NECESSARY EXPOSURE: THE FEMALE PLAYWRIGHT PROJECT opens September 1st at Dixon Place! This installation features portraits of 17 new female-identified playwrights along with interactive soundplays of their work, downloadable from iTunes. Search for Necessary Exposure on Facebook to stand behind their powerful words: “This is what a female playwright looks like. I want you to see them. When you seek plays to program, scripts to buy, curriculum to teach, I want you to remember.” #yes!!! #femaleplaywrights #wcw #wce #womenwriters #theater #theatre #writers #ladies #playwrights #nyc #nytheatre #nytheater #broadway
#15. The Critics – Should You Care?
Save a playwright, shoot a critic? Unwise; though many a playwright has thought about it. According to Bernardo Cubria, who helms a NY Theatre podcast called Off and On, “At some point in their lives, theatremakers develop hostility towards theatre critics.” To Bernardo I’d say, “Why bother?” One bad review doesn’t make or break a play, a playwright or a theatre; even if it feels that way sometimes and even if the person penning the review might like to think he’s got that kind of power. Similarly, a couple of great reviews won’t necessarily drive people to your play and turn it into a hit. And sometimes a bad review can even make people want to see a show.
If anyone remembers the controversial and often hostile New York Magazine critic, John Simon, now 90, you might know what I mean. His brand of theatre criticism was erudite but scathing and after reading a Simon review, I would often feel compelled to see the show that was the source of so much vitriol. A case in point was Joseph Papp’s Cymbeline. In Simon’s 1989 review of that show, he took apart (among other things) the actress, Joan Cusack, and her performance: “The heroine, considered by many, Shakespeare’s most golden girl and described right off as ‘divine Imogen’ is played by Joan Cusack, known from the movies as the low-comedy, lower-class, addlepated or wisecracking, homely sidekick of the leading lady. Here she looks like a travesty of Tenniel’s Alice after ingesting EAT ME (but having grown more sideways than upward) and talks in her usual proletarian accent and in that breathlessly breathy voice we associate with Saturday Night Live parodies… Miss Cusack remains ‘unimogenable.’” You can read the whole review here. Yes, it’s cruel but I think it’s also a case of so much hate being the flipside of love. To work up the passion to be so nasty, at least he cares! I think it’s way better to be hated than leave the likes of John Simon wholly indifferent. Personally, I miss this type of theatre criticism because as cruel as people thought Mr. Simon to be, he knows the English language and theatre history and, best of all, he was entertaining to his readers (unless of course you happen to be the victim of his ad hominem evisceration that week). As a playwright and novelist who’s developed a thick skin, I’d rather have a scathing John Simon review than a milktoast blogger spewing my plot back at me anyday.
But back to you… “I need to get critics to see my show!” you say. “If I don’t, people won’t come!” Possibly. But there are plenty of stories about shows by no-name writers, starring people no one knows, that somehow get traction, and go on to be successful. When these shows finally do get reviewed it’s almost embarrassing for a critic to admit he’s so late to the party. See it’s hard being a critic, too. Think about it, if she says awful things about the work, she’s accused of being cruel; if she’s too nice, she’s pandering.
Critics are just there, like your set, and they have always had a symbiotic relationship with theatre as well as the other art forms. They have just been opining longer and louder so we have elevated their opinions above those of every other person seeing shows or movies or museum exhibitions. Maybe we shouldn’t care so much.
Jonathan Mandell, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, has written about theater for Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, the New York Times, Newsday, Backstage, NPR.com and CNN.com, among other outlets. He currently blogs at New York Theater and tweets as @NewYorkTheater. HowlRound, which bills itself as a “knowledge commons by and for the theatre community” invited Mandell to answer the question: “Are Theatre Critics Critical. An Update.” In the post he quotes Mark Twain (along with several others of varying perspectives) on the value of critics and the future of criticism in general. Mandell’s been in the trenches and I recommend all aspiring producers read the piece. But in essence, Mandell thinks theatrical criticism no longer has the sway it once did.
