Posts tagged: Kitty Felde

Report from the Colorado New Play Summit

By Kitty Felde

The delicious set for THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson. Set design by Sandra Goldmark.

This is the third year I’ve flown to Denver for the annual festival of new play readings. In the past, I’ve attended Humana, CATF and the National New Play Festival, but the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is my favorite. Seven new plays in three days! It’s like a combination of cramming for midterms, eating everything in sight at a buffet table, and using all your season subscription tickets in a single weekend.

As a playwright, I find it extremely helpful to see that much new work all at once. It allows you to see trends and fall in love with new playwrights and come away with 101 ideas for your own plays.

Here’s a few trends spotted at this year’s Summit:

STRONG WORK

It was a particularly good year for new plays in Denver. Strong writing, big thoughts.

MOST LIKELY TO BE PRODUCED A LOT:

THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson is a love letter for every Shakespeare theatre in America. The late Will’s friends race against time and lawsuits to publish as many of his scripts as possible. It’s a big cast show, a perfect complement to a season of TEMPESTs and HENRY IVs. Round House Theatre in Maryland has already announced it will be part of its 2017-2018 season.

TWO WORD TITLES:

Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with titles. Maybe because I’m so bad at writing them myself. This year, the trend seemed to be plays with two word titles. HUMAN ERROR and BLIND DATE were two of the new plays featured in readings. THE CHRISTIANS and TWO DEGREES were onstage for full performances.

POLITICAL PLAYS

I predicted that we’d get a flood of anti-Trump plays NEXT year, but they were already popping out of printers by the time I got to Denver. Political plays were everywhere.

The cleverest of the bunch was Rogelio Martinez’ play about Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the battle to come up with a nuclear treaty in BLIND DATE. Call it ALL THE WAY for the Reagan years. Very well researched, very funny. Martinez carries off an interesting balancing act, portraying a much more savvy and sympathetic Reagan than you’d expect, perhaps looking back at him with different eyes now that there’s a very different sort of president in the White House. Bravo. (I’d vote for a better title, but that’s my only complaint.)

The politics of Nazi Germany were the focus of a play by the man who wrote ALL THE WAY. Robert Schenkkan’s piece HANUSSEN is the tale of a mesmerist who dabbles in Nazi party politics. It has a highly theatrical beginning, and ends with a pretty blatant rant against Donald Trump.

Schenkkan pulled off a very difficult trick: bringing Adolph Hitler onstage and allowing him to come off as a rather likeable character. Perhaps it’s because he followed the Hollywood solution to making villains less unlikeable by giving them a dog. Hitler’s relationship with his annoying dog was quite delightful. (One wag of a fellow playwright at the conference observed that our new standard for unlikeable characters is now to ask: is he/she more or less likeable than Hitler?)

TWO DEGREES by Tira Palmquist is a climate change play. It received a fully staged production this year, after its debut as a staged reading at last year’s festival. It featured a set with panes of ice that actually melted as the play progressed.

There was also a nod to the protestors in pink hats (I actually spotted one or two of those in Denver) with Lauren Yee’s play MANFORD AT THE LINE OR THE GREAT LEAP. It’s a lovely piece about a young man’s search for an absent lost father, basketball, and Tiannamen Square. How can someone that young write that well? MANFORD is terrific and should get productions everywhere.

WHERE ARE THE LADIES?

Two of the five new play readings were by female playwrights, as were two of the three fully staged productions. (Thanks to Artistic Director Kent Thompson who established a Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 to commission, develop, and produce new plays by women.)

Yet, despite the healthy representation of female playwrights, there was a decided lack of roles for the ladies. Of the 34 named characters, fewer than a third were female. And with the exception of the terrific family drama LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, few plays featured roles of any substance for actresses. Nearly every one flunked the Bechdel test. The sole female in one particular play will likely be best remembered for her oral sex scene. Sigh.

PLAYING WITH TIME AND PLACE

I always come away from new plays with new ideas about what I want to steal for myself. In this case, the overlapping of scenes in different times and places happening at the same time on stage. Lauren Gunderson’s BOOK OF WILL very cleverly juxtaposed two scenes on the same set piece at the same time and it moved like lightening. Look something similar in the play I’m working on.

