Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Occupational Hazard

So I've been dieting and exercising for the last about 10 months. I've never been much of a physical exertion person, not a sports-playing guy or avid hiker or whatnot. I was an inside kid in a family that was largely made up of inside kids. We read a lot. I write a lot. These are generally sedentary activities. As I slouched through my thirties, it got...well, bad. And last year, I had one of those check-ups where the doctors and nurses give you stern, stern looks about your behavior. Not fun.

So I joined a gym, cleaned up my act, started eating better. All good things, right? Yep. I've lost some weight, I'm feeling fit and connected to my body. All very good. Except...well...I'm a morning writer. And mornings are my only time to get to the gym. I haven't perfected my cloning techniques yet so...I've had to choose. Be healthy. Or write more.

The scales been tipping to the Be Healthy side of late, but now that I want to get more writing done this summer...something's got to give. Why does it seem like you have to choose between being healthy and being a writer? I think, on some level, I stopped going to therapy because it was working too well. I was getting sane and that was getting in the way of the work. That can't be good.

So now I'm trying alternating: one day of gym, one day of writing. Let's see how long this lasts.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where Ya Been?

To quote one of the great philosophers of our time, it's been a while since I rapped at ya. What gives?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but...a lot. Well, technically, it has something to do with the limits of time and space and my ability to juggle multiple obligations in limited waking hours. Or some such thing. Or maybe, just maybe...I'm a lazy bastard. You make the call.

Okay, "lazy bastard" isn't exactly accurate. I do have a full-time, non-theatre-related day job that I regularly actually show up for and often do work at to the satisfaction of my superiors. I have been a busy little bee over at Parabasis, blogging about TV shows and YouTube videos and the like, and every so often talking about the theatre. I've been seeing a lot of theatre, and doing theatre-y stuff. Plus, I did go away for a while, and that was pretty sweet. So it's not like I've been a lump or a hermit, exactly. But I haven't shown up here. And I haven't done a lot of new writing lately. I've been trying to figure out why.

Well, I kind of know why, though. I'm at a bit of a loss. A few weeks back, a couple of friends of mine asked me about my playwriting and got a bit of an earful from me on the subject (sorry, Clare and Ethan!). See, I've been at this game a while and I'm lucky to be kind of prolific, so I have a whole stack of plays. I'll go out on a limb and say that most of them are pretty good, some are very good, but almost all of them need a bit more work. Generally, though, it's either a full re-working (of older plays that have structural flaws) or the kind of work that happens in a rehearsal room for an extended period of time. Not necessarily a full rehearsal period, but a good workshopping or something. Though a full production probably wouldn't hurt, either. They're well on their way to being better plays, but are near the limits of what I can do, just scribbling away at them.

Plays are weird, sometimes mercurial beasties. Beautiful mansions, made of cards, holding lightning in bottles, built on sand. Like Amish barns, they really need a community to raise them. I've tried working on plays at this stage, on my own, or even with a writers' group, and it often comes to no good. As a writer, you can only hear so much of the play on the page, in your head. Writing in a vacuum, for actors in your head, you push too hard or pull back too much and find yourself pulling out the strand that made the whole thing go and it crashes down on your head. Or you know there's a problem, you know there's something out of whack in there, some crack in the basement wall, some fitting that doesn't quite fit and rattles when the wind blows, something somewhere that's off, but you can't find it on your own. You need a sharp-eyed director or actor to come in with a level, check all the corners and the shelves and show you where you need an extra screw or two.

Okay. That's one metaphor tortured. But you get the picture.

I submitted one of these plays to a developmental opportunity this spring and got rejected (there's been a lot of that this spring). Luckily, I knew the folks involved pretty well and did something I almost never do: I asked why I got rejected. As playwrights, we get trained to just take rejection, rub some dirt on it and walk it off. We don't question or probe...for fear of the dread answer: your play sucked. No one wants to hear that. But this time...I had to know. Was the play a worthless mess? Did my cover letter suck? Why would this play, a play that I rather liked, get rejected for this opportunity, one I thought it was really suited for? I asked and got a good, smart, quick answer: it was too done. For this opportunity, this play was too finished. In the opinion of this company, it just needs to be in rehearsal. Which was nice to hear. Except that no one wanted to put it into rehearsal. what?

