Michael Phelan O'Toole

MEDIAted Catharsis From A Multi-Faceted Artist

NEWS: Spread the ILLness in 2012! Share this word with your filmmakin’ and film lovin’ friends, Boston!

Hey all – I co-program an experimental film fest out of Boston called EXPERIMENTALLY ILL – we are currently seeking unique short narrative digital film works for several dates of our next festival – we’re currently thinking April will be the screen dates, but it depends on you, our fellow artists delivering the assist. Works should be between 3 and 15 minutes if possible. There is a possibility we will screen longer works. We screen inside Somerville and Coolidge corner theatre’s screening rooms, in addition to alternative venues in the area. Visit to view past press clips and get more information. Thanks! We are asking a small submission fee of five dollars, but for those who would consider giving more, we are looking for supporters and sponsors – we will create an ad for you or your service and promote you on flyers and site, in addition to at the fest itself. Major sponsor prices are 50 to 100 dollars. Booking the theatres in which we screen costs some coin, and this is totally DIY – we are an artist collective putting together the show, and would love to be able to keep various costs down and continue our efforts, with your help. Email me at for details on getting your hard and soft media to us. Thanks.
– MikeO.

POEM: “Horror Horn” – 1/29/2012

“Horror Horn” – 1/29/2012

by Michael Phelan O’Toole.

Another spilled sand of time
A hand to rip out your spine
and sever the ties to wrists and binds
of previous devious behavior.
Nefarious activity
Nosferatu nailing a whore and a savior.
I’m cross up there, hanging out.
Lost in a stare, and banging doubt
into submission and on to sprout
spikes in your vocal chords.
Moan and shout a sworm of shrapnel.
More crap to shift through.

We are walking art,
eyes dripping black and heart swelling blue.
If your paint don’t pay the rent or keep you warm,
what else does it do?
Calm my head storm.

Sound the horror horn.
It’s all audio-visual porn,
until we’re dead and born,
red-faced and blind-bored.
Bones popping and ham-strung sore.
Hang yourself out a future window,
before you close a passed door.

That’s old and I’m too young to be told anymore
what’s been written and sung to a score for a decade and more.
Carved into headstones which mark skeletons’ homes.
Kids, way back is when we really lost it.
Why aren’t you on the loose,
instead of on a noose in my closet?


All written content © 2012, Michael Phelan O’Toole
All rights reserved.


Thoughts on Art/Writing/Film by Mike Phelan O’Toole – 6/26/’11

I have no choice but to be an artist. When the art doesn’t come, I make art out of the lack of art. That right there seems to be a good definition of creativity – to make something out of nothing. To express depressed expression. Eh? Eh?
In writing, I have to feel like I am speaking to someone, at least a little – and when you feel like the world has turned its back on you – or rather, you have turned your back on the world – you feel like no one is there listening, so thusly, it makes it difficult to write – to
communicate. You isolate, or become more of an “internal” person.
That’s how I feel about it, anyway. You don’t. or I suppose, in my opinion, shouldn’t be writing if not to communicate – and that is a two-way street. Art can indeed exist as a product of individual expression, with no direct intent to share, but it is usually created as a reaction to something in the world, or internal world – the mind.
With that, it becomes a certain statement, whether the creator
realizes or intends it to be such.

With written or spoken word, it’s always a head-rush to be able
to turn a notion or idea on its head a bit. It is always interesting
when I whip something clever together, and people think that I have
taken or quoted it from somewhere else – assuming from a bigger piece
of media, like a song or a movie. This is because, all I see from
other young people, or the majority anyway, is this type of ripping
and quoting from other major-marketed sources. Worst yet, to us
literary types, often they do not even attribute the original source;
song lyrics sitting on a page – do they belong to them? What do they
mean in this content? The art of the word, or true individual
communication is lost, man. I want your unique thoughts to get in my
brain. Let me think about you for awhile, and try to figure it out,
not read a carbon copy of something else. With that, I’ll return the
favor. Give me an intellectual challenge, and I will give you an aural
orgasm. Let’s talk.

