Category Archives: playwriting

Changes of All Kinds

Well, first thing, I gave my site a bit of a long-overdue upgrade. At some point, WordPress started running ads on free accounts, and it had bothered me for a very long time because it looked so unprofessional. And yesterday they had a nice sale on paid accounts, sooo goodbye, ads! I also finally (FINALLY!) got to get rid of the annoying “Colleen M. Hughes” in bold Times New Roman that had been sitting in the top right corner from day 1, conveniently right *above* the banner that also has my name on it. I have wanted that gone from the very beginning. I think I mentioned it in my first blog post. Then I went and tweaked the font just because I can. So I’m happier with it so far. There are still a lot of things I want to fix, mainly the layout of the Plays page, and I need to go through my links and make sure they’re all updated and such, but YAY to the must-fixes finally being fixed.

A lot has changed in my life since the last blog entry. I lost my sweet, lovable, special cat Marmalade very suddenly to lymphoma at the end of last May. It was really rough emotionally and I hadn’t wanted to write about it publicly. The only bright spot in the summer was that I also met a Dave in July, and he’s been a big part of my life since then. (I also got to make a return trip to Coláiste na Rinne in Co. Waterford to continue studying the Irish language, huge thanks to the Fulbright foundation for offering summer Gaeltacht grants.)

And, of course, a lot has changed in the world since my last blog entry too. As anyone reading this somewhere around the date I publish it will know, we’re in the middle of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Boston, like practically everywhere else, is shut down, with only essential businesses remaining open. My mom is a teacher and has been out of school since noon on March 11 and will not be back till May 4 at the very earliest (if at all). Colleges are closed. People are advised not to go out unless it’s for groceries or medication. “Social distancing” has become a commonplace term.

It’s been strange for me, both in day-to-day life and as an artist. I work from home as the norm, so I’m completely used to it and nothing about my daily work routine has changed. But my living situation is a bit weird… I live in my grandmother’s attic in sort of a faux-apartment (it has a bedroom and a big living room, but no kitchen other than the minifridge/keurig/kettle corner and no bathroom). My grandmother lives on the second floor, and my mom lives on the first floor, along with two of my three brothers. And now all of them are home all day. And with my mom home, I feel sort of obligated to work downstairs in her apartment to keep her company rather than my usual workspace in the attic. And weird things start to bother me, like I can’t have the background noise that I want because I go with whatever my mom decides to have on tv, and I can’t have my cat sitting with me while I’m downstairs. I feel like I’m ignoring him and leaving him all alone, and I hate that. But then if I just stay up in my own space as usual, I feel like I’m ignoring my mom. So that change has been hard, but I’m lucky in that working from home is not a change for me and (so far anyway) my workload hasn’t been negatively impacted.

Writing-wise though, things are tougher. I know all the theatre companies have been hurt badly by having to cancel shows. And once again I’m lucky because it’s not like I make any huge amount of money from my writing, so I didn’t lose anything that would really hurt my financial situation (yet anyway). But I’ve had two one-acts I’m writing for a summer theatre camp, and I’ve been worrying that the camp will have to be cancelled. It’s in August, so we’ll see.

But just getting the plays done in and of itself has been a battle too. My anxiety has been sort of in high gear with the combo of constantly worrying whether every migraine or sign of allergies means I’m sick and have therefore infected everyone I’ve been around and at the same time managing my mom’s anxiety. And I still have all the usual barriers to getting writing done, like the fact that I work such long hours freelancing because I don’t make enough money. And my writing group is meeting virtually, with staggered days for each member to send their play to the group and get written responses from everyone. So instead of carving out one work-free night to devote to feedback, I have to fit in reading and responding to five scripts in addition to the time it takes me to write my own. And I love my writing group and love reading their work… it’s just the “having to fit so many hours into the day” thing that’s been rough. I start to feel a tad jealous of the people who are like “I’m so bored and I have no idea what to do with myself” because I’m scrambling even more so than usual.

