Friday, December 31, 2010

Fare thee well, old 2010! Hello 2011!

Happy New Year!

Enjoy the last day of the rest of the year and I'll see you in 2011.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Be like Jenna

As 2010 comes to a close, I’d like to thank all of you, my readers.  I'd like to especially thank all of you who have made comments or asked questions on the posts.   

This year I asked you all, what do you want to read about? 

Many of you answered.  

In fact, if it weren't for a reader named Jenna who asked about the process of writing a solo show, I may never have even thought about writing my own solo show and writing about the process here in this blog--so thanks, Jenna! 

For 2011, I will continue the Writing the Solo Show series.  I’d also like to introduce some other exciting new posts about dealing with rejection, following your passions, marketing your writing, writing grants, and I am even tinkering with the idea of a contest!  You’ll have to stay tuned as that develops.  Another new addition will be some interviews and guest blogs from other playwrights, writers and theatre-makers.

Here's what I'd love from you at the end of this year.

Do you have other suggestions or questions you’d like to see answered?

These can be about the writing process, about sending off plays, about proper etiquette in the rehearsal room, what have limits. 

(Of course, math and biology questions are off the table.)  

So how ‘bout it? Got any suggestions for me? 

C'mon, be like Jenna.  Maybe your question will spark a whole new bunch of ideas for others, or a whole new series of posts for 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Your ultimate vision (setting goals and writing them down)

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” – Bruce Lee
 I’m not a big planner.

It's not that I don't ever plan.  I'm an organized guy and I do think ahead, but the organization skills I have acquired I have literally forced myself to learn out of necessity (and because it does make my life easier in the long run).  I’ve worked against my freewheeling and footloose personality, a supreme effort to balance my dreams with reality.

I’m mostly successful with that balancing act, though I must admit, when I met my (future) wife, she shamed me in her abilities to make five year and ten year goals that were not only ambitious, but ultimately attainable.

People who excel at that kind of goal-setting are inspiring to me on many levels.

Once, many years ago, while still a fledgling theatre student in my undergrad days in Vegas, I went out to eat at Planet Hollywood in the Caesar’s Forum shops. 

As many know, these restaurants are littered with film memorabilia of all kinds, from fake missiles used in a Schwarzenegger movie to the Blues Brothers’ hats (or is that at House of Blues?).

There was one particular historical artifact on the wall with immense substance.  It was only a piece of paper and it was never used in a movie.  Few know it exists.  Most of the diners walked right by it without ever noticing.  Inside a frame on the wall was a note by Bruce Lee in his own handwriting, dated in 1970 with the words SECRET and below:
 "By 1980 I will be the best known oriental movie star in the United States and will have secured $10 million dollars. And in return I will give the very best acting I could possibly give every single time I am in front of the camera and I will live in peace and harmony."
Had he lived until 1980 and seen the success of ENTER THE DRAGON, Bruce Lee would’ve accomplished those goals.
What I admire, though, is not just the ambition, but the specificity.  It’s not just that he wanted to be a movie star and make millions of dollars. He also wanted to give the very best acting and live in peace and harmony. 
Which makes me ask, what is your secret goal?  Have you written anything down for yourself for your life and what you want to do as an artist?
As 2010 comes to a close, I start setting goals for the year and for the next decade.  
What do you want to accomplish next year?  In the next ten years?
Go write it down.  
(If you want to see this note, I believe the letter is now at the Planet Hollywood in New York City).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Over the river and through the woods...

It’s Christmas Eve and we’re packing up the old wagon and heading up north for some holiday cheer with the family.

And yes, we really are going to grandma’s house, which is over the river (several rivers) and through the woods.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where do you find scripts to read?

Okay, you read that last post on reading, and you think, that’s all well and good, sir, but you worked in a theater company in New York so you had to read a ton of bad and good plays.  

I’m a [blank] and I live in the middle of nowhere in [blank] and I don’t have access to a bunch of plays and screenplays.

