chris is my friend who lives in philadelphia. while we lived in the same city we would walk a lot and drink some together. i asked chris if he would be interested in answering question about hisself.
my favorite story involving christopher…
we were getting drunk at our apartment in philadelphia- chris wasnt there. it was me and yael and handsome and best friend getting drunk. someone else was there? chris told me our friend sebastian was having a party, we should stop by. so, i somehow cajoled us to visit sebastian’s party. we were already drunk. sebastian lived in the same building as chris. we got to the party and it was weird and dreadful and fucking terrible. we ended up leaving after five minutes.
as we were walking out, chris came down the stairs. Chris was shocked and angry we were leaving. Chris called me a fucking asshole for leaving the party so abruptly. i had never seen chris upset. Chris cursed at me some more.
20 minutes later our doorbell rings, it is chris who also left the party. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
who are you?
My name is Christopher Munden.
why did you say it like that?
That’s how i speak.
what do you do?
Varied stuff. You know me through Philadelphia theater: I write about it and run Phindie. I also edit and write about other stuffs, some interesting (beer!), some more dull (ecommerce). And I run a soccer non-profit in Kensington and coach kids.
what do you not do?
I don’t watch movies much.
where were you born?
I was born in Newcastle General Hospital in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, in the 1970s.
who is your favorite german?
What a difficult question. There are so many great Germans!
what do you hear in your head?
what do you hear in your head when you are happy?
what do you hear in your head when you feel negative?
what is the first time you got drunk?
I don’t remember. My first drinks I remember were when i was 10 or 11 maybe and my grandfather would make me shandy, which is beer mixed with Sprite-like soda.
how are you and your sister alike?
People used to say we look alike, more so than we resemble either parent. We share some of the same humor.
how many books have you read?
Hundreds I suppose. For many years, I would read two or three novels a week. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve been rereading some books recently.
why do you hate plays?
They try to be shocking, they try to be television, they try to be political and forget to be human.
why do you like plays?
They are immediate, they are real, they are varied, they show me what it’s like to be a human.
i think you are the only person i know who hates movies. what is it about movies that does not interest you?
I don’t hate movies. I see more movies than most people see plays. But I don’t like the acting styles, I don’t like the plot conventions, the boring predictability. I don’t like the use of camera trickery or music to evoke cheap emotion. Some movies are great. Some are very good. Most are mediocre or crap.
what play first captured your imagination?
The first one I remember seeing, which was a Royal Shakespeare production of As You Like It. It felt magical. I enjoyed kids plays before that and my parents did community theater, but that gave me a more lasting love.
what is it like to read a play for you? do you see shit in your head? just the lines?
I came to theater from literature, really. Reading a play is a different experience for me, I’m not really seeing it enacted in my head, but enjoying the language and character creation through that language.
who is a reviewer you look up to?
John Updike. I used to love his literature reviews and read a bunch of them when I started to write reviews.
what have you not seen on stage that you want to see on stage?
I’d like to see Moliere in French, and be someone who understood Moliere in French. There are a few recent New York shows I missed which I hope someone does in Philly.
how many times have you been in love?
Maybe never, maybe a bunch of times. It’s hard to tell in retrospect, and some words were easier to say in foreign languages.
how are you like your sister?
Word play, sarcasm, absurdity. We appreciate those things. She finds it funny when I make something up and say it sincerely.
What is the longest you have gone without talking to your sister?
Hum, weeks, a month maybe? We talk quite a lot, but there have been times when we talked less and times when we talked more.
you have only read hundreds of books? that seems artificially low. what books have you been rereading?
Well two novels a week for a year is only 100. I suppose with all the school books and kids books and such I’m probably in the thousands, but only low thousands.
how is your new house?
It’s small. I feel pretty at home.
what is it like to live with chris?
Hum. I’m untidy but tolerant. Fairly respectful I suppose. I’ve mostly lived alone, so I’m probably hardened into weird habits I don’t see.
do you have any routines?
Not really. Probably.
what plays have shown you what it is like to be human?
Shakespeare. August Wilson. john Rosenberg.
do you have a code you live by?
I try to see the other side of things and question perspectives.
what plays did your parents do in community theater?