CHANGE IN THE AIR

The man who made the New Play Summit possible – Kent Thompson – is leaving. Kent’s gift – besides putting together a rocking new play festival – was making playwrights like me – those of us not invited to bring a new play to his stage – feel welcome. At the opening luncheon, all playwrights – not just the Lauren Yees and Robert Schenkkans – are invited to stand and be recognized by the theatrical community with applause from the attendees. That may sound like a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of the open and kind community Kent created. He made every one of us who pound away at our keyboards feel that we are indeed a vital part of the new play community. Thank you, Kent.

PS

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share that I had my agent send my LA Riots play WESTERN & 96th to the New Play Summit this year. It was not selected. I never received an acknowledgment that it was even received or read. But the non-rejection does not diminish my affection and admiration for the Colorado New Play Summit.

The Theatre of the State of the Union Address

by Kitty Felde

Talk about great set design!

Talk about great set design!

I’ve been thinking a lot about spectacle.

Aristotle included spectacle – or opsis – as one of the requirements of tragedy. Of course, his description of tragedy includes the physical elements of theatre: the set, the costumes, music and sound effects, and the physical and vocal performance of actors. (It should be noted that Aristotle lists “spectacle” last, believing that a truly good tragedy doesn’t require a stage experience; he believed that a tragedy can create a catharsis in a reader – even from the written page.)

I think of spectacle in terms of a high wire act at the circus, fireworks over the Washington Monument, a three year old throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. Leslie Kan at the University of Chicago says, “much of the spectacle’s appeal (or repugnance) derives from its visual power and ability to hold the gaze of the viewer.” In other words, made you look.

Last night, I covered the State of the Union address for public radio. It was my seventh SOTU, and I found myself looking at it analytically, as though I was an anthropologist. Or a theatre historian. The event was full of spectacle.

There is no more monumental setting in Washington. The U.S. Capitol is an architectural marvel that never fails to fill me with awe whenever I walk on those marble floors or look up at a magnificent chandelier or the miles of murals and friezes on the walls.

Costume design may seem tame most of the time in Congress, but on the night of the SOTU, the brightest jackets come out of the closets for the lady lawmakers: reds, purples, a neon orange sherbet, turquoise – anything that might catch the eye of the cameras or the President as he makes his long walk down the center aisle, shaking hands every step of the way. Supreme Court justices also parade in, looking like they’re going to a graduation ceremony in their ceremonial black robes. The First Lady reminds the audience that she is the leading lady, wearing a fluorescent banana yellow dress and false eyelashes that can be seen a mile away. She’s also the only woman allowed to bare her arms in that House Chamber. And she does.

There’s the sound effect of House Speaker Paul Ryan, tapping his oversized mallet to announce the impending entrance of the President to the House floor.

The President’s performance was relaxed, almost a little too casual at times, as he paused for the expected applause or laughter from the Democratic side of the House and ignored the folks seated on their hands on the GOP side. (He had a tough act to follow. The last time all of Congress gathered to hear a speaker was this summer when Pope Francis was in town. His performance so-moved John Boehner that he turned in his gavel as Speaker.)
What will I remember of that speech, that evening, after I move from Washington? Not much.

Think back to your strongest memories of an evening in the theatre. What was the show? I’ll bet it was some element of spectacle that imprinted that performance in your memory.

For me, it was a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Henry V” with Kevin Kline as the (then) young monarch. It was a hot, humid evening performance that was interrupted frequently by rain. The show would stop, and everyone would run for cover. When it was over, lackies would descend upon the stage to mop up with what looked like old tee shirts and the show would continue. When it came time for the St. Crispin speech –

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The skies opened up again, accompanied by fierce winds, lightening, thunder, and sheets of rain. Kline lifted his head, raised his fist to the heavens and dared the elements to defeat him. Talk about spectacle!

It was Kline’s physical and vocal performance, the sound effects and lighting show provided by nature, that transported all of us sitting on our soaking wet picnic blankets in Central Park to that battleground.

So many playwrights are again turning to spectacle in their plays.

Lucas Hnath takes us to a Sunday service in a modern mega-church. Church and theatre have long borrowed from each other in all the elements of spectacle – from architecture to music to monologues, er, sermons. And with theatre’s reputation as a place filled with refugees from religion, a safe, theatrical trip to a place many hadn’t stepped inside of for years gave audiences the theatricality without the guilt.

Rajiv Joseph takes us to one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in the world – the Taj Mahal – in his “Guards at the Taj.” He’s not content to rely on someone else’s theatrical spectacle for his play. He adds his own with a most bloody scene of cutting off limbs and cleaning up blood.

