Friday, October 30, 2009

To Serve Youth: A Cookbook

You know, I started to write a whole post responding to Isaac's post here and the excellent comments, but, really? I bored myself with it. Because there isn't much else to say. Theatres that want to attract younger audiences, for whatever reason, need to program for that audience, with that audience in mind. Theatres that don't, shouldn't. And there should be room enough for all kinds. Period. Moving on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Plays Well With Others

A couple of things I wanted to highlight:

- This, an interesting experiment from Kristen Palmer. She reads a play, writes about it. Every day. It's actually inspired me to read more plays.

- And this, a new blog by Kenneth Lin, a playwright I like quite a lot. And I like this quote, quite a lot:
As artists, we have to be there to provide hope. I believe that our mandate is to grease the wheels of progress, to help our neighbors to continue to believe in each other and a better future. We are the panacea to the cycle of bad thoughts and behavior that always threatens to bog down our society. May we inspire the process of progress.
Welcome to the blogosphere, Kenneth!

I also really like this post by Rob Kozlowski. I think we can use more playwrights writing about writing and pulling aside the curtain a bit. And, of course, I have thoughts on the matter...

Playwriting 2.0

I've been meaning to come back to this post for a while. I said a little glib thing about it when it first made the rounds, but it really stuck with me, rattling around in my brain. Like Karl, I do kind of hate all of those techniques he mentions and, like Karl, I find I use them regularly. In the play I just finished, during the rewrites, I realized that I needed a nice, big set-piece for my central character, so what did I add? A drunk scene. Of course. It (mostly) achieved what I wanted it to, which is good. But was it totally necessary? I don't know. (There were some other reasons I used it, but that's for another post.)

One thing that struck me about Karl's list is that, once upon a time, those ideas, techniques, they were great. Beyond great, they were revelatory, some of them shocking even. When Mamet busted out the short, clipped back-and-forth of ping pong dialogue, it was like Knute Rockne rocking the forward pass. "Wait, what? You can do that? In a play?" When I first read Angels In America, the split scenes blew my mind. I wedged them into more than a few early plays of my own. Split scenes? Like in the movies? Holy shit. That Kushner's a freaking genius!

But that's the thing. Technical tricks and games become old hat. Sure, something's never go out of fashion, but other things do. Like star wipes. Have we hit a similar place in playwriting? Are there techniques that are just old hat now? How does playwriting evolve? A couple of years ago, putting a live band on stage was the shit. Now? Not so much. What's the next thing?

When we get bogged down in the old buggaboo of "realism vs. experimentalism," how much are just talking about technical tricks that are becoming standard? Is it the hard death knell of something we're seeing? I'm really asking, not just making rhetorical flips here. One thing that surprises me is the lack of focus on actual technique and how it evolves. Playwriting is an evolving, growing and changing art, but it seems to be treated like it's static. A good play is always a good play. Except there are plays that have fallen off the radar, despite great success in the past. How does that happen? And what does it mean to live, as a playwright, through that kind of shift?

I think that posts like Zack's show us that we are living through a change (maybe we always are). What does that mean for playwrights? And what's coming around the bend? I hear a fair amount about what theatre will look like in the future, but what will plays look like?

Coffee Break's Over.

Back on your heads.

The dust of the reading has settled. I'm ramping up on a couple of other projects, but nothing too major for a bit. You know what that means...More inchoate rambling! More passionate but probably wrong-heading ranting! Occasional nuggets of actual wisdom! Huzzah for the internets! No, really, huzzah for the internets!

More to come...

(h/t The Bright Blue Cherub - well, technically, Molly Ivors)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Briefly Surfacing...

...Just to say, if you aren't, go read Isaac Butler at Parabasis. You probably do, but it bears repeating. He's on fire, and the comments threads are among the most interesting, and illuminating I've read in a long time. Check it out. And while you're checking out things, here's a great post from Adam, normally of The Mission Paradox Blog. And, you know, while you're at it, click here and click here. And here, too.

I'm wrapping up a flurry of writing and then a reading, but once the dust settles, I'll be back with thoughts on the above, as well as zero-sum games, the problem of ulterior motives and casting as marketing project.

