Company OnStage


Time Flies Like the Wind

Fruit flies like bananas.

An old joke, but one that makes me laugh each time.

But, dang, it's July. What happened to the first half of 2018? I guess I lived every day of it, but it feels like I must have skipped a few weeks somewhere.

It's an aging thing. Everyone talks about that, how must faster time passes as we get older. There's really nothing to do about it, but be grateful for another day, however fast it goes buy.


That exclamation point might make you think that it means something it doesn't. It does not mean the days are lazy, relaxed, full of daydreaming.

No, I work in higher ed, and summer can be a Very Busy Time. The campus has days of feeling like a ghost town, sure, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes wheels spinning. In my particular job, we're just finishing up Spring semester business, even as we juggle the multiple summer sessions, and then there's the ramping up for the next school year. So, no, summer no longer means slowing down.

But today, I stepped out of the building on my lunch hour and was met with the delicious heat of summer. Other people complain about it, but I love it. The university where I work sits between two bayous meeting, which means there is just a touch of wildness not too far from where I sit at a computer, and you can smell it. Walking along the recently completed bike trail along the bayou, I can smell the pungent wildflowers and grasses there. There are insects humming and buzzing. There are birds of many sizes to watch. If you're patient, you might see a flash of silver jump out of the water. It's more humid than where I grew up, but the sensations aren't too very different. If I've never seen two-inch wide cracks in the ground in Houston, the sprawl of the city allows for patches of wild for me to feel like I'm not too far from home.

Not that I don't appreciate air conditioning. I like stepping out int the heat and even sitting in it for a while, but I'd be lying if I said I wished I did manual labor outdoors. I might wish I had time to spend more time outdoors, but at night, when Houston doesn't really cool down all that much, I'm grateful that I get to sleep a/c.

I feel soft admitting it, but there it is.

What I'm Working On

The work on the novella goes on, but late last week I decided to take break from it. I turned to a short story that I had sitting in a notebook and have typed it up. I finished the first draft maybe two years ago, but I didn't have much confidence it in and ignored it all this time. While typing it up, I found things that I really like about it, now. It needs work, as all first drafts do, and some fact checking, but I think I might have something publishable here. Not that I'm always the best judge of that.

It is the most sexually explicit piece I've ever written, though. I don't think it crosses over into porn and while some of it is maybe erotic, it's more of a character study, to which my writing tends to gravitate. As I work on it, I'm aware of how different my short stories are, even if they rehash themes. This story wouldn't really fit into a collection of my short stories, because of teh sexual content. It makes wonder if I should be more intentional with my short story writing (which, honestly, I haven'd done all that much of lately) and write with an eye toward a collection. Poets do that with poems, I think. Or some do. Maybe I need to look at what storis I've published, see if there are enough farm stories to concentrate on doing a few more to make a collection. But this current story certainly doesn't fit in most of my other stories. I just don't usually have this sexual of an imagination.

I'm reminded of an old saying about the difference between erotica and porn. Erotica focuses on the sensations, porn gives measurements. I don't think story fits either category very well, but there are no measurements, so make of that what you will.

I suppose I should also mention that I'm going to perform a revised version of my short performance piece, "broken/heart/ache" at the Houston Fringe Festival in September. I'll say more about that as we get closer, but for now, it's also on the stove top, if not on the front burner.

Oh, and I may as well mention the short essay that got a rejection letter this week. I'm making some very minor revisions on it and expect to have it to another market before the weekend is over.

What I've Been Watching

Since I've last posted, I've seen a few things of note.

The first thing I'd talk about is the Barnstorm Dance Festival, sponsored by Dance Source Houston. The two weekends of dance by local and Texas companies and choreographers is almost always a treat, but I thought this year was especially strong.  I don't think there was a weak entry in the three programs, but feel compelled to mention Sal Maktoub, who did this colorful, surprising dervish dance that had my slack-jawed and delighted from the minute he stepped out in his florescent painted garb to the minute he took his bows. It's hard to describe beyond what I've said already. It was just simply incarnated delight.

I also attended this year's Fade to Black Festival, a program of short plays by Black playwrights, my first year to do so. This year, it was James West, III, who got me out to it---I directed James in two shows in the lat year---and he turned in his usual fine work in two very different plays. He first appeared as a father showing up too many years later to reconcile with is gay son and then in a Civil Rights Era drama as a pastor pressured by a white clergyman to give up his activism. The second play, "Before the Fire" by TJ Young, packed a lot of emotion into it's 10 minutes or so and felt all to relevant to current events.