Lauren Yee calls upon ghosts to create the spectacle in her play “The Tiger Among Us.” Charise Castro Smith also goes the monster route in “Feathers and Teeth.” She creates a flesh-eating monster in a saucepan. And Matthew Lopez takes us to a Florida drag show in “The Legend of Georgia McBride.” Talk about use of costumes and music.

I know budgets are small. And as playwrights, we have to mindful of cast size, stage space, and other practicalities if we want our work to get produced.

But we can dream, can’t we? Why not create something larger than life? A play that makes a set designer’s mouth water, that leaves an audience saying “wow”, that creates a memory of a theatrical spectacle as fresh today as it was that hot and stormy evening in Central Park with Shakespeare.

Happy 5th Anniversary LA FPI Blog!

by Robin Byrd

Today is the 5th Anniversary for the LA FPI Blog.

My excitement over the diverse voices that frequent this blog never wanes.  Pick a few bloggers and read their articles.  Tell me what you think.

  1. Jessica Abrams (past blogger)
  2. Tiffany Antone
  3. Erica Bennett
  4. Nancy Beverly (past blogger)
  5. Jenn Bobiwash
  6. Andie Bottrell
  7. Robin Byrd
  8. Korama Danquah
  9. Kitty Felde
  10. Diane Grant
  11. Jen Huszcza (past blogger)
  12. Sara Israel (past blogger)
  13. Cindy Marie Jenkins (past blogger)
  14. Sue May (video blogger)
  15. Anna Nicholas (guest series blogger)
  16. Analyn Revilla
  17. Laura Shamas
  18. Madhuri Shekar
  19. Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko
  20. Cynthia Wands

 LAFPI Blog 3

 

 

Why go to the theatre?

By Kitty Felde

Years ago, my mother and I shared season subscriptions to the Mark Taper Forum. Few plays stick in my memory – “Children of a Lesser God” and “The Robber Bridegroom” come to mind.

But it wasn’t the plays that my mother loved.

As a mom of seven who lived in the suburbs that straddled LA and Orange County, my mother relished the trips to “the city” where she would put on her bohemian clothes and devote as much attention to the audience as she would to the plays. “I’ve never seen such ugly people in all my life!” she’d say.

My mom’s been gone for more than 20 years. And as I sit through too many mediocre productions, I think back on what it was that she loved about going to the theatre: the drama, the spectacle, the unpredictability of real people. She wanted to be surprised, delighted, amused, amazed. How often do we get that onstage? Is this why theatre is in danger of dying?

This year, I saw one truly amazing production. It was an import from England, the Kneehigh Theater, on tour in DC. The company took an arthouse classic, “Brief Encounter,” David Lean’s film about an affair at a train station and made magic onstage. The movie was based on a one-act Noel Coward play from the 1930’s called “Still Life,” but I can’t imagine the original was anything like the Kneehigh production.

The story was simple: ordinary people stuck in middle-aged ennui who hit it off in a train station tea room. But out of that simplicity, the company invented four different ways to put trains onstage – including smoke and sound, and a marvelous toy train that circled the stage. The most dramatic was a film of a racing train, projected onto a scrim that was half the height of the stage, stretched out from wing to wing by a cast member running past, with another cast member closing down the scrim as the train chugged by.

There was levitation in the play – characters being lowered from the upper levels of the set by fellow cast members. There was music and dancing. There were puppets playing the heroine’s children.

It was the most magical theatrical experience I can remember.

It perfectly fit everything my mother loved about going to the theatre: drama, spectacle, unpredictability.

That’s what I want to create: a reason for people to come to the theatre, to be surprised, delighted, amused, and amazed.

What was the most magical, memorable night in the theatre for you?

The LA FPI Blog Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to the LA FPI Person of Interest Blog!  Today we celebrate four years of blogging.

by Robin Byrd

I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices.  I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found….  There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative.  When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now.  The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me.  One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.

Drive, She Said“.

How much more drive does it take for a woman to succeed than a man?  Can it even be measured?   Who cares?  Trying to keep myself moving.  No time to research how a man does it unless it helps me.

Writers are always “On a new path…” to stay motivated and to be able to encourage oneself to do one’s art which is supposed to lead to “When you hear your words in someone else’s mouth…”  You hope.  One hopes.

The goal is to be a working artist.  By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write.  Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable:  “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.