As touched on in previous posts, our need to be reviewed stems from our fear that without good notices, our show will somehow not have the legitimacy needed to fill seats. But this isn’t true. There are other ways to get people to buy tickets and we all need to think more creatively about how to do that. There are too many tiny theatrical presentations, at least in LA, for the critics who count to get to them all. And even if they could, there’s no guarantee they will review your show with the enthusiastic pull-quotes you need to promote it on posters, websites and ads.
But don’t worry, the economics of supply and demand have kicked in—at least in LA—and, as a result, several things have occurred. The first is that the limited supply of what I’ll call the “power” reviewers has created a vacuum that’s been partially filled by bloggers and others who call themselves critics. They write for online sites like Stage Happenings that don’t have much clout with the LA theatre intelligentsia. Even a good review from one of these folks won’t motivate most of your potential audience to buy tickets. And yet, you may feel having a few of these independent blogger types review your show is better than nothing? It’s not for me to say. I would argue, however, that you should consider fresh ways to promote your show rather than grovel at the feet of critics, particularly critics with no clout. It’s a waste of time.
But if getting a critic or two to review your show is of utmost importance, there’s a sure fire way to get at least one person to write it up and this presents the next item on the list of what’s been spawned by the reviewer vacuum: since April 2015, producers in Los Angeles can pay for the privilege of being reviewed. That’s right, for $150, (or less if your show’s a “fringe” show) you can pay the creators of the Lemon Meter who run the online review-aggregator site known as Bitter Lemons to review it. I don’t think an artist should ever have to pay to be reviewed, but you can read all about what’s called the “Bitter Lemons Initiative” (BLI) in the BL boss’s own (and excessive number of) words and decide for yourself: http://socal.bitter-lemons.com/learn/article/2456
Even if you pay for your BL review, it’s still not going to have the weight of a review from the LA Times or NPR. That’s because a lot of seasoned theatregoers still don’t even go online. They trust their big local newspaper and nothing else. It’s also because another part of the theatre-going population goes to shows to support friends, damn the reviews. In 99-Seat theatre in LA, which I attend at least a couple of times a week, I see the same people in the house over and over. The new folks are usually friends of cast members I’ve never met. This is fine but it goes to the question of who the audience is for small theatre. I submit that most of the people in the houses of waiver theatre are not there because of the reviews. We all know each other. That said, in order to be really successful, one needs to break out of that womb, as it were, and reach an audience that might be interested in your play if they simply heard about it. This might mean getting a star in a lead role (see the casting post) or doing a play that’s particularly topical. So you see the problem isn’t really critics, it’s marketing and that starts way back when you’re considering what play of yours to produce.
As a group, critics are like any other. Some are good and some are terrible. Some have agendas they’re unable to put aside when writing a review. It rarely happens that everyone who sees your play, critic or not, is going to love it. What people think is out of your control. My advice: Don’t give critics that kind of power and just do your work. You didn’t write your play for critics and if you did, you might want to reassess your theatrical motives. Playwright and co-artistic director, Daniel Pinkerton, summed it up well in the comment section to Mandell’s post, “Does a bad review hurt some people? Yup. Is war hell? Yup. Next subject, please.”
End of Post
by Robin Byrd
If you weren’t there, you missed a PARTY! You missed a SHOW! Other than all us playwrights, here is who was there celebrating Stephen Schwartz in song and song and words and music and song, did I say song? And not just any song but songs by Stephen Schwartz, oh and Stephen, himself, sat down at the piano and took us for a spin! Can you tell I am still excited about it? Michael Kerker was there moderating and if you have ever gone to the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshops held around the country, you know how much fun it is to have Michael and Stephen in the same room. Brent Barrett and Susan Egan performed – you have not heard a musical till you’ve heard it done right, in character, full of life, exquisitely executed. Songwriting/musical writing collaborators, Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner performed — stop playing! Them some bad boys. Their presentation should be a musical! John Boswell served as musical director/accompanist; he did not miss a beat. I just wanted to know how he knew all those songs – the repertoire was seamless. Thank you ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and Dramatists Guild for letting us all enjoy this evening extraordinaire.