Another play that is staying with me was called "Tobacco Fields" by Yunina Barbour-Payne. It's ambitious little play that takes place in, suitably enough, a tobacco field in an undefined time---post-slavery, I'd say but probably before the Civil Rights Era. A young girl daydreams about escaping the fields and imagines a "city woman" who will come and take her away from them. There is much said without words and there's a hint of magical realism in the script. It's the piece i wish I could see again because I feel like it had layers i didn't get the first time.

I also took in the Company OnStage's production of Hay Fever by Noel Coward. A strong cast brings to life this comedy of an ill-mannered family and their weekend guests to their country home. As of this writing, it runs one more weekend after this one. It's cleverly stqged and quite the fun evening in the theater.

Random Memory #3

Returning to the summer theme . . .

Part of summers on the farm was was the maize (or sorghum) harvest. It was dusty, itchy business. Daddy would pull the combine through the fields, cutting and shaking the red, pellet grain from the dry stalks. My brother and I would run the pickup into the field when he stopped with a full load. The built-in auger are the combine would pull the maize from the combine's bin and pour it into the bed of the pickup (itchy dust flying) and then we'd take the pickup to the barn, back it up to the large windows on the barn, where we'd use a free standing auger to unload the pickup. The end that pulled the grain up rested on the ground until we backed the pickup to the wind---I'd have to lift that end for my brother to back the truck under it. The other end was inside the barn, of course, suspended from a rafter to deposit the maize in the room we called a crib. Once the grain was in the barn, we'd have to go wading into it---did I mention it was itchy business?---and shovel the grain around. We had a metal rod, about 5 or 6 feet in length, that we stuck into the deepest part of the grain, and we had to pull it out and feel it, to see if the grain was getting hot. If the grain was still a little green or otherwise had moisture in it, it could heat up in the barn and there was danger of combustion. If the rod was warm, we for sure had to move the grain around to cool it off.

Summers were a time for me to get lost in comic books, even more so than the rest of the year. In those days, there was an annual story in Justice League of America where the Golden Age predecessor team, the Justice Society of America (now said to exist on Earth Two), would team up with the more familiar heroes (of Earth One). The stories almost always had the word "crisis" in them. I loved them. So many heroes in one story!

My comic book imagination would intersect with the work of maize combining. I don't remember all the details---or maybe I never worked them all out---but i had a story where the Justice League of America track some villain to our farm. Because they were so far from their usual circumstances, they felt free to get out of costume and use assumed names as they pitched in and helped with the maize harvest. Of course, I become the one to find the villain first. While I'm in the barn, moving the maize around, moving that iron bar around the pile of grain, I hit something hiding in the grain---the villain wearing something like scuba gear with oxygen tanks to hide under the grain until night time, when he could risk leaving the farm. Of course, I pretend like I didn't notice that I hit something, but, clever lad that I was, instinctively knew what it was. I alerted my heroes and after a brief fight, subdue the villain.

I always envied the big cities in the comics, where all the heroes lived. I wanted superheroes in the country. My first published novella, Hidden Gifts, reflects that envy and desire.


Honestly, I had good intentions of blogging more on this, my homepage, after years of blogging on Blogger. I'd divided myself up over there and thought here, I'd be more "all of me"---my artsy self, my Jesusy self, my silly self. I still have good intentions, but little follow through. So here's a random post. Enjoy. Or whatever.


Back at Christmas, I received a much appreciated book called Through the Dark Field by Susie Paulik Babka. I'm not going to lie---it was slow reading, being heavily academic. I don't read enough academic work for it to be fast reading for me. It's a particular language to which your eyes and brain have to acclimate. But I found it very worthwhile reading, as well. Babka leads us through a lot of thought and theology on suffering and how artists have expressed it---and I realize that's reducing it to a very shallow summary. She leans heavily on Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (his name keeps coming up in the best arts reading I do, so I'm going to have to eventually read some of his work), especially his work around the idea of The Other, how our best moral/ethical philosophy/theology boils down to how we treat The Other. Babka's "Aesthetics of Vulnerability" . . . well, don't ask me to encapsulate that, either. I just found so much of the book mind-buzzing (I mean that in a great way) and will likely return to it again.

I'm now reading Way to Water by L. Callid Keefe-Perry. Keefe-Perry, who runs the Theopoetics website, offers this book as a less academic endeavor while engaging academic sources. It is much faster reading than Babka, but still fairly advanced reading. What I'm learning here is that while I've been pursuing theological aesthetics, I am probably more in tune with theopoetics. I'm only about halfway through, but it's definitely giving me a lot to think about as I pursue my own work. I think it may be giving me permission to be more myself, or my more integrated self (which was why I started this website, right?) (see above). I've long thrown around the phrase "art-making as a site for theological reflection" but I think what Keefe-Perry is leading me into is to recognize my art-making as itself doing/being theology. Which I think I also knew before, but I compartmentalized. Art over here, religion over there, silliness a bit to the left of that. I don't know why, but I seem to like compartmentalizing myself, which isn't very healthy. At the same time, I've always leaned toward the interdisciplinary (one of my degrees even uses that term!) but this theological bent to my art-making---well, I guess we'll see where it goes from here.