I enjoy just letting a’ rip onstage or in front of the camera, or a
microphone and rambling a string of thoughts together into a barb-wire
of rusty wit and fragmented opinion. In the case of using a more
intricate medium to communicate something, film has always been my
love interest; the undying crush I could never seem to properly ask
out on a date – the girl next door that I just couldn’t get to third
base with. The one that got way. Sure, we might’ve hooked up a couple
of times, in the form of my acting in a few things, or taking some
classes, watching and analyzing movies in papers, shooting music
videos, or drooling on the computer keyboard after having fallen
asleep mid-editing session – but created a start-finish
dyed-in–the-wool film? Not yet. Nothing I’d be proud to fling up on
an art house screen, anyway.

The resources of community television, or cable access, have
been something of a crutch in recent years, in that, while it remains
our greatest alley in getting projects off the ground, and helped us
launch our greatest achievements, in the form of said videos, and our
film festival, EXPERIMENTALLY ILL, it also has kept us sleeping
soundly in the less-than-four-star bed of “Access” – of which has
given us our whole world, in terms of friends, coworkers, and a great
jumping-off point for more. Despite the sandbox of toys Community
Media stations provide, a whole lotta cherry pickin’ must be done in
order to find a large sect of people actually willing to create
something different. I’ve been fortunate to know a few of those types,
and we took those folks and their short films on a local ride through
a few Boston-area indie fim theaters with Experimentally ILL –
embracing the DIY ethic and a bit of punk-rock aesthetic, to the tune
of some sweet press and audience praise. On paper, I am still a
staunch advocate of Public Access Television itself, in George C.
Stoney and Red Burns’ original “Hey, how’s it going’?”
set-up-a-TV-on-a-street-corner concept – but Michael The Arch Angel’s
gotta spread his wings and try to fly sometime.
It’s important for me to not over-think things too much, and just splatter some art up on the e-canvas here. Fortune favors the bold.
Thanks for reading this.

Boston, MA, USA.

PROSE POEM: “Quest?” – 6/23/2011

Two leather-clad, spike-wristed desperadoes walk up to the gate, kick it in, dodge a few flashing light effects, and swiftly slay the dragon that is self-doubt. I am still on this search for meaning, bending words, lines, and catch-phrases at will, in order to express beautifully fragmented thoughts – spray painting them up against the sugar-glass moonlight. There is nothing like the head-rush of hitting the stage and throwing caution to the wind – words flowing out like a freshly slashed jugular vein. This is my morse code – dots, hyphens, and dashes on the page. Or is it dashes to the stage? Another day, another hourglass figure to touch – sands flowing out of it, as she grinds into my broken in soul. I tagged this up for you. I wander, and wonder… Are you out there, and do you have a voice like mine? Intellectual stagnation leads to the quest for adventure. I rip off layers of literature, and sling it across the planet. What else am I gonna do? I’m a kid playing with clay…

– Written by MIKE PHELAN O’TOOLE. Copyright 2011.

Letter Of Recommendation from Communications Prof. Karen Lauffer for Michael Phelan O’Toole

January 23, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

It is my pleasure to provide a letter of recommendation for Mr. Michael O’Toole. I have known Mr. O’Toole as one of his professors at MassBay Community College, where he completed my Introduction to Communication course (Spring 2006). I feel that I have come to know Mr. O’Toole very well through his work in this course and the many discussions and activities related thereto, as well as the communication I have had with him since that class concluded.

When Mr. O’Toole took my aforementioned course, he was consistently well-prepared and actively participatory. Mr. O’Toole’s pleasant demeanor and genuine character have been clearly evident in all of my dealings with him. Further, Mr. O’Toole stands out as an individual with an extraordinary level of genuine, innate creativity and initiative. Through our many discussions about his work in public access cable television, Mr. O’Toole’s authentic enthusiasm and propensity for media and the performing arts became clearly evident.

