Monday, April 30, 2007

Something I learned at the theatre...

It's something I forgot to mention way back when I saw the FARNSWORTH INVENTION.

A gift really.

See, I was sitting there in the theatre with Heather when, about 2/3's of the way through the show, Farnsworth and his wife had a child. A little later, the script called for the child to die. This death - which I assume Sorkin put in there because it actually happened - seemed like an overt playwright tactic, a lever pulled to wratchit up the stakes.

And I felt upset.

But not because of its machine like quality.

No. I was upset because I thought about what it would be like to lose a child. And for the first time in my life, I felt it as a prospective father. I truly considered it in a way I never had before.

Afterwords Heather said this had upset her too. In the same way.

It made me feel differently about myself. Like I'd gone into the theatre thinking of myself as one kind of man and leaving the theatre having discovered that there was so much more, rooted in something good.


Whatever my aesthetic quibbles with the piece, Aaron Sorkin, that fine cast, director and technical people gave me that.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sleeping in separate beds. Again.

Writing for a living isn't easy. And it's even harder when you're able to make a living doing it.

Yep, that's right, I've unexpectedly picked up some freelance in Denver for the next few weeks. This means no immediate writing on movies or tv or play ideas. And I'm separated from Heather for the duration. Sure, she'll come out and visit, but with the doctor saying that she can't travel after June 1st, the window is small.

Worse, we're trying to do all those baby/birthing classes and that's not going to happen the way it's supposed to.

The blogging will slow down, I'm sure - but it's been a little crazy lately anyway.

Just when we thought we had the problem of living apart licked...

Midnight in a prehistoric forest of rocks

I'm flying to Denver today (Sunday) for a freelance thing. I could be gone for a while. So, at the last minute, we drove out to Joshua Tree for a midnight drive through the park.

Spooky. Spiritual. Strange. Unearthly. Prehistoric. You've heard it all before. And it all applies. Native Indians claim the trees are spirits of dead Indian warriors ominously guarding their desert domain; there is an energy dome built in the 1950s to commemorate some extraterrestrial race; and it’s home of the largest freestanding boulder in the world and the oldest living organism on the planet, the creosote bush.

We had the park to ourselves and drove mostly - perhaps dangerously - by moonlight. The photos don't show it, but it was bright. And wonderful. Like travelling through a landscape of ghosts.

It reminded us that we are just small sensitive beings on a round planet orbiting a star in the dark.

This last photo here below is of "Baby Noodles" - his first trip to this amazing place, but hopefully not his last.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Working People

I had some extra Super 8 footage that I used to cut this together.

Feels like a million years ago.

Have a good weekend

Friday, April 27, 2007

SPF announces

Check it out.

Several Columbia alums in the mix. Cool.

9: The new writer

Okay, a friend of a friend sold a pilot last summer and came to town.

Being that we're all theatre people, I gave this friend of a friend a call and asked him to dinner.

A very good guy this friend of a friend. He says yes.

So... over steak, he talks about his search for representation, a staff job and film pitching.

Apparently, even AFTER selling a pilot he found getting representation difficult.

"Everybody met me. It was great," he said. "Then, afterwords, nothing. I eventually signed with a smaller boutique."

I thought this was good. Certainly, an accomplishment. A "boutique" always sounds good to me. Plus, you won't get lost.

He agreed, but also had a reservation. "The big agents control everything and have directors, writers, actors, you name it. My guys are primarily literary. So putting together packages...." and he trailed off.

About staff jobs and pitching, he sounded like someone who was enjoying the merri-go-round.

"You go in and talk to these people for like 15 minutes. My stuff is funny and the manager I'm working with has encouraged me to think of it like a stand-up act. At first I wasn't so sure. Then, the more I did it, the more I realized how right he was. My job was to not just write an entertaining script but to entertain. It's kinda fun, but it's different than how I thought it would be."

I liked his attitude since, while on the one hand he seemed to be a little jaded, on the other, he seemed to be learning and having a good time doing it - which, of course, is quite the opposite of jaded.

