Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts

Thursday, April 25, 2019

‘Waiting for Someone to Explain It’ Now Published

Having written this blog for some dozen years, by the end of last year I felt it was time to make it less of “a job” and more focused on things I enjoy rather than those I obsess over.  That meant less political and current affairs commenting (although I’ll never say never to those subjects in the future).  The present political and economic landscape invites day to day commentary, but I’ve decided to resist it to preserve my sanity.  It is truly a case of existential dread and exhaustion.

Nonetheless, I also decided to mostly exit those subjects by making a declarative statement in the form of a book based on the extensive entries from the past.  Therefore, Waiting for Someone to Explain It; The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense (North Palm Beach, Lacunae Musing, 2019),348 Pages, $13.95 is now available in paperback from Amazon and their extensive distribution network. 

The irony of selecting Amazon KDP as my publishing platform hasn’t been lost on me as when I was a publisher I dealt with Amazon in its infancy and now it deals with me in my dotage. 

It is also ironic that it should be published the same week as the Mueller Report which to some extent provides some of the answers I’ve been “waiting for.”  Yet Trump is as much a symptom as a cause. The book reveals the deep roots of our cultural civil war and the intransigence of political polarization, and one person’s quest to come to terms with them. 

It argues that we’ve become inured to the outrageous and accommodative of the absurd.  It points to a deep vein of anti-intellectualism in this country, questioning the veracity of climate change, championing the “right” to open carry weapons, and leading to the worship of false idols: 24 x 7 streaming entertainment.  We’ve become a nation needing immediate gratification, no matter what the societal consequences of borrowing against the future or becoming somnambulists in front of liquid crystal display screens.

Who could have imagined the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States?  As his candidacy ramped up, so did my commentary, all encapsulated in “Waiting.”

The book documents the election of such an unsuitable candidate, who has proved to be worse than feared, a “crazy maker” a gas-lighter of reality, a believer in his own mendacity.  These issues populate the entries.  As Eric Hoffer said in his classic The True Believer (1951), “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”  During the period I sought out other expert journalists, psychologists, bloggers, economists, and even novelists in an attempt to understand.

The publicity release at the end of this entry explains the title and more about the rationale.  It is not simply a collection of entries from the blog.  There is a narrative tying things together and the entries themselves have been edited to minimize redundancies and present them better in print. 

As an ex-publisher it’s also been a labor of love, to write a book, even participate in its design, bringing me back to my start in publishing in 1964 as a production assistant.  So much has changed since then in the industry.  For me, the publication was as much about the journey. I think of it as an act of professional closure as well as a cry for the kind of democracy our forefathers envisioned. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

This famous dictum by Socrates can be interpreted many ways.  He was a philosopher and it may be that philosophy is indeed the basis for all creative arts, and even the sciences, man’s attempt to come to grips with our place in an endless universe, the meaning of life, and its corollary, death.  When the 400-year-old King Beringer is told at the beginning of Eugene Ionesco’s play, Exit the King, that he now has only 90 minutes to live he rages “why was I born, if it wasn't forever?”

We live in an age of media overload, social, graphic, narrowcasting political views, and instant gratification on cell phones, iPads, and "reality" TV shows.  There are so many “streaming” choices that one’s inner life is suffocated.  Maybe that’s the point of it all, numbing us all into a somnambulistic state so we don’t have to do the hard thinking, just be an obedient lot of consumers.

More than ever we need the arts to find our moral compass, to return to examining one’s life.  Perhaps that is why the theater has become a centerpiece of my blog over the years, particularly the plays produced right here in my own backyard by Palm Beach Dramaworks.  It is among the best regional theaters in the United States, and although there are other good theaters nearby, none have been as consistently adept in their choice of plays, actors, and in their execution as Dramaworks.  It rivals New York and the West End.