Michael O’Toole is an intelligent, well-educated, and well-rounded individual. He is an avid learner who, based on my experience, puts great effort into whatever he does, demonstrating diligence and conscientiousness in his approach to all tasks. Mr. O’Toole is a clear-thinking and articulate individual who communicates equally well in both verbal and written form, consistently exuding confidence and earned credibility. He has demonstrated well-honed public speaking, presentation, leadership, and team-building skills, as well as exemplary levels of cooperation and flexibility. Through his coursework, Mr. O’Toole has proven himself to be a dedicated scholar who consistently meets and exceeds requirements and expectations.

I am confident that Mr. O’Toole is an ideal candidate for your program. I recommend Mr. Michael O’Toole to you without hesitation.

If any additional information is required, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest regards,

Karen J. Lauffer, M.A.T.
Adjunct Professor
Communication Studies

Letter Of Recommendation from Mass Media Prof. Jayson Baker for Michael Phelan O’Toole

Michael O’Toole has asked that I write a letter of recommendation in support of his application for admission. I have known Michael as his instructor for over a year; I first met him in my Introduction to Mass Media course last spring and have him in my Introduction to Film course this spring semester. Based on my exposure to Michael’s academic ability and my understanding of the nature of his character, I feel Michael O’Toole would be an outstanding addition to the creative and intellectual student body of MassArt. I hope to detail a few of the experiences I’ve had with Michael to illustrate why I feel he would excel at your institution.

Michael is a conscientious, engaged, and hardworking student, who garners the respect of his classmates. There are two experiences I feel illustrate the nature of Michael’s academic and intellectual character. In my mass media course students must present a report on the way an incident in the war in Iraq is reported. The project requires that student groups delegate roles and responsibilities in assessing media bias in news reporting. Michael surfaced as his group’s leader, bearing the brunt of the responsibility of the research, taking the floor in the presentation, and fielding questions from the class and his instructor. What was remarkable was the level of comfort. ease. and precision in which he delivered the group’s presentation. Michael was clearly taking ownership of what was an extraordinary investigation into media bias in times of war.

I’ve had another more powerful experience with Michael as a student. Each student of mass media is required to research, write, and present on a topic within the broad field of mass media. Michael chose to research the history and development of public access television. His report lent insight in the nature of his politics and his way of seeing media as an agent of change and leveling of the playing field, a field he aptly pointed out is dominated by massive corporations. His project was expertly researched, clear and well written, and his presentation was direct and informative. I felt at that time that many of his students recognized the effort, energy, and enthusiasm he put in to his project to make his subject resonate with the class. I would expect Michael will take the same level of energy and enthusiasm to MassArt.

I now have Michael in my film class, a more creative class which demands students develop their ability to read films and present arguments about what they see. I expect many smart insights from Michael, and I also understand that media studies is an area he intends to explore at MassArt. If his performance in mass media is any indication of his capability, then I have much to look forward to, and so does MassArt.

It is in these ways I feel Michael O’Toole is an exemplary student. He makes very smart observations and communicates them clearly. He doesn’t accept research without scrutiny and when he takes a position he can talk and write about it in detail.

I give Michael O’Toole my full recommendation. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have questions.


Jayson Baker
Assistant Professor of Communication
Department of Humanities
Massbay Community College

POEM/PRESS: 11 year old Michael Phelan O’Toole’s POEM in 1998 Needham Superintendent’s Notes (Pinsky on poetry, Patricia Smith on creativity)

“Needham Public Schools
Needham, Massachusetts

Superintendent’s Notes
February 11, 1998
Bulletin #27

It is a good week for a love story. The hero is fifth grader Michael
O’Toole. The setting is Joe Marino’s class. Characters include all of
Newman School staff who have worked with and supported Michael over
the years – especially Emily O’Malley.

Michael is a special boy who has had the courage and perseverance to
overcome many personal challenges. To meet him, you would not know
that he is a fighter. You could not appreciate the drama of the
struggle, or the determination and strength of his spirit.

But Michael has found a medium for his inner voice. It is poetry. This
week the Newman community rejoices in the person Michael has become.
Michael’s poem comes from a deep and personal place. Here are his


I am an ice cube trying to be “cool” in the heat of fads, and I am melting.

I am sunglasses, blocking out all the unwanted things in my life.

I am a rock, weighed down on the couch in front of the TV, in front of
the computer,
just sitting there with nothing to do, nothing.

