Why not use my blog week to shout out about a new writing opp?
Plays Project is launching a new #GetOutTheVote initiative and invites playwrights to draft short (1-10 minute) plays/monologues/musicals on the theme HINDSIGHT IS 2020. We would like interested writers to consider the following:
This is a forward-looking project = Speculative fiction!
Imagine the world AFTER the 2020 election and what it might look like
without a change in leadership. We are looking for thoughtful pieces
that demonstrate consideration into the myriad different ways four more
years of current GOP leadership might manifest.
We invite interested playwrights to consider the following:
Voter turnout is vital to a thriving democracy, and yet only 54.7% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election.
are several pressing issues at stake in the 2020 election—which issues
should we be most concerned with? What do our lives look like post-2020
election, if these issues continue to go unchecked/unaided?
What do reticent voters need to hear in order feel motivated to vote – especially if their ideal candidate isn’t the nominee?
regrets will people have if they abstain from voting in the 2020
election? How might abstaining effect their day-to-day lives/kid’s
Humor is an excellent delivery mechanism – don’t be afraid to make us laugh!
love a good expletive, but for this project are hoping to have broad
audience appeal – if you are an F-bomb expert, please provide
alternative options for public spaces J
Selected plays will be featured on a special Protest Plays Project
podcast Our goal is to also make these plays available to theatremakers
across the nation in the hopes that they will put them to work as
motivational theatre aimed at rallying voters!
Scripts will be accepted through March 10th – Please use the Google upload form on this page (which will become available Feb 1st)
Questions? You can email us at ProtestPlays@LittleBlackDressINK.org
There’s something about a new year. It’s a new start, a “do-over,” a chance to be a better version of ourselves. As playwrights, it’s a good time to set a few goals.
May I offer my own Top Ten List for 2020.
1. Stop being so hard on myself.
Last year, there was too much chaos in my life to even think about writing a new play, let alone revising an old draft or sending out scripts. And the fact that there wasn’t enough bandwidth in my brain to think about theatre in 2019 doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or a lousy playwright. Life happens. I vow to do better this year. But if life throws a curveball, I will be forgiving and kind and encouraging: the same way I am to every other writer but myself.
2. Write 500 words a day, five days a week.
I think I can commit to this goal. Five hundred words may not sound like much, but those words add up. They don’t even have to be any good. But as Jodi Picoult famously says, “you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
The same way you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t get a play produced if you don’t show it to someone. Send it out. Set a goal of 20 rejections in 2020! Or 100 rejections!
4. Look at ALL of my unfinished, bad drafts, ideas. Decide which are worth my time.
This is a great way to cheat. I may not have a new play dying to be written, but I know I have a decent first act in some computer file somewhere. If I can find it, and find a way to finish it, half my work is done. Or I can look at it and decide to trash it and move on. Either way, it feels very Marie Kondo of me to pick up a piece of old writing and ask myself whether it still “gives me joy.”
5. Go see more theatre.
We are blessed with dozens of terrific theatres in Los Angeles. How many have I visited? Not enough.
I know traffic is horrible and most theatres seem to be on the other side of the hill. But last year, I started making the rounds, seeing some terrific shows in 3 new-to-me theatre spaces. I will continue to make my way around town in 2020.
6. Read other people’s plays.
This is not only polite, it’s also a great way to see how other writers construct an evening of theatre.
It’s also a way of creating community. Writing is lonesome work. Knowing that someone else is laboring to create good work is a small comfort. There’s even a Facebook group that reads plays and makes recommendations. So far, I’ve been a lurker in the NPX Challenge Group. This year, I’ll start reading and recommending.
7. Celebrate the small victories.
I need to count all of my blessings, large and small. It may not be a Tony Award, but my day got a whole lot better when my cleaning lady showed me the book report her granddaughter wrote about MY book. I felt like a New York Times bestselling author. Yay.