But from my side of the table, I also felt that the eye of the needle I'd come to LA to thread with my life had gotten smaller.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

This blog is a liability

a printing press

I went to a movie yesterday with a friend and fellow writer trying to break into the world of TV and film. He's had a lot more experience in this world than I - work he's done has been nominated for an emmy - but he's still having trouble getting staffed.

I casually mentioned I had a blog.

He told me to never tell that to anyone in the industry. He implied I should stop doing it altogether and delete the whole thing.

"I know a guy," he said, "who was told by a network executive that he'd been passed over because they didn't want him writing about their show on a blog."

Perhaps this is wise advice in a place that's inspired book titles such as "YOU'LL NEVER EAT LUNCH IN THIS TOWN AGAIN", but I told my friend that it was already too late. Anyone googling my name will find out I have a blog.

And, of course, I'd already considered this possible reaction and made my own decision about it. Which is that anyone re-acting this way toward a blog published under my own name is so paranoid that you've got to wonder what other strange contortions you might have to go through to work under/for them. Afterall, if people are afraid you have ideas on a blog about them, well, they're going to be afraid you have ideas about them elsewhere too.

The position of "I won't hire someone who blogs" is even more absurd when you consider how easy it is to blog anonymously. And how simple it is to create one at ANY time.

Now, I know people in a position to hire/help me have read this blog. I've seen the link referrals from MTA, Revolution Studios, Disney, Paramount and ABC. Plenty of theatre companies have looked, too.

None of these folks are banging down my door with contracts and options and production opportunities. But my guess is that it isn't because they're afraid I'm going to "tattle" - which is decidedly not the purpose of the blog anyway. It's that they haven't felt strongly enough about the work they've seen from me to do anything other than look.

I remember something one of the Farelly brothers (of all people) said at my MFA graduation ceremony: Have an opinion and don't be afraid to voice it.

This blog is part of that. But it's also, interestingly, made me more careful about what I say. That is, when writing out my opinions about what's going on with me and what I see in the world, I actually have to reflect in tranquility (thank you, Mr. Wordsworth) on what it is I'm saying. And how I say it.

If nothing else, that's been worthwhile.

And even then people have their own impressions. An ABC guy told me that my blog seemed to be "a shrine to your wife."

And truth be told, I've written about her a lot. Why wouldn't I? She's pretty much the reason I do everything anyway.


a printing press destroyed

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

So, how's the writing going...?

Over the past couple of weeks I've been blogging way too much and way too much of it has not been about the writing.

So, here's the update.

While I feel particualarly slow, a lot has happened in the last month. After the reading of BEYOND THE OWING in Santa Maria, I revised the play and sent it out.

Then, I took another week to revise a screenplay that had been languishing. To give you an idea of how much my process has slowed down, it took 4 days to read it carefully and thoroughly and another 4 to actually implement my notes. This used to take 2 days tops - and more often than not, 1.

After that, I took another pass at the MEDIUM teleplay, fixing a few things here and there that I'd meant to work on back in March when I finished the last draft.

Notice a pattern here? All revising, no new work.

I changed that last week when I looked at some screenplay ideas that I have. They're all movie ideas that have big roles for women since that's what's interesting me right now. I mulled them over, chose one.

Yesterday afternoon I "completed" the first draft of the outline. I printed it out but, to be honest, it has giant holes in it and I don't have to read it to know. I'll revise it this morning. The story is a simple action story. I'm primarily writing it to get away from the more personal stories (MEDIUM aside) I've been producing over the past few years.

Of course, I feel like a failure because I haven't "finished" anything brand new since mid-February when I churned out the first draft of MEDIUM over a weekend. And I've got 4, maybe 5, projects that I'd like to complete.

In between all this is the search of work. An interview at Paramount has been postponed 3 times - which does not bode well. An out of town free-lance gig that was supposed to be 2 months of work is now 3 weeks of work. And an agency that had me on hold before Easter has backed off entirely.

All I can say about that stuff is: In the desert, water evaporates fast.