Stay safe out there...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Food for Thought

From Rob at The Wicked Stage... A different perspective on the most produced plays, looking instead at the most produced playwrights. Before you click the link, who do you think it is? I'll tell you this: his list contains one African-American, one woman, one gay writer, 5 dead people, and one world premiere.

Make your guesses and then check it out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another County Heard From

I don't really mean to just round up various thoughts and reactions, but...well, I don't mind doing it and I'm glad to add them to the conversation.

So here is Adam at the very, very excellent Mission Paradox Blog, weighing in.

I guess I can take this moment to say a little something (or re-say something): it's all about the conversation. I shared my experience not as an example of "what's going on in black theatre," but as an offering of what I'm going through. Whoever is reading this doesn't know my work, so you have to take my word for what it is. That's not really the point. For me, the point is talking about it, not pretending it's all okay, or it's set in stone or whatever. Collecting ideas, feelings, reactions, good and bad, and seeing what comes next. Really, honestly, that's all for me. I'm anonymous here, so it's not about self-promotion. It may be about bitching and I'd be happy to find that out. It's about talking to each other.

Okay, now, seriously, really. I have to get to work!

In Other News...(Things to Think About, Part Deux)

Ian David Moss has some very interesting things to say and consider. You should consider them.

More Thoughts

I can't leave well enough alone. Via Tony Adams in the comments below, I came across Shepsu Aakhu. You can hear him doing an interview for his new play, Ten Square, here. The piece Shepsu and the interviewer reference is this one, originally published in the BlaQ Market collection here. For the link-averse, a couple of key grafs from the essay (longish excerpts follow):
To better understand this point we need look no further than the American “Race Play”. What does the topic of race look like in the Safe Black Play? First, it must not make the White audience, or the affluent Black audience for that matter, uncomfortable. Removing the story from a contemporary setting is the easiest way to accomplish this goal. A period piece, set anytime in American history before 1975, will typically get the job done. We can draw bold characters steeped in overt racial opposition without the fear of offending the great masses. I call it the “Thirty-Year Barrier”. The Thirty-Year Barrier represents old America - confused, obstructionist, unenlightened America. When the audience sees this America on stage, they see it as a politically or historically Dark Age and not an extension or commentary of themselves. This Dark Age was an unfortunate time, but it is not at all reflective of our present enlightened society.

For the Black community, it is anything but safe – it takes racism out of its usual institutional context and personified it instead. It is embodied in a flesh and blood character that exists as the antagonist. Any writing teacher will tell you that this is a good idea because, in theory, it gives the audience a clear villain and creates clear motivations for the protagonist. Functionally, however, this device undermines the Black community’s sense of reality. The obstructions of racism are rarely limited to one individual. We effectively tell the Black audience that what you know to be true will not be seen on this stage. For the white audience we go in the other direction; what you WISH to be true will be validated on this stage. White society has allegiance and responsibility only to the white individual.

In this scenario, the white audience is safe while the Black audience is not. The race play requires a certain truth telling. We have to see race in a contemporary context, with all of its complexity, and with an acceptance/understanding that we will be made uncomfortable from time to time.
RTWT here. While I think Shepsu and I probably have stylistic difference, a lot of what he says makes sense to me. The next question is this: is everything written by a black writer a "race play."

Well, That Was All Exciting...

...and it still is. I've been gratified by the comments on the posts below, as well as those at Isaac's place (check 'em out, too!). A few folks have also sent me messages off-line and all are encouraged to do so. The whole point of this is to have a conversation. I know that many people are uncomfortable voicing their opinions in such a public space and I honor those who have.

I'm seriously engaged in trying to think of what to do about this next. I knew I felt strongly about these issues, but it really wasn't until I started writing about it here, I realized how deep my feelings are and how strong my desire to actually do something about it is. Obviously the constraints of A) a blog and B) an anonymous blog make actually doing something problematic. But both are things I feel strongly committed to. So I need to do some stewing.

I also need to do some writing. This blog has been an excellent tool for procrastination, but my deadlines are fast approaching and the work needs to get done. So posting may actually be a bit light over the next few days. I wish I could invite you all to this next thing, but...well, duh. I can't. But if you find yourself watching a smart, well-written play in the next couple of weeks, it could be mine. So laugh at the jokes, go "aw" at the sensitive moments, applaud at the end and I'll go easy on you in the comments.

