Saturday, October 03, 2009

JAMES: Getting Better

"There's not
a word yet,
for old friends
who've just met..."

IN MEMORIAM: Ben Williams

Our deepest condolences go out today to Buckles and Barbara Woodcock and family on the passing of Ben Williams. Like Evel, Gunther, Charley and Elvin, Ben was one of the real-life superheroes of my childhood.

He was loved and admired both as a person and as a performer.

He will be very sorely missed.

LORENZO PISONI: Humor Abuse (Philadelphia Theater Company)

True, poignant tale of a child circus performer
By Howard Shapiro
Inquirer Theater Critic
To understand the power of the stage, all you need do is get to the Suzanne Roberts Theatre to see the talented, endearing Lorenzo Pisoni in Humor Abuse, his one-man master stroke about growing up a clown.

It's about pratfalls and popping out of steam trunks, about tumbling repeatedly down a flight of 15 stairs, and juggling fiberglass bowling pins that rip your skin, about balancing hats on your nose or abruptly flipping yourself backward. And even with all that tomfoolery, Humor Abuse emerges as the most poignant piece I've seen in some time.

Pisoni - 32, tall and kinetic, with movie-set good looks and a smile that doesn't flash as much as radiate - has won every kind of Off-Broadway award for Humor Abuse, which he developed with director Erica Schmidt. It played last season at the Manhattan Theatre Club and opened the Philadelphia Theatre Company season Wednesday night.

The one-act is the true story of Pisoni's life as a circus child with circus parents, the founders in 1975 of San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus. An original clown of that troupe - credited with renewing an American circus tradition and influencing Cirque du Soliel - was Bill Irwin, now a treasured theater artist (twice on Philadelphia Theatre Company's stage), and also Pisoni's godfather.

For 25 years until he stopped performing, Pisoni's father, Larry, remained a silent clown whose self-imposed demands in the service of humor broke bones all over his body. As his son tells it, the elder Pisoni nearly killed himself for laughs.

That's one form of the humor abuse referred to in the show's title. The other is more ironic, and a little unsettling. From Pisoni's infancy, his father saw him as a circus performer. The boy made his debut when he was 2 years old. A heart-tugging moment comes early in the show when Pisoni strikes a performance pose; the exact same image of a preschool Pisoni appears on a tattered white sheet that serves as a stage-rear curtain, behind him.

And so it went for little Lorenzo. At age 6, he signed an actual contract to become his dad's partner. By age 11, he was touring the country and Japan with his own act, no parent in sight. Ever wonder what it's like to be "the other" - someone who grew into a world completely different from yours? This show answers the question by presenting the experiences of one of "the others."

Humor Abuse is bittersweet - but never bitter to the point of complaint or sweet to the point of cloying. You could call it Lorenzo Pisoni's tribute to his dad - one that looks deep to reveal an almost shocking intensity about laughter.

"I can't do it!" little Lorenzo cries after trying and failing to learn a stunt. "You can't do it . . . yet," his father replies.

Well, he can do it now - all of it. The routines that pepper the show are deft; is tripping over his feet merely an alternative way for Pisoni to walk? (It apparently was for his dad.)

Pisoni is funny, fluid, and fully in the moment when he's clowning. But the real impact of Humor Abuse comes when he returns, repeatedly, to play himself, the boy who increasingly wants the opposite of what other kids want - to run away from the circus.

He finally does that, landing in high school, then graduating from college, and embracing a broader kind of performance: He was memorable in last season's Broadway revival of Equus and is a current regular on TV's All My Children. The grass may seem greener outside the circus ring, but Pisoni is his father's son. His heart is open in Humor Abuse, and you can almost hear the ringmaster calling to its beat.

starring Lorenzo Pisoni
created by Lorenzo Pisoni & Erica Schmidt
directed by Erica Schmidt
September 25 - October 25, 2009

Please click here for ticket information

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: First Clown Performance In Space

The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA flight engineer Jeffrey Williams, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté maneuvered to a smooth docking with the International Space Station early Friday to close out a two-day orbital chase.

With Suraev and Williams closely monitoring the final stages of the automated rendezvous, the small capsule's docking mechanism engaged its counterpart at the aft port of the Zvezda command module at 4:35 a.m. EDT as the two spacecraft sailed high above northeast Kazakhstan. Hooks and latches then engaged to pull the Soyuz firmly into place.

