Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Wow! Look what Fredericktown, Missouri can do when it puts its mind to solving a “problem.” Within hours of the offending issue of my newspaper The Madison County Crier, radical activists organized to put me out of business (as if you can put a labor of love out of business). Advertisers and points of distribution were confronted, the newspaper itself was vandalized, I received a few phone calls calling me an idiot, demands were made for an apology to the Killians both via letters to the editor and telephone calls, and all in all a river of stenching pus flowed on Facebook and Topix (a local message board) to the point where one of the corporate media outlets in Cape Girardeau roused itself to schlepp up and around town to “get the story.” In my experience, when corporate media gets involved they're often trying to divert you from something even more significant. I've racked my brains as to what that might be, and the only thing I can come up with is the Fredericktown Zoning Commission citizen survey sham.

Fredericktown's Zoning and Planning Commission is putting together a 20-year plan. Now, everyone whose been involved in anything civic over the years knows that when governments start “planning” odds are 50-50 or better that something's going to get stolen right out from under the nose of the people. In NYC when Bloomberg put together his Vision 20:20 plan for the Manhattan waterfront, coincidentally bed bugs spread in the public housing projects that ring the waterfront, surveillance cameras were installed in some housing projects and now there's a press to install surveillance cameras in the projects without them (for their own protection, naturally, based on the results of what else? a citizen survey!). It's common knowledge that apartments have been warehoused for years (not rented out to new tenants when people left), and just watch how this "reform" effort plays out. The Manhattan real estate interests would give their left nut for a chance to sell the waterfront again, and Bloomberg, who thinks nothing of hijacking public lands and resources for personal gain or just pleasure, let them know via his “plan” that the waterfront boondoggle was on. Using the illusion of transparency and citizen input, he diverts the energy and focus of interested citizens who are tricked into feeling that they have been consulted and provided with an opportunity via hearings and meetings to provide “input.” Meanwhile the world within the world is turning.

In Fredericktown they don't go to that much trouble to get community “buy-in.” Somebody designed a survey, not worth the paper it's printed on, which nobody much knows about (the deadline has passed) to use as cover later to show that the people were consulted; even a few high school seniors were cynically used as decoration to show they “reached out to the youth.” They're relying on “apathy,” a constant ingredient in any civic project in Fredericktown, which the leaders have cultivated over the years by a variety of methods, most especially boring people do death with meetings in airless, flourescent-lit rooms, and starting a bunch of initiatives that never go anywhere. That's how the "leaders" do it, like taking candy from a baby. (And does it come as any kind of surprise to learn that one of the biggest decriers of the newspaper, a “leader” who has been on Facebook admonishing the people who brought me to Fredericktown, is also a mover and shaker on the Zoning Commission?)

So when it turns out that The Crier is not just about decorating their efforts, but really is asserting itself as a change vehicle, helping to empower people with critical thinking skills (asking tough questions) its credibility must be destroyed. Enter the “disrespect” brouhaha. But weirdly, it's not working this time, the people aren't allowing themselves to be fooled and manipulated so easily. It's true that some people had a big emotional reaction, but now that the outrage has subsided they're not so quick to want to let go of The Crier it turns out. And what is also becoming apparent even to the bullies and the bullied cowards who "support" them, if they win, they too lose; they lose the chance to find out what opportunities could come next that are bigger and better and bolder than anything they can conceive of from the heart of their limitations.

I can sense the deep and rising undercurrent of support, and consequently am taking the following actions: I'm changing the publication date from Wednesday to Friday (so that in future issues I have the option of pointing out in a timely manner the things that the local corporate paper has not pointed out); I am increasing circulation from 1,500 to 1,800; and I'm expanding distribution outside of Frederictown while constricting it inside of Fredericktown. The paper will only be available at a single outlet, where it will be given out one copy at a time and is guaranteed not to be vandalized by the very same adults who cluelessly wonder why their kids are so destructive defacing the doors and stalls in public bathrooms, and the like.