 

Zora Neale Hurston author of  Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead).  Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…

 

There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there…   Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf.  Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer.  All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass…   There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal?  Why can’t the journey be easier?  Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears”  as artists be easier?  Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.

I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.

 

Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?

 

Bloggers Past and Present:

Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.

 

A few more thoughts about playwriting from David Henry Hwang

Playwright David Henry Hwang had a few more things to say about the craft of writing when he dropped by a revival of his play “Yellow Face” in Washington DC this weekend.

He says it’s his practice to write the first act as a comedy, which allows the audience to more fully embrace the more difficult, serious topics of act two. Ah, the old “give the kid dessert first” technique I used to employ as a babysitter.

He also poked fun at one of his own less-than-successful plays, even presenting a snippet on stage that could make your teeth hurt. Would I be brave enough to publicly expose my own writing foibles night after night? When I write a lousy play, I want it to disappear.

And for a play that debates race appropriate casting, the play itself demands the director and producer make hard decisions about which actors of which races are appropriate for playing the characters in “Yellow Face.” Can a non-Asian play the mother of Henry Hwang? What does it say to the audience if he’s not? The multi-cultural casting was fun, but it was even more fun to hear the producer Ari Roth and David Henry Hwang talk about the hard choices. It was a debate the audience also joined in on. What a wonderful idea to find a way for the audience to see the political questions of a play at work in front of them, forcing them to ponder the same questions!

Tomorrow, I fly to Denver for the Colorado New Play Summit. Stay tuned for updates from the Mile High City on a new Matthew Lopez play and more!

REPORT FROM SAN DIEGO: THE NATIONAL NEW PLAY NETWORK FESTIVAL

I spent the weekend in San Diego – in the basement theatre of San Diego Rep, to be exact – for the National New Play Network festival. It’s my third new play festival this year (I also went to Humana in Louisville, Kentucky and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia.) As I’ve written before, it’s INCREDIBLY helpful for us as playwrights to see new plays.

New play festivals are a bit like Fashion Week – you get a preview of the new season – not what will be hanging on the rack at Nordstrom’s, but what will be listed in the season ticket brochure at theatres around the country.

You can also spot trends. Not exposed zippers and the Pantone color of the year, but what playwrights are doing in their work that keeps showing up all the time.

Here’s a few of the emerging trends spotted at the NNPN’s festival:

–          Direct Address: several plays used this device. It works as shorthand, delivering internal monologues and exposition in an efficient manner. Though to me as an audience member, it doesn’t have the same resonance as a scene between two characters. There’s blood on the floor when characters are confronting each other. You can’t look away. The energy literally bounces off the wall. When there’s sexual chemistry, we’re right there as peeping Toms, blushing and getting aroused and wondering what’s going to happen next. And even long monologues delivered to another character seem fuller, richer, more punchy than directing them to the audience.

–          Humor: nearly every one of the six plays I saw was funny. Not necessarily knock down physical humor or an evening full of zingers, but lines that made you smile or surprised you and made when you laugh out loud. Even the stage directions were funny! Serious topics handled with humor made an audience want to stay through the painful parts of the story.

–          Obsession: several plays had main characters who were obsessed. Two were trying to find absent ancestors. (I’m not sure I understood WHY these characters were obsessed, but boy, is that a handy tool for getting your protagonist moving! Other characters tell them they’re crazy, but they just keep keeping on. They were like bulldozers, ploughing through obstacles on their way over the cliff.)

–          Larger casts than you’d think: I know. We’ve all been told don’t dare write a play with more than three characters if you ever want to harbor a hope of production. That wasn’t the case at the NNPN’s festival! Several plays boasted of more than half a dozen actors playing lots of characters. And these are plays that at least ONE theatre wants to produce!

–          Slavery: Two of the six plays dealt with slavery – one a highly comic, stylized piece set at the deathbed of Martha Washington; the other a search for the ancestor who jumped a slave ship. A third play dealt with racial injustice of the 1960’s, the generational remains of slavery.

–          Absent fathers: Lots of missing parents in these plays. A father in jail whose teenager ends up in foster care, a biracial girl looking for her African-American father and grandfather, an obsessive compulsive painter who wasn’t looking for his absent father directly, but certainly his abandonment of the family fed son’s condition. Slaves sired by white masters were also fatherless. One father who seemed to be missing in action was merely hiding out in the den until he was needed to deliver the best monologue I’ve heard in a while about how you want a bitch of a mother to be on the front line fighting for you. I’m not sure what this says about our society today with all these missing dads.

