Thank You…

Written by Nancy Beverly

I decided this morning to make this my last blog for the LAFPI.  I suddenly realized late yesterday I hadn’t read the blog in over a month (okay, my home computer was in the shop for two weeks, which made my personal web surfing minimal).  I’d been religious (spiritual?) about keeping up with everyone’s posts… and now my life is so jam-packed that I unintentionally let the blog drop.  I apologize to those whose posts I didn’t read — I tried to do some speed reading yesterday to catch up but I still didn’t get to all of the entries.  Sigh.

So, I need to let some things go to make room for the new things in my life — mostly they’re connected to my movie, which now has a wonderful director, fabulous D.P., line-producer, co-producer, budget and business plan in place.  And I’ve barely begun — now comes getting investors and actors!

In my final post, I’d like to share with you the link to Shawn Tolleson’s website:

http://entertainmentcareerstrategy.com/

Shawn is a career coach, as well as a film and theatre director, and it’s thanks to her tools that I’ve been able to put this movie (and some of my other projects) together and keep moving forward.  She spoke at Fierce Backbone, my playwrights group, last night and the writers and actors got a lot out of her talk.  If you ever get a chance to hear her or have the time to sign up for one of her seminars, I can’t say enough about the strategies she teaches.

And so, thank you for letting me take up this space every few months to contemplate, to rant, to share… and to feel connected to the wonderful female playwrights of L.A.

 

Figuring Things Out

By Nancy Beverly

I don’t know about you but I periodically think someone else has Things Figured Out. Y’know, the perfect balance of creativity, money, job stuff, and time to write. I’m a fan of Ellen “EM” Lewis and yep, I thought she had Things Figured Out. A few years ago she was awarded a fellowship to WRITE FULL-TIME — score! But recently she mentioned in a Facebook post that while she managed to stretch that one year into three years of writing full-time (three new plays to her name!) by living lowcost, doing a few side teaching gigs and getting some commissions,  she’s now realizing her meager earnings are not covering her expenses. So she’s looking for a full-time teaching gig and asks if this is the right thing to do, if it’s the right time… and admits she’s winging it.

She posted her musings at a time when I’ve been swamped at my day job and worried I’m losing my soul to accountants and checks and scanning journal entries (what the fuck are journal entries?!) in the financial world of UCLA.  Up until now, this job has been super good to me — excellent pay, benefits and a fair amount of downtime at my desk to Do Other Things. But not the past few weeks and I don’t know when or if Things Will Get Back to the Previous Reality.

So neither Ellen nor I have Things Figured Out, which is to say life once again reveals itself not to be perfect, and yet, I’m excited because I have rewrites on my screenplay SHELBY’S VACATION to get to because (FINALLY!) I have a director who is going to stick with my project and we’re giving the script this weekend to an excellent script consultant to read for feedback.

I would write about the wonderful Hollywood Fringe Festival, but honestly, I’ve only seen three events (THE BEATING, DOWN IN FRONT, and a slate of shorts from We Make Movies) and I loved them all…  but I don’t have time to write about them and I don’t have the time to see more, alas.  So, only one blog from me this week.

And now, back to my script.  Hope your rewrites are going well!

That Was Easy

I just had something fabulous and easy transpire. Back in January I saw that Laura Shamas was having a staged reading of a play directed by someone whom I met years ago at Actors Theatre of Louisville. That director is quite good at comedy… and I have a comedy… so I got the director’s email address from Laura and contacted him about reading my script.

He graciously agreed to read it… and then did so in just a few days. We met a few days after that, seemed to be on the same page – he gave me just a handful of easy-to-execute notes that I agreed with… and then he sent the rewrite out to a couple three theatres to see if they were interested, with him attached to direct.

He heard back a short time later from an artistic manager at one of the theatres. He liked the play and has now passed it on to his board for consideration in their upcoming season.

Wow, that was easy!

Why can’t finding a director for my screenplay be as easy? (I’ve been through three of them – two dropped out and one I just let go last Friday.)

Oh, hold on. Maybe I should tell you the full story behind the stage play launch. I finished it two years ago this month and had a couple of readings of it that were hysterically funny. I thought it was ready to submit.

I diligently sent the script out, using contact names so the submissions wouldn’t be “cold” and so my script wouldn’t land in the slush pile. A year and a half went by… and radio silence. Nothing. Even with follow-up emails from me. Then Fierce Backbone (my writers’ and actors’ group) gave the script a thumbs up for production. We’re low on funds at the moment, so it was going to have to be a co-production at another theatre. Our managing director sent my script out to some theatres… no nibbles.

But once the director got involved and had his name attached, people were interested – including a theatre where our managing director had sent the script (gosh, they didn’t remember getting the script the first time – even though they had a conversation with our managing director about it!).

I’m sure this is a great lesson in perseverance. It’s also a lesson in feeling equal to the energy of the well-known stage director. It’s a lesson in trusting my intuition when I had a gut feeling to contact him.  It’s a lesson in letting someone else help shepherd my project.

