Monday, December 15, 2014

The New York Times Can Kiss My Ass

The New York Times Can Kiss My Ass

Dear New York Times,
I understand that an organization that produces as much content as you do will, occasionally, produce something impressively tone-deaf (see Alessandra Stanley's piece about Shonda Rhimes last September).  But for the most part, I love your paper.  I read it daily.  I get it on my Kindle and my iPhone, just in case I'm jonesing for some news and one of my gadgets isn't available.  Reading the Sunday Times is probably the only ritual I've performed for over twenty years. 

Imagine my glee when I saw "9 Kisses," in this Sunday's (12-14-14) edition: a movie that promised to show me 9 short films, each one featuring a kiss between two great actors from the last year in movies.   

I like kissing.  I like movie stars.  This'll be fun, I thought.

Each kiss hits a different note, and the piece is successful as a whole, on an aesthetic level, because of the gamut it runs.  In their stolen kiss outside a costume party, Reese Witherspoon and Benedict Cumberbatch show us how furtiveness ups a kiss's sexiness like nothing else.  The unexpected passion of Laura Dern and Steve Carrell's lip-lock is used to great comedic effect.  When Shailene Woodley kisses her trainer Jack O'Connell after accidentally punching him in the face, something unexpected bubbles between them, a surprise that reveals a world underneath.  Each kiss in each of the short films has a definitive, unique tone.

Which is why I find it so incredibly offensive for the only guy-on-guy kiss in this piece to be a desparate ploy, between David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall (4:50 - 5:35).

I encourage the readers to watch all eight minutes of the movie (video box at the top of this blog, or click here) - it's quite enjoyable, for the most part.  Here's the synopsis:  David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall are in a saloon, arm-wrestling.  It looks like David Oyelowo (younger, stronger) is going to win, but then that rascal Timothy Spall kisses his opponent (on the lips, no less!), distracting him and giving Timothy Spall the edge he needs to win.

This kiss is aggressively anti-romantic.  It is a tactic between two real guys partaking in a macho activity, something so butch that it eliminates the possibility that either one of them might be actual homosexuals. Don't worry - your movie tells its viewers - not only is the guy-on-guy kiss de-sexualized as much as possible (it's also the shortest kiss in the flick), none of the characters in this movie are gay men. 

And I think this is really at the heart of why I think your film sucks, New York Times: you were too cowardly to dare to show what a real kiss between two men looks like.  The girl-on-girl action (Jenny Slate & Rosario Dawson, 2:15 - 3:00) is sexy, joyous and full of love.  And I get it - from before we are conscious of sex, we're taught to think that lesbians are sexy while fags are scary.  But this film has an opportunity to combat the nasty, latter part of that stereotype, to show some genuine warmth or romance or kindness between two men kissing.  In failing to do so, you don't just eschew your responsibility: you perpetuate close-mindedness.  

In the behind-the-scenes movie that accompanies "9 Kisses" (entitled, obviously enough, "The Making of 9 Kisses") director Elaine Constantine says that, "We decided it would be all public spaces at night." (1:20)  Gay marriage is legal 35 states in the USA right now.  Wouldn't a more powerful dramatic choice, let alone a less homophobic one, be creating a film where two men kiss after reciting wedding vows to each other, for example?  Or what about a proposal.  Getting down on one knee and proposing to my now-husband was the scariest moment of my life - full of dramatic possibility with infinite richness.

Instead, in depicting the kiss between two men as a desperate ploy and last resort, you reinforce the idea that the only appropriate response to kissing another man is to feel shame.  Well, I think you and the film's director, Elaine Constantine, are the ones who should feel ashamed. 

Or, better yet, do something about it.  I dare you, New York Times and Elaine Constatine: get two great male actors from 2014 movies and create another 45 second film showing them kissing in any scenario that's not drenched in shame.  Show me funny, show me touching, show me stupid.  Show me anything.  But don't show me shame.  I grew up surrounded by it.  I have to deal with looks and threats, still, when I hold my husband's hand in public.  I have had enough shame.

