Saturday, November 27, 2010

ROBOTS need love, too

ROBOTS by Dan Mangan official music video directed by Mike Lewis
I don't know why, but this is song is so darn catchy...

The video is fun 80's style goofiness, too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Amazon will steal your soul...I mean, your movie

Everyone is talking about this new Amazon studios thing on the web right now.  I must admit, when I heard about it, I checked out the site and watched the little video about what and why they are doing what they are doing, read a little of the “rules” and “regulations”…

And then vomited in my coffee cup.

Okay, not really.  Well, I threw up a little in the back of my mouth.

Because it’s disgusting, for several reasons.

Mostly, you can get the working and professional writer’s opinions from John August on his blog, or Craig Mazin, who lays it out perfectly why this idea is doomed to fail, and who they are really targeting (weak, inexperienced and hopeful writers who probably have more chance of winning the lottery than getting their script made).

The big problem I have are the assumptions that 

1) Hollywood is a just a bunch of old fools that make schlock 


2) Writing by committee (like writing source code) is a better way to do things.

Okay, everyone knows Hollywood makes some bad movies and errs on the conservative side.  Yet, look at the grosses for Harry Potter.  Look at Star Wars.  Look at Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Spiderman movies.  People like those kinds of movies (I like those kinds of movies).  Hollywood also brings us Academy award-winning fare and independent movies, like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno and  In Bruges and the Wrestler, etc.

So it’s a little insulting (and pretentious) that Amazon proclaims “we don’t know jack about movies but we have a lot of money and we write code, so darn it all, we can do better…”  What they are actually saying is, we can have a whole bunch of people write it for us and we’ll steal it. 

And second, I’ve seen too many talkbacks at play readings to know that Ibsen is pretty dead on about how the “majority is never right”.  The more writers you have working on things does not necessarily make it better.  In fact, the reason Hollywood churns out such schlock is usually because they fire so many writers and a script gets rewritten and rewritten until it’s a tepid, cliché-filled cardboard cut-out of a real movie.

And yet, that’s exactly the model Amazon is proposing.  If you write a script, any moron with time on his hands, from Ohio to Mongolia, can rewrite it and rewrite it, and guess who owns the final project?  Not you.  Not the guy or gal in Mongolia.  Amazon.  Hmmn, that sounds fair…yeah, not really.

I do believe that there is going to be an alternative to the old Hollywood system.  There will be a revolution of sorts that will happen, mostly due to the way media is being streamed now on computers and iPads.  It’s getting easier for the average guy or gal to make a movie and distribute it all from the comfort of their own home.  All you need is a great script, a DV camera, and a Mac, really. 

(I mean, you could do it on a Windows computer, too, I guess, just factor in another few weeks of editing and production time...)

I’m going to bet that this new model and new way of thinking about making and selling movies isn’t going to come from a large corporation like Google or Amazon.  It’s going to be coming from someone new and upcoming, like some young upstart who’s probably bored in class at Stanford or Harvard right now.  

And that’s what scares Amazon and why their new deal stinks of desperation.   They’re desperate and appealing to other desperate people.

Just stick to shipping my books and dvds, Amazon.  Christmas is coming and I don't want you getting distracted.

Friday, November 19, 2010

So, whatcha working on?

Every writer dreads that question at cocktail parties.  A lot of times we can't always clearly articulate the story or the reasons why a particular question fascinates us.

For instance, I was asked a few weeks ago what I was working on and with excitement I said:

 "It's an adaptation of Pygmalion but its about robotics and robot-human relations, but with puppets, and actual robots, and it'll be nonlinear, with movement, y'know, like a big ensemble piece, spreading out over several centuries of time."

I realized that the person I was talking to probably thought I was adapting the play Pygmalion by Shaw (which I'm not), rather than going straight back to the Greek source of the Pygmalion myth.  Not that it would've made my project less confusing.  

I really have to get better at talking about my work.  Seriously.

The problem is, whenever I start a new idea, I'm nervous and excited and not sure how the project will evolve over time.  This newest project, Approaching Eve, is only a few weeks old.  I’m knee deep in research, reading books about robots (real robots, not sci-fi robots), and Descartes, and about karakuri (which are mechanized puppets).  And yes, it's about the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.  Not entirely, but its present.

See, here’s the thing—we’re going to increasingly see robots interacting with humans, moving out of the manufacturing plants and into our daily lives, becoming healthcare assistants, cleaning houses, or driving cars.  My mom already has one of those little vacuuming robots (aren’t they cute!).  

