Category Archives: playwriting

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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The Button video

I’ve been back from KCACTF for over a week now, and I really want to write all about it. I’ve just been So. Busy. I bought a car! I got my learner’s permit! (In that order. Shut up.) And work is its usual crazy deadline-filled self. So for now, until I get a free minute to write about the week and share some photos, check out the video of the staged reading for my little ten-minute play The Button. I’ll be adding this video to this play’s actual page on my website once I confirm the spelling of the names of everyone involved.

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The hard is what makes it great

I mentioned in my last post that I have a deadline for the first draft of my new play on January 1. That’s why I’m actually updating twice in one week for the first time in forever. I posted this video on facebook earlier today, but it doesn’t mean I still can’t blog about it, right?

So, I say horrible things about writing a lot. I complain and I say that I hate it and that it would be so much better without the whole “writing” part. I often take for granted that people obviously *know* that I love what I’m doing and that I just like to complain when it gets difficult. I’m big on the self-deprecating-humor thing.

But a lot of people probably don’t get that this is just how I work, and they may think things like “are you happy doing this? If you’re not happy, why don’t you stop?” or “you don’t really sound like you like it all that much.” I do. I love writing. I’ve loved it since I was a kid and wrote shitty rhymey poetry about the sun and my dog (actually, I don’t think I ever wrote a poem about my dog).

This scene with the immortal Tom Hanks basically sums up my feelings toward writing:

“If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

I totally rip this off pay homage to this line in my play I’m working on.

This is just one of those times where it’s really hard. When I write one line of dialogue and immediately want to go check facebook or twitter, when it takes forever to even advance the script one page, when looking at my god-awful dialogue makes me want to be sick. It will all be worth it in a few days. Then I’ll have a shitty first draft that I can proceed to rip apart for the next few months. hooray!

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NaPlWriMo!

I’ve been really busy this month because I’m once again attempting to do NaPlWriMo, or National Playwriting Month, the playwriterly cousin of NaNoWriMo. I’m working on my play I’ve mentioned here before about the Catholic nun who was excommunicated for approving an abortion at a Catholic hospital.

The NaPlWriMo goal is a completed first draft of a new play that is at least 75 pages long. So far I only have slightly over 10 pages. I did really well week 1 and was ahead of schedule, but week 2 has completely fallen apart. I’ve simultaneously been trying to step up my gym activities, and for some reason it was a lot harder to balance work/writing/gym this week than it was last week. But I had a (very small) breakthrough today. I just took a few minutes in the afternoon and got out my notebook and made a really rough map of my way through the play–detailed enough to give me an idea of what should come next, but basic enough to allow for going off course if the play seems to be naturally heading that way. I feel less lost about everything now.

But after work today I decided I’d let myself take a quick nap before I started up the writing. Annnd somehow when I opened my eyes it was 8:00. And I still felt tired, like I could sleep through the whole night. I missed the NaPlWriMo community’s Google+ hangout because I slept right through it.

I guess that just shows you how much can randomly get in the way when you set out to write a whole new draft in a month. Unforeseen things like falling asleep for three hours, or your trainer not showing up for your gym appointment to get set up for the upper-body lifting machines, can get in your way and throw your whole system off. But then the key becomes not letting that completely screw you up and recovering the next day. I let myself get mired in loss of direction and rest-of-life this week. I need to get myself back on track this weekend.

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New Rep and new play

My poor website is so sad and neglected. I’ve been busy and crazy. But what else is new?

I haven’t mentioned it in my blog yet, but I’m doing a writing program at New Rep this year! I am a New Voices playwriting fellow, along with former BU classmates Emily Kaye Lazzaro and Anna Renee Hansen, and James McLindon, who I had never met before but who is also awesome. It’s going to be a really great group to work with, and I’m excited about it.