But it will all be ok. I have to remind myself that it’s GOOD that I’m so busy. It means I’m still working, still receiving a paycheck. It means I have writing projects to work on. I need all of that when everything else is so uncertain and just seems to get worse every day. Hope you’re all hanging in there too. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

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I Wrote for Kids and I Liked It

As you might be able to tell if you’ve checked out the front page of the site, I’ve had a couple kid-friendly credits to my name recently, with Step into Christmas over (obviously) Christmas and my piece in the Puppet Theater family-friendly performance this month.

I’ve also been in the planning stages with a writer/musician friend of mine on an original musical for kids. And I wrote that spec for Vampirina for the Nickelodeon Writing Program competition.

vampirina

(If you do not know what a Vampirina is, she’s an adorable Disney Jr. cartoon.)

The Vampirina script was so much fun to write… like, I actually… ENJOYED writing it? It was challenging because I’d never set out to write for the preschool audience before, but I wrote it without *too many* crippling anxiety attacks.

Next up is a spec script for the Amazon Prime kids show Just Add Magic. Because having a second current spec is always good and my old ones are (a) outdated and (b) not kids’ shows. I know I’m kind of taking a risk choosing Just Add Magic… I watched the entire series and, though it hasn’t been announced as renewed OR cancelled yet, the current “final” episode felt very, well… final. Like I feel like if it returns it will be one of those reboots, like when we get a new Doctor on Doctor Who, but with less, you know, burning.

doctorwho

So even if it does come back, it would be like writing a Peter Capaldi and Bill script when they’re not around anymore. It may be instantly outdated the second the show gets renewed (assuming it does, which it should, because it’s wonderful).

But I want to move forward with it anyway because I kind of love the show and actively WANT to write an episode of it. It was on Nickelodeon’s “accepted shows” list for shows they’ll accept as entrants into the preschool track of their competition, but I didn’t get into it until after the submissions were due. I’m going to just write it anyway, even though it may not even make their list next year since it’s technically not a preschool show like a lot of the others were.

So that’s… five projects either done or in development (“floating around in my head” and “Skype convos and shared spreadsheets” totally count as in development, shush) in less than a year. And I really enjoy it. And I think I’m maybe… dare I say… *good* at it? Or at least, my voice lends itself well to this style of writing. Yes, I’m comfortable saying that. My voice lends itself well to four-year-olds, people! But also to, say, ten-year-olds. I have range.

I don’t know why it took me so long to steer my writing down this path. I’ve wanted to write for kids basically since I started writing. I just sort of never did it because there was always a “real script” to be writing first. So I’d kill myself over the “real scripts” that languished in the awful development hell that is my brain, and nothing would ever feel “finished.” And because nothing ever felt finished, I never moved onto the “fun projects” that I’d been reserving just for my own time, i.e., not something I’d share with my writing group.

But why did I think I couldn’t bring in children’s scripts to my writing group? Other people have before. And why didn’t I see it as “real writing”? Maybe I needed the first door to open with Step Into Christmas to make me feel like it was a viable path for me to start down, because before that it was like “ok, so I write a script for kids… and then what?” None of my usual submission places take kid scripts. But now it’s like… just write what you feel like and figure out what to do with it after. And I don’t have to STOP writing for adults. It just makes sense to, you know, write what I like writing and to do that more often in my life. Some things in retrospect seem very obvious.

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Writers at Play 3rd Annual(ish) Reading Series

My writing group’s third public reading series is tomorrow night!

WAP 2018

Writers at Play

2018 Showcase of New Work

Michael Towers: On Marriage: A Modern Absurdism
Colleen M. Hughes: Súgán
Deirdre Girard: Resettlement
Peter M. Floyd: Infestation

You’re invited to a sneak preview of four brand-new plays by none other than my writing group, Writers at Play. We’re excited to share this journey of new work created by alumni of Boston University’s graduate program in playwriting.

FREE

Tuesday, May 22nd at 7:30 pm
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Comm. Ave.

Reception to follow!

Cast: Lewis D. Wheeler, Amanda Collins, Christine Power, and Ciera-Sadé Wade

Learn more about we the playwrights, our distinct voices, and the other projects we have on the horizon. Sample a few scenes from each new play, read by the professional actors who support Writers at Play throughout the early development process.