To end on a what I hope is a positive, constructive note: here's a picture of me and my husband kissing at the end of our wedding ceremony.  I thought I'd include it in the hope it might inspire you to see the gorgeous possibilities.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stories of Joy & Triumph

Would it have killed the photographer to tell me to fix my hair?
Stories of Joy & Triumph

It's been a while since I blogged.  The contributing factors:  I haven't really cared about anything enough to blog about it, I've been investing time and resources in my newsletter, which felt like a more efficient means of getting the word out about One Man Guy, and because let's face it: it's hard to imagine an entry that's going to get as many hits as the one about my wedding, and not just because we had a freakin' rainbow, as clear proof we're going to get that God loves the gays.

Recently, however, something got me so riled up that I took the keyboard again.  After a certain public library obtained One Man Guy, it decided to place it in the adult section, instead of Young Adult.  

First of all: how could I possibly know this?
Well, I'll tell you how.  Like most things, it traces back to Vassar College, where I directed a production of Six Degrees of Separation (cast pictures below).  

(Top Row, L to R: Alec Duffy, Ken Perko, Rachel Stack, Linsay Firman, Brian "Dingo" Lamont, Gerard Karsenty, Kevin O'Hara, Kevin Maher.  Middle Row: Geoffry Milam, Milton Welch, Amy Boyce Holtcamp, Michael Bird, Josiah Trager.  Bottom Row: Jeff McKay, Marguerite Moreau, Angela Goethals, Matt Newton.)
I remained friends with the actor playing Flan Kittredge, even after he left New York, through the magic of facebook and a deep affection we shared.  Turns out a relative of "Flan"'s works at a Public Library Whose Name I'm Not Disclosing.  This relative heard about my book, advocated for its purchase even though, "Some dingleberries in charge of such things apparently expressed some concern over its non-traditional content."

The compromise, apparently, was to purchase the book, but to put it in the adult fiction section to make sure that young people's mind aren't polluted by its non-traditional content, even though in an email that "Flan" forwarded to me, "ALL the other membership libraries have it in YA, as does Barnes & Noble."

I have been incredibly moved by young people's reactions to One Man Guy, from the teens I meet at B&N whom I convince to buy the book, to the ones who write me via my website to tell me what the book means to them.  Some samples quotes:

 "It's the girl that you saw at Barnes & Noble a few days ago. :) I finished your book the night that I got it. I really enjoyed. It was really funny and I just couldn't put the book down." -Jasmin

"Hi Michael! I recently finished your book One Man Guy and fell in love with the story. I can relate to the characters. Thanks so much!"  -Jacob

"I'm a part of the LGBTQ community and this book means something to me.  The reason i read this book is because i was looking for a book to read on the plane to Cali and I picked up your book and saw what is was about. My aunt was the one purchasing the book and saw the cover and whisper "no no this supports homosexuality" and would not buy. I did not want to make a scene but I was so angry that i made it a personal goal of mine to read and one day own the book. Thank for make me feel proud of my sexuality and who I love."  -J. Thomas

"Thank you so much for writing this book.. It has given me so much hope that when I come out to my parents they won't freak out.. I'm the same age as Alek is in this book.. It's just made such a difference on how I look at everything."  K.W.   

Truth and Justice and the American Way prevailed, however, as the library's director, in response to this fierce advocacy, decided to move OMG into the YA section.

I'm so grateful for everyone who has championed my little book, and helped it find its readership.

p.s.  I just got an email inquiring about the availability of OMG'S tv/film rights!


Friday, April 4, 2014

Blog Hop

Author Blog Hop

Elise Forier Edie
I got invited to do this author blog hop thing and since I haven't posted in (who even knows how long) and because I like the author who invited me to do it so much, I said yes.

Elise Forier Edie wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics to the ah-mazing musical Rebel Girls, inspired by the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 in Lawrence, MA.  I was match-made with Elise and the show's composer, Tina Lear, to direct a workshop of their musical.  They were awesome.  With the help of lots of index cards and yummy snacks, we holed ourselves into the CAP 21 conference room and re-organized the entire show in a day.  They trusted me, I loved the material, and we had one helluva time.  Apparently, Elise even blogged about how great our experience was.

So when Elise invited me, I took Bob Moss's advice: say yes.  I said yes.  Here are the answers to my questions, and at the end of this post, you'll find Elise's info, along with the info of three other fab writers whom I invited to participate in this thing.

1)  What am I working on?

My first book, One Man Guy, is being published in May (Macmillan, FSG).  It’s about Alek, a fourteen-year old Armenian boy who falls for New York City, the music of Rufus Wainwright and a totally hot skater boy over the course of one epic summer.

