All posts by Diane Grant

Berlin!

by Diane Grant

I’ve been the box office lady at Theatre Palisades now since 1988, saying over and over into the phone, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students.”

Fifty years ago, I met my husband when I was a member of Toronto Workshop Productions in Ontario, Canada, with George Luscombe, producer and director. The company produced plays that were often improvised and written from contemporary and archival material.

We played in several cities in Canada, in Venice, Boston, and New York, and thought ourselves as being wild radicals, engaged in the world and dedicated to change of a positive kind. Among many others, we wrote a play called Mr. Bones, about the assassination of Lincoln, produced a Durrenmatt play called A Visit From An Old Lady and a new play about people moving back to East Berlin (not out of but back!).

One of our members was from Chicago and had a friend who passed him the transcripts from the trial of the Chicago 7, activists who were arrested and accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. ( They were originally 8 – Bobby Seale was bound and gagged and removed from the courtroom for calling Judge Hoffman a racist and a pig. Over and over.)

Along with testimony from witnesses like Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Rubin, we incorporated Alice in Wonderland into the play, interjected vaudeville and dance, and turned the trial into performance art. I played Linda Morse, who was on the Student Mobilization Committee against the Vietnam War. She was passionate and articulate. I also played the entire jury, an elementary school teacher, and Alice. The judge objected to some of the clothing the witnesses wore so there was, of course, a fashion show, too.

My husband, Kerry Feltham, loved the play and made it into a film called The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus which was invited to the Berlin Film Festival in 1971.

Fifty years later, this February, he was invited back. The film was to be shown again – twice!

We were thrilled and went to Berlin in February for the festival where I had the best time I think I’ve ever had in my life!

We were treated with such kindness and courtesy and were put up at the beautiful spacious Berlin Hotel (room 547) which had two huge white ceramic bears at the front door, a delightful lobby with a curved staircase up to the upper floors, and a buffet dining room. It was just down the block from the huge and beautiful Kino Arsenal and the Berliner Kunst Museum, where the film was shown with a Q&A to follow.

The audiences were warm, knowledgeable and attentive. They liked the film.

I must confess, I was in the theater, but couldn’t watch the film. I was shell shocked, I think, by the prospect of seeing myself fifty years ago. I could do the Q&A however and was asked if American politics had changed much since that time. (Not much, I think.)

It was so wonderful to feel like a performer again. To feel that creative spirit surge. I was asked for my autograph. Whoa! Not once did I say, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students”.

I think we’ll get the film up on the web, just for fun and history’s sake. Am looking forward to actually seeing it again.




Ruthless, The Musical

by Diane Grant

Theatre Palisades just finished a run of Ruthless, The Musical,  by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music).  It’s a dark comedy about a ruthless little girl who would do anything ANYTHING to play Pippi Longstocking in the school play.  And she does, of course. 

Spoiler.  Bodies all over the place at the end!

When I heard about the play, I was drawn to it immediately because my daughter and I watched all (I think all.  I’d hate to think we missed any) of the Pippi Longstocking movies.  For those deprived of that pleasure, I must tell you that Pippi is a little Swedish girl with amazing powers.  On fact, she is the world’s strongest girl.  She can leap from the ground and into a high tree branch just like that!  She has red hair and a gap tooth and a father who is at sea.  

Her Mother is no longer living and Pippi lives in her house with only her horse and her monkey.  She has two other best friends, too, her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, and they all have many adventures together. (Wikipedia tells me that the original Swedish language books set Pippi’s full name as Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter!)

You can see that it would be a thrill to play such a girl in the school play.  More importantly, it is the lead in the school play.  The LEAD! 

The little girl in Ruthless is nothing like Pippi.  She is much more like the girl in The Bad Seed.  (The writers couldn’t get the rights to that and just ran with the idea!)

The music seems to come from the heart of the writers and one of the songs, in which a third grade teacher sings about being a third grade teacher as “something to fall back on” sent all the show biz aspirants, in the theater, including me, into a swoon.

