Tag Archives: creativity

My D-bag Writing Partners

by Korama Danquah

I hate my writing partners.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh my goodness! Korama! That sounds like a personal problem that you and your writing partners should discuss together.” Ordinarily you would be right. I’m an adult(ish type person) who likes to handle my problems in a (mostly) adult way. Talking to my writing partners would be the adult way to handle any issues. Except that they aren’t just my writing partners – they’re your writing partners too.

“What?” you just exclaimed “I don’t have any writing partners.” Or perhaps you wondered “Why does Korama think Lewis and Clark are d-bags?” (Side note: This imaginary conversation thing is really amusing to me) The particular writing partners I’m talking about are not of the human variety, but the nagging-voice-in-the-back-of-your-head variety; I’m talking about self-doubt and insecurity.

Everyone has self-doubt and insecurity in varying degrees, but the effects are most felt by people who do creative work. You can doubt yourself when you do a spreadsheet, but at the end of the day the spreadsheet reflects facts and figures, not your thoughts and feelings.

I have a particularly hard time with these silent partners – maybe it’s because, despite the fact that I consider myself a creative person, I am most comfortable with facts and figures. I am very clear with right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. Subjectivity scares me. I start to doubt that what I am doing is good or worth anything at all, like Semele started to doubt what she previously knew to be true.

For those of you who need a refresher, Semele was one of Zeus’ many lovers (not to slut-shame him, but good god, who wasn’t one of his lovers?). Hera, jealous of her husband’s human lover (who was pregnant with Dionysus the god of theatre!), disguises herself as an old woman, befriends Semele and convinces Semele to confide in Hera/Old Human Lady that she is banging Zeus. Hera then plants seeds of doubt in Semele’s head. She asks her how she can know it’s truly Zeus if she hasn’t seen him in his godlike form. On the one hand, that’s a valid point because dudes could totally be walking around pretending to be Zeus in an effort to bed women. On the other hand, douche move on Hera’s part because she knew exactly what would happen next. Semele asked Zeus for a favor and he promised, no swore, he would do whatever it was. She asked to see him in his divine form. Zeus reluctantly agreed and obviously seeing him in his true form killed her.

The story has several morals, the strongest of which is that doubt will literally kill you.

It’s hard not to succumb to self-doubt and insecurity – they are strong opponents. What I do these days is remind myself that I’m stronger. I’m not Semele or Hera or Zeus, at least not completely. I have a little bit of all of them: Semele’s humanity, Hera’s ingenuity, Zeus’ strength. All of these things are what makes me, and my writing, special and unique.

It’s easy to get comfortable with the right/wrong, good/bad dichotomies of this world, but if everything is one thing or another it loses part of its rarity. Walt Whitman once said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes)” To allow yourself to exist in the spaces between black and white, to contradict yourself at turns, is to contain multitudinous, enormous beauty. I won’t allow doubt and insecurity to squash that, to make my work ugly with fear.

So screw you, writing partners. I’m working on my own from now on.

Other Hats

I have to apologize – I’m in a real artistic funk and I leaked some of that frustration in Monday’s post.  Rather than spend the week whining (isn’t that a seductive plan), I’m going to attempt to treat your time with care.  After all, if you visit this site, chances are you’re some kind of theatrician as well and already well-know the challenges of this life.

So let’s talk about sprinkling yourself across mediums… and the wearing-thin of it.

I started a new blog – it’s called Twaddle Squawk and is devoted to fun opinionation.  I’ve assembled a terrific group of talented writers, and we will publish our third issue next week.

I write for that blogzine – I’ve got all kinds of things to say there – but I am not writing full-length plays.

I’ve also been producing new play festivals in AZ… it’s exciting to me and I enjoy wearing the producer hat (most of the time) because the results are tangible.  I have some major say in what happens and I usually write my own 10-minute play for each, so that Playwright Tiffany is bearing the benefits of Producer Tiffany’s hard work…

I write for those festivals because I know the result will get produced – but I am not writing full-length plays.

I’m organizing theatre workshops, rounding up students and such – because it’s solid and fun, and teaching feeds my soul!  I will spend these workshops giving of my experience and knowledge, sharing my path with young aspirants…

I will teach the sh** out of those classes – but I am not writing full-length plays.