Picture from ASCAP page “Honoring Stephen Schwartz at the DG Conference” http://www.ascap.com/playback/2015/07/faces-and-place/musical-theatre/stephen-schwartz-dg.aspx
Stephen Schwartz is one of the most generous, down-to-earth persons, I have met. He shares his talent on so many levels, all the time; Stephen Schwartz is a national treasure. I have learned so much about the spark of creativity and how to mine for gold from just sitting in on his talks. As a person and as an artist, he deserves every accolade and I am so happy that we can celebrate his musical genius and let him know how much we love him…Tweet
by Robin Byrd
Writing Wrongs – Part 1 (Teaching Playwriting to Underserved Communities, Overview)
Ruby Berryman Englewood Boys: A Play on Portraiture
Cheryl Coons Storycatchers Theatre
“In this new national Dramatists Guild (DG) initiative, artists share ways they’ve given voice to others who would most benefit from self-expression. They’ve worked with victims of genital mutilation, adults in prison, incarcerated and court-involved youth, respectively. They’ll share how this work has been life-changing for everyone involved.” This is the description of the Writing Wrongs session one from the conference program book.
The men, the women, the children…
There were black and white pictures placed in the seats; not all of the seats but a few here and there. During her talk on her performance piece created in a prison, Ruby Berryman’s strategically placed portraits of inmates helped to create moments of intrigue for the audience. Impact: the visual portraits along with the description of how the project came to be and how it worked put us in the shoes of the inmates, if ever so briefly. As writers, we know what triggers story and to hear Ruby discuss how she was able to pull stories out of – non-writers /new to writing – men who before she gave them a place to create had never told their stories, was inspiring. At the end of her talk she had the audience bring the portraits to the front of the room and display them. Impact: we became the exhibit. Imagine an inmate with newly formed skills to tell his story, realizing his words could have…impact.
Sia Amma is a comedienne; her talk was peppered with jokes and laughter. Her subject matter was in no way funny beyond her comedic timing and hilarious take on how to make the most horrible thing speak-able. To utter it, to say it out loud, to hear it hit the air, female genital mutilation must be stopped! Impact: every person in the room was acutely aware of the atrocity of cutting off any part of the clitoris and/or vulva. It is unimaginable… We are changed forever…
Poet Nikky Finney has a poem titled “The Clitoris” from her book HEAD OFF & SPLIT “…New studies show the shy curl to be longer than the penis, but like Africa, the continent, it is never drawn to size…” the poem starts at 5:48.
Cheryl Coons works with the children; her Storycatchers Theatre teaches them a new way to navigate the world. She discussed her program with court-involved and at-risk youth and her process of getting the youth to open up and to participate in the program. Her program has received national recognition for its track record with this program. Impact: we remember the children. We imagine the change.
The theme for the 2015 National Conference was Writing the Changing World or the abbreviated form #writechange. The top of the handout for this session and the workshop session asks for playwrights to share their projects with the Dramatists Guild in an effort to connect and share information with other playwrights doing the same sort of thing. This session was also a call to action.
Impact: we see theater as a great resource to effect change in the environment, lives, and life choices of our communities; we simply must re-imagine the uses of the stage.
Starting or participate in a Writing Wrongs program, please contact Faye Sholiton firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your project and some of the challenges you’re facing. Please tell about your project(s) and link us to your website. In that way, we can share your information with teaching artists embarking on similar projects. The Dramatists Guild hopes to offer a Writing Wrongs idea exchange on the Dramatists Guild website in the near future.
