Saturday, November 3, 2012

CP Voices, No. 1: August Schulenburg

One of the most enjoyable experiences we have at Carrier Pigeon is the opportunity to champion voices that we feel deserve discovery by a broader audience. With that in mind, we're inviting some of them to talk about what motivates their work.

Our first interview is with playwright, actor and director August Schulenburg. A two-time contributor to Carrier Pigeon, he is a founding member of Flux Theatre Ensemble and its current Artistic Director. August will be starring in Flux's upcoming comics-genre spectacle, Hearts Like Fists by Adam Szymkowicz, as the death-wielding Dr. X. Keep up with the production at

1. I'd like to jump in by talking about your contributions to Carrier Pigeon. Both pieces of fiction, "The Midas Touch" in Vol. 1 issue 4 and "Presents" in Vol. 2 issue 1, are monologues. They're easy to read and easy to follow, focusing on one point of view, and so my perspective has been that our readers aren't suffering from not being able to see them performed live. What are your thoughts on the publication of short, multi-character plays for reading enjoyment? Do you think packaging other media resources along with the written play, like video of live readings, makes sense? Do you think we're chumps for trying to outsmart the ephemeral nature of theatre?

Donna Diamond monoprint for "Presents."
I've been thinking a lot lately about the various knowledge/aesthetic-experience delivery systems we have and their differing strengths and weaknesses. For those of us lucky enough to have decent jobs in a wealthy country like America, our challenge is one of abundance. How do we choose amongst all the good causes and great works, knowing we will never have the time to do, be and see all the things we might have done, been and seen? I can work myself into a minor frenzy, thinking of all the wrongs and plays I'd like to right and write. But, of course, time being what it isn't, the right question is what do with right now. I think that our various medias, whether videos of live readings, publications of heft or plays of whoosh are all just ways of enabling us to more deeply live here and now. Art take the great quantum forevers and compresses them into (depending on your current level of cynicism) an illusion or revelation of a meaningful pattern that expands our consciousness so that every now that follows thereafter is just a wee bit wider. We contain more life. I think theatre is especially good at this, because, like the life it apes, it allows us only the one time through. It is the espresso of here and now, you know? No? Me either. Anyway, why not pour a story into many differently shaped containers and see how it catches the light differently in each? To conclude, I see nothing chumpish about pinning these butterflies to your pages.

2. We hope there's a sense of community in our collaborative approach to the magazine, and I know Flux has built a pretty large, die-hard community of its own within the independent theatre community. In your experience, has social media strengthened those bonds, or is online chatter deceiving? What are your favorite ways you've enlisted your community to help you grow as a company dedicated to strong, personal work?

A recent Flux Sunday event. From left: Chris Wight, Lori E. Parquet,
and Rachel Hip-Flores.
Oh sure, social media has definitely strengthened the bonds of Flux's community, though I think that's only because we have such a strong in-person connection and that naturally migrates online. Sometimes social media gets portrayed as a an enigmatic and capricious Greek deity that must be fed a steady stream of content-sacrifice or she will smite you. As my time in the social media trenches has continued, I'm ever more convinced it's much simpler: People show up online for the same reasons they show up in person. There are tricks, of course, to help you navigate the ever-treacherous Facebook feed and Twitter streams, but really, it's just about showing up, listening and engaging, and providing something of real value. For Flux, that value is very much about community: Our mission is to build a creative home, and so our active presence online naturally emerges from that mission. We're constantly trying to open up our process so that when we develop plays (and we develop a lot of plays) we're also developing community. My favorite way of doing that, if I had to choose one, is Flux Sundays, our weekly play development workshop that touches over 50 new plays and 100 artists a year. And the biggest lessons of running those Sundays for the past 4+ years are numbingly obvious: Show up, even when you don't want to. Do the work to the best of your ability. Be good to each other. And have fun. Following through on such painfully simplistic maxims yields, cumulatively, a surprisingly complex and vital creative ecosystem that sustains me, like a secular church, and for which I am profoundly grateful.  

3. Thematically your work draws consistently from the well of what I think of as our nobler aspirations. In fact, your last two fully produced shows in New York, Dreamwalker and DEINDE, each explore magical ways of connecting to a higher plane of understanding in order to bring forth change to the real world. You're an atheist, right? How does man's traditional spiritual quest factor in to what your characters are looking for? 