As scientists get closer to robots resembling or behaving like humans, what are the dangers and what are the benefits?  How has the science of robotics already transformed our lives, and what will the future hold?

These questions are no longer questions reserved for science fiction writers.  These are questions scientists are grappling with right now.  Today.

(By the way, that photo is of a real robot that mimics emotions, called Nexi.)

The idea of robots were “invented” almost a hundred years ago.  The word “robot” actually comes from a play by Karel Capek, a Czech writer (the origin of the word actually relating to the word “worker” or “slave”).  That play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R.) debuted in 1921.  

Since then, in the western world, the story of robots taking over and killing us all has dominated.  This is evident in movies such as Terminator and The Matrix.  In Japan, they actually don’t have the same fears, mostly due to religion, but also their view of animatronics and automatons (as evident in the very cool mechanized puppets, the karakuri, which was invented in the 17th century). 

Robots have gone from a sci-fi idea to a reality.

The only comparison I can have to that phenomena is for me to imagine a vampire or a werewolf being discovered as a scientific fact.  If humanity learned that the Twilight series was based on true events, and then we actually met real vampires and had to find a way to coexist with them, there would be a lot of fear and anxiety about that.  They’re not human and they’re quite dangerous.

So far, we don’t have that problem.  Vampires and werewolves are not real.

Robots, however, are very real.  And they’ve been around for decades.  And soon they’ll be in our homes.  So how will they act around us and how will we act around them?

And these are the questions for my show.  

More to come.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Humans Are Dead

Just a sneak peek at my more fun research on robots...Here's a clip of Flight of the Conchords, "The Humans are Dead."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How far have we really come?

I’m a big fan of the show MAD MEN.  

When we first moved to Pittsburgh, we watched the first season back to back (thank you, Netflix), and are now working through the end of the second season.  

We're fascinated by how things have changed.  Back in the early 60s, people drank and smoked like there was no tomorrow, littered in the parks without a care in the world for the environment, treated minorities like garbage, and women (being one of those minorities) were left to pick up the messes of the badly behaving men.  If women worked, they were secretaries, but usually they were moms and trophy wives.  So in the offices on Madison Avenue, its fascinating to watch Peggy try to survive and thrive as a copywriter, a women in a man’s world. 

The sad thing is that I don’t know that we’ve come all that far when it comes to the theatre world.  

Granted, I’ve got a limited perspective seeing as I am the wrong gender here.  I really can’t complain.  I look around in rehearsals and in the theatres and I see replicas of myself—middle-aged white men.  If women are in the theater they are mostly education directors (women can always be teachers, right?), literary managers, dramaturgs, or stage managers.  

I’m generalizing, of course.  There are women directors and even a few women Artistic Directors, but not a large percentage.  Women are present, but not as influential as they should be.

But I’m digressing.  

My beef today is with the Wasserstein Prize committee.  They have do a do-over because evidently they had nominees for women playwrights to win the prize and narrowed it down to 19 women and then decided that not ONE of them deserved to win the prize.

Excuse me?

Not one?


Did we not just have a discussion about the recent Sands study of the large bias against women playwrights?  I mean, just from a PR standpoint, that’s embarrassing, but I also have a hard time believing there is not one worthy female playwright.

This is part of the problem.  This is why we need to keep talking about how there are more male playwrights being produced and studied in school then women.

This is a fun game I like to play in my playwriting classes.

Name 10 male playwrights.

Easty, right?  You got maybe Shakespeare, Moliere, Mamet, Albee, Simon, Shepard, Beckett, Chekhov, O’Neill, Odetts, Wilder, and on and on…

Now name 10 female playwrights.

Most can name three or five, tops.  But then they struggle.

But why?

They’re out there.  Go find them.  Read their plays. Put the plays on your syllabi and talk about them in your classes. Do scenes from them.  They’re good and they deserve awards.

Okay, so now I’m off my soapbox.

By the way, here’s a few women playwrights:  

Wendy Wasserstein (of course), Paula Vogel, Maria Irene Fornes, Lillian Hellman, Aphra Behn, Caryl Churchill, Teresa Rebeck, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, Sara Ruhl, Beth Henley, Jenny Schwartz, Kia Corthron, Suzan Lori Parks, Liz Duffy Adams, Carson Kreitzer, Ellen McLaughlin, Young Jean Lee, Brooke Berman, Neena Beber, Julie Jensen, Sheilagh Callaghan, Tammy Ryan, Stephanie Timm, Joy McCullough-Carranza, Ruth Margraff, Cynthia Hopkins, Erin Courtney…and that’s just a small sampling…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Never Forget Rule Number 6

My favorite boss, Heidi Guest, who I worked for years ago in New York City in the education and training department at a major cosmetics company (yes, you read that right, a major cosmetics company), is now running her own mentoring and consulting business, as well she should, because she is inspiring and amazing and recoznises beauty and talent in everyone and…I’m digressing…

She recommended to me this wonderful book The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.

