I mean, I am a playwright? I know. Strange title to start off with LAFPI, should this be one of my first blog posts? Especially on a playwriting blog. To me the term/title playwright is just that. Something that identifies you to a particular segment of the population. What’s in a title?
When I was approached to contribute to LAFPI I happily said yes. That’s what I do. I say “yes” then after it sinks in I wonder “what the heck have I done”. Trust me, if you knew me, you would know that saying yes first and asking questions later is so not in my wheel house. Most decisions are well researched with lists and talking to people and several lost hours on the internet. I need facts before I make a life changing decisions.
Where is this going you’re wondering? For me it begins with the title of Playwright. You see, after saying yes, THEN doing my research on the other women of LAFPI, I felt out of my league. I am still playing house-league hockey, the ladies of LAFPI are truly NHL material (yes, I’m a hockey fan). I have a problem with titles. When you’re a college student you are dreaming of the big corporate job you’re going to get after graduation, you do job searches based on the title the job carries and once you get the job, you are defined by that title on your business card.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted a big fancy title and a stack of business cards to hand out to say “look at me”. But it wasn’t until I went to work for a non-profit I realized how difficult and pointless a job title can be. I was listed as Director. That meant that I was in charge. Ok. But what the people I was talking with didn’t realize that I was also the Executive Assistant, Public Relations, Fundraiser, Social Media Manager, Volunteer Wrangler, and IT. I was a staff of 1, reporting to the President and Founder. Knowing this secret, I always smirked when someone asked for my card, like I was part of an inside joke they would never know the punch line to.
Networking events are the worst for me. The inevitable question “So what do you do?” is a tough one. I’m not trying to be evasive you see, I do a bit of everything, so it takes me a minute or two to decide what to say (I really need to work on my elevator pitch). Ever have that problem? But, the addition of playwright to my ever growing resume is a hard one for me to wrap my head around and I am always forgetting to tell people about it. I love to write. This past year has been filled with “writer” me. My play was chosen to be workshopped, where I got to sit back and just write. An actor performed my words. I had conversations about the theme of my play and how people related to it. When I began writing my show I never thought of the ramifications of it. I just wanted to write. Now, I’m an artist-in-residence (another interesting title) and working on my next show that will be workshopped next year. What does it all mean? I guess for once I just don’t feel worthy of the title. A playwright to me is this deep thinker of a person, they know stuff (oh, I am sensing a theme in my life). I’m just a perfectionist and I want to make sure everything is perfect before I send it into the world. Structure, storyline, character arc, all that writer-y stuff. I guess that’s why it took me so long to finish my one-person show. That and after awhile I just wanted to complete something. I had to let go of all the crazy thoughts in my head that were stopping me from writing and just write. I am a playwright? Yes, yes, I am!
How many titles do you have?Tweet
I spent this past weekend in a casting session for an upcoming play. As an actor, it’s an interesting place to be. I sat and listened as actors came in and recited their monologues and sang a variety of songs. Having not taken the traditional route to acting (you know, going to college studying theater or getting an MFA) I am not as well versed as I could and should be on plays. It is always a fun to hear other monologues and get ideas for things you’d like to do. As a writer it was interesting to sit next to the playwright as he sat and watched the actors, asked questions of them and offered deeper insight into his play. As a producer, I sat and watched how the producer worked the room, considering all the options of actors to bring back, how they would look together, how they acted in the waiting room, or if could they handle the material. I walked people in and out of the room, chatted with actors making sure they had the correct sides and were ready to enter the room.
At the end of the day, I sat watching as the production team discussed their front-runners, put headshots together so they could remember the person and listened as they strategized scheduling and finding a place for a rehearsal since it was such a big cast. It was a reminder of the dos and don’ts of an actor. Sure we have entered the digital age, but when the call asks for 2 headshots, they do have a reason, they don’t just want to torture you. For us it was so we could keep one for our records and another was for the director to take home at the end of the day, so she could look at her potential new cast. Those people who were still chosen despite not bringing in a headshot were lucky, but if the director can’t remember your face, you could still be replaced by someone else’s look. Another actor note I took was to know your material. As actors we’re told to have two monologues prepared, ready to go. Some of the actors came in with their monologue in hand, they were still working on them. Not an impressive move. You need to know it!