In between these two books, I read Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend who is Native, as is Mailhot. As a matter of craft, it's a gorgeous book. The writing moves between a raw urgency and lyrical beauty. I also find it difficult reading as it's a personal story (a memoir) of a somewhat unhealthy love relationship. It's hard to watch someone continually make what appears to be poor choices. Then there's the aspect of the book that offers some insight into contemporary Native life. It's not the focus of the book, but there are times when Mailhot foregrounds her culture in ways that illuminates the effects of colonization and conquest---effects that are pretty well invisible to me as one who benefits from colonization and conquest. So I guess two out of three makes for a recommendation. I just know some people will find the relationship story to be very difficult.


I started out 2018 being a very active audience member. Then I spent a month going to The Quality of Life, the show I directed, and now I'm slowly returning to seeing other work. This active audience member thing is a cyclical thing with me.

I just cleaned out my backpack of programs and in recent weeks, I've seen Open Dance Project's Dada Gert, the Company OnStage's productions of Around the World in 80 Days (adapted by Toby Hulse) and Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton, the local Fieldwork Showcase, now called Field Day, sponsored by Core Dance and Dance Source Houston, and just tonight, the premiere of NMD2, NobleMotion Dance's new pre-professional company. All had things to recommend them, but I was particularly partial to Dada Gert. First of all, I love the early 20th Century art movements and their penchant for manifestos. The off-the-wall-ness of dada as channeled by Annie Arnoult and company had me grinning stupidly though most of the show (at least until the swastikas showed up---those always destroy the stupid grinning). The manic energy of Around the World in 80 Days was also a great treat, with three hardworking actors playing 20-something roles leaving everyone exhausted but smiling. It was an odd feeling to be in the audience of a Fieldwork showcase (rather than on the stage) but it was one of the best showcases I've seen in some time. It was a good variety, with storytelling, monologues, and dance. Between the reading I'm doing and performances I'm attending, it has me thinking about my next moves as a performer/performance-maker.


But my work lately has been on my writing. I have something that either needs to be cut down into a manageable short story or expanded slightly into a comfortable novella length. I'm opting for the latter at present, and it's slow going. The day job has been draining the last month and when i get home, I'm not much good for writing and editing.

Here's a difference I find between performance/performing arts and writing: When you have rehearsals, you have to show up and you have to work. You have the temporary community that relies on everyone being present and working, no matter how tired you are, how bad your day was. The energy of a cast makes that happen. Writing is harder. You get home and no one really cares if you put in the time. No one is depending upon you to write anything, really. So it's easy to give into fatigue. Makes me wonder if I need to find a place for writers to gather and just write together, feed on the energy of other people in the room to make one be productive. Peer pressure put to the best possible use. I don't know where that would take place, but it seems like something to try. We'll see.

But, anyway, the work on this novella (we'll go with that) with a working title, Cora, is progressing at a snail's pace, but it progresses. Like most of my writing, it's another quiet piece, more character study than story, but also a meditation on the passing of a way of life. It is the day in the life of an aging farm woman, children all moved out, a widow, facing life's challenges as she always has, with pragmatism and work. She receives two phone calls during her day, which add some drama to the proceedings, but over all, it's a quiet piece. It needs a lot of work, and I'd like to get the work moving faster than a snail.

Random Memory #1

(I find myself wanting to write about things from my life. These random memories will be an outlet for them. I'm not planning them, just adding them to my random blogging.)

Sometime in the mid-1970s, one of my sisters brought me a black rabbit. I'd mentioned wanting a rabbit (i don't remember why) and whether or not she cleared it with our parents, it appeared on her next visit to the farm. I promptly named her Bunny Jane Rabbit.

After a few months, maybe a year, I decided I wanted a mate for Bunny, and a black and white buck appeared. I named him Jack Rabbit (I feel he certainly had a middle name, but I don't recall it now). Of course, he wasn't a jackrabbit, but probably at least partially a dutch breed of rabbit. He was slightly smaller than Bunny. I naively put them in a cage together, to keep each other company.

I then found out that rabbits have a gestation period of exactly one month, because one month after I got Jack, I went out to feed my pets to find Bunny had pulled out most of the hair on her belly and deposited a litter of hairless babies in the nest she made with her hair. I ran to the house screaming about Bunny having babies. Mama and Daddy came out with me and we moved Jack to another cage and set Bunny up with a box for her litter.

