Friday, April 24, 2009


THE ALBATROSS, recent winner of the John Gassner competition, will be having a reading on Monday, April 27th, at 7 pm in NYC.

In addition, there will be a special panel on "Creating New Works" with myself, fellow playwrights Ellen McLaughlin and Leslie Lee.

Ellen McLaughlin is a playwright and actress, author of Iphiginia and Tongue of a Bird but is also an actress, originating the role of the Angel in Angels in America by Tony Kushner.

Leslie Lee is a founding artist of La Mama and his play Breeze of Summer was just done at the Signature.

It's easy to say I'm honored to be in the room with these two.

Also on the panel will be the director of the reading, Julia Gibson (who has been completely amazing and wonderful and I'm looking forward to rehearsals with her on Monday) and dramaturg Maxine Kern.

For more information, go to the website.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sarah Ruhl, Playwright and my new hero (or is it heroine?)

Check out what Sarah Ruhl says on American Theater's website:

What the next 25 years might bring in theatre:

Either: Our government will start more and more to imitate Scandinavia, and everyone, including artists, will have health care. There will be a new government agency for the arts, granting us months and years to finish projects, simultaneously revitalizing our theatre and our economy.

Or: The government won't imitate Scandinavia, and so, in response, the Dramatists Guild will become an incredible force for change, replacing the United Auto Workers in its pull, determination and tactical brilliance. We will do away with subsidiary rights participation, so that playwrights will only give back their own earnings to a theatre when they earn as much per year as their artistic directors; then, and only then, will writers give tax-deductible donations to the not-for-profit theatres that produce them, out of gratitude and choice (rather than giving away 40 percent of their New York income by fiat). We will convince theatres who produce our work to provide us with health care for two seasons. Playwrights and dramaturgs working at the same theatre will have health insurance; directors and managing directors will have the same health insurance.

I think a lot of people, in the theater and outside the theater world, forget that playwrights don't make much (any) money. They are not on staff, have no salary, and in fact, make much, much less than Joe the Plumber. Unlike theaters, they have no budget. They spend far too much on photocopies and printing out scripts and postage (not to mention the hours and hours of labor creating their imaginary worlds).

In general, if you are audience member watching a professional production at a major regional theater of a new play, those actors make more money then the playwright.

In fact, I'd wager that the person who sold you the ticket at the Box Office is making more money than the playwright. And they probably have health insurance. Although, they might not.

And yet, the playwright is the reason all of these people have jobs...

Is it me, or is something out of whack here...?

Monday, April 13, 2009

April is National Poetry Month

How could I forget that April is National Poetry Month?

And here I am, rewriting THE ALBATROSS all weekend, a play about poets and teaching poetry...shameful, just shameful.

Well, I'm going to write some poems this month.

They will probably be painfully bad, but that won't stop me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What Makes Theatre So Unique?

So I’ve started teaching my playwriting class again and am so happy to be back in the classroom, thinking and talking about the fundamentals of solid storytelling and playwriting.

And really, good playwriting starts with good storytelling. This is why Shakespeare has lasted throughout the ages and no one knows about any other playwrights of the time except for possibly Marlowe.

(Unless you have an English Lit degree you may know some of the others.)

Not that other writers of the Elizabethan stage were terrible, but Shakespeare and Marlowe knew a good story and how to tell it.

What I love about teaching playwriting is that it connects me back to the fundamentals. Like with anything—acting, directing, playing guitar, riding a bike, golf, eating well, etc.—the fundamentals are key. As with most arts, you can learn the fundamentals in a fairly short time. Say, two years. But to truly master the fundamentals, that takes a lifetime.

Last night I read a great essay by Thornton Wilder called “Some Thoughts on Playwriting”. Wilder is one of those old masters where you think you know all about him because of the success of one play (that play being Our Town which is not just a nostalgic ode to Norman Rockwell but a deep examination of life with very dark undertones). What many people don’t realize was how innovative and revolutionary he was as a writer. Honestly, writing a play which doesn’t need a set—no, actually mandates there not be a set—in a time when lavish sets and costumes were the norm was a radical act and he got a lot of heat from audiences and critics alike. But Wilder was a master storyteller and if the only play you know of by him is Our Town, I suggest you pick up a collection of his works and get acquainted.

Next week in my class we are going to talk about how what makes theatre unique from other arts.

In Wilder’s essay, he lays out four fundamental differences:

1) The theater is an art which depends on the work of many collaborators

2) It is addressed to the group-mind (it needs an audience)

3) It is based upon a pretense and its very nature calls out a multiplication of pretenses (ie-people put on masks or characters pretending to be someone else and we as audience buy into that illusion with no qualms)

4) Its action takes place in a perpetual present time (theatre is always about the now

In the essay, which I recommend you read, goes into succinct explanation of what these things mean and some examples of each.

I’ve read a lot of theory and explanations about what makes drama tick. What’s beautiful about Wilder’s essay is its coming from the mind of a playwright, someone who has seen and knows what works on stage and with an audience. That’s really the bottom line.

And he has a great concluding paragraph:

The theater offers to imaginative narration its highest possibilities. It has many pitfalls and its very vitality betrays it into service as mere diversion and the enhancement of insignificant matter; but it is well to remember that it was the theater that rose to the highest place during those epochs that aftertime has chosen to call “great ages” and that the Athens of Pericles and the reigns of Elizabeth I, Philip II, and Louis XIV were also the ages that gave to the world the greatest dramas it has known.