But I wonder – With these other creative outlets eating up my time  – am I cultivating creative growth, or am I allowing the feeling of completion and ideas-come-to-fruition-ness (via producing and teaching) get in the way of my passion:  writing plays (without any guarantee that anything will come of them or not) and letting my muse run wild?

For the reality of the artist’s life is that we are constantly besieged by the “real” world – demanding we meet our real world needs (like eating, paying rent, getting our knee tended to when it’s busted – that sort of thing) – that we can start to lose faith in the solvency of our dreams.

I used to believe that my plays had no chance at being ignored – that if I worked hard enough at my craft, I would certainly succeed – but here I am at a place where I find myself exclaiming “Certainly I’ve worked hard enough to be further along than this!”  – and it leaves me grumpy and feeling stuck.

So, I don my other creative hats and revel in the completeness of different-than-playwriting tasks… and mourn the creative zeal that used to light my fire so determinedly.

My Funny Little Valentine…

What a week I have ahead of me… (actually, what a few weeks!)  I’m coordinating a play festival for young playwrights and directing one of the winning plays, as well as in the final three weeks of our Spring I session at NAU-Yavapai in which I’m teaching a class on “How to be a Master Student”…  My head is, as one says, spinning.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today, no, today I want to talk about my funny little Valentine…

Ooooooh, my sexy little MacBook Pro, where would I be without you?  Your shiny faux-metallic keys that spin a musical clackity-clack to tease even the most stubborn of ideas from hiding…  Your bright friendly screen reflecting a happy glow against even the most unpleasant of hours…  Your ability to “force close” programs at the drop of a cranky-ass-hat…  I can’t imagine, no, don’t WANT to imagine, where I would be without you!

When I think of all that we’ve accomplished together… The laughter and tears, the smiles and frustration, the agony of edits paired with the sweet joy of “BLACK OUT” pridefully blinking from the page –  Pages upon pages of jokes, banter, punches, flying props (and sometimes people) – I rejoice, I cheer, and I pray that you never, ever, ever, crash (like you did that one time) Because… sweet MacBook Pro… I think, I think I love you.

~Tiffany

Entry Level

Yesterday I published an article for Bitter Lemons on the amazing way that Arena Stage, 2amtheatre and LA Stage Alliance* are working together to widen the dialogue on new plays.

That’s fascinating in and of itself – not my article, but all the detail and coverage that Arena Stage created and is creating, so that artists know what people are talking about and can contribute in a meaningful way.

Remember that.

Cut to later that day, and Dennis Baker announces that the LA satellite convening was relocated because of high attendance. It happened to be relocated to four blocks from my house, the site of the new Atwater Village Theatres, home to EST-LA and Circle X.

Not just convenient for me, but I amended the original article and then could post it on Atwater Village Now, gaining more exposure for both the event and the neighborhood. While writing it, though, I thought of my audience for Atwater Village Now and decided they might have no idea why a convening on new plays is important. If my goal was to interest those outside of theatre practitioners to find interest in the art and the craft, then I needed to write an entryway into the article. The Editor suggested I give some history, a small idea of how important this dialogue is for the national community, the theatrical community, and in some way give a larger importance to our community.

This was my introduction. I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments:

With Broadway focused on revivals and musicals based on movies and star vehicles, new plays often go by the wayside. If you are an unknown playwright, it’s nearly impossible to be produced.

Not so at The Arena Stage, however, and they’ve been working intensely for a national dialogue that includes all voices – new playwrights, established playwrights, and the people who decide which plays are produced. Arena Stagey began a New Plays Convening yesterday in DC, and Los Angeles participates on Saturday, in our brand new Atwater Village Theatre!

*Full Disclosure: I also write for the LA Stage Times.

How do you invite laymen into the theatrical experience?

Now What?

You know that idea, the one that rolls around in your head whenever you don’t want to concentrate on the project you actually should be writing?

Then one day someone gives you time and resources and says that idea sounds great for a workshop. At least, that’s how it happened for me.

Now what?

Nothing is written, perhaps some notes jotted, an image folder created on my desktop but still sparse: this is the state of that project.

I start by collecting source material, images, and just seeking as much research on the topic at hand as possible.

How do you start a dream project?

Caffeine, please

Kitty Felde – January 21, 2011

Time and energy seem to be my biggest obstacles to writing these days.  I have a day job where I’m writing a lot.  And running all over town.  And shocking though it may be to admit, I just don’t have as much energy as I used to.  