I’ve been working on my second book, The Aether Wild, for a few years.  It’s a collaboration with two friends, Suzanne Agins and Rosemary Andress, who are both primarily theater directors like me.  How many directors does it take to write a book?  Three, apparently.  The Aether Wild is a science fiction/fantasy post-apocalyptic adventure story about a girl determined to save the world at all costs.

My day job, as day jobs go, is as a theater director.  I’m currently in rehearsals for aproduction of Spring Awakening (themusical) in Syracuse, and am in pre-production for my next production with TheUpstart Creatures, a company of theater artists I assembled last year.

Other projects include adapting Paradise Lost for the stage and a commission from the Sloan Foundation, which I’m using to write a play about Lucretius, the Ancient Roman scientist/philosopher who wrote De Rerum Natura, which translates into something like: The Way Things Are, The Nature of the Universe  or The Nature of Things.   

2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

To be honest, I haven’t read many coming out stories, so I’m not exactly sure what the norm is.  Going by the feedback I’ve been getting from Goodreads, it seems like most coming out novels fall on the angsty side.  I came out when I was twenty-one (and not to my parents until I was twenty-three) and I remember how incredibly anxiety-making it was.  I was not, however, especially interested in writing that because my parents, like the parents of most people I know, accepted my coming out with great love.  I’m not saying it wasn’t awkward, or that other people’s coming out isn’t more traumatic.  I just felt like we’d seen and read that story plenty, given how the times are a-changin’, I wanted to write a story in which the coming out wasn’t the big deal event.

3)  Why do I write what I do?
Wendy Wasserstein

For most of my life, writing was like going to loud bars: I knew lots of people who appeared to enjoy it, but it never occurred to me that it was something I myself would like.   Then Wendy Wasserstein died and I missed her, and writing was an activity that I associated with her, having been her typists for five years.  So I started writing as a way of remembering Wendy.

When I write a play or book, it’s because I can’t not write it.  Something about the story demands to be told.  I have one such story bubbling inside of me.  I don’t want to write it, in that I’ve very busy now and over-committed and don’t really have time, but it is insisting on being told and so soon, I imagine, I will start typing.

On a more conscious level, I try to write stories that I don’t think have been told (or told enough) yet.  Many readers of One Man Guy learned about the existence of the Armenian genocide through the book, and the idea that I can help tell that story feels incredibly important to me.

4)  How does my writing process work?

When I’m dealing with the frightful proposition of a blank screen, I need to write early, before my husband wakes up, when I’m barely conscious, when I can’t filter or even think about what I’m writing.  I usually have a sense of what I’m going to write (I outline and research heavily before I begin), but I do my best first-draft writing first thing in the morning.

Then I’ll try to do something that has nothing to do with writing – I’ll go to my yoga studio or do some cooking, take a bike ride.  I’ll revisit the pages in the afternoon, and often be totally surprised at the words I’m reading, as if someone else wrote them.  I find that’s the best way to look at my own work.

When it comes to re-writing, I’m better at that in the afternoon.  I like to work a little, take a nap, work some more.  I prefer to do that at tables, rather than desks, because tables are bigger and I like to spread out.  Or, if I just need to read, I like to do that lying down on a sofa, because then when I want to take a nap I don’t need to move.

The Writer Who Invited Me To Join The Blog Hop


TWITTER: @EliseForierEdie




The Writers Whom I Invited To Join The Blog Hop (all Vassar Grads, oddly enough)

Amy Boyce Holtcamp - was my muse in college, the lead of just about every play I directed.  She continued to go to UW to study directing, and now lives in the sexiest city in the country, New Orleans, with her rock star-dramaturg husband Victor who teaches at Tulane and often proofs my blog out of the kindness of his OCD heart.  Amy is one of my favorite collaborators, a great writer and director. 

Mary Beth Caschetta and I met at the memorial service for Ann Imbrie, who had taught us both at Vassar a decade apart.  Ann had mentioned Mary Beth regularly, and by the time I met her I felt like I had already known her.  Being able to share the loss of Ann with someone else who had known and loved her was incredibly valuable to me, and I love how Mary Beth writes about painful things directly and unsentimentally.

