Persons of Interest Blog


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An Interview with Constance Congdon

by Anna Nicholas

As a playwright fortunate enough to participate in the William Inge Play Lab this year, one of my favorite Master Classes was given by Constance Congdon (Tales of the Lost Formicans, Gilgamesh, Raggedy Ann and Andy and others). Connie’s been teaching playwriting at Amherst College for twenty-three years and knows her way around a writing exercise*. She graciously agreed to sit down and talk about her plays, writing for theatre and what if anything had changed for women playwrights since the production of her first play, Gilgamesh, in 1977.

Constance Congdon

 

AN: What was your earliest theatrical experience?

CC: I had puppets and used to perform puppet shows over the top of my parents’ bed. Later, when I was in Junior High, I played “Mammy” in A Feudin’ Over Yonder and got a lot of laughs. Though I love actors I never wanted to be one. (Note: I saw Connie kick it in the “Improv to Page” workshop conducted by Ron West and Catherine Butterfield. Connie can act.)

 

AN: Did you study theatre in College?

CC: I was an English major and not a great student. It took me 6 years to get through. Of course it didn’t help that I kept moving and had to pay for school myself.

 

AN: So, no theatre in college. How did you find your way back to it?

CC: I had lots of jobs but the life-changer was as a mobile librarian. I discovered children’s literature and reading aloud to kids. Something was sparked and that experience served me well when I began writing plays and musicals for the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis. I hadn’t known that would happen when I boarded the book mobile.

 

AN: What was your first play and first production?

CC: Gilgamesh at St. Mary’s College in Maryland where I was teaching remedial reading at the time. They gave me a first class production. Not all my plays have been so lucky.

 

AN: Tony Kushner calls you “one of the best playwrights our country, and our language, has produced.”[2] But for whatever reason, I’ve never seen or read any of your work. I’m going to rectify that now and catch up on your canon.

CC: Thank you.

 

AN: You taught at Amherst College for twenty-three years. Over the course of your career in both teaching and playmaking you must have observed some changes in how women are perceived in the theatre.

CC: Not as much as I’d like. There’s more opportunity for women and the awareness of the need to produce women’s plays has increased, but there’s still a resistance to the female voice, whatever that means. It extends to Artistic Directors and Literary Managers and sadly both men and women.

 

AN: Now that you are retiring from Amherst, what’s your game plan?

CC: At 72, I am energized to see more of my work get to the stage. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be part of Profile Theatre’s one playwright a year with a few of my plays. And I have just finished a new work called Hair of the Dog: The Foule Murder of Christopher Marlowe as Uncovered by William Shakespeare and am working on a book on playwriting with Mac Wellman and Jeff Jones.

 

AN: What advice would you give to female playwrights?

CC: My biggest piece of advice is to apply for grants; particularly state grants if they’re available. It’s usually other playwrights like me who read the plays and make the decisions, which is good. And if there are no state grants, apply for any arts grants that exist. If you want to teach, get your MFA. It’s important for the boards and administrations of most colleges and universities to know you’ve been vetted. Go to theatre festivals and network. Familiarize yourselves with different theatre departments and submit, submit, submit. I also advise not to worry about reviews. I’ve never gotten good reviews and I’ve made my peace with it.

 

AN: I loved your Master Class and the “rant” exercise *. Can I share it with the playwrights who read the LAFPI blog?

CC: Absolutely.

 

Constance Congdon’s “Rant” Exercise: As yourself or one of your characters, write a rant for a solid 10 minutes. Let the vitriol out at a person or something you hate. Don’t edit and write honestly, like you’re going to rip it up. Have someone call time at 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute and 30 seconds. The idea here is not to break up the “planning” that often occurs in the writer’s mind about what you’re writing. When you’re done, read it. Take a breath and then write for another 10 minutes but this time you are writing the rebuttal to your rant. You can be the person ranted against, or someone else with a strong point of view about the first rant. The third part of the exercise is to go back and forth between the original rant and the rebuttal, taking one or two lines from each and you might just find yourself with the beginnings of a scene.