I've been lucky and worked hard and have had five readings of four different plays in the last 12 months or so. Largely, though, these have been readings I've put together with the help of directors and friends. Believe me, I'm not complaining. But it is a bit of work, finding actors, juggling schedules, especially for a non-paying reading which takes fairly low priority (as it should), managing rehearsal space, doing all of that, in addition to trying to rewrite, so it's a useful experience, and hustle up an audience, and all of it. Others are doing more and I salute them. I kicked around the idea of self-producing, but, ultimately, it may not be the right thing for me right now, for a lot of reasons.

So where does that leave me? With a bunch of plays that don't seem to have homes. So the next thinking was start some new plays, just write for writing's sake, and who cares about the end result. Hence the New Play Project here. Which was cool and all. But got derailed to prep for readings. And when I went to go heart wasn't in it. It's hard for me to start a new play right now because I can't stop thinking about what happens when it's done. I write a play, I work on it for three months, six months, whatever, get that first draft done and feel good about it. Feel great. I do a reading, get some actors together, put it up in front of an audience. And that goes great. Great, grand, beautiful. And then...what? Chances are, it's going on the pile, with all the other plays to wait for an opportunity to come along.

The readings I've had have been well-attended and have, as far as I could tell, gone well. People coming like the work. People involved like working on it. It seems like a good time is had by all. And at the end of it, I have a whole raft of notes and ideas, rewrites and changes to make, to think about. Again, all good. But then what comes next? I've had official type people come from theatres to these readings and give very good, very kind and often very smart notes. And, even when they don't mean to, the implication is always: if you just made these changes, we'll like your script more. At the end of the day, that's what you're aiming for: someone to like your script enough to produce it. And that just didn't seem to be happening.

I've stood in this crossroads for a few months now. On one hand, I have a few very good, pretty "marketable" plays that need some work. On the other hand, I could be writing new plays that are better, striking while the iron is hot. Do I set aside the old plays and throw myself into something new or keep working at the old stuff to get it perfect and let the new work lay fallow for a while? I couldn't decide. So I did neither.

Add to that my own rising frustration with the entrenched ways and issues of theatre that seemed to actually get worse and more intractable every season, as you can see from perusing the archives here, and you get someone who kind of wants to break up with theatre, but can't figure out if it's the right thing to do. Isaac and I have a joke about theatre being like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of indie film fame and how we're both trying to get over her with varying degrees of success. I'm (obviously) still wallowing in the self-pity party part of it all.

I know a lot of this is self-pity and a reaction to a couple of stinging rejections this spring. But it's also a dilemma that I can't seem to find any help or advice with. When I've mentioned it to people lately, I generally get some nice comforting words, or a pat on the shoulder and encouragement. All very lovely and much appreciated. But this is a bit of an existential dilemma for me, this particular trough. Sure, it's shot through with doubt and confidence issues, but mainly it's a "What the hell do I do now?" kind of thing. I can write new plays. I can dedicate myself to rewriting one play until it's perfect. I can junk the whole endeavor and get an MBA. Or I can stand here at the crossroads of all of these things and watch people who know what they want pass me by. That's the least fun, least productive, least useful option. But it's the one I feel stuck in.

I keep hoping for some kind of jolt to the system, some definitive sign pointing somewhere. Something to show me a path out of this thicket. But not much is coming along. Or I'm ignoring it. Something. I've gotten involved in some film projects, started trying my hand at some TV writing to see if there's a way to more fulfillment, both career-wise and artistically, that way. We'll see.

And I've thought a lot about this blog. Since I've been writing over at Parabasis, that's been my main focus for a while. This place, which I associated with theatre and with my own playwriting mainly, has languished, since neither of those have exactly been on the front burner of late. But maybe it's time for a comeback?

I don't feel any more inspired or excited about theatre right now. Don't get me wrong. I've seen some terrific plays and a lot of awesome people are working their asses off out there. I just don't know how I fit in at this party right now. But I miss making plays. I miss rehearsing and writing and telling stories for the stage. I want to find my way back.