Every few years, the village would host a huge theater thing inside the ruined castle. They were historical dramas of stuff that took place in the area. One year my father was a king and I was a prince and he took me out to look at the audience as though they were his kingdom and said something along the lines of “one day all this will be yours,” but it wasn’t cos he was killed. He also did some more contemporary plays I forget. My mother acted in an educational movie and I was cast as an Alice in Wonderland type kid who found a puzzle and was transported to another world. We went away for a weekend to film it, but I’ve never seen the finished product.
how many plays have you acted in?
Two? There was that one when I was a kid. Then in high school I worked the lights for school plays and got called on for one big number in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, I think.
what does london smell like to you?
Rain on stone.
what rules did you learn from reading john updike’s criticism?
Assume that the audience and the creator share a love of theater and let the criticism flow from there. Give the play your attention. Don’t write to make yourself look good or smart. Don’t be cute. Hold things to a high standard but don’t be annoyed that a play wasn’t what you wanted that play to be.
what interests you in seeing moliererere in french?
I like the language and he’s supposed to be the best practitioner of it.
What do you have on the walls of your new home?
I have not hung anything up yet. The paintings and prints I own have followed me for two or three houses, and I don’t want to look at them anymore. So I want to get new artwork.
how is hot dog?
Oh Hot Dog. I haven’t spoken to him for a month or so, he’s living at a place for homeless vets. He’s not a vet.
is there a shakespeare play you have yet to see performed right?
Is there a Shakespeare play I have seen performed right? They’re all open for interpretation and varied emphasis. That’s part of what makes it exciting to see them live rather than just read them. Macbeth might be the trickiest of the much-performed works. Titus Andronicus is the one with the most potential for a really good production I haven’t witnessed yet.
do you have a code you live by?
That reminded me of the CSNY lyric. “You, you out on the road, must have a code, that you can live by…” I forget what follows that. “And so… humm humm humm humm, cos the past is just a goodbye”??? something like that.
Where do you think you learned to see the other side of things and question perspectives?
Perhaps growing up in two countries and moving around a lot gives you the idea that ways of thinking are subjective. I don’t know.
What did it feel like to be a prince on stage and look out at the audience knowing it will all be yours?
It was exciting. I’m sure I looked at the audience and smiled big.
Were you the kid who was transported to the alice in wonderland world? How did that come about? Who filmed it? Tell me everything.
I was the kid. There was a circular puzzle that I put together. Then there were the playing card royalty I think. It was filmed by someone my mother knew. Hum, I really don’t remember much.
How does it feel to be British?
I’m not sure I really feel British. I moved away after 13 years and spent a year there at university, but I’ve been in the states for longer.
What do you love about Philadelphia?
The murals! Seeing poorly rendered multiethnic children holding hands in a circle with inspirational words surrounding them fills me with joy and happiness.
Um, really. I haven’t had a car since mine was stolen in West Philly in 2003 and there aren’t many cities in the U.S. where that would be possible. I just bought an inexpensive house. I could set up a small publishing company and be taken seriously, I could set up an arts and theater website and be taken seriously. It’s nicely liveable, people are assholes in a good way and it’s a nice blend of small yet big, cosmopolitan and provincial.
Those basic precepts you learned from john updike seem like a good way to start.What rules for criticism have you developed you would offer an upstart?
Don’t pretend you know more than you do. Trust in your own opinion. See a lot of theater, read a few reviews. Don’t be afraid to be experimental in your reviews, but remember your audience: if no one else is writing reviews like the one you want to write it might be because people don’t want to read it. Don’t write for theater makers, write for the intelligent general reader. If someone is close enough that you couldn’t subjectively call their shit a shit, don’t review their shit. Review because you love theater. Try to be concise. Don’t be afraid to break these or anyone else’s any rules of criticism.
What do you not want to do?
Lots. That reminds me of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1bapq2W8u4
What makes you uncomfortable?
Oh lots. Many social situations.
When are you at your worst?
It depends what you mean by that. We can treat those we are closest to the worst, but I don’t think that’s just true for me.
What is the strangest thing you have seen occur in a theater?
Onstage? Sodomy maybe. Offstage? An old guy answering his phone at the Walnut and telling the person, “I’m at a theater, I can’t talk for *long*.”
who is your best friend?