Isaac Butler, on the other hand, got to Vassar the year after I left, and we met at Soho Rep, where he assisted me one summer producing a festival of new plays.  Like me and Amy, he's a director and writer, and without a doubt the most well-read and well-watched guy out there. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'll Have Some Proof: My Fury Over The End of Shakespeare Santa Cruz

An Open Letter to David Yager, Dean of the UC Santa Cruz Arts Program,

Dear Dean Yager,
I am many things.  But I am not stupid.  And neither are any of the thousands of other artists who have worked at Shakespeare Santa Cruz in its 32 years, or the hundreds of thousands of audience members who have attended its productions.  It is certainly within your prerogative to close "one of the top ten influential Shakespeare Festivals in the country," (I'm quoting your website).   And girl, I understand that times are tough.  But I do wish you wouldn't insult our intelligence in the press release you released explaining your decision to terminate Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, this is what the Shakespeare Santa Cruz stage, the Glen, looks like.

My Kingdom For A Balanced Budget

The numbers you offer simply don't add up.  In the press release, you claim that "Even with an initial campus contribution of $250,000 during the most recent full fiscal year, revenues still fell short of planned expenditures by nearly $500,000 — effectively making the total shortfall $750,000 for 2012-13."  But adding your contribution to the Festival's shortfall is totally bogus.  You committed to give that money, and you gave that money, ostensibly, because of the value added that the Festival contributes to UCSC.  I bet you some of your undergrads chose to attend UC Santa Cruz because of the Festival.  For example, Lynn Baker-Nauman writes that, "UCSC's enrollment will be affected by this decision. The chance to work alongside professional actors while training as an undergrad was a huge pull for me."  How many other students are you going to lose because of the Festival's absence?

In addition, on the aforementioned website, Shakespeare Santa Cruz offers this graphic to illustrate its finances:

Even with the in-kind donation SSC receives from UCSC, which does not actually cost the University capital and, I would argue, is more than repaid by the presence of an actual professional theater company in residence, the projected shortfall for 2012 was 350K.  Do you really expect us to believe that this year, the total shortfall was over double that?  The accusation is ludicrous.  And if it were true, the idea that the University would allow the festival to go so egregiously over budget makes you, as the power that is supposed to keep the festival in check, at least as - if not more - responsible for the mismanagement.

No Legacy Is So Rich As Honesty

I can't help but wonder, also, when the University settles its books as opposed to when the Festival does.  Having spent my life working in academia and professional theaters, I suspect that the University figures out its finances in June, which is right when the Festival has spent the most (artist fees, production budgets, materials, crews) but before any of its ticket revenues have come in, which according to your own numbers, account for almost half of the total revenue.  In fact, Theatre Communications Group's (TCG) most recently compiled data indicates that, on average, total ticket income accounts for only 42% of the overall budget of a not-for-profit theater in this country, making SSC almost ten percent above the national mean. (p.8)

Omittance Is Very Much Quittance

And let's face it: The exit-pursued-by-a-bear in the room is the fact that you omitted your Artistic Director's name from the press release IN ITS ENTIRETY.  Seriously dude, WTF?  Who shuts down a theater company without at least acknowledging the guy who's been running it for the last six years, whose productions have received nearly-universal critical acclaim, and who led a fund-raising campaign one year after getting the job to keep the Festival afloat?  Didn't anyone tell you what poor manners that shows, and how the omittance just calls attention to your major sketchiness?  And who closes a theater company without bothering to inform its Artistic Director?  And in the middle of its season.  We in the theater know that timing is everything.

I can't help but thinking about Shakespeare's quote on slander from CYMBELINE, Act III/scene iv:


Whose edge is sharper than the sword, whose tongue 

Outvenoms all the worms of Nile, whose breath 

Rides on the posting winds and doth belie 
All corners of the world: kings, queens and states, 

Maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave 
This viperous slander enters.

I know Marco, and I have worked for him.  If you want me to believe that he so mismanaged the company that you claim to care so much about, then show me the lack of money.  You claim that Shakespeare Santa Cruz currently carries 1.98 million dollars in debt.  That's over 100% of its annual income.  If that is the reason you cite for having to close the Festival, than I think the least you should do is release the paperwork that supports your claim.  Like Othello, I'll have some proof, if you don't mind.
What A Piece of Work Is A Man

Coincidentally, I came out to Shakespeare Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, and had the pleasure of catching HENRY V, one of the best productions (Shakespeare or otherwise) that I have ever seen.  I felt so proud to be an alum of the Festival, to have seen Charlie Pasternak play Romeo in the Glen six years ago, and to see him mature and evolve into the kind of artist capable of delivering a role-redefining performance as this play's titular character.  For all of the wonderful theater that happens in New York City, I don't often have the pleasure of sitting back and experiencing three hours of exquisitely spoken Shakespeare.  I felt humbled by the beauty of the experience.

