Collaboration

 My play hot tramp (i love you so) will be presented at Columbia next week as part of my Collaboration class with Anne Bogart. I’ve had a fantastic time working on this play with some very smart, funny, intuitive collaborators. Unfortunately, it’ll only be performed once, on Monday April 7th at 2pm. Information is below if anyone is interested.
Collaboration Round B: Love & Death
Monday April 7th, 2014, 2pm
Schapiro Theater, 605 W 115th St New York, NY

A couple negotiating a break-up, stuck inside during an emergency. Two musicians eternally deciphering the events that led to their deaths.  A series of vignettes depicting the complicated lines between love and abuse. The lives of three mayflies in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a carnival. A love triangle between a David Bowie drag king, the Marilyn Monroe impersonator who loves her, and the club owner who loves her.  Two aliens in drag trying to pass as femalians to land a sweet gig on Earth. A woman who lives in matrimony with the statue of her dead husband. Two young people who may or may not have been the only subjects in a seven year long study on love and relationships run by a lonely researcher, plagued by his conscience. It’s all part of Love and Death, our second round of presentations for Collaboration class led by Anne Bogart!

Tickets are Free!

 

 

New Works Now

Every morning before rehearsal Fitz would help me with my rewrites.

Every morning before rehearsal Fitz would help me with my rewrites.

My play The Reluctant Lesbian returned to the Upper Valley for a week long development period at Northern Stage in White River Junction, VT this month. This play was first workshopped up in Hanover, NH at the inaugural Vox Theater-Dartmouth residency and I loved having the chance to work on it again in a cold climate far away from New York. It was shown alongside two other plays Mad Love by Marisa Smith and Orwell in America by Joe Sutton in Northern Stage’s first ever New Works Now new play festival. Here’s an article from the Valley News about the festival, which was very well-attended.

Now, it’s back to school after a lengthy winter break.

 

 

VoxFest!

voxfest2VoxFest begins in one month!!

My theater company is bringing eight projects to Hanover to be workshopped and presented at Dartmouth College between June 29th and July 9th. I’m so excited that this is actually happening (so excited, in fact, that I’m forgetting to write my play!).

If you’re interested in supporting VoxFest, please check out our indiegogo campaign (my adorable puppy makes an appearance in the video).

Bette Midler, Matilda and Fiona Shaw

The 2013 calendar year has been disappointing when it comes to Broadway shows. I appreciated shows, but not loved anything I’ve seen. Until last Saturday, when I had the good fortune of seeing Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last, John Logan’s one-woman show about Sue Mengers. My grandmother’s devotion to Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Shirley Temple is ultimately responsible for my love of theatre, so the opportunity to see the Divine Miss M in person was exciting and, well, awesome. Midler spends 90 minutes sitting on a couch in a kaftan and is funny, touching and brilliant. Sue Mengers was a high-powered Hollywood agent who was at her height in the 70s and the stories Logan tells in his entertaining, quick-witted play expose a woman who was strong, smart and no-nonsense. I’ve recently blamed other plays on the Great White Way for pandering to its audiences and afterwards I wondered if I loved it because I was being pandered to, or if it was just a good piece of theatre. I decided it was the latter.

Wednesday night I finally saw Matilda after hearing about it for years and it definitely lived up to the hype. I loved the cleverness, the seamless collaboration between the writing, directing, design and choreography and the truly brilliant actors (children and adults). I still have a number of the songs stuck in my head (this one, in particular: When I Grow Up) and would happily see it again. Everyone’s been talking about how great Bertie Carvel is, but I think that Gabriel Ebert’s performance as Mr Wormwood, Matilda’s father, is fantastic.

Thursday I saw Fiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary and while I was incredibly impressed with her performance, I found it a little slow and a little vague. Hearing the story of Jesus from his mother’s frustrated perspective can be entertaining, and the stage pictures were gorgeous, I wasn’t entirely sure why this show was being produced on Broadway in such a large house. I think it would have been more affecting somewhere off-Broadway.

This week I’m seeing Kinky Boots, which I’m looking forward to, though I’ve never seen the movie. And Tony nominations come out on Tuesday.

