Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where have you been?

Writing can affect my social life. Sometimes.

See, when I’m procrastinating or it isn’t going well, I reach out and call someone…email a friend, or just bug my wife more (which gets increasingly harder the more entrenched in her PhD program she gets…curse you academics!)

On the other hand, when the writing is going well then I disappear, lost in my own world. That’s a good thing.

Sadly, the reason for not posting in this blog is neither because the writing is going well or poorly. There is no writing. I have been too busy with other loads of work. What work? Well, I have not just one job, but many. One day job to pay the bills, but also another job as the Regional Rep for The Dramatists Guild, Inc. and then I’m also doing freelance work as a writer and teacher. Oh, and then sometimes I write plays. And screenplays. Or hang out with my wife (when she’s not doing PhD homework…curses to you again you filthy academics!).

One of the things I did over a week ago was attend a high school play festival. Some of the plays were great, some good, some not-so-good, but the amount of energy and enthusiasm was quite exciting. The original plays were what really blew my mind. I kept thinking, if only I had started writing plays when I was seventeen…(I did write a screenplay in third grade, but considering most of the plot points revolved around nose picking, I don’t really count it as any kind of literary achievement).

Since it’s been a few weeks here’s some highlights:

Books & Plays I’ve Read:

White Noise by Don Delillo (not as great as I would’ve hoped)

Beckett Essays & Criticisms—no, I didn’t just add this to seem brainy, I really do like and understand Beckett and enjoy intellectual and/or academic books about his work. This one has some good essays and then others that are just puzzling, like a whole article about Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg and John Calder meeting Beckett…and they drank and they talked…and…and…he seemed moody…wow, riveting.

Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge—I read this before even realizing they were going to revive it on Broadway. Good ol’ fashioned theater. Dated, yes. But well crafted.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (sage screenwriting advice from the man who wrote Stop or My Mom’ll Shoot…no, really).

Plays I’ve Seen:

The Breach at Seattle Rep. Its great they’re doing this piece and I’d love to know more about the writing process (it had three playwrights working on it). Wish I could’ve seen more of some stories, less of others.

Movies I’ve Seen:

There Will Be Blood—if this doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture or at the very least they don’t give a shiny award to Daniel Day Lewis, I will have lost my belief in humanity.

Juno—This, too, should win an award for best screenplay, at least (and I think it will, actually because it’s the kind of genuine heartwarming and yet non-threatening stuff that the academy likes) and Ellen Page and Micheal Cera are quite good.

I Am Legend—creepy to watch, especially after coming back from NYC.

And we're still watching a lot of 30 Rock. That show is just too darn funny.

In other news, a trip to India might be in my future.

And I’m playing poker on Friday night…Getting’ my poker game face on now…Watch out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

30 Rock Rocks!

Is it Tina?

Seriously, this show is the funniest thing on television I've ever seen.

We just started watching the episodes from Netflix and are working our way through the first series.

We are addicted. It's like crack cocaine...

(If I knew what it felt like to be on crack, that is...)

I feel like I've emerged from the dark cave of an unfunny world and suddenly beenb blinded by a great big burning ball of funny in the sky.

I've never really wanted to write for TV--just not my thing...but this show seriously makes me want to work on staff.

Is it just because I hardly ever watch TV that it just seems so intelligent, clever and fun? Or is it because it's set in NYC, which is an added plus?

Considering that Tina is such a damn good writer AND she created the show AND she stars in it...

It must be her.

I've always had a weakness for smart, beautiful and funny women...(which is why I married one).

I need more!

P.S.--I was going to put a clip of the show embedded from the NBC website in here but then realized that those bastard NBC people (run by mega-corp GE) are running ads with their clips, which means they're making money on those clips, but they're not paying the writers because you remember that strike thing? Yeah, well, it's still on...And it's gonna get harder to justify the "we won't make money on the internet, oh woe is us wealthy producers!" after six major studios signed an agreement with itunes in which they will make a ton of $$$...duh! End it you evil AMPTP! Bring back the funny!

10 Things I Love About Seattle

Whenever I get impatient driving to work (which is often), or when the weather is gray (like today), I try to fight the spiral any negativity developing towards this city and think of things that I really love. It's my tactic for fighting the winter blues...