It started me thinking.  Wouldn’t be wonderful to invent a girl protagonist, people would fall in love with and want to follow through many adventures?  Anne of Avonlea?  Ramona Quimby? Nancy Drew? Harriet, the Spy?

Where do these characters come from?  Beverly Cleary said that she heard her neighbor calling her little girl, Ramona, and Ramona Quimby was born.  Nancy Drew was a detective in a mystery series created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She was the counterpart to the Hardy Boys series.  

In 1908, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published by a company in Boston and sold just under 20,000 copies in under half a year.  Montgomery had made notes as a young girl about a couple who were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they had requested and the notes became the inspiration for the book.

In 1964, Louise Fitzhugh created eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch.  Harriet is an aspiring writer who lives in New York City.  She’s precocious, ambitious and enthusiastic about her future career. Encouraged by her nanny, Catherine “Ole Golly,” Harriet carefully observes others and writes her thoughts down in a notebook as practice for her future career, to which she dedicates her life. She follows an afternoon “spy route”, during which she observes her classmates, friends, and people who reside in her neighborhood.

In 1990, J.K.Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry Potter suddenly “fell into her head”. Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:  “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”

I don’t have a train to take but can invent my own spy route.  I’ll just be more observant on my daily walks, maybe even change the route a little.  Diane, the Spy.  (It could work!  No?)

Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends. But to yourself you must tell the truth.” –Ole Golly, Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Ciao

By Diane Grant

This computer is new and even getting to the email has been an adventure and one I’m not happy to take. I seem to spend so much of my time lately wrestling with machines and devices and things that talk to me but don’t tell me what I want to know. But here goes.

I can’t believe that it’s 2019 and even worse, the second month of 2019. I know that we’re supposed to be thankful for every day. I am thankful for every day. (Even the cold, blustery, rainy days.) But January 2019 was the month that I was supposed to be greeting everybody in Italian. “Hello,” I would say in Italian. “Welcome!” And even more proficiently, “Do you think the rain will stop?”

I fell in love with Italy when I became a huge fan of an Italian series, with English subtitles, called Don Matteo (Father Matthew). Don Matteo lives in a beautiful city called Gubbio. His home is a rectory which he shares with a collection of recurring characters, all of whom meet in the rectory kitchen. He spends his free time solving mysteries. He rides a bicycle, sometimes through fields of tall golden sunflowers, helps all and sundry, drives the local police quite mad (except for his pal on the force) by solving all the murders before they do, and of course, speaks Italian. He’s also very handsome.

2018 was the year that I was going to learn Italian. I mentioned that way back to my husband and daughter and even as I heard that intention coming out my mouth, I knew I was in trouble.

Delighted, they bought CD’s – 1,000’s of them in big boxes with photos of happy men and women on them speaking fluent Italian, and books with lined pages in them for making notes in (Italian) and practicing, practicing, practicing.

Will I ever learn? Just as I finally settled in and cracked the first CD, we changed TV sets and bought a beautiful 50”.  Which brings me back to my first paragraph. To date, I haven’t been able to set it up with Roku, the device with which I watched the MHZ Choice Channel that carries Don Matteo (and many other enjoyable other programs from Italy and Germany and France, etc. ) Furthermore, the Web tells me that the latest episodes of Don Matteo haven’t been subtitled. And last week, my husband found an article saying that the program will now be shown in L.A only on Tuesdays at 5:15 pm.

Of course, there is always Tosca. I have that CD, too. With the lyrics in translation.

The Artist’s Way

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I imagine that a lot of you know already about Julia Cameron’s wonderful book – The Artist’s Way: a spiritual path to higher creativity.  I found it in the library. I don’t remember when that was or why I saw it but it saved me.

I’ve been so discouraged and blocked that I didn’t think I’d write again.

