I think a lot of stories reflect the subtext of the hero’s need to belong. It begins as a want for something outside of herself that she believes would make her be acceptable, loveable and eligible to belong to a group/family. A simple idea of a shampoo commercial that depicts a pretty woman with gorgeous hair, and how suddenly this product makes her attractive to the world around her and now she belongs to the ideal of beautiful.
I didn’t know until I read the analyses by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes of the fairytale “The Ugly Duckling” (written by Hans Christian Andersen) that this story holds deeply textured meanings in terms of Jungian psychoanalysis. The chapter “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing” in her book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, is devoted to describing the movement of characters through the different archetypes of: the Innocent; the Orphan, the Martyr; the Wanderer, the Warrior and the Magician. (She does not specifically use the terminology listed, but the concept is there.)
A common thread that runs through each stage of the journey as the Ugly Duckling shifts from one stage to the next stage is his desire to belong and his never-ending search for this sense of belonging (which is essentially home.) Dr. Estes awakens the reader to the significance of the Ugly Duckling’s movement from the river’s nest to the marsh, the farm, and finally the lake. In each locale he meets with groups with which he tries to fit in; or who tries to make him fit in; but inevitably he needs to continue his quest because the “shoes never quite fit in” for the hero. This need to never give up is attributable to the call of the wild.
“The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what. The wild nature instinctively holds on and holds outs, sometimes with style, other times with little grace, but nevertheless. And thank goodness for that. For the wildish woman, duration is one of her greatest strengths.” – from “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I work in a corporate environment where, as any large body of people, change is slow to happen; and communication, though stressed to be of high importance, can be challenging because of the large mix of individuals needing to work together for a common purpose. One method of communication within our group are forms. There are specific templates for something that needs to communicate something specific.
There is a new form called “Project Commitment Form” that needs to be filled out and reviewed to get it to a stage of getting approval for funding of projects. This form begins with a statement that defines the “Business Problem”. When I met with the first reviewer, she started with “you did a marvelous job, but…” Then she continued to say, “I’ve never had to fill out one of these forms, but…” At the end of the meeting I absorbed the suggestions and incorporated most of the changes, but hung on, at least, to my version of the “Business Problem”.
After the meeting and sending out polite emails I went home, but something didn’t sit right in my belly. What am I hanging on to that does not belong to me anymore I asked myself. To say the mantra “Let it go” repeatedly was pointless unless I meant it. At the end of the day, I said to myself, I’m just trying to conform, and get the job done with some personal integrity left. That was the kicker for me – I was attached to the final result. I now see that the document shows responsibility and accountability for approving a project for funding in a language and format that is understood from their perspective and not mine. I’m writing for the audience and not me. The sense of belonging is defined in terms of what they need, and not my own.
I began to unwind the tight ball of confusion by reading “The Ugly Duckling”, and the wisdom unbound by Dr. Estes analyses brought the light to eyes. I had been trying to “fit in” so hard at work to the best that I can; and even then there’s always room for improvement as is often conveyed through the annual performance review. Isn’t there just a point in time, during your employment years with a company where you just fit in? or does the criteria change with each change of leadership, or change in what’s new and trendy for “process” and “methodology”, including (even) vocabulary?
“The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feel life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.” - from “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
After reading her analysis of the fairytale using Jungian psychoanalysis I felt enlightened and this gave me so much joy.
The next day I IM’ed a friend at work, “I’m so happy this morning I don’t know why.” The response was, “Do you need a why?”
I did know the source of the joyful feeling. It was that I truly let go of the result, and it came about by my internal inquiry combined with a serendipitous opening to a page in the book about The Ugly Duckling. (I found the book in a thrift store at Lake Elsinore during the weekend. The previous owner had written the word “= Grace” after “Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman.”)