After leak checks, hatches between the two spacecraft were opened at 6:57 a.m., allowing Suraev, Williams and Laliberté, wearing a red clown nose, to float into the space station.

They were welcomed aboard by outgoing commander Gennady Padalka, NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott.

"It's good to see you all, looking very good," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called from mission control near Moscow.

"Hello Charlie, yeah, we had a great trip up here and we're happy to be on board, with good company," Williams replied.

"Well Jeff, Max and Guy, just want to let you all know we enjoyed a superb launch" on Wednesday, Bolden said. "Your families behaved well, they laughed all the way back from Baikonur to Moscow. You all should rest well and know they're being taken care of."

Suraev's father then congratulated his son on his first spaceflight, saying "all of us here are very happy that so far the mission is very successful...All the best to you, son, please do a good job there."

Laliberté, once again putting on his clown nose, told his family he was enjoying the trip and feeling "pretty good, actually. I'm adapting pretty good." Then he joked, "But I am staying six months, though."

A Canadian worth an estimated $2.5 billion, Laliberté is believed to have paid the Russians around $35 million to visit the space station as a tourist.

Suraev and Williams are replacing Padalka and Barratt, who plan to return to Earth with Laliberté on October 11. De Winne will take over as European Space Agency first commander in Padalka's place.

"We've had a fabulous time up here, the station is in great shape and really well supplied," Barratt said. "We're just really impressed that everything has worked so far with a couple of shuttles, the (Japanese) HTV (cargo ship), and everything worked on that thing. It was a beautiful spaceship and we're really lucky to have such visitations up here and a lot of firsts. So we're ready to come home, but it's been a great time."

"You guys enjoy all your time together this week," Gerstenmaier said. "Take good care of (the) space station."

JAMES: Tubes Removed, Breathing On His Own

James just had his breathing tubes removed and is breathing on his own.

All of his vitals are excellent!

Friday, October 02, 2009

JAMES: Has Opened His Eyes!

James opened his eyes for the first time at 9:57 PM to look around at Shane and I and thank everyone, everywhere for the prayers, well wishes and extremely positive energy sent his way from all over the world today.

Thank you.

JAMES: Resting Comfortably

James, a mass of tubes and wires, actually looks far better than what they had prepared us for. He is back in his private room, with an excellent nurse, and resting comfortably.

Mother is doing fine. Brother is doing fine.

Daddy needs a stiff drink and a nap.

JAMES: Still Waiting

He's been out of surgery for about an hour now but we haven't had the chance to see him yet.

Here's a picture from just before he left. This is Shane holding James for the very first time.

JAMES: Out of Surgery

James is out of surgery. We just met with Dr. Spray who told us that everything went extremely well and that we can see him again in just a few minutes.

JAMES: In Surgery

James left for surgery about 24 hours after he was born. Dr. Spray, one of (if not THE) very best surgeons in the world for TGA surgery, is performing the operation now.

JAMES: Still Waiting

We're still waiting for James to leave for his surgery. In the meantime he's been sitting next to my macbook, listening to Duke Ellington, Bach, Mozart, Lou Reed and Raymond Scott as we watched Sesame Street with the TV's sound off.

The above photo is James watching his very first Looney Tune cartoon, Porky and Daffy in "Baby Bottleneck", directed by Bob Clampett.

JAMES: Still Awaiting Surgery

James is still awaiting surgery. We were told late last night that he'd go first today, and would leave between 6:30 and 7:00 AM, but he's been moved to the second surgery and should be leaving here shortly.

He's all set and ready to go. He's got his very stylish powder blue knit cap and matching "wubby" set and Shane has already read him his very first book, The Cat in the Hat, and explained to him, with helpful visual aids (drawings, Lego sculpture and coloring book pages) the importance of Spiderman.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

JAMES: Good Night and May God Bless

James Roane Cashin was baptized this evening at 9:37 in his room in the ICU.

On behalf of Terry and Shane, I would like to very sincerely thank all of the friends and family around the country and around the world for sending their prayers and support today and in helping to welcome James into the world in such a special fashion.

James has been cleared for open heart surgery tomorrow morning at 7:00 to correct his transposition of the great arteries and to repair the catheterization he underwent this afternoon. If all goes right, the surgery should last no more than three hours.

It's been a long day.