 

Also be sure to check out the work of John Zakrosky, Jr., the fifth member of our group, who was unable to make Tuesday’s reading but who has been hard at work with us all season.

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Where Are They Now?

My plays, I mean. I’m infamous for getting a play about 80% there and then not being able to make the final push to getting it into a producible shape. It’s why I can get myself readings but never anything beyond that. It’s also likely why I tend to get myself discouraged and tell myself I’m just not cut out for this because I lack both the talent and the drive. One thing I excel at though is beating up on myself, and I need to not do that. I can definitely get plays into producible shape. I went through an MFA program and I held my own with classmates who are amazing writers. I may have gone into the program not really knowing how to write a play and know zero people in the local theatre scene, but it’s been six or seven years and I have a good network of people and I’m at least at the level of “oh, I think I’ve heard your name around…???” when people meet me. So, yes, I can do this.

But the plays need to get their collective asses in gear. They’re all in various states of disarray. But I’m working on them, and here now is my commitment to them. I need to do that thing you shouldn’t do on a public-facing site and express nerves about my work, because I’m me and my site is going to reflect that so deal with it. (Confidence?) So here’s where the full-lengths stand as I gear up for this year’s Writers at Play season.

The Prayer Bargain

My first “real” play. My first-ever play was my undergrad thesis fairytale written-in-verse nightmare, but this play was my MFA thesis and could actually go somewhere beyond O’Kane 481 at Holy Cross (I love 481 though, nothing against it). I wrote the first draft of this in 2009-2010, and I keep coming back to it, determined to get it right. I got some really great feedback on it this summer that I am currently trying to incorporate. What I’m struggling with is that something really has to CHANGE (it’s a fucking play, that’s kind of the point), but it’s a family play, and in my experience, family doesn’t change. Problems exist in an evolving but recurring spiral. I’m struggling with getting my characters to effect change because I don’t know how to do so in my own family, so I have no “write what you know” experience to draw from. But I’m working on something happening. When I finish this draft I really want to get another reading up. I’m not giving up on this play. It’s the only one my dad ever got to see any sort of live performance of, so it’s special.

Directive 47

I cannot get this play to sound like me. Normally, I can at the very least do dialogue. Plot I am kind of all over the place with, but dialogue I can handle. This play has always sounded like people orating at each other. And I can’t stand it. I did a reading at Erbaluce last January where it really stuck out. I just wanted to keep drinking wine but I couldn’t get up to refill my glass. The feedback from that reading was invaluable, but I need to have the mental energy for a deep-dive back into this one that I don’t know if I have at the moment. So it’s sort of in a back-of-my-mind letting-the-feedback-stir phase. This play goes through lots of that.

What frustrates me so much is that this play has gotten the most attention of anything I’ve written—I get accepted into more programs when it’s my writing sample, it’s gotten more readings and gotten further in competitions, etc.—but I KNOW that Prayer Bargain is much further developed and that the actual dialogue writing is so much better. That throws me into all sorts of self-doubt. Are people just responding to the topical issues in Directive 47? Or could it be a really good play if I just fucking sat down and fixed all its problems? On the other hand, Prayer Bargain is sooo close to done…does that mean it’s just Not Good and it’s never going to go anywhere even when it’s as good as it can possibly be?

The Travellers

This one is at a completed-second-draft stage. i.e. it is still a mess. I have a section of it going up on Boston Podcast Players in a few months.

IMG_8133

Photo by Boston Podcast Players.

This is my awesome cast recording the play in August with me appearing via Skype (I was in New Jersey). I’m excited for people to actually get to hear the reading because it will have been several months by then. This play is a bit of a conundrum. It’s whimsical and fun, and it could ALMOST work as a young audiences play…except that most of the main roles are for adults. I sort of envisioned it as an all-ages play…one that middle and high school kids would like and could totally perform but one that could also be done by a regular theatre and adults would enjoy it. Like Doctor Who. Who (pun intended) I’m clearly inspired by here. If I went full out and made it a young audiences play, does that make it “less” of a play in any sense? I say no. I love writing for kids. But it also closes it off to so many opportunities and gets it kind of limited. There’s also the Traveller’s identity which is kind of one of those not-so-secret secrets. I need to work it so that the reveal moment doesn’t feel like a Big Reveal (at least to the audience) because it’s like “yeah, obviously.” I don’t want people to think I’m stupid. He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid. yes.