I can define my belongingness in my own terms as acknowledging my boundaries. There is a real and imaginary line between what I take home with me and what I leave at work. The integrity asked of me and what I ask of myself has been fulfilled in that I created something that I share with a community; and it does not belong to me anymore. At the end of the day I go home to my family, and when the family retires to bed, and turns out the light then the dog is sure to follow. She imposes her weight against me like a falling sack of potatoes, telling me “I belong here with you.” It is a wonder to behold the irony of the extraordinary in the most ordinary of our daily routine – to lie down and rest and accept one’s truth.
I can’t put it more eloquently than Estes:
“So that is the final work of the exile who finds her own: to not only accepts one’s own individuality, one’s specific identity as a certain kind of person, but also to accept one’s beauty… the shape of one’s soul and the fact that living close to that wild creature transforms us and all that it touches.” – from “Women Who Run With the Wolves”.
I spent the weekend in San Diego – in the basement theatre of San Diego Rep, to be exact – for the National New Play Network festival. It’s my third new play festival this year (I also went to Humana in Louisville, Kentucky and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia.) As I’ve written before, it’s INCREDIBLY helpful for us as playwrights to see new plays.
New play festivals are a bit like Fashion Week – you get a preview of the new season – not what will be hanging on the rack at Nordstrom’s, but what will be listed in the season ticket brochure at theatres around the country.
You can also spot trends. Not exposed zippers and the Pantone color of the year, but what playwrights are doing in their work that keeps showing up all the time.
Here’s a few of the emerging trends spotted at the NNPN’s festival:
- Direct Address: several plays used this device. It works as shorthand, delivering internal monologues and exposition in an efficient manner. Though to me as an audience member, it doesn’t have the same resonance as a scene between two characters. There’s blood on the floor when characters are confronting each other. You can’t look away. The energy literally bounces off the wall. When there’s sexual chemistry, we’re right there as peeping Toms, blushing and getting aroused and wondering what’s going to happen next. And even long monologues delivered to another character seem fuller, richer, more punchy than directing them to the audience.
- Humor: nearly every one of the six plays I saw was funny. Not necessarily knock down physical humor or an evening full of zingers, but lines that made you smile or surprised you and made when you laugh out loud. Even the stage directions were funny! Serious topics handled with humor made an audience want to stay through the painful parts of the story.
- Obsession: several plays had main characters who were obsessed. Two were trying to find absent ancestors. (I’m not sure I understood WHY these characters were obsessed, but boy, is that a handy tool for getting your protagonist moving! Other characters tell them they’re crazy, but they just keep keeping on. They were like bulldozers, ploughing through obstacles on their way over the cliff.)
- Larger casts than you’d think: I know. We’ve all been told don’t dare write a play with more than three characters if you ever want to harbor a hope of production. That wasn’t the case at the NNPN’s festival! Several plays boasted of more than half a dozen actors playing lots of characters. And these are plays that at least ONE theatre wants to produce!
- Slavery: Two of the six plays dealt with slavery – one a highly comic, stylized piece set at the deathbed of Martha Washington; the other a search for the ancestor who jumped a slave ship. A third play dealt with racial injustice of the 1960’s, the generational remains of slavery.
- Absent fathers: Lots of missing parents in these plays. A father in jail whose teenager ends up in foster care, a biracial girl looking for her African-American father and grandfather, an obsessive compulsive painter who wasn’t looking for his absent father directly, but certainly his abandonment of the family fed son’s condition. Slaves sired by white masters were also fatherless. One father who seemed to be missing in action was merely hiding out in the den until he was needed to deliver the best monologue I’ve heard in a while about how you want a bitch of a mother to be on the front line fighting for you. I’m not sure what this says about our society today with all these missing dads.
- Theatricality. Not every play reached beyond the naturalistic, but there were elements of theatricality in everything. One used the tinkling of a bicycle bell to spur memory. Another structured the play backwards to forwards. One play included actors carrying on in a bad TV movie behind the main action. There were game shows, swimming fish, even a Viking ship onstage. The most successful pieces took a chance on larger-than-life happenings.