8. Have coffee with people.
I used to tell my summer interns back in Washington that D.C. was a coffee kind of place. I’ve sat in Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and Coffee Bean stores all over DC, overhearing job interviews, congressional staff meetings, even lobbyist meet and greets. If you want to do business there, you start with “a coffee.”
To re-establish myself here in Los Angeles, I need to follow my own advice and start setting up coffee dates.
9. Think outside the box.
I’ve never really been interested in pop culture. I was the odd kid who organized the “Save Star Trek” campaign in elementary school, got busted in high school for wearing skirts that were too LONG, and became a groupie for “Bonanza” star Pernell Roberts because “every balding middle aged actor should have one diehard fan.”
So why did it surprise me to look at everything I’ve written over the years and discovered that none of it was “top ten list” material. It’s all quirky, quiet, and important to me. So why am I kicking myself that none of my work is being picked up by Signature Theatre in New York or South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa or any of the other well-established theatres across the country?
I realize that my longest running play isn’t being performed in a theatre at all. It’s a commission I got to write a one-man show about Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin and it’s been running every weekend for years, playing on the sidewalks around the White House. I’ve directed plays performed in people’s living rooms, written a play performed in a D.C. National Park that celebrates water lilies, and this past summer, penned an audio play (THE FINA MENDOZA MYSTERIES) that was taped in a library, the L.A. Zoo, and in the middle of a jazz concert in a park.
This year, I vow to continue to look for unusual spaces where I can put my work before an audience. Got any suggestions?
10. Be Persistent. And if the door keeps getting slammed in your face, try another door. Or keep knocking.
For most of 2019, I’ve been trying to get the LA Public Library to carry my book “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” It’s carried by lots of other library systems (L.A. County and the DCPL to name but two) but I’ve been hitting my head against the way trying to get LAPL to put the book on their shelves. Today I sent yet another email to their acquisitions person, fully expecting to get yet another rejection. But I asked myself: what did I have to lose? It’s a definite “no” if I don’t follow up. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe.
Five minutes ago, I got a response: “Done!” The book will be on LA Public Library shelves by the end of the month! Maybe 2020 won’t be so bad after all.
Do you have resolutions for 2020 that you’re willing to share?
It’s been almost exactly six months since I graduated grad school.
I apologize right now to everyone I have interacted with during this time. I have this thing where, when someone asks how you are, I don’t like saying just “fine” or “good,” especially when that’s not true and especially if the question is sincere. I’ve also been told multiple times that not only are my characters WITHHOLDING, so am I.
So unfortunately, in the spirit of being HOLDING or whatever the hell is the opposite of WITHHOLDING, I’ve tried to articulate this feeling of post-grad uncertainty in a multitude of ways. Often this will manifest in extremes: either totally depressing or completely manic.
There have been people I’ve had long meals with who have witnessed the manic. And I’ve apologized afterwards.
I only just apologized on Friday to a new friend and director I’m working with for being so damn negative the ENTIRE length of the times we’ve hung out.
My emotions live in extremes right now, or at least extremes for me. I’m either riding high and so excited about what’s happening, or my life is an endless desert of capital S Sad and I’ve made all the wrong decisions, every time, for every thing.
Which means I’ve been spending much of my time NOT writing and instead looking at animal videos on Facebook. For a brief period over the last six months, in my desperate attempt at finding a job, I even tried to get a part time job walking dogs or taking care of kittens or cats in shelters, or even starting as an apprentice dog trainer because those seemed at least mildly meaningful comparatively when you consider my other career is writing plays no one comes to or no one wants to produce and writing stories no one wants to publish.
And then Facebook starting advertising this product to me:
The algorithm is getting scary.
Obviously, I know how the algorithm knew how many EXACT seal videos I looked at or shared over the last six months. How may seal GIFs I’ve used.