Time Steps

Poor sad Time Steps is stalled out around page 25. The beginning keeps getting rewritten.  This is my play about tap dance and memories and life and death and friendship, and I want it to be imbued with rhythm and movement and FEEL like tap but right now it feels like girls being catty to each other, and then I get discouraged and I want to throw things. First drafts are fun. I want to keep pushing ahead with this one though. It’s one that will be more fun to work on once it’s written and I can actually play with the dance.

Untitled Sound-Movement-Poetic-Something

This only exists as a line (half a line, maybe) on a page right now. I started it during one of the above-mentioned times that Time Steps was making me want to throw things and 2017 was making me question my existence. I don’t know if anything will ever come of it. It has no concept other than “I miss being able to move and I want to write something more lyrical.” Oddly enough back in my undergrad Creative Writing program where I focused on poetry, I thought I was terrible with having any sort of lyric quality to my writing. I also was at the most miserable, lonely point in my life and all my poetry was looking back on a childhood and a home I could never have, so maybe my writing has improved now that I’m mentally better. I’d like to do something with this. Without it seeming melodramatic and stupid. I’m not sure if I know how. I wish I had a dance studio in my room so I could just move around and play with ideas.

This post was completely self-serving. I don’t mind if you didn’t read it. It was more of a collecting my thoughts on my writing and looking ahead as writing group time starts up than about trying to be clever. Plays, people! I sometimes write them.

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Back in action

Wow, it’s been a long time. So long that it looks like WordPress has updated their New Post window. This is just a quick pre-work update on all of the things that have been inhibiting me from updating (i.e., an excuse blog! I’m great at those).

Speaking of pre-work, I have a new job now! Am I writerly enough to call it a “day job”? I don’t want to sound obnoxious. Anyway. I’ve been here two and a half months. I’m not working from home anymore, and I’m up and at work before I used to have to even be awake. It’s been an adjustment. I hate mornings.

I also moved! I am back in the hometown of Somerville. I moved about a month ago, but I’m still unpacking and getting things settled. It’s one of those moves where the unpacking feels overwhelming and I just don’t want to do it. I probably should force myself to work on it tonight a little.

The hardest update, which is probably why unpacking has been so overwhelming, is that Allan (the boyfriend) moved back to Arkansas and we’re currently doing the long-distance thing. Long-distance is extra-hard when his internet is limited to a certain amount of data because cable and DSL aren’t available in his area, so skyping has to be limited. It’s been hard, but we’re making it work one day at a time.

So all of this has left me completely out of it writing-wise. I’ve worked on a few things lately though, so I’m starting to get back into it, hooray! The other day I was working on seeing what my fairytale play Mirror, Mirror would be like adapted into sort of an early-reader chapterbook. I haven’t decided if it will work yet. I was adding a frame story to it which I like, but I’m not sure if the material I have would be too long for a book in that age group.

In any case, I also want to adapt that play into a play for young audiences. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. What’s held me back is that I think the verse element needs to go. And that kills me. This play was my undergrad thesis, my very first little proto-play, and the verse was SO. HARD. to write. But I need to think of it in terms of theatricality now, not just academics. And I need to think about what will play better on the stage, especially for kids. And if there’s not a good, necessary for the story reason for it to be in verse, I should cut it. I can keep the lyricism and rhythm of the language without being so limited by the form. But like I said, it kills me.

I’ve also been a children’s lit kick lately, and I want to try my hand at writing a book for kids. The play adaptation is serving as a sort of “practice session” for that to play with the form and get more of a handle on it. It’s weird when you’ve been writing drama for so long that you suddenly sit down to fiction and it feels foreign. It’s like, “you mean I just can’t write ‘setting: the bedroom of two young girls’ and have a set designer make it all pretty for me? I have to actually use words to describe it???”