So. Okay. I think I'll be coming back here and writing more about writing, about my plays, about where my mind is at. Really try to use this place, this blog, to keep me on track and focus on the simple things: waking up, writing down words and images, and seeing where they take me. I'll leave the pop culture, politics, theatre rants and ravings to Parabasis. 99 Seats will be about the writing.

I chose the video clip* at the top because...well, Dinosaur, Jr is awesome. And it's a fun song. Of course, it comes from an album that gives this post its title. But the title of the song too is appropriate: Start choppin'. I know I'm in the tall grass, in the brambles, in the weeds, and I can't find a path out. So...maybe I make one? Just start choppin'.

*In case you couldn't see it, here's another version of the same song.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today In Irony

Dr. Rand Paul, gubernatorial candidate in Kentucky said this today:
"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" Paul said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America." "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
Yes, this Dr. Rand Paul, who said this, is saying something sounds un-American.


It's like Stephen Colbert is running for office.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I Have Been Remiss...

...for not highlighting two pieces of very, very excellent writing out here on the interwebs. They're both by theatre guys, but neither is about theatre, in particular. Both of them made my day when I read them so you should read them. One is by my old Youngblood producing partner, R.J. Tolan. The other by more recent vintage friend Sean Williams. Enjoy them both.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Submission Admissions (Again)

Augh. Uff. Blech.

So, the Tony voters have awarded the 2010 Regional Theatre Award to the O'Neill Center. Honestly, the first person I thought would complain about that was Scott, since it's a bit of a stretch, I would say, to call the O'Neill a "regional" theatre. (Though, as previously noted, I'm ready to kick Connecticut out of the tri-state area.) But he got beat out of the gate by the often-acidic Leonard Jacobs of the Clyde Fitch Report. I generally steer clear of Leonard. We play fairly nice, but don't really get along all that well and the internet is big enough for both of us. I try to give him a wide berth. This, though, is the kind of thing that pisses me off and I just can't let it slide.

Leonard is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, the group that votes on and recommends an organization to the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing for the Regional Theatre Tony Award*, and begins his piece thus:

For this year, it was announced that the Tony for Regional Theater will go to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. And I was one of those who voted for it (we rank them, it was my top choice).

I want to tell you why I voted for it.

I also want to tell you why I almost didn’t.

He starts off with the good, listing a very long and impressive list of plays developed and presented at the O'Neill Center over the last 46 years, a list that includes Christopher Durang, Israel Horovitz, August Wilson, Adam Rapp, Wendy Wasserstein, David Henry Hwang, Jason Grote and other luminaries. Several writers on the list have been there multiple times, building a relationship with the center over time. (I've heard from several writers who have been developed there that there's basically a standing invitation to come back, once you've been invited.) He notes the equally long and lustrous history of music-theatre development there and the Center's other good works and gives it a hearty huzzah.

Then he gives it, and all of the writers he just mentioned the finger. He says:
But I had one very good reason for not voting for the O’Neill: It is an open secret the National Playwrights’ Conference is much less of an “open submission” opportunity for American dramatists as the O’Neill may like theater professionals to believe.
Um. Leonard? What does that mean, exactly? We've heard this before. A few months ago, Rolando Teco, both of Extra Criticum and a staff member at the Dramatists Guild, leveled the exact same charges:
It is an open secret in the theatre world that of the dozen or so slots available each Summer to new plays at the O'Neill, all but 2 or 3 are pre-determined in backroom deal-making worthy of Tammany Hall.
Back then, the hubbub was a bit more about the charging of a submission fee, but the charge is still there, it's still kind of silly and it's, most importantly, wholly and completely unsubstantiated. Neither Rolando or Leonard presents a single actual case of a project circumventing the system or gaming the system or anything. They simply assert that it's an open secret. They don't even have an anonymously sourced quote or a testimonial from a playwright. It's not even hearsay.