Finally, check this shit out. Great new LA Band - from Shattuck:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The more things change, the more they stay the same: Young playwright, you are not the first to have trouble getting produced

Others have discussed some of Albee's comment's about playwrighting recently.

But this, from today's NYT, stood out to me with concern to all the discussion we've been having lately about getting new work up.

It talks about Albee's first big creative breakthrough. Apparently not even Inge and Copland could convince producers to sink money into a show penned by a guy who was, at the time, a no-name.

A freakin' GERMAN premiere.

For Mr. Albee, that was his first play, “The Zoo Story,” which he completed in just three weeks in 1958. Still, not even William Inge and Aaron Copland were able to help him get it produced in the United States. It wasn’t until after the play’s German premiere, when a critic from The New York Times happened to comment that it was a shame a young American playwright couldn’t get attention back at home, that it made it to Off Broadway.

An interesting post from Wickham

I try to stay away from direct political rants since that's not the main concern of this blog.

However, this post from Fred about the strange standards and perspectives of the supposedly liberal media is worth a read.

Thanks, Fred.

Pie? Yes.

I was at the WGA today (at Fairfax and 3rd) and after a bit of writing, I headed over to the Farmer's Market for a little lunch.

And discovered DuPars is open again.

It was hard to resist. Apparently they baked all the cherry pies that were used in David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS.

And the place itself it said to be the site of James Dean's last meal before he headed north to his death.

Me? I just think of the night I extended a date with a beautiful redhead with a simple question: Pie?

Then the place was Utopia at 72nd and Amsterdam.

Now it will be, well, you know where it will be.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'd like to be cool, but I'm not - here's proof

Over the weekend - before H left for Oregon - I saw GRINDHOUSE. And then, last night, I saw 300.

I went to GRINDHOUSE hoping to find some mindless, but fun, fun. The old EL MARIACHI and PULP FICTION thrill. You know, a good sense of violence, a snappy story and some tense, terse, hip dialog.

The spoof trailer certainly seemed to be going in the right diretion. It was full of phrases like, "When you hire him to take out the bad guy you better be sure the bad guy isn't you." Etc.

Then the Rodriguez thing started and I was looking forward to following the story of Rose McGowan and her machine gun leg. But from the top I started having trouble. The Go-Go dance she did took forever. Then the dialog felt slipshod and uneven. The gore that followed didn't help at all. And, finally, the story was so fractured and shattered I just couldn't be bothered (at first I hoped to be exhilarated with finding out how/what was happening, but I gave up about 20 minutes in since there was so much going on besides Rose McGowan). I could see they'd done a good job crossing their t's and dotting their i's with regard to genre, but such slavishness to form lead to the same dead end the genre leads to: So fucking what?

Probably the best thing that happened is that I started thinking about my wife and her pregnancy. I wasn't interested in exposing this crap to her - or even to my yet unborn child. Perhaps absurd, but still.

Heather did her best to convince me to stay - she thought I might enjoy it without her. I knew she was wrong. We got up and left.

I'll never forget the faces of the people watching us leave in the dark. "You are not cool" they all said.

We're not.

The other movie I was hoping would be more fun was 300. The horrible review in the Times gave me hope that the show would fantastic. Certainly, it's a visual stunner. But it's so humorlessly racist, homophobic and misogynistic I developed a sore sitting through it.

Plus, the bombastic tone is so thorough, it's completely boring. (I actually thought it was the kidn of movie George Bush and Dick Cheney would like us to believe is the script for Iraq - but that's a whole 'nother tangent.)

It reminded me of Paul Verhoeven's STARSHIP TROOPERS in which a world of perfect people with Nazi-like tendencies is justified by an invasion of inhuman insects. Except less interesting.

Again, I guess I am just not cool.

The bed's too big

Heather has gone up to Ashland for the next few days.

It's the first time I've been alone in the house for any kind of extended period.

I sound like a wimp, but I miss her. And the place is weird without her.

And the bed's too big.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Kinda amazing

Kudos to Mike Daisey - whose work I don't know - but who had the poise and grace and courage to deal with this honestly and directly and beautifully in the moment at the moment.