My latest project has been a much-needed revise on The Prayer Bargain. I had one of those flashes of insight while taking a shower the other night, and I think I’ve figured out Molly’s journey and what she wants. Being back in Somerville means I’m on this play’s stomping grounds, so I’m getting more excited to finally tinker with the problems this play’s been having.

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At my own pace

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and guess what… I’m still running! I went through a period where I fell out of it for a week and a half when work was going crazy and I also had to get a lot of writing done, but I’m really trying to make this something I stick with. Because of jumping around and missing a few days, I’m on the beginning of week 5 of the beginner program I’ve been doing.

Today’s schedule was 12 min run/1 min walk repeated twice followed by a 4 min run to round out the 30 minutes.  Last Wednesday was when I finally got back to the gym and started up again, and I did an interval of 10 min run/1 min walk twice followed by 8 min run. I was mad at myself for going a week and a half between running days, and I told myself that I had to set the treadmill on 5.0 for my minimal running pace from now on because everyone else at the gym seems to run at 5.5 at the least. I can run at 5.0… when I was doing shorter run intervals I liked that pace because going slower actually felt more difficult. The first 10 minutes were pretty good… I started at 4.6 and bumped it up to 5.0 after two minutes because my previous run had been at 8 min intervals. The second 10 minutes were harder as it got down to the end. I was clock-watching a lot and that always kills me. When I got to final 8 minutes I could feel a blister starting to form on my left foot and a cramp in my hip on that leg, and I practically was speed-walking the final minute and a half.

Then I tried to run again on Thursday even though the plan usually has a walk day in between run days, again because I was mad at myself for being away so long. I was also missing my dad a lot because it was the anniversary of the day he died, and I sort of wanted to run out all of the sad feelings. But I could barely do it. I managed to run for 15 of the 30 minutes, but I had to split it up into 10 run, 10 walk, 5 run, 5 walk. I felt awful. Friday I fell asleep after barely making it through work. It was a rough week.

So today I started off at the beginning of week 5 of the plan, as I said with 12 min run intervals. The muscle aches of last week were gone, and I decided that I probably needed to stop caring about my pace or my calories burned for now and just focus on building up the endurance. The speed will come once I get the endurance there. That’s a problem I always have with anything I approach. I feel like if I’m not absolutely killing myself then I must not be working hard enough. But I ran at 4.6 instead of 5.0 and, big surprise, got through the 12 min intervals much easier than the 10 min ones of last week. It was still a workout, but I wasn’t left feeling like I must be incredibly weak to not be able to handle the plan anymore once I got halfway through it. I put the speed up to 5.0 for the final 4 min run and that felt good. And I still went past the 2 mile mark and got to 2.25-2.30, which is around where I was last time. And I feel like on Wednesday when the interval rises to 13 min, I will be able to handle it.

I need to approach more facets of my life like this. It doesn’t matter that (what feels like) everyone else at the gym runs at 5.5 or 6.0, and it doesn’t matter if they can go that fast and are also beginner runners. Maybe I’m better at dancing or yoga than they are (and if not, then ehhh, whatever, I’ve never been a super-athlete anyway). And if a friend is way more established as a writer than I am, that’s ok and it doesn’t diminish that I’ve made some progress since getting the MFA. It doesn’t mean I should sit there berating myself while I revise until I start questioning whether I’m actually cut out for it. Or if a friend makes more money/owns a house/is married/has a kid/all four of those things, it’s ok that I’m not there yet. It’s ok that I’ve had a couple major challenges in the past few years and have had to take some time working through them. It’s so much more productive to write/live at 4.6 and stay motivated than to force yourself to function at 5.0 and beat yourself up when you’re struggling to maintain it. Now I actually feel like going out and running again next time instead of dreading it. And when I don’t beat myself up about writing, I usually write things that turn out a lot better. Imagine that.

Remind me to take a look back at this post when I start feeling like I’m not doing good enough with life. Remind me that when I’m thinking clearly, these thoughts make sense and that it does not signify my “taking the easy way out.”

