Sweet Sixteen

by Jen Huszcza

As I said on Monday, this is my 16th time blogging for LAFPI. I have also decided to go on hiatus for awhile. This hiatus could last six months or six years or sixty years. There’s no scandalous story behind my hiatus. I just need some time off.

I want to thank Jennie Webb, Robin Byrd, and all my fellow bloggers for all the hard work they have put into this blog since 2010. When I started, they gave me a mandate that I could write about anything relating to playwriting and LA Theatre. I also want to thank them for letting me do my thing.

When I turned sweet sixteen, I received a brown leather jacket as a birthday present. It reminded me of Indiana Jones. When I put it on, I felt adventurous. I still have that jacket. It’s a bit beaten up, and I had to patch the shoulder. It doesn’t fit the way it used to, but I still put it on from time to time although nowadays I don’t need a jacket to feel adventurous. I just need myself.

Keep it positive.

Peace.

Jen

On Rejection

 By Jen Huszcza

Today I want to talk about something all playwrights have dealt with at some point. Rejection.

We’ve all been there. We apply for thing we really really want. We think we have a really good shot at getting the workshop/grant/production. We put a lot of work into the application.

Then we don’t get it.

And it sucks.

Now, this is the point where I should be inspirational, where I should tell you to brush yourself off and keep going, where I tell you that you can do it and you will find a place for your play.

But I’m not gonna do that. I’m going to let you relish in the misery of the suckiness of your rejection.

Now, take all that misery and suckiness and anxiety and depression and roll it up into a little ball as tight as you can.

Look at that ball, study its awful grossness until you are ready to vomit.

 Now throw the ball away.

 And move on.

It’s not about how hard we fall, it’s how we get up from our falls. I recently learned that sometimes after a fall, it’s okay to spend a minute or two on the ground to catch your breath. When boxers get knocked down, they get a ten count. Sometimes it’s better to get up at five or six or seven than at one or two. It’s a few more seconds and a few more breaths.

Rejection does suck. Rejection is bad. I wish there was a way for all the playwrights to get everything we want, but playwriting is a dying art with very little financial incentive in a bottom-line country which does not support arts and culture on a government level.

I will also say that I have worked on the other side of the rejection line as a grant reviewer and play reader. I have championed folks on the basis of their work. However, a lot of the work I have read was crap. It needed one more thing, one more element to make it shine. Think about how you want to shine. The people who read your work and your applications are people with a hard job to do. Please don’t make their job harder. Please check your spelling.

And move on.

3 Stages of Writing a Play

By Jen Huszcza

After writing plays for nearly two decades, I have realized that writing a play happens in three stages. Yes, it’s only three stages. Yes, I will tell you what those three stages are.

These three stages might recycle themselves through multiple drafts.

1. I’m on fire! I see it all! I have the vision! I am God! I am King! I am Goddess! This play will be great! This play will stand on the shoulders of previous plays and reach out to future generations! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

2. Okay, let me think about this. What am I saying? What is the setting? What is the space? What are the visuals? What can not be seen? What is the character doing? Who is that character? Who am I? What is my place in the universe? Think. It’s somewhere in the head. Okay, okay, okay, okay?

3. I sooo want to be done with your sorry ass. I can’t write this god damn play anymore. I can’t mentally listen and watch these characters anymore. I have another play idea that will be better. End. End. End. End now.

Mmmfahs

Lately, as I’ve been contemplating the future, I’ve been thinking about my past. One item that sticks out to me is my MFA.

Yes, I have an MFA. Sometimes, I call it Miffa. Sometimes, I call it Mmmfah. During the stoner years, I called it the Master of Farts. I don’t think of myself as a Master or a Fine Art. I have been tempted to change the F to a more profitable B. Mmmbah? Nah.

I’ve been asked several times through the years if an MFA was worth it? The asker was usually contemplating if he or she should get an MFA. I didn’t like to answer that question because it had the word should in it.