 

Anna Nicholas just returned from the 2017 William Inge Play Lab, where her play, Ocotillo was chosen for development. Annanicholas.com

 

 

YOU

Are loved.

by E.h. Bennett

 

I Only Cried Twice (poem)

by E.h. Bennett

Moon freckles. Ginger.

Snaps.

Thank you, Bible God, for Alex.

What if I’m the last woman on Earth.only I’m really short and when they send the search planes they can’t see me because I’m invisible?

What if the reason I can’t feel my arms is because I’m a marble torso?

I spy my toes.

The presents are all wrapped and under the tree and it’s only Christmas Eve — Day –Morning… Christmas Morning. Things could be much, much worse.

I’m so cold, I wish you were here — Hey Daddy, did I ever tell you that I swore under my breath that I’d do good?

Make you proud of me someday?

Sorry that never happened.

When I was five-years-old and tripped over your bedroom rugand split open my chin on your bedside table, and the nurse draped a white sheet over my body with a hole cut out for my chin?

I screamed because I thought I was dead and I didn’t want to die. Even at five I knew.

Did Ivan know he was about to die?

No tears.

Okay maybe twice.

Happy tears when Daddy gave me an acoustic guitar for Christmas.

I couldn’t believe it. The music the magic. The only thing we ever really had in common. Lying on the living room floor listening to vinyl records. Happy memories.

Broken branches
Broken bucket list
Beach front cottage windows
On every whitewall
Crashing waves
Salty air.
I can breathe

Seeking forgiveness seeking joy again seeking anything but guilty tears.
Every child’s laugh his laugh.

His arms beggingto be held.

His sweet everything.

How do I answer when my everything is gone?

What did I do?
My child, my son was in his stroller.
Outside work’s security door. About to enter.
The key code.
When they stormed in.
“We’ll kill you and the kid, if you don’t open the door.”
Cocked – Ready – Primed – Aimed – At me.
“I don’t matter. Please don’t kill my baby.”
“Open the door bitch.”
What do I do?
What do I do?
What do I do?

SHOOT ME ALREADY.

What did I do?
What did I do?
What did I do?

© 2017 E.h. Bennett

For this Friday Night

by E.h. Bennett

I think of gifts
Joy
What I gave away
Boomerang effects
Releasing expectations
… that I can spell
… that I have needs
… that I have No needs
… that I must be perfect
… that I am imperfect
… that, suddenly, I inspire
And joy is mine
I want for nothing
Except more
… hot soup
… hot coffee
… puppy dog kisses
… crushed ice
… feelings
… life
Joy
Gifting
Gifts

What can you afford to give away?

Happy Friday, friends.

Married to a Warrior (poem)

by E.h. Bennett

From my short play / film I ONLY CRIED TWICE, and dedicated to Charlie Hebdo:

Some mornings I wake up
Turn over
See her face in sleep
My throat catches
I admire her courage
But I can’t let her know
I can’t give her that
Peace
My approval
It would feel
Like
I’m saying, you’re right
I agree with you
Our tiny son is worth less than a dozen
Sons
Every one of them a son
To somebody
Not my son
Anymore
I don’t remember his scent
Baby smell
She washed his clothes
His blankets
Packed them away
Like his ruined body in the casket
We couldn’t
Couldn’t
I can’t
But every day my brain
Accepting
Helpless
I am a coward
Married to a warrior

© 2017 E.h. Bennett

 

 

I Fell, and I Got Up

by E.h. Bennett

I fell in my bathroom last night. No blood. I’m okay. Adrenaline and shock are starting to wear off…

Roommates came running at the sound of my forehead hitting the bathroom wall. Had to push my Life Alert button for the first time, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Roommate wrangled the dogs, while another wrangled me. The paramedics arrived, lifted me to my feet, rolled my walker to me. And I walked back to bed. They spotted me, of course.

Point is, if I can rise up — with assistance — so can you.

If I can continue to produce — casting and working with designers — so can you.

If I can continue to write — so can you.

Don’t ever give up.

Happy Thursday, my Friends.

Rage (poem)

by E.h. Bennett

From my short play & film, I ONLY CRIED TWICE, and dedicated to Charlie Hebdo.

