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!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Next up: a reading of THE ALBATROSS


As part of the Underground Readings, my play THE ALBATROSS will be having a reading next Monday, June 20th at 7:00 pm at The Grey Box.

It was directed by long-time collaborator, Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, and features some pretty amazing Pittsburgh talent like Jeffrey Carpenter (Bricolage) and Mark Clayton Southers (Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater and The August Wilson Center) as well as up-and-coming talent like Laci Mosly and Fred Pelzer.

As those who know me and read this blog, I'm the guy always saying "self-produce, self-produce, self-produce".  So when Bill Cameron, the writer-director of Violet Sharp which is being produced by Terra Nova Theater, said to me and some other playwrights, "hey, we've got some dark nights at Violet Sharp, do you want to do something with them?" I jumped at the chance.  I hate seeing a dark theater.

So, I teamed up with playwrights Ginny Cunningham and Jeanne Drennan and we decided to do a series of readings and found some playwrights with some stuff to read--all of them of high calibre--and they got some great directors and celebrated local actors and next thing you know, we got us a great mini-festival of new works.

The first evening, Monday night, we heard Gab Cody's new play, The 2nd American Revolution and had wonderful turnout of about forty to fifty audience members.

On Monday, I'll be hearing THE ALBATROSS again.  It's been a few years since the last reading and I'm curious to dive into it.  It's the right amount of time to be away from the material, I think, in order to see it with an objective eye.  I hope I can see some new things or be proud of the things that I know are working.  Either way, I've got a fantastic director and talented actors to take care of the play.

For those of you wanting to know more about the play, or any of my plays, please click here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Playwrights in Mind Kicks off

Playwrights hard at work in the "Haiku" workshop this morning
It's about 10:30 am and I'm about to head over to the Mason Inn Conference Center for Day 2 of the first ever national Dramatists Guild conference.

Last night kicked off with some workshops and panels in the afternoon--I went to one about getting a Fulbright--and then a "Conversation with Christopher Durang", followed by the first keynote speaker, Molly Smith, Artistic Director of The Arena Stage.

To say that she was inspiring and eloquent in her praise for writers is an understatement.  She seems to be the ideal artistic director--committed to theater as a social practice, as something the community needs and something that needs the community in return.  Her ideas are somewhat revolutionary and require a shift in thinking across the country. She also made a call to us playwrights to be revolutionary in our thinking as well.  We should not shy away from blossoming our own ideas and alternatives to deal with the economic issues of developing and producing new works.  We should make our own partnerships and connections.  In short, we should hustle.

Today is Todd London's keynote, author of Outrageous Fortune.  Then more panels, workshops and later a conversation with Edward Albee and Emily Mann.

The only problem I see with this conference right now is that there's too much going on--not enough time to hang out with all these fabulous playwrights!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Can't Make it to DC for the DG Conference? Watch it on your TV!

So this is cool...if you're a playwright in the middle of Arkansas or Kansas or wherever and you don't have access to Edward Albee or Marsha Norman but want to watch them on TV talk about their craft...then check out the Arena Stage's New Play TV!

http://www.livestream.com/newplay

For schedule of what might be broadcast from the conference, check out the New Play blog.

If you watch, maybe you'll see the back of my head!

(Ooooh, I know, I know, so exciting...)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Can You Make a Living as a Playwright?


There’s an old joke about playwrights.  They say “you can make a killing, but you can’t make a living”.  And it’s true.

What they mean is, if you have the good fortune of the theatre gods smiling on you (a big IF), then perhaps you will get a BROADWAY production which may garner good reviews and a Tony award.  This play will then be published and consequently produced in every regional theater for the next two years and then possibly be performed in some summer stock and/or community theaters for a few years after that.

It is the playwright equivalent of winning the LOTTO.

And you have about the same odds.
Angels in America 
There has been much blog buzz about the recent statements made by Tony Kushner in a Time Out interview.  

Mr. Kushner is perhaps the greatest American playwright living and working today (Angels in America, pt I & II) with major productions going on, on Broadway, and off, with tons of commissions and has garnered many awards. 

