralistic one, a two-party one, which requires compromise, give and take, back and forth wrangling in order to get anything done. Can that be frustrating at times? Of course, but that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. Obama would have been wise to use this tactic in Paris. “Look guys, I’m with you on this. I really am. But you have to understand how my government works. If you want a lasting treaty on climate which is going to mean anything moving forward, we have to negotiate with our elected Congress. No, you’re not going to get everything you want. But if we don’t come together and find an agreement palatable for both parties, this accord could unravel very quickly with a different president who doesn’t hold my views.”

President Obama could have approached the Paris Accords like this. But he didn’t and so the U.S. pulled out. Just like that.

President Trump said in his pull-out speech that he would be willing to renegotiate the Paris Accords in order to find terms more acceptable for the United States. Here’s a response written in one of the articles about the pullout:

“While Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favorable terms, the three European leaders said the agreement cannot be renegotiated, ‘since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics.'”

And this brings me to my second point of contention about this whole issue. According to these world leaders, “it” (it being the Paris Accords) is a “vital instrument” for our planet … blah, blah, blah. It. Only it. This whole explanation reeks of elitism which I hate more than anything else. Only the accord as they have negotiated it, as they have proposed it, as they have signed, IT and only IT can be “a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economics.”

A re-negotiated deal could never do that?  Really?

It’s the same old “our way is the only way.” Now their way will unravel because they are unwilling to ponder different possibilities.

Moral of the story: this is politics. If you live in a democracy, you have to work with others. If not, you just have a series of short jaunts in various directions depending on who is in office.

My First Play in New York City – June 8-11

I’m very excited to have my first play produced in New York. It’s a brand new short play entitled “Safe Spaces” and it will be performed at the Gallery Players Theater as part of their annual Black Box New Play Festival. I’ll write up more about the play later, but wanted get their poster out. Yes, my name’s on it!

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Shakespeare Demystified: MacBeth

I had the opportunity to see “MacBeth” performed in the accessible and always enjoyable stylings of the KL Shakespeare Players’ Series Shakespeare Demystified. This troupe brings Shakespeare to life for the modern audience by engaging the viewers by interspersing backstory and context into the original language of the Bard. It’s a terrific way to make these plays enjoyable and accessible to a modern audience who may not be too fond of the archaic and enigmatic ways of Shakespeare verse. I’ve seen many of their shows over the years including last year’s The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and my favorite The Merry Wives of Windsor. Once again, the troupe did not disappoint. They gave a spirited and engaging performance with minimal props and lighting changes. They did include wonderful live sound effects courtesy a troupe member on the bongo drum adding some wonderful sensory rhythms and effects to the experience.

The show began a little “thick” and slow as we tried to figure out who this MacBeth character was. Was he a hero as they tried to portray him? His heroic nature seemed a little overshadowed in this production, most likely because of time, making him seem less a tragic figure and more a villain, or perhaps a pawn of his evil wife.

But all of this mattered not because of the terrific chemistry between actors and the high energy performances which demanded justice for MacBeth’s treachery. And yes, he received it.

I’m a big fan of seeing Shakespeare live, and the KL Shakespeare Players’ once again provided a gripping and thrilling evening of theatre which I cannot recommend enough. They put a lot of work into this production, so at least you can do is spare a little of your cash for a great night of entertainment.

The run at penangpac finished yesterday, but they head to Kuala Lumpur to be featured at KLPAC so do make your way to support this superb show!

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Have you read MacBeth? Who Cares? Have you SEEN MacBeth?

My favorite Shakespeare troupe, the KL Shakespeare Players, bring back their delightful Shakespeare Demystified series to penangpac starting this Thursday evening. I’ve caught many of their fun renditions over the years, and I’m sure this one will be up to the challenge of presenting the Bard’s  MacBETH in relevant and understandable ways for the modern audience. So anyone in town should definitely make it a point to come support their endeavor. It is, in fact, how Shakespeare is supposed to be experienced – on the stage.

Way back in the day, I was an undergraduate English major. I had the massive Riverside Shakespeare edition which has enough bulk and heft for a government legislative bill. I lugged that thing around, I read all my assigned plays, I discussed them in class, I wrote a billion papers (slight exaggeration) on Shakespeare, and I received a less than satisfactory grade, leaving the class with an under-appreciation for Shakespeare’s bulk of plays.

And it seems to me that most English classes, whether high school or college, still miss the point with Shakespeare. They expect 21st century students to read turn of the 17th century English prose and poetry. I’m sorry, reading Shakespeare is boring, especially if you don’t understand it.

Shakespeare was written for the stage. It is meant to be spoken. Reading drama is an exercise similar to listening to the television. A major part of the experience is missing and along with that comes the flirtations with boredom and the sheer terror of writing a coherent paper that doesn’t rely on Spark Notes.