Here’s what I think about the MFA:

It’s an accomplishment, not a guarantee. I busted my ass to get it. I feel a definite fellowship with my fellow writing classmates. We all survived twenty wild months.

Does one have to have an MFA to be a good playwright? Of course not. If you’re a good writer, you’re a good writer. If you’re a bad writer, an MFA won’t help you.

I didn’t get my MFA to make you feel bad for not having an MFA. 

I have an MFA. I keep it rolled up in the cardboard tube in an old metal trunk.

How Directors Can Get Themselves into My Good Graces

by Jen Huszcza

Hello, I am back for the 16th time blogging for the LAFPI. This is also the last week that I will be blogging for the LAFPI for awhile. I’m taking a break, but don’t worry I have a week of fun planned.

Today, I want to talk about the director/playwright relationship from my point of view as a playwright. I have worked with some great directors as a playwright, performer, and stage direction reader. I have also had the opportunity to witness directors say and do some stupid things.

So today, I am writing about how exactly directors can get themselves into my good graces. By the way, do people say good graces anymore?

So directors, this is how you deal with Playwright Jen:

Chocolates work.

Don’t talk about conflict. That’s sooo high school. Talk about engagement. How do the characters engage each other? How do they engage the audience?

Don’t talk about character growth, character change, character development. Characters are who they are and exist in their moments. Help the actors find their moments. Help the actors look good.

Don’t talk about story. If I wanted to write a story, I would have written story.

Plays don’t have to mean anything. They just have to have a beginning, middle, and end. Plays don’t have to be socially or politically relevant. They don’t have to be funny or sad. They just exist in time.

Don’t whine. Just don’t.

Don’t yell. If you’re yelling, that tells me you’re out of control. I also get annoyed by directorial waves of the arm and smoking indoors.

Don’t use the following adjectives: crazy, wacky, wild, avant garde, strange, weird, and Beckettesque (shivers).

And please don’t call me insane even in fun. I have too much respect for the insane to be in their company.

Don’t change the words unless I say so. I change words. That’s my job.

I will sit in on any rehearsal. Or I won’t. I can’t sit for long periods of time, so I might stand and pace. It doesn’t mean anything.

Use the word mystery. I don’t offer answers or solutions. I like asking questions.

Look for rituals. I like to create rituals. I like to break rituals. Look for patterns and repetitions.

Be meticulous. Be patient. Be prepared.

Make choices.

Think visually and physically.

Finally, play.

Advice for Aspiring Playwrights

By Jen Huszcza

Recently, the LA Times reported about a meeting between a young novelist and Philip Roth in a deli. The novelist, John Tapper, had passed on his first novel to Roth and was looking for advice and inspiration.

Roth reportedly said:

Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say stop now.

Likewise, I would say to folks who dream of being playwrights, stop. If you gotta do it because of some fire in your belly or blinding light in your brain, well, you’re doomed. If you throw crap out into the world, you’ll feel like a sellout. If you work hard on something with all the best intentions, you will probably be ahead of your time.

Whatever you do, you will probably despise some aspect of your work or yourself. Sure, there’s drinking, drugs, facebook, and therapy, but none of those will put the words on the page for you.

Sure you might love language or love the theatre or love cinema. But at some point, you will hate all that, and you’ll only be left with yourself. And you’ll wonder, why the hell didn’t I become a rocket scientist? I had the grades. 

Still, the writing continues. It has to continue because you have no choice. You have to finish one play because there is something in it that will help you write the next play. You have to finish another play because you promised it to an actor friend of yours who is super talented. You have to think about that next play because it’s a thought that’s interesting. Then, when that is done, then you can stop. Of course, unless, something else has to be written.

Tracy Letts: Groundbreaker

By Jen Huszcza

I must confess that I don’t follow Broadway too closely anymore. I don’t live in New York, and I have other things on my mind like what the heck do I name my third character in my three character play and why are theater curtains usually red.

This year, I caught some of the Tony Awards on TV. Actually, I only saw the Best Lead Actor winners. Billy Porter’s acceptance with pink index cards became something beautiful when he talked about his mother’s unconditional love.