Here’s the comment that brought about the buzz:

“I make my living now as a screenwriter! Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point.”

This comment was picked up and commented on by Seattle playwright Paul Mullin 

And then also responded to by the Arena Stage New Play Blog

First of all, we have to ask, is this even an accurate statement for Mr. Kushner?  What does he mean by make a living?  Yes, he’ll make more money writing for HBO, but Mr. Kushner has done quite well for himself solely as a playwright with Broadway productions, publications, grants and commissions. 

Second of all, why should we expect that playwrights could make a living?  There are far too many actors out there who don’t “make a living”.  The average take home pay of a professional Equity actor is probably not more than $20,000 - $30,000 a year (from theater, not from TV and film, mind you).  And I would gather that’s a high albeit rough estimate. 

Is that making a living? And let's be honest, there are many professional actors who aren't making anywhere close to $20,000/year.

I think all of us would agree that all artists should be paid for their work and should be paid well enough to not have to have a full-time or part-time job doing other things besides their art.  Unfortunately, we live in the U.SA. which is not a nation that believes in or supports the arts.  I would love to change that, but don’t see that happening any time soon.

Many people in this country are surprised that you even have to pay for royalties for a play.  What? You pay the playwright to do the show?  And you pay your actors?  People don’t just do art for free? For the “love of it”?

Having a playwright on salary and giving them health benefits is a radical idea.  Thank God for Arena doing something just like that.  They have five mid-level playwrights on salary for three years each.  They will produce at least one of their plays that they write during that period.  That’s pretty awesome.

But again, that’s like a mini-lottery.  Who decides those five playwrights?  There are thousands of writers to choose from.  The amount of playwrights in the Dramatists Guild is somewhere around 6,000.  Now, we have to admit, not every playwright deserves to be on salary, just like not every business major graduating from college deserves to be a manager or CEO or a corporation. No, let’s say only about %10 might be really good and/or mid-level.  That’s still 600 playwrights.  If you had to choose six people out of that, you’d have a 1% chance of getting a salary position.

These are the odds. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t make money.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t get paid for our work.  I’m saying maybe we should reevalaute our expectations given current circumstances.  Would I like to live in a country that pays playwrights and other artists decent wages?  Yes.  Will I make efforts to change that in our country.  Of course.  Will it happen over night?  No. 

There's been a lot of discussion in the theater world about this very topic--especially given the recent publication of Todd London's book Outrageous Fortune.  Molly Smith, of Arena Stage, will be at the Dramatist Guild national conference, as will Mr. London, so I'm sure it will be a topic if debate this coming week.  

A few years ago, I was interviewing an established award-winning playwright, who was also writing and directing movies, and said something about making a living as a playwright.  He responded, "That's like saying you're going to make a living as a poet.  No one makes a living."  

So it's not just Tony Kushner saying these types of comments.

I don't believe we should think of writing plays in the same terms as playing the LOTTO.  I do feel there should be more avenues to make money doing theater, in general.  But for now...well...If you’re writing plays because you think you can make a living, I’d have to say to you….um, don’t give up your day job.
 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Playwrights in Mind: A National Conference June 9-12


Looks like June will be almost as busy a month as May and to kick things off, I’m traveling to Washington D.C. to the first ever national conference of The Dramatists Guild of America.

I’m fortunate enough to live close enough to D.C. so that this trip is not too expensive for me.  I’m sure we won’t see to many playwrights from west of the Mississippi coming to town.  The idea of this conference, though, is that it will travel from coast to coast, city to city, thoughout the years, so that all members of the Guild will at some point make it to a conference.

I’ve been to my fair share of conferences, both academic and professional, and this is exciting just for the fact that it’s the first one ever for this almost 90 year old organization.

Guests planning to appear and/or give workshops include Edward Albee, Marsha Norman, Christopher Durang, David Ives, Julia Jordan, Doug Wright, and Jeffrey Sweet.  Plus, I’ll get the chance to see an old faculty member from my UNLV days, Julie Jensen, in addition to other Dramatist Guild Regional Reps.