I feel
Stretching
Heart in my chest
Not pounding
But expanding
Sinews of my rib cage

Rage

Touching down
Tornado points
Eye above
It’s tail lashing
Like a cat
Switching, pulsing, hot, red

Rage

Wanting to claw out
Their
Everything
That they
Stole
Want not justice
But bloody revenge
Pick bullets from air
Tie gun barrels Into red bows
Take their dehumanization of me
Into my hold
Twist their bouquet
Wring them
Until I hear
Feel
Bones popping
Organs shattering
From my fine pressure
Wash my hair In spurting blood
Until I am sated

Rage

Exhausted
So I can sleep
Like the dead
Then maybe
I can dream
His life
Again

© 2017 E.h. Bennett

Yes, You Can!

by E.h. Bennett

A flurry of mental activity yesterday!

Next up, not one BUT three projects in pre-production. I am producing by voice and text from my in-home twin-size hospital bed.

Don’t let anybody ever, including yourself, tell you, you can’t!!

Titan Media Works
Presents
Bloodletting and Poe

(My slam poem, set to music, voice actors, and actor interpretors, being recorded in May and shot in June.)

AND

Seas the Day
(My political satire, set in environs in and around art, being shot in July. Finishing shooting script in June.)

AND

I start writing my mini-musical, Spring Eternal, in August.

Crazy how counting to the end of days became a year of starting over, anew, fresh, unjaded, free.

I am quietly sane, twisting my brain around the delicate details related to casting my team of legs and lungs.

Don’t have to do this by myself, but remember to COLLABORATE, honor creators, and feed and water everybody.

Happy Wednesday, Everybody!

Spread Joy

Create joy.
Feel joy…
But Spread the joy, my friends.
And joy will return to you.

A health set-back in July 2016 brought about my retirement after 17 years in libraries. I sold my home of 10 years and downsized from a 1725 square feet beloved home with a 2-car garage and 2 large backyard sheds to a 1255 square foot manufactured home that I’ve grown to love, but with 1 small (shared shed).

While I’ve given away 3/4 of my physical stuff over the last year, I also made my peace, finished my trust, filed my 2016 taxes, and am working hard to rehabilitate and learn to manage medications.

Perhaps most importantly, I decided to document an actresses performance. She led a small ensemble of four in a staged reading of my short play, I ONLY CRIED TWICE, last Nivember.

The inspiration for this act was not preserving or creating or documenting my creative legacy, but capturing her moment in time; giving “it” back to her and in memory of those killed at Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

Much to my amazement, friendships from one to forty-three years long became my legs and lungs, and together we created a short film. I provided lots of good, healthy food and fluids, and too small honorariums made possible, in no small part, to my retirement and the sale of my home.

I produced and coordinated using my smart phone last December and January. And hosted a luncheon/screening for forty-five cast/crew.and friends/family last Sunday. And I forced myself to attend. My oxygenation dropped from 95 to 73 percent within those 3 hours, but I survived.

And I gave away more physical stuff and as the joy spread, it returned to me again.

Next up is documenting my slam poem, BLOODLETTING AND POE. We’re recording the VO on May 14. Onward and upward!

Happy Tuesday, my friends <3

Shut-in Playwright, Not So Much

by E.h. Bennett

I’m home-bound.
A shut-in playwright.
A retired librarian
Who looks outward,
Sees beyond shuttered windows,
Feels not left behind —
But free.

There is a perfect symmetry
Behind the light glowing
Thru sheer curtains
And shuttered blinds.
There is a street out there where
People walk their dogs, and
Drive to work
That I rarely see.
My senses have turned inward
As if mining forgotten
Crevices in my minds eye
And, it sates me.

I’m not blind,
Not deaf,
Rarely physical,
Surprised by human touch,
My olfactory muscles,
Diminished by 24/7 nasal cannulas and
Oxygen face masks,
Do not smell.
I’ve lost my sense of taste…
Though I really enjoy food…

I love to chew
Hot, buttery, salted, corn-on-the-cob.
I love to swallow
Chilled, buttery, and raw fish.
I love spicy foods
From pineapple curry
To Tom Kha
To Spanish rice with diced green peppers.
I love to drink
Cold natural spring water
And icy sweetened diet drinks.
But as much as I love food,
It does not compare
To my love for you.

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