I don’t really have one. Many of my best friends live elsewhere: Austria, California, Texas, Colorado. Or am I supposed to say: YOU, John!
What is your finest piece of criticism?
Hum. I liked my one about the Dishwasher at a Fringe show which I wrote like a New Yorker Talk of the Town and which got TONS of shares and impressions, for an out of town act. I liked one about a Fugard play when I brought in Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. Sometimes I read an old review and I’m like “what is this shit?” othertimes I’m like “how was i ever able to write that well?”
What is it like to run an arts criticism website?
It’s time-consuming and unfulfilling. And then someone comes up and tells you how awesome you are or you see how happy someone is to contribute or be mentioned and you think maybe it’s okay after all.
what do you like about what you have created?
I like when my writers go on and do their own thing or use it as a stepping stone. And I like that other sites are trying to do similar stuff. I like that it really is independent.
what do you want to do different?
On that site? I don’t know. I’m keeping it going without tons of effort now. I’ll come strong for the Fringe cos that’s fun and I think someone should. But I won’t be sad if I end it soon. I think it has been a success and I’m proud. I have no plans to do so, but I’m ready for my next project.
what was the first song you ever wrote?
I took piano lessons for a couple years as a kid, and I think I wrote a song after my first lesson, about going to the zoo. I just wanted to make stuff up instead of learn my notes. In high school I used to write songs which I couldn’t yet play, but my bandmates could. The first song I remember was about a homeless guy “drinking whiskey and getting old… his only bed is the road, his only clothes are the cold.” Golden stuff.
do you write fiction or plays? why? why not?
I have written both of those things. I wrote some short plays once when our friend Josh McIlvain told me to and it was fun to see them performed. But I wasn’t that good and it’d be weird to do it now. I want to write a novel and have some ideas, but never seem to sit down and do it. I’m lazy and scared of failure maybe. I still write the odd poem.
Why dont you want to look at the art work anymore?
I’ve gathered the pieces over the last 20 years, and some of them have followed me around for that long. When it came time to put them up, I knew I didn’t want to look at them any more. Except my kudu horns. Those are half up, resting on a bedroom dresser
Where you going to get new artwork from?
Yeah, where. I may have to do some myself.
Is there a piece of visual art that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay?
No, there isn’t a piece of visual art like that.
What Shakespeare play would like to direct?
If we’re assuming I could direct, it’d be Macbeth, because that seems so open to interpretation and i think directing it would help me see what I thought of it. If it was actual me fudging it I’d say Titus Andronicus, because I think a lot could be done by just taking it seriously, which directors generally don’t.
What Shakespearean character do you think you would be very good friends with?
Beatrice maybe. Ophelia.
How are you different than your sister?
She has more capacity for adult responsibility than I seem to.
I wish you remembered more about this version of Alice in Wonderland that you starred in. Anything else come back to mind since you mentioned it before?
Did I mention the twirling umbrellas to demarcate the change between the worlds?
Who was the first woman you fell in love with?
It was a high school type of love, but my high school girlfriend, with whom I remain good friends.
I have always appreciated the fact that you never reviewed my work since we are friends. Is there anything you would recommend I do differently?
Yeah, it would’ve been dumb for me to review your stuff, even if I thought reviewers often didn’t get it. I remember requoting you a Howie Shapiro review, saying that what he said negatively was why I liked your stuff. You often set your work in distinct recent historical places and contexts and didn’t give the actors an understanding of this context. And sometimes, but less often, you could give more of that information to the audience in easy ways.
What social situations make you uncomfortable? I guess I never think of you as uncomfortable, just quiet and funny. Are you loud and talkative in your mind and it just gets bottled up around people?
I’m uncomfortable in pretty much every social situation; I feel particularly inept at greetings and goodbyes. It’s weird: A friend of mine wrote a novel with a character based on a younger me; it was striking how differently others see me compared to how I felt inside.
What is the difference between sober you and intoxicated you?
Some of that discomfort becomes less pronounced and I can feel carefree and happy in a way I don’t otherwise, but I get the accompanying depressive effects. I don’t drink so much anymore.
Who are some of the writers you have worked with that have used phindie as a stepping stone?