The first workshop of my work is going to be November 7th. I’m working on starting a new full-length that I’d had in my head for over a year now but had sort of put on the backburner because I didn’t know how to approach it. It’s going to be based on the true story of a Catholic nun in Phoenix, Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at a Catholic hospital and approved an abortion on a woman who was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child because the woman’s life was in danger. Doctors said her risk of mortality was “near 100 percent” if they continued with the pregnancy. The abortion was performed and the woman lived. Once Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted heard that the abortion took place, he automatically excommunicated Sister Margaret. There’s a lot of actual press on the story, but check out the wikipedia article for a quick overview.

I’m still doing research (i.e., scared to start the actual writing, see previous blog entry), but there’s obviously a lot going on here. The Catholicism stuff won’t be too much of a problem because I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic schools my entire life, so I have a decent handle on their way of thinking and the church’s policies and mindset and all of that. My main concern right now is figuring out how to tell this story without being overtly political or coming across as preachy. I don’t want an “issue play.” I need to find a way in, through exploring a relationship or faith/salvation/something like that, and use that as my means of exploring the topic and let the politics and controversy and all of that sort of arise out of it naturally. argh. I’m worried about it. I’ve also never written anything based on a true story before, so I still feel kind of weird inventing characters based on these people who are still alive and going about their everyday business. But not much about them as people is really out there. I’m hoping to get a decent start on it and get help with all of these questions from the group.

I’m also going to attempt to get out a draft of it during NaPlWriMo, or National Playwriting Month, the playwrights’ counterpart to the much larger NaNoWriMo. You basically join this group of awesome writers at all different stages of their careers around the country and the world in writing a new full-length play during the month the month of November. I first heard about it in 2007 but didn’t take part that year, then I got a comment on my old blog in 2008 from one of the moderators suggesting that I sign up. I figured “why not?” and I’ve been there every year since. The past two years was full of cheating on my part because I was in grad school and had to work on several projects during the month instead of one full play, but I was still on the forums because the community is just so great. I’m going to be a bit of a cheater this year too and start before November 1, but that’s because the New Voices group will need copies of my work in progress by 10/31 in order to prepare for the workshop on 11/7. But if I write a draft longer than the minimum 75 pages in November then maybe I can still count it as a “win.” Either way, it’s fun. There’s still ten days to sign up! You know you want to do it!

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8 Ways to Rationalize Not Writing

I should be writing right now.

That’s something I find myself saying a lot. I say it way more often than I actually listen to myself and start to write. I’m an expert in procrastination and rationalizing my reasons not to write. Here’s some of my rationalization favorites:

1. I’m so tired/stressed/overwhelmed right now that if I tried to write, anything I wrote would just be total crap.
This is bullshit. Often it just takes the simple act of getting started and lines start to get written. It’s like magic… you sit down to write, and writing happens. Insane, I tell you! I spent basically all of undergrad feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived (hooray for double majors!), and I still got all my work done. And (usually) did well. And even if what I wrote that day WAS total crap, there’s a little thing called revision to fix it all later. “I’ll fix it later” really is a wonderful mantra.

2. I’m in the middle of [insert book title, or better yet, book series], and I should finish that off before I start a new writing project, because otherwise I’ll get distracted from the book and forget what’s been happening.
There’s probably a reason why I decided to finally pick up Harry Potter this past spring. On book six now! But yeah. It’s called “read a little after that night’s writing session.” Problem easily solved. And yet it’s one of my favorite excuses.

3. The cats like to climb all over my desk and my chair, so I can never get any work done.
Coffeeshop, anyone? Library, perhaps? Or even just “work from the couch”?

4. Updating my website or posting to twitter counts as being “writing related” because it’s part of the whole “self-marketing” thing.
Because it will do a LOT of good trying to get local theatre companies to learn more about me if I never have anything to actually send them. And as you can see, I’ve had trouble lately even feeling like I have something inetersting enough to blog about. Still, this is a particularly dangerous excuse, because techically I am doing something tangentially related to writing, which can easily be rationalized into feelings of productivity. Ohhh yes.