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He catches a ride on a friendly pterodactyl

Because most of the important things I’ve learned in my life can be traced back to Sesame Street.

I’m doing NaPlWriMo again this year (and you should too!), and while I do have a few ideas for full-length plays bouncing around in my head, I’m kind of at a loss of which one to start and where to begin. There’s a blog post on the site raising the question of what makes a play a play. When is something a play versus not a play? Whenever that question is raised, I always find myself back in Kate Snodgrass’s playwriting class and hear her telling us that a play, even in a format as short as ten minutes, needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end–that is, that it has to tell a full story. That conversation never fails to get this old Sesame Street song stuck in my head.

It sounds pretty basic, but when you have to sit there and think about something you’ve written and make sure it has those three distinct parts, it’s actually helpful advice. One thing in particular about the ending in a play versus a tv episode or a comedy skit is that at least one of your characters has to have changed in some way. Again, sounds basic. But when I was writing The Mouse, for example, the draft that went to KCACTF had a different ending than the draft that ended up in the Boston Theatre Marathon (and published). The feedback from the judges at KCACTF was that the current version was just a skit because the protagonist had decided to quit and find a job that took her seriously. In my mind, that was a change because she went from nervous and weak in the beginning to standing up for herself and going after what she wanted. But if her walking out signified not *enough* of a change, she needed instead to pull her boss onto her side and force him to see that she was necessary (even if in his mind she’s a necessary evil). It still kills me to have had to change the original ending because I loved that version. But was it a play, or was it a sketch-comedy skit? I ultimately went with the version that left it in “play” territory. But I’m still not 100% satisfied with the ending.

So it’s not always as “well, duh, obviously” as it sounds. In fact, the major problems with all of my full-length plays, no matter how far along they are, can be summed up by this beginning/middle/end journey:

End: The Prayer Bargain is STILL struggling with its ending. It’s like almost all there except for the one “crystallizing moment” that ties it all together and makes the audience have that “wow, this was a good play” feeling rather than the “ok, time to get home now” feeling. Maybe if I can put into words how exactly Molly and the rest of the family change and spell out what the beginning, middle, and end is, I can get the ending to work better.

Middle: Directive 47 has its structure all set in place now but needs some help figuring out what the events of the plot mean for each of the characters. Their journeys need to be more clearly defined. They all need to find their own friendly pterodactyl to fly away on. (Which–nuns flying on pterodactyls–that sounds like a much more awesome story than the one I’m writing, though it could also be interpreted as fundamentalist “world is 6000 years old” propaganda, and we wouldn’t want that.)

Beginning: Whatever idea I decide to focus on for Naplwrimo, I don’t know where I’m going to start. The song starts off with Seymour waking up… I don’t even know who my “Seymour” will be. Why is it so hard for me to even name characters in the beginning?

So there’s lots to work on. But I bought a Naplwrimo hoodie from their Cafepress store, so now I’m all geared up for writing, because I have a hoodie now, right? That makes it official.

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Revision!

The reading of my newest play, Directive 47, at New Rep is in less than two weeks. I have no idea how it came up on me so quickly. I still have SO. MUCH. REVISING. to do between now and June 9, when the reading begins at 2pm.

This is the play I blogged about months ago, the one inspired by the true story of a nun who was excommunicated for allowing an abortion to be performed at the Catholic hospital she worked at. It’s come a long way since I last mentioned it in the blog, but it’s still nowhere near where I’d like it to be this close to a reading going up.

It took me till a few weeks ago, during a meeting with my writing group, to realize that I was basically writing another family play (is that all I know how to write?). That what felt lacking to me, and why I kept walking away from table reads with the thought of “this play is to talky,” was that the characters are basically a little family, but they’re not really acting like one right now. The plot has been there, but the characters have been sort of too bogged down by it instead of caught up with each other. Which is the exact total opposite of how The Prayer Bargain developed. In that play, the characters were there and present almost from the very beginning, but the plot sort of stumbled its way into existence. It’s weird how writing works sometimes.