After yesterday’s post, I felt a little bad, like I was being nitpicky or making fun of someone who I am just getting to know. So here are my ten favorite things I came up with this morning. This list changes every day or so, depending on my moods and activities, but here it is for today.

10 Things I love about living in Seattle:

1) The scenery—mountains and mountains and Mt. Rainier oh my!
2) Fabulous salmon—I eat it for breakfast now. Seriously.
3) Great microbrews on tap (Mannys is my go-to beer)
4) You can get a great cup of joe anywhere, anytime
5) The fresh markets (not just Pike Place, but University, Ballard or Cap Hill)
6) They have many large, beautiful parks (and dog parks, too!). Green Lake is becoming a fave
7) The summer months (both of them!)
8) We have theater here. Three major regional theaters (the Rep, ACT, Intiman), two of which have one a Regional Tony Award. And a plentiful amount of small theaters, all doing various types of shows to meet anyone’s taste.
9) Some of the best golf courses around
10) Great live music, especially if you like alt-country, which I do. (I spend a lot of time at Conor Bryne…its so cozy and no-frills…)

As you notice, the top five have to do with food…I can’t help it. I like good food and most people who talk about what they love about Seattle talk about the restaurants and fresh seafood. And reasonably priced (we’re not talking Canlis here peeps). One of my fondest memories was last September sitting on the porch at Ray’s Boathouse as the sun was going down, enjoying a Salmon burger and a microbrew…ah, I miss the sunshine…

But there’s plenty of stuff to do here. We have more arts than just theater, too (like SAM, the sculpture garden, etc). And we’ve got nice bars, not just Conor Bryne, but others as well. Like across the street is Portalis, a lovely wine bar. And there’s the Hopvine in Cap Hill, the College Inn, the…oh, you get the idea.

And when I think of things, I feel good and my impatience fades away.

Until I have to drive home. Then I have to think of ten more things…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seattle Freeze

It’s a phenomenon. It’s been written about. Sociologists like Dr. Jodi O'Brien at Seattle University are even studying it. If you're unsure of what it is, watch this documentary video at YouTube.

Yet if you ask someone from Seattle about it, they will react either in denial or shrug, saying, "we're just more reserved, that's all."

As someone from here told me, “You can have coffee with anyone.”

Yes. But dinner? A movie? Hanging out with someone on the weekend?

Not likely.

Don't get me wrong, and I'll probably piss someone off with this post (but you'll be too nice to actually tell me...). Seattle people are overly polite, cheerful and friendly. They let pedestrians walk across the street at any time (sometimes almost causing accidents in the process). And I have met some wonderful, open and good people here. I don't want to generalize every single person who lives here...


I've lived in few major cities, and two minor ones, and although there are great things about Seattle, this cultural phenomenon has me baffled. Also, as the documentary points out, this idea of a closed off society as a growing trend in this country really scares me.

And how does that relate to theater?

Theater is a social art form. Theater demands connection between actor and audience. Theater allows us to cut through the bulls**t and find truth.


This is the major difference between theater and tv/film/internet. In order to enjoy theater, people have to get out of their house and join other people to watch actors talking not just to each other, but could also talk directly to the audience...Theater is inherently inter-active.

That's pretty cool. And its why theater has survived for thousands of years (thousands, people...) and will survive for thousands more.

Writers are prone to being anti-social. Not all of us, of course. But the job itself can be solitary. We sit at a keyboard, hear voices, talk to ourselves, getting lost in our world. It's a necessity for creation that can become the very thing getting in the way of interacting with the real world.

Novelists may have it the worst. Poets can do readings. Screenwriters get to schmooze at parties.

But playwrights...I think playwrights have it the best.

Because to me, part of the real fun of theater is the art of making theater. And that's why I love being in rehearsal.

If you don't love rehearsal, you should really get out of the theater. Even if you are a playwright. Seriously.

Theater people spend anywhere from two weeks to two months in rehearsal, for shows that may only run for a couple of weeks. It's our 9 to 5...The rehearsal room is our office.

Okay, its so not an office...which is another reason why I love it.