But did the algorithm read my cover letter to the animal shelter in response to their call for a “Cat Caretaker” that I wrote desperately and passionately into Indeed one night? Or the various descriptions of how my 34-years of having dogs around, of feeding dogs, of having a dog die IN MY ARMS should qualify me to be able to walk a few of them around the block for an hour for minimum wage?
Did the algorithm hear ME calling MYSELF names like fat and lazy and talentless?
Did the algorithm see my whiskey-fueled bedtime crying-myself-to-sleep routine?
Because it’s like looking in the mirror. We’re in some uncanny valley territory here where I could buy a life-size version of myself and cuddle with it (angrily) after a hot toddy.
But, in an attempt to be POSITIVE, it seems the algorithm has solved my problem for me of articulation.
What has post-grad been like, you ask?
This. This right here. This is post-grad. This is my life right now. And, I suspect, this is just being a writer, forever and ever.
I loved this story by Karen Zacarias – it seems to resonate with my life right now.
As a writer, writing alone, and as an audience member, who doesn’t always feel included in what I’m watching onstage – I loved her story about moving about in the world, and feeling alone.
Recently I met some friends of friends, through our early theater careers, and we traded names like collected baseball cards. We talked about actors and their personal lives and relationships and gossip from decades ago like it was a soap opera happening now.
It reminded me of how attached I’ve become to stories of the past – and how my writing tends to gravitate to some of my own mythology.
What I love about this Ted Talk – is that Karen Zacarias is not a great storyteller. She’s nervous, trips over herself, loses a word and can’t quite keep the thread of the story going. But she’s a writer, not an actor, so there’s an authenticity that’s so heartfelt.
If you read my first post this week, you know I’ve been asking some questions about playwriting. One of the things I promised I’d talk about was a project called 45’s 24—a collection of monologues written by thirty female playwrights inspired by the twenty four (at the time) sexual misconduct allegations against the president.
The project itself is interesting and the collection of monologues super powerful and moving—and I encourage anyone who wants to read the script to register for a copy on the Protest Plays Project site. I’m also working on a collaborative writing project with seven other AMAZING female playwrights right now, and although it’s less centered on a specific topic, it’s been a really cool process of sharing the “mic” so to speak.
So, for my last post of the week, I’m going to talk a little about those processes of collaborative writing, and how it’s been a really exciting and rewarding experience. And—full disclosure—I’m writing this on cold medicine and very little sleep… so buckle up, it could get bumpy.
45’s 24 was inspired by a FB friend posting an article about all twenty four of Trump’s accusers and tagging me in it with a note that “You should turn this into a play or something in order to amplify these women’s stories” He was right, and I was immediately like “I’m ON IT!” Because of my work through Little Black Dress INK, I know some pretty cool female playwrights I thought might be interested. I’ve also initiated a number of theatre actions with some awesome writers through Protest Plays Project. So I sent out an email invite to people I thought might be interested… and then I posted the invite to Twitter too, because maybe there would be more people wanting to get involved. There were!
The nice thing about this project is that I had a very clear roadmap for the process. Essentially, I created a Google sign up sheet where writers could select a woman to write about, then linked to the article about the accusers. Each writer then had a few weeks to research and write a 1-3 minute monologue inspired by each woman’s story. Because we had thirty writers working on the project, each piece took on it’s own voice – this is exactly why I wanted this to be a collaborative project. Who am I to try to write 24 monologues about/inspired by these real women? But together, the collection sounds like a group of individuals—and that’s awesome.
Another great thing about writing this piece collaboratively? We got it all written and assembled in just a little over six weeks! And, honestly, the hardest part was me finding the time to write the stitching—that’s what I call the interstitial bits that create the frame around the monologues—and formatting the dang thing! I write in Final Draft, but for this, everything had to come in Word… and nobody formats the exact same way, soooo = AAAGH! I’m NOT an editor at heart. If I was, the whole thing would have been done a lot sooner.