My play, The Last Of The Daytons, which actually won a prize in 2017 – the SantaBarbara Playfest – is dear to my heart and relevant to today and I can’t find a theater to produce it. I know I’m far from alone and have been writing a long time but for some reason, the lack of a home for this particular piece stopped me in my tracks. (There’s only a finite number of places to submit.)

“What is the point?” lurked under everything I started.  And I didn’t continue. I didn’t write in my diary or talk into my recorder.

I did read the book.

The Artist’s Way is  decades old and still an international bestseller. There are a lot of blocked artists out there!  It takes you through a twelve week program designed to help you unblock and start writing freely again.

Ms. Cameron believes that creativity has a spiritual foundation and that “the bedrock tool of a creative recovery” is an exercise called Morning Pages: three pages of longhand writing about absolutely anything. Lined pages are perfect.  Write them first thing in the morning, and don’t show them to anyone. They can be about anything and there is no wrong way to do them but it takes practice. Sometimes I get busy (like now) and don’t write until later but when I don’t sit down and race across the page, I miss it and feel as if I’m cheating myself.

You’re not supposed to look at those pages until some time has passed. I began on August the 13th and will read them on October the 13th. Maybe I’ll find out something I didn’t know about how I approach things, maybe there will be a clue as to how to proceed. Maybe the fear and anxiety about starting something new will disappear or at least lessen.

Since I started writing them, I’ve already begun a new play, well, I’ve a setting and four people, maybe also a mysterious lady in a plumed hat, maybe, maybe. But it’s a start.

She also suggests that you make an “artist’s date” with yourself once a week. Do something, go somewhere, for yourself, by yourself, something not related to domestic chores or something for work, something that’s out of the ordinary daily routine, something out of the neighborhood.

See how it feels.

I’m sure the pleasure of seeing or doing something new would be beneficial and fun but I’ve found this the most difficult. I think that underneath that anxiety about taking that time off  is a feeling of not being allowed. It wouldn’t be productive after all, would it?

(I did buy myself an ice cream cone a couple of weeks ago but don’t know if that counts.)

I think I can, I think I can.

The book gives you exercises after every week and I know I can use them so I’ll go back to the library and take it out again.  And I’ll go now and write those Morning Pages!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Diane Grant

I just saw the documentary “RBG,” by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, about 85 year old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who took the oath of office on Aug. 10, 1993, becoming the second female jurist on the nation’s highest court.

(Even though Sandra Day O’Connor sat on the U.S. Supreme Court for twelve years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed, the court did not have a women’s bathroom until Ginsburg pointed it out.)

The documentary blew me away! It is so positive – a testimony to responsibility, persistence, intelligence and grace, and an inspiration for us all. I have the book Notorious RBG on hold at the library and am waiting eagerly for a feature film called “On the Basis of Sex,” with Felicity Jones as Ruth and Armie Hammer as Marty Ginsburg, her husband, scheduled for the fall.

Justice Ginsburg’s life is so full and her career and family life so successful (her husband was the first boy she had ever gone out with “who cared that I had a brain.”) that I’ll leave it to people to see and read about.

Just a few things. She became the director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU.   She was a top student at Cornell and Harvard and became a member of the Harvard Law Review.

It’s the gender equality cases that she argued that so interested me. She won five of the six cases at the Supreme Court that aimed at laws that treated men and women differently and her work has changed lives for us all, dealing with instances when not only women but also men and families were victims of discriminatory laws.

She experienced discrimination herself. While at Harvard Law she and the few other female students were asked how it felt to be taking up the spots of more-deserving, qualified males. Upon graduation, many firms were not interested in hiring her, despite her high honors. She would later write, “The traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews. But to be a woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot—that combination was a bit too much.”

One of the cases she won involved a portion of the Social Security Act that favored women over men because it granted certain benefits to widows but not widowers. She wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Virginia, which held that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women.

In the Trumpian pro-deportation era, she played a hand in striking down legislation that allows certain noncitizens to be expelled and at 85, she continues on the Court,working sometimes until four in the morning and continuing to make a positive difference in our lives.