It's where we play.

That's what they're called, y'know,...plays...

My lovely wife is also a director and she refers to working together as "kicking around the sandbox". I love that. It brings up this image of childlike play, when you met that weird kid and made a castle and had dumptruck wars, or whatever.

I love working with actors and directors (and designers, too, when I have them). It's a communal thing. I want to know what they think and I hope they'll tell me, whether they think something is brillaint or crap. I never think that writing a play is finished when I "hand it off"--it's always in process. I loved doing 14/48 this past weekend because I love sitting in rehearsal. How can you not? I mean, actors are working their butt off on your show, directors are solving problems that you created. And its fun and engaging.

And the material we work on can be the impetus to real and deep conversations about meaningful things above the mundane--hopefully the things you're writing about. The human condition. Behavior. Us. Doesn't have to be "big" issues. (In fact, my play was about certain body parts not being big, which actually could be a big problem and is evidently not just a joke but a real thing that couples may have to deal with, but nobody really talks about...).

I guess what I'm saying is as a writer I've got anti-social tendencies anyway. I got into the theater and came out of my shell, embraced by this second family. But I feel, and maybe I'm noticing this because I spend more time writing plays than acting and directing, that often there isn't enough connecting going on between dramatists and the rest of the theater folks.

And this is not a Seattle problem. This is a national dilemma.

We need to get away from our keyboards and get involved. We should be sitting in rehearsal. Some of you might clamor, "it's so boring". Sure, you sit there watching other people work, sometimes feeling like an unnecessary element. But it's your play. You should be involved. You have that right. And you're not unnecessary. You're part part of the conversation that's happening, not just about how to do the play, but everything else the play is opening up...for you, the director, the actors, and then eventually the audience.

And if you don't have a show in rehearsal, then get out and volunteer with a theater company. Dramaturg something. Hand out programs. Direct. Audition. Meet other theater people, not just other writers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Video of Saturday's Show

They got some video now of the Sat. night show. Check it out here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Photos from Saturday night

They've got pics posted on the 14/48 blog, courtesy of David Baum.

Here are some pictures from the Saturday night show. My play MEASURE OF LOVE was directed by Darian Lindle, starring Megan Ahiers, Bret Fetzer, Amy Fleetwood, Imogen Love, and Erin Stewart.

Judging from the serious of photos, you can probably imagine the story. (And yes, that is a plastic pink dildo she's holding.)

Kudos to Brett for his commitment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Never so glad for it to be Sunday

Last night was again sold out for both shows. It’s something truly amazing to see how the crowd really gets revved up to see these plays.

I was anxious and excited, not just because I wanted to see what my director and actors did with my play, but also to see how the other playwrights handled the theme “under pressure”.

The evening turned out more more theatrical and slightly absurdist with only a few plays taking any kind of realism approach, mine included (did I not get the memo?). We had a play about the Jesus Fridge 9000, imaginary boyfriends, a fairy tale about swine, two guys definitely not in paradise, and two children definitely in need of serious long-term therapy. And a tambourine player. You just don’t see many plays with the tambourine and it’s a real shame.

I was extremely pleased with my play MEASURE OF LOVE and felt so proud for it to be the show closer. Darian gave it wings! She rocks! Please direct anything of mine any time! All my actors were totally amazing and totally fun! It was so cool seeing how they fleshed out the characters and what they added. Thank you to Megan Ahiers, Bret Fetzer, Amy Fleetwood, Erin Stewart and Imogen Love. You all rock!

Here’s another photo from the 14/48 blog, courtesy of David Baum. Pictured are John Bartley and John Q. Public as Elvis and Bob in RESURRECTING THE KING. They have video clips of the Friday night show with the spectacular 4/48 band music, if you want to check it out.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More photos

Go to the 14/48 blog site and check out pics of yesterday's rehearsal..

Plus, the blogger complimented all those fine looking writers at the meeting this, shucks, I'm blushing.

Time to sleep

I emailed my new ten-minute play THE MEASURE OF LOVE last night, or rather this morning, at 4 a.m. I realized something very profound...there's a reason I never write plays with four women in them. I know nothing about them.