At the core of my atheist Bible is this quote from Virginia Woolf that answers this question better than I ever could. She is trying to explain how her creative revelations come as shocks, and how these shocks drive her work forward:

“And so I go on to suppose that the shock-receiving capacity is what makes me a writer. I hazard the explanation that a shock is at once in my case followed by the desire to explain it. I feel that I have had a blow; but it is not, as I thought as a child, simply a blow from an enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life; it is or will become a revelation of some order; it is token of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words. It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to put the severed parts together. Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what: making a scene come right, making a character come together. From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate, it is a constant idea of mine that behind the cotton wall is hidden a pattern, that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this, that the whole world is a work of art, that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet, or a Beethoven quartet, is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven. Certainly and emphatically, there is no God. We are the words. We are the music. We are the thing itself. And I see this when I have a shock.”
—Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

When I saw this piece of text staged in Anne Bogart's production of The Room, I was literally shaking and uncontrollably weeping in what can only be called a ecstatic, religious response. If you want to know more about my answer is to this very large question, the closest I've ever come to answering it is here:

4. It's been one year since you were married to Flux's Producing Director, Heather Cohn. Do you feel the priorities and values of your new characters changing as your family grows, or do you have a backlog of ideas and characters to whom you'll stay faithful? 

The cast of Hearts Like Fists. From left: Aja Houston, Becky Byers,
Rachel Hip-Flores, Marnie Schulenburg, August Schulenburg, and Chinaza Uche.
Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.
I currently have—are you ready for this?—53 unfinished play ideas (that doesn't count TV series and novels I'm working on—yipes!). In some cases, they're just the germ of an idea, but in others, I have several scenes finished or a rough plot outlined in my mind. I'm trying very hard to catch up the ideas but that has proved impossible so far. I wonder if I ever will, and I'm certain I don't want to, although maybe that would be a kind of peace. As to whether my wonderful marriage to my dear beloved wife has affected my writing: Yes, absolutely, it has made it stronger because I am stronger. I find I'm writing faster than ever, knowing that if our family does grow I may have less hours to do so in the future. She bleeds into the work in all sorts of subtle ways, but I wouldn't say there's a larger observable shift in the nature of the work . . . at least not one I can discern yet. 

5. Last question, and this is the one I really care about: do you have any tips on how to maintain a healthy writing output while juggling a full-time job, a five-year-old theatre company, a developing home life, and other myriad distractions? I see posts from you about finishing up scenes from new plays early in the morning before work, and I'm astounded that you're able to focus on large projects in small, available increments. Also, you're always pleasant to be around. What gives?

August reads "Presents" for an audience at Grit N Glory boutique, NYC.

Thank you for these kinds words, my kind and equally busy and impressive friend. I have become more and more productive, actually, and that has happened gradually, driven by three things. The first is definitely my relationship to Heather, which sustains and inspires me daily to keep pushing. The second is Flux, and in particular, Flux Sundays, which has provided me a weekly expectation of new pages, and a regular feedback loop with topnotch actors and directors. Because of Flux Sundays, I not only write more frequently, but more effectively. The third is the most prosaic, and yet it has had a huge impact: I now keep a Google Doc where I input the minutes I spend on the things that are important to me each day. That means at the end of the week, I can actually see how my hours have been spent, and often they haven't been spent doing the things I claim to love doing most, aka, writing. The power of that empty cell is a surprisingly effective motivator, and the little thrill I get from entering in my hours is embarrassing, but undeniable. As is so often the case, what at first is an intentional and hard-fought focus then becomes second nature, where a week without writing feels like an unbearable fast. Really, we're all creatures of habit, so the trick is to become a creature with the right habits . . . including the habit of breaking out of them from time to time.


A heartfelt thank-you to August for his time and his personal consideration of my very intrusive questions. August's contributions to Carrier Pigeon can be found in Volume 1 issue 4 and Volume 2 issue 1.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dark Blue Oldsmobile

For today's post we offer a quick ditty from Carrier Pigeon issue no. 6 contributor Mike Posillico, with illustrations by Kevin Speidell. If Olympic-level beach volleyball puts you in a gruesome mood then consider this your catharsis, although I suggest using re-runs of the U.S. women's gymnastics team events to test whether your heart is really made of stone. Those are good girls.