While some skeptics may be wary of this gathering, as playwrights are known to grumble about not enough productions, I think it will be a positive and empowering experience.  As I’ve said before when I was a regional rep in Seattle, never underestimate the power of a group of playwrights in a room.

After the DG conference, then we move into The Underground Readings at the Grey Box in Lawrenceville.  My play THE ALBATROSS will be having a reading on June 20th, directed by Lisa Jackson-Schebetta and featuring Jeffrey Carpenter and Mark Southers.  More on that later. 

And at some point, I’ll be working on a new full-length play.  Not the robot play.  A new idea of a story set in the Pacific Northwest about two feuding sisters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Kerchief Coming Soon!

Hey kids,

Check out the trailer to the short film "Black Kerchief", coming out soon!  This is my one-eyed cowboy movie!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I'm Reading: Tell Me a Story by Roger Schank


To say that May was a busy month is an understatement.

After a successful run of Shining City at Off the Wall Theater--which critics called "provocative, well-acted and the "perfect cast" by the way...) I’m ready to do a little relaxing and actually read something that I'm not trying to memorize as part of a performance.  
 
The Inner History of DevicesI just finished reading Sherry Turkle’s collection of essays The Inner History of Devices.  This book is part memoir, part clinical textbook about how we related to objects and technology—how it literally changes our lives or affects us, in some ways we don’t even notice.  It looks at the obvious like addictions to online fantasy games or chat rooms, but also looks at people who are living with internal cardiac defibrillators or prosthetic eyes or being hooked up to a dialysis machine.  Written before the rise of Facebook, its startling to think about how we relate to the cyber world and technology, in general.

Why am I reading this book?  For robot research, of course.  As prosthetics get better and better, how will we related to our artificial limbs or tehnologically advanced companions?  Like our robot nanny?

For instance, imagine if Facebook wasn't just a two dimensional interface on a screen, but an actual robot and you could ask it, "So what are my friends up to today?" and it could tell you instead of you having to read it.  How would you start to relate to that robot?  Even if it didn't have a personality?

Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory)Now I’m reading Robert Schanks’ Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence.  (Yes, another book about artificial intelligence for my robot research.)  In a nutshell, this book basically says “Humans are intelligent, as opposed to computers or animals, because we relate and store information in the forms of stories.   Our stories are linked to our memories and its how we communicate and relate to each other.  Stories are who we are.  It’s the best argument for art and culture I’ve ever heard.  Why else do we go to the theatre and movies and read books?  It’s not just a form of entertainment.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Steeltown Film Factory Final Event

Today is the final event for the Steeltown Film Factory competition.  The three final scripts will be read by Carnegie Mellon University Acting Students at the Rauh theater at CMU.

Who will the winner (or winners) be of this $30,000 to make a movie here?

Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to find out because I'll be in tech.

[Cue tired sigh now.]

I had to leave the last event early, too, so I really feel like I'm totally missing out - how can I get prepared to write my script for next year?!

Ever since the news that the next Batman movie will be filming here this summer, the blogosphere is all abuzz about how Pittsburgh is Hollywood's best kept secret.  Will it become the next Hollywood...Well, we can dream, can't we?

Check out this great video on the Film Factory site about the history of art, culture and film in da 'burgh, featuring Rob Marshall (Chicago), Shirley Jones and John Wells (executive producer of The West Wing and ER).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shine on, you crazy...ghost

It's hard to believe that it was only two weeks ago I was sitting at a table for the first read-thru of Conor Mcpherson's play SHINING CITY with director John Shepard and the phenomenal actors Karen Baum, FJ Hartland and James Masciovecchio. 

And even harder to believe that in just over a week, on May 6th, our show will open at Off the Wall Theater in Washington, PA. (Hint, hint...get your tickets now, hint hint).

We had a run-through last night and are just about to head into tech.  Usually that period fills me with a little bit of panic, but not this time.  We're in good shape and even though this play is complex and nuanced, we're mining deep into the emotional crevices and digging out some dramatic gold.