Never heard of NNPN? It’s basically a way for playwrights to get not just a world premiere, but also a second, third, and on and on – future productions. Pick a NNPN theatre. Submit your script. Next year, it could be YOUR play that sets the trends for theatres across the country.
by Diane Grant
I was going to go on and on, following my last post, about John Fletcher and The Tamer Tamed, which I borrowed from the library. “Wow,” said the librarian, “he couldn’t come up with a better title than that?” He tried. It was also called The Woman’s Prize.
Reading it was a revelation. Fletcher was twenty five when he wrote this wild, raunchy feminist piece, which used Shakepeare’s characters and turned his premise upside down. Petruchio the “tamer” is “tamed” by his second wife Maria who is joined by women from town and country in a sex strike, a la Lysistrata, in which chamberpots are prominently featured. Bianca, Kate’s sister, is her avid supporter. What a kick.
Shakespeare couldn’t have been too upset. He and Fletcher co-wrote three plays after The Tamer Tamed in 1611 and Fletcher became the chief dramatist of the The King’s Men when Shakespeare retired.
Well, that’s enough of going on and on.
The point is that I wouldn’t have thought as much about these plays had I not been blogging for the lafpi. And because it’s just after Thanksgiving and near the end of the year, I thought I’d just express my thanks for that opportunity and for all that the lafpi does.
It’s so good to share and to connect with so many, all of us in this same boat. Let’s keep rowing.Tweet
By Diane Grant
This summer, I saw a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. It was well acted and directed, fast paced, full of movement and meant for fun.
But I felt as if I were being plunged into a cold bath.
My God, I thought, what was that?
I went home to read about the play, written between 1590 and 1594, and soon realized that it would take years (or at least a semester or two) to go through all the literature and the reviews.
It is according to the Folger’s Edition, an “entertaining farce on a topic of eternal interest,” – the battle of the sexes. According to George Bernard Shaw, it’s a play that is ‘altogether disgusting to modern sensibility.’ (Perhaps it wasn’t just modern sensibility that was offended. John Fletcher, a contemporary of Shakespeare, rebutted Shrew saying in his epilogue to The Tamer Tamed that his play was “meant/ To teach both Sexes due equality; And as they stand bound, to love mutually.”)
Ellen Geer, the director of the production at Theatricum, says, “The many years of discussion and scholarly investigation about this dear and loved piece is endless and changes throughout the ages as societies decide what it REALLY means. Yada, yada, yada.”
Sir Laurence Olivier, who played the role Katherine, when he was fifteen, also thought it was a farce.
But could it really be a farce? A farce is something you laugh at.
How can you laugh at the arranged marriage between a man, Petruchio, who marries an angry and unhappy woman for money and who says of his wife, Katherine, “She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house.?” How can you hope that this marriage can be saved when Petruchio deprives his wife of food and sleep, subjects her to public and private humiliation and who on subjugating her, makes a bet with other men about whose wife is the most obedient?
Here Katherine, in her ending monologue, speaks as the tamed shrew and advises women:
KATE: Fie, fie, unknit that threat’ning unkind brow
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience–
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
Whey they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.
In the 1929 movie with Mary Pickford as Katherine and Douglas Fairbanks as Petruchio, as Katherine delivers the ending monologue, she winks toward her sister, Bianca, unseen by Petruchio. Bianca smiles back, an acknowledgment that Katherine has not been tamed at all.
I don’t know. Wink or no, it still makes me feel pretty damned chilly.
By Diane Grant
I recently read this: “Until you start standing up for your work, you can’t expect anyone else to.” It seems obvious but it’s a very tricky statement.
The director is the King or Queen of the rehearsal room and as such has the primary responsibility of bringing the play to life. He or she is involved in all stages of the process, including set design and pre-production and the finished performances. That’s a given.