But right now I should be working on my latest revision instead of blogging about how I should be working on it. Last week, I met with both Ben Evett, my reading director, and Bridget O’Leary, the head of our New Voices @ New Rep program, and I feel good about the changes that need to be made. I just need to sit down and make them. New draft, coming soon!

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Long overdue KCACTF photos

What better day to clear some photos off my phone than a day when I’m supposed to be writing!

Back in January, I got to travel to the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival with my ten-minute play The Button. I say “travel” even though it involved getting a ride all the way to lovely Fitchburg, MA. “Team BU” consisted of me, Peter Floyd, MJ Halberstadt, and Michael Parsons. My roommate was the lovely Alex Marshall of Suffolk, and my play was once again dramaturged by the wonderful Brianna Marie Wing of Stonehill. Charlene Donaghy of Lesley, who I met last year, was back again this time around, so it was nice to see a couple familiar faces. I took more pictures this time around because I’m pretty sure I’ve been out of grad school too long to qualify again next year, and I might not get another chance like this. Below are some of my photos and photos taken by friends. Actually, most of them are from friends.


Me with Angel Nunez of Lesley, whose ten-minute play Fragment was one of the national semifinalists. Photo by Kate Snodgrass.


Me with my roommate Alex Marshall, whose ten-minute play The Search was the other national semifinalist. Photo by Kate Snodgrass.


My cast rehearsing The Button.


The red button in the hotel lobby.


…And me with the red button. Photo by Brianna Wing.


The set at the opening of Act 1 of Rhinoceros from LeMoyne. Photo by Brianna Wing.


And how it looked in Act 2. Photo by Brianna Wing.


Part of the lobby display from LeMoyne’s Rhinoceros that went up before intermission. Photo by Brianna Wing.

I wish I had a photo from Suffolk Community College’s The Icarus Project, because that was phenomenal. Overall, it was such a fun week where I got to see a lot of great theatre and meet a lot of awesome people, and I’m so happy that I was given the chance to attend.

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Response to article in The Stranger

A friend on facebook (fellow local playwright Lou Johnson) posted this article earlier today: Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves, by Brandan Kiley in The Stranger. The article made a lot of interesting points about the problems that theatre is facing today, so I thought I’d weigh in, point by point.

1. “Enough with the Goddamned Shakespeare Already”: I love the way he puts it that fringe theatre “should be in the game of debasement.” That’s awesome. But we were just discussing this issue of Shakespeare (and other classics) at our last New Voices workshop at New Rep. I’m personally torn on this one. Obviously, as someone who makes new work, I want to see more new work in more theatres. I think it’s vital to the survival of theatre. But I also value the classics. I never got to go to the theatre as a kid, so there’s a lot of classic plays that I love that I’ve never been able to see live. New Rep is doing Long Day’s Journey into Night this spring, and I really want to try to see that because it’s one of my favorite plays and I’ve never seen it live (but I have seen the movie version). There’s so many plays I haven’t been able to see but would love to. And plays aren’t like movies, where you can pop in Gone with the Wind on dvd whenever you want so it’s not necessary to rerelease it into the theaters except for once-in-awhile special occasions. Unless we develop some sort of recording and archiving process that would make at least videotaped performances of the classics (ideally of every play) readily available, I wouldn’t want to see them totally pushed out of theatres. All that being said, yes, more new work! There should be a much better balance between new and old work in regional theatres.

2. “Tell Us Something We Don’t Know”: Again, more productions of new work! More premieres! And I like that he clarifies that even a regional premiere is a good thing. I haven’t reached this point in my career yet, but I’ve heard that it’s even harder to get a second production than it is a first production. So regional premieres that may have been done once or twice elsewhere are incredibly important. But I have to take issue with this remark: “Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there.” Don’t you think we WANT to “quit developing our plays into the ground”? No one I know wants to go through workshop after workshop without a production in sight, but often that’s just all that new writers of new work are given because that’s all the theatres have in their budgets to offer us. I don’t know anyone who’d say “no, please don’t produce me, I’d rather workshop my play into the ground until I can’t remember why I wrote it in the first place.” Seriously. It all goes back to the failing subscription-based model of revenue at regional theaters.