That's the poetic way of saying...we're working our asses off.

It's amazing to me how much I learn about playwriting from acting in a show.  This is true of all my roles--whether I'm directing, acting, teaching, writing--everything seems to feed and illuminate aspects of the other.  There's no better way to analyze a script, to examine the characters and story then being in rehearsals, learning lines, getting it up on its feet, and seeing how the play works on a stage. 

To be honest, when I first read the play for auditions months ago, I was unimpressed. The play didn't read that well to me.  A lot of great plays don't, though.  Shakespeare and Chekhov certainly don't "read" well.  They're meant to be worked on and heard and acted out. 

Now that I've lived with this play for these past weeks, I admire McPherson for his use of language, among other things.  The text in this play has so many levels, emotionally and intellectually, and the rhythms of the dialogue and the specificity of character and story is brilliant.  As an actor, a lot of my job is done for me by the playwright just from the given circumstances and the lines--just play your character's needs and hang on.  Not that this is easy--his given circumstances and what happens in the play are not a walk in the park (well, one of them is a walk in the park at night, if you know what that means, and if you don't, then come see the show to find out.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is...this play is illusive in that there's so much more going on than you think at first glance (like Chekhov or Pinter or Beckett). 

It's the kind of spare writing we all aspire to, or should anyway.

Oh, and McPherson knows to give you a good ending that will leave you talking about it on the way home.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hunting & Gathering and Finding "Alice"

There might be folks out there who think Pittsburgh is some kinda wasteland of culture.  They may think of soot and smoke stacks and a city covered in grime and smog, dirty, smelly and grey.  

But they’d be wrong.  Oh, sorely wrong.

Other than the fact that the city has been written up by Forbes as one of the best cities to live in the country, it also has several theaters and museums of note (and for a boy who grew up in Reno which is a city that definitely has a cultural deficit), I surely appreciate it.

Tonight I’ll be heading to Bricolage yet again (I know, but I like their stuff, what can I say!) for the opening of Hunter Gatherers by Peter Sin Natchtreib.  I’ve seen a production of this before out in Seattle, so am curious to see what Jeffrey Carpenter, also Artistic Director, will do to it.  True to their aesthetic, the play is a brutal satire, but also darkly funny.  

This video by Matt Hildebrand might scare you or entice you, but gives you an idea of what's in store.

Hunter Gatherers - Actors from Matt Hildebrand on Vimeo.


Will there be a different sensibility and aesthetic between da ‘burgh and the Pacific northwest? I'm curious.

Speaking of curious.

"Curiouser and curiouser..." as one young lady said...

"The Alice Project"
(photo: Louis Stein)
Opening this week is “The Alice Project” at Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.  

Developed as a collaborative piece over the past year by director Marianne Weems with designers, dramatic writing student and technicians, this multi-media performance tears apart the Alice character from Lewis Carroll and examines identity through a prism of technology.  This is just what you’d expect from such an innovative research university that houses such diverse programs in performing arts, the fine arts, computer science, robotics and media arts.  

Read more about it here.

"The Alice Project" also marks the CMU directing debut of Marianne Weems, co-founder of The Builders Association (which has been compared to The Wooster Group but only with even more technology).

Of course, this is how I spend my days off, when I’m NOT rehearsing…more about that process later.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Top Reasons You Should Join a Writing Group

I’ve recently joined a fantastic group of writers, directors and actors who meet regularly to read new works (as well as eat baked goods and enjoy an adult beverage or two).

It’s been several years since I’ve been involved with a regular writing group and I’d forgotten how beneficial it can be.  

Some writers don’t want or need to be part of a group and I think I was okay for a few years to be writing a bunch of stuff on my own.  But other writers find some real benefit with the sense of camaraderie and the feedback. 

