Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Next?

7 Minutes to Midnight
Rehearsal at Bellevue College
I think its reasonably safe to assume that I must be having problems writing if I'm back on this blog.

My apologies for the hiatus of a few months off but its been a busy year...what with moving into a new house, juggling the new job, and also being absorbed by the show CAMINO in September.

But I promise to be once again more vigilant in posting my random thoughts on all things theater.

As for my writing, well, its not so much that I'm blocked as I have many ideas, but I feel that ever since the end of the run of CAMINO, I have been contemplating, what next?  If you saw me on facebook, I contemplated between doing the epic big show (aka the shows I really love to write just for me) or doing a single set, four character show, which is basically more likely to be read by and produced by theater companies.

Then I thought to myself, yeah, but, I want to write a play about robots.  Real robots.  Real scientists working on robots and how our relationship to technology (cell phones, computers, etc) is changing at an ever rapid pace.

That's probably not an easy sell, regardless.

I also think there is a balance there somewhere...between writing the play we love and care about and writing a play to get it produced.  It's ideal when both of those things get combined.

Somehow, many of my short plays I wrote "just for fun" ended up being produced several times over, which should be a lesson to me.  Even BURNING BOTTICELLI got produced and that has dozens of characters, a talking parrot and someone gets burned alive on stage.

Burning Botticelli
PR image for NYC production
I feel like as I've grown older and grown as an artist, I get choosier with my projects and my time.  The danger is that I end up avoiding the difficult choices.  The life of an artist should never be the easy route. It never has been.

So.  What's next?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ghosts in the Room

I could’ve called this post “Why I like the TV show Slings & Arrows”.

Mostly I love the conceit of the presence ghost of the former Artistic Director, an old mentor of the current Artistic Director, Jeffrey Tennant.  The ghost haunts him, literally, by commenting on his rehearsals, his interactions with people, and basically is in conversation with him. 

This is a wonderful visual representation of something that is very real, yet intangible.  

(And isn't that the point of good drama, bringing a metaphor to life?)

With each new production and play, there are always ghosts in the room.  I don’t just mean that there is the ghost of Shakespeare or Chekhov when we do Hamlet or Three Sisters, although, there is that.  There also remains the ghosts of all those great actors that have played in those roles, all those great directors, designers, and other artists, as well as the ghosts of all our own teachers and mentors. 

We walk into a rehearsal room with not just our own experience and knowledge but also techniques and experience that has been handed down to us for generations. 

When we do theater, we are not just in conversation with the rest of the world, we are in conversation with our own past masters.

I don’t know that you can say that about other activities outside the arts.  Perhaps, in science, when you’re experimenting, there is the ghost of Einstein or Oppenheimer, but I don’t know that it feels the same.   

And I’m pretty sure scientists don’t leave a ghost bunson burner going in an empty lab the way we leave a ghost light in a theater.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Add the play Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger to your Solo Show Reading List

Underneath The LintelRecently, a newly acquired friend and prominent actor/director/writer in the Pittsburgh area turned me on to a little solo show called UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL by Glen Berger.

Glen Berger also wrote a short play I directed years ago called "I WILL GO...I WILL GO..." about a man trying to cross the English Channel and going deaf by the end of it from the cold water.  I loved his writing and loved the theatricality and style of that play.  So I knew I would probably like UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL.

And I must say I'd put it on my required reading list for solo plays--right up there with KRAPP'S LAST TAPE or KICKING A DEAD HORSE or THOM PAINE (BASED ON NOTHING) as well as the others I mentioned in an earlier post.

Why do I love it?  One, it's not your usual confessional solo show of "Why I hate my father" or something god-awful like that.  It deals with existential questions about the existence of god, of faith, and tells a story of the everyday events and how they collide with the universe.  A character goes on a true journey, not just physically but mentally and spiritually and the audience can't help but be swept up in the magnitude of the story.  The writing is lyrical and at times quite funny. 