I consume vast amounts of tea and chocolate to fuel my writing periods, but it’s just not enough.  There aren’t enough hours in the day for work, exercise (ballet and swimming), opening the door for the cat, and kissing my husband.  Oh, and many days I’d much rather be pursuing my other creative outlet: sewing.  I can spend an entire weekend at my sewing machine and plan entire trips to various cities just to shop their fabric stores.  (My last trip to NYC was split between seeing theatre and seeing the Balenciaga exhibit and the costume exhibit at Lincoln Center.)

I’m trying to take the long view.  I’ve written ten plays over two decades.  I don’t have to do it all in 2011.  I am entitled to just sit around and be a vegetable sometimes.  I don’t have to write everyday. 

But that’s the rub, isn’t it?  On days when I don’t write, I’m not as nice a person to those around me.  Growl.

Guess I’ll summon the energy to write a few lines.

Act Two, Scene Four

Kitty Felde – January 19, 2011

One other thought about writing this ‘trick myself into writing something’ play.  I’ve decided to try some of the techniques I admire in other plays but never employ in my own. 

I rail against ‘kitchen sink dramas’ all the time and crave a real theatrical experience.  But how often do I write them myself?  Not often enough.

Since this children’s play I’m writing “doesn’t really matter” (that’s what I keep telling myself to stop putting pressure on myself to make it FABULOUS) I can experiment, get outside my comfort zone. 

So here are my rules:

Simplify.  I’m always writing large cast pieces with complicated plots.  For this piece, I’ve decided to simplify the play at its core: it’s the story of a relationship between a girl and her grandmother.  All other characters come and go. 

Well, that was the first thought.  Now a best friend has cropped up for the girl and he’s threatening to become a more fully realized character.  But okay.  Everybody ELSE comes and goes.

Dare to offend.  I’m fairly polite and probably overly politically correct in my personal and professional life.  Why be that way onstage?  I’m going to RISK offending people.  Writing characters that are not from my background or life experience and bring troublesome images on stage.  Yes, in a children’s play.  It will go over the heads of the kids and drive the parents crazy.  Which is the point.

Make stage magic.  My Skype playwriting pal Ellen Struve described a very bad production of “A Christmas Carol” that was saved by one thing: it snowed – not just onstage, but also IN the audience.  Magic happened somewhere in that theatre.  That’s what I want to try onstage.  Vegetables dance.  Pictures talk.  We’ll see how far I can pull this off.  But just giving yourself permission to try things is fun. 

No judgments until you get to the end of the first draft.  I’m making notes about this or that (didn’t I already write a similar scene?  Isn’t this scene inappropriate for the age range of the audience?), but I’m not trying to fix anything.  Yet.  The goal is to get to the end. 

 Have some fun.  So far, so good.

Stealing Time to Write

Everyone does it: sometimes in a restroom, in a corner of a park, in your bedroom, hell – some people even do it in a public cafe.

We all steal time to write.

I say steal time because it feels selfish, inward, private.

And it just feels so good. Especially when it feels horrible during the process, it feels so good when you’re done. Writing is very much like spinning class in that way.

The true reason we steal time to write, though, is because we find it so easy not to write.

There’s laundry, the dog, the kids, the love interest, the season finale we could consider research, the day job, sleep, Facebook, Twitter, blogs about writing – no matter how you add, multiply or divide the time, these only equal procrastination.

I recently learned the hardest part about being self-employed: when deadlines aren’t met, you mostly disappoint yourself.

When I don’t write, I only disappoint myself.

Time to stop talking about it and start doing it! See you later………

The Thought My Soul Appalls

buddhas celebrate My childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan*.

My family saw shows together. That’s what we did. We saw and       produced shows. We subscribed to ART (American Repertory  Theatre) in Cambridge and The Huntington Theater in Boston. We traveled hours to see the College Light Opera Company and drove back the same night. On vacations, we’d squeeze the Baseball Hall of Fame in between Glimmerglass Operas in Cooperstown.

If Gilbert & Sullivan played within three hours of us, we saw it. We bundled in the car, return trip full of patter songs and arguments on the character interpretation or a set piece. I auditioned for NYU with Pinter and was accepted, mostly because I astonished the Dean with my resume, listing only male roles and whores.