Fantastic. Amazing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Things I've done for money

With all the talk about class and making a living, I started thinking about all the things I've done for money.

(I think Adam Szymkowicz did this once, but here's my list.)

(in no particular order)

waiter (TGI Fridays - "Would you like a balloon with that?")

raised thoroughbred yearlings (payment for the summer of work - a 1969 Volvo)

stall mucker (i did it more than once)

dog kennel cleaner (the guy I did it for had had his front teeth knocked out by a horse at the track in Mexico City)

newspaper boy (my first job - which I thought would qualify me to become President of the United States)


lawn mower kid

snow shoveler

dry cleaner clerk (used to find small vials and coke spoons in our clientel's pants)

over-the-counter stock exchange clerk (once upon a time traders had their transactions tallied by hand - I did that)

pizza boy (at Pistilli's where Mrs. Pistilli spent her days mixing sauce with severly arthritic hands - a photo of Christ over the sauce pot was laminated to protect it from the red splatter bubbles)

book seller (at Stuart Brent Books on Michigan Avenue in Chicago - probably the best independent bookstore in the country at one time - also at the now defunct Oxford Books in Atlanta and Borders, the evil gentle giant)

video store clerk (when money was stolen from the back room I was forced to take a lie detector test)

gas station attendant/pump jockey (for David Adiv, one of the best human beings on the planet)

security guard (at 120 lbs I was less than imposing so they paired me up with a guy who spent the hours getting high and telling me stories of when he was a gigilo in Atlantic City)

caddy (it was not like the Bill Murray movie, but boy did I want it to be)

raccoon hunter (a short story I wrote about this won the Senior Scholastic Fiction Contest when I was in high school)

dishwasher (also for Mrs. Pistilli as well as Nino at Grandpa's Deli in Barrington Il)

market research telephone interviewer (My name is Malachy Walsh, I'm calling from Kapular and Associates a market research firm located in Arlington Heights, Illinois....)

horse trail path-cutter (behind rich people's houses there are paths for rich people's horses. I blazed them one mosquito-infested summer in which I was chased by many large dogs)

book/library page (at the University of Illinois in C-U)

freelance writer at the Washington Post (the newsroom looked just like one in All The Presidents Men; I witnessed the stock market crash, Iran-Contra-Gate and the ascendency of the first Bush there - I also saw Ben Brantley strut around the newsroom saying, "We got him. We got him by the balls now" when Marion Barry was caught in a hotel with a hooker and crack pipe)

tack washer (for Amy Ylvasaker whom I had a mad crush on when I was like 12)

research assistant (for a guy who was writing a book about Custer - I wasn't good at it and I got canned)

script reader

theater manager (I was actually the intern who was the only left to run the shows after everyone went on summer vacation)

ditch digger (in Atlanta while putting myself through ad school)

literacy tutor (actually I never got paid for this but it was the best thing I ever did)

advertising copywriter (see my work at

Rabbit Hole at OSF

In theatre blogs, this play has been pummelled as being too simple and accessible and direct as a narrative.

Some have even hurled the worst insult you can ever throw at a play these days in calling it film-ready and worse, no better than TV. At Time Out New York, David Cote - a pretty good reviewer and writer in my book - claims to have felt trapped to the point of hallucination when he saw the show at MTC. He used as an example of everything that's wrong with MTC programming - and, by extension, American Theatre.

It doesn't help that the play was awarded the Pulitzer earlier this week over three more obscure plays (one of which I've read - BULRUSHER - and the other of which I saw - ELLIOTT) that the Pulitizer Jury recommended.

In the blogosphere, THAT just fueled even more hatred - though I think the bloggers who fostered the conversations (Hunka and Playgoer) where most of the mudslinging occured in the comments sections were actually talking about something more interesting than the play. They were making a point about the Pulitizer process - and its meaning to theatre as they see it. (My opinion is, the Pulitizer counts, big big big time and as much as anyone might not like it, it stamps the work it endorses as the standard to work by and against.)