The Assembled Parties, Nicholas Hytner and the reign of Artistic Directors

Last night I saw The Assembled Parties by Richard Greenberg and my comrade and I walked for twenty blocks talking about the show. But not in the good way. We tried to parse through the sketchy dramaturgy, the strange characters and most of all, the apparent pandering. I don’t like writing bad things about plays. I know how hard it is to get a play off the ground, but when something is being performed on Broadway, with a truly stellar cast, I expect more from the creative team than a play where the main conflict is whether a charming woman gets to keep her 14 room apartment on Central Park West. I wondered while we were walking if the play was supposed to be an allegory for the state of the United States in the two eras explored in the play (the first act takes place on Christmas Day in 1980,the second act takes place on Christmas Day in 200o). But then that quickly turned back to a question about what exactly had happened to certain characters during the intermission and whether or not they were fully thought through by the playwright (this is one of those plays where all the interesting stuff seems to take place off stage).

That said, the audience seemed to love it. There were funny quips, amusing scenarios and truly talented actors (Judith Light and Jeremy Shamos are especially delightful to watch). But that’s because this play was written precisely for the audience that was there. This relates to my last post about The Flick (and the comment that it received). The Flick may not have been written for Playwrights Horizons’ subscribers, but it was aimed towards an audience that they were excited to welcome (young people, theatre people, cinophiles, whoever). The Assembled Parties seems cynically geared directly at Manhattan Theatre Club’s subscribers. The people who go to the theater to see a contemporary Cowardesque version of their own lives. I do not begrudge these people their theatre. In many ways, I just wish that the plays geared towards them were just better versions of themselves.

In light of Nicholas Hytner’s announcement that he is leaving the National Theatre, I’ve been thinking about the differences between Artistic Directors’ tenures in New York vs. London. Hytner will have been at the National for 12 years when he steps down and has brought some truly ground-breaking shows to the three spaces on the South Bank (along with some schlocky crowd-pleasers). Across the river, Dominic Cooke is about to leave the Royal Court after about eight years as Artistic Director. The turnover at these major British theatres seems to average about every 10 years. And these are truly successful Artistic Directors, leaving to pursue freelance work or film or whatever. If you look at the major off-Broadway theatres, the tenures are much longer. Lynne Meadow has been Artistic Director of Manhattan Theatre Club for over 40 years. James Houghton has been at the Signature since he founded it in 1991. Todd Haimes has been either Executive Director or Artistic Director of Roundabout since 1983. Why is the culture of these organizations so different from their British equivalents? What has happened to the generation of American theatre artists who have not been able to work at the top tier of these companies because positions have never opened up to them? And, perhaps most importantly for the future of theatre, what does this mean about the work getting produced? If Artistic Directors (and the Boards that they report to) are so risk averse that they keep their jobs for 20+ years, how does this trickle down to their programming?* And then how does this affect the artists and the audiences? If we think about how much the world has truly changed since each of these Artistic Directors started their jobs, then maybe it isn’t surprising that the work that they produce doesn’t always seem to reflect the world that we live in. Perhaps, this issue, not The Assembled Parties, is actually the allegory about 21st century America, a country whose young people haven’t been able to reach their potential because mid-level and C-suite job opportunities have decreased because despite our “exceptionalism” we value perceived wisdom and consistency over innovation and change.

 

*Last weekend, my mother and I were talking about bias and how it relates to Human Resources and I can’t help but connect that to this conversation. People hire and work with the people who remind them of themselves. Which is certainly how theatre works.

Playwrights Horizons and The Flick

Last month I saw Annie Baker’s The Flick at Playwrights Horizons and I liked it a great deal, but thought it was too long. When I tried to figure out what to cut from it, I couldn’t really think of anything. The play, it seems, just has to be a three hour play. Which is not normal in 21st century theater. In fact, it’s so abnormal that Tim Sanford, the Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizons, felt compelled to write a letter to subscribers explaining the play and its length. Primarily addressing the patrons who had left at intermission and complained. One of the first things I learned in a theater class at Dartmouth was that I had the right to walk out of any show at anytime. And I still believe this is an important truth about theater. If you don’t like something, no one is keeping you in your seat other than traditional convention. And Sanford discusses this. He would  ”rather evince passionate dislike than a dispassionate shrug. I imagine that most of you have read the many good reviews about the play and then most recently the fact that the play won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. If you read these stories and continue to say to yourself, “I still don’t know what they see in it,” I applaud your independence of mind.”