Here’s my top reasons why I like writing groups:

  1. You have a sounding board of like-minded writers who may be familiar with your work and can give some specific and immediate feedback on rough scripts, instead of waiting to get a formal reading up.
  2. You have a deadline and an audience who expects you to deliver your pages
  3. You have the chance to hear your script read aloud and since plays are meant to be performed, this is a valuable way of discovering if what you think is on the page actually exists, or if there is more work to be done.  (I just rewrote a ten-minute today based on valuable feedback and now feel its ready for submissions.)
  4. You can rely on a supportive environment so that you can bring in more risky and experimental work and push yourself out of your safety zone
  5. You get to hear rough drafts or first drafts of amazing scripts and then watch them get rewritten and get better from week to week.
  6. You have the opportunity to support your fellow playwrights work by listening, reading, evaluating and giving supportive feedback
  7. You can learn a lot from what other playwrights are writing—what they are doing well and what they are struggling with (in fact, sometimes it’s encouraging to recognize that even the best writers have the same second act issues and then witness how they overcome them)
  8. You get a chance to talk about theater in your community (what you’ve all seen lately) as well as what’s going on in New York and other places.
  9. You get to eat and drink and joke around with some talented people.
  10. You get your own secret handshake.


Tomorrow night I’ll be starting rehearsals for Shining City by Conor Macpherson at Off the Wall, which is exciting but sadly means that I’ll be missing out on a few weeks of the writing group.  I've already been inspired to start writing two new full-lengths, though, in addition to my other projects.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

How will you celebrate National Poetry Month?

"We speak of memorizing as getting something 'by heart,' which really means 'by head.' But getting a poem or prose passage truly 'by heart' implies getting it by mind and memory and understanding and delight." —John Hollander


As I've probably mentioned, I'm signed up for the Poem A Day email from Poetry.com.  It's comforting that in the mix of spam that I get in my email (from Golf discounts to viagra...), I get a little bit of joy and beauty and wonder in the form of a poem.  


As writers, we should enjoy and celebrate the experience of the word. Since April is National Poetry Month, why not do something fun?  Go to a poetry reading.  Grab a book of poems from the library from a poet you've never read.  Or go crazy and write a poem.  Some ambitious folks are even writing a poem a day.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Theatre is unique...or...Fun with Stats!


I’m not really a stats guy.  

When I’m in a bar and hear two guys talking about the wins/losses and player stats for the Stillers (The Steelers for all you non-yinzers), I get lost in the haze of numbers. 

I’m also not the kind of person who likes to stare at charts or deal with Excel.

I do, however, like to track what gets the most hits on this site and see what the most popular posts are.

And here’s the fun thing, the most read post is "What Makes Theatre So Unique."

In fact, here’s something fun to try—open up google and type “What makes theatre unique”. 

Fighting the Void is the first hit.

Crazy? Right?  

Of all the sites in the world, this place is the go to for how theatre is unique.  What's even more interesting is that this post is a recap of Thornton Wilder's essay.  And Thornton Wilder isn't even the first hit--this site is...

Which does make me feel like I'm cheating and perhaps I should write some posts with my own thoughts about the uniqueness of live theatre in the future.  

So stay tuned for more content on that topic...

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I'm Reading: Plays, plays, plays and some more plays...


shining-city-poster-web-800.jpgIt may be a compulsive habit, but I seem to be unable to walk out of a library empty-handed.  

Recently I grabbed a bunch of play scripts that I were not on my reading list but were just too tempting to pass up.  

In between studying my part for the upcoming production of Shining City at Off the Wall and filming this cowboy short film, I’m not actually sure when I’ll have time to read them, but rest assured, I will get around to them at some point.. 

I grabbed Julie Jensen’s The Harvey Girls, a brand-new play she wrote last year.  I met Julie at UNLV when I was doing my undergrad and sat in on all the MFA playwriting workshops, acting in them or just watching them.  She’s not just a brilliant playwright, but a brilliant teacher, as well. I was introduced to her work by acting in The Lost Vegas Series and have since become a big fan of her quirky and intelligent wit.  If you’ve never read her stuff, go do it now.

RaceI also grabbed David Mamet’s Race, a recent play of his which is being down at the Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theater.  