Dark Blue Oldsmobile, by Mike Posillico

He sat in the four-door sedan waiting patiently. He'd been there all night long. A thin layer of frost spider-webbed over the dash top and crawled past the gauges. He could see his breath, but it didn't matter. He couldn't risk being heard; the engine would need to stay quiet. He gazed out the window at the small house, his eyes motionless and bloodshot.

© Kevin Speidell 2012
The single-story home across the way was pitch dark, save for the apricot glow emanating from a bedroom window. A female silhouette could be seen walking back and forth. She was getting dressed. She'd soon be coming out, and when she did he'd be ready. 

The pistol was heavy in his gloved hand, but it felt good to hold it. The bore was wide enough for a human finger.

"I'm gonna knock this bitch's head right off her shoulders," he said aloud to no one. "Surprise, baby," he whispered, as he tapped the rod against the window of the car. "Surprise, surprise . . ."

The bedroom light went out.

He checked the chamber of the gun one last time, quietly opened the driver's side door, and crept toward the stoop.

A lone feminine voice could be heard from inside the house, drawing closer and closer to the front door. She was singing a song that was strangely familiar, but he couldn't place it. He slowly lifted the mail slot and peered through the narrow opening into the inner dark.

He heard her mellifluous voice clearly now.

She paused mid-lyric.

"You're making me late for work, baby. It's time for us to go." He let go of the mail slot and readied himself.

© Kevin Speidell 2012
Steadily, he leveled the gun toward the spot he anticipated she would be. He heard the locks on the door release, one by one, until it finally swung open. The woman stepped out and was instantly startled by the sight of him. She jumped back with a hand on her chest, laughing at first.

The initial shot passed through the back of her palm and into her heart. She immediately fell to her back, gasping for breath.

The second took off the bottom half of her jaw, spinning her head to the side.

The third entered through her temple and was the last thing she ever heard.

The morning paper, still wet with dew, was the last thing she ever saw.

Before you could count to three, it was over.

© Kevin Speidell 2012
He tucked the weapon into his belt and stepped over the body. As he passed the door jamb he knelt down to pick up the infant who lay crying at his feet: the only witness to the slaughter. He looked into her face and gently dabbed the crimson spatter from her cheeks. Her wails continued to ring out, piercing the otherwise tranquil dawn.

The dark blue Oldsmobile turned over on the first try. The powerful engine drowned out the sobbing child. As if in no rush at all, he blew hot air into his hands, took one last look at the house where he had spent his youth, and drove off into the early morning sun.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Carrier Pigeon Answers Your Questions: Part 1

A look at what we do, courtesy of Tag Collective

To whom it may concern,

I have a field across the street from my house and noticed a pigeon sitting in the middle so I investigated. After walking up to the pigeon it didn't try to flee but let me pick it up. When I noticed a green band around its ankle with a four digit number. I suppose it is someone's carrier pigeon that is lost or resting? I put it in a box with rags, water and peanuts for the night.

Could you please send me some info? as to whom I should contact to return it?

Thank you in advance for any help you can offer,

Regards, Brian Kampersal


Dear Brian,

You must have a way with animals. We're pleased to hear that you were able to give some small comfort to an out-of-work/retired/bored carrier pigeon. And we are curious: did you remove the peanut shells? Pigeons in New York eat pretty much anything—entire corndogs—but it seems like the shell would be a possible impediment.

As much as we read your letter with interest, you were a little vague about where you live, so we're not sure to whom you should be referred. The Humane Society's Animal Rescue Team? The Animal Humane Society, which is not the same thing? Don't call PETA. They'll just kill it.

In addition, don't call us. We're just a magazine! We publish fiction, illustration, and fine art. We use the carrier pigeon as our mascot, because we like to draw it. To be honest, the pigeon often suffers in our drawings. We, like PETA, could benefit from being more humane, although we, unlike PETA, didn't liken butchered cows to Holocaust victims. Thank you for reminding us all to be gentle. And buy an issue!


Carrier Pigeon

This is not what we do.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Carrier Pigeon as Metaphor for Societal Provenance

Forgive us for sounding like braying behemoths of counter culture in this post, but it's not our own assertion. This past year Christine Dengel wrote a paper, as part of her requirement for the Library and Science graduate degree program at Queens College, on her humanist approach to archival theory, and our publishing values interested her enough to become something of a focal point within the essay. What follows is an overview of the essay, punctuated with pages from the unedited proofs of two of our most recently available issues and one still in production. Hopefully, they will provide a meaningful response/parallel to her words.