However, when Tracy Letts beat Tom Hanks and won best actor for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I felt I was truly watching something groundbreaking. A playwright had won an acting award. A playwright! How great is that.

Okay, yes, I should also point out that women won both directing awards as well as best original score of a musical, and Cyndi Lauper had some awesome red hair. You’re never too old to dye your hair.

But I want to return to the Tracy Letts triumph. For years, centuries even, playwrights have written plays, and actors have acted in plays. Occasionally, an actor might get all creative and write something. Then, there are the special ones, the over-achievers, who write and act usually in a one person show. But rarely, do you see a playwright jumping in and acting in a play he/she didn’t write.

Feel free to give examples of other playwrights acting or raise the question of whether Tracy Letts was an actor first or a playwright first in the comment field below, but please keep reading.

Yes, playwrights can act. Not only can playwrights act, but playwrights can win awards. Please theatre community, embrace playwrights as actors. We have brains. We can memorize words.

 Playwrights understand story as well as how plays develop and build over the course of two hours. We understand how the scenes work. We understand process. We understand moments. When in doubt, we can fake it.

 So yes mainstream theatre, there are lots and lots of playwrights out there who can show up to rehearsal on time because they know what a pain in the ass it is when an actor is late. There are lots of playwrights who know the weight and power of the words they say. There are lots of playwrights who can walk across a stage and not freak out.

 Find us. We’re out there. We’re ready. We’re cheaper than Tom Hanks.

LA Stage Day was Fun

By Jen Huszcza 

Hello everyone, I’m delighted to be back blogging on the LAFPI website. I want to begin my blog week by talking about a theatre event I attended back in May, so I’m setting the blogging time machine back (wayyyy back) to May 18th and LA Stage Day.

LA Stage Day was a one day event put on by the LA Stage Alliance and dedicated to theatre in LA. It was held on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles on a bright and sunny Saturday.

To summarize: I went and I had fun.

I found out the event needed volunteers, and the volunteers could get in free if they volunteered three hours of their time. Sweet. I thought. Sign me up.

The volunteer email said that I would have to pay $6 for on campus parking, but some clicking on LA’s Metro website showed me that I could take the Expo line from West Los Angeles and connect with the Silver Line in downtown LA all for just $5 for a day pass. It turned out that the Silver Line was a bus that had its own special bus lane next to a freeway. Yes!  

After being greeted and given a black T-shirt (theatre people definitely came up with the color scheme), I sat with other volunteers and explained twitter to folks. It’s cool really, it is.

As volunteers, we had to set up the rooms for two workshops. We could stay for whatever workshop we were at or go to something else once everyone was settled.

The first workshop that I helped set up was called Learning to Love the Arts, and it was conducted by Abe and Charley from Arts for LA, a nonprofit which advocates for all arts (not just theatre) in LA. By the way, Charley is a poet. Along with playwriting, poetry is one of the writing forms most likely to get the reaction, you do what?

Just as I was helping Abe and Charley set up in the lobby of the theatre, a playwriting workshop showed up to be in the theatre space. For most of the Arts Advocacy workshop, I had to quietly herd the playwrights into the theatre. Playwrights are so needy when they’re confused—like lambs off to slaughter.

The Arts Advocacy workshop was about changing the narrative of how arts is talked about and how all art is vital not only culturally but economically as well. What do you say to someone who says artists should get real jobs? How do you turn that conversation into something positive?

After their workshop was over, I congratulated Abe and Charley on a job well done and was able to snag some handouts from the playwriting workshop. Jon Dorf and Dan Berkowitz (of ALAP fame) had done the playwriting workshop. I had seen them talk before, and they usually had excellent handouts.

The second workshop was going to be on social media and the rehearsal process. The three guys moderating were two guys from SDC and Michael Michetti of Boston Court. The two guys from SDC were east coast based, and you could tell they were loving on the Cali sunshine.

