The Alcott scholar

How famous is my 20-year-old monologue “Television?”

I knew it was being taught in high schools and colleges, but I didn’t know that papers on it can be purchased by lazy or uninspired students.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been in school, but based on the opening paragraphs of the “scholarly paper” offered for sale here, the student who pays for this analysis is getting ripped off.

Money

This turned up on Youtube today.

I shot it about twenty years ago for a TV show called The 90s. It’s a monologue from a play I wrote called High Strangeness. It was directed by a great director named Skip Blumberg, who was completely fearless about just walking out into the street, pointing the camera at something and assuming something interesting would happen. In my case, I had all these monologues I used to do and I had them all memorized, so he could just turn the camera on and I would just do the piece and everything would be done in a few minutes. I don’t remember us ever doing a second take, which is how he could do things like shoot me, literally in the middle of Wall St in the middle of the afternoon, without either of us getting hit by a car.

As I recall, he didn’t even plan out the shot — he just said “How’s this?” and I said “Okay,” and he rolled camera and started walking backwards and I followed him. New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, knew better than to make faces at the camera or anything like that.

Memory Lane, part 1

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I came up in show business as a playwright and monologuist in the late 1980s.  My beat was the East Village of New York City.  I didn’t have a computer back then — my plays and monologues were written on a clackety old Royal Portable that dated from the Koren War.  And my flyers were all assembled by hand.  I had no layout tools at my disposal, so I leaned into the crude aesthetics of the punk rock I loved — I slapped together things I found on the street, I doodled in the margins, I made all the scotch tape visible.  Instead of trying to make my flyers look slick, I emphasized their shabbiness.  If you weren’t there, they probably won’t make much graphic sense.

It’s also worth pointing out that all these images were meant to be reproduced in black and white, at Xerox machines at Kinko’s. Sometimes they looked better that way, sometimes much was lost.

Do remember to click on any of the images to see them bigger.

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Money

[This is a monologue from a very early play of mine, High Strangeness, written in 1988 when I was 27 and knew everything. The action of the scene is that the monologue is being spoken by an idealistic young man who's trying to impress a comely young woman.  The play was produced a couple of times in the early 90s and the monologue was a semi-regular fixture of my one-man shows.]free stats

…and if you needed furniture, you made furniture. If you needed clothes, you made clothes. Everybody had the skills they needed in order to survive. You knew how to grow food, or find food, you knew how to sew, how to spin, how to weave, and if you didn’t, then you knew someone who did. So you worked something out, a bushel of corn for fixing a shirt, I don’t know. But now, but now, what do we have? No one knows how to make anything. Could you make a shirt? I can’t. A toaster? A refrigerator? A car? Bake a loaf of bread? It’s impossible. We can’t conceive of the work that goes into any of those things. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, where did we get them? We traded some pieces of paper and shiny metal for them! Or better still, we showed the shopkeeper our plastic card and got them for nothing! And so we become disassociated from our own possessions. And from our fellow human beings. And from our environment. And from our God. And why? For what? Money. Money is the answer to every question you can ask in this world. What is time? Money. Why do I work? Money. What keeps society from breaking down? Money. Why don’t we grow our own food anymore? Because we can can pay other people to grow it for us. Without money we’d starve. How did buildings get so tall? Because we can pay other people to make them that way. Without money we’d still be having, I don’t know, barn-raisings. Money goes beyond being good or evil, money is simply there. Everywhere. It’s like saying air or fire is good or evil. Money is the fifth element. And it cancels out the original four because it can take their place at any moment! You don’t need to be able to tame fire, you just need to pay your gas bill! You don’t have to douse for water, a buck-fifty will get you a bottle of Perrier on any street corner! Scientists say that everything is a form of energy, but they’re not taking it far enough, everything is really a form of money! The sun isn’t the source of all life, it’s the source of all money! To the Indians, the land was sacred, it was holy! But anyone will tell you today that it’s just capital waiting to be exploited. Everything we do, everything we see, everything we feel, everything that affects us does so because someone is making money off it. No one and nothing escapes. The whole planet is a business: Earth, Inc., assets 48 kazillion dollars! What is that?! Is that a planet?! Is that a race?! Is that a reason for opening your eyelids in the morning? When things get this bad, something always happens. It could be one of a million things: nuclear war, environmental crisis, worldwide depression, all of these…it’s an interesting time to live.