5. Watching this movie or tv show or reading this book is helping me research my next play.
This is something that totally CAN be true. Research is good and often necessary before diving into the writing stage. But there’s a point where it becomes a convenient way to put off starting the actual writing. I’m good at this one because it’s kind of related to #2 on this list, only it’s much easier to rationalize because the time-waster is at least somewhat writing related.

6. I don’t have to get this done for another three weeks because that’s when my writing group is meeting next.
This one is probably my biggest problem. I’m terrible at getting things done if I don’t have a deadline staring me in the face. Then I inevitably stress out and churn something together as it gets down to the wire. I have to stop working like this. Or at least get better at pacing myself.

7. I suddenly need to vacuum the living room rug, scrub out the bathroom sink, do the dishes, and organize my bookshelf by genre, author, and book size.
I think one speaks for itself.

8. I am suddenly obsessed with these videos of people playing 80s and 90s hits on Mario Paint and I need to watch them for an hour while Final Draft sits open in another window.
This almost killed me when I was working on the final paper for my Pulitzer Prize-Winning Plays class.

Does anyone else out there have any other favorite forms of rationalization? Or any tips on combatting them and just getting started?

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Work/life balance

I’ve been struggling more lately to keep up some semblance of balance with trying to work full-time, do what I love doing, and have time with my family and friends and just in-general downtime. There’s so many shows I want to see and friends I want to support in aforementioned shows, but all too often I find myself feeling so tired or overwhelmed that I can’t do it. Then I feel overwhelmed AND guilty.

The Gan-e-meed discussion I went to last week on the work-life balance was really helpful. They talked a lot about the need for self-compassion, which is something I know full well that I struggle with. I hold myself up to much higher standards than I’d ever hold anyone else. It’s like, I need to be seeing classic shows that I never saw or even read growing up, I need to see new “big” shows so I know what’s out there in contemporary theatre, I need to see shows my friends are involved in, and I need to keep up with my own writing so that there can be shows that I myself am involved in. 😛 I should also say that “need” here encompasses “want” too… I don’t feel obligated to do any of these things–they’re all things I want to do, but I feel guilty when I can’t get everything done.

The panel also talked about how it’s ok to say “no” to some things and to keep that time for yourself. I struggle with this a lot. I felt myself in my head saying to the panelists, “yeah it’s ok for YOU to say no, because you’ve already established yourself.” I feel like someone like me needs to go out there and see everything I can so I don’t end up with the reputation of being totally noncommitted. But I think instead of driving myself crazy I should just be a lot more realistic about what I can handle and have that be ok. I need to realize that it’s ok to take a step back and say “I am going to go insane if I am running around all the time.” And I’ll also never get my own work done if I never have free time.

I also really related to Jennie, the actress on the panel, talking about the necessity of being away from her family at night when she rehearses or directs. In that sense, it is a lot like writing while holding down a regular 9-5 job–all of my writing time is on nights and weekends, which leaves less time with Allan and with friends. It makes it harder. When I was on the Freedom Art retreat and could spend all day working on theatre projects, I kept wishing that my normal work week could always be like that. Of course, the world doesn’t work that way. It’s never going to make me stop doing what I love doing, but it just means that I need to be better at time management and be ok with taking time away from my family/friends time when I need to write.

I have a really great support system… my job allows me to work from home, Allan is great about doing things on his own so that I can write, friends are super-understanding and supportive, and I actually know people in the local theatre world who are dealing with the same balancing stuggles as I am. So I feel really bad even whining about any of this at all. I know it’s all going to be fine. I just need to relax a little not be as crazy about putting so much pressure on myself. I’ve always been like that though, so it’s hard to follow your own advice sometimes. I think I’m always paranoid that if I DON’T put insane amounts of pressure on myself, I’ll devolve into laziness and just give up because it’s easier that way. Which is stupid. I’ve never done that. I’m a huge procrastinator, yes, but I’ve never just stopped doing something I really love doing because it’s too frustrating or too hard. Why do I have such a problem listening to this rational side of myself?

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Plugs for my friends!