Anyway, the process of working on this piece with such a large cadre of passionate playwrights was inspiring, motivating, and empowering. I am so incredibly proud of the final collection – and it’s set for at least three readings in the coming months, which feels incredible because nobody ever writes a play just to have it sit in a drawer somewhere. Especially when the play is, at its heart, a protest piece.
Untitled Collaborative Writing Project
The other collaborative writing project I’m working on involves seven other female playwrights. It’s essentially the thing I’m devoting time to this year instead of doing another ONSTAGE fest. That decision, while difficult, was a really good move personally as I was starting to feel like ONSTAGE was sucking me dry. I worked work on that festival all year long for nine years, and although I love producing, it took a lot of energy and focus from my own creative projects.
However, as I said before, I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve become very action-focused and playwriting feels kind of passive. This project, on the other hand, is itself a sort of theatre action because I am working with others to create a collaborative script that isn’t just all about me, my vision, or my perspective. instead, it is intentionally designed to allow for a multitude of voices.
We’re still in the “Seeding” phase of the work, and I have no idea of this experiment will result in a final script, or if it will instead result in some sort of collaborative folio of scripts. But I can tell you how we’ve been working in case anyone else wants to do something similar.
We started off by sharing questions we were interested in exploring, articles we found inspiring, and themes we were curious about. Then (almost) every week I send out an email with a new writing prompt, found artwork, and musical inspiration. We also spend some time doing a sort of chain-email kind of writing project where we each write a page, then send just that page to the next person to add a page, and so on. The results have been a lot of really cool, weird, interesting monologues and scenes that we will then look at building on. We may decide to write a play around one of these scenes, or to stitch several of these pieces together, or we may do something else entirely. And as someone who is usually very much in charge of projects, this new place of discovery and shared responsibility is a very cool place to be!
That’s it. I made it to the end of my blogging week with three articles written, plus the children and cats are all still alive and fed. Three of us have colds however, and everyone in my house is exhausted because when the kiddos have colds, none of us sleeps, but I’m happy I was able to check in and share some thoughts with all of you. And if you’re interested in writing socially aware short plays, we’ll be launching two new #TheatreActions from Protest Plays Project soon. Follow us on Twitter and FB to be notified when they launch. All it takes to collaborate with us is a collaborative spirit and desire to effect change!
These past few weeks have kicked my ass. I didn’t want to write that. I wanted to be able to write that I’m going through a personal transformation, and embracing life altering changes, and transitioning to the person I always wanted to be. But no, truly, my ass is kicked.
As an artist, a playwright, a writer of blogs, I relied on my “straight job” to provide for me and my partner, and to subsidize a life of inquiry, printer cartridges, and medical insurance. That changed this past month when I was “Let Go” from my job. I’m doing all the proactive tasks to reassemble my life support system. But I wake up in the morning and my life is different and – odd. That’s a word I use a lot these days. Not driving to work: odd. Not having to worry about work: odd. Not knowing what I do with that part of my identity: odd.
And I found this very interesting article:
And at the bottom of this article is a link for a 2-evening online course for designing your dream job throughout the University of Toronto.
“In this class you will learn how to articulate what you want to create in your ideal next opportunity before you go out and look for it. You will define what you want, who you want to work with and what kind of contribution you want to make. With the knowledge of what your dream job actually entails, you’ll learn how to apply it to your job search and to display it in your resume and cover letter.
During week two, you will learn to smash the assumptions that keep you from creating your dream job and learn the tools that will take you from where you are today to a life where you get to live your legacy at work.
In the first half of this two-part workshop, you will explore why so many of us aren’t happy at work and learn a new and effective philosophy of career design that will help you create work that is fulfilling and engaging. You will use elements of design thinking to prototype your ideal future and what happens if you keep living life exactly as you are today (default future).
Take two evenings to free yourself from 100-hour workweeks, meaningless Excel models and office politics, while exploring your phenomenal potential.“
I wondered how I would reinvent myself through an online class like this. I imagined all the characters I could become – lion tamer, pastry chef, tarot card designer, advocate for political action. But at the bottom of the description of this course, I found this caveat:
“Thank you for your interest in our course.