This is an important discussion. Theatre is not just about what the paying audience will “like” and Playwrights Horizons takes some very interesting risks with their seasons. Each show I’ve seen there has had something truly magical about it, something daring, even if the play, ultimately didn’t feel successful (in the writing class I’m taking now we talked about the importance of finding that one moment about a play that truly engages with your spirit). And the key is to trust that your audience will get it, will support the risks alongside the sure-fire hits. Because PH is a theater where writers are championed, they allow writers that they respect and admire (but might not be well-known) to showcase their talents and their passions. And we as audience members are lucky to get to engage with these stories, even if they are imperfect, or unsatisfying.

HowlRound response

First, read this article: http://journalism.howlround.com/13p-easy-to-revere-tough-to-recreate/

And now, my response:

Since first reading about 13P (and seeing a production or two of theirs), I’ve admired their dedication to follow-through and their dedication to knowing when to quit. The model is a good one, find like-minded artists with motivation and time and start making theater with them. When the powers that be don’t want to produce your work, find people who will. It’s one that we at Vox Theater have embraced in the past year. We found a theater space to cultivate our work and supportive people pay for our travel and housing to and in New Hampshire. The key difference is that we aren’t made up solely of playwrights. We are hyphens (I made a joke about “hyphens” in a play once, now I am one.).

As a playwright-literary manager, I often walk the fine line between wanting to promote my own work and worrying that I’m comparing others peoples’ work to my own (either negatively or positively). As a playwright-producer, I have sometimes had to spend more time focusing on the nitty-gritty of how the play will get on its feet than what the play will actually look like when it’s there. As a dramaturg-playwright, sometimes I just have to throw my hands up and wish I never knew what dramaturgy was.

What most interested me was the tone of the HowlRound article and the playwrights profiled in it. An unnamed playwright friend jokingly said it should be retitled “Dilettantes attracted to the illusion of easy production created by the 13P legend.” No one deserves an all-expenses paid production of a play they’ve written just because other people like it. Being a theatrical professional is hard and it’s a life filled with competition, self-doubt and complications. Building the relationships necessary to create theatre that you’re proud of or that is worthy of a paying audience takes time and effort and follow-through. The theme in this article was the playwrights’ desire to start a group but not do the administrative work necessary to continue to run the group. To be able to be the writer in the garret (or the rehearsal room) who doesn’t have to worry about money, budgets, theater space, administration. Unfortunately, the theater is too saturated with talent to wait around for other people to do this for you. And if you have found those people, hug them and buy them lots of coffee and/or beer.

Collaborative theatre groups often collapse because everyone has their own pet projects. Or their own individual careers. If no one’s there to corral everyone, attention starts to go elsewhere. When I started the NyLon Fusion Writers Collective, I was a very reluctant leader. I wanted us to be a collective, to embody the mission of the company. Eventually I realized that this was futile. That someone needs to be the galvanizer. Someone needs to be the cat herder. And because I had formed the group, I became the cat herder. And performed that role for two years. Two years of scheduling meetings that not everyone would be able to attend, producing reading series where directors would vanish into thin air, writers who eventually lost interest and dropped out, devising a play with actors that changed plot and characters so often I still don’t always remember the actual title of it. But I’m so proud of the work that we created and the bonds that we formed.

Everyone wants to find that one break that’ll lead to an easier life in the theater. The acceptance to grad school, the great review, the call from an interested agent. The problem is that once you’ve had that break, if you have any ambition, you’ll just figure out what the next break has to be. An optioned screenplay? Your own AMC show? A Broadway debut? The possibilities, all of a sudden, become endless. And the truth is that not everyone gets those things. And not everyone who gets those things “deserve” them. But chances are they’ve worked for them. They’ve hustled. They spent years building the connections, the skills and, most importantly, the work.

They never said it would be easy, this theater thing. In fact, they expressly told us it would be really hard. And we do it anyway. Because we have to.