Now Leonard doesn't exactly blame the O'Neill's A.D., Wendy Goldberg. Not exactly.
I’m not suggesting that the conference’s current artistic director, Wendy C. Goldberg, isn’t stellar — she has made some wise, cunning, provocative, fruitful, even masterful choices since coming on board. But no one I know in the American theater believes that the submission process is truly blind, truly fair or truly not stacked against you if you are a true unknown. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve read and posts I come across on platforms such as the listserv that have decried the way in which plays and playwrights for the O’Neill are currently being chosen. Sure, you can say that the program is Goldberg’s now and she has a right to workshop and develop who and what she pleases. I am simply saying that someone with Goldberg’s platform has a moral — yes, I said a moral — duty here as well.
She has every right to pick the season she pleases...but she has a moral duty to...what? Pick some other plays? To pick plays that she doesn't like or doesn't think are worthy of development or attention because the writers are unknown? Pick a play that Leonard liked (apparently when he first posted this piece he neglected to mention that he was a reader for the O'Neill. We'll come back to that.)? I'm really not sure what "moral duty" Wendy is being accused of shirking here. And Leonard doesn't expand or elaborate. He doesn't offer any alternative way for Wendy to fulfill her moral duty. He simply, again without evidence, asserts that she's failing it.

Leonard lays on the rousing finish:
Let this well-earned Tony serve as a clarion call to Goldberg — to O’Neill Executive Director Preston Whiteway, too, to anyone who esteems the O’Neill as much I do. It is imperative that the O’Neill get back to discovering more of the undiscovered. Which means it should work with fewer of those “usual suspects.” The very future of the American theater remains at stake.
Pretty stirring stuff. So...obviously, their 2010 season, selected before all of this is jam-packed with big names, TV writers and projects that are already slated for major productions next year, right?
CREATION by Kathryn Walat
FOLLOW ME TO NELLIE’S by Dominique Morisseau
CLOSE UP SPACE by Molly Smith Metzler
A DEVIL AT NOON by Anne Washburn
COMES A FAERY by James McLindon
I'm not saying to toot my own horn or to knock any of these people...but I know two names on that list: Kate Walat and Anne Washburn. Maybe Leonard knows more. Or maybe you do. If anyone reading this has a tale to tell me about any of these plays or playwrights, feel free to e-mail it to me, not for attribution or acknowledgment. I'll simply post a correction, not even name the play. As long as you have a credible story that this playwright didn't go through the open submission process or has been favored by the O'Neill before, I'll recant. Please. Bring it on.

And, if you're reading this, and you happen to be one of these playwrights, please, please, PLEASE send me your story, again, not for attribution if you don't want it to be. If you know that you got in because of some deal with O'Neill and 'fess up to it, just to me (and I can keep a secret), again, I'll recant. But if you didn't, if you paid your $35, printed out your script, slapped a stamp on it and mailed it out in hope, let us know.

Back to Leonard: which of these plays was selected, not by open submission, but by a backroom deal? Which of these plays is evidence of a moral failing?

This pisses me off. It really, really does. In part because I've worked the other side of the ledger and I know how hard submission processes are on staff and how hard they work and how hard it can be to find plays you love. I also know that for most artistic staffs, you want to do as many plays as possible, but there just isn't enough space or time, there's never enough space or time. To then have people throw your choices back in your face and on literally the basis of nothing but gossip say that your choices are somehow tainted...that's a moral failing.

It's also a moral failing to treat these playwrights this way. These writers worked on their submission, worked on their plays and their mission statements and, if Wendy Goldberg is to be believed...
All of the work came through our Open Submissions process – a process
that this organization takes very seriously. It is always a joy to bring the next generation of theatrical storytellers to our campus to help these artists shape and hone their work for production.
If you're going to call her a liar, call her a liar. And then back it up with something. Something that doesn't sound like the bitching of a sore loser or hurt ego.

See, Leonard participated in this process, as he noted. And read scripts that were stripped of their names. So it was a blind submission process, which implies that it's fair, and that the staff at the O'Neill has done some work to insure its fairness. Oh, Leonard apparently (as he implies) knew at least some of the authors, though. Good for him. But none of the plays he read were selected. I'm sorry to make the leap here, but it sounds like he's saying these other plays weren't as good and got through because they're by "usual suspects." So, again, Leonard, did you read these plays? Are they bad plays? Are they not worthy of development?

I've been a part of selection processes before, both as a reader and as a staff member. I know when a process is fair and open and when it's not. I'm assuming Leonard would, too. He seems like a bright fellow. If you're saying that, from the inside, the O'Neill selection process doesn't seem fair, say it. Don't imply or dance around it. You were a part of it. For several years, you say. You would know. Were you a part of this year's? Have you been a part of one since Wendy came on six years ago? If you have, speak up. If not...then what's this all based on?