I had my own experience with the play about a week before all this happened. On Good Friday to be exact.

I did not hate the play.

But as it's not my cup of tea, I didn't love it either.

It is a simple, direct and most importantly, accessible narrative about grief. It is also a thoroughly middle class play. It is well constructed and has some funny things in it and even a dangerous moment or two.

Writing one of these kinds of plays is extremeley difficult because it has to all be logical so all the levers that get pulled work. In this sense, the play wasn't completely perfect. I'm not sure I bought that the wife was trying to erase the kid by selling the house, getting rid of his stuff, etc, while the husband was trying to hold onto him by making sure his fingerprints weren't wiped away from walls etc. This is largely because the husband wanted to have another kid to restart and the wife didn't.

Now, I actually do not like language plays. I find them very boringly intellectual (sorry, but sic at Soho Rep was not for me at all). But straight up narratives - in the theatre - don't float my boat either (I like Shepard and Fornes and Machado) unless they're about something stunningly new to me. Or carry major insights. Or have some kind of Greek-ness to me (BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE).

So certainly, I sat in the theatre watching this play with some serious fidgeting. But unlike David Cote, I didn't hallucinate.

I'm still searching for the visceral play at OSF.

And while Rabbit Hole wasn't it, I didn't find it objectionable.

And since I'm a love it or hate it kinda guy, that indeed may be the problem.

EDIT: I have had a couple of great moments at OSF - I was reminded to my chagrin by someone who knows. My wife. Indeed, I had forgotten how great the production of KING JOHN was last year - in particular the scene where the kid's eyes were about to be put out by a hot poker. Fantastic. Then there was THE PIANO LESSON they did a few years back. The hair on the back of my neck rose whenever that freaking piano came alive. It was great.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some days you just don't know anything.

This is one of those days.

Plus, it feels like Thursday but it's only Wednesday.

Why does that happen?

Monday, April 16, 2007

8: The young producers

At the corner of Fairfax and Sunset, there's a Coffee Bean that I've been told is THE place in West Hollywood to be seen.

On our way to the Ralph's a few blocks away, we pass it in our Mini-Coop and say, look there it is, can you see anyone there? And, of course, in the nanosecond we have to look, we see plenty of people in a brief blur. But none of the blurs look like anyone we know. From our film life. Or our real life.

And so I never think I'll go there until one day, a producer calls me and says, "I read your script. You're a great writer. Let's talk." and he suggests we meet there because it's near where I live AND near where he works.

I arrive a little early to scope the place out. It's basically a patio where the tables have been bolted down to the contrete with a little glass enclosure attached where lattes are born.

There are people there, but the people who are PEOPLE aren't there - which means, in the Hollywood sense, no-one is there.

When my meeting guy pulls up, I'm playing backgammon on my phone. I look up and admit I'm a retard for playing and he introduces me to his business partner. I feel even more retarded for not knowing he had a partner.

They both laugh however at my self-deprecating comment in a way that I realize they got a kick out of the somewhat uncool admission about fooling around with a game on my phone.

As we wait in line for passion lemonade ice teas and double espresson shots, we chat about where they're from. One is from Northern California, the other is from Chicago.

There is some more in depth introductions as we sit down on the patio that is suddenly crowded.

I tell them about myself. Playwright. Married. Baby on the way. Move here from New York. Making money writing advertising as I try to see if a transition is possible. I'm honest and as funny as I can be - which isn't very. (That is, it's more honest than it is funny.)

But they laugh. And they seem relaxed. They tell me about their lives. Both are married, both have worked together awhile. One has spent some time doing theatre. They both want to make movies, own a few scripts and are trying to put some packages. They don't want to make my script which they like, but, honestly, would be too expensive to make for them.

I ask them what kind of material they own.

They have two scripts that they've developed, they say, one a family movie, one a very weird horror story with a heavy psychological bend to it. Though each piece of material is quite different from the other, they talk about both with a sense of sincerity about making them that I like. They don't want to make trash, but they do want to have fun.