Actually, I was hooked even from the description of the set.  It takes place as a lecture in an auditorium or stage between shows, saying:
"props and other detritus from other shows can litter the back of the stage...Over the course of the evening the 'lecture' should imperceptibly turn into "theater".  The detritus, unnoticed and seemingly unimportant at first, can unexpectedly take on significance, alluding to scenes and history mentioned in the play.  The lighting can become warmer, more "theatrical", etc, and what seemed like a random strewing of objects, or a random water stain on the wall, for instance, can turn out to not be so random after all."

I knew just from reading this that this playwright was clear of his vision for the story and for the journey he wanted to take his audience on.  I knew I was in good hands. 

(And the writer side of me was envious of Berger's clarity and focus and his damned talent at his craft!)

What's also quite lovely is that Berger takes a small thing--an overdue library book--and explodes it into some with greater meaning.  We always talk about "high stakes' in the theater, but we forget what that can actually mean.  Sometimes even the smallest actions could lead to bigger consequences.  It all depends on how it affects the characters and disturbs their world.

Here's the plot summary from Alexis Soloski of the Village Voice:

On an inauspicious morning at a Dutch library, a librarian makes an unexpected find in the overnight return box. ...a much mistreated Baedeker's guidebook 123 years overdue. Even without compound interest, this tardiness merits a tidy fine, and in UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL, playwright Glen Berger's latest, our librarian hero determines to track down the miscreant. Berger's monologue, subtitled The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers, hardly slacks. Mailing a fine to the long-lived scofflaw in question proves difficult, as the borrower listed his name only as `A'. In an effort to run him to earth, the librarian, who has never left his native town of Hoofddorp, zips to China, Australia, Germany, and America. He eats sweets, greases palms, sees Les Miserables in three languages, and fritters away all his accumulated vacation days. He has the time of his life, or perhaps for the first time actually has a life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

CAMINO Rehearsals Begin

As I stated in my last post, I will be acting in an upcoming show which will premiere in mid-September.  The play is called CAMINO and its been written and developed over a few years by writer/director Anya Martin.  She and co-founder and designer Michelle Carello have formed the company The Hiawatha Project to develop shows that explore specific social questions through myth and movement.

Here's the brief show description:

Set within the context of an imagined near future, we follow the journeys of two seemingly unrelated couples:one immigrant couple fighting to reunite despite jails, red tape, and oppression, and one American couple struggling to break through personal and digital boundaries, both seen and unseen.

CAMINO is inspired by true stories of the immigrant detention centers in Arizona.  If you have never heard of the private and government partnerships where law is dictated by the flow of money, then check out this NPR article.  The play also deals with civil rights, where all U.S. citizens can be tracked by GPS and people can be ground up and spit out by a bureaucratic machine.  Some scenes of the play are positively Orwellian, in fact.

I'll be playing a character who works for this large corporation and "watches" the action via satellite images and security cameras.  I also play a guard in the prison and a translator.  For the latter, I'm learning some French. 

It is an honor to be part of this show with such a talented cast and crew and I'm looking forward to the rehearsal process.  I'll post as often as I can about my discoveries in the next few weeks.

For more information about the Hiawatha Project, click here, and for more information about the issues that CAMINO is dealing with, click here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I'm Reading: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Summer seems to have gotten away from me and this blog has been neglected.  For that, I apologize.

I have no excuses for not maintaining this blog, but I do have my reasons--first being a new house (yay, I feel so grown-up!) as well as a new job (yay, I have a regular paycheck!) and a new creative venture (Yay, I'm acting in a show again!).

I've also discovered the world of grilling in my back yard. 

But I digress.

I just finished reading Steven Pressfield's little book THE WAR OF ART.  If you are an artist/writer/poet/creative dreamer or just someone who wants to start a diet/exercise program or frankly anything that might be good for you in the long run, then you must read this book.  In fact, it should be required reading for everyone in college.  Any college, not just those studying the arts.

Without giving too much away, Pressfield delves into the idea of "Resistance".  What is Resistance and why does it always rear its ugly head when we desire to change, grow or create something good and unleash it into the world? 