Then I found out that rabbits are, indeed, always fertile, because one month later, before the first litter was really old enough to be weaned, there was another litter. It seems in between the time Bunny birthed the first litter and I removed Jack from her cage, they'd gotten busy with starting another one-month gestation period. Jack kept to his own cage after that, at least until all previous litters were weaned and moved out.

Eventually, when I entered high school and joined the Future Farmers of America (because I was a rural male and that's what we did regardless of farmer potential), raising rabbits became my FFA project. But therein lies other stories, I suppose. Suffice for this entry to let this be about how I learned the accuracy of all those jokes about rabbits.

Love Letter to a Temporary Community

Love Letter to a Temporary Community

Cast and crew after the final performance: Kathryn Noser (makeup, tech understudy, president of the board at Company OnStage), James West, III (role of Bill), Jo Ann Levine (role of Dinah), Karla Brandau (role of Jeanette) Vincent Totorice (role of Neil), Shelia Johnson (stage manger) Jennifer Brown (tech booth), Neil Ellis Orts (director)

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Wait---It's Already February?

So Happy New Year. Eventually.

I've been slowly building up this website and by 2020 or so, it should be a great place to visit.

*heavy sigh* Note to self: Vague New Year's Resolutions are the easiest to break.

I'd given up blogging last year. I'd burned out and found little to talk about. I don't know if the latter has changed, but the itch to blog has been slowly returning.

The thing about the Blogger blogs, and that site has served me well, is that I sort of accidentally fragmented myself. I tried to keep my religious self from the arts self, the art-maker from the art-commentator from the goofball . . . and then I found myself not sure what to do with some ideas that crossed those boundaries and ultimately, I confused myself.

Part of the impulse to start my own website was to bring all my disparate selves together, which when you get down to it all fall under "writer and performer" (as most of my bio notes say) but, well, what I write and perform about may still fall under a variety of headings.

But it's all me. And some of those headings are boring to some people, other headings are all people are interested in. Ultimately, though, they all fit under my skin.

And I'm trying to be better about owning it all rather than separating them for different audiences. That separation was really an apology for loving Jesus to some of my artist circle and an apology for loving performance art to my circle that maybe has a hard time seeing it as a legit form (and yeah, I'm kinda side-eyeing you, church).

So, neilellisorts dot com is an endeavor to pull it all together.

I expect it to go mostly unnoticed.

Things I'm Working On

The immediate, big item on my plate is that I'm directing The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson for the Company OnStage. It's a lovely play, full of hard circumstances. I'll be writing more about it, but we only started rehearsals this past week and I cautiously put in print: I think we have potential to create something really special, if not amazing, here. I have a great cast who are diving into the deep waters of this play and I couldn't be a happier director.

I'll say also that the auditions were pretty hard for me. I can't say I've been to a ton of auditions around here---it's been a slow return to straight theater and I just don't know many folks in the Houston theater community---but I had some really good actors show up for auditions, and only four roles to fill. It truly made me sad to turn some of them away. The final decision came down to some caprice. Gut feelings. I think I chose well, but also know there is a pool of middle aged actors that I would work with in a heartbeat.

I also have various writing projects in the works. I've been trying to develop some longer pieces and my CV will show I tend towards the shorter writings. This year, I have two bigger projects I'm really hoping to get into submittable shape. One is a novella, the central character based upon my mother. It started out as a short story and grew into a "day in the life" kind of thing. I have a very rough draft that should really be less rough by now. (I keep doing other things, like theater and arts writing and some other things I'll write about eventually.) The working title on this is simply Cora.

I also have a good start on a full length play, which I did some development on last year in Fieldwork and gave a reading of a few scenes from the first act. I had started work on it again, but will set it aside while I get Quality of Life on its feet. This play doesn't have a working title yet, but I carry the notebook around for it, though, in the event I find moments to write a few lines of dialog . . .

And I'm getting up the courage to think seriously about producing this one-act play I've written and have been sitting on for a couple of years already. It's called The City, A Desert, and is based upon the stories and sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. I recently saw a site in town that would be pretty cool for it and . . . well, we'll see. This would be late in the year, if not early next year. But, you know, looking ahead and all. Putting it out in the universe as they say.

And then, I itch to do some performance art. Somewhere, maybe more on Instagram. I had a great time with the #adventword series of video. Maybe Instagram is my platform for the things I want to do that's neither writing nor theater. Or one platform.

It's a month into 2018, and all the above is ambitious for 11 months. Some of it is spilling over from last year. Some will likely spill into next year. Stay tuned to see how it all goes . . .