Unfortunately, the course you have selected is currently not open for enrolment. Please complete a Course Inquiry below so that we may promptly notify you when enrolment opens.“
(And yes, I had to look up the word enrollment, because I couldn’t believe they would misspell it. And I was wrong. There are two versions: enrollment or enrolment . See what happens when you don’t have a job?)
I’m looking at my life, story telling, identity, financial stressors, and time to clean out the linen closet. So I will end my blog piece with this wonderful interview with Yo Yo Ma, and he talks about story telling:
“Culture tells a story that’s about us, about our neighbors, about our country, our planet, our universe, a story that brings all of us together as a species.
I believe that culture is essential to our survival. It is how we invent, how we bring the new and the old together, how we can all imagine a better future.
I used to say that culture needs a seat at the table, an equal part in our economic and political conversation. I now believe that it is the ground on which everything else is built. It is where the global and local, rural and urban, present and future confront one another.
Culture turns the other into us, and it does this through trust, imagination, and empathy.
So, let’s tell each other our stories and make it our epic, one for the ages.”
As a playwright, I’ve had a bit of experience adapting everything from court transcripts to Russian short stories into an evening of theatre. And after decades in public radio, I’ve written non-fiction radio scripts till my fingers fall off.
So you’d think it would be a breeze to adapt a novel to an episodic podcast. Not so.
That’s what I’ve been doing the past month or so, turning my first mystery “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” into a 6 or 8 episode dramatic podcast for kids. It’s been exciting, frustrating, and a real learning experience. Let me share some of the results from my school of hard knocks.
You might not even be aware that there’s a growing catalogue of episodic fiction podcasts for kids. They range from “The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel” and “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian” are some of the early shows. A new one “Timestorm” is also set in outer space. Mine is not. It’s a family story about recovering from loss woven around a mystery set on Capitol Hill. My job: minus robots or aliens, how do you keep your audience from falling asleep?
PLOT, PLOT, PLOT
All those wonderful, heartwarming scenes of family life, all those wry comments on how Congress works, all those classroom scenes: gone. There’s so little time for texture and backstory in this genre. Like Charles Dickens, you’ve got to hook the audience so that they’ll want to come back for the next episode.
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
I’ve got a lot of dog walking scenes in the book version. They don’t translate particularly well to the audio version: there’s just so many times you can jingle a collar and dog tags before a listener wants to tear her hair out.
Sometimes, the obvious helps, as in: “Hey, who’s walking who here?” Sometimes, an obvious sound effect such as answering a telephone or a teacher calling on a class can help the audience figure out where the scene takes place. The challenge is to remind yourself that the only cues the audience will get about your story comes from their ears.
DIALOGUE, CONFLICT, YOU GET THE IDEA
The easiest thing to adapt is dialogue from the book. Duh. If you’re a playwright, you’re already pretty good at writing dialogue. I discovered that you also need to write additional dialogue to bring the listener quickly into the scene.
And what kind of dialogue pops? Dialogue with conflict (the older sister letting her father know just how much he ignores his kids) or emotion (the sisters remember a trip to the cemetery to visit their mom’s grave for Dia de los Muertos) or excitement (when the Demon Cat pounces.)
Again, as a playwright, this should be obvious to all of us. Drama is drama whether on the stage or in your ear.
FIRST PERSON VS THIRD PERSON
Most audio podcasts rely on narration – at least in part. Now I know why. All those internal monologues I put in the book would be great if the podcast was in first person. But I want the audience to experience the action WITH my main character Fina. It’s a puzzlement.
Luckily, my main character talks to everyone and every thing – including the scary statue of Caesar Rodney in the U.S. Capitol and the all-knowing cat down the street. And in some cases, they talk back. We’ll see how it works.