Strange things found on YouTube

My monologue “Television” continues to burrow its way into universe in strange and unpredictable ways.
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Happy Valentine’s Day from What Does The Protagonist Want

JAWS OF LOVE

I’m a man, I’m an idiot, it follows. I’m a man, I’m an idiot.

I’m human, that’s the problem. I’m human, I’m an idiot, it follows. I’m human, I’m an idiot. You can’t teach me anything, I won’t learn, I’ll never learn, I can’t learn, I’m an idiot, I’m trapped and you can’t teach me anything.

You ever look into someone’s eyes and been reduced to the size of a pin? A pin, a pinpoint of light, been reduced to a pinpoint of light? You ever see someone toss their hair back and it made you fall silent? You could be talking to someone — “Oh, yes, the third episode with the dwarf was the best” — and they do this –

[imitation of hair-flip]

– and you fall silent. Because, you know why? Because Something Important Has Happened. Or, or, you’re talking to this person, this person, this certain person who makes your heart want to get in your car and turn on some rockabilly and drive somewhere, and you’re hanging on every word this person says, and then this person says something like —

…”that would be nice”…

– and it dislodges this rock, somewhere in the deep stream of your subconscious this rock is dislodged, and you find yourself thinking about things you haven’t thought about in years. Am I ugly? Do I need some mints? How come I never read any Shelley? Jesus, do I weigh that much? This rock is dislodged, it sets off an avalanche in your head that wipes out everything else in your brain.

And you fall silent. It’s like you’re in church, it’s like you’re worshipping. Because you are in church. You are worshipping. You are having a religious experience.

Why? Why this person? Who is this person? What do you know about this person? Doesn’t this person have terrible taste in music? Doesn’t this person smoke? Isn’t this person ten years older than you? Isn’t this person not attracted to your sex? Doesn’t this person think you’re an insignificant blot on an otherwise charming landscape? Isn’t this person the rudest, clumsiest, most incorrigibly maddeningly frustratingly difficult person you’ve ever met in your life? Well? Then why? Why are you talking to this person? What is the point? Why are you bothering? Why do I find myself in this exact same position right now?!

Because –

[gesture to body]

– this, you see, this, you know what this is, this is flesh. It’s all I’ve got. It’s all they gave me. I didn’t get a book of rules. I didn’t get a wise old mind that could see into the future and tell me that these feelings would die, that lovemaking would become rote and tiresome, that I would lose interest, that we would get into fights over things like, like white-out!

I didn’t get that mind, my mind doesn’t say those things, my mind says things like YES! My mind says things like NOW! My mind says things like DANCE, like, like, KISS, like, like, GRAB THIS PERSON NOW! GRAB THIS PERSON NOW!

I don’t know what it is, of course I don’t know what it is. It’s not meant to be known, not by us, not by me, not in this life, not in this world. It’s a feeling, that’s all, it’s a feeling, you know it when you feel it, it’s like these jaws snapping shut on you, on me, like they’ve shut on me, and I’m trapped, because, because, I’m a man, I’m an idiot, it follows, like I said, these jaws are as big as the fucking universe, and they’ll chew me up and spit me out, and I’ll never learn, I’m trapped, I’m an idiot, and I’m trapped in the jaws of love.


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The dangers of Googling oneself

This is weird. I have no idea whose these young men are or how they found out about my monologue “Television,” and I find it bizarre that they never tried to contact me to tell me they were making a short from my material, but they do give me credit so I guess that counts for something.

For those interested in how this piece originally appeared, you can find it here (click on “9:02 ‘Todd Alcott’ by Skip Blumberg”).

I have also learned that, while I haven’t yet made it into America’s Wikipedia, I’m apparently big in France. hit counter html code

Friend

I stumbled across this piece today.  It dates back to the early 90s.  Even though I performed it fairly regularly, I have no memory of having written it.  That’s how it goes sometimes.

She could never take care of herself.  She was an accident waiting to happen, she was a bull in a china shop, she was dead but she wouldn’t lie down.

I used to say to her, forget it, this place, this time, it’s not for us, not for me and you.  You walk down the street and what is this place, this place is a shambles, this place is a slaughterhouse, people a hundred years from now will look back on us and say “My God, how could they live like that?!”