Writing Wrongs – Part 2 (Teaching Playwriting to Underserved Communities, Workshop)
Suze Allen 3 Girls Theatre
Melissa Denton The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company
Francesca Piantadosi From Prisoners to Playwrights: Why youth at MacLaren are learning to write plays
“This session features practical techniques to work with reluctant and often traumatized writers. Coaches will take you through initial trust-building steps, using group and individual exercises. An introduction to what it takes to open hearts and minds – and the potential for small triumphs along the way.” This is the description of the Writing Wrongs session two from the conference program book.
The playwrights (Suze Allen, Melissa Denton, and Francesca Piantadosi) in this session were a great follow-up for the previous session. Once you have a call to action, what do you do next? These playwrights answered those questions. Each gave pointers on how to interact with the group participants.
The sessions were hosted by Larry Dean Harris, our Southern California Regional Representative.
by Robin Byrd
July 16, 2015 at the National Dramatists Guild Conference. We were exhausted and exhilarated and ready for the rest of the week. Our workshop presentation Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation cover sheet and bios went really well. I don’t know about the other ladies but the content of some of the sessions, I attended, had me spinning. Such profound insight and resolve to do the best work and create the best art – just to be in the room with these artists was inspiring.
Some of my favorite sessions were The Global Impact of Diversity on our Stages with panelists: Lydia R. Diamond, Rehana Lew Mirza, Mike Lew and moderated by Christine Toy Johnson and The DG Fund Presents: Beyond Emerging: The Stages of a Writer’s Life with panelists: Lydia Diamond, Christine Toy Johnson, Mike Lew and moderated by Seth Cotterman. Will talk about those later.
Speaking of the Dramatists Guild Fund, they gave away free T-shirts in exchange for a bit of encouragement sharing. I got a T-shirt with “Always try to do more than you know you can.” – a saying by Edward Albee that can be found in his interview in The Legacy Project: Volume 1. After writing our saying down on a sticky, it was placed on the DG Fund Encouragement Wall. (#KeepWriting) Totally awesome! My saying is “Always be writing…”
I had plans for another blog post this week, but I stumbled into something a lot of fun this weekend, and now I’m going to write about that instead. Because I want all my theatre friends in LA to know about this awesome community project going on in Boyle Heights.
I’ve lived in Boyle Heights for 5 years, and I absolutely love it. It’s a warm, friendly, welcoming neighborhood full of family-run businesses and amazing street art. For at least a year now, I’ve been aware of ‘The Shop’, a new community engagement program that the Center Theatre Group has been running in Boyle Heights, where through workshops, classes and events every weekend, local residents are invited to participate in art and theatre making. My friend Jesus Reyes, Creative Artistic Director of East LA Rep and CTG Program Manager, facilitates and leads the team managing this wonderful initiative. I’ve seen his pictures and updates on Facebook for months now, but due to travels and a crazy schedule, I never actually was able to go. Until now!
Yesterday morning, I was taking a walk and happened to see that CTG had set up their ‘Shop’ at Self-Help Graphics on 1st street. Excited, I stopped in to say hi to Jesus, and found out that they were going to be making masks and puppets – MASKS AND PUPPETS – all day! The stars aligned. My afternoon was free. I stopped by with my roommate for the afternoon session and got to dive right in.
So the program that’s happening right now is the ‘Community as Creators’ project. Over the course of several weekends this summer and fall, Boyle Heights residents gather to collectively create and shape a show that will be a retelling of the Mayan legend of Popul Vuh. The show will go up in October at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, and Grand Park in Downtown LA. These community workshop participants help create the characters, props, music, and may also eventually act in the show, depending on where their interests lie. When I stepped in this weekend, the process was already several weeks underway. So what I got to do was help paper-mache the giant masks that will be used on stage!
I can’t tell you how much fun it was to lose myself completely in this crafts project after weeks and weeks of sitting at my desk writing. I got to know my neighbors in the best, most organic way, as I shared tables with people from all over East LA (I even got to know my roommate better!). The energy was fantastic, and lots of families showed up to spend the whole day in this fun artistic activity. I did the afternoon session of Saturday, and the morning session of Sunday, and managed to get all the way through paper-mache-ing a giant human mask!