I’ve directed and know this. I love directing and always get such joy out of working with actors on their feet. I love watching the play evolve, the characters grow, their relationships deepen. I’m energized by the passionate discussions about what things mean and the discoveries that come from them. When everything comes together and the tempo and tone are right, it is hugely satisfying.
What I don’t really know is how the playwright’s role differs. If you are a playwright, privileged to have a production of one of your own plays in a theater in your own community, what is your role in rehearsal? Are you “allowed” to attend rehearsals? If you are in attendance, how do you behave? What is the relationship of the playwright to the director and actors?
Most of the time, producers, directors, and playwrights don’t know the answers to those questions.
The best answers I’ve seen are in the contract from The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (written in consultation with The Dramatists Guild) that has the following provisions:
The author hereby agrees to:
2.2.1 Perform such services as may be necessary in making revisions of the PLAY;
2.2.2 Assist in the selection of the cast and consult with, assist, and advise the THEATRE, director, scenic, lighting, costume, sound designers, choreographer and/or dance director, stage combat/fight choreographer, and conductor, if any, regarding any problem arising out of the production of the PLAY (if the AUTHOR is available).
2.2.3 Attend rehearsals of the PLAY, as well as previews, and the Official Press Opening, provided he/she is in residence or is available to do so, and provided that, however, the AUTHOR may be excluded from such attendance on showing reasonable cause.
I would also like a provision that stipulates the necessity of initial collaborative discussions between producers, directors and playwright. During that time, if it becomes obvious that the producers’ and/or the director’s interpretation of the tone, style and meaning of the play differ from the playwright’s, the differences can be worked out before the rehearsal process begins.
Without this contract, I’ve gone into productions thinking that I didn’t have a voice. Past experiences convinced me I didn’t. Directors listened to nothing I said. My role was to rewrite and clarify bits of dialogue and stage directions and nothing more. I was shut out often enough that I stopped raising my voice and hand and sat in rehearsals, submerged and silent. In some instances, I developed an almost reactive formation in which I acted against my own instincts and just let things happen.
The ALAP contract provides guidelines for everyone involved and gives playwrights the right to be an equal part of the team. I will not do another production without that contract in hand.
It’s the beginning of standing up for your own work.Tweet
I’ve let all of my professional memberships lapse this year. It’s not because the value I place on them has lessened, it’s because I’m absolutely living-off-my-credit-cards broke.
Every time I get a Dramatists Guild newsletter, or an LMDA listserve digest, I feel guilty. And sad. I consider tacking their membership dues onto my “I’ll never pay it off anyway” Mastercard, and then get even more depressed because the last thing I need to do is collect interest on membership dues in addition to all the interest I’m already collecting on gas, food, and toilet paper.
I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the Universe is testing me or if I’m only perpetuating my personal crisis by trying to find meaning here in the “What am I doing wrong?” zone of under/un-employment.
And maybe this week’s Black Friday Bludgeon-a-thon tipped me over into even drabber waters, because I really can’t help but be so focused on the deepening divide in this country between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots”.
We are not so far from a Hunger Games world as we think.
Which has me thinking: Why aren’t there more movies and plays being produced that tap into today’s economic and social crises? I admit, living in AZ – and now TX (yeehaw!) – has me at a disadvantage; I do not have my finger on the pulse of American theater. (I’ve had to let my TCG membership go as well – I miss you American Theater Magazine!) But I continue to read books and plays like a fiend and I consider my $5 movie matinees a forgivable splurge. I also spend (too much) time online, trying to stay abreast of theatrical conversations and to feed my artistic self with updates about what is happening.
I try to stay up to date on what people are writing about and what audiences are gobbling up.
And I’d like to see more stories about the struggles going on in the trenches.
I read The Hunger Games series shortly after it came out. No, I take that back… I devoured that series shortly after it came out. I listened to friends talk about how the author didn’t “demonstrate the best craft,” and rolled my eyes, because they were eating the books up almost as fast as I was.