She begins by considering whether the tokens left behind to us by loved ones are meaningful or functional, is brave enough to openly yearn for the dynamism of feedback from a "posthumous letter, authored by an immortal voice," and then applies "traditional notions of provenance" to the collection she inherited from her mother.

She also applies them to us. Carrier Pigeon is defined by Christine as a "society" whose creator history "cannot be defined as a single word, or even persons" but explains that "the overall effect is of an artist community that shares itself and encourages interactivity from its audience."

At left: the right side of the introductory spread for Erin Browne's "Good Dog," a short play illustrated by Marshall Arisman and containing a QR code to a short film adapted from the play. At right: an installation shot from the portfolio of Adam Lister, showing a magnetic sculpture similar to the one supplied in paper, DIY form to all buyers of issue no. 7 (available Fall 2012).

On the physical nature of our our content:
"They create content that is ephemeral in nature, almost resembling a scrapbook, yet they are objects of high value at low cost. Each magazine includes a fine art print, hand signed and couture."

At left: issue no. 5 page from "Cut in Half" by Althea Hanke-Hills, illustrated by printmaker Frances Jetter. At right: issue no. 6 introductory page for Tatiana Simonova's portfolio.

End pages from Carrier Pigeon issue no. 5 by printmaker Evan Summer.

On our method:
"The artist alone determines the content, and the magazine as medium is a neutral megaphone. . . . There is an interplay between a collective social memory and each member's personal memory."

At left: a page from painter Greg Crane's portfolio in issue no. 6. At right: an issue no. 7 illustration for "What the Fire Cost Us" by Nick Kolakowski, illustrated by Myles Karr.

On our contributors:
"The community of participants involved with the magazine are not conveniently bound entities."

At left: a page from the issue no. 7 portfolio of Hye Young Shin, documenting a foot-washing performance. At right: a detail from the issue no. 5 portfolio of Ilse Schreiber-Noll, collected from an artist book exploring her own response to the present revolution in the Middle East.

 On our mission:
"These artists react to the social inertia of the many social constructions of the New York City artist gallery world. They are developing new rituals and more flexible and inclusive frameworks; this magazine reflects that attempt."

Two pages from Carrier Pigeon issue no. 6. At left: the introductory page to the portfolio of Cannonball Press founders Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra. At right: the title page for "Feather," written by Mike Posillico and illustrated by comics creator Josh Bayer.

On our effectiveness:
"They are deliberately behaving unconventionally, and the effect is fractured and convoluted . . . archivally speaking. Their efforts reflect a changing zeitgeist where there is more blending and less chronological delineations."

We'll take it! Thanks to Christine for generously including us in her academic experience, and for sharing the results with us. Her full paper can be downloaded here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Poets & Etchers

The following was written for us by Stephen Fredericks:

Unprecedented and remarkably unique collaborations between American artists and progressive independent publishers during the last quarter of the 19th century—which featured original art work—were the forerunners of magazines like Egmont Ahren’s early 20th century Playboy. The first of these artist driven ventures to achieve widespread commercial success was Poets and Etchers.
The first edition of Poets and Etchers, copyrighted in 1881, was released in early 1882. The publication, which incorporated original etchings created by members of the New York Etching Club, was an instant success and almost immediately went into a second printing, followed by a third and possibly fourth edition. However, the genesis of this sensational project—organized by America’s first artists etchers lay in inspiration from many years earlier.
In 1866 a young American artist named Henry Farrer saw an exhibition in New York City of etchings by largely contemporary European artists. The show was produced by a Frenchman named Cadart under the auspices of the French Etching Club. The exhibition and a second mounted in 1868 were both presented in a gallery at 625 Broadway. Farrer was so inspired that he built his own etching press to begin printing his first etched plates.
Following the 1868 exhibition Cadart collaborated with publishing professionals Verlaine, Paul, and Lemerre in Paris and helped produce Sonnets Et Eaux-Fortes (Poems and Etchings) in 1869. Printed in an exceptionally deluxe edition of 350 copies this remarkable and popular project featured etchings by Corot, Daubigny, Manet, Gerome and Dore, among many others. 
Henry Farrer, Twilight—5" x 7"