More misery this way

The Jaws of Love

(Another piece from my monologue days.)

I’m a man, I’m an idiot, it follows.  I’m a man, I’m an idiot.

I’m human, that’s the problem.  I’m human, I’m an idiot, it follows.  I’m human, I’m an idiot.  You can’t teach me anything, I won’t learn, I’ll never learn, I can’t learn, I’m an idiot, I’m trapped and you can’t teach me anything.

You ever look into someone’s eyes and been reduced to the size of a pin?  A pin, a pinpoint of light, been reduced to a pinpoint of light?  You ever see someone toss their hair back and it made you fall silent?  You could be talking to someone — “Oh, yes, the third episode with the dwarf was the best” — and they do this –

[imitation of hair-flip]

– and you fall silent.  Because, you know why?  Because Something Important Has Happened.  Or, or, you’re talking to this person, this person, this certain person who makes your heart want to get in your car and turn on some rockabilly and drive somewhere, and you’re hanging on every word this person says, and then this person says something like —

…”that would be nice”…

– and it dislodges this rock, somewhere in the deep stream of your subconscious this rock is dislodged, and you find yourself thinking about things you haven’t thought about in years.  Am I ugly?  Do I need some mints?  How come I never read any Shelley?  Jesus, do I weigh that much?  This rock is dislodged, it sets off an avalanche in your head that wipes out everything else in your brain. 

And you fall silent.  It’s like you’re in church, it’s like you’re worshipping.  Because you are in church.  You are worshipping.  You are having a religious experience.

Why?  Why this person?  Who is this person?  What do you know about this person?  Doesn’t this person have terrible taste in music?  Doesn’t this person smoke?  Isn’t this person ten years older than you?  Isn’t this person not attracted to your sex?  Doesn’t this person think you’re an insignificant blot on an otherwise charming landscape?  Isn’t this person the rudest, clumsiest, most incorrigibly maddeningly frustratingly difficult person you’ve ever met in your lifeWell?  Then why?  Why are you talking to this person?  What is the point?  Why are you bothering?  Why do I find myself in this exact same position right now?!

Because –

[gesture to body]

– this, you see, this, you know what this is, this is flesh.  It’s all I’ve got.  It’s all they gave me.  I didn’t get a book of rules.  I didn’t get a wise old mind that could see into the future and tell me that these feelings would die, that lovemaking would become rote and tiresome, that I would lose interest, that we would get into fights over things like, like white-out!

I didn’t get that mind, my mind doesn’t say those things, my mind says things like YES!  My mind says things like NOW!  My mind says things like DANCE, like, like, KISS, like, like, GRAB THIS PERSON NOW!  GRAB THIS PERSON NOW!

I don’t know what it is, of course I don’t know what it is.  It’s not meant to be known, not by us, not by me, not in this life, not in this world.  It’s a feeling, that’s all, it’s a feeling, you know it when you feel it, it’s like these jaws snapping shut on you, on me, like they’ve shut on me, and I’m trapped, because, because, I’m a man, I’m an idiot, it follows, like I said, these jaws are as big as the fucking universe, and they’ll chew me up and spit me out, and I’ll never learn, I’m trapped, I’m an idiot, and I’m trapped in the jaws of love.

Copyright © 1993 Todd Alcott
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Xmas piece


Christmas comes to Santa Monica.  (click for larger view)

Note: this piece was my Christmas Card for 1990.

The story is:  God’s only begotten son, destined to be savior for all humankind, was born in a barn on the outskirts of Bethlehem on December 25, 4 B.C.  The event was witnessed by three wise men who had traveled thousands of miles just to be there when it happened.  The wise men brought gold and incense as gifts for the baby.  The child was born in a barn because his parents could not get rooms at the inn.  He grew up to be a political activist, philosopher, psychic healer, prognosticator, and finally ended up, they say, executed by the authorities for crimes against the state.

Now, we could go on about this all night.  But to summarize:  the child was not born December 25.  This we know.  The early Christians scheduled Christmas near the winter solstice to attract pagans to their religion, and to duck the Romans, who supposedly wouldn’t notice one more drunken feast going on during the last half of December.  Setting aside, for the moment, the mountain of evidence that suggests Jesus never existed, or that he was actually someone else, or that he was a composite of a number of different historical personages, let’s just take it on faith (so to speak) that the rest of the gospels more or less reflect an accurate “history” of this interesting character.