I’ve been so busy lately. It’s like August decided to blow up and go crazy. Last week I saw the opening night of John Shea’s Junkie at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. It was really good–you should all go check it out while it’s still up. It’s a one-man show about a heroin addict’s stay in a 30-day rehab facility. The actor is amazing, and the script is both funny and heartbreaking. Go see it.

I also grabbed a subscription to the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s upcoming season through an awesome deal on LivingSocial. One of my goals this year is to see more theatre. And to do so I need to take advantage of discounts and special events whenever they pop up so that I can afford to see shows more often. One thing I missed that I was supposed to see on Monday was a reading of my friend Emily Kaye Lazzaro’s play Grief and Surfing at Oberon. I saw a reading of an earlier draft last year when we had our MFA thesis readings, and I was looking forward to seeing it again and seeing how it had developed. I sadly had one of the worst migraines I’d had in awhile and just could not drag myself out of the house.

Other work my friends have coming up soon: those in the San Francisco Bay area should check out Genevieve Jessee’s one-woman show Girl in, but Not of, the ‘Hood at the SF Fringe Festival the week of Septmeber 10. She wrote and stars in it, and I wish I could be there. Walt McGough’s spy play The Farm will be up at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre beginning September 29. It’s another play I first saw in development and then presented at our MFA thesis readings, and it’s equally as awesome as Grief and Surfing but in a totally different way. (That’s why I loved my class so much, by the way… we all had such a wide array of styles, and I feel like I got to learn something new from everyone.) The BPT’s second show, beginning October 27, is The River Was Whiskey by Will Fancher. I also saw this as a reading last year, and I can highly recommend it. It’s full of Southern Gothic awesomeness, and I can’t wait to see how it’s developed since the reading. And finally, starting November 10, Deirdre Girard’s play The Christina Experiment will be up at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts in Newburyport. They were the company that produced my ten-minute play for the Boston Theatre Marathon, yay! Christina is another play I saw through its development stages and in a reading during our MFA thesis week. Very much looking forward to its premiere.

My friends are up to lots of awesomeness lately. Where, you may ask, is my awesomeness? yeah. I need to do a LOT of submitting of current work and a lot more generating of new work. I’m aiming to try to do two writing groups this fall, which should help with the “generating new work” part. This time last year was more focused on finishing school, and I did more with ten-minute plays. I need to get out there and just send Prayer Bargain out to anyone who will look at a copy. 😛 And I have a few ideas for new full-lengths, ranging from a crazy comics play to a serious play about an excommunicated nun. And maybe another family play. Oh yes.

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Freedom Art: A summary of epic proportions

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling up to North Conway, NH, with ten other theatre artists on Playwrights’ Commons’ Freedom Art Retreat. The experience was nothing short of amazing. I’ve already blogged and twittered about it during that week, but it totally deserves a full-out blog review–with pictures! (Pictures are courtesy of Ilana Brownstein unless otherwise noted… hooray for not having a decent camera!)

We went up to the woods for a week with the intention of spending a week on collaborative theatre projects–brainstorming, creating, and sharing. And also having a dance party. The natural surroundings were inspiring.

Frogs! And the food was wonderful because Ilana is an awesome cook. She even invented The Playwright–the new signature cocktail of Playwrights’ Commons. yum.

Heading into the retreat, I basically only knew Emily from my playwriting class at BU. And Ilana, who organized the retreat, taught my dramaturgy course last year. But I went into it not knowing most of the fellow participants. In simple terms, there were three designers, three dramaturgs, and three playwrights, but everyone had such a wide range of skills–designers who were equally as strong playwrights, playwrights who could also act and direct, dramaturgs who write fiction–basically everyone was multitalented. It made me think about what else I had to bring to the plate besides playwriting, so I started thinking a lot about my dance background, which I’ve always wanted to try to weave into my writing more.