I like them very much.

They ask me what else I have. I describe a play I've written that I'd like to transfer to the screen and another movie I've written that I'm considering reworking so I could shoot it in LA rather than SF.

They're intrigued by both. After about an hour and a half, we go our separate ways. As we part, they ask to see the scripts I described a few moments ago. Of course, I say. And I mean it.

When I get home, Heather asks how it went. I tell her that we hardly talked about the script I sent them but they'd like to see more.

She says, well, you've had your first real Hollywood meeting.

I just think, man, I'd like to work with those guys. They seemed real.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

3 signs of optimism

With all the chatter about money and class and the personal cost of doing theater, it was ironic that my wife and I wandered into a store today and picked up three different signs of optimism.

Here they are in no particular oder. (Right.)




Now we have a house. Or at least another couple of places to sit - and change diapers - besides the floor.

Friday, April 13, 2007

funny, strange, provocative

The ecology of a theatre community is always fragile and unique. Theatre artists are uniquely dependent on institutions to allow their work to flourish – painters may require dealers to sell their work, poets and novelists publishers to print and distribute theirs, but playwrights require theaters in order to make their work in the first place. Without a venue, a place to come together with actors and directors and designers and audiences, a playwright can’t even fully practice their craft much less grow to maturity as an artist. This places a special burden on producers and leaders of theaters: not only to make their company succeed, but to create a venue where artists can create and the new can come into existence. Without such producers, no theatrical culture can hope to flourish.
- Oskar Eustis
seven plays from Clubbed Thumb

And then, when you don't have institutional support, you do what the people from Clubbed Thumb did. You start making your own institution, one play, one production at a time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Class and theatre, the right stuff, having it all

Most of the conversation going on about theatre and class right now in the "theatre blogosphere" is centered around money with a strong emphasis on school debt.

I've indulged in this kind of thing, too.

However, I think something is missing - which is what the pshychographics of class do to our heads with regard to how we make a living and how we judge "success".

Most people in this country, whether they qualify financially for membership in the middle class or not, have a middle class mindset, if not an upper middle class mindset. Even the so-called "working class" who, while their work may put them in the stereotypical blue collar bracket, almost always want the same things "middle class" people want - homes, cars, stereos, college educations, boats, coffee tables, Playstations, etc.

And, more importantly, they often want these things for the same reasons - to impress the neighbors.

Television sitcoms and advertisers have done this.

Specifically, advertisers have done it by always presenting an idealized lifestyle in which what you have - especially when it's their product - is what other people want, thus making you attractive, desireable, etc.

In television, with few exceptions (MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, ROSEANNE), everyone lives in a huge apartment with all the right stuff. In fact, the most working class family on TV right now is to be found on MEDIUM - though Joe IS a rocket scientist at NASA and they seem to have enough money for high end NOKIA phones and VOLVO's.

THE OFFICE describes most of our lives pretty well.

However... back to the subject.

Theatre - to me - certainly has a lot of class issues.

But WHAT you find playing in theatre is not the biggest of these issues. If anything, I think the moneyed people who go to theatre are more open minded about different perspectives than you'll find in the visual arts where a lot of direct commenting on culture has been largely blunted by abstraction and irony.

What I mean is, if you look around at regional theatre programming, you don't see only old white men getting produced. You have the Culture Clash at Berkelely Rep and La Jolla. You have Dael Orlandersmith at MTC. You have Cassandra Medley at the Magic and elsewhere in NY. You have Suzanne Lori Parks winning Pulitzers. You have Tracey Scott Wilson all over the place a few years ago. You have all the programming at The Public - even with Neil LaBute plays there. You have Nilo Cruz and Octavio Solis at OSF and elsewhere.

In other words, you have anything BUT a homogenized group of voices being heard and seen on some of the biggest non-profit institutional stages around the country.

(Weirdly, I've even been told that being a white male could hurt my chances of being produced - indirectly when it came to theatre and directly when it came to television.)

To me, the largest issue concerning class and theatre is NOT how much we borrow to do it.