–          Theatricality. Not every play reached beyond the naturalistic, but there were elements of theatricality in everything. One used the tinkling of a bicycle bell to spur memory.  Another structured the play backwards to forwards. One play included actors carrying on in a bad TV movie behind the main action. There were game shows, swimming fish, even a Viking ship onstage. The most successful pieces took a chance on larger-than-life happenings.

Never heard of NNPN? It’s basically a way for playwrights to get not just a world premiere, but also a second, third, and on and on – future productions. Pick a NNPN theatre. Submit your script. Next year, it could be YOUR play that sets the trends for theatres across the country.

 

link: http://www.nnpn.org/about

WHEN NEWS COLLIDES

by Kitty Felde

I have an orphan play that keeps getting readings, but no production. I’m sure you have one, too. Mine is a play for young audiences with a controversial topic – a character in blackface – and revolves around a holiday festival most Americans know nothing about. (And I wonder why nobody’s produced it yet!)

I’ve discovered the reality of the marketplace in children’s theatres these days: lots of new plays are being produced, but nearly all of them are based on favorite children’s books or Disney movies. Like Hollywood, these theatres are surviving by offering audiences the familiar and the famous.

So I decided to adapt my play to a chapter book. I even found an agent who is shopping it around to children’s book publishers.

But now, news about the topic of my play is breaking out worldwide. I just wish I knew how to capitalize on it.

And so I appeal to you, the great brain trust of LAFPI.

The Netherlands celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday on December 25th – though I found the churches sadly empty of anyone under the age of 100 when I lived there. Instead, Holland celebrates December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas – or, as he is known in Holland, Sinterklaas.

Most Americans know Sinterklaas from one thing: the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Edmund Gwenn as Santa speaks to the little Dutch war orphan and sings the Sinterklaas song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNpijhg3KN4

What most Americans don’t know is that when Sinterklaas arrives in Holland by boat from Spain (don’t ask), he’s accompanied by his buddy Zwarte Piet. That’s literally translated as Black Pete. And yes, it’s a Dutch person in blackface, complete with a bad Afro, overly large red lips, hoop earrings, and a clown-like costume.

The first time I saw Piet, I was appalled. My Dutch friends brushed off my reaction, insisting Pete was a Moor, or perhaps that dark from sliding down chimneys. They said he was a friend to Sinterklaas, not a slave. And that his crazy antics were amusing, not meant to ridicule people of color. Yeah, right.

I found it particularly interesting that there were now many people of color living in The Netherlands – from Suriname and Turkey and Africa – but none of them were called upon to play Pete.

In The Hague, where I was covering war crimes trials, I talked to the only American judge at the Tribunal, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, an African-American former federal judge who became the Tribunal president. I asked her about Pete. She said every year, there was a debate in her group of African-American ex-pats about whether to make a big stink about Zwarte Piet or ignore him.

Judge McDonald became the inspiration for the adult character in my play THE LUCKIEST GIRL, the story of a ten year old African-American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, a lawyer at the Tribunal. Tahira is homesick. The last straw is when she discovers that Santa doesn’t come to Holland; instead, it’s Sinterklaas, and his politically incorrect buddy Zwarte Piet. Much to the horror of her grandmother, Tahira likes Piet.

This fall, UNESCO considered taking The Netherlands to task over Pete. And the Dutch reacted with a Facebook page devoted to Zwarte Piet that got a million likes in a DAY!

https://www.facebook.com/pietitie

Everybody and their brother has been writing about the controversy: New Yorker, Huffington Post, the Economist, and tons of newspapers in Great Britain.

https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/11/is-a-dutch-holiday-tradition-racist.html&ct=ga&cd=MTA3NDcxMTQ1MTc5OTg4MDk3ODY&cad=CAEYAA&usg=AFQjCNGgyKlg3dkXVljaoVqSTblGZqWuqg

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/zwarte-piet

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21588960-debate-holiday-tradition-exposes-racial-attitudes-zwarte-piet-racism

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/tensions-mount-in-the-netherlands-as-un-questions-black-pete-christmas-tradition-8909531.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2474693/Zwarte-Piet-abolished-Outrage-Netherlands-Black-Pete-Christmas-tradition.html

A bonanza, yes? Maybe.

So here’s my question for you playwrights smarter than me: what would you do to capitalize on this kind of publicity? Does it help or hurt the chances of a theatre doing the play? Should I be sending it to British children’s theatres? What should I be doing???