Ah, but you do…

First of all, we live in this wonderful country with free access to libraries, either public libraries or the one in your closest university.  They have plays there, good and bad (yes, even bad plays get published and produced).  They have screenplays there, as well.  Of course, they also have a ton of novels, magazines, etc. 

Also, we live in the wonderful age of the internet.  There are many, many, many websites which host access to screenplays.  If you look hard enough, you can even find screenplays  in production or pre-production (I read an earlier draft of Mel Gibson’s new movie THE BEAVER a year ago when it was on the black list).

Another great resource—join a writer’s group or find another writer and read his/her stuff.  You can learn a lot by being involved in your colleagues’ growth as a writer (and they can definitely help you). 

If you are near a theater and this theater takes submissions, ask if they need readers.  They may get back to you and say yes, or they may not.  Or they may not get back to you at all because most literary departments are swamped, overworked and underpaid.  But they will appreciate the offer (usually).

Go to  You can sign up to receive a poem a day.  Reading Robert Frost or some new poet I’d never heard of at the start of my day reminds me of the beauty of language all around us.

Do your research.  


It’s part of your job as a writer.

(Of course, there is no substitute for actual performances--one must also go to the theatre, go to readings, be involved with your local theaters as much as possible--but that's for another post).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Read. Read. Read. Then read some more...

 You might’ve noticed that every once in awhile I post about what I’m reading, which you might think odd for a blog about writing and making theatre.

I’m a big believer that in order to write well, one must read.  

A lot. 

If you want to write scripts, then you must read scripts.  Read the bad.  Read the good.  Read everything in between.  Read novels.  Read short stories.  Read poetry.  Read magazine articles and the New York Times.  Read for content (story).  Read for interesting characters.  Read for language.  Read.  Read. Read.

Last week I was at a holiday party chatting with another playwriting teacher and we got to talking about this phenomenon of wannabe writers, usually screenwriters, who’ve never even seen what a screenplay looks like on the page, much less read one, and yet, they boldly dive into writing a screenplay.  Because they’ve seen a lot of movies and how hard could it be, right?

This is crazy.

This is like thinking since you've seen surgery on T.V., you think you can pick up a scalpel and do a heart transplant, right?  How hard could it be?

Of course, picking up a pen or writing on your computer isn’t as bloody as surgery.  No one dies when people write a bad screenplay (but wouldn’t that be an interesting way to prevent bad writers from ever getting started?).

Why is it so important to read scripts while trying to write your own?

When I worked at Ensemble Studio Theater in New York city, my job was to read the unsolicited manuscripts.  There was always a pile of scripts that literally went up to the ceiling.  In fact, there might have been two or three piles.  We’re talking thousands of scripts a year.  I read a lot and I read quickly.  Some of them were from agents.  Some from students.  Some from retirees.  Most were really bad, with an occasional gem.  What I learned from reading those scripts, though, I instantly started to apply to my writing. 

I also learned how important those first ten to fifteen pages are in any script.  But that’s another post.

If you’re a writer, you love a good story.  But you should also love words.  If a good story is the foundation of your house, words are the bricks. 

Maybe commas are the mortar

(Nope, went too far with that analogy…sigh…)

This photo is from the Andre Kertesz exhibit at the Carnegie "On Reading".

Monday, December 20, 2010

What I'm Reading: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Several years ago I saw this amazing production of The Elephant Vanishes, an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short short stories by the innovative and experimental theatre company, Theatre de Complicite. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to read this writer’s work and finally, I checked out some of his books at the library.

Unfortunately, they didn't have any of his short stories, so I grabbed two of his novels.

The first one I read was After Dark, and frankly, I was not as impressed as I’d like to be, especially since the librarian who checked out the book told me how amazing he was and how she’s read everything he’d ever written.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel Perhaps something is lost in the translation, or maybe this just isn't his best book.

 The story follows several characters in the course of an early evening in Tokyo, settings and locales ranging from an all night diner to a “love hotel” to an office. Characters ask each other a lot of questions and give a lot of exposition and somewhere Murakami sneaks in some post-modern critique of civilization (I think) which reminded me of Paul Auster’s work, only not as stimulating.

