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This Is 30

Or, was 30. My birthday was this past Monday. About a month back I read an article in the New Yorker about how the Apatows’ version of 40 in This Is 40 doesn’t quite match up with a lot of other people’s. I haven’t seen the movie, but I highly doubt I’ll be anywhere near where the characters are in 9 years. So this is my more realistic version of a “sort-of prequel” to This Is 40 (which is the “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up,” according the trying-too-hard marketing tagline).

Last January was a busy month.
Things got kicked off with the first Boston One-Minute Play Festival! I had two little plays in it. Both were sad. I was still in a rough place in a lot of ways.

My Birthday!
I decided to have a party for my birthday, which I’ve never really done before. It was 80s themed and it was awesome. It left me wanting to have another 80s party just for the hell of it. I spent too much money on ridiculous outfits.

The end of January saw a return trip to the Kennedy Center’s Region 1 American College Theatre Festival in lovely Fitchburg, MA. I wrote about a big red button. Not unlike this one:
Colleen and Button

Right after KCACTF, I got my permit and bought a car. Allan’s car had died right before my birthday, and I had decided that I had to get my license because it was ridiculous not having one. So I bought the car to learn with. Then I had a rough first outing behind the wheel and progress was slow moving for awhile. But the car is adorable.

This is one of the “real-life” parts that I’m talking about. Paying for real-life things like an apartment or a car or college sucks. Sometimes it’s hard to get by towards the end of a pay cycle. The characters in This Is 40 don’t seem to have had to deal with any of that.


February and March were pretty uneventful.
Shadow did this:

I worked some more on a scarf that I only just finished earlier this week.

And that’s about it.

Marmalade got out when our old roommate came in late one night and didn’t close the door fast enough. The following morning it poured and he was nowhere to be seen. I started putting up lost cat fliers the next day and put pictures all over facebook and twitter. I left food out on the porch, but all it did was make Oskar and Shadow want to go outside. I also searched the neighborhood every night, sometimes with family and friends and sometimes by myself. I met this cat who I named Not-Oskar.

Here’s Oskar for comparison.

After being gone for 8 days, Marmalade just showed up on the front porch one morning. It was the best day ever. He slept a lot the day he came home.

Lots of graduations!
My cousin Erin graduated from high school the same day my friend Pam graduated from med school. And my brother Connor graduated from college!

My year as a New Voices Fellow at New Rep ended with our Festival of New Voices. It was only the second full-length reading I’d ever had and I was a bit terrified. But I loved working with everyone and it was an awesome year.
Photo by the lovely K. Alexa Mavromatis for the Playwrights’ Perspectives BPT blog.

Other than that reading, June was rough. I felt gross and decided that I needed to start losing the weight I’d put on after my dad died. The reading was just before the one-year anniversary of when he died (it feels weird to use the word “anniversary” for something awful, but my brain isn’t able to find anything else). I think after all the stress about writing that play was suddenly gone, and the friends who were in town for the graduations went back home, I had no more distractions from how I was feeling. There were a particularly rough couple weeks before I started to be able to pull myself back on track.

Oskar got really sick. He was spending a long time in the litterbox, and it happened more than once, so I called the vet on a Saturday to get him seen. Turns out his bladder was blocked, which is potentially life-threatening if not caught early. Luckily, we had caught it early. My mom drove us up to the emergency animal hospital in Woburn, where they were going to have to keep him for a few days and place a catheter to get rid of the blockage. Leaving him at the hospital was really rough. But there was good news… when they were prepping him for the catheter, his bladder unblocked itself. So he only had to stay one night for observation and didn’t need the procedure. He came home and let me know he was ok by peeing in his carrier on the car ride back. He wasn’t happy about how they shaved his front legs for the IV though.

This is another real-life thing. Animals get sick, and it really freaks you out and you cry and then you feel bad that you cried taking your cat to the hospital but not during your dad’s funeral. And vet bills are a lot of money. When you buy a car, you know what you’re getting into financially. But you’re never really planning for your cat to have a bladder obstruction. The pet insurance was very good investment in this case. But you still have to pay up front and then get reimbursed.

But July also had some good real-life goings-on. It was two years with Allan! This picture is not from July but it’s one of the few from this year that I have of us.

Annual fun with playwrights in NH! Sadly all my photos came out really bad because I took them all at night. But believe me when I say that it was a weekend full of fun, fireworks, swimming, and wine. Lots of wine.

I also started taking real driving lessons towards the end of the month. See above about slowly picking myself up and back on track.

Not much going on. Some months are like that. Marmalade played in the sink.

The kitties had Halloween fun.

And I really amped up on the driving lessons and started to not feel freaked out when I was driving. Which led to–

I got my license finally! yay! But all the expenses from paying for the lessons and road test and the licensing fees really hit me hard and I’ve been poor for months now. And all the holiday craziness started. Thanksgiving was with my family and Christmas was supposed to be with Allan’s, but–

First flights got insanely expensive. Then when we decided to take the train, that shot up in price to be almost as expensive as a flight. So we ended up having Christmas in Boston. It was nice being with my family, of course, but I’ve only met Allan’s family that one time and he hasn’t seen them in forever, and I really want to fix that sometime soon.

So that was my 30. No fancy house, no kids, no unique artsy job that somehow pays for all my expenses and then some. It’s more like struggling to pay bills, feeling guilty when you order food (or buy 80s outfits), conquering ridiculous fears like driving, celebrating small victories whenever possible, and cats. Lots of cats. But all of that probably doesn’t make for a good movie.

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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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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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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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