It's how much we expect to get back from it when we put our blood and sweat into it.

After all, have we not all been raised on the very common middle class idea, "Do what you love and the money will follow"? Have we not been told to "follow our dreams" to exclusion of all else? Have we not been indoctrinated with the thought that "success" means "making money" to live on and buy stuff with?

Theatre does not owe the people working in it anything. It doesn't owe me a living, even if I want it to give me one. It doesn't love me because I love it.

And graduate writing/acting/directing programs don't usually reveal percentages of "successful" (ie, people working in the field) alumni because it would be embarrassing to do so. Most aren't "successful" in the common middle class definition of that term.

What we think we want comes from a place of the ego - ego formed in a cultural environment where middle class values and aspirations are as inescapable as air.

Part of that is a sense of entitlement.

Or, put another way, when we're honest about why we want to do theatre - and for me, it's not to make a living - then we can move forward.

But if we're hoping that theatre will fulfill the middle class dreams we have, we're deluded.

Theatre is not a middle class profession - even if it's the middle class who buy tickets to those shows at the non-profits.

It's not designed to buy all that stuff I talked about up there.

Its purpose is to do something else entirely.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stealing from theatre

How many times have you sat through a play or an evening of short plays to find yourself in the dark pretending not to notice the inept scene changing happening onstage?

Good directors know that one of the most enthralling things about theatre is being in the presence of transformation.

Really good directors make something of even the most mechanical of these opportunities - the scene change.

Here some commercial makers use the effect to, well, great effect.

And now for a personal plea: Please make scene changes interesting for us. We can see you in the dark. We really can.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The law of attraction

As I've made clear, I felt New York pushed me away to some degree.

But it took more than pushing to get me going.

There was the life I was attracted to.

Here's a video about that.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Another "Why Theatre" - from the SF Chronicle

I've been a vocal critic of Steven Winn's reviewing in SF since he trashed every show in the SF Fringe one year without ever seeing one of them, but a friend brought my attention to this article, which despite the lukewarm words towards some of the plays he's reviewing (surprise), has some value when it comes to WHY THEATRE.

As my friend said, it echoes thoughts I - and many others - have shared elsewhere.

Forget computers, videos, HDTV -- the play's still the thing

Steven Winn
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

There's a scene in "After the War," the Philip Kan Gotanda play in its world-premiere run at the American Conservatory Theater, that made me settle back contentedly in my seat on opening night. One of the characters, the Japanese landlord of a San Francisco boardinghouse in 1948, has just acquired a new Philco TV. He and several tenants (one white, one black) gather to hoist an aerial onto the roof. As they do, a Russian tenant, Olga, charges back and forth from the parlor to the back steps to report on the reception.

"How's it looking?" the men call from the top of the house.

"How's it cooking?" Olga breathlessly asks of a Japanese woman peering hopefully at the 10-inch screen.

As it turns out, the play itself never comes clearly into focus; "After the War" remains diffuse and dramatically unrealized. But I relished that moment -- and there were a few others -- when a new play, in its first public test, seems poised to capture an audience and carry it along as one on a route never traveled just this way before. Here, in a few invigorating, economical strokes, is the world "After the War" sets out to create -- a world transformed by progress, by the compression and mingling of races and the challenges of cross-cultural understanding.

Nothing else quite matches the charge that can run through a theater when something new is first revealed onstage. The audience transcends its role as receiver of culturally certified goods and becomes a collective participant, completing the work that the playwright, actors, director and designers can take only so far.

New plays -- more so than new works of music or dance, which carry the conventions of silent attention followed by applause; and more so than the finished products of new movies or novels -- reconnect us directly to our communal natures, to the urge for experience that both stretches and unites us. Laughter, hushed apprehension, a chorus of tiny startled gasps or those arctic spells when an audience chills -- all those things aren't merely responses. They are integral parts of the social enterprise that any play premiere undertakes. New theater is participatory democracy in action.