You see, the story is gripping. The characters are compelling. And the issues at play in the series are indeed very relevant, because – thematically speaking – we already live in a panem et circenses era.
Therefore, Hunger Games Fever is stoked not only by the story’s entertainment factors, but by our own class issues, hang-ups, and battles as well. And it’s a HUGE box office success which means the story is reaching people. There are many films, plays, and books that never enjoy the kind of commercial success the Hunger Games has achieved – so I’m not arguing that we need to make commercialism our goal! But what I am suggesting is that audiences, while still wanting to be “entertained”, are also starved for relevance… and that IS a worthwhile goal.
We playwrights need to ask ourselves, thematically, what’s going to move today‘s audience? To make people laugh harder, gasp louder, and think more fully? To create the kinds of worlds and characters that compel an audience to act?
I don’t want to pacify an audience.
I don’t want to be part of the circus.
I want to break the circus down and get people up on their feet!
But that’s a big wish. Even the project I’m referencing – The Hunger Games – which had a profound effect on my busy little mind, is still “just” a book. “Just” a movie… I don’t see people refusing to buy up bits of tabloid what-not written about Jennifer Lawrence because – as is dramatized in the story – they now see that PR is all just illusion aimed to distract us from the pain behind the “circus” of life.
Still… I’m also probably not the only person making such a connection either.
We writers are all throwing stories into the ring, hoping one will catch the eye of the Ring Leader so that he/she will present it to the audience in grand fashion. (Unless we become Ring Leaders ourselves…) Isn’t every story just a part of the circus until someone receives it as more than?
I might be stretching the analogy a little thin…
All I know is, I’m out here on the perimeter looking in – as many writers and artists are – observing this spinning world from my own little nook, trying to say something worthwhile. It’s a tough place to be sometimes, what with also living on planet Earth and locked in near constant financial aerobics in order to stay afloat. I don’t always have the perfect words. Sometimes it takes me months to get a scene “Just right”. But people ask me what kind of plays I write, and I realize that the one thing my works all have in common is that they always tackle something bigger than myself.
Whether my intent is to make my audience laugh or cry, I always want them to leave the theater thinking. I don’t want to distract them from the ugliness that is around them – I want to point at it, analyze it, laugh and scream at it…
There are a lot artists out there trying to achieve the same thing: to awaken the audience.
I just didn’t realize how important that “awakening” was until my life became less about “Which new boots am I going to buy with this week’s wages?” and more about “How am I going to eat this week?”
And, unfortunately, until I can stop answering that grocery question with my Mastercard, it looks like I’ll have to continue putting off paying all those membership dues.
But I’ll still be here – applying for jobs like motherf***er, trying to write stories that really move people, and hoping that enough someone-elses want to hear what I have to say that those stories I’m throwing into the ring start sticking.
It seems I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about whether or not artists should be paid/expect to be paid/pay their own way for the art they make/etc., and it’s making me grumpy.
It’s making me grumpy because in every case the author presupposes so much on behalf of the artists they purport to speak for/hypothesize on behalf of. In every case, the author claims that (paraphrasing here to be sure – every article has had it’s own particular focus) “Artists shouldn’t expect to make money with their art – they should do it because a fiery passion to make art burns within” and “So, get a second or third job, surrender any hopes that you will ever own anything nice, and do what you love because you love it – not because you ever hope to make a living with it.”
Let me be clear: I tell every student who wants to work professionally in the theater that it’s NOT an easy road. That many of them will find that their paths take them in different directions than they intend. That it’s okay if one day they decide they don’t want to be an actor/playwright/director after all. I tell them that being an artist may not meet their economic standards, and that – yes – you need to really love this crazy profession in order to pursue it, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have separating you from a complete artistic meltdown.
Because it’s not a field where you can walk into ridiculously high-paying gigs fresh out of college or simply by making the right connections. It’s not a field that pays highly, or “fairly”, or even sometimes at all.