I am a feather. I am free, I am light, I am small. A feather is a form of peace.
I would never cause trouble.
A feather is supported by wind when it is floating.
My friends, family and pets give me love.
That is my wind.

This expression of self through metaphor captures Michael’s difficult
journey and triumphant transformation. Meeting Michael, through his
poem and in person, helps me understand poet, Boston University
Professor, and Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s claim that poetry is the
highest expression of literacy. Pinsky argues that the experience of
poetry “… Is deeply involved in the evolution of human intelligence.
Poetry,” says Pinsky, “is part of our first technology… Its medium
is the body of all its dimensions (physical, mental, and spiritual).”
It is awesome to see a young person like Michael use the technology so
powerfully. This poem is a great demonstration of Michael’s competence
with language and literacy, his creativity, and his self knowledge.

Boston Globe columnist and poet Patricia Smith spoke about creativity
as a keynote speaker for the regional College Board conference this
week in Boston. Here is what I took away from her comments:

“We don’t know where it begins… It may be when you discover a
wonderful word that you have to repeat a thousand times — a word like
“anemone” … Each person must look for something that unlatches the
door and causes the mind to soar… It is a leaning against the
boundaries grunting and pushing in unexpected directions.”

Michael’s door is unlatched. His mind, his whole self, is airborne —
he is the feather. But the struggle against his boundaries had to
happen first. Now his soaring is unstoppable.

As adults, we sometimes miss the unlatching of the door when it
happens for one of our students, or our own children. I am thrilled
that Michael’s words can remind us that this is the moment and the
miracle that we work for. We are part of Michael’s wind!

Current contact as of 2011 for
24-year-old Boston, MA Punk Poet Michael Phelan O’Toole:

ESSAY/THESIS: The Electronic Soapbox: A Brief History of Public Access Television and its Social Effects by Michael Phelan O’Toole

The Electronic Soapbox:
A Brief History of Public Access Television and its Social Effects
By Michael Phelan O’Toole

Beyond the defined complexities in mass media studies and its various effects on the human condition, exists a bass-line of simplicity, essential to the survival and advancement of us as a collective people; the individual desire to be heard. Although this concept can be outlined and dissected on a scholarly level to an almost infinite degree, it comes from a very basic place, even in such an advanced age. Upon the general evolution of our mainstream mass media technologies, many are content with the direction our media has taken, confident in the idea that they as the audience are somehow dictating what corporations choose to present to them, while being excluded from the true process. Throughout mass media’s history, the common individual has never been guaranteed access to these influential tools, often overlooked in favor of the elite. Previously, the average person’s only alternative forum for a degree of mass communication was that of a literal soapbox on a busy street corner (Bill Olson, The History of Public Access Television, “Freedom of Speech.”) However, in the age of cable television, those with a will to be heard on a large scale, now have a way, in the form of community television, or public access.

Public access television provides training and airtime to those in the community who wish to create programming able to be seen throughout their particular residential area. Although the origin of “access” as we know it today was influenced by legal and philosophical roots in the legislation which created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, this being the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act, the two would evolve in polarizing directions. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in an effort to fund the Public Broadcasting Service, which aimed to produce television programming that could serve the local community, as well as thwart the major networks by expressing their ability to create controversial and innovative material (Laura R. Linder 1). However, due to its growing appeal and government funding, the more than 100 public broadcasting member stations were forced into creating programming geared more toward a broad audience, and in 1970 they became a unified network. Within two years of that, PBS’s affiliates grew to 233. Although these advancements gave the PBS programs the potential to reach a much bigger audience, with that came the watering down of their programs (Linder 2). The popularity of the concept of Public Broadcasting had essentially killed itself, so to speak.