It's a singular and salutary feature of the region's cultural life that the production of new plays remains so vigorous here. Even in uneasy times, when safe bets are tempting and screens of all kinds (computer, video game, movie, high-definition TV) exert a mesmerizing hold, local theaters continue to bet heavily against the odds and venture into the unknown. More than 130 new plays premiered in the Bay Area last year.

Without trying very hard, I caught six world premieres over the past several weeks. One of them, Dan Hoyle's dazzling monologue set in Nigeria, "Tings Dey Happen," at the Marsh, was pure exhilaration. Another, Mark Jackson's "American " at the Thick House, rode its antic momentum to a terrific party scene. "To the Lighthouse," a Virginia Woolf adaptation at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, weirdly turned into a musical after intermission. A play about sexual fantasies at the Magic Theatre, Chantal Bilodeau's "Pleasure & Pain," was like a numbing shot of novocaine.

So how'd you like it? Was it any good? Should I take my son? That's how we package, process and exchange our responses. We crave a currency, a known rate of exchange to fix the value on something unfamiliar. But such measures may finally matter less, when it comes to new plays, than what happens in those moments when something suddenly takes hold, when a door you didn't notice flies open and the light shines in on the audience all at once.

It's been a few weeks since I saw "American," and I couldn't begin to detail the plot or recall the characters' names. But I can still see and feel the throbbing pulse of the final scene, when one power-glazed manipulator after another urges the hero on toward a fatal celebrity. And then at the dinner party in "To the Lighthouse," where the guests all speak their thoughts aloud and silently mouth their spoken dialogue, the hostess (a sublime Monique Fowler as Mrs. Ramsay) delivers this exquisite, enfolding irony: "There is a profound stillness holding us together." A shivers runs softly up my back now as I remember it.

In a night of feverishly drawn characters, Hoyle hits his devastating peak in "Tings Dey Happen" at the end of the first act. Bathed in a sickly green light and speaking in a thick, strangely lucid pidgin English, the actor becomes a Nigerian mercenary describing a 2003 oil war with a blend of rage and eerie detachment. A few minutes later, in the lobby of the Marsh, an old friend introduced me to a friend of hers. This woman must have seen in my face what I saw in hers -- the shaken-to-the-bones astonishment of that last scene. "Can you believe what just happened?" she said. "No," I said. "Can you?"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why we write

Mr. S made the comment below in response to my post about why I go to the theatre.

I thought it was worth its own post.


I don't think any of us write to be liked (I mean, sure, we want people to like what we write, but I don't think it's the over-riding priority). I think we write to engage, to challenge. Engagement relates to the work--being liked relates to the ego. I think we write to create an experience or to share an experience of some depth, not just likeability. A play is a broken-hearted love letter to a lover (the beautiful horrible world) that could care less. That sort of love letter demands attention, demands anger, demands hatred, demands indignation, demands love. Like is the consolation prize.


So, so well put.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beyond the Owing at PCPA Theatrefest

This play is being produced at the Red Eye Theatre in Mpls, July 13-26 2009.

Check it out.... right here.

Drove up to Santa Maria for a reading of BEYOND THE OWING.

After working on it for two weeks and doing and in-home reading, I finally have a draft of this play that I like that's based on what started at the Clubbed Thumb boot camp. The naturalism of the first few scenes gives way to a surrealism properly as the play progresses now and the emotional logic between the characters works the way it should.

About a month ago I was ready to throw it out, so it was a great relief to hear it in new hands and feel like it could be stageworthy.

Here are a few pix from the reading.


I'm picking up work suddenly. An ad agency in LA has asked me to come in next week at the same time that an ad agency in Colorado has asked me to fly in and work for them.

Then, I have an interview with the ad dept at one of the major studios in LA - which I'm very interested in.

Cross your fingers. I do need work. And I do like to work.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Clubbed Thumb on the West Coast

Here are a few pix from the West Coast Clubbed Thumb fund-raiser gala. If you'd like to know what they do, check out the book at left on Amazon.

Great people. Great time.

And that's the beach - and the Pacific Ocean - on the other side of those windows.