More soon...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I was not actually engaging the question of "the state of black theatre." Reading the piece in the Guardian had certainly gotten my mind thinking about and thinking about why we weren't talking about it. Those are two separate thoughts. One thought is "What is the state of black theatre in the U.S. right now?" Another, separate thought is "Why isn't anyone asking or talking about it?"

To be honest, one of the reasons I didn't write about it here was because I wanted to write about it under my own name. I am a black playwright, working in the U.S., so I have my thoughts. But I was more interested in taking the temperature, reaching out to artists both more and less successful than myself, building a picture of the scene, the landscape. Because I know enough artists, enough playwrights and actors and directors and designers to know that, there is no one state, there is no single picture. But there are probably common threads, common experiences and maybe even common thoughts. I thought, "If I were a journalist or a social scientist, this might be an interesting project." I'm not, but you know what, I started to, anyway. I started reaching out to people I knew, especially people I knew who knew other people, in other parts of the country, to try to begin the process of checking in. This is a big diaspora and finding ways to check in is hard and time-consuming. Especially when you're writing and trying to build a career and working a wholly unrelated day job. But this project was, and is, important enough to me to try.

That meant I wasn't doing it here. And, to avoid sock-puppetry, or other less than ethical situations, I didn't bring it up again here. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the point of my post wasn't to say, "Hey, Time Out, you should be writing about the state of black theatre." It was to say, "Hey, Time Out, I like what these guys are doing. Why can't you do that?" That probably wasn't particularly fair, but that's what I was saying.

As an anonymous blogger and one trying to protect my anonymity, there's a fine dance to what I share and don't share. This is a legendarily, hilariously and frighteningly small world. I have told a few individuals my real identity, but opening that up further frankly scares me. But I didn't want to have this conversation anonymously.

For me, it is about the conversation. "Everything's fine" is a fine answer, but I need more to back it up than a list of recent productions. "Nothing's any good" is also a fine answer, but I would need more than a list of issues to back that up. I want to talk about the role race plays in our theatres and our institutions, about the experience of being a black playwright, about how that affects and informs your work and your career. It's not about glib answers like "It's hard" or any pre-decided things. In part because I see that black playwrights are getting produced with some regularity, but many black playwrights I know feel frustrated and limited in their subject matter. Why is that? What's your story about it?

My story is this: I'm an extremely assimilated black playwright. I live in a world of many races, all living together. In theatre circles, I'm often the only black person in any given room, and more often than not, the only black man under 50. When I write, I think in terms of multiracial casting and productions, but often, find that my plays wind up being all or mostly white actors. I don't write plays about "the minority experience" or where a given character's race is important (often), but I do think about it when I write. I used to try to specify races, even when it didn't come up in the play, but then that only lead to the question of "well, why do you need a black/Asian/Latino actor for that role?" So I started trying to do it in casting, casting "blind" for the first reading in the hopes that the impression would be made. I know it's not always the case, but I tried.

I write what I know and, yeah, my plays do wind up being about upper-middle class problems. But I'm eager to show that black people have upper middle-class problems. That when races mix on stage, the minority one doesn't need to be a servant or employee to justify why they're there. But I've found that doesn't jibe with the space provided to black playwrights: tour guide. It seems to me that the expectation on me is that, as the Black Playwright, it's my job to bring some foreign experience into a white theater in a safe, easy to handle way. If I'm just writing love stories or whatever, they can get that from a white playwright. I always feel weird sending my plays in for "minority" play contests because there aren't clearly identified minorities in them all the time. Sometimes I feel like I should use my middle name, which is classic 1970s Muslim, so they know I'm a black playwright.

And the same holds true for black theatres. I'm not actually mixed race, but I know how that feels. Not black enough for either side, really. And there are few places to turn to.

But I also know that's how I feel. And there may be a ton of reasons, beyond race, for that. The plays may not have been very good. I may be repressing years of racial anger. Who knows. I don't want to say that my experience is The Black Playwright Experience. But I want to know if I'm alone. If other people feel the way I feel.