This isn't a book about writer's block.  It's a book about how even professionals face this Resistance, sometimes in the form of fear or procrastination, but they persevere.  Every day.  This is not a "how to" book.  This book doesn't give you tips and tricks for overcoming your daily dose of Resistance.  It does give guidance and wisdom from the guy who was written many books (including The Legend of Bagger Vance). 

The book was a nice reminder to me to get to work.  If you are an artist, you define yourself by creating art, not talking about it, not thinking about it, but doing it.

So, like that Nike ad says...just do it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wa(s)te Reading in LA at The Road Theater Next Sunday

There are plays that you write sometimes just for fun and you think, no one will ever probably want to do this play.  This is not really marketable in any way, shape, or form.  Or so you think. 

Such a play is Wa(s)te, which is really a play about two waste-oids in an apartment waiting to find out about a party (and maybe they're writing a screenplay in the process, but most likely they're surfing the net, playing videogames and watching TV). 

Here's the show synopsis:

With the promise of tomorrow lingering under the rain clouds of today, Doug and Val waste time playing word and power games with each other in a cluttered Seattle apartment, waiting to hear about a party.  They are joined by Paulie, a temp in a rumpled suit, who one day claims it’s his apartment and the next day is a silent slave to the enigmatic Lulu, a songstress turned corporate power-broker.  But is it Paulie’s apartment?  Will Doug and Val ever finish their screenplay about nothing commenting on nothing?  Or are they merely characters themselves?  And there’s the ultimate question: is God the Pizza Boy?

I've only really sent this play to friends who I like and might appreciate its references to Beckett or pop culture and only a handful of small theaters.  And yet, through a circuitous route (ie in the hands of a real-life clown), the play has found itself in a reading at The Road Theater in LA in their annual Summer Playwrights Festival.

See the details here.

Sadly, I won't be able to fly out to the west coast for the reading but after talking with Judy Weldon, I feel I'm in good hands.  I'm just disappointed that I'll miss this first public reading in front of an audience, especially seeing as how its a comedy and it might be nice to know when folks laugh and all.

Here's hoping this is a sign that more opportunities will arise for this little fun play of mine.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fun or Serious? Or Serious Fun?

Yesterday was the first day I've had in a long time with no commitments.  No social engagements.  No rehearsals.  No auditions.  No meetings and no errands to run.

And the weather was cool and cloudy, a nice break from our heat and humidity.

A perfect day to be anti-social by staying indoors and writing.

Which is what I did.  I had every intention to start writing that serious play about the feuding sisters, but kept toying with this radio play instead.  I spent a couple of hours hammering out a not-quite-thought-out plot of a western with sci-fi elements and by the end of it, I felt satisfied in that "I just had a good writing workout" way, but then looked over the script and thought, hmmmn, not all that great.  It was a fun diversion, but somehow not fulfilling.

So I have my writing group tonight and I think, bring the fun radio script or bring in the first scene I wrote awhile back for my serious drama about feuding sisters?

I've noticed in me a difference of investment in terms of thought and energy.  There are plays that are fun whims and plays that actually take a lot of time and energy.  Not that fun whims can't be good plays and highly successful.  My play LOVE & DEATH IN THE TIME OF CRAYOLA literally only took me a day or so to write and was quite fun and that play has been done over a dozen times across the country. 

I guess what 'm talking about is the meaty kind of dramas that Odets, O'Neill and Miller would write.  Plays that tackled complex characters in situations that mirrored the times. 

Those kinds of plays aren't usually written casually on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  They are forged over time.

There's a great line in the Hugh Grant movie "Music & Lyrics" where he tells Drew Barrymore that as a pop musician, he writes dessert while someone like Bob Dylan writes dinner.

Sometimes I get tired of writing dessert.  Dinner takes a lot more preparation, but its also a lot more fulfilling. 

(By the way, that photo is my wife's paella, a very fulfilling dinner!)