I’ll stop going on. Go see the movie!

Listen to this achiever on What It Takes

AGATHA

A couple of days ago, a friend at work gave me a book by Agatha Christie called Passenger To Frankfurt. And I thought, “Goody. I can romp through that.”  In the Introduction, I found one of the best articles I’ve read on how to write.

I think most of us forget that Christie was a woman playwright. She’s become more of an institution than a writer. People say, “Oh, an Agatha Christie play, ho hum,” as if they know all about it – dated, formulaic, boring. Community theater. “I mean, The Mousetrap,” they mutter. (Not long ago, I wrote a ten minute play called Name Recognition, in which I trashed all those community theaters that refuse to look at a new play and instead produce The Mousetrap over and over.)

She wrote nineteen plays, eighty crime novels and short story collections, two memoirs, and six novels under another name. She invented characters that stick in your mind,  Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple to name only two.

How did she do that? This same friend who gave me that book, also came up with a quote from Christie about how to start to write. “All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter.”

To the question of “Where do you get your ideas from?” Christie answers, “You merely say firmly, ‘My own head.’” You look. You listen. You keep up with what is going on in the world – the great events and the passing events of the day – bad and good.

She insists that the setting in any work is real.  It can be described.  It can be felt and seen.

She goes for a ride on the Orient Express. Ah hah!

She has tea in a Chelsea cafe.  In the cafe, she sees one girl pull out a handful of another girl’s hair.

The setting is real – the cafe.  The characters will be invented.  The girls become hers.  Who are they and what  were they quarreling about?  She begins to have an idea about them. If an idea seems attractive, she tosses it around, works it up and gets it into shape.

And then hard part begins – writing it down and turning it into a plot.  But she has something to work with,  something to build on.

It doesn’t happen overnight. In her autobiography, Christie talks about how strange it feels to have a book growing inside you, building up all the time. For one of her books, she says, it took six or seven years before it all fell into place. Suddenly, the characters were already there, in her head, just waiting in the wings, and she wrote the book in just three days.

I’d forgotten the thrill of observing something, some interaction, some conversation, some quirk, some incident, and putting it in my notebook for use later until suddenly, it becomes insistent. (Agatha Christie sometimes had five or six notebooks!) I’ve been thinking instead, “I have nothing to say, nothing to write about.”

So, thanks for Agatha Christie, I’m getting out my notebook again. If only I could take a ride on The Orient Express.   Well, there is always the Metro line. There are lots of stories there.

AARGH!

In The Lobby

I am a box office manager at a theater.  Most of the time, I can handle everything with ease – maybe do a little playwriting during a shift, maybe get in a little reading – loved A Gentleman In Moscow – EXCEPT for twice a year when there is a Children’s Show.

The Youth Show has always had about 20 to 25 children in it – the current production has 36, ages 8 to 14 years – and they are wonderful. They work very hard with energy and joy, shepherded about by a few teenagers, and they continue to amaze me. During the rehearsal period, which uses the entire theater – the rehearsal room, the patio, the auditorium and the lobby, I can hear incessant drumming and lines read and songs sung and one day, somewhere in there, enjoyed the synopsis of Titus Andronicus on someone’s phone – EEW, SO GROSS!  Later on, I found out 13 facts about Frederick Douglas because one of the girls was writing a paper on him and my computer was up and running. A small girl told me that 2 negative minus 2 negative is 2 positive. Who knew?

The children are supported by their exceptionally hard working and cheerful parents who build the sets, make the costumes, do the makeup, serve the food and clean up and on and on. And it’s all volunteer.

However, I don’t know if most people know this, but children have not only parents and grandparents but uncles and aunts and school teachers and school friends and neighbors and most of them want to come to one or two or three of the shows or maybe to all of them.  Some people will reserve 20 tickets at a time.  But the parents who book the tickets are dealing with people who change their minds!