So why did I call this blogpost “Checkmate?” Because at a fundamental level the many people who don't carve the pie and never get to “participate” in the spoils well know that if they allow either through inaction, inattention, or stubborn wrongheadedness the powers that be to go forward unchallenged with their 20-year rape and pillage fest of the commonweal, that they will pretty much lose everything that's left to lose, everything that's not already nailed down by those same "powers." So here we are. Fredericktown either shakes off its emotionalism-induced stupor and braces itself for its much needed growth spurt with the support and guidance of the many voices in their very own free alternative community newspaper, The Madison County Crier, or it continues to die a slow and agonizing death, with the vultures gleefully feeding off the carrion of the roadkill of the townspeople.   

A final note to the business owners who have clandestinely offered us money to keep The Crier going. Stand up and be counted, otherwise your money is worthless to us, as worthless as your flattery. To everyone else, especially those who wish to remain neutral (there is no such thing in this scenario), Find your own way to use your outrage to help you find your courage, it's in there somewhere; locate it and then stick to it, with full knowledge that we've already won. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Six Little Issues

“We live in a culture of disrespect.” “How can we stop the bullies?” These were the messages I took away from my first encounter with Fredericktown, Missouri last January, so it was with absolutely no illusions that I decided to work there.

For the past three months I've been humping around Madison County, Missouri, which is filled with natural beauty and plenty of wonderful people, establishing a free alternative community newspaper, or more accurately, reviving one that had gone defunct...twice. It's been a lot of hard work, not particularly remunerative, and frankly, has soon grown tiresome, at least the part walking on eggshells trying not to piss off the local bullies, who are numerous, and who themselves live to be pissed off. Then they know that something has happened to them, and they feel alive. They do a pile on, quickly quashing whatever possibility of alterity or dissent that might be in the air or building on the ground, and that's a good day. They have many good days. 

Fredericktown, which is the county seat, is somewhat tragic; the people are largely there by default, and it's one of those “communities” that have been completely written off by the power brokers. Local U.S. Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson brought exactly zero dollars in earmarks back to Madison County in the last congress, yet they seem to adore her. She manipulates them with demagoguery 101 on the gun control issue and they buy it hook, line and sinker while she delivers nothing, zero. Cape Girardeau flourishes relatively speaking from her largesse, Farmington too, but not Madison County. There's no need to give Madison County anything; they wouldn't confront power if their lives depended on it (which they do), though there's every kind of privation. That is one of The Crier's crimes to be sure, bringing those privations to the attention of the readers, as well as her indifference to them.

People in Fredericktown are fond of talking about community pride, you hear it all the time, but seem to spend most of their waking hours canceling out each other's efforts, so little real progress is ever made. A predatory lender comes to town, they rent one of the prettiest buildings in the historic downtown and the local Chamber of Commerce hosts a ribbon-cutting. It's a death knell for the town, they know it, and they celebrate it because “at least the building's not empty any more.” One resale shop closes, a new junk store opens. Oh look the buildings are filling up! The few stores with quality merchandise beg for custom, while bling and kitsch rule. They commence the Fredericktown Revival Initiative, bore everyone to death with endless meetings, and take little action achieving a pittance of forward movement, completely disproportionate to the effort and time invested. They create a wonderful social space gallery called The Loft, and few people come, the walls where artworks used to hang are now empty, and so on.

We were hitting it out of the park with the paper, each issue finer than the previous one, but ad dollars were stagnant; we had the appearance of growth (new ads each issue) but no actual growth because just as many would “take a break.” Frustrating, and a lens that got my attention. Meanwhile, I was increasing circulation (warranted by the demand), translating articles into Spanish, planning extraordinary community events (now canceled because of the brouhaha). We lavished our intelligence and creativity on our readers, offered every kind of beauty and made many people smile. People got out their dictionaries, dusting them off, they told me so. That made me smile.