Major props to Teatro Campesino who are producing this project, and Beth Peterson, the puppet artist who guided all the workshop participants through the process of creating these beautiful, vivid masks.
LAFPI readers – I highly recommend checking this out next weekend in Boyle Heights. The paper mache process will still be underway (it will actually be the final weekend of the mask workshop). It’s a rewarding, relaxing, even therapeutic way to spend a day, collectively creating something that will be part of a beautiful theatrical presentation, truly representing the heart and spirit of Los Angeles.
Here’s the blurb with more info! Or tweet me at @madplays with any questions on the experience.
Center Theatre Group
Free Puppet and Mask Making Workshops!
Discover the artista in you! Come and help us create puppets and masks for the upcoming El Teatro Campesino production of the Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven based on the Mayan creation myth. Master Puppet Maker la Beth Peterson brings her special talent to Boyle Heights and needs gente to help her build giant puppets, wood people and animal masks that will be part of the show. Come on, show off your talent, join us!
All workshops are free and will be held at Self-Help Graphics and Arts on Saturdays and Sundays. There are two opportunities each day to jump in:
10am–1pm: Mask work
2pm–5pm: Puppet work
Dates: 7/11, 7/12, 7/18, 7/19, 7/25, 7/26, 8/1, 8/2
Self-Help Graphics and Arts 1300 E. First St., LA 90033
• Bilingual in Spanish/English • Open to all levels of experience • Open to all ages • All materials will be provided • Snacks & beverages provided.
To reserve a spot or for more information please contact: Jesús Reyes, Community Partnerships Manager 213.972.8028 or jreyes@CenterTheatreGroup.org
(I’ve decided that my LAFPI blogging week will be nothing but clickbait headlines. Tomorrow – This Procrastinating Playwright Opened her Final Draft Document and You Will Never Believe What Happened Next.)
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be on a playwriting panel, alongside extremely esteemed company, highly distinguished writers with established careers (basically, I was way outclassed here.) It was titled “The Playwrights’ Voice.” What was most interesting to me was that it was a very romantic title for what turned out to be a rather unromantic (but wonderfully fascinating, much needed) conversation. What inspires a playwright’s voice? It depends – it changes from play to play, as it should. What impedes a playwright’s voice the most? Lack of time, money and resources. Prosaic details that I was so happy we were talking about, because mere survival is so intrinsically tied into the ability to write.
At the end of this discussion, we ended with a question from a young playwright in the crowd. She asked us if we could share our writing rituals, if there was anything special we did in our process to get us in the mood. What did we need in the room? We were quiet for a second, and then I said, “Deadlines.” There were a few chuckles, then the other writers went on to give lovely, kind, thoughtful answers about the kind of music they listened to, how they liked their room and writing space, whether they wrote in coffee shops, how long each play took. I sat there feeling a little embarrassed for how snotty I’d been – even though it was totally true. The only thing I need to write is a reason to write, and for me, that’s a deadline, a guarantee that my work would be read.
But also, I was feeling a little sensitive because I have a problem with this question. We just love reading about the rituals of writers, about renting a cabin in the woods vs writing in public, about the latest scriptwriting software and internet-blocking tools, the hidden inspirations of working on a typewriter or writing longhand on legal pads, those “this is how I work” posts on Lifehacker, but all of that does not help us in the least. I mean, it helps if you’re looking to procrastinate, but there are better ways to procrastinate. The only thing that matters is what helps you finish a goal – whatever helps you finish that damn play. And that’s something everyone figures out on their own. In their own time.
And now, I’m going to cheat and just paste one of my favorite insights into creative writing rituals from the brilliant Seth Godin. This is an excerpt from his interview on Copyblogger (which I highly recommend reading or listening to in its entirety.)
Brian: (Laughs) So give us some insight into where the ideas come from, what’s your editorial process. Do you kind of wing it, or is it more planned out where you want to take people over time?