The other thing that pisses me off about this is that it's so small and petty and gossipy. All of this talk of open secrets is bullshit. It's an open secret that some open admission policies aren't the only way a season gets selected. That's true. But that doesn't mean that the open submission process isn't part of it, or that a play submitted over the transom has no shot of being included. There's never any guarantee, is there? If there is a real dereliction of duty here, if you're saying that no one of any importance ever reads any of the open submissions and all of the plays that are selected circumvented that, say it. Say it plainly and back it up with something. Otherwise, it's just a smear and it's low.

Leonard says:
One of the illnesses plaguing the American theater is the unwillingness of playwrights to articulate their frustration in public, especially within earshot of the powerful organizations that can make, enhance or break a career.
I'm articulating it, Leonard. But my frustration isn't with getting passed over for opportunities or feeling mistreated. It's part of the game. My frustration is with this kind of behavior. It's not journalism. It's not criticism. It's gossip-mongering and scandal-making. It's self-important, self-aggrandizing hackery. It should be beneath you.

*When I originally posted this, I wrote that Leonard is a Tony voter. That was inaccurate. I edited the post to reflect Leonard's correct affiliations and their relationship to the Regional Theater Tony Award.

Summer's Eve* of the Day

And, of course, it's Joe Lieberman.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) thinks he’s found a work-around on the whole Miranda rights debate for U.S. citizens accused of terrorism: Strip their citizenship and ship them to Guantanamo.

Lieberman plans to introduce a bill that would amend a decades-old law aimed at yanking citizenship from U.S. citizens who fight for a foreign military.

Please note the bolded sections.

Basically, what TNC, Steve Benen, and even goddamn Andrew Sullivan said. This is a disgusting, wrong and thoroughly actually un-American thing to even consider.

Thanks again, Connecticut. You're the gift that keeps on giving.

*Um. Just in case, you didn't know.

Go, Phoenix!*

I guess I'm pulling for the Suns in the NBA Playoffs now. At least someone in Arizona is doing something right. Here's "frostback" Steve Nash's awesome quote:

“I think it’s fantastic,” Nash said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think the law is very misguided. I think it’s, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.”

Pretty classy fellas. Right on. And it reminds me of this golden oldie from Sadly, No! Remember Michelle Malkin? Remember when she was relevant? Ah, those were the days...


Monday, May 3, 2010

Quote of the Day

Gawker edition:
The main lesson here: Don't be racist. But if you really, really are—and really, really need to voice your racist thoughts—don't write them in an email to a devious friend who may later sabotage you. Simply find the nearest well and shout your racist thoughts into them; get it out of your system, and continue on with your bigoted life.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Joining Forces

Isaac's not the only one making changes these days. Or, more precisely, he's not doing it alone.

You may have noticed things have been a bit quiet here at 99 Seats Central of late. I've been doing some thinking about this blog, about theatre and blogging in general and trying to decide what my next move is. Because, to be honest with y'all, I'm kind of tired of talking about theatre. I know I've only been kicking it for a couple of years and a lot of cats have been at it a lot longer than I have, but there's kind of only so much you can say. I've said it before, but it bears saying again: doing is way better than talking. I've got some things cooking on various fires, with announcements soon to come, in the doing column. And so, maybe it's time for less talking. About theatre anyway.

'Cause, in case you didn't notice, I got stuff to say about other stuff. About other forms of dramatic writing, about other important matters of great importance. But at maybe less of a clip. At the same time, Isaac has been expanding the focus of Parabasis to involve some other super-interesting writers. He approached me about joining forces. I thought about it for a while...and decided to jump in.

Isaac's a friend, a colleague and an all-around good guy. We tend to see eye-t0-eye on a lot of things and even the things we don't, we're able to talk to each other reasonably and with respect. I dig on that.

So...this isn't the end of 99 Seats or anything. Just...a new stage. Come visit me over at Isaac's.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Will

This should make you feel young again.

No matter our differences, or the outbursts of snark, we're all Friends of Will.