Having reviewed so many plays of theirs over the past several years, missing just a few summer productions while we’re away, as an ex-publisher I thought it might be interesting to pull them together into an eBook PDF, something more navigable than going through the BlogSpot site. The software for doing this is not very flexible, thus including entries where Dramaworks is merely mentioned.   As such, some of our personal life, as well as an occasional review of other theatres’ productions, and even a few book reviews get commingled.  Fortunately, there are not many.  The vast bulk is indeed the “history” of Dramaworks during the period. 

What results is a 200 page PDF, easily downloadable into iBooks and therefore readable off line.  I brought my iPad on a recent Caribbean cruise (more on that in a later entry) and thought I’d just look over the results and instead I ended up reading it virtual cover to virtual cover.  I had feared a lot of redundancy.  After all, how many different ways are there of praising a play and performance since PBD’s productions have been uncommonly exceptional? (There are some reviews on my site of other theatre productions which are negative, so it’s not as if I don’t have a critical bone in my body.)

But it seems to come across without much literal repetition and most of the impact reading it as an eBook is from the sheer energy and enthusiasm that went into these reviews, not from any particular “review skill acumen.”   It’s all part of buying into Dramaworks’ vision:  “To enhance the quality of life through the transformative power of live theatre.”  Full circle back to the “examined life.”

Interestingly, the very first entry in the collection, published in November 2007, is entitled Literature and Family.  It is one of those entries that is not a review of a Dramaworks play although one paragraph does cover their production of The Subject Was Roses.  Most of the entry could serve as a fitting introduction to this collection as so much great literature and theatre is about family. That entry taps into some of my own family “secrets.” As Tolstoy said "happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Literature and Family concludes with an essay about my father.  It explains a lot about how I made the journey to the very words you are reading at this moment.

Finally, I thank the PBD professionals who are really responsible for the contents of this document, and in particular, Dramaworks’ founders, William Hayes, Producing Artistic Director; Sue Ellen Beryl, Managing Director; and Nanique Gheridian, Company Manager. 

The PDF of the Dramaworks Retrospective by Robert Hagelstein is available here:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Theatre Roundtable: Directly Speaking

One of the many benefits of Dramaworks in West Palm Beach is the diversity of their offerings outside the productions on the main stage, in particular their ongoing educational program Dramalogue which is “a series that explores all aspects of theatre, in conversations with or about the industry's top professionals and master artists.” This year’s program is one of their best and last night’s Theatre Roundtable, Directly Speaking was, for me, particularly fascinating and relevant.

This was a live question and answer session about directing, trying to answer the question “what, exactly, does a director do?”  The participants were among the leading directors in South Florida, Joseph Adler the producing artistic director of the GableStage, David Arisco, the artistic director of the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, William Hayes a founding member of Palm Beach Dramaworks as well as its producing artistic director, and J. Barry Lewis, Dramaworks’ resident director and who also directs plays at other area theatres. Hayes and Lewis were the moderators of this spellbinding discussion.  Between the four directors on the panel, they estimate having some 400 plays under their directorial belts!

What impressed me was not only the content of their discussion, but their passion as well.  These directors are devoted to their craft; it is both an art and a process.  I was also struck by how closely directing relates to the role I fulfilled during my career, publisher. To be one for nearly forty years required the same degree of passion.

Joseph Adler likened his directorial career to pushing that absurd rock of Sisyphus up the hill, trying to reach the peak, but always being condemned to not reach it and having to do it all over again.  To him, it has always been the attempt to achieve perfection, but having to settle for the act of directing as being an ongoing learning experience.  I can relate. During my career as a publisher; the more I learned, the more I discovered there was to learn.

The director’s role is to present the play as the author intended and to get all the artistic aspects of a production in alignment to achieve that purpose, stage design, lighting, costuming, blocking and movement of the actors, not to mention the auditioning process as actor selection is as critical as getting the actors to understand the director’s vision and to act in harmony. 