Meanwhile, I’m excited that THE LUCKIEST GIRL is getting another workshop reading at 11 AM, Sunday December 1st at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles as part of their fESTivity/LA 2013 series. (3269 Casitas Avenue, LA 90039)

It’s directed by Susie Tanner, who loves the script, and starring the two actors who should be playing Tahira and her Dutch friend Jan: Tamika Katon-Donegal and Whit Spurgeon.

http://ensemblestudiotheatrela.org/about/programs/festivityla-2013/

Please, please, please post ideas about marketing. And come on down for the reading at EST. Zwarte Piet might even have pepernoten and suikergoed (gingerbread cookies and sweets) to toss to the audience.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT STORY

by Kitty Felde

Like many writers, plot is not my strong suit.

It’s been interesting of late, seeing a lot of new or newish plays that have major problems with plot. As in: nothing happens until the end of the first act, or the second act does not satisfy the desires of the audience set up in the first act, or the entire evening is just a series of short scenes with a twist at the end of each one. I may not be able to solve my own plot problems, but I can sure spot them in others.

I’ve put aside the new play I’ve been working on because of hitting the wall on plot.

Instead, I’ve been spending every early morning working on my second chapter book. These are the books designed to wean kids off picture books – designed for age 7-11 or so. I got frustrated that most theatres producing theatre for young audiences are adapting kids books rather than choosing original scripts. So, I thought I’d fight back by adapting my play THE LUCKIEST GIRL* into a BOOK. I even found an agent who’s shopping it around.

I rejoined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attended a local conference last month.

And there I was, listening to book writers talking about … plot.  Guess what? It’s all the same damn thing.

  • Conflict: You ask yourself what does my main character want? And what will she do to get it? Who or what’s standing in her way? Her desire conflicts with that of her antagonist. And you ask yourself why the antagonist doesn’t want her to achieve her great desire?
  • You start with the present world, then something happens to upset the apple cart.
  • Creating scenes: What character flaw or bad habit creates complications? Complications intensify, more obstacles, things get worse. Is there a single, driving force through all scenes? Are the heroine’s wants in the entire story?
  • Climax: the darkest hour that allows the heroine’s truest self to emerge. She takes charge of dealing with the story problem
  • The end: have we satisfied the expectations we have given our audience for what we promised at the beginning?

It’s the same damn Aristotelian story structure we all learned in Drama 101.

And so, now I find myself starting a new book**, knowing full well I’m going to have to wrestle with story structure again.

Just maybe not tonight.

*THE LUCKIEST GIRL: A ten year old African American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, who’s there to prosecute accused war criminals. Tahira is homesick. The last straw is when she discovers that Santa doesn’t come to Holland; instead, it’s Sinterklaas, and his politically incorrect buddy Zwarte Piet. Much to the horror of her grandmother, Tahira likes Piet.

**UNTITLED CAPITOL HILL CAPER: The young daughter of a Congressman walks dogs on Capitol Hill and solves the mystery of the Demon Cat of the Capitol Crypt.

 

PLOT

By Kitty Felde

I’ve always hated Aristotle.

He said there were only two parts to a good drama – the rising action leading to the climax, and the denouement, or the unraveling that follows. It sounds so simple. But my brain doesn’t work that way.

I remember when I first started out as a reporter. It was so hard for me to write with the denouement in the lede. Why the heck would you put your best stuff at the top? I wanted to tell a story the way you tell a story – give your audience a setting, introduce them to the characters, make things worse for them, and worse again, and solve the problem. But news rarely conforms to that clean format.

And I find that when I write plays, those stories rarely conform either.

I wonder if it’s because I don’t like torturing my characters. I like them too much to give them grief, let alone trouble after trouble. I enjoy spending time with them. I don’t want to kill them off.

Which leads me to my Act Two problem.

I’m still stuck in Act Two of my romantic comedy. Perhaps I should look at my favorite films to see how those writers solved this part of the story. You know, the part where both parties admit to themselves that they are in fact attracted to each other. I know logically that there needs to be some sort of complication, an obstacle that gets in their way. Now, make it worse.

I know, I know, Mr. Aristotle. I need some of that rising action leading to a climax. I just wish I knew what it was.

So I appeal to you, my fellow writers. What secrets do you have to share about digging yourself out of Act Two?

I await your wisdom.

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