Hum. Maybe Julius Ferraro. Trish McFaddin I think. I hope Cameron Kelsall. Others have gotten some use from it.
I would be terribly sad if you stopped running phindie, mostly since you run the site without the stench of desperation for attention or money. Is there an ambitious undertaking you would like to do with phindie that you see in your head that never came to be?
There were a few things I wanted to when I begin. One was that podcast series that we did, that took too much damn time. One was brief, two paragraph reviews that could really capture productions but which are difficult to write and difficult to convince writers to write. One was “review of reviews” which would be a Zagat-type review, taking quotes from other published reviews, but many other review outlets died after Phindie began. One was to slowly expand into other arts and culture: dance, visual, music, museum exhibitions, film, and even sports. I’ve done that some, but I guess I’m not actually as interested in those things as I thought and no one has come to me to ask to do them.
What do you see as your next non-phindie project?
I toss around ways to begin publishing fiction again. I think lit journals are poorly done and there remains an audience like we had for the Philly Fiction series. I enjoyed doing that Philly’s Kinda Cool podcast, and I’d like to do something else like that. And I have a creative writing project I’ve been doing sketches for.
Do you remember the song you wrote about going to the zoo?
I don’t. It was no Simon and Garfunkel.
What do you enjoy about songwriting?
I liked fitting lyrics to music, and using music to evoke and emphasize the emotion of the lyrics. Writing lyrics to music is more forgiving than writing poetry.
‘His only clothes are the cold is a great line.’ Jesus. What brought that depressing imagery and feeling about?
It’s weird, i remember looking back on those late teenage years as a happy time, then going back and relearning all the songs I wrote around that time. They were full of sadness. When I wrote that I was 16. My life was objectively in turmoil and I had all those teenage emotions. And I relate to people who struggle to find a place in this world. My favorite song I wrote is called sick dog, about a sick stray dog I knew in Colorado: “you ain’t got no collar I guess you’ve got no name. your left front leg is going lame. you limp over here looking hopeful and sad. you ain’t the best dog I could wish to have, but sick dog I think we’d get along.”
What plays did you write at Josh’s behest?
They were a series about a couple breaking up, or different couples breaking up, with recurring jokes about animal death.
What is the last poem you wrote?
It was about seeing poems in NYC subways and hoping Septa wouldn’t do that.
Do you mind sharing your favorite poem you wrote with me?
I can send you some serious, unpublished ones, but my favorite has to be my attempt to write an intentionally bad slam poem for a “bad poetry slam” Josh and I organized:
This is not my poem,
my poem has not yet begun,
this is just an introduction to my poem,
like Eden before the apple fell,
liberty before she had her bell,
elphia before it had its Philadel.
my poem will be about the struggle inside
the lies we hide behind,
the sad delusions we share,
the gorilla suits we wear,
bought for a hard-earned dollar down at the costume fair.
One day you’re a French maid,
one day you’re a sex slave,
one day you’re sexy fireman dressed to dance,
one day you put on a chicken suit and look for romance.
Think about it.
My poem has not yet begun.
The words you heard I shared referred
not to verses begun
but verses yet to come,
I will bring you close to the sun-
dry settings, the blood lettings, the bed wettings,
the nothing but nettings, the I forgettings.
When my poem begins
I will speak
of the thoughts you keep
in labored sleep
like a Welshman’s sheep
I will weep.
I willl weep for babies unborn with no trees to hug
cause we sold them all for greed and love
and that’s not funny.
I will weep for cupboards bare, and polar bears, and panda bears, and
koala bears, and grizzly bears, and black bears, and care bares, and
the Berenstein bears, and the Chicago bears.
I will weep for the spectacled bear of western Bolivia whose myopia
stops it from seeing the dying of the South American rain forest.
I will weep for the sun bear of Borneo.
Because what’s reality to me
is fantasy you see
to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free-
-ination, one nation over many nations,
one man over many man,
I heard in China they eat monkey brains.
Think about it.
Now I’ve got you thinking
drinking in my words that flow
like water flows
from sea to sea
I’ll tell you truthfully,
you’re all fools you see,
because this is not my introduction,
this is not my poe-a-forest
this is my pretty