Although public access TV carries with it an evolution, it is difficult to pin down events which so sequentially lead to a systematic development of what it is today. However one particular event which aimed toward the first focused attempt at what would become community television involved the Canadian National Film Board. In 1966, a group called Challenge for Change, whose goal was to produce documentaries that would elicit social change by relating to the universal human condition of subjects in addition to viewers. This was based around making their films with people, not “about” them (Linder 3). A particular project that was one of the early successes of the Challenge for Change group, and later played a role in the development of community television, was a documentary about Fogo Island. Fogo Island is a community located off Canada’s northeast shore, and due to the area’s main industry of fishing in decline and the majority of residents living on welfare, the government was taking into consideration moving all five thousand residents off the island. Seeing that the residents did not want to leave their home, the Challenge for Change team, including George C. Stoney, a man who would later be called “The father of public access,” saw this as a great opportunity to use their film technology as a catalyst for social change (Linder 3). The team asked the islanders to talk about whom they were, what they did, and their love for the island. In addition, they also went so far as to teach the islanders how to operate the film equipment used to record the interviews. The film crew later realized that the islanders as a community were more responsive to watching their pieces separately, rather than edited to together in a traditional documentary style. Realizing the beauty in this technique, Challenge for Change scheduled group showings of the short films, and saw it foster dialogue in the island community, bringing them closer together, as well as educating them on the uses of film technology. After utilizing the films to illustrate the residents various feelings towards the possible move, the government dropped its original plans, seeing how passionate the people were, via the collective of short films. (Linder 4)

With the simultaneous advancement of home video technology, and development of cable TV, the Challenge for Change group saw a new outlet for their work coming to light. Coupled with the positive success of the Fogo Island films, and the intrigue in the new medium called cable, Canada saw a demand in support for a publicly accessible channel. A prototype for community TV came to fruition with the collaboration between a local civic organization in Thunder Bay, Ontario making plans to operate a channel, relying on Challenge for Change to supply the station’s equipment and train its initial volunteer members. Although the Thunder Bay program survived only a year, it fueled an interest in the potential of public access television to educate and inform without a media bias. While Challenge for Change continued in its efforts to assist in an upstart of community programming, in 1971, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission required that public access be a comprehensive segment of Canadian cable television. (Linder 4)

Soon after, George Stoney moved to New York, and teamed up with Red Burns, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, to found the Alternative Media Center at NYU. The Alternative Media Center served as the central location for the spread of public access TV in the United States, with a goal to “ensure that new communication technology served the public interest” through educating people on it, and producing its own unique content. George Stoney had these words to say in a 1984 interview with Afterimage magazine; “We wanted to see if people would respond to a different kind of television, so instead of trying to make our stuff look like conventional programming, we just had video crews go and say “Hey man, what’s happening?” It was all very laid back… We put the unedited tapes directly on cable as well as having community playbacks.” (Linder 5) This being the early 1970s, with so few people even having cable let alone watching or participating in public access production, Stoney and Burns would setup TVs in public places, such as store fronts, and even in the back of Stoney’s station wagon, to watch as people reacted to the unconventional style of television. Another project the Alternative Media Center embarked on, was bringing up a specific local event chronicled in the newspaper, interviewing several people on the street about it, and then watching the dynamic play out between these people. This experiment gave a good example of the power of public access television, to not only document something not large enough to be covered by mainstream media outlets, but also to personalize the medium enough to illustrate the relationships and opinions unique to that neighborhood of people. From here, things only got bigger (Linder 5).
A great victory was won for supporters of public access television, upon the FCC issuing of its Third Report and Order, which required every cable system in the top one hundred U.S. television markets to provide an access channel, for public and educational use. The cable companies were also ordered to provide the facilities and technology for people to produce their own programs (Gillespie 91).

Determined to spread the philosophy and knowledge of public access further, Stoney and Burns as the Alternative Media Center, helped organize public access efforts in other locations in the united states, implementing an internship program to promote education and teaching of the technology needed to produce programming, and the philosophies needed to continue the medium growth as an avenue for social change. The Center also helped to found the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers, which gave those advocating for the support of public access an official mass voice. Through this voice the NFLCP was able to convince the cable companies to fund the major undertakings required to bring Stoney and Burns’ vision to light. This included cable companies finding and organizing the physical location and presence of the access station, running it for at least a period of three months, and more importantly locating and educating local citizens on the equipment, in order for them to become the official staff at the end of this upstart period. The growth of potential for public access TV blossomed with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, local cable companies would match that support, and made possible an internship program where future access center staff would travel from their residency, to the Alternative Media Center, to be educated on the founding principles of Stoney and Burns’ TV vision and trained on their video equipment. After these interns were trained and returned home to their communities to startup their access centers, they would return for a week in the middle of the year, to educate the next round of interns. Through this cycle, the Alternative Media Center was able to facilitate the ground-level advancement of access beyond Stoney and Burns’ invested efforts alone (Linder 6).