In it he tells this lovely story about Rule Number 6.

Two politicians are having a meeting when they are interrupted by a man, shouting and stamping and one of the politicians says to him, “Remember Rule #6”. The shouting man is restored to calm and leaves. They are interrupted again by a hysterical woman and again the politican says, “Marie, remember Rule #6”. She is calm, apologizes and leaves. A third person enters and the same thing happens. The other politican says, “what is this Rule Number 6?”
The politician says, “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously’”.
The other politican says, “that’s a fine rule” and then asks, “what, may I ask, are the other five rules?”
“There aren’t any.”

This is just one of the wisdoms this book gives us, and there are many. This one is one of the most important, though, for me at least. I find myself always being serious about the work—the play, the writing, the ART!

Not that I’m saying it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Art is not frivolous. But it’s about life and life can be fun. Life can be goofy. And its important to know what’s really important in life.

Some people get really bent out of shape when a production doesn’t go the way they want it to. Some productions will be bad, due to forces out of our control, or just because we’ve failed. To recognize that we are fallible, though, and then to laugh about it, is part of Rule Number 6.

For instance, the other day, I walked into a glass door at the library.

Seriously, I did.

And I would like to say that I instantly got the joke on myself and chuckled about it.

But I didn’t.

I got really mad at that stupid glass door right away! How dare it make me run into it and look foolish!

Then I felt really stupid about it. Two hours later, recalling what I must’ve looked like, I laughed. I mean, honestly, if I saw some idiot do that, I'd show no restraint.

My goal is to skip all that wasted anger and go right to the laughing bit. Rule Number 6 is not always so easy to apply, though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Approaching Eve, a new project

As you can see from this photo, I've got myself a little bit of a reading list.

It's not that I like doing research, its just that I seem to choose projects that require a lot of it.

So I've started research for a new play.  It's a big "pie in the sky" kind of project, so I'm collaborating with a puppeteer, a dramaturg and a roboticist.

Yes, a roboticist.  She makes robots.  Social robots.

Think C-3PO or Data from Star Trek.

The future is nigh, folks.

More about this project as it unfolds.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Email a playwright

 The world is getting smaller and smaller.

(That photo to the left is actual size, no really.)

This means we live in an age where everyone is accessible by email or phone (or even Facebook).  The degrees of separation are shrinking from six to three.  This means that emailing a playwright is easier than you think. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local small-town playwright or Tony Kushner.  

Chances are if they're still alive, you can probably get in touch with them, especially if you’re nice, normal (ie not crazy), love their work and want to talk to them about their plays (and/or produce them). 

It’s so easy, why wouldn’t you?

Some folks seem to prefer to work on plays by dead playwrights: Shakespeare, Chekhov, O’Neill, etc.  And some folks have gotten so used to working only on these old dead guys that when a playwright actually does enter the room they don’t know how to talk to him or her. 

As many people know, I'm a big fan of playwrights being in the room.  I love rehearsals, whether I'm working as an actor, director or a playwright.  I don't always want to watch the painful but necessary process of actors getting off-book, but I like to be available, and not just for the mentality of being a "playwright cop" making sure they "do it right".  I'm not Beckett, y'know.

Just imagine for a second how nice it would be if you were directing or acting in Hamlet and you were having trouble with a particular scene, or line, and you could just email good o’l Billy Shakes and say, “What the heck is Hamlet doing with that whole “To be or not to be” speech, Bill?”  And he could tell you.  And it would save a lot of time and heartache and guesswork. 

Why wouldn’t you just do that?  With a living playwright, you can.  

And guess what?  Playwrights like to be included in the process—it sure beats hearing about a production after the fact and finding out the director and/or actors missed the boat completely.  And that happens.  A lot.  Playwrights also like to see how actors and directors solve some of the same challenges they’ve been struggling with—and playwrights might even be able to learn and grow from your production.  Everybody wins!

So take five minutes to email your playwright.  

It’s the right thing to do.

Like voting!

(By the way, did you vote today?)