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  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.