For me, though, this is a starting point. Or it should be. But now I feel a bit handcuffed because if someone I approached or will approach reads this, well, the jig is up (so to speak). And I can't direct all of you to my own blog, under my name, to continue this conversation for the same reasons. This is something important to me and I'm not sure how to proceed.

Who's got answers?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Challenge This

So, I've thought about this a bit more and, I've gotta say, as a black playwright, yeah, I'm a bit offended. I hate to pick a fight with a critic, even being anonymous writer, but...uh, yeah, I'm offended. Because the basic subtext is "A bunch of you are doing well, so what the hell are you bitching about?"

Well, what am I bitching about? To start with, I wasn't bitching. Read the post again. I'm not bitching that there's discrimination or whatever. I know that Lynn won the Pulitzer. And, yeah, Adam's right: I've missed some shows lately. But I know Thomas Bradshaw is black. And I haven't missed the press Broke-ology got. I'm pretty sure that my brother-in-anonymity Jack Worthing knows that, too. Did I ask where the black playwrights are? No. I asked what's the state of the scene. And I'm still wondering.

The thing that I love about Roy Williams' piece is that, that's what he's saying about English theatre: it's flourishing and diversified, but he's wondering what is it about. I'm wondering the same thing: what is it all about? Who are the black people we're seeing on stage? I'd even expand it further and ask are we seeing black people in ONLY the plays by black playwrights? What's wrong with asking the questions?

I find it mildly disturbing that a critic at a major magazine in one of the "centers of American theatre"* doesn't think there's any sort of story to any of this. And I find it even more disturbing that the full extent of his response is four paragraphs and no apparent attempt to contact any of the playwrights he mentions (or any others, for that matter) to ask if they feel the same way.

And maybe they do. I'm honestly wondering. I'll be honest with you, and, for once, risk outing myself: I contacted a number of black playwrights I know, under my real world name, to ask them about this last week when the 4th anniversary of August Wilson's death rolled around. (If any of you are reading this, I do intend to follow up, though now it's a bit complicated.) Because I know what my issues are as a black playwright in this city and this community, but I don't know if those feelings are shared. I think it's worth more than a list of titles. And I do think it's worth asking what the state of minority theatre is in general. Given the coverage and responses to the whole Emily Glassberg Sands study, does saying that Lynn Nottage, a woman, won the Pulitzer eliminate the problem? Or Sarah Ruhl has one of the most produced plays of next season make it all go away? Or are those outliers? Isn't worth it to try to find out? It's a glib, easy answer, particularly coming from a critic.

I know I'm just a blogger, and an anonymous one at that, so glib and facile is my stock in trade, but I expect more from Adam and from Time Out. I think we should expect more from ourselves and each other.

*I pretty much just threw that in there to make Scott mad, like the good old days.

What & Why

The thread in the comments here gets us into the same old familiar places and Isaac very correctly points out the limitations of the conversation that we run into:
WEll, this comment thread is certainly about the How not the What. I think we talk a lot about the What though, particualrly when we talk about diversity which is another way of talking about the Who.

And while the above might have read as facetious, i don't mean it that way.

do you feel like in the blogosphere we talk about the how too much and not enough of the what?
It doesn't just stop at the blogosphere, though. I've been meaning to bring this up, especially in the light of this excellent post from Prince Gomolvilas during his guestblogging stint at Parabasis. Those are perfect tips to talk about the How (as isaac calls it). But how do we talk about the What?

I've had the same experience at two recent writing groups I've attended. We all know the writers group deal, but just in case you don't: you get a bunch of writers together, they read their work and then give feedback. Usually there's some structure to the feedback to protect the writer and keep things civil. I'm a member of a couple of them and I really like them. There is a problem, though, and it's exactly this: the focus is on craft, style, but rarely, if ever on substance. The focus is on the How and never on the What. Or even more importantly on the Why.

Recently, in each group, someone presented work, good, solid, well-crafted work, that I questioned the Why of. It's a hard subject to broach. "Hey, Fellow Playwright, your play is fine, well-structured and all of that. I just think the entire subject matter is pointless, trite and unengaging." Not a good way to remain civil. But we don't have much of a vocabulary for it. If my grad school was like all the others, and all of the writers' groups I've ever been in like all the others, the focus is exclusively on form, not substance. We help each other write clearer, stronger plays, but not necessarily better plays.