3. “Produce Dirty, Fast, and Often”: This I like. It’s not right for every theatre, but for small new companies that don’t have much of a budget, I think doing as much as you can with what you have can yield some really fun and surprising results. It strikes me as the type of thing that would work really well in a collaborative theatre group setting where the playwright, director, actors, and designers team up from day one and just see what they can make. Fun with no budgets!

4. “Get Them Young”: Definitely important. The question is how. New work and lower ticket prices would help, I think. But of course all of that depends on the budgets of the theatres and it’s all a vicious cycle. Maybe different models like live-streaming certain performances where people can purchase a “ticket” to view the livestream at a much cheaper price than a seat in the theatre can be thought about? That way the house can still be full but people who can’t afford the $40 or $50 it costs to be there in person would at least get a shot at seeing it. I don’t know. I think it will be exciting to see what people come up with.

5. “Offer Child Care”: I love this! Only don’t just invite actors to run it–invite the playwrights too! Everyone in the theatre would welcome the chance to make some extra money by playing theatre games with kids.

6. “Fight for Real Estate”: I’m intrigued by this concept of “artist housing.” Is this really a real thing in other cities? Although I’d personally rather just be able to make enough money to afford the cost of living. Being poor is no fun. Also, I am someone who came from from a neighborhood that was gentrified first by artsy and subsequently by rich types… artists aren’t the only ones being priced out of those communities. So are the original residents.

7. “Build Bars”: This would be fun. Last year, I went to Blood Rose Rising‘s workshop performances, and they had a little mini-open-bar in the corner that served drinks all night. And live music to accompany the performances. It was such a cool experience and gave the performance a nice community vibe. They’re offering drinks and live music again this time around as they go into full productions (Episode One opens Friday, February 17 at the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville… go see it!).

8. “Boors’ Night Out”: I wish I were sure enough of myself to allow the audience to shout out whatever they wanted during one of my plays. I don’t know. I think I’m too sensitive for this one. Shouting out your favorite lines and singing along is fun though. Just not sure that I’m emotionally ready for cries of “you suck!” 🙂

9. “Expect Poverty”: No. Just no. “Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad school debt. Sorry.” I could not disagree more. EVERYONE deserves a living wage for their work, whether they went to grad school or not. No one should have to expect poverty. Expect that it will be tough and that it’s a really difficult industry, yes. Expect that there’s no guarantee of a big paycheck like there is if you do other forms of graduate study like med school or law school, yes. But don’t expect poverty. How do you expect people to do their jobs, whether it’s making art or teaching school or working in an office, if they don’t think they deserve a liveable wage for all the work they put into it? Don’t even get me started on the fact that education costs have skyrocketed in recent years while the increase in salaries has not anywhere near matched it. I know it was meant lightly, but still. Believe that what you offer the world deserves better than poverty!

10. “Drop Out of Grad School”: Again, I disagree. MFA programs definitely are not necessary for success, and “learning by doing” is also important. The problem is, I don’t know about other people, but I had very little playwriting experience before grad school. I didn’t feel like I knew how to write a play. I didn’t know that ten-minute plays even existed. I didn’t grow up going to the theatre. And I had zero connections to the local theatrical community. I NEEDED my MFA program. And to this day I know that going to grad school was the best thing I ever could have done with my life. It’s completely changed my writing life into something that’s now a regular part of who I am instead of something I hope I can do someday. Other people might not need the MFA program in order to do that. But I did. I’m a much better writer now, I have WAY more confidence than I used to, and I actually know what the process is for trying to get your work produced now. I was pretty clueless before.

So that’s it. Just my poorly organized thoughts. What I’ve been wondering about lately is how everywhere I’ve heard that the subscription-based regional theatre model is failing and needs to change. And I totally agree. But because I’m so new to this industry, I’d be interested to hear from people who’ve been here awhile about whether American theatre does really seem to be on a precipice of a major overhaul the way it was before the advent of the regional theatre, or if this is a conversation that’s been going on for decades but nothing ever seems to happen. I feel like change is necessary in order for theatre to grow and survive. Let’s do this, people.

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Filed under playwriting, theatre