But the bullies, the miserable self-defeating bullies, were just biding their time. Could they ever really be open to the project of growth, which requires tolerance of and respect for diversity of opinion and modes of expression, or were they just waiting to pounce? I had begun to wonder. It very much felt like the latter. A mere toenail over the line, their line of military sacrosanctness, and we're finding out. Every other place I've ever lived parents organize to prevent military recruiters from preying on their youngsters. In Fredericktown they organize against the paper for suggesting that they should. In other places, parents simply don't allow the military to reach into their schools to indoctrinate their children. In Fredericktown they applied for it! and the JROTC program is considered to be just another club for the kids to choose from in the high school. Question its value in the newspaper and the very idea is met with outrage, advertisers are called by the high school drill sergeant, I'm told, threatened with boycotts. “High school drill sergeant” what a chilling collection of words to my ears. In Fredericktown it's completely accepted as normal, and no alternative perspective is allowed, period, the end.

The other grave offense. A young marine graduates from boot camp, to even suggest a wish for a safer way forward is viewed universally as “disrespect.” Much is made of the fact that I didn't ask permission of those who submitted the announcement to alter it with a message of peace and love. I wasn't a good girl, I didn't ask mommy and daddy. The bullies didn't much like that, hierarchy and power relations (masked as manners) must not be upset. No new currents of thought can be introduced, it's not polite! Very big word around there, disrespect; they're always on the lookout for it, and always manage to find it when confronting a situation that might otherwise require thought, or action, most especially change. Hiding behind the outrage of offense to avoid confronting the possibility that other less violence-filled futures are possible, and even desirable. Good work, Fredericktown! (with an all-too-predictable assist from Bonne Terre, another foresaken hamlet that is answering its own question of to be or not to be? with a shrug and a Jagermeister).

Friends in Farmington had warned me that it was useless to try anything even remotely progressive in Fredericktown, that they were 100% committed to their downhill trajectory. “Fredericktown is Fredericktown,” people here say. “It'll never change. It's why they don't prosper.” Even before the first issue was ever printed a friend down thataway told me that revitalizing the paper “would be like putting jet fuel in a lawnmower.” I heard them but I like the tough cases, I learn the most from them. And to tell you the truth I still have some hope for Fredericktown, though I have to say it's not looking very good for The Crier's continuation at this moment, to say the least. On our own Facebook page I've been called a cunt, even worse, a “bloomberg cunt” (a reference to the mayor of New York City for those who are wondering). That one especially made me laugh. Even so, I am happy to continue the paper if it would be possible to do so, to continue to bring intelligence and reason, variety and diversity to the readers. But I am not willing for my efforts and the efforts of the amazing writers assembled under The Crier's masthead to merely decorate a town unwilling to truly support the paper, which would mean occasionally holding up their long and sacredly held beliefs to the light of day to see if they're in still intact.

Everyone knows what really happened, even if they prefer not to admit it. I challenged them on something vitally important (their children's lives and futures) and when they tried to blow me away with their collective outrage rather than consider the substance of the challenge, I didn't flinch. Not backing down, they wanted me to apologize for wishing for peace on this young man and all the other young men and women who might chance upon the announcement. Along with their town's dignity, they can count the paper, if it goes that way, as yet another of their losses. Whether they value it or not, it's theirs.

To the serious and dedicated people down there working tirelessly for years, decades, to improve things, and there are many of them, I may have stumbled upon the answer to their question: How to revive Fredericktown? Piss them off! Their indignation seems to be the only thing that really gets them going; (they're hurting so much) it's the only thing they can believe in.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Public Domain Theatre Casting Call

Public Domain Theatre Casting Call

The inaugural production of Madison County's Public Domain Theatre will be Jean Paul Sartre's scorching existentialist philosophical classic No Exit, from which his most famous quote is derived: “Hell isother people.”  

An audition for the parts of Garcin (adult male) and Estelle (adult woman) will be held on Saturday, September 15th at 11:00 am. at The Loft, upstairs at 120 West Main Street (above the Chamber of Commerce office) in Fredericktown, and if necessary on Saturday, September 22nd at 11:00 a.m. The roles of Inez and The Valet have already been cast.