As Sunday came to a close I sat contemplating the fascinating rediscovery of my love of the theatre. After a year spent writing and creating a show, it’s an amazing feeling to watch people do their job to make your words come to life. It was also a reminder to keep working. That warm sensation that comes over you as you’re watching an actor work. The smile that appeared on your face without even thinking about it.
That is the magic I want to feel every day.Tweet
This has been a year of gratitude. And revelation. I didn’t get to learn the lessons I’ve been longing for: a new finished script, a staged reading, a Broadway contract, a full production of one of my works.
Instead I learned humility (being bald from chemo for six months is at the top of the list for this lesson). I learned compassion – especially from the other people in my life who helped me to learn to live again in a different way. I learned a lot of other lessons in the mixed bag of nuts in my recovery from cancer this year: how irrational/moody/forgetful and detached I can become. How much I can ask for from friends and family and my husband. I also got a new (old) cat (Puck: a rescue cat who helped save me from myself this year).
But I also want to say how much I’m grateful to this blog, as this is the only writing I’ve been able to do this year. Thank you.
And here is a story that is very close to my heart. It starts as a story about a man with a broken neck, but it really resonated with me in some of my life lessons. Especially those lessons about gratitude.Tweet
I found this facinating article:
HOW I INSULTED SONDHEIM (AND THE WISDOM RECEIVED THEREBY)
I’ve had my share of young stupid interactions with performers/artists I’ve admired. But I loved how this writer shared an awful experience and how he learned from it. It’s amazing to see that even celebrated and successful playwrights have such feelings about feedback to their work.
A Paraphrase from the article.
Nobody cares what you think. Once a creation has been put into the world, you have only one responsibility to its creator: be supportive. Support is not about showing how clever you are, how observant of some flaw, how incisive in your criticism. There are other people whose job it is to guide the creation, to make it work, to make it live; either they did their job or they didn’t. But that is not your problem.
If you come to my show and you see me afterwards, say only this: “I loved it.” It doesn’t matter if that’s what you really felt. What I need at that moment is to know that you care enough about me and the work I do to tell me that you loved it, not “in spite of its flaws”, not “even though everyone else seems to have a problem with it,” but simply, plainly, “I loved it.” If you can’t say that, don’t come backstage, don’t find me in the lobby, don’t lean over the pit to see me. Just go home, and either write me a nice email or don’t. Say all the catty, bitchy things you want to your friend, your neighbor, the Internet.
Maybe next week, maybe next year, maybe someday down the line, I’ll be ready to hear what you have to say, but that moment, that face-to-face moment after I have unveiled some part of my soul, however small, to you; that is the most vulnerable moment in any artist’s life. If I beg you, plead with you to tell me what you really thought, what you actually, honestly, totally believed, then you must tell me, “I loved it.” That moment must be respected.
“the avant-garde is deader than last year’s short-in-front, long-in-back skirts”….
Than last year’s skirts?
I appear to be far far away from the Avant- Garde and those who write about it. I came across the above mentioned quote from an article today:
I remember sitting through weird performance arts pieces over the years: John Cage concerts at Wesleyan University, and Merce Cunningham dance performances in New York, the incredible THE WAY OF HOW performances in Berkeley in the 1980’s, Rachel Rosenthal shows, and strange happenings in the Ivy Substation and Highland Grounds. But I never considered them “Avant-Garde”.
They seemed to be honest constructs from the artists to the audiences. Even if I didn’t appreciate the monotony and self absorption of a John Cage concert (a four hour concert with kitchen utensils was the last and ultimate test of my endurance with him), I learned a lot about courage and authenticity from those weird performances.
I don’t feel that I’m much in sync with the referenced “performative events” (I guess they aren’t called performance art pieces any more). And I can see, I’m really okay with that.