After the show, I was approached by two members of the company.  The first was Gina Hayes.  Gina ran the audience talk-back for Lanford Wilson's BURN THIS, which I directed in Marco's inaugural season six years ago.  She told me that she was so moved and inspired by our hour-long Q-and-A answer session with the community, that she got a job working as Marco's assistant and is now pursuing a life in theater: she'll be starting a graduate program in directing at Northwestern in the fall.

Yvonne Woods and Stephen Bel Davies in my production of Burn This.  Sets - John Iacovelli.  Costumes - Oliver Gajic.
The second member of the company who approached me was Jessica Bond, the SSC Production Manager.  Jessica introduced me to her husband, Ryan, who told me that our production of BURN THIS made him understand why his wife spent so many hours toiling away at a theater when she could be making so much more money working fewer hours doing just about anything else. 

You see, by closing Shakespeare Santa Cruz, you're not just eliminating the handful of professional contracts (650/week) that you feel are so expensive.  You are denying audiences and students the chance to experience world-class Shakespeare, and the opportunity to engage with the artists who make it.

I am an Associate Artist at Shakespeare Santa Cruz.  I am one of its audience members. I donated $1000 to the fund-raising drive in 2008 to keep it alive.  I demand you provide evidence of the allegations you claim led you to terminate the Shakespeare Festival that I and so many others hold so dear.

Michael Barakiva

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wedding Picture Highlights

These are a few images from my wedding day.  If you're interest in seeing more, I've got a few galleries at  Thanks for checking them out!

This is me and our officiant, Wendy Goldberg, at the White House a few hours before the ceremony.  I can only assume from the demonic look on my face that Wendy had just said something that cracked me up, as she often does.

Maria Thayer helped me get ready.  She also sang a beautiful song at our ceremony.

The siblings Barakiva (or Bar-Akiva).

Linsay Firman, my gorgeous god-daughter Julia Rettig, and Shane Rettig.  Linsay also gave a beautiful toast at the ceremony.


This is my brother, re-doing the tie that my sister had already helped me put on.

Rafael, his friend Monica, her husband, and all the way in the back, the incomparable Maamoun Jibali, who designed our rings and did our flowers.

Rafael holding his mother's hand, with Monica and her husband on his right.
My brother giving me last-minute advice, as we walk to the ceremony.

A beautiful day to get married, no?

Wendy C. Goldberg, Artistic Director of the Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, and my dear friend and our officiant.

Our mothers, giving us away.

I cried for most of the ceremony.

Shoko Kambara designed our beautiful chuppah, with poles that went all the way to the ground (this is how a great set designer thinks, ladies and gents, so our chuppah bearers wouldn't fatigue over the course of the ceremony.  On Rafael's side, his brother Luis Antonio and his friend Francisco.  On my side, my un-boyfriend Andy Goldberg and my brother Doron.  Half-way through the ceremony, I made Rafael switch places with me, since the ceremony was in three-quarters and I was worried about sight-lines

Rafael and I incorporated our audience into our vows.

Rafael's women: from left to right: his cousin Adriana, his cousin Alijandra, and his best friend from Mexico City, Carmen Corona

Lindsey Gates did a reading of Emily Dickinson's WILD NIGHTS

My women: Linsay Firman, Maria Thayer, Kareen Barakiva.

We kiss.

We leave.

People have cocktails and dance.
I know that the people here look like they've been photographed jumping, but they actually learned how to fly for our wedding.  Now, that's friendship.

Flowers by Maamoun Jibali.

We got not just one, but two rainbows the day of our wedding.  I'm not going to tell you how much they cost, or what I had to do to guarantee them.  But they were worth it.  God uses rainbows as a reminder that he will never again destroy the world by flood, and to show that he endorses gay marriage.

Watermelon Gazpacho, course one of seven.

Piano Bar After Party.

I don't like cakes so much, so we did a wedding cake made out of cheese: Bottom layer, White Blue Cheese.  Middle layer, Brie.  Top Layer: Goat cheese.

Us slicing that dairy deliciousness.

Wanna see more?  Go to