That's probably not entirely true, but it really felt like it at 2 am.

But I'm much better now and feel really good about this play. It has well-developed characters, a nice story with a beginning, middle and end. And it has dick jokes. And partial nudity.

What more could you want to close the evening?

After sitting through rehearsal with my new director Darian, who totally rocks, and my new cast--which oddly enough is a repeat of Brett, Megan and Amy from yesterday (now adding Erin and Imogen who are well suited for their roles). The play is in capable hands and I can't wait to see it.

But first, I have to sleep...oh, my lovely bed awaits!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Here I go again

The first night was a brilliant success! And now I’ve drawn lucky #7 again! And again with the five characters, this time one male and four female.

The theme is “Under pressure”.

I can relate.

Only nine hours left till my sweat.

They're blogging over there!

Check out the 1448 blog and see pics of all the virgins from Thursday night's meeting, including yours truly.

(I especially like that the lineup shows my post-holiday paunch....)

One play written, one more to go!

If this festival is like a relay race, then I have just passed the baton.

After three or four fitful starts of other ten-minute plays, I finally started writing something resembling characters on stage with actual dialogue at about 11:30. After much sweat and anguish, I finished a draft, rewrote, rewrote again, trimmed, cut and polished and finally threw in the towel sometime after 2 am. There comes a point when you just can’t think things through anymore. Not that this play is all that thought out.

I woke up at 7:00 am (getting probably just about 4 ½ hours of sleep) and looked at it again. Okay. Not brilliant, but not horrible. There’s some potential for laughter and possibly some actual real sentiment.

At 8:06 am I emailed the “finished” play RESURRECTING THE KING. And then I took a shower and had some coffee before getting in the car to head to CHAC for the 9 am meeting.

If you think writing a ten-minute play is hard, you should try to drive at rush hour from Northgate to Capitol Hill and find parking in 45 minutes.

I arrived at the meeting just as it had gotten started and they were announcing what directors had what plays. My director is Jose Amador. He’s also an actor and I’ve seen in the Quickes Short Play Festival at LiveGirls! Theater. We both grabbed some coffee and he went outside to smoke and read the play. I ate a bagel and drank my coffee and chatted with two of the actors, Trick and Megan. Megan is a virgin, like me and was very excited and nervous. The casting had yet to begun.

And by casting, I mean that the directors randomly draw names out of a hat. I think the coolest thing about the 14/48 festival is the egalitarian (and my PhD wife would say Marxist) nature of the process. No one competes. No is favored. All are equals. It’s all random. Your choice of play, lineup in the evening, what you write about, your director, your actors, all that. This creates this really positive vibe. I gotta give credit to Shawn and the steering committee and everyone working on it—they all are pretty cool.

Most importantly, a keg is tapped. All day. And it’s free for us artists. I love getting paid in beer.

Now, if I were really smart, I would’ve planned to take the day off work and sleep and/or be drinking that beer. But I didn’t. Color me stupid.

Anywho—Jose drew names and we got Megan as one of our cast members, who I was so merrily chatting with earlier. We also got Bret Fetzer, John Bartley, Amy Fleetwood, and John Q. Public (is that seriously his real name?). We went to the rehearsal room and I sat and watched everyone read. One of them chuckled (thank you!). I was feeling a little anxious and like I’ve given them total crap to work with, but after the first and second reading, I thought, “these folks are gonna be brilliant!”

Then I went off to work…I hope they doing all right. I can’t wait to see what happens tonight.

But also, looming in the back of my brain is the fact that at 9:30 pm, after the first show, they’ll draw another theme, and I have to go off and write another play. I just pray I got a smaller cast—like three would be good…

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Virgin! Get me a beer!

That's what she said!

Seriously, the virgins have to serve the veterans...actually, its not that bad and I really don't mind getting people brewskis anyway...takes my mind off the fact I have to write a play in less than 12 hours.


That's the theme that has been drawn out of the ice cream cone.

It’s now 9:54 pm and I’m frantically working through some ideas of what to start writing. The obvious is “high school reunion” but for some reason, I don’t want to go there. Maybe its because I didn’t ever go to my high school reunion.

Second thought is family reunion. Hmnnn, could be good...