While the Alternative Media Center provided a great structure in securing the progression of public access, they were not the only group trying to help people produce programming. Once the method of delivery was secured, a dual problem still remained. One was to be able to develop and create worthwhile, innovative material that would open peoples’ eyes to the beauty of access, and the other, this still being the early days of cable TV itself, was to get people to watch at all. From here, this meant that those involved in access, had to commit to a sort of grassroots marketing campaign to get others interested, and setting up TVs with cable in public viewing places, for the large number of citizens without cable. One of the major organizers of this movement was a communications specialist and teacher, named Theodora Sklover. She founded Open Channel to help produce public access programming. Flourishing in her outreach and efforts for public funding, she managed to collect over two hundred film and TV producers, directors, camera people, and lighting and audio techs, who would volunteer to help the community produce shows, and educate volunteers. The public access movement was spreading, and gave way to counter-counter grassroots youth video producers, with names like Videofreex, People’s Communication Network, and May Day Collective, who believed that the communication tool of video and public access television gave them a voice and a vehicle for rising up against the authority of the major media. These groups were trying to unite the underground press with this new communications technologies. Michael Shamberg was one of the most known advocates of this type of movement, which came to be known as “guerrilla television.” Shamberg continued to promote access channels and the possibilities of social change that they provided (Linder 7, Olson, “Guerrilla Television.”)

Public access television continues to thrive in the utilization of new technologies and equipment, as well as facilitate that same opportunity for innovative, independent and socially aware content. Despite various bills in congress trying to shut it down, and the advancement of video technology on the internet, community television continues to survive, fueled by volunteers and the same “do-it-yourself” ethic that motivated George C. Stoney to get the ball rolling, and earn him the title “the father of public access television.” Although his contributions are unparallel in laying the foundation for what access is today, Theodora Sklover’s efforts in ground-level promotion, and amazing advancements in organizing a structure for education by way of recruiting film and TV professionals to volunteer cannot be ignored. Her main goal was to technologically empower those in the community, to be able to speak out to a mass audience and have an impact. “Our biggest problem lies in informing the public that they can go on television… People are used to thinking that TV is something someone else does, not something they do.” – Theodora Sklover (Linder 7).

Works Cited


Linder, Laura R. Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999

Gillespie, Gilbert. Public Access Cable Television in the United States and Canada. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975.

The Electronic Soapbox: A Brief History of Public Access Television

Michael Phelan O’Toole

Introduction to Mass Media

Professor Jayson Baker

Massbay Spring 2006

BU interview: Artist Mike Phelan O’Toole: Raw email thoughts on Boston underground art/D.L. Polonsky

I recently did an interview, after getting an email out of the blue, with a Boston University journalism student who is doing a piece on our pal artist/writer/filmmaker D.L. Polonsky and Boston’s “underground art” scene. He contacted me about being involved in D.L.’s film and co-hosting with him at the film fests myself and Lawrence Hollie did with him. After speaking to me in person and getting clued to our “underderground art” scene, in cable access and indie video work – which is finally getting recognized as its own scene in our press, thank god – he is expanding his coverage to include more of our work and my philosophy. After talking to him, I need follow-up via sending him a block of text on email. I don’t know how much of this will be used in the final, piece – I hear he has plently to work with – but I don’t think major media is glued to my blog – so I figured I will post what I wrote, in my own words here for posterity’s sake. I might get into trouble when D.L. goes and Googles his name and reads this, but hey, I’m a rebel. I mean no harm – my opinions on his headspace as a person inform his work as an artist, and that is what the writer originally asked me to talk about. Stay tuned for Nick, the student’s actual piece:

“Hi Nick,
I know you probably have plently of material to work with on you plate,
but I am a writer too and kind of anal about getting all my idea out
there, so just humor me with this email. I wrote some further thoughts
on D.L., and some considerations on your genral questions about the
underground art scene.