I am now playing James the first song he's ever heard...


James Ray Clark
(June 5, 1956 - December 9, 2008)

Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day. ~ The Dalai Lama

James Roane Cashin
October 1, 2009

BABY NEWS: James is Back!

James is back in the ICU. He made it through the heart catheterization procedure with flying colors... most importantly, pink! He's sedated and resting comfortably.

His eyes were taped shut and, with his nose being smooshed up from his breathing tube, he reminds me of the people in the "Eye Of the Beholder" episode of The Twilight Zone...


A lot of drama.

Things are pretty scary. James is undergoing an emergency procedure and they are opening up his chest and catheterizing his heart.

They had a problem getting a tube down his throat that caused his vitals to drop, which sent an alarm throughout the entire ICU and brought about 50 various medical professionals into his room in the blink of an eye.

BABY NEWS: James is Here!

James Roane Cashin
Arrived: 10/01/09 12:27 PM
6 lbs, 8 ounces

BABY NEWS: Sixth Update

James is almost here. Terry saw the hospital paperwork listing the baby's name as "James Roane "Bob" Dobbs Cashin" and killed it in the 11th hour.

It sounds naive but I really thought she was going to be cool with that.

Nothing is finalized yet. There is still time to get the baby some slack!

BABY NEWS: Fifth Update

Things are progressing. James is now expected before 12:00.

After a second epidural, Terry is displaying a Fonz-like cool.

BABY NEWS: Fourth Update

The only member of the family getting any sleep tonight. Shane stayed up until midnight watching the new Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD and waiting for his new baby brother...

BABY NEWS: Third Update

Epidural time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BABY NEWS: Second Update

At CHoP, settled in and have met with our midwife and the on-call doctor.

Shane is playing Indiana Jones Legos with his grandfather. My sister-in-law, Patti is here with us and was watching the Phillies game. My mother-in-law is somewhere tracking down something.

Mother and child are comfortable and doing fine.


Getting ready to leave the Ronald McDonald House for Childrens' Hospital of Philadelphia...

ROWAN ATKINSON: Guide to Visual Comedy

Notes courtesy of Carlos Baena and Scott Wiser...

The following notes are in reference to the 1992 documentary Funny Business (also known as Laughing Matters and Rowan Atkinson's Guide to Visual Comedy), hosted by Rowan Atkinson, and were compiled by animation student Scott Wiser. The documentary can be found by clicking the title of this post.

1) Great comedians don't just talk, but use visual humor as well. Using their body as a tool:

a. There is comedy potential in every body part.
b. Clothes play a big part (too small or too big).
c. Character can look funny.
d. (My addition) The body can interact with other props to create humor (or alone).

2) Funny Things: Three Basic Principles:

a. Objects behave in an unexpected way
b. Objects go to or appear in an unexpected place.
c. Objects shown the wrong size.
- Combining these three principles may not make the business more funny.
- Jokes depend on sudden shocks and strange transformations that under-mind the laws of our existence.

3) Slapstick and Violence (the earliest and perhaps most crude form):

a. The more realistic, the funnier the gag.
b. The more dignified the victim, the funnier the gag.
c. Shock of violence must be separate from the reality of pain.
d. Use of overstatement or understatement create this comedy.

4) Magic & Surrealism (the comedian uses the Illusionist's tricks):

a. Appearing and Disappearing - gags are funnier if the character disappears.
b. Transformation - must absurd as well as astonishing
c. Speeding things up (or slowing down)
d. Comedy rooting in fear
e. Strange images

5) Imitiation & Parody (a step up, but not the highest form of comedy):

a. Exaggeration creates a parody
b. Representing authority creates satire.
c. Using other's story's or material can create comedy, but the effect lessens with the popularity of the others' material.

6) Mime & Body Language (Moving into character and situational comedy):

a. Create an interesting character.
b. Can be simply in the shading of a facial expression.
c. Not about doing funny things but doing normal things in a funny way: with personality.
d. new attitudes make the old joke new.