Other thoughts concern…brothels, superheroes, or aliens…

The mantra for 14/48 is “go big or go home”. I want to give my actors and directors some fun and juicy stuff to do. But I have to do it all in less than ten minutes.

Let’s see what I come up with.

Only ten more hours till deadline.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gearing up for 14/48

Not to boast, but I can type about 80 wpm.

Okay, so there are some errors when I type that fast, but still, that’s not too shabby.

(The speed is actually not too surprising for any of you who also play guitar or piano.)

I’m not trying to get too psyched out by the prospects of trying to write my ten-minute play in less then 12 hours. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been reading the 14/48 blog. Because it reminds me that this weekend I’ll need to do more than just fast typing.

(While I’m on that subject, one of my pet peeves in movies is when I see a character who is supposed to be a professional writer/journalist/novelist or what-have-you and the actor is typing in the scene with the hunt-and-peck method…seriously, folks…that’s just insulting. Cut away to a shot of hands that can type. Okay, here endeth the rant.)

This whole 14/48 thing is getting me pumped and I know that the timeframe really is intimidating, but only like having a water hazard on a simple par 3. The shot is really easy, but the margin for error is narrow. At least with 14/48, I get two shots.

Oh, and because I promised, I’ve narrowed the choice of headshots to these two—one b&w and one color.

(Photos by Susan Doupe and copywright 2007.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

We just don't want to work for that wrong?

I haven't posted anything about the WGA strike in awhile, but guess what, it's still going strong.

By the way, I even went down to Rockefeller center a few days after Xmas to see if the WGA strike line was happening, but they were on break for the holidays...bummer!

This is a great little video from Tony Gilroy (writer/director of Michael Clayton and writer of Bourne Ultimatum and Bourne Supremacy).

And for you triva nerds, he is also the son of acclaimed playwright Frank Gilroy, writer of The Subject Was Roses.

Happy New Year!

Pictured: Mikhail Baryshnikov in a scene from Beckett Shorts (photo © Joan Marcus)

At some point, I will write the essay, “How I Spent My Christmas Vacation” and detail my recent trip to Little Valley, NY (Just outside Buffalo) and the four fabulous days in NYC. But since most people might equate the idea of reading that essay as similar to watching a slide show of someone’s family vacation pictures, I’ll spare the details and focus on the highlights.

The trip was a wonderful and welcome break, other than the hellish nightmare of getting from Seattle to Little Valley (a 21 hour trek that ended up costing us $400 more than previously planned…thank you so much, Delta, and can you use Vaseline the next time you F**K us up the @#s! By the way, if you’re reading this and you work for Delta you are either a) the devil or b) his minion and you should either a) quit and join the Peace Corps as penance or b) kill yourself now and do us all a favor…do I sound a little angry?)

But I digress...Here are a few of my favorite memories...

The wood stove at my in-laws…it was like Xmas in the Bahamas…
Hot cocoa by the tree (which also included tequila and kahlua, yummy!)
Gram’s pancakes (the best in the world)
Opening presents with the in-laws
NY Bagels…god, I missed them…
NY Pizza in Queens…not once, but twice!
Walking through Central Park and seeing the ice skaters at Wollman Rink
Quickly walking through the Met Museum and seeing the Ghiberti panels
Having a pint at The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village
Seeing Julianne Moore and her family outside the White Horse Tavern
Dinner at Pontevecchio, this great Italian place in the village
Browsing through The Strand bookstore
Sharing dinner and drinks with friends…too many to mention

And, of course, the three brilliant shows we saw.

I’m not one of those people who throw that word around willy-nilly. (I don’t actually bandy about the word “willy-nilly” either, but for some reason, I just did…curious.)

But the three shows I saw were brilliant!

Brilliant scripts. Brilliant directing. Brilliant actors.

And they should keep me satisfied for a long, long time. They’ll have to because they are three shows that no one would be ambitious enough or brave enough to stage here.

(Pinter. Beckett. Marlow. Puh-lease…I wish…)

First up, we saw THE HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter, starring Ian McShane (from Deadwood fame), Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, SNL, Spinal Tap and more), Raul Esparza and Eve Best. Knockout performances by all, especially Ms. Best, and tight, well-paced directing.