Brief bio thing on me:

Michael Phelan O’Toole is a videographer, actor, writer, and spoken
word artist, who performs
at Cambridge’s ImprovBoston theatre, and has been an
advocate of collaborative media, and a purveyor of unique video art,
since 2001. He appears on Lawrence Hollie’s experimental variety show
“Random Acts,” and has lent his talents as an actor on two underground films by
Allston filmmaker D.L. Polonsky, including the latest, “Murder, Money
and A Dog.” In addition, he is noted for having co-founded the
multi-artist alternative film showcase series “Experimentally
ILL,” with Lawrence Hollie, which has been warmly received by Boston
press and audiences alike. For this series, O’Toole is co-emcee with
community TV legend, former WBCN radio personality, and host of
Brookline’s “Golden Sounds” rock concert series, Quincy Brisco.
Most recently, Mike Phelan O’Toole has sat in the director’s chair
for the acclaimed Boston punk rock music TV show “Sonic Lobotomy,”
created and produced by local punk champion T.J. Welch.

Both O’Toole and Hollie have been recipients of
separate awards from The
ACM for their creative productions in the last decade, including “Most
Innovative.” They now share the Second Place Award in the Profile Talk
Show – Professional category, for “Solipsist’s Dispatch.”

D.L. and underground art thoughts:

Some stuff I forgot mention is, D.L. having made a super 8 film at age
13, called “Ersatz” – very strange and a true experimental film, about
a pulp novel writer who carries around her dead fathers head. D.L.’s
newer digital films works are a bit quirky, and yes it has been
gradual, him using the computer to edit.
DL’s issue with technology, at the heart of it, is the idea that, in
the case of the internet and call phones/voicemail, it is a way for
people to further alienate him or one another – a way to avoid real,
one on one, and face to face communication. Of course, he is
interested in using a computer for editing his movies, and a cell
phone to contact folks regarding such projects, but that is one of his
contradictions. At times, he does not look at the bigger picture.
However, D.L. is extremely intelligent, and at times seems simply
above the comings and goings of everyday life, if not exhausted by it.
His favorite TV show is “Married With Children,” and D.L. has
remarked, “Sometimes I wonder if my curse is like Al’s curse.” – Al
being the main charactor of the show, who always gets the short end of
the stick in some way. D.L., as well as myself and the folks we do
projects with, have been through rough stuff in our lives, and perhaps
our art is our therapy or way to reach out and feel like we are being
heard or making a mark, where others have denied us our voice. With
that, we all maintain both a dark and a light side – we all have a
great sense of humor, and D.L. is really funny at times, very into
wordplay and puns. With that though, D.L.’s general view of people is
on the negative side, sure – a quote of his is “I dont think people
have a dark side, I think they have a dark center” – this is depicted
in some of his artwork, in the way he illustrates a less than
accepting society, when it comes to differences. In his personal
artwork, the depiction of those who are different looking or holding
of different views being outcasted is evident.
In his films, D.L. often shows others being unjustly treated cruely
through language, and he puts an emphasis on miscommunication between
people. He believes people use words to munipulate one another.
Ironically, in his personal, he is sort of worried about being
misunderstood by people – I think it is a chore for him to go through
the motion of social activity sometimes.

What we would like to see happen with our “underground art,” is for it
to get slicker, and have a chance at garnering a larger audience,
without changing the content largely. Sometimes stuff is made to be
strange on purpose, and other times it is a matter of simply having to
compete with bigger budgeted projects, or the marketing/ad campaigns.
I wish it was easier to reach more open minded people.
The web helps, as I mentioned – there is a site called where info about underground happenings is posted –
D.L. posts stuff there sometimes, and occasionally gets teased for
things, such as not being completely knowledgable about computers, or
maybe they take issue with his art or films – that is upsetting. It
reminds of what Hemmingway said about critics, that “critics watch a
battle from a high place, and then come down to shoot the survivors.”
D.L. works so hard and then he is teased by message board posters who
do little but attend shows to rip on them.