 I’ve now begun reading the other book I got, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and so far its slightly more interesting, but still not grabbing me by the shirt collars or anything.

Maybe Murakami just isn't my cup of tea.

I’ve also been reading the radio scripts of the BBC broadcasts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This was part fun, part research for the radio scripts I’m writing right now. It’s exactly the kind of cynical and witty scenarios you’d expect from the series—and none of it really adds up to any logical sense. Just like life.

Next up are a few plays like Paula Vogel’s A Long Christmas Ride Home and Brecht’s Galileo, as well as my continued robot research and a biography of Descartes.

Nothing like some nice light reading 'round the old Christmas tree!

Friday, December 17, 2010

How do you tell your story in 2 seconds?

How do you entice someone with your logline?

Everyone knows the idea of the “elevator pitch”, right?  You’re stuck in an elevator, say with Steven Speilberg or Julie Taymor, or more likely, you’re at a holiday party with friends and you finally meet that director or Artistic Director of the big-fancy-theater-company who asks you what you’re working on.  How do you talk about your work (and sell your work) without it sounding like you’re a snake oil salesperson? 

Well, you have to know how to market it (be a little business savvy) and you have to write and rewrite your idea in something that could go on a website or press kit. 

I’m a big fan of being your own agent and P/R person (maybe that’s because like thousands of other playwrights, I am my own agent and P/R person), and I’ve also been a producer.  

You’ve got to be able to identify what makes your project unique and why your audience should be interested in it.  This makes two assumptions, of course--one, that your project is unique and two, that you know your audience.  Both of those questions must be answered before you can construct a good blurb about your show.

One tactic I’ve used in my writing classes, or when chatting with a playwright (or going to a reading) is taking a hard look at the logline, blurb or how they’re trying to advertise their play.  It will reveal a lot about the play itself and what story they're trying to tell—who is the play about and what are they doing?  It also reveals many faults in the script, if there are any.  And you’d be surprised how many playwrights are quite bad at writing a good blurb about a play they've been working on for years.

I’ve made it a habit to write a logline before writing anything now.  Before any synopsis or outline, before writing a scene, before doing any other actual difficult work.  I see it as creating a vision of what the show will be (transforming a vague notion into a tangible result).  The idea better be good and better be simple enough to fit into a two or three sentence blurb.  If it doesn’t, then I might be in trouble—there’s more thinking to do about the story—stories at their core are usually very simple in nature.  To achieve a simple story takes a lot of work—you have to get rid of the excess.

I’ve been having fun lately writing radio dramas.  It’s a totally different medium for me and I relish the challenge of planting visual cues in the audiences minds solely through the use of what they hear.  I’ve found it quite freeing, unleashing the inner teen-ager and therefore, the inner sci-fi/fantasy geek.  (I’ve been listening to old school radio adaptations of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein for inspiration.)

Here are the loglines for the two different radio scripts I’ve written:

Vanishing Point(Thriller/Suspense)
After robbing an adult nightclub in Las Vegas, three women on the run take a shortcut through the Mojave Desert and find themselves lost in more ways than one.

The Adventures of Johnny Elektro Across Space-Time! “Episode 19: Attack of the Atomic Robot” (Action/Adventure)
Johnny Elektro, the bionic boy from the 1950s who has been teleported to 2050, discovers that Dr. Zero has returned and plans to use the atomic robot, Destructo, to blow up half of Pittsburgh at the robo-boxing match 4th of July Spectacular at Heinz Stadium.  Can he and Hank Hammer stop Dr. Zero in time?

What I like about these loglines is that you know the protagonists and you know their Major Dramatic Questions right after the bat.  The title, as well as the story, reveals what kind of genre we’re dealing with (even without the tag I put in).  What I don't like about the first one is the cliche "in more ways than one".  This isn't specific enough and although vague enough to pique interest, I know I can do better.