The show was memorable that evening, not just for the brilliant and disturbing script, but also in that in the first act a woman almost choked to death and they had to stop the show. It was during a slow, quiet time when Raul was lighting a cigarette and the sound of a woman gasping for air filled the huge auditorium. Someone in the audience cried, “There’s an emergency!” and the house lights went up and ushers and whatnot rushed to help. As the audience waiting to find out the outcome, Raul asked, “Any questions so far?”

Once we found it the lady was fine and didn’t need any other medical attention, the house lights dimmed and Raul asked, “Where were we?”.

To which the SM over the PA said, “You were lighting a cigarette.”

He looked up and said, “Mom?”

I guess you had to be there.

The next phenomenal show we saw was Joanne Akalaitis directing four short Samuel Beckett pieces, all starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Plays on the bill included ACT WITHOUT WORDS I, ACT WITHOUT WORDS II, ROUGH FOR THEATRE, and EH JOE. I was familiar with all of them, but had never actually seen them staged. What’s really fantastic is that Akalaitis is getting this other chance at Beckett after being so wrongfully scorned for the ENDGAME fiasco at A.R.T. many years ago. Here she directs with a solid simplicity, using the language of the body and the voice to illuminate the painful and comic existence that creeps in and without all of Beckett’s work.

Baryshnikov’s performance in the first play is amazing--it's a mime play set amongst a stage of sand and surrounded by Venetian blinds, where he at first tries to escape, then reaches for a pitcher of water which can never be grasped. Having never seen him perform live before, I was hypnotized by the grace and charisma of his minimalist physicalization. He only speaks in one of them, ROUGH FOR THEATRE, and he is slightly overshadowed by the other actor, a well-skilled Beckett veteran (who plays with language and vocal patterns magnificently...and had us saying, "Eh, Billy!" over and over...) And everything in all four plays was so exact, so rife with meaning, that after we left the theater that evening (running time of only 70 minutes with no intermission) our minds and souls were full.

On Saturday of our visit we went to the matinee performance of EDWARD II by Christopher Marlowe, as staged by the Red Bull Theater.

We saw their last production of THE REVENGERS TRAGEDY years ago and loved the audacity and electricity of the production. I have to say that EDWARD II was even better. Needless to say, the actors and directing were all top-notch, and the production was low-budget but didn’t feel low-budget. It was an exciting show and it made me wish I could see more Elizabethan theatre staged with that kind of energy. And the great thing was our tickets only cost $10. (You can’t get that kind of deal here for theatre half as good…)

Most memorable image from that show was the final one, where the young prince now king, holds up an AK-47, with the hanging bodies of his mother and her lover behind him. (Also, the young boy happened to be Raum Aron, the actor in my show BURNING BOTTICELLI in the NY Fringe years ago, talk about a small world...)

Needless to say, we had a renewed sense of vigor and were slightly inspired. That's what good theater can do. Sometimes you forget the power of theater until you see someone who knows how to use that power. For a curmudgeon like me, it made me realize that yes, there are people out there doing brilliant work...its just few and far between...

The next show I’ll see will be one that I’m helping to write, so I do have that to look forward to. That'll be the 14/48 festival.

More on that to come in the next few days.

So, since it’s the new year, I’ve decided on a few things—not necessarily resolutions, but more like general guidelines and things to work on...

1) I will dress better (and wear black more often, just like Bono or Johnny Cash).
2) I will be more positive about the weather in Seattle.
3) I will spend more time writing (not merely concerned with quantity but with quality).
4) I will work out at least four days a week.
5) I will read more plays (last night I read SPINNING INTO BUTTER by Rebecca Gilman and LANDSCAPE WITH WEAPON by Joe Penhall. Last week I read THE OVERWHELMING by J.T. Rogers—all very good plays which renew me hope in theater)
6) I will be funnier, and less sarcastic…ah, who am I kidding?
7) I will not feel guilty if I don’t honor any of these silly resolutions

In other news…I got my new headshots back…they look good! I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices. Perhaps tomorrow I shall post the winner.

Stay tuned!