And what was wrong with them? Well, avoiding the specifics to protect them (and me, just in case), they were plays that the authors felt deeply about, mostly drawn from peronsal experiences and perspectives that were all about the troubles, travails and issues of upper middle class urbanites, mainly white (or color-less). Of course, most of the writers were upper middle class urbanites. Write what you know, right? Those are the limitations.

Sitting in the circle, I was of two minds: how to frame useful, productive feedback and what could I say about the content that wouldn't be offensive or pointless. And I came up with nothing.

Can we talk about the content? Can we ask ourselves which stories are we hearing? That's the real question. Irony v. sentimentality, linear v. non-linear is all a sideshow. Even diversity is a sideshow. The real thing we have to figure out is what stories are we telling and why.

Why and What. Why are we telling stories we're choosing to tell? In a way, we know why theatres are programming the way they're programming. But what effect is that having on the work we're all creating. Whether we want to or not, we should be asking ourselves those questions.


Not one to walk away from a challenge, Adam Feldman at TimeOut NY's Upstaged blog picks up the gauntlet I threw down...sort of. Mostly just to say it's not an issue worthy of their time. *sigh* I left some of my thoughts in the comments there.

Much Respeck

Booyakasha, Josh!

The Desert of the Real

Via Art at The Mirror up to Nature, in the Boston Globe, Sarah Ruhl's "frustrated but spirited defense" against charges of whimsy, quirk and a lack of psychological depth:
“I do think psychological realism is a crock, because it makes emotions so rational. It’s not realism. I think it’s just a form,’’ says Ruhl, whose husband and sister are, ironically, psychiatrists. “Theater, from Shakespeare to the Greeks, has always been about irrationality, in some profound way. So I think to make it all linear and make it all causal is kind of weird. The rational unearthing of neuroses isn’t enough.’’
I thought about whether I wanted to respond to this at all, since, whenever we start talking about style, people get, well, agitated. But the whole point of this anonymity thing is being a rabblerouser, isn't it? So I better get to rousing some rabble.

Before I begin, I want to make sure this is perfectly clear: I LIKE SARAH RUHL. I like her as a person, but more importantly I like her as an artist. I've had the pleasure of working with her, many, many moons ago, wearing my producer's hat and she was a lovely person to work with. I rather enjoyed Eurydice when I saw it, and I'm looking forward to seeing this. (Sidenote: I read a draft of it and enjoyed that, too...Though I have some issues, as you shall see.) I'm not making any sort of attack on her as an artist or begrudging her her very well-deserved and well-earned success because I'm an angry, bitter person who just hates it when nice, smart, talented (and cute!) people succeed. Okay? So when you comment, please remember this.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I think her statement above is bullshit. I just do. I think it's wrong on many levels, and is the kind of thing that can hurt playwriting. I also think it's a philosophy that I personally reject. That part may be a stretch, but work with me.

Apparently, Sarah Ruhl thinks Aristotle is "kind of weird." Because linear drama starts with him. And, in case you missed it, he's one of the Greeks that she says was into irrationality. It's just off-base, almost no matter how you slice it. Aristotle leaves room for what I've called "weird shit" but the fundamental thing he brings to the table is a coherent story is the backbone of drama. That's his whole thesis. Plot is a chain of causally related events leading to a climax. If you want to call that "irrationality," I don't think that word means what you think it means.

I'm not even sure what kind of plays she's talking about when she talks about the "rational unearthing of neuroses." Honestly, I'm really not. It sounds like she's talking about Marnie or the last five minutes of Psycho, not about any play at all I know, certainly not any good ones. Okay, maybe some mid-period Neil Simon or something.

How is that a defense against saying your characters don't make sense or behave like actual people? It's not the Chewbacca Defense...but it's close. It's just a jumble of words that say, in essence, "Regular plays are boring and I don't want to write boring plays."

The reason I think we should talk about this is NOT because I think her plays shouldn't be produced or are bad. (See above.) But because what playwrights with a national profile, which she has (and which will be expanded when In The Other Room... opens), what these leading playwrights say matters. And it matters to young writers.