And even though we have listed only 70 seats a performance on the online site – an inefficient operation called Ticket Leap – so that we won’t sell out, when those are gone, the rumor immediately goes round that the show is SOLD OUT even when there are 125 seats in the theater. The parents’ pain is palpable. NO!!!!

I am in a booth that is open to the lobby and inevitably when I come in to work, a parent will follow me. I can be taking off my jacket, putting down my purse, opening the place up and someone will say to me, “I know you’re not open yet but do you have two tickets for the Sunday matinee? Ideally, I’d like four.” There will be somebody behind her who says, “Isn’t that show sold out?” and the first person will say, “How would she know? She’s not even open yet!” And I will say, “That show is sold out,” and will hear “You’re kidding me. Right?” Wrong.

The lobby is adjacent to the box office – there is no door or window separating it – and the crowd is LOUD so that the person shouting through the box office window at show time from outside can’t be heard. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat adept at lip reading but am not always sure what’s been said. Opening night is the most chaotic but you would think after the searching for seats and the fear that we won’t have enough, that everybody would be in and happy by at least ten minutes after curtain – when someone will rush in from the auditorium and demand an answer to “So when did we allow reserved seating?!!!!”

After a stint, I lie in bed, thinking about the Monarch Resort Hotel in Pacific Grove just a block from the sea. I’m there, with my husband, watching the flickering embers from the room fireplace and contemplating the May arrival of the Monarch butterflies, which will fill an adjacent lot – thousands of them – none making a sound. It’s a beautiful dream, broken only by the sound of my husband, who teaches school, muttering in his sleep. “Sit down,” he barks.

In the Monarch Sanctuary

Staged Readings

By Diane Grant

I might have written about this before. It’s been a while and I’m glad we’re all back. Thank you lafpi!

The Palisades Playwrights Reading Festival will be in its ninth year next April. It is produced at the community theater in the Pacific Palisades and for three Tuesdays in April 2018, it will again be presenting staged readings of three new plays.

We ask for submissions until January the 1st and every submission is read by the committee and discussed.

No playwright is paid, and the only money that changes hands is a five dollar fee at the door, which covers the wine and refreshments. The festival now has a growing number of people who come to the readings, which are really well received with a Q&A afterwards, if the playwright wants one. And everybody has a good time.

All of the plays have something interesting about them, the subjects are diverse, and some stick in the mind long after. We had a play about a submarine crew underwater after a nuclear war called The Letter Writer, by Steve Yusi, that people still ask me about. We’ve had romantic comedies, one by Don Gordon, about the issue of two license plays marked PANACHE, one by Jim McGinn, called Vincent O’Shea about a man who never looks older; a look at end of life issues called Reprieves, by David Reuben, a gerontologist as well as a playwright, and a dark comedy by Virginia Mekkelson, called The Losers Club, about an office, a crocodile and Bad Bosses.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. The theater will not consider producing any of these plays! I don’t think it is because it is a community theater, although it may be. But it is reflective of such a large problem for all of us. I have a play called The Last of The Daytons, which is read over and over. Years ago, it had a wonderful reading at Theatricum Botanicum as part of their Seedlings program. (Thank you, Jennie Webb.)  It’s had several staged readings since and an almost production in Memphis.

This year it won the PlayFestSantaBarbara. First place, with prize money! The festival was a weekend affair of workshops and readings of new pieces and the company at Santa Barbara presented a brilliant reading after a very helpful rehearsal with a skilled director. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theater and I’m so grateful for it.

(Check out their website for new submission dates. The competition is closed for 2018 but will probably be taking 2019 submissions in the New Year.)

So, The Last of the Daytons is ready to go, as are the others we’ve read. The trick is finding the production company that loves it, wants it, and has the money and time to produce it. I’m looking.

Submit, Diane, submit!

In the meantime, if anybody would like to submit a play the Palisades Reading Festival, send it to me at grantdiane04@gmail.com.