 

Short Plays

I haven’t trusted short plays for awhile. The medium never seemed to suit me. My short plays always seemed like they were too big for the format. But I’ve actually written a lot of them in the past year. I’ve edited older plays for 10 minute play competitions, I’ve followed prompts for short plays in an Alaskan convention center, I’ve written short plays about Paddington Bear in a window of the Drama Book Shop while someone outside laughed at what I wrote (which I believe was “I don’t think bears are allowed at posh weddings.”), and I’ve written short plays to unearth feelings, questions and ideas. It turns out they’re fun. They don’t require the time and energy that full-length or “one act plays” do (the definition of the one act play confuses me right now, a recent article in the LA Times implied that if a play didn’t have an intermission, even if it’s 90 minutes long is a one-act, I disagree). They don’t usually require the research required in longer plays. And they can be fun to read. Or fun to perform. I’ve just posted a few PDFs of some of them here on my Plays page, if you’d like to take a gander of what I’ve been exploring recently.

Post-Hurricane Theatre

After an accidental week-long vacation in New Hampshire, I returned to New York City on Thursday afternoon hopeful about the resilience of New York and its inhabitants in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. From my apartment uptown, I didn’t see much discernible damage and the subways were functioning slowly, but surely. That night I went to Ars Nova for a performance of Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 1812, an electro-pop musical derived from War and Peace. It’s a lush, brilliant, exciting, moving piece of theatre and one that I’m so glad I was able to experience. Audience members are seated at tables with bottles of chilled vodka and served pierogis and rye bread at the top of the show. I made friends with my table mates (all of whom either currently lived in London and had previously lived in London, one of whom is currently in a play directed by John Malkovich!) and had a fantastic time. It’s a truly inspiring play for a time in New York that could use a little inspiration.

Last night, not far away from Ars Nova, but aesthetically quite far, I saw the new Broadway production of Annie. I’ve never seen Annie before, but had a layman’s knowledge of the plot and the songs. I loved the direction of this production. The use of a very storybook set and the occasionally bizarrely choreographed chorus moments made it a fast-paced, entertaining, relevant production of a Depression-set musical. References to the New Deal, to party politics, to Hoovervilles all felt very timely in the wake of the storm and during the 2012 election. Yes, it’s a musical for children, but there’s some funny material for adults and parents in there too.

Much has been said about getting the theater back on track after the storm (especially the downtown theatres that have been without power until last night) and while it’s not a top priority for some, there’s something to be said for letting the show go on, watching talented performers do their job, wondering how difficult it was for them to get to the theatre, and being grateful for the opportunity to feel like some parts of life are back to normal.

Mississippi

There are a few things I thought I would find during my ten day trip to Mississippi. Good food, great music, some history, some culture. And find them I did. But I also had many many unexpectedly wonderful experiences. I experienced true generosity and kindness from strangers (now I know where Tennessee Williams got that line!), inclusion into a family of musicians, late night board games complete with smack talk, obsessive nail painting, my first trip to a casino, a drive around a Civil War battleground, the Grove during Ole Miss Homecoming, Elvis’ birthplace, Faulkner’s house, a ghost town on the gorgeous Natchez Trace Parkway. The tour was like all the wonderful parts of a family vacation but with concerts every night!

Perhaps the most thrilling part of the trip satisfied my nerdiest historian side. In Clarksdale, we arrived at Ground Zero Blues Club and were told that Caroline Kennedy was in town for her book tour. As a Bostonian and a history major, I knew I had to go see her. And when I got to the mansion hosting her, I ran into two people from the Last Frontier Theatre Conference who were in Clarksdale for the Tennessee Williams Festival that weekend. Thinking that was coincidence enough, I then heard that James Meredith (the first African-American man to attend Ole Miss and the subject of a paper I wrote senior year of high school) was in attendance. I tried to go up to speak with him after the signing, but he was whisked away. However, later that night, we learned that he would be at the club for the show. Before the show started, I was speaking with the co-owner of the club and told him how excited I was that James Meredith had been in town because I wrote a paper about him in high school. Immediately he asked if I wanted to meet him and brought me over to have my picture taken and to talk with him briefly. Inner history nerd satisfied for at least a year!

And now that I’m back, I get to figure out what creative work will come out of this trip and its wealth of material.