Our first night there, we each showcased about ten minutes of our own personal work, as a way of introducing ourselves and our styles to each other. The next morning we broke into our first collaboration groups and were given five hours to go off with our groups and just see what we could create. It felt overwhelming at first. My group, fight choreographer/writer Meron and dramaturg Corianna, together with the awesomeness that is Phil the intern, walked down to the beach, talking about how when we were little we would have been in the woods looking for fairies and wishing to play with baby foxes. We began at the beach by taking a look at the fun stage weapons that Meron had brought with him, including a katana. We talked about the possibility of doing some sort of movement piece and highlighting the juxtaposition of violence and peace. We continued to brainstorm–what did we have with us that was not a violent instrument?–and came up with a bottle of bubbles. This led to attempting to pop bubbles with a katana, which is pretty difficult. We let the whole group share in this exercise that night:

This little experiment led us to crafting the idea for a children’s fairytale play in which the hero is given a magical sword that at first appears unbeatable, until he is confronted with a problem that the sword is completely unsuited for. We played off the saying that “if your only tool is a hammer, all of your problems look like nails.” We talked more about the fairies and baby foxes. And we presented the outline of our story to the group that night.

The wonderful duo of Phil and Corianna also worked out a song that our Bard will sing to our hero about the legend of Hammer, the magical sword. Video is from this Playwrights’ Commons blog post, which I also mentioned in a previous post. It’s worth posting again because the song is awesome.

The next morning, we continued working with these same groups for a couple more hours to expand on what we’d started. We wrote one of the scenes, in which our hero, feeling a bit arrogant with his new powerful sword, mistakenly attacks his little fox friend and then admonishes the fox for getting in his way, much to the horror of the fox and the Bard.

That afternoon, it was time for new groups! This time, instead of three groups of three with Phil floating among all of them, we broke into two groups of five with the mission to explore our surroundings, find a place to be inspired by, and craft a five- to ten-minute piece of site-specific theatre. I worked with Phil, dramaturg Tyler, playwright Nina, and designer Allie. Maybe it was the rain that had fallen that morning, the woods, or just something about New Hampshire, but both groups separately conceived of ghost stories. Our group found a boulder next to a water supply shed reading “No Trespassing” that we thought it might be fun to explore. We talked about things ranging from hobbit residences to coming-of-age stories. Then we noticed the broken headlight glass on the road near our site, a broken Yield sign on the ground, and a crutch tied to a tree branch. We team-wrote a piece about a group of teenagers who had died in a car accident and their friend who survived it. The survivor revisits the site of the crash, where the spirits of his friends, unseen to him, are discussing their lives that could have been.

Acting at its finest by me right there. 😛 At the end, the friend lifts his bottle to the memory of his friends and walks away, while his friends return the gesture.

The next day was field trip day! We went up to Wildcat Mountain, which I’ve blogged briefly about before. There was a zipline ride:

A gondolda ride up to the summit (photo by Nina Morrison):

Some hiking around the summit:

And of course, because we were a bunch of theatre nerds, pretending we were in The Sound of Music:

We also hiked a (small) portion of the Appalachian Trail:

Which led to this amazing lookout tower:

All in all, a great field trip day. Ilana had told the designers in advance to use our field trip as inspiration for our next group project, in which the designers would serve as generative artists. Our designer had been inspired by the juxtaposition of all this man-made stuff (gondolas, ziplines, hiking trails) in a place of nature. We devised a movement/sound piece that would address the subversion of nature by technology and how that reflects on interpersonal relationships. I sadly have no pictures of this piece. If anyone posts any later I will add them. We had a crazy six-minute soundscape piece created by our phenomenal designer Jason, while dramaturg Tyler and I crafted the “script,” which consisted of only four spoken words. It was so amazing to work on something like this. I had never written any sort of movement piece before, and this type of collaborative environment was the perfect way to try one for the first time. It felt safe to experiment with things. Jason’s sound piece really felt like it scripted the entire show because it defined the emotional beats that Tyler and I worked out, so we knew how long to flesh out each moment for. Jason also made this really cool video backdrop that we played on the tv. It was so interesting to see how simply (and inexpensively) a multimedia piece could be done.