Please come prepared to tell us about your performance experience (if any) and to do a cold reading from the play. Rehearsals will be held in Fredericktown in the evenings and weekends, and performances will be held Thursday through Sundays in late November/early December.

We are also seeking designers—set, costume, lighting and music—and a stage manager and prop master to crew the show. Public Domain Theatre aims to perform high quality copyright and royalty-free dramatic works for the stage. 

One of the more appealing aspects of life in rural Missouri is that if one is to have a cultural life at all, one has to create it oneself. There are few cultural events available for consumption and the majority of those few are not worth attending, as I learned the hard way last year at Opera Iowa's very unmagical flute (with no flute). The very absence of credible opera, theatre (other than student productions which can be quite good), orchestral music, art museums and bookstores forces one to dig deep to uncover latent talents and bring them to the fore.

While we do have a local arts council that puts together monthly programs, fall to spring, its offerings are to be located somewhere on the spectrum between risible and out-and-out snore fest. They just announced this year's lineup and it would not be unfair to say that the concerts, films, lectures and other entertainments in my mother's nursing home in Sydney Australia were more inventive and rousing.

"The 2012-2013 Season is underway and season tickets are flying off the shelves! The first show is Sept. 22, True Men is an accapella choir from Truman University. Also this season you will see the acclaimed Branson troupe, Liverpool Legends, performing music of the Beatles...Wizard of Oz, a family friendly theatre production...and back by popular demand, 2nd annual Arts & Flowers, artwork paired with floral interpretations....just to name a few!"

The Mineral Area Council on the Arts specializes in missing opportunities to bring stimulation, joy, complexity and energy to this region. I suppose it's so that people can remain in a half brain-dead stupor while the likes of Kevin Engler and JoAnn Emerson help legislate the transfer of wealth out of the commonweal. It's a serious problem for this region's survival and flourishing. So I am going to try my hand at directing Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit this fall. Even if I fail miserably at least I won't be baaaaing like a sheep in the audience at the Centene Center, or the voting booth for that matter.

I think it's going to be a blast, and I can't wait to see the audience reaction to a drama about a baby-killer, military coward, and cold-blooded lesbian shooting the existential merde in hell's drawing room, here in the Bible Belt. Provocative characters aside, I really am eager to have the questions Sartre raises in the play considered by people around here, possibly for the very first time. (Also, a PhD in philosophy somehow dropped out of the sky in Fredericktown, and may serve as dramaturg to the production. If so, the program notes themselves will be an education in existentialist thought, and I hope he'll consider giving some public talks in conjunction with the production.)

So why start a theatre of works in the public domain? To save royalty fees because it will be a poor theatre? Yes, but more than that, it's about not wanting to deliver via original innovative works any more narrative tricks for power to use against us in their media campaigns and political theatre. About 8 years ago an old friend of mine was hired by the Pew Foundation to conduct a nationwide survey on the state of American theatre. I found that very suspect, that Pew was suddenly interested in supporting new plays. But when you consider that in Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky reminded us that power rules through propaganda and indoctrination it made sense that, on the cheap I assure you, they could get the credulous playwrights (with my friend as Pied Piper) to deliver fresh modes of narrative persuasion, the improbable but “true” plot twists, and so on.

I'll have none of that. I refuse to wittingly deliver any tricks of the trade to power for their nefarious purposes. Besides it's not necessary for my honorable purposes—awakening, invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, jump starting imagination and creativity, delivering vocabulary, the art of conversation, how to think, problem-solve, if only to offer a countervailing force to language impoverishment—that alone! As it is there's plenty of material, most of the theatrical oeuvre I would venture, that will be daisy fresh to audiences in the 573. After Sartre, I want to stage Genet's The Maids. After Genet, Chekhov, O'Neill, Ibsen, commonplaces elsewhere, but rarities here. But first, No Exit.