(No, David Mamet is not Irish and no, a play done on Broadway a year or so ago does not make it “classical” so I’m just as befuddled as you as to why PICT is doing it…)

The other exciting gem I grabbed is a collection of plays from the Royal Court Theater.  This is full of playwrights I’ve never heard of but have been doing tons of stuff across the pond.  Playwrights include David Eldridge, Roy Williams, Mike Bartlett, and Lucy Prebble.  There was one play in the collection that piqued my interest by Simon Stephens called Motortown, about a Iraqi vet returning to London.  One critic hailed it as a modern day Woyzcheck, which is high praise.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why are "emerging" playwrights so darn lazy?


“So all together, how about we “emerging” playwrights stay away from the defeatist attitude? It’s bad for business. Let’s stay away from it by thinking about companies like 13P and Workhaus Collective—theaters like Playwrights Horizons and City Theatre in Pittsburgh—organizations like New Dramatists and the Playwrights’ Center. Defeat defeatism by opening up your laptop at the beginning or end of the day…”


For the first time in its 80 year history, the Dramatists Guild of America will have a national conference in our nation’s capital at George Mason University.  When I mentioned to a renowned playwright that I would be attending, he was a little uncertain in his enthusiasm, saying, “Yeah, I hope it doesn’t become a bitch fest.”

This was after a dinner conversation we had on the terms being thrown out in the theatrical world (and the world of funding), terms like “emerging” and “budding”.  We didn’t really know the difference, but I imagine the definitions are more clear to funders and development directors.  I’ve seen playwrights who have had a show on Broadway get an “emerging” playwright grant which just makes me think, when do we “arrive”?  When we have the same house-name status as Shakespeare or Neil Simon or Sam Shepard?

Complaining is always easy.  

It’s especially easy for playwrights.  Let's face it, sometimes we like to complain.  Who doesn't? 

We generate our own material to work on, which is a distinct advantage over the actor, designer or director.  On the other hand, we spend a lot of time waiting for someone to put up our play.  Unless we self-produce, which is becoming more and more an attractive option.

The quote above is from a recent post by "emerging" playwright Mat Smart.  The post is not a rant nor a critique of the play development system, but an insightful and provocative statement about emerging playwrights being lazy. 


I agree with some of his comments, but not all.  The bottom line is that we must focus on what we as playwrights can control—our work and how we choose to get that work out there.  It’s also about how we can support each other, which I think we could see more of in the general playwriting community. 

We can start by going to each other’s readings, workshops and productions.


As my favorite theatre teacher Davey Marlin-Jones once said, "If we don't support each other...who will?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing the Solo Show, Pt 9: Page to Stage


Plays are peculiar things.  Sure, you can read a play, but the truth is that a script is a blueprint.  The performance is the building.

I’ve said this over and over, but I firmly believe this more and more as I work on writing this solo play. 

So where am I in the process?

After many months of writing various stories, notes, observations, I have to compile these pages into a binder.  

This binder is becoming the “script”.

It's still a complete mess, of course.  It's like a taking the clay and getting the shape and size right for the sculpture with only hints of what form that sculpture will take.

The problem here is that I want to write a play.  Not vignettes.  Not the facsimile of a therapy session.   I have no desire to get up on stage and just tell personal stories about my pain and grief and hope the audience “gets” me.  My desire is the universal truth of storytelling, finding the metaphor for the story and relating that to my audience in an entertaining way.

I’m not worried about whether or not the story seems personal or not.  If it comes from my sense of truth, it will be inherently personal, as all great stories are.   

What’s funny is that I’ve already written a solo play before—And I completely forgot about it.  The play is called Material Girl and its about a 15 year old girl waiting in line to get an autograph from Madonna because this will logically prove the existence of God.  Okay, it’s a short play, but still…I’ve done it before. 

In fact, if you’d like to read it, go to Original Works and take a look.



Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love, Art & Sexual Perversity succeeds with "oomph" at the Rogue Festival


It's official.

I've got a "quirky sense of humor."

At least that's what the Kings River Life Magazine says about my show, Love, Art & Sexual Perversity, directed by Nicolette Tempesta in the Rogue Festival in California.

You can read the whole review here.