Amusingly, someone said when a play is good they commend the actors but when it is bad it’s entirely the director’s fault! It was also said that a leading actor’s off night is always much worse than an average actor’s average night, especially if an actor goes “rogue,” changing interpretation after a play opens.  The production will then most likely stray from the director’s vision of the play.  And, unknown to most audiences, once a play opens (and in the South Florida regional theatre scene that occurs in most cases less than a month from when they first start to work on a play!), the play is no longer in the director’s control; it is handed off to the stage manager.  So the director has precious few weeks to get everything working together.

While there are overlapping choices of types of plays presented at the three theatres represented in the discussion, each has its specialization as well.  David Arisco’s background in musical theatre, as well as the size of Actor’s Playhouse’s 600 seat main stage has resulted in more musicals while Joseph Adler’s intimate 150-seat theater in Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel has gravitated to more experimental productions.  Dramaworks 218-seat theatre is also intimate but Hayes and company have focused more on well-established contemporary dramatic works, with some musical theatre during their summer programs.  And next week it is opening its new 35 seat Diane & Mark Perlberg Studio Theatre on the second floor for its also new endeavor, the Dramaworkshop, a lab for developing new plays, the first one being Buried Cities by Jennifer Fawcett. 

All of this reminds me of my publishing days. We too would have overlapping publishing programs, particularly in academic publishing, but we also forged our way into unique reference programs and even occasionally a competitive trade book (one published for a general audience).  Each press would generally be known for a particular specialty.

Unlike many commercial enterprises (and except for the university presses most publishing is a for-profit endeavor – or at least that’s the intent), book publishing is different as each book is a “unique product.”  Plays are similarly unique, each needing a creative team to produce it.  The director of a play is its CEO, very often involved in the selection process itself, and then heading up his creative technical team, and the actors, to present the author’s vision and to please his audience. 

As in theatre, we had to do justice to our authors. In publishing, our team was comprised of advisory editors (to help select the publishable material or to develop new works from scratch), copy editors, production editors, marketing specialists to make sure the book reaches its intended audience, designers for promotion and for the book itself, and then the back office business -- royalties, sales receipts, customer service, etc.  And there are similar business requirements to run a successful theatre, including fund raising as ticket sales themselves usually cover only about half of a regional theatre’s expenses.

I make these observations as those were the thoughts running through my mind listening to these great directors speak.  They were talking about a creative process I identify with although I neither have the knowledge or translatable experience to direct a play.  Ask me to produce a book, no problem! So no wonder I’ve become a “citizen reviewer” of many of the Dramaworks’ productions, and some other theatre productions as well.  Dramalogue helped bring out the sense of parallelism to my working life.  The “invisible hand” of the director is not so dissimilar to working with a creative publishing team.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Post Labor Day Thoughts

My good friend and ex colleague, Ron, emailed to wish me “Happy Labor Day” even though we’re out in the pasture with the herd of the retired.  We proudly earned our branded hides: workers.

As my older son Chris proclaims, life is work.  We’re always trying to find a balance but when your job is enjoyable, and you find it meaningful, life and work negotiate a successful merger.  During my career I was tempted to bring it to the next level in a major publishing organization.  It would have meant leaving the company I was joyfully building and moving overseas to London, a city we love.  But the thought of engaging in corporate politics, vs. the hands-on experience of running a stand-alone publishing company made me hesitate and I’m glad I did.

My favorite section of the Sunday New York Times is their Sunday Review, mostly thoughtful, opinion pieces.  This past week’s had two relating to the above, “Friends at Work? Not So Much” (by Adam Grant) and “Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work” (by Arthur C. Brooks).   The former cites factors such as the disappearance of a job for life, flextime, and the rise of the “virtual office” that has potentially impacted the loss of meaningful relationships for life.  I always considered colleagues friends as well as fellow workers.  There is much to be said about the virtual office but it is a steep price to pay for true collaboration and trust that develops through personal interaction.

The second article also speaks directly to my working years.  As the article asks, “Why don’t people just keep the jobs they like?”  The answer is we are sort of hard-wired to achieve success by climbing the next wrung in the ladder, and then next, etc.  I climbed to the extent that I found a place in the working world that made me happy.  Why go any further, indeed? Simply for more money?  Bad reason I thought.

I always felt that I was responsible not only to my employer, but to my employees, our vendors, authors, as well, everyone who makes up a publishing company.  As the article concludes: “In our interconnected world and global economy, our work transforms the lives of countless others.  Sometimes the impact is obvious: Managers and executives directly inflect their employees’ happiness and career success.  But everyone, in every industry, affects the lives of co-workers, supervisors, customers, suppliers, donors or investors.”  If we all realize this in our working lives, perhaps work would not be a dirty four letter word.

Speaking of the latter, the prior week’s Sunday Review (August 30) carried still another meaningful article on work, “We Need to Rethink How We Work,” accurately reflecting on what motivates people.   As Barry Schwartz, the author of the article points out, it was Adam Smith’s view that people just dislike work, writing in his enormously influential The Wealth of Nations, that “it is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can.”  Schwartz thinks that his notion has clouded the science of management ever since, viewing workers as beasts of burden which a whipping stick, or at least a carrot and a stick might be the best motivators.  Hence, employees are being constantly monitored, as the wickedly funny movie Office Space satires as the “TPS Reports.”

Employees thrive on a measure of independence and fair compensation should be the natural result of people working at jobs they find meaningful.  “When money is made the measure of all things, it becomes the measure of all things….[We] should not lose sight of the aspiration to make work the kind of activity people embrace, rather than the kind they shun…..Work that is adequately compensated is an important social good.  But so is work that is worth doing.  Half of our waking lives is a terrible thing to waste.”

I’m currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity (thus far, brilliant!).  More on that book in a later entry, but early on in the novel there is a techno-utopian view of work expressed by participants in a Wiki-leaks-like cult movement:

Their theory was that the technology driven gains in productivity and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs would inevitably result in better wealth distribution, including generous payments to most of the population for doing nothing, when Capital realized that it could not afford to pauperize the consumers who bought its robot-made products. Unemployed consumers would acquire an economic value equivalent to their lost value as actual laborers, and could join forces with the people still working in the service industry, thereby creating a new coalition of labor and the permanently unemployed, whose overwhelming size would compel social change.

At this point there is a discussion as to why a person changing bedpans in a nursing home for a $40,000 salary wouldn’t want, instead, to be a paid as a consumer at the same remuneration.  One of the participants in the discussion comes to the conclusion: "The way you'd have to do it is make labor compulsory but then keep lowering the retirement age, so you'd always have full employment for everybody under thirty-two, or thirty-five, or whatever, and full unemployment for everybody over that age."

Is that the future of work?  Sounds more dystopian to me. Franzen’s unique social observations have a clarion ring of future verity.  Maybe that’s where we’re heading: let robots do the work, and we’ll lay about consuming streaming video all day.  Thankfully, that is not my future, but we ought to be careful about what we wish for.

Nonetheless, getting back to Labor Day, I’m now many years into retirement and my working life seems more like a dream some stranger went through for those four decades.  I like the way my friend Ron put it:  "I have accepted the fact that we were merely hired ballplayers.  While working we were respected, valued, and even ostensibly loved as long as we could pitch, field, run, and hit.  Once retired, we were just old ex ballplayers.  Now, there is hardly anyone at our companies who remember us or would even recognize our names let alone appreciate what we did.  It is the way of the world, and I have accepted it.”  To that analogy I added, in my response, “I like to think we played it well -- and now don't even get invited to an old timer’s game.  I still think I can reach home plate from the pitcher’s mound though :-)."

OK, no more pitching for me, but we know what we did and we know that our careers led to thousands of publications that might not have seen the light of day, and those went out into an Internet-less world at the time, and affected change and hopefully progress.  And we were part of working communities, dedicated as much to one another as we were to the work itself.  As I said, it was a merger of sorts.  My very first entry in this blog on the subject of work and my first job out of college still resonates.