In fact, much of the time, it pays nothing at all.
But I don’t tell them that they should suffer for their art, even though they might. I don’t tell them that an artist should not ever expect, nor anticipate, nor (even) hope for, a paycheck someday.
Because if I do, then what does that say about how I value their art?
Art takes time. It takes materials. It takes energy. If I write a play, I have to put in incredible time: the time to hone my craft, to write the script, to edit it, not to mention the time it takes to shop it around… That time isn’t “free” if I have to balance it against other jobs that pay and hopes for a personal life. I’m carving that time out of the hours I’m supposed to be living/nurturing relationships with friends and family/making love/experiencing the world around me/etc.
Time is not free.
And then there are the materials an artist uses to make their art. As a playwright, I have to own a laptop or a desktop or at least a notebook and lots of pens in order to get my words down on paper/or/screen. I have to have a place to make my art – whether it’s my apartment or Starbucks or the park. I have to feed myself, clothe myself, pay my electric bills… all of these “material goods” go into my ability to write.
And in order to hone my craft, find the time, and to supply the materials, I need money.
So, if I am working a job that is not in the arts to earn this money I need to make my art (as many of us do), then I am essentially working (at least) two jobs at all times: the one that pays and the one that doesn’t… yet.
Why is it so wrong then to hope that one day the play I write might pay me back with a bit of extrinsic gain in order to help my body and soul enjoy the intrinsic? That “gain” may take the form of royalties, speaking fees, or a faculty position – and it may not be a lot, but receiving something other than a pat on back goes a long way in validating years of hard work put into evolving one’s artistic self.
I don’t think it’s asking a lot for artists to seek compensation.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to value their art more than just “art for art’s sake”
I do think that those who pass on the “You’ll never make money with your art and you shouldn’t want to” lie to other artists are merely perpetuating a malfunctioning system’s philosophy of self-preservation.
It’s not evil to hope that your art will one day help pay the bills instead of merely adding to them.
It’s not delusional to think that our current “Eat or be eaten” system can be improved.
There’s nothing wrong with theater companies seeking out new business models in the hopes of creating a life for their artists that includes less suffering and more art-making through financial support, be they commissions, salaries, or even just good-old-fashioned stipends.
Stop telling people what they should intend with their art. Stop telling artists that giving it away for free/or/next to nothing is just the name of the game.
Because that kind of condescension does nothing to change the game.
Hey hey, it’s Turkey Day! Er, Day Before Black Friday-day? Get Drunk With Your In-Laws Day?
Oh – haha – it’s Thanksgiving day. And there is SO much to be thankful for!
So aside from the usual gratitude points like family and friends and food and shelter and chocolate, there are things going on in the playwriting world that merit some LAFPI thanks.
Gender Parity it making progress. Kitty Felde did a nice write up about the DC/VA/MD theater commitment to producing female playwrights, and American Theater Magazine recently shared the list of most produced plays for 2013-14 of which HALF are by women!
This is good news.
Additionally, there are a host of female playwright centered festivals offering opportunities to lady scribes, so there’s really no excuse NOT to be writing, submitting, and submitting some more.
So let’s spend some time in gratitude land this afternoon for all that is good and evolving!
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It’s been nearly 6 years since I graduated with my MFA in Playwriting and I’ve yet to land a permanent job of any kind. On one hand, this sort of lifestyle has afforded me the kind of creative flexibility that I crave. On the other, well, a girl can only eat so many cans of Spaghettios.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my path at present because I currently find myself on the job hunt again – this time in Texas! – and I’m contemplating applying for a 9-5 desk job even though I know it will greatly detract from my writing time. I’m kind of tired of the never-shrinking stack of bills on my desk. I’m kind of tired of putting off things like planning our wedding and talking about babies because I can’t afford it.