But if you give a student a character, have them research that character, have them think through motivations and objectives by using action and expression and interpretation, Shakespeare universal human themes will emerge in new and exciting ways.

We tend to approach Shakespeare in an academic manner. We should approach Shakespeare, even in our English classes, as an exercise in the performing arts. Allow the action to teach. Allow the action to frame the meaning of the words.

Stop reading Shakespeare and go watch it (or perform it yourself) instead.

I’ll see you at penangpac later this week.

Taxis: Take Note

Columnist and fellow playwright Fa Abdul at FMT hit the nail right on the head with her critique of why Malaysians, in particular, has eschewed taxis for Uber and Grab Car. I have become so fed-up with taxi drivers in Malaysia that when I discovered Uber and tried it for the first time, I thought the sky opened up and a heavenly light followed my little Uber car all the way home on wings of angels and harps chords.

Taxi companies and politicians around the world have hit Uber and like ride-sharing companies hard accusing them of being unsafe, under insured, a commercial venture that should be regulated the same as the taxi industry, and so there have been protests, laws, prohibitions, and all kinds of other nonsense. But what hasn’t happened is all of the critics actually try to determine which type of passenger car ferrying provides the service and price point that the customer actually wants? Because it’s painfully obvious. The taxi drivers I have used in Malaysia are an embarrassment compared to the Uber drivers. Fa outlines all of this very well.

I can’t tell you how many times I said to a taxi driver “Look at your door. It says ‘metered taxi only. No haggling'” as the driver haggles with me. He brushes it off as it is nothing. Or how many times did I used to walk from taxi to taxi “Will you take me there?” “No.” “How about you?”  “No.”

The so-called progressives  in society have become regressive when they work to limit ride-sharing companies. And let’s make it clear, it’s politics not safety concerns which is driving these criticisms. In the United States, big cities are overwhelmingly Democratic, and the Democratic political machinery has worked in lockstep with taxi unions to squash the competition because they get loyal support from them. But it still hasn’t worked because folks who want to get from point A to point B in a clean, inexpensive, and timely manner don’t care about politics. They car about service.

I had some family members visiting us in Malaysia a couple weeks ago. I encouraged them to download Uber and give it a try when they wanted to get out and about on their own one day. Yes, another convert. Affordable convenience rather than dealing with hucksters.

So I agree with Fa 100%. Taxi drivers aren’t going to win back customers through regulations and complaining about how unfair everything is. They will  win back customers by using their meters and providing a pleasant ride from one place to the next.

I’m a free marketer. Compete for my business. Uber has. The taxi industry hasn’t.

Please head on over to FMT to read Fa’s timely COLUMN.

Minimum Wage Robots

Does mandated federal and state minimum wage increases help those struggling on low paying jobs?  Or does it simply give more jobs to robots?

In this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal, The Minimum Wage Should be Called the Robot Employment Act, Mr. Pudzer makes the case that the increasing minimum wage will do nothing to help low wage earners and will, most likely, force more workers out of the market place as employers, restaurants especially, automate.

It’s already  happening. McDonald’s kiosks are rolling out all over the country. Wendy’s is doing the same thing, and as Mr. Pudzer explains, a California burger joint is going a step further by hiring robots to grill, flip burgers, and put the patties on the buns.

There is no mystery here. Many places simply can’t make a profit where, especially in some areas, the minimum wage is going to hit $15 an hour in the next couple of years. Who will this hurt? Mostly inexperienced youth and it will disproportionately affect minorities. Liberal governance is once again going to be hurting the very population which they say they want to help. But government can’t control capitalism to the degree it needs to in order to for minimum wage laws to work. In order for that to happen, you need to shift everything into a highly controlled mixed if not bordering on command economy. Oh, and with that, you’ll get a loss of freedom and more widespread poverty as everyone becomes the same: unproductive and poor.

I defer to the experts on things like this. One such expert I respect and quote a lot is Thomas Sowell. Do yourself a favor and spend some time on Youtube marveling at his logical and concrete examples. He’ll tell you what minimum wage actually does, it robes the poor and the youth of valuable work experience. The only way a youngster is going to get experience – learn how to show up to work  on time, learn skills, learn to function as a subordinate, etc… – the only way someone is going to get that experience is to get an entry level job. The unemployment rate for under 25 is already high. A higher minimum wage is not going to help that. In fact, it’s going to do the opposite because jobs will be scarcer as companies “hire” robots to fill positions rather than pay an unskilled 18 year old $15 an hour.

I wish the government would  let the market work. Of course, it should look out for abuses and step in when someone is clearly being taken advantage of, but it should stay out of private agreements between individuals. If I agree to work for $8 an hour, I should be allowed to do so, and it is a death to freedom and individuality when I’m told I’m not allowed to work for $8 an hour. But I am allowed to stay at home and gain no experience and no income.

If we don’t let the market work, then we are only giving way to a robotic takeover. I’m afraid there’s no stopping it now.