Seth: Well, I think it’s very important that I don’t answer that question …
Brian: Oh! …
Seth: … and the reason is … I mean, I’m happy to answer it for you when we’re not talking on the air …
Seth: … but the reason I don’t want to answer it in person is, there is this feeling that if you ate the same breakfast cereal as Stephen King, you’d be able to write the way Stephen King writes. And the breakfast cereal has nothing to do with the writing. And the habits that I have developed are extremely idiosyncratic and totally irrelevant.
Everybody who is a fabulous writer, and I’ve met hundreds of them, does it differently. So there’s no correlation between how someone does it and what they make, and what we do is, because of our fear, Steve Pressfield would call it “The Resistance” to confronting the page — sometimes we spend a lot of time making sure we’ve got the same laptop as this guy, and the same writing setup as this guy, and the same process as this guy. And it’s all stalling.
And what I would rather say to the Copyblogger reader is, write. Just write.
And put it in front of people. And if you don’t put it in front of people, it doesn’t count. And if you get in the habit of putting something in front of people every single day, even if it’s only ten people by e-mail, your writing will shift, and you will adopt the voice you’re meant to have.
But everything you do that stands in the way of you writing — you know, going and buying a 12-pack of Black Wing pencils — is foolish, because you’re just stalling.
Lately I feel like I’m on a mission to communicate to the rest of the world that what we do isn’t magical, abstract, ineffable or romantic – not entirely anyway! Not most of the time. It’s a constant process of trial and error, relentless analysis and refinement, and the proactive challenging of one’s own ideas and assumptions, as you try and craft a story that is emotionally authentic, intellectually rigorous and structurally cohesive. More on that tomorrow, as I return with my next clickbaity headline – The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received.Tweet
Writing the Changing World — The Count
by Robin Byrd
Last night at the Lilly Awards, the Dramatists Guild gave a presentation on The Count (a national survey showing which theaters are producing the work of women and which are not). Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan, Lisa Kron, and Rebecca Stump went over the data and spoke on why parity matters.
Seasons used for the study were 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14; the Count is an ongoing annual project which means the data will be tracked and reported for each season going forward. The national percentage of productions for the past three seasons for women playwrights is 22.18%. The project is managed by Julia Jordan of the Lilly Awards and Rebecca Stump of the Dramatists Guild.
The Count has been six years in the making, Julia Jordan and Marsha Norman began the process in February 2014 with funding from the Lilly Awards and the Dramatists Guild to do a collaborative study to determine how many women playwrights are produced in the US. The data was reviewed by Lilei Xu, a statistician and economist.
According to this study, between 2011 and 2014 74% of the productions were plays, the rest were musicals; 62% were new work, the rest were revivals. 12% were written by writers of color, 88% were white.
In August 2015, research and data collection begins for the 2014-2015 season.
It was absolutely wonderful to see the presentation at the national conference. LA FPI was mentioned as one of the groups across the nation discussing parity. Lisa Kron suggested in her speech that theaters should check the Kilroys List, if having problems locating plays by female playwrights.
We all laughed…
but what is not funny is the fact that we still need to have this conversation.
For the complete report containing more thorough data, please check the Lilly Awards (thelillyawards.org and the Dramatists Guild www.dramatistsguild.com) websites.
This is the first day of the Dramatists Guild Conference in La Jolla, CA. Such an empowering day! LA FPIer’s Laurel Wetzork, Debbie Bolsky and I presented a very successful workshop: Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation. John Logan’s One-on-One with Joey Stocks was wonderful. He gave some wonderful insights to his journey as a writer. The regional reps met with their group members and the conversation was about getting to that next place as artists and how to use community to do so — the community of writers who make up the regions.
The drive in was 3 hours, one wonders how there is traffic at 1:30 am but there was.Tweet
Hope to see you down in La Jolla for the Dramatists Guild Conference that kicks off on Thursday of this week!
For more information about the conference, please go to the Dramatists Guild website: http://www.dramatistsguild.com/nationalconference.aspxTweet