Not finding my voice in New York City, I got my license – didn’t really learn how to drive – and ended up in Los Angeles. List of jobs in roughly chronological order: QA for a lotion and scrub factory, personal assistant, Equity Stage Manager, customer service for adult products while stage managing, staffing assistant, director, staffing supervisor, clutter-clearer, recruiter at a not for profit school for kids with special needs, teaching artist, playwright, artistic associate, producer, bum, outreach chair, representative-at-large, career coach, resume re-vamper, consultant, writer.

I know we all mostly are slashers (actor/writer/producer, for example), but this list just feels ridiculous.

As much as some of those day jobs were hated, they fuel my creative bank. Who doesn’t like a good story about temping in an adult products factory? Seriously. Everyone in LA has the crazy day job story. It’s a rite of passage here, like visiting the Getty for the first time or realizing you can’t get to the 101 south from the 134 west.

In May it all added up, when I started calling myself a Storyteller. The title encompasses all the ways I tell stories: outreach, novel, poem, play, PR, resume, blog, branding – and now, I tell stories all day. It’s pretty cool. Honestly, it’s the only thing I actually know how to do. (Did I mention both my parents are also librarians?)

Now that I love every hour of my work, I hope I won’t lose that connection to completely random people in Los Angeles brought only by the day job. That would be a shame. Most of my stories originated within the hours when worth is measured by a time-clock. At least that’s the story I tell myself when I need a temporary gig.

*in case you want more Gilbert & Sullivan – and who doesn’t? Click here.

Size Matters

It really does.

I mean, there’s no need to get pink in the cheeks, I am talking about theater here, after all – and really, the play is the thing.  But, unlike the world’s grotesque obsession with mammoth manly pieces, it seems the theatre world is dead set against that which looms huge… So what does one do when one writes “large” plays?

My first grad-school play, In the Company of Jane Doe, called for a cast of 12 (or 8, if you got creative) but the first time we produced it, we cast 14.  And the script (not I, oh no) asked for some pretty interesting effects like  “A row of Clones spill out and around” the main character.  And it called for a large voluminous womb.

Fun for designers… better yet for designers with a nice little glorious budget… budget… budget  (from the echoes of an empty purse)

So the next play I wrote, I limited myself to four characters and wrapped them around a kitchen sink… but wouldn’t you know it if one more showed up, and those characters insisted on clamoring about the place… the living room, the garden, and the attic.   Still, at the end of the day, I felt I had done a lot to curb my “big thinking”  So much so in fact that I set out to write a THREE person play… It would be minimal. it would be clean… it would be: The most expensive play I’ve imagined to date. There are multi-media projections, a fire-breathing closet, five characters, and some of them fly in and off stage or hover “Above their own bodies.”

And I wonder sometimes if I am just hell-bent on making the most of this struggling artist thing by writing these monstrously theatrical shows that make dreamers giggle and realists cringe: “How can we produce this when you’re still just a pipsqueek in the theater world?”  I guess the economic crisis hasn’t done much to endorse the gambling spirit.

That, and the fact that in addition to my affinity for theatricality, I also write primarily about (wait for it….) WOMEN.

And if there’s one thing that seems to scare the Powers that Be more than big casts or fire-breathing budgets… it’s a “feminine” story.

But why?

I can’t figure it’s got any firmer basis in anything other the fact that many, many plays hover around or originate with men, and if there’s one thing people dread in any sort of business it’s untested change… Change brings uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds nervous pocket-books, and we all know that when the pocket-books get nervous, not a whole heck of a lot happens by way of taking chances.  Soooo, if the standard is “Male playwrights and male-centered plays sell tickets” then we are quite literally going up against “The Man” when we send in our materials.

And it’s crazy frustrating!  Especially when there are some kick-ass female playwrights out there creating all kinds of exciting theater.

So a playwright is faced with questions – Does she write smaller shows?  Does she try her hand at commiserating with a Manly public and changed “Sallie” to “Doug”?

Just what is a playwright’s responsibility to the yawning public (or frightened Producers) to give them what seems to be selling… or try to sell them what should?

Possibly, the solution is to set yourself some guidelines and then test them- my “Three person, one-set, super-clean” play ballooned into one of the biggest (And I think most beautiful) plays I’ve ever written.  It’s received oodles of praise, and I believe it WILL get produced (eventually) it’s just too exciting not to.  But I wouldn’t have written the thing if I hadn’t started out with that mindful, business-like plan of writing something “Small”…

What budgetary/production-ary/mind-set-ary do you take into consideration when inspiration strikes?

~Tiffany