The three wise men followed a star to Bethlehem.  They were told that the child would be born there.  They somehow got there seemingly within minutes of the blessed event.  Angels appeared to shepherds that night, too, telling them that the Messiah was born that night in a barn.  The Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, was named Jesus, although this was not at all a common Jewish name at that time or now.  His birth seems to be connected to angels and rays of light and mysterious announcements and lights traveling in the sky.  My first instinct, of course, is to suppose a UFO connection.  But, until further proof exists of flying saucers, let’s suppose there is some rational explanation for all this activity.

Many years ago, I was driving through Ohio one Thanksgiving in the middle of the night and I looked up at a cloudless sky.  I realized that the wise men had looked up at a similar sky, had most likely looked up at it night after night for months on their long trip to Bethlehem.  Now, there is a sensation anyone can feel when looking up at a cloudless night sky.  It’s a feeling of insignificance.  The black heavens are spangled from edge to edge with ineffably beautiful points of light.  Even with what we know about galaxies and atmospheric tricks of the light, the spectacle is so astounding the only correct response is silence.  One cannot look into it too long; one will go insane.  The wise men looked at this sky night after night for months and received a message: go to Bethlehem.  The savior is born.  Bring gifts.  It could happen.

And so we now celebrate Christmas.  We give gifts to our friends and family and loved ones, partly in imitation of the wise men, partly as a result of constant pressure from manufacturing and retail concerns.  We watch TV specials, we eat rich foods, we get drunk, we celebrate love and friendship and the fact that we are alive.  If we are able to, we donate money or food or shelter or time or toys or clothing to those who have strayed from the social order or who have gotten lost or fallen down and need help to get back up or for whom things have just not worked out right.  Because we have been told that Jesus was born to humble circumstances and hey, you never know.

But what do we celebrate?  The baby, if there was a baby, was not born December 25.  The wise men, if there were wise men, followed what star?  There is no record of such a star seen by anyone else.  So perhaps they were insane, or psychic.  There is evidence that suggests that Mary and Joseph were actually quite well-to-do, that Jesus really was born, if at all, as the king of the Jews, that the manger and the angels and the talking animals were all added to the story for dramatic impact dozens or hundreds of years later.  Let’s face it, folks, from beginning to end, the story just doesn’t hold up any more, if it ever did.

Then what do we celebrate?  We celebrate a lie.  A story.  A fiction.  We celebrate the birth of a fiction.  The birth of a story of a birth.  The birth of what?  Of our savior.  Of humankind’s savior.  We celebrate this story.  And what is the message of this story?  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This message is so astonishingly simple it seems ridiculous to have to put it into words.  But look around, turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, and you can see in an instant that people still don’t quite grasp this simple idea.

In the story of Jesus, the protagonist brings this message to a populace for whom it was big news.  And today we see that it is still big news.

December 25 (or thereabouts), back in the day, was the pagan holiday Saturnalia.  Saturnalia was a solstice holiday.  The days had been growing shorter and shorter, but around December 25 they finally started to get longer again.  Saturnalia celebrated the rebirth of the sun,  the confirmation that the sun would return.  Saturnalia celebrated the fact that the sun had chosen to come around again for another year and bring spring and summer and autumn, and food and warmth and rainfall and trees and flowers and animals and another stab at life.  It is now the day we celebrate this story of the birth of this baby Jesus, who, as the story is told, had an extraordinary career in religion, politics, medicine and philosophy, and whose message begins “Do unto others.”  What we celebrate is a rebirth of that spirit, that spirit of Jesus, whether a lie, a half-truth or a hallucination, we celebrate this spirit of love and kindness, the sort of spirit that could cook up a turn of phrase so instantly comprehensible and so difficult topractice.

The shepherds, watching over their flocks, were told that the savior had been born.  And I believe it, yes, that it is this spirit of love, compassion, tolerance, kindness, this spirit is the savior of humankind.  We celebrate that we’ve made it another year, that we can still conceive of these ideals.  That this spirit, it appears, has decided to drop by again and hang out for a bit, and give a hand to those of us who are slipping, and try to get us on the right track, or barring that, at least give us some good directions.
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