Do I need to include all of my plot points?  No.  This isn’t an outline or synopsis.  This is a teaser, a trailer, a way of enticing interest.  Will I go back and rewrite it after I finish writing the script?  Probably. In fact, I'll rewrite the logline several times before I feel it accurately tells the story and also sells the story.

Writing a logline is part of the plotting process--its as essential as writing great dialogue, great characters and all that other nitty gritty work.  It's not fun, not glamorous, but hey, most of our writing life isn't.  

So how's your logline?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Approaching the Beginning of Approaching Eve

The other night I met with two of my collaborators for this new project and it sent my mind reeling in all sorts of directions.  This is the beautiful thing about beginnings.  Sure, I have ideas and some assumptions, but mostly, the play and performance as I know it is still just a glimmer in my eye.  Even more exciting than that is the prospect of other smaller and/or bigger projects related to this new one.

So now I'm looking at the overall idea and synopsis and I think, well, how well this change?  What can change?  How can I make this more interesting and exciting?  How can the story be further developed?

Questions, questions, questions.  It all begins with questions.

What's also fascinating is the similarities and differences of creating a performance and the process of creating a robot.  We're both solving problems and dealing with bodies in space, among other things.

And for greater context (and in effort to be more concise and hopefully to help me get better in talking about my latest project) here’s a rough synopsis:

In 1994, Dr. Ichiro Kato begins a final project to create the perfect woman, named “Hadaly”.  Already a successful roboticist at Waseda University, he pioneered the first bipedal robots (precursor to Honda’s walking robot ASIMO) as well as robots that could play piano.  Yet Kato’s ultimate vision before he dies is to create a robot that could fully cohabitate with humans.  When Cynthia Matthews, a grad student from M.I.T., enters into his laboratory, she questions him about his projects for her own research on creating a social robot that could learn from people, much like a toddler.  As a young scientist, she struggles with the ethics of her work, her research trip masking her real journey through her own doubts and fears about creating an anthropomorphic machine.  Following Cynthia to Toyko is an American in a dark suit, a man who won’t give his name but his intentions are clear—to recruit Cynthia to work for DARPA (the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense).  Technologies like facial recognition and advanced social skills could be used in combat humanoid robots and save human lives.  But Cynthia struggles with the question of how far should we go in creating a robot that behaves and appears human?  As ideological differences clash, the audience is taken on a journey of exploring an obsession as old as humanity.  As Cynthia tries to uncover the secrets of Kato’s final project, she encounters a world where Descartes’ wooden android daughter intersects with master karakuri engineer Hosokawa, and Thomas Edison collides with Pygmalion in a quest to create the perfect woman.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Real Steel Trailer

They don't look much like Rock'em Sock'em Robots to me!

Scooped again!

A few years ago (okay, many years ago), I wrote a play about a high school shooting as a response to several of the incidents that occurred--not just at Columbine but elsewhere.  The play was workshopped and a respectable downtown theater and was even optioned for the movie rights.

Then Gus Van Sant started showing ELEPHANT to various film festivals.

And the project died a slow death...

As a playwright, I was pretty inexperienced and I'm actually not bitter or surprised that the project didn't get off the ground.  I learned a lot from that experience, and I know that my play was a lot different than the Van Sant film.

Yet, this kind of thing happens to writers again and again.  It's true that trying to come up with something completely original and unique that no one has seen before is pretty much impossible.  What is unique about your story, is that YOU are the one telling it.  If I gave the Three Little Pigs story to ten different writers, I'd have ten very unique plays.

It is with mixed feelings, then, that I saw the recent trailer for Hugh Jackman's new movie (coming out in 2011), the robot boxing movie REEL STEEL.  While it looks cool, its also a very similar premise to the radio script I'm writing right now, which features a robot boxing match set in the future of 2050.  Of course, my story bears more resemblance to Astroboy and Futurama and Jackman's just looks like Rocky with robots.

Am I going to see the Jackman movie?  Um...yeah!  In fact, I'm hoping that any buzz on that movie and robots in general will help with the new play project I'm doing next summer.

Will 2011 be the year of the robot?

One can only hope.