A few weeks ago I went to a staged reading of a script that I have watched develop over the years, and it was gratifying to see how much life and vulnerability that the actors gave to the script.
Most of the actors had been involved in reading pages from this script for some time, and they brought a lot of nuance and humanity to the reading of the characters.
I didn’t understand when I watched/listened to the reading why I experienced the two women in the script to be such completely different characters than what I had understood them to be. It was only afterwards when the director pointed out to me that, unlike the previous readings I had seen of the script, the two principal actress had exchanged roles.
This had been the director’s idea, and I was surprised that I hadn’t recognized the switch in the actresses – I saw very different characters because of this casting change, and they was very intriguing.
But what I missed, and what I had hoped for, was a script that could deliver that kind of surprise and dimension in the writing. Several times conflict would simmer up from all the talking onstage, and yet it wouldn’t quite boil up to a resolution or crisis. Poignant, hurtful, insightful things were said. It just didn’t matter much what they said. The characters went off at the end of the play pretty much as they started. I do think the playwright is a very good writer, but this script seemed to miss the mark for me. I left somewhat chafed and dissatisfied.
Maybe it’s because I’ve gone through such a sea change in myself and my life this past year, that I want to see/hear/experience rousing life changing theater. I’m grateful to have the chance to have witnessed the growth and development of this script – and I learned a lot by not liking it.
I recently went to a yearly ceramics sale with a dear friend of mine; and had one of those intoxicating, life-flashing afternoons where there was discovery and laughter and afterwards, really good middle eastern food.
Granted, I’ve been house bound for a while, and the chance to go out and play hasn’t presented itself like that in some time. But it reminded me of….rehearsal. A really good rehearsal. Where actors are making connections, and giving the gift of their talent and mind and spirit to create these phantoms on stage.
But I know, this was a ceramics sale.
There was a large noisy line of shoppers waiting to get into this sale, and once the doors were opened, I lost my friend in the crush of people foaming around the tables. It was thrilling to see such beautiful ceramic pieces, the glazes, the whimsy, and the various degrees of artistry and taste. There were some really crappy pieces too. I saw candlestick holders shaped like giraffes, and copper colored bowls, and strange plates. I picked up a bright blue teapot with “hello kitty” skeletons painted all over it and considered buying it. But then I paused, and put it back down on the crowded table, and someone behind me scooped it right up. I’ll never see that “hello kitty skeleton” teapot ever again. But what a thrill of discovery and connections.
And then I heard this talk today on Ted Talks. There is a bit of an overlong story about a Russian spaceship, but, overall, the exploration of where good ideas come from really sparked me up. Almost like a rehearsal. Or really strange ceramics.
“None of us owns art. Not even the artists who create it. And yet, we all own it, and it shifts as we shift.”
Three hands of art: why it matters
On Saturday, ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks spoke on this basic question to the national sales meeting of Pomegranate Communications, the Portland-based publisher of fine art books.
I’m very much taken with this article on the Oregon Artswatch site. Some of the comments really landed front and center with me:
“An artist of any kind is a witness to the universe, and because the universe is both micro and macro, what she sees can be wide or deep, large or small.”
My world has been pretty small this year, with much focus on medicine and treatment and recovery. I’m watching other artists/writers delve into the enormous outside world and pursue projects and contacts and new arenas, and I marvel that they have the stamina and courage to risk such exposure.
And then I read something like this article, and I get to see that art is everywhere.
#2. How I Decided to be a Lion.
by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas
“Be a Lion, Be a Fucking Wolf, Take No Shit, Set Goals, Smash Them. Eat People’s Faces Off. Be a Better Person. Stay the Mother Fucking Course. Show People Who the Fuck You Are. Never Apologize for Being Awesome.” All right, one shouldn’t eat peoples’ faces off nor use the F word so freely. But if I hadn’t yet decided to produce my own play, reading this quote would have nailed it for me.
See for too long I thought there was a formula for success and once I found it, I’d become the successful artist-person I wanted to be. So in my search I read Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson and Eckhart Tolle. I absorbed the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” and found no success. I bought into “Start With the End in Mind,” yet, mindful of that hoped-for end, nothing happened. I absorbed The Forum and watched The Secret. I even entertained the idea of Scientology until the negative aspects of that cult made it impossible to consider seriously.