I think, in terms of our scene, which grew out of utilizing the
resources of community media/cable access, and the artistic/eccentric
types we have met there, it would be great to see it keep growing, to
where we are able to break even in what it costs us to book the
theatres for the film festivals, and have it turn into something like
a touring multi-media event, with video being shown, and performers
doing their thing onstage, and us generally being able to reach people
on our own like that. We started doing “Experimentally ILL’ and D.L.’s
film fests, to get us out of the boundries of cable access – to show
our stuff in a real, live setting where we could directly meet and
have a conversation with whoever was curious, or brave enough, to show
up and give it a chance. At the heart of it, it is about creating art
to communicate a personal message and express something – not about
money or press – but I would like to keep going in doing stuff, and
with that, be able to get more articles, so that more people may take
notice, and we could have a shot at building something of a cult
audience. One of my favorite known filmmakers, Kevin Smith, having
built a huge cult audience, was able to finance his latest film,”Red
State,” through private investors, and then take it on a road show
tour, stopping at each theatre to show it individual audiences and
then talk about it onstage. Though we don’t have his recognition, it
is an awesome model. At the same time too, we are looking to the
future, and, at least as far as my co-producer/partner Lawrence Hollie
and I go, are not adverse to doing more mainstream stuff, and looking
at New York or LA as possibilities for work. But our weird, artistic
sensibilities remain! We, and D.L. Polonsky, will persist, I have no
doubt. We will always be beckoned to create something that says
somethng about the way we feel, about ourselves or what is around us,
and thusly will find a way to get it in front of some kind of
audience. In D.L.’s case, posting artwork in public places has worked,
when trying to get it in mainstream papers has not. Now we are looking
at getting the videos and film shorts we work on, into mainstream
festivals – and as an actor, I am auditioning for commercial stuff
that is around here. When that is not steady though, this underground
community we have going, through stuff like the Golden Sounds rock
show, and my spoken word show, and other projects, are there for us
and remain. We are like a family. And as for the overall underground
art scene of Boston, that will always remain. There will always be a
group of funky artists who band together, to just don’t consider doing
commercial stuff, to show or tell their own story. There are a lot of
young people doing stuff outside of commercial art, but the older
generation remains as well. Perhaps they are not as visible online,
but they are there – like the old time hippies and beat poets like our
friend Mick Cusimano and others who show up at the Squawk coffeehouse
he runs.

As for the overall underground art scene, and what I would like to see
change, that would have to be the sometimes elitist and pretenious
attitudes and atmosphere that you somtimes run into. I think people
can take themselves far too seriously, and pass judgement on artists
not doing what is popular WITHIN the underground scene. D.L. is
completely his own person, though he is cautious in his interactions
with people – oftentimes you will see a supposedly openminded, usually
younger artist, or band memeber or something, not know how to handle
D.L.’s quirkiness, or not be accepting of his different view points.
We have all run into a degree of this in some way, wether it is at the
cable access station, galleries or comedy clubs – where a place
professing to be open or accepting of different, creative things, does
not truly welcome that on closer inspection. This being said, when you
do find cool people and places, you are that much more thankful. Andy
Macbain, our buddy from BATV, and a musician in the underground band
TUNNEL OF LOVE, and who I acted with in D.L.’s last film, books the
GOLDEN SOUNDS shows – with the help of Dan Shea, who also runs Bodies
of Water Arts and Crafts and puts out a newsletter about underground
arts events called The Boston Counter Cultural Compass, has been
totally encouraging of us. I’ll be doing some spoken word on the rock
show at the station eventually.

Regarding how D.L. looks at the underground art scene, I dont know if
he really considers it – though other than posting up artwork, he is
considering doing with his films, what local rappers do with their
mixtapes and CDs, and that is, simply putting them out on the street
for people to check them out. Other than that, D.L. knows about
smaller local venues like Out Of The Blue Art Gallery of course, and
The Democracy Center, and enjoys talking to other filmmakers at our
shows and such.

Be in touch,

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