Our final full day there saw us working with groups of our choice–and everybody agreed that we wanted to split into groups of people we had not worked with (or worked closely with) yet, so I broke off with Allie and our dramaturg Amanda (which, coincidentally, makes Emily, the only person I really knew heading into the retreat, the only person I never shared a group with). We began discussing things we hadn’t gotten to work on yet–Allie, who works on puppetry design, had done a puppet piece the previous day and was eager to try something new. We somehow got onto the topic of the elusive games closet that apparently existed on the second floor but hadn’t been explored. This led to talking about board games and taglines from games (“Sorry!” “Go directly to jail.” etc.). I mentioned how I have always hated the Game of Life because it is so unlike real life. We talked about how sad it is that the purpose of the game is to make the most money. Our dramaturg got to work on researching the history of the game, and we were shocked to learn that it originated as a parlor game in the 1860s and was called “The Checkered Game of Life” because the board was laid out like a checkerboard. The object of this version of the game was to collect 100 points by landing on “good deed” spaces, culminating in “Happy Old Age” at the top, which was worth 50 points. It had some elements similar to the modern game Chutes and Ladders, where landing on a “good” quality like “Honesty” would move you forward to the “Happiness” space but landing on “bad” qualities like “Intemperance” would lead you back to spaces like “Poverty.” And there was also a “Suicide” spot on the board. We borrowed some of these elements from the historical game, coupled them with the modern game, and created a ten-minute play about one man’s journey through the Game of Life. We played with a lot of the conventions of the game.

Because we had to perform the piece with lots of paper signs to keep track of, we had some of our fellow retreaters read the script for us as we sort of pantomimed it out. It was so weird because this style of presentation arose out of necessity, but in the discussion afterward, the group thought that that style actually worked for the piece and that it could easily be adapted into a larger-than-life puppet-type show. Which is hilarious considering that Allie specifically said that she had had her fill of puppet shows for the retreat. It’s always really interesting for me when a choice that is made out of necessity ends up opening up a whole new well of ideas.

And that’s what a lot of this entire week was about. Working with who we had, what we had, and the resources all of us could bring to the table and seeing what we could make out of it. I learned a lot about my own process, and I learned that I love collaborative projects even more than I’d realized before the retreat. I love working with other people and getting to create something even better than I could have made on my own. I went into grad school not knowing anyone else who wrote plays. After I finished school, I knew a nice group of amazing writers, but I didn’t know many other theatre artists working in different disciplines. I now have a group that consists of not only writers but dramaturgs, sound designers, puppet designers, and fight directors who I feel I could call on when a project needed it. It made me want to work collaboratively so much more often. Too much of playwriting seems to take place alone at your computer, trying not to cry or rip your hair out with frustration (well, maybe that’s just my own personal process). I also hadn’t created any new work since my dad died. The support that this group offered helped me feel strong enough to dive into new projects again and to once again feel excited about my work. It made me feel like I could really belong in the greater theatre/artistic community and reaffirmed that this is what I want to be doing with my life.

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Freedom Art, day 1

Just a quick update from the first full day of the Freedom Art retreat. The house is beautiful. It has really high wood-paneled ceilings that I love. And it’s a short walk to a private beach. We got in yesterday and a small group went grocery shopping while the rest of us settled in and got to know the surrounding area. Last night we did a “show-n-tell” session where everyone showcased about ten minutes of their work. I chose the first scene of Prayer Bargain. We also in addition to plays saw dramaturgy blogs, puppets, a swordplay piece, a song, and some fiction.

This morning we broke into groups by random draw. My group was me, Meron Langser, and Corianna Moffatt. Meron is a playwright/stage combat specialist and Corianna is a dramaturg. We started off checking out Meron’s amazing collection of swords he brought with him and then tried to pop bubbles with a katana. Somehow that led to plotting out a children’s fairytale play. It totally works. We just had dinner (grilled pizza! Ilana is awesome), and we’ll be doing another show-n-tell night in a few minutes where the groups will share what they came up with this morning/afternoon. Then tomorrow we will switch the groups up and see what else develops.

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