I helped them arrange the chairs into a circle because they wanted to do a discussion, and slowly folks trickled in and started to talk. Apparently, Actors Equity recently loosened its restrictions on videotaping, and this has left other guilds scrambling to come up with some way of drawing a line about taping.

Additionally, theatre companies tape rehearsals and parts of productions to promote their shows online, and there was a discussion about how intrusive that was in the rehearsal space.

Meanwhile, as we were discussing whether taping was intrusive, a girl with a video camera came by to tape us discussing, and the workshop took on a post-post modern vibe.

What I also really liked about the discussion was that there were lots of different people in the room. There were actors, directors, stage managers, producers, playwrights. We all could sit down and discuss something from our different points of view and find common ground. I think this is how politics use to work.

After that session, I went over to take a melodrama acting workshop with Debbie McMahon of the Grand Guignolers. The blurb in the program said that non-actors were invited to come and participate. After herding playwrights and sitting and thinking, I was anxious to get up and move around.

True to its name, the workshop was MELODRAMA!!! (apologies for the caps and explanation points, I’m going for feel). Yes, there was highly dramatic music (think silent films). Yes, we were allowed to make big gestures in extreme situations. Yes, I crossed the pit of molten lava on a rickety bridge, and let me tell you, it was terrifying.

I was physically exhausted when I left the workshop, so I caught a bus back.

Basically, I went to three sessions, but there plenty more at LA Stage Day. There was a courtyard filled with information tables and plenty of socializing events.

I liked the idea of folks volunteering and getting in for free. I thought it opened up the range of people who were there. Besides, as a volunteer, I got a really cool t-shirt and some cookies. Yes, I will volunteer for cookies.

I hope the LA Stage Alliance puts on another LA Stage Day. LA is a giant sprawl, and the theatre community is very spread out, so it was nice to experience the LA theatre community all in one place even if it was just for one day.

Wild Women

I have just three bits of business before I finish up my blog week.

First of all, I highly recommend Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s called Wild, and it’s a fun read. I saw Cheryl Strayed read at the Central Library downtown as part of the Aloud Series this past Wednesday, and it was great fun with a room full of adventurous folks.

I have a story that I want to share. The event was free, but you had to make a reservation online. However, all the reservations were booked, so you had to show up and get a standby number. When I showed up forty minutes before the event, all the standby numbers were taken and there was a long line of people with reservations. Since I didn’t have to be anywhere else, I decided to just hang out and see what happens. So I was leaning against a wall and talking to people when a woman in a gold shirt came up to me and gave me her ticket. It wasn’t a standby ticket but an actual ticket ticket. I thanked her profusely and walked in. Sometimes I should not ask how or why. Sometimes I should just go with it. Thank you lady in a gold shirt. Nice top by the way.

In other news. I had mentioned at the beginning of the week that I had no playwriting stuff happening until Tiffany Antone emailed me. I do have other writing stuff happening. I recently launched my second ebook. It’s a book of short stories about women in Los Angeles, and it’s written by my internet superheroine persona. It’s available exclusively for Amazon Kindle, and you can find it here.

Finally, looking ahead to tomorrow (Saturday), I plan to be at the LAFPI gathering at Samuel French Bookstore on Sunset in West Hollywood. It’s happening 1-4 in the afternoon. The first person who says the word, Tundra, to me gets a quarter.

Joy by Regina Leonard

 

When I’m writing, I sometimes take a facebook break. I don’t stay on facebook too long, but I figure a facebook break is healtier than the cigarette breaks I used to take back when I smoked.

One day recently, a link to a youtube video of a song that my friend Regina Leonard (a great singer/songwriter) wrote popped up on my facebook. I clicked and watched. By the end of the song, I was in a happy place.

Regina Leonard is one of those awesome people that one meets every so often. I met her a few years ago at the Lost Studio. She’s fearless and fun as heck too. It is not surprising that she wrote a song called Joy.

So if you need a break from writing, here’s a great song to listen to:

Here’s the youtube link and her facebook page. Happy stuff

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