No doubt Henry Farrer soon knew of this publication and, in my estimate, eventually had a chance to study one; for, about a decade after its release, Farrer succeeded in enlisting the participation of four other early members of the New York Etching Club in a similar project published by Osgood & Co., of Boston, Massachusetts, not-coincidentally titled Poets and Etchers.
One of Farrer’s collaborators in the publication was fellow artist-etcher James D. Smillie. Smillie, whose diaries have been preserved by The Archives of American Art, kept detailed records of many of his artistic endeavors. On November 3, 1880, Smillie noted that,“Farrer, Bellows & Colman called—much interested in etchings & proving paper.” Each of these artists and a fourth, Robert Swain Gifford, were the eventual artist-illustrators of Poets and Etchers. On November 13 Smillie recorded that "Farrer brought his four etchings for the Osgood book," and on November 29 he further noted: "then to 51 W. 10'S"—with Farrer’s 'Poets & Etcher's' Jap. P.fs for his autograph.” Henry Farrer must have had Smillie, who had his own etching press, proof the above-referenced plates.
James D. Smillie, Nocturn—8" x 6"
Between Henry Farrer and his colleagues James D. Smillie, A. F. Bellows, Samuel Colman, and R. Swain Gifford they produced twenty original etchings to accompany poetry by such distinguished poets as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A later diary entry by Smillie suggested a high level of satisfaction with the success and quality of this exquisitely executed and seminal "artist’s book" project. This collaborative effort between publisher, artist and poet in the publication of Poets and Etchers marks the first such successful commercial event of this type—incorporating copies of original prints—in American history.
By today’s standards, some of the original prints in Poets and Etchers may appear a bit primitive to some, but in their day they were state-of-the-art artist etchings. Similarly, the subject material in a number of these Victorian era etchings, created to accompany period prose, may seem understandably remote, but they were all the rage 130 years ago. Had these artists not initiated this publication—and several similar projects that would soon follow—the shape of artist printmaking, fine art publishing for a mass market, and the greater art world at the turn of the 20th century would have been quite different. Today, intact copies of Poets and Etchers, while not commonly available, may be found on line at auction for as little as $60—a remarkably good buy and investment. 

A. F. Bellows, Telling the Bee—7 1/4" x 5 1/4"
Samuel Colman, The Belfry at Bruges—4 1/2" x 3 1/2"
Robert Swain Gifford, Palestine—5 7/8" x 3 3/4"

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chomping at the bit of CP Vol 2

Today is a proofing day, and I thought I'd share the bones of the process. Some of you may not realize how far ahead a quarterly publication has to be thinking. At Carrier Pigeon we add additional challenges to an already daunting task by featuring fully illustrated short works of fiction, which means giving the illustrators time to do their jobs. While the illustrators are toiling away at their drawing boards to come up with five to 10 complementary images for each assigned work, we're busily formatting and copy-editing, going back and forth with the authors to reach approved versions that are clean while maintaining the authors' voices.

Once the designer has laid out the magazine with the approved text and we're able to see a hard copy it's time to address issues of consistency across the magazine. This really can't happen on a screen. In addition to being lucky enough to have had illustrations commissioned for several issues, I act as the gatekeeper where these things are concerned. I hold the proof copy in my hands, scribble notes, twist my fists, go through rounds of changes with the issue designer, and then sleep in the knowledge that everyone's hard work will pay off and no one will have to bear the public embarrassment of having written "waist" instead of "waste." Even the tiniest issues with consistency among the punctuation of six pieces of fiction per issue by six writers—plus six artist statements and artwork descriptions—can have an effect on the reading experience, which is as important as the viewing experience. In order for the magazine's audience to be immersed, or even, hopefully, once in a while, transported, the whole thing has to be seamless, and the collaborators have to trust that each will do their parts.

Enjoy this tiny sneak peek of our Spring 2012 issue—in process but with no mistakes highlighted, obviously—and don't forget to join us on February 23 for our Vol. 2 issue 1 release exhibition party at Grit N Glory boutique.

Reference notes to back up marks generously applied to the magazine body

Sloth by Matthew Blair, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell (me)

No proofing required. Thanks to the awesome guys at Cannonball Press.