Love, Art & Sexual Perversity is a performance of four of my short plays--Painting by Numbers, Green-Eyed Monster, The Lift and Dog Park or Sexual Perversity in Magnuson.  All but The Lift have been produced and I'm disappointed I missed the debut of this little two-character gem because it sounds like the director and actors really did well with it.

Here's a quote from the review:

The third scene, about a couple ending their relationship on a ski lift, really takes the action of the scenes to a second level. Brian Pucheu and Ashley Hyatt begin the scene with a quiet verve that quickly turns into some snappy insults delivered with just the right amount of acid. And then, just as quickly, that anger turns again into a soft kindness and regret that is palpable in the actors’ capable performances. Tempesta’s direction of this scene ensures that it doesn’t wallow in this turn too long or too fiercely, ending the scene with a very loving feeling at its core.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Being choosy with your projects

The past few weeks I got off track on keeping the blog posts up to date.  This is due to a convergence of jobs and projects suddenly arising (like a Perfect Storm!). 

I just started a new job in external relations in the School of Drama at a prestigious private university, an opportunity that was just too exciting to pass up.  At the same time, I was invited to a wonderfully supportive and fun playwriting group that meets every few weeks.  I’m still also working as a teaching artist for an after-school program.  This weekend, I’ll be acting as a deranged cowboy for a short film that’s shooting on Sunday and a few days in April.  Right after that, I’ll be acting as Ian in Off the Wall Theater’s production of Conor McPherson’s Shining City.

Phew.

There are, of course, other auditions on top of that, as well as my own personal writing projects (which, sadly, I have been neglecting). One of those projects may be a public reading in June (more on that later).  Even maintaining this blog is a project that takes time and energy.

All of this is exciting and I’ve met a lot of talented folks, but now I’m at the point of overload.  There’s only so much time in the day and now I need to be more careful of what projects I devote my energy to.

So how do you choose what projects to work on?  There are some key factors to consider.

Is the project awesome?  
I don’t mean “awesome” in the blasé sense, but the accurate definition of the word.  Is it a project you would kill for, something you’ve waited to do all your life, something you would work on for years and years and never get tired of it.  For instance, I’ve been working on this robot project for months and I’m still reading books and interested in the ideas and fascinated by what’s out there.  Every time I think about the project, I’m energized.  That’s the kind of work you should look for.

Are you the best person for this project? 
Sometimes you have to ask yourself, is this really the best fit for me?  Do you have the right skills, background and personality for the project? Some projects are a no-brainer. If you’re in doubt, it probably isn’t a project that’s right for you.  Recognizing that early on will save you headaches down the line. 

Who do you get to work with?  
Are they amazing and talented people?  Are they collaborators that you’ve worked with before and or new artists that you would kill to get to know?  You have to love the people you work with—life is too short and the pay is not enough to tolerate jerks or fools.

Does the project pay? 
In general, theater is not a money-making endeavor, but there are paying gigs out there of various levels.  Sometimes it’s a factor and sometimes not, but it can make a difference.  I probably wouldn’t pursue writing the book for a Broadway musical but if Julie Taymor asked me to and Disney fronted the money, I don’t know that I could turn down the production of “Iron Man: The Musical”*.  Well, on second thought…
(*As far as I know, there are no plans for this project, but I could be wrong.  Let’s hope I’m not.)

How much time and energy will this project take up? 
If you have too much on your plate, then logistically, you may not be able to do it.  Sometimes you have to turn projects down because you are “too busy”.  Or you have to let go of another project to make room for it.  This is where time management and knowing your limits comes into play.

Is it something you’ve never done before? 
Will it stretch you creatively? Bring you out of your comfort zone? I stay passionate and interested in projects that force me to learn or be on my toes—that’s the kind of work I want to be involved with.  If it’s a project that is really everyday, then why am I doing it (unless it pays really well, see above).

There are of course, other smaller factors to consider, as well, and your priorities for taking a project will depend on your own unique goals and where you are in your life.  Either way, you should always think about how your project should add value to your life (ie whether its worth it or not).