KILLING YOUR DARLINGS
Even with six or eight episodes, there is SO MUCH you have to leave on the cutting room floor. This is not an audio book, I keep reminding myself, this is theatre for the ear. If the audience wants to know about the advice from the professional dog walker, they’ll just have to read the book.
The plan is to have a production-ready script by the end of the month, tape with actors over the summer, and edit and release the show in the fall, just in time for Halloween.
Got any suggestions of your own on adapting for audio? Please send them my way!
Here ‘s a wonderful interview with James Grissom with the late Marian Seldes. She was a force of nature, and someone who was a fearless artist. Here she talks about some of the facets of fear. And it’s amazing to see that it’s so connected to the process of sharing our work, as artists.
Fear seems like such deep and overwhelming emotion to me; I think of characters on stage as experiencing fear as a mortal vulnerability. Some of the characters I’ve written seem to experience anxiety, more than fear, and it seems to lower the stakes for the outcome. I’m still thinking about fear. And feeling it too.
I meant to do some research on a current writing project this evening.
But no. My
sister reminded me that today is April 1st. April Fools Day.
And so, instead of researching my play, I fell into the internet and found out that today is April Fish Day.
exaggerating a little bit.
Actually it’s not April Fish Day. It’s a day where strangers can yell “April Fish” to you on this day. Really.
This is what happens when you need to write more on your play but you find out about the April Fish Day story.
suggests that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from
the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Now the New Year would start on
January 1, rather than the last week of March through April 1.
But for those poor dullards who failed to recognize that the start of the new year had now moved to January, they now became the butt of jokes and hoaxes on April 1. (Leading to our culture’s shout out to “April Fools”.)
France (though mostly among children) April Fools’ Day is observed by sneakily
sticking a paper fish to someone’s back. These pranks are referred to as “Poisson
d’Avril” (April fish), and are said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish
and a gullible person.
When the hapless victim discovers the prank, (meaning that they discover that there is a paper fish on their back) the successful prankster will yell out “Poisson d’Avril” which means “April Fish!”
I have never had anyone yell out “April Fish” to me. Mostly, I suppose, because I have never been in France on April 1, and therefore the French pranksters couldn’t find me.
(Can I use this
in a script somewhere? I will have to file it in my folder called “Holidays”
and then never find it again.)
I also found out that April Fools’ Day is linked to a Roman festival called Hilaria, (now there’s a theatrically festival day: Hilaria). This was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. (Again, another holiday note for the archive.)
But one of the best stories about these first days in April come from Scotland. In the 18the century April Fools’ Day spread through Scotland, and the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk” day, in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool).
This is followed on April 2 by Tailie Day, which involves pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on their rear ends.
So on my day of research, where I meant to find very different stories, I found stories about April Fish, Hilaria the Festival Day of Disguises, Hunting The Gowk Day, and lastly, Tailie Day.
I will be checking in mirrors tomorrow to make sure that I don’t have a fake tail pinned to me. Or a paper fish on my back. And then maybe I’ll be able to get back to writing again and not looking up stories on the internet…
I’ve just finished reading the book “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner, and it’s a wonderful examination of attachment and identity. She’s an interesting writer, and really includes the reader in her journey to find her place in the world.
Belonging is such a loaded word for me right now, as I’m
looking at characters who suffer from hoarding, or from a detachment in
belonging to family.
I’m examining issues of belonging to friendships, memories, blogs, exile, debts, illness, cats, theatre companies, journeys, writing groups and teams.
I’m particularly interested right now in the sense of
belonging to a house, witnessing a sense of our personal history there, and the
attachment we feel when we find it as our “home”.
I found this quote from Toko-pa’s book just as I was thinking of the imprint of the place of home:
“It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days. Though these adaptations happen at a biological level, we are vastly unconscious of the implications a place has on our psyche. Just as humans carry an energetic signature, so too do geographies. However, like fish swimming in water, we are rarely aware of what energy a place holds until we leave it, or return to it after time away.”