I embraced the idea that there was actually something I could do or avoid doing that would ensure I would become a successful writer. I made a poster in power colors on which I pasted pictures of beautiful ranches and vacation spots I wanted to travel to and award daises where one day I’d accept a prestigious prize; all with the goal, promoted by the self-help gurus, that if I envisioned my—future, success, goal—what I dreamed of would happen. So I envisioned. I worked on my craft, kept writing and envisioned some more and believed and trusted and went out in the world and tried and tried and tried. And nothing.
All that envisioning started back in the early 80s and I’m over 50 now. You do the math. That’s a lot of years hoping for something to happen and not much of what was on my power poster has appeared. Some might say I didn’t envision hard enough or I was envisioning incorrectly but I figured out that for me–all that hoping was in fact handing off the responsibility for my success to somebody or some thing other than myself. It also ultimately made me feel “less than,” which is the opposite of what the positive thinking bandwagon makes a good deal of money promoting.
I really thought there was something I could do, someone I could become, some sort of mantle I could don that could make the people in control of who gets picked artistically pick me. This was true whether I was auditioning for a part I really wanted or, once I began writing, submitting a play that would capture the hearts and minds of the pickers who were in control of choosing what plays got put on. I just needed to figure out what that was and my name would be at the top of their list. Obviously all of this, over time, has proved to be completely fallacious reasoning. That’s not to say keeping hope alive isn’t important; I just wish I’d figured out earlier that I needed to be the lion because I wouldn’t have wasted so much time hoping somebody would step up and roar for me. Well fuck waiting for something to happen; time to make some noise.
Coming up next: Selecting the play.Tweet
I created my first chapbook and shared it among my fellow writers in my method writing class. “Process” is the philosophy and the practice of the class. It was not about the product. The reward of the process was the product, and for the class it was putting together a chapbook that contained a collection of writings we had done during the class. The philosophy was to write from the deep voice and to express this voice using tools.
I looked over the pages I had written over the past 10 weeks of the class. I couldn’t find any real gems that stood out or was good enough to publish into a chapbook. I found my journal entries were scattered themes, and showed my tendency to avoid getting into the story of who I am. But I had to mine what I’d done, or make something new with what I already knew. I felt frustrated and fear that the raw stuff wasn’t good enough. I lashed out my feelings in unusual ways, and learned something about my behavior patterns when I feel at a loss. It felt like school when I would cram the night before an exam and wished that I had gone to class and done the homework.
I stuck with it, and I found some entries I could rework and dig deeper into. I surprised myself at what came forth. It was a slippery slope, though in the end I got enough material to make a decent chapbook. The five pieces I put into the chapbook were made up of: a new poem, three journal entries (that I polished from its raw form) and one from one of my blogs from way way back (“Play It Loud”). I reviewed the blogs before picking one. I felt dismayed and disappointed in the lack of eye and attention I had put into some of them. I saw my attention was more about the product rather than the process. After getting it out of me, I published it without putting in the extra time and elbow grease to clean up mistakes and edit parts that would be make some ideas more palatable and digestible.
What I learned, in keeping myself within the boundaries of the material, was that I still had to edit and polish the rough stuff. This has been my weakness in writing – going over the raw material and shaping it into something that has worth to somebody. In creating the chapbook I also learned to care about the product. Sounds confusing right? Didn’t I just finish a writing class about the process and not the product? It’s like acting, as described by the teacher. The best acting is acting without making it a conscious effort. Writing with process in mind is being aware of the tools without product in mind, and being consistent to a schedule of writing. When I do this then my writing will lead to a product.
The relationship of my chapbook to my blog is I need to pay attention to what I’m bringing to the writing of the blog. What I’m sharing with you are the truth of my stories, how skillful I am to write from a deep voice and some basic grammar tools. I remind myself to take care of the basics and then I’ll have something of worth to share with you.Tweet