Now I’m telling the universe that I WANT THE SAME THING TO HAPPEN WITH MY FILM SCRIPT TO GET A GOOD DIRECTOR AND LAUNCH THIS PUPPY.

Commitment to Art

Just read an article by Randy Lewis in the L.A. Times today about how he and some friends made a commitment to sing Mozart’s choral piece “Ave Verum Corpus.” As a daily ritual. And they’re in different cities.

I said in my letter to Randy just now, I don’t know the piece and I don’t know many of Mozart’s compositions (a few of the “greatest hits,” sure), but Randy’s article gave me goosebumps and tears. Here’s the link to it:

The Power to Lift and Heal

GATZ

In December I went to see Elevator Repair Service’s production of GATZ at the REDCAT downtown. GATZ was the enactment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Word for word. You read that right. Every “and” and “the” and “he said / she said.” The show started at 2 p.m. and we got out of there (with a few breaks including one for dinner) at some time after 10 p.m. I loved it.

It began with one worker grabbing a paperback copy of Gatsby when his computer wouldn’t boot up. He casually and without any emotion read aloud from the book, as if he was just passing time ’til his computer would get going. The computer never did and he kept reading… the story pulling him in, and us along with it. As the book progressed and the “play” unfolded, he slowly took on the role of Nick the narrator with his fellow office workers taking on the other roles. Seamlessly.

Props and furniture around the office were incorporated to help create the world of the book. Papers in manila file folders were tossed around to create a party atmosphere, a clock on a desk became part of Gatsby’s fancy boat, his tailor-made shirts were kept in file cabinets.

My only quibble was that sometimes the humor on stage undercut the actual Gatsby story (and the three English teachers I happened to be sitting next to seemed to feel the same way). It’s a minor quibble because I was totally in the world of these characters. Fortunately somewhere in the mid-point, the humor was no longer a part of the staging, so the tragic events that happen later were allowed their full weight.

By the end, Scott Shepherd, who played our narrator, had put down the book and “told” us the last 10 – 15 minutes, no longer reading it. He’d totally become Nick and was relaying the final moments as if they were a part of his life.

Not only was the audacity of this production inspiring, so was Elevator Repair Service’s tenacity in mounting it. It took them literally years to get the rights to do it… and they even began rehearsing before they had the rights. They invited audiences to what they decided to call “working rehearsals” and not “performances” to stay below the radar.

Let’s hear it for tenacity and doing art outside the box.

Connectedness

I’ve covered aspects of this area here before, but now I’ve got scientific proof on my side!

I don’t do well with abstract / rambling plays. Perhaps the playwright intended for the story to make cohesive sense and they just weren’t able to execute it. That happens. I’ve been there. And then there are the writers who are doing, ah, experimental work. Fast and furious dialogue that doesn’t quite add up. Actors jumping around the stage showing how their physicality embodies their emotions. It’s fun up to a point. And that point is the point where I start to long for a story. You know. Beginning, middle, end, protagonist, conflict, escalating stakes, some big question on the table, and a resolution of some sort.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m asking too much, wanting something that pulls me along in some kind of linear fashion. I’m not looking for a return to an old-fashioned kind of play like The Subject Was Roses; I just want to feel satisfied at the end of the evening.

And then I read an article in The Sun Magazine, November 2012 issue. (The Sun is my all-time fav magazine, by the way. Do yourself a favor and check it out on-line, and then go get a subscription. Interviews, essays, photos, short stories, poetry, and contributions called Readers Write – and nearly everything is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Bonus, there are NO ADS.) Anyway, in an interview called “If Only We Would Listen,” writer-speaker-activist Parker J. Palmer was making the point that school systems are failing students by focusing on dumping facts into students’ heads and calling it education.

He says, “We know from research that the brain’s weakest function is the retention of isolated bits of data. Its strongest function is the retention of pattern, narrative, story, and system. The brain is a patterning organ, and it thrives on making connections, which is why I say that good teachers have a ‘capacity for connectedness.’”

Finally, an explanation on why I love a story. I get to find a pattern, make connections, and hang on to the narrative. I’m not cranky. I’m hard-wired this way.

Gratitude

Last March I began writing a gratitude list in my journal every night before I went to bed. The practice was supposed to be for 40 days.  The practice was inspired by Melody Beattie’s book Make Miracles in 40 Days, and I liked doing it so much (and things began happening that were pointing to the miracle I wanted), that I’ve kept it up ever since.   I won’t explain Melody’s thinking, she does it well enough in the book.

But I thought I’d share some of my gratitude from this week related to the Tactical Read of my play Handcrafted Healing that L.A.F.P.I. sponsored Tuesday night.

First a shout out to fellow L.A.F.P.I. bloggers Robin Byrd and Jen Huszcza as well as director Harriet Lewis for attending.

A big thank you to my fellow Fierce Backbone writers and actors who came — your presence very much helps foster the feeling of community in our group.