1. Dim (stupid) - knows less than the audience - has a bewildered innocence.
2. Aggressive - lack of consideration for others.
3. Crude - comedy of social embarrassment or vulgarity.
4. Etc.

e. Only if you identify with an attitude will you laugh.
f. Charlie Chaplin is one of the most skilled at this type of comedy, but doesn't always get the laugh (while he does draw smiles and emotions).
(We have to make our jokes and characters timeless, though some will argue that Chaplin was timeless)

7) Qualities that transcend time: The character of the physical comedian.

a. Like us but different - an alien on the other side of the mirror.
b. Innocence - born yesterday

Battles with normal objects
Constantly makes mistakes
Tenacity - keeps doing things when others would've given up.

c. Socially Inept - either doesn't understand conventions or doesn't know how to follow them.
d. Drunkenness is an alternative to childishness
e. Hard to form normal relationships
f. Constant hostility from all quarters
g. The comedian can't die or get seriously hurt.

8) The opposite of all rules are true: ALL rules can be broken.

MR. BUNK: Human Puppeteer

DAVID: Circus Krone-Bau

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A collection of vintage photographs of classic, mostly European circus clowns accompanied to the tune of "Palhaço" by Egberto Gismonti.

RED SKELTON: Character

Edited from an article entitled The Pope, The Clown and the Cross which appears in the current issue of American Catholic...

In 1957 comedian Red Skelton was on top of the world. His weekly comedy show on CBS was doing well. He had curtailed the drinking which had almost derailed his career. Not too shabby for a man who had started out as a circus and rodeo clown and who was now often called the clown prince of American comedy. He and his wife Georgia had two beautiful kids: Richard and Valentina Maria. Then the worst thing in the world for any parent entered into the lives of Red and Georgia Skelton: Richard was diagnosed with leukemia. Unlike today, a diagnosis of leukemia in a child in 1957 was tantamount to saying that Richard was going to die soon. Red immediately took a leave of absence from his show. CBS was very understanding and a series of guest hosts, including a very young Johnny Carson, filled in for Skelton during the 1957-1958 season.

Red and his wife made two decisions. First, they decided not to reveal to their son how ill he was; if worse came to worst they wanted him to enjoy the time he had left. The boy’s leukemia was temporarily in remission and outwardly he appeared healthy. When the boy saw “The Last Days of Pompeii” on TV and was fascinated by it, his mom and dad made their second decision. They were going to take him and his sister to Europe so the boy could see Pompeii and other parts of Europe and the world, and to allow the parents to consult with foreign physicians and also to conduct a pilgrimage for their son.

After they returned to the States, the leukemia came out of remission and took its dreadful course. Richard underwent treatment at the UCLA medical center. His parents were constant visitors to see him. Both father and son, as detailed here, did their best to keep up the spirits of the other children undergoing treatment by telling jokes. On one occasion Red Skelton sat up most of the night with a young girl who was undergoing surgery and kept reassuring her that everything was going to be all right, as it turned out to be in her case.
“The doctor was as gentle as he could be when he told me there was a good chance I had something that would mean amputating my leg. I remember crying for hours that night. The night before surgery I was very scared. My mother was at home with three small children and I had a difficult time falling asleep. When I finally gave in and allowed sleep to take over, it wasn’t for long. I awoke to find my friend Richard’s father asleep in the chair next to my bed. He woke up soon after I did, and in a very gentle voice kept telling me it was going to be ok. I just had to believe. There he stayed for most of the night. I would sleep and waken, and he would sometimes be asleep, other times he’d smile and comfort me.
Surgery went well, and my leg wasn’t amputated, but I was in and out of surgeries, casts, and the hospital for the next two years. Richard passed away from leukemia the second year, but has lived on in my heart and memory. His father became my hero as I watched him on television, then and in later years. For during the time I knew Mr. Skelton and his son Richard, I only saw their courage, compassion, and tender hearts. I saw a man who was “in character” to make the children laugh and forget their illnesses, but I also saw a very gentle man who was not “in character”, as he sat by the bed of a fatherless 11 year old. Setting aside his own fears, or sadness, Red Skelton, the clown who entertained millions during the early days of television, made sure I was able to face a scary situation with the hope it was going to be ok.”

I find this remarkable. Dealing with the approaching death of his own son, Red Skelton found it within himself to keep up the spirits of other children. I guess he really meant it when he said, “God’s children and their happiness are my reasons for being”. In the years to come Skelton would become a major donor for charities for sick kids, and would also assist children through his establishment of the Red Skelton Foundation in his hometown of Vincennes, Indiana.

The complete article, which focuses on Richard's faith and his pilgrimage, is available here.

PETER SWEET: Swinging High