But I’m curious what ya’ll do to stay afloat. Ideas? Tips? Anyone else out there feel like a jack of all trades but a master of none? I look at the list of jobs I’ve held since graduation and it makes my head spin. No wonder I’m tired! I’ve never held fewer than two jobs at once, and for the last three years I’ve been juggling at least three.
What’s a lady playwright supposed to do?
by Kitty Felde
I have an orphan play that keeps getting readings, but no production. I’m sure you have one, too. Mine is a play for young audiences with a controversial topic – a character in blackface – and revolves around a holiday festival most Americans know nothing about. (And I wonder why nobody’s produced it yet!)
I’ve discovered the reality of the marketplace in children’s theatres these days: lots of new plays are being produced, but nearly all of them are based on favorite children’s books or Disney movies. Like Hollywood, these theatres are surviving by offering audiences the familiar and the famous.
So I decided to adapt my play to a chapter book. I even found an agent who is shopping it around to children’s book publishers.
But now, news about the topic of my play is breaking out worldwide. I just wish I knew how to capitalize on it.
And so I appeal to you, the great brain trust of LAFPI.
The Netherlands celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday on December 25th – though I found the churches sadly empty of anyone under the age of 100 when I lived there. Instead, Holland celebrates December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas – or, as he is known in Holland, Sinterklaas.
Most Americans know Sinterklaas from one thing: the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Edmund Gwenn as Santa speaks to the little Dutch war orphan and sings the Sinterklaas song.
What most Americans don’t know is that when Sinterklaas arrives in Holland by boat from Spain (don’t ask), he’s accompanied by his buddy Zwarte Piet. That’s literally translated as Black Pete. And yes, it’s a Dutch person in blackface, complete with a bad Afro, overly large red lips, hoop earrings, and a clown-like costume.
The first time I saw Piet, I was appalled. My Dutch friends brushed off my reaction, insisting Pete was a Moor, or perhaps that dark from sliding down chimneys. They said he was a friend to Sinterklaas, not a slave. And that his crazy antics were amusing, not meant to ridicule people of color. Yeah, right.
I found it particularly interesting that there were now many people of color living in The Netherlands – from Suriname and Turkey and Africa – but none of them were called upon to play Pete.
In The Hague, where I was covering war crimes trials, I talked to the only American judge at the Tribunal, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, an African-American former federal judge who became the Tribunal president. I asked her about Pete. She said every year, there was a debate in her group of African-American ex-pats about whether to make a big stink about Zwarte Piet or ignore him.
Judge McDonald became the inspiration for the adult character in my play THE LUCKIEST GIRL, the story of a ten year old African-American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, a lawyer at the Tribunal. Tahira is homesick. The last straw is when she discovers that Santa doesn’t come to Holland; instead, it’s Sinterklaas, and his politically incorrect buddy Zwarte Piet. Much to the horror of her grandmother, Tahira likes Piet.
This fall, UNESCO considered taking The Netherlands to task over Pete. And the Dutch reacted with a Facebook page devoted to Zwarte Piet that got a million likes in a DAY!
Everybody and their brother has been writing about the controversy: New Yorker, Huffington Post, the Economist, and tons of newspapers in Great Britain.
A bonanza, yes? Maybe.
So here’s my question for you playwrights smarter than me: what would you do to capitalize on this kind of publicity? Does it help or hurt the chances of a theatre doing the play? Should I be sending it to British children’s theatres? What should I be doing???
Meanwhile, I’m excited that THE LUCKIEST GIRL is getting another workshop reading at 11 AM, Sunday December 1st at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles as part of their fESTivity/LA 2013 series. (3269 Casitas Avenue, LA 90039)
It’s directed by Susie Tanner, who loves the script, and starring the two actors who should be playing Tahira and her Dutch friend Jan: Tamika Katon-Donegal and Whit Spurgeon.
Please, please, please post ideas about marketing. And come on down for the reading at EST. Zwarte Piet might even have pepernoten and suikergoed (gingerbread cookies and sweets) to toss to the audience.