A tip of the hat to friends Carol and Stewart who were in the audience — what a joy to see you both.

Blessings to the actors who donated their time and talents to the reading.  I know it was tough doing it with just two rehearsals — as I said to a couple of them, you had to walk & chew gum & relate & ride a roller coaster & read lines all at the same time and that’s difficult.  Thank you for your vulnerability and passion on stage, you willingness to dive in and commit to the characters.  They very much seemed alive to me.

Thank you to director Sabrina Lloyd who took on this job and then had a number of life challenges come your way in August and September.  Thank you for persevering.

Finally, mucho gratitude to Sabina Ptasznik for putting it all together and your support in countless ways.

Justify My Love

I asked the woman who literally wrote the book on writing business plans for films to read my film’s business plan (for a fee).  She lives about four blocks from me.  When I learned this, I thought it was a sign from God:  Get over there and get the EXPERT to weigh in.

The first words out of her mouth were, “You have to take the tone out that you don’t think it’ll make money.”  I guess my worries were pretty transparent.  I smiled politely and didn’t let on that all summer I’ve been wrestling with art-investor-money thoughts.

Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like these as you waded into figuring out how to finance your plays, your projects:

Does all art have to make money?  (Of course it doesn’t.  Uh, but then… how do we pay investors back?)

Use art patrons!  They love supporting creative stuff after a hard day at the office making boat loads of money!  (Yeah, but still.)

Okay then, can I make a film for free?  (No.   I want to pay the cast and crew – and pay them more than food.)

Can I do the puppet version of the film for $25?  (No!  Ick!)

And then in a film’s business plan you have to do a chart of PROJECTED REVENUE.  That’s right, putting on your best prognosticator wizard hat, you look at the first, second and third year life of the film and take a shot at guessing how much money will come rolling in.  (Aren’t you glad you work in Equity Waver Theatre?  Can you imagine doing that for your original play that’s opening down there at Santa Monica Blvd. and Lillian Way?)

These conversations in my head make me feel as if I’m constantly justifying my film.  As if wanting to do it isn’t reason enough.

I will close with a snippet from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s speech at BAFTA in 2011 (thank you to a previous L.A.F.P.I. blogger who told us about his speech) from which I take some comfort:

“What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognize him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it. It has profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.”

Less is More

Summertime and the livin’ is… loud and over the top. Yes, ’tis the season for blockbusters. Non-stop action, action, action and special effects galore on the silver screen and even theatre has been getting into the act of late – one dimensional characters, lots of music and skimpy dialogue. Every time some big new spectacle comes down the pike, whether it’s on the screen or a stage, I sigh and think back to one of my favorite theatrical experiences. It was as minimal as it gets.

Way back in the 1980s when I was working at Actors Theatre of Louisville, we used to send plays overseas. The program was under the banner of the USIA, the United States Information Agency. USIA was around from 1953 to 1999 and was devoted to “public diplomacy.” As President Eisenhower said, the USIA’s mission was “to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions, and their counterparts abroad.”

Fortunately, we didn’t send Spiderman Turn Off The Dark overseas. At ATL one year we sent Of Mice and Men.

Just before the actors were heading off to, was it Japan that year? Romania? Anyway, those of us on staff went to watch a final rehearsal. All of the furniture, props and costumes had already been packed and sent. We watched the play in a rehearsal room in the middle of the afternoon – full daylight and not even a blackout at the end of the acts as an effect.

Ken Jenkins played George and Bill Smitrovich played Lenny. There was nothing but the story and fine actors. I was sitting about ten feet from them, completely riveted.

Spoiler alert. At the end of the play, George, the “mastermind” has decided the best thing to do is to shoot Lenny, his hulking, simple-minded friend. Ken as George points his finger – his finger! Not even a GUN! – at the back of Bill/Lenny’s head, as Lenny looks off in the distance hoping for a farm and rabbits. I was a puddle. Tears were falling. It was what you want theatre to be.

Take that Spiderman and your overwrought brethren. You wish you had that kind of impact.

Hey, at least the title wasn’t PUSSY RIOT

And then there was this from the L.A. Times on July 30th: The Pasadena Playhouse told playwright Gina Young they had problems with the title her play that was set for the Carrie Hamilton Theatre. The title? TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE LESBO (a nod to Judy Blume). Sheldon Epps, artistic director of the Playhouse, said he had concerns over the title, “the same concerns I would have if a play had the N-word or the F-word in the title.” But then he learned the term can be one of empowerment in the lesbian community, so he withdrew his objections.

Then the Playhouse offered a compromise in which TALES could rent the theatre but would have had to hire an outside ticket vendor and agree not to be represented on the Playhouse website. The offer was declined.

I went to research this further on-line and found a happy ending to this story… one that the L. A. Times didn’t follow up on and report, darn them.

Writer Sara Cardine filled in the remaining details in the Pasadena Weekly… which I encourage you to read here.
http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/?id=11403

I loved the fact that people kept communicating and worked things out.

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