Like most playwrights, I'm sure you read this book when you were starting out. There are a couple of other ones, too. One of my professors in grad school was partial to this one, because it's peppered with little quotes and aphorisms from various playwrights. (He poo-poohed the graphs in it, though. A position I've come to disagree with.) We read these little phrases and statements, print them out, tack them to our walls or tape them to our computers (at least I did and still do). Playwriting is a craft and we're all apprentices and our masters are everywhere. It matters.

When it was my job to identify young playwrights for a development opportunity as well as when I taught workshops and such, I noticed that young playwrights often the same mistakes. Certain types of plays would crop up, certain characters would appear again and again, themes and choices would recur. In fact, it became one of the ways I would identify a promising young playwright. One of the characters that would appear over and over again was The Crazy Person. Usually they showed up in someone's play after reading The Zoo Story or Naomi in the Living Room by Christopher Durang. The Crazy Person did irrational things. If someone asked them a question, they would give a nutty, provocative answer. When someone else asked them another question, they'd give a totally different provocative answer. There was no basic underlying character truth. When you pressed one of the playwrights on that character, you'd get some variation of "They're crazy! They just say whatever comes to mind!" It's an immature trick to add "drama" or "conflict." Things like Sarah Ruhl's statement is the grown-up, overintellectualized version of the same thing. "Emotions are irrational! People do nutty things!"

That's the philosophy I can't get behind. It's a personal thing. I know crazy people. I'm related to crazy people. So much so that my mother thought it was a good idea to send this article around to all of her children. Whether as an apology or a warning...I don't know. The one thing I've learned from all of this is this: people are utterly, incredibly, sometimes frustratingly rational. I absolutely believe that. We may not understand their reasoning or accept their basic premises, but even someone in the full throes of a manic episode is actually behaving perfectly rationally. It's just that their given circumstances are crazy. Whenever anyone starts telling that emotions are irrational, I start looking for the way they're about to screw me over. To me, it's code for "I'm about to do something that you're not going to like and I know you're not going to like it, but I'm going to do it anyway." But...I digress.

Sarah is an accomplished, well-trained and (again!) very, very talented writer, but these kind of statements strike me as the words of a very immature writer. A writer who's aiming to be different rather than being honest or real. And that sends a signal to young writers and to literary staffs (often composed of young artists) and to the world: irrationality is what we're aiming for. Linear thinking is old hat, passe, weird and wrong. That's my issue here. I'm not saying that all plays should be well-made, but they shouldn't all be quirk-fests, either. But given the limited resources available for production, when Sarah Ruhl is the playwright of the moment and everyone is looking for the next Sarah Ruhl (if not for, you know, Sarah Ruhl), other voices get pushed aside. Or, in a way worse, don't get the microphone to make impressions on the younger artists.

I've intimated it before and I do plan to write a longer post on it, but I think we're in the midst of sea change in styles. That's not a bad thing. I just don't know how honest we are with each other about what that means, about what styles are ascendant and what it says about our field. I think we should, and more importantly, I think we should be able to have that conversation without it turning into a referendum on who likes Sarah Ruhl.

But, did I mention? I really like Sarah Ruhl. Like a lot.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Returns, Good News and Bad

Isaac is back, which is less than surprising, but still welcome. So I'm back in my own digs.

As Isaac notes, Jaime at surplus is also back, which is very good news (especially for those who court nerd girls, love podcasts and love good, snappy theatre writings), but she starts off with the bad, or at least, contemplative. Her journey here is one I can, obviously, relate to. And something I still struggle with. Our field can be so insular and cut off that, once you're on the outside, meaningful connection can feel impossible. But it's done, and in a way, it's always been done. This is part of the brain drain that our organizations' precarious financing leads to. We all have those friends who loved theatre, made a good go of it, but eventually had to keep a roof over their heads. When I left the world of working in theatres, I walked away from a great opportunity at a terrific institution, but that wouldn't have paid me enough to keep my fridge stocked with skittles and beer. Something had to give and I did. I do miss it, though.

Isaac has some seriously cogent thoughts on Jaime's post and on Rob K.'s post here. It's worth reading the whole thing (if you haven't already). I'm still digesting it and will likely have thoughts soon. But check it out for yourselves.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I've Been Remiss...

...about highlighting this very excellent post from Adam at The Mission Paradox Blog. I'm sure anyone who reads me reads him, but if you don't, you really should. This post is a good place to start.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Who The Devil Writes It?*

As it sometimes does, being in someone else's house for a while makes you think about your own. This week, I'm guest-blogging at Isaac's place and I posted this item, which engendered some interesting conversation in the comments between Josh and Jack Worthing (who I believe has also dropped some comments in here). In both the post itself and in the comments, I acknowledged something that I really haven't before and it gave me a bit of a pause. Since it's sort of a meta-blogging kind of thing, I figured I'd post it here instead of taking up Isaac's blog.

You see, 99 Seats isn't really me. Not exactly. In the same way that "Stephen Colbert" isn't really Stephen Colbert. I guess this is true of most bloggers and probably more true of most anonymous bloggers and anonymous writers. In a comments section that I can't quite find, even Don Hall so much as admitted that the "Don Hall" who writes An Angry White Guy... isn't quite the Don Hall you'd meet in a bar or a rehearsal room. It's not an earthshattering realization. But in the midst of an argument that gave at least one person personal offense and reminded me of how blithely we can say things out here in the internet, it made me pause a little bit.

The person that I am is...well, I hope, nicer. More genial. Less doctrinaire and rigid (in some ways). I'm unleashing part of my personality here, but not all of it. Partly, so I can speak truth to power in some way and say what's really on my mind. Unfortunately, and I hate to admit it, sometimes it is to make a splash, drive traffic or links or whatever (though I don't have any ads, so I don't get paid for it. I guess, like most theatre people, I just like the attention). That I'm less proud of and I feel is less useful.

Is it useful to the field to tar ALL MFAs or ALL Ivy League schools as hopelessly classist and exclusionary? Probably not. Almost definitely not. Does it make for good copy or a good argument? Yes, I think so. Is that worth it? Sometimes...I'm not so sure. In the end, what's useful is a discussion of the role class plays in our field. Do kneejerk comments and arguments get us closer to that discussion? It looks like no. But then again, nothing else seems to, either.

I struggle with this whole anonymity thing on a regular basis. Sometimes it feels like a choke chain. There are things that I would love to blog about, not as myself, but as 99 Seats: meetings I attend, off-the-cuff conversations and comments, shows I see. But I've done that already and gotten myself in hot water.

Sometimes it's freeing. So much of this business is based in hypocrisy. I know I fall into it, but having an outlet and knowing that, even though I have to keep quiet when I hear something that's off or wrong, given the circumstances, I can go home and blow off steam at whomever or whatever, is a useful release for me.

Lately, though, I've gotten a bit paranoid that my secret identity has gotten out, and more people than I think have sussed it out and judge me for it. Or that someone I've offended, either intentionally or accidentally, will "out" me. In my worst moments, I fear that it's hurting my career or work prospects. It's a bit nerve-wracking. Sometimes I think it would be best to just close up shop and move on. Blog under my own name for a while. Sometimes I think it would be better to unmask myself and take what comes.

Do I stand by the things I've written? Absolutely. Even the more bullheaded, shocking or offensive things. If someone called me out, in person, would I respond? Yes. Do I mean them all exactly the way they're put here? ...Not...precisely. Does that make me a hypocrite? Quite possibly. Can I live with that? Yeah.

I don't have any grand summation for this. I'm not planning on a big unveiling, not any time soon. I'm not planning on closing down the store. I do stand by everything I've written here. But that's the thing: it's not really "me." But if it's not me...who the hell is it?

*Cf. And apparently, Cf. Who knew?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


While Isaac at Parabasis is away, Prince Gomolvilas and I will be doing some housesitting. Posting here is likely to be light, but swing by to Parabasis and say hello. I'll be sleeping on Isaac's couch, going through his medicine cabinet, drinking his liquor and refilling the bottles with water. Like any self-respecting housesitter.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Can I just take a moment and say, "What the hell am I doing in this country?" And it's not even because of madness like this, this, or this. (Well, okay, this is kind of fascinating, though.) Because whenever I read The Guardian's theatre blog, I just get all full up with the expatriating desire.

Part of it is just plain blog envy. It's a nice looking, well-kept, interesting blog, with a good mix of "around the horn" kind of pieces, brief essays on various subjects, and local theatre previews. And they don't just cover British theatre, but American as well, pretty darn well. Good insightful stuff all around.

But, in particular, it was this piece that made me think, "Why the hell aren't we having that conversation right now?" What is the state of black theatre in America? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? It's as though, since August Wilson died, it's not a problem anymore because he's not railing about it. I'm not even saying that it is a problem. I'm saying I don't even know because we're not talking about it. We're talking about submission fees and ringing cell phones and guys who tried to rip Don Hall off. Even Diversity is Dead isn't talking anymore.

So, you know, David Cote and company, here's a challenge back at ya: go and do likewise.

Yeah, Isaac is My Assignment Editor.

Get over it. Go read this. Make comments.

One interesting thing...

I have no particular interest in this. I'm not going to post it, you've all seen it, you can see it when you want, audiences are poorly behaved, millionaires just don't get enough respect, public shaming is just awesome, blah, blah, blah. But there's one thing that I haven't seen anyone talk about as the video is posted and bounced around.

Um. It's illegal. The video, I mean. The person who made the video is actually more of a problem than the person who interrupted the show. That person was just careless and annoying. The other person was clearly taping the show. Which is against the rules. And then it was posted. If this was a movie, or a TV show, or well, just about anything else, it would have been taken down by now. But it's not. Hmm...

Createquity Chimes In

I mentioned it in the comments to the post below, but Ian David Moss at Createquity posted a bit of a response to my post here. He brings up a couple of good points (to quote at length):
No, I think the bigger issue is that Broadway is seen as an amenity that, despite being in New York, belongs to tourists more than it belongs to New Yorkers. Whereas the Yankees have an indisputably local appeal. (They also have broader, free or bundled distribution through television and radio than does Broadway.) They’re also only one team (or two if you count the Mets), whereas Broadway has many theaters and shows, making capture of the local imagination more difficult for the latter. Anyway, what this example tells me is that a sense of belonging and local ownership/pride builds local political clout. Can an economically-focused argument help to build these things? Maybe in some places more effectively than others. It no doubt has to be only one prong of a broader strategy.
That's something I can really get behind. My whole point was the economic argument isn't a magic bullet, in no small part, because I think we win that. There's a cultural aspect, too. For me that's where the necessity argument comes in.

Anyway, Ian's post is great round-up of a bunch of things. Check it out!

Um? Huh? Wha?

I like Ian Thal just fine, but this post is a total mystery to me (via). To quote:
In other words, "I'm looking for a free version of your work-in-progress." This, irked me as I am also a writer, I don't take kindly to people nicking my work. More importantly, I have had my work nicked (blog entries reposted elsewhere without attribution, book reviews quoted or reprinted without attribution or permission, et cetera) but this was the first time somebody had the chutzpah to tell me, "I would like to nick your work, because it sounds really interesting!" This is despite the fact that I am already making the effort to put my work out for a public viewing.
To Ian, nick may mean something different from what it means to me, but generally, this works:
(transitive, slang) To steal. Someone's nicked my bike!
But, in this context, well, that just doesn't make any sense. Is the fear that they're going to plagiarize it? Attempt to produce it without paying royalties? I'm not sure who or what is being nicked here. Is it just that someone reading his play, after he posts it on the internet, rather than waiting for it to be published and buying a proper copy, is stealing from him? I honestly really don't get what the complaint is.

Also, as a general rule, as is mentioned in the comments to Ian's post, is reading your script a copyright issue? If the same person had e-mailed and asked to be sent a script, would it be the same problem? I could see it being a question if they announced their intention to produce the work without your permission or if they were planning to disseminate it. That would be getting into some copyright issues. Or if they were planning to pass off your work as their own. But...just reading it violates your copyright? Really?

I'm definitely in the copyleft, open source camp to begin with, so I don't really have any issue with someone downloading a script of mine. In fact, I think it would be a good thing. More people reading the work, hell, even more people doing productions or readings is a grand thing. That's what we're supposed to want. Exposure and audiences, maybe even a fan. Ooo, someone is intrigued by my work and wants to download it. That's sca-ary!

I admit, I'm mocking Ian, maybe a little unfairly. He has every right to be protective of his work, especially a