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Tag Archives: The Thin Man

You Are There

Sixty-plus people attended our live radio presentation of ‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh at the Omni William Penn Saturday November 23rd. One of the first questions people asked me was, ‘Are you going to record it?’, followed by ‘Are you going to put it on YouTube?’ We could just as well have done this for people to enjoy anonymously behind their screens — in between checking e-mails and Facebook. Instead, people braved the first real winter weather of the season to join other audience members and ourselves for the experience of hearing Nick and Nora and an array of lowlifes and highflyers do their thing. My thanks to Sarah, Bob, Tamer, Jessica and the staff at the Omni for providing a great venue.

Omni William Penn Lobby

Omni William Penn Lobby

In these days of twitter and instagram, human activity is endlessly digitized, replicated and deconstructed. Eight-word text messages count for meaningful conversation. Experience must be compressed into 144 characters. I was privileged to collaborate with a wonderful group of people who made our event come alive. Only two perform full-time. One is a musician and poet, in addition to working in the financial services industry. The rest have day jobs. We rehearsed for two months to put together a show to knock the socks off our audience. ‘Astonish me’ the theater critic said. What seems astonishing is that we pulled it off.

Whether painting or music, theater or dance, the arts at their best connect us to our deepest selves as individuals and as a community. This is more important than ever as our lives become preoccupied with self-promotion and dependent on duplication of experience — endlessly replicated and mass- produced. This trend affects everything from clothing to relationships to our emotions to the food we eat. We seek the ‘authentic’ in a safe, standardized, mass-produced palatable format — one that won’t challenge our expectations too much or result in a less than optimal experience. Andy Warhol, still revered here in his home town, reframed and resold us our own memes (the familiar artifacts of consumer culture) and took the proceeds all the way to the bank.

So we update our Facebook pages, send tweets on our own time and convenience, screen our calls (if we talk to anyone at all) — endlessly reiterating what someone else has said and what we already know. Our lives themselves are circumscribed by the virtual and vicarious so that we barely have a thought that is not predigested and shared immediately with others, hardly knowing ourselves what we think.

We are in danger of becoming commodities ourselves. We are encouraged to this by consumer advertisements and depictions of what life should be (speaking of Warhol). Smart phones, helmet cams, GPS coordinates allow us to track, monitor and share our most profound and innocuous thoughts. We watch ourselves constantly. The consequence of all this sharing with strangers who do not know us – is that experience is isolated and fragmented. We form judgments of others (and have judgments formed about us) without regard to personal history, circumstances or context.

But the process of ensuring a perfect cup of coffee every time1 does not scale easily to the arts or to being human. The happiest and most tragic aspects of living are fraught, unpredictable, messy. True art reflects this. It contains an element of the sacred, an immanence that cannot be manufactured. To be more than than just the sound of one hand clapping, it must involve an audience and a performer (or presenter) taking a mutual risk on an unknown quantity. As Stefany Anne Goldberg writes2:

“A magic trick is not a can of peas. A pirouette is not a product. A performance is just a person, creating an experience for other people, making them laugh, making them gasp, annoying them, delighting them. “

“… in a live performance, there’s a symbiotic relationship between audience and performer, in a recorded performance, audience and performer are divorced from each other, unreal to each other.”

” Nothing else has the feeling of standing on that precipice between failure and success — the puddle of sweat at the small of the back, the fluttering heartbeat, the tingling knees; to experience that moment when everything just might fall apart and probably should and you know it will, but then it doesn’t…. “

A live performance invites strangers to invest individually and together in a communal experience that will never be repeated. On good days the result can be transcendent, enlightening, uplifting. On other days, well, at least you can make up your mind yourself. Because you were there. – CDL

1See Julian Baggini, Joy in the Task, in Aeon Magazine

2Stefany Anne Goldberg , Send in Whatever Clowns are Left, The Smart Set

Radio in the ‘Burgh

I enjoyed the first installment on AM radio in the ‘Burgh in the Post-Gazette. I vividly recall personalities such as Jack Bogut and shows such as KDKA’s Sixty-to-Six (not to mention Bob Prince) on my visits to Pittsburgh.

Retro Radio

Bob Prince broadcast Pirates baseball on a set like this during summer evenings on my grandparents patio.

Of course,commercial radio started in Pittsburgh.  One thing left out of the 10/13 article (at least the first one) is that the William Penn Hotel was the site of the world’s first live orchestra broadcasts in the 1920s and broadcasts of the Count Basie and Lawrence Welk orchestras in the 1930s. We are partnering with Arcade Comedy and the Omni to evoke this experience with a sketch comedy show on November 1st and a live radio adaptation of ‘The Thin Man’ on November 23rd.  Please see the following links for more information and tickets:

Retro Radio Review at Arcade Comedy Theater November 1st (sketches inspired by radio scripts from the 1930s and 40s)

‘The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ Live Radio (at the Omni William Penn November 23rd)

Incidentally, one of the stars of the original Thin Man film, William Powell, was a native of Pittsburgh. With a grant from the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, we are hoping to do a live broadcast and streaming webcast of the Omni event during Pittsburgh’s traditional start to the holiday season. Ironically, the local stations we approached so far say that the technical demands and logistics of doing a broadcast on location in 2013 make this a challenge!

Advertisers, the news media and education often give the mistaken assumption that new technology (e.g., podcasts, Instagram and Facebook) inevitably supersedes older, established technology such as radio (and newspapers ; – )). In reality human beings rediscover and reapply older technology all the time to meet problems and create new forms of expression where there is a need and benefit.  Just ask anyone who owns a Prius or a 1904 Columbia Electric Runabout.  Please see the following links:

The Marx Brothers on Radio (marx-brothers.org)

An Appreciation of Damon Runyon  (by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker)

Original Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Recordings (Realaudio at OTR Network)

A Few Words About Copyrights  (Interesting take on a confusing subject from the Generic Radio Workshop)

– CDL

What’s Old Is New: ‘The Thin Man’ in the ‘Burgh Dec. 15th & 16th

In 1934 the fiscal cliff wasn’t just looming. The country had fallen off the edge five years before. Oklahoma was suffering through dust storms of Biblical proportion.  John Steinbeck was taking notes on Okies fleeing to the promised land of California, only to be turned away. Woody Guthrie was singing for hobos and migrant workers (the lowest of the ninety-nine percent then) and starting to wonder whose land it was.

That year a film called The Thin Man appeared, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett. Cinema-goers suffering through the Depression were treated to glamour and glitter mixed in with the seamier side life — all leavened with a healthy dose of  humor.  Nick Charles  is a ‘retired’ and restless former gumshoe married to Nora, a rich heiress. Nick and Nora engage in playful  repartee that any married couple might envy today, as Nora tries to persuade her husband to return to sleuthing and ‘detecting’; things he enjoyed doing and did well (and which presumably attracted her to him).

For the live radio adaptation Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies is sponsoring December 15th and 16th at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, we have brought Nick and Nora to the Smokey City (as it was before Renaissance I and II), where actor William Powell, who played Nick in the film, was born. Rather than the Normandie in New York City, we put them up in a suite at the William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh during the week between Christmas and New Year. If Nora had taken a different path in life, she might have mingled with the Mellons, Scaifes and other members of Pittsburgh’s one percent. With Nick, however, she is introduced to sandwiches with French fries ‘that truck drivers eat’ and pierogies. She meets the lowlifes and high-fliers he  worked with as a detective in the Rocks and on the Hill, or sent up the river (or perhaps rivers, since there are three in Pittsburgh). Nora adores her Nicky and the ‘lovely people’ he knows, hoodlums and society dames with rough edges and false charm. A surprising equality exists between Nick & Nora. She is at least his equal in wit and repartee – if not in her ability to put away martinis.

The original story is a good bit grittier than the film it inspired, and presents a stew of murder, intrigue and archetypes which Hammett (along with Raymond Chandler) originated. These have become staples to the present day in detective novels, film noir and television shows such CSI.  They include an eccentric scientist, a gold digger, an egghead/nerd and hard-boiled cops. ‘You got types?’ Nora asks Nick. ‘Only pretty brunettes with wicked jaws,’ he wisely replies. To these we’ve taken the liberty of  adding a few yinzers, jagoffs, n’ ‘at.

'Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.'‘Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.’ (L-R John Seibel, Chuck Lanigan, Mark Tierno, Jon Rohlf from the TMP cast)

Characters imbibe alcohol prodigiously in both the movie and the novella. The latter, which Hammett first serialized in (of all places) Redbook Magazine contains an undertone of dissipation and boredom, if not desperation, befitting the times. Ingénues take their first precipitous step toward ruin (speaking of cliffs). Relationships have soured. Bodies rot beneath the concrete floor. The film plays it all for laughs and adventure. Most of the lowlifes and jagoffs have hearts of gold, and we go along. Except for a single line from Dorothy in the beginning about her concern for people losing their jobs, you would hardly know there was a Depression.

In 1934 Pittsburgh was suffering the economic ravages with the rest of the country. People on their way to the Fulton (now the Byham) to attend the film passed their neighbors selling apples and standing in line at soup kitchens (and perhaps did so themselves). There were a few bright notes:  Prohibition had just been lifted. Duquesne Gardens in the East End was scene of sporting events such as Hornets ice hockey and prize fights. ‘Winter Wonderland’ appeared on the charts that year. By that date populist preacher Father Coughlin was broadcasting to 30-million people  and the first live radio orchestra broadcast had debuted from the William Penn. Wylie Avenue in the Hill hosted jazz luminaries such as Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines and Billy Strayhorn

Our goal in adapting the script is to pay homage to the original film, retaining its flavor, dialogue and humor updated with a taste of the ‘burgh. Staging the event as a radio show for a live audience seems appropriate in the town where commercial radio originated. We hope you enjoy the experience virtually or in person.  Please contact us with questions. See the following for information on scheduling and tickets. — CDL

‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh
Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall
Saturday December 15th 7:30 PM, Sunday December 16th 2:00 PM
Tickets $10 credit card online at Artful.ly or cash at the door

You will also find information at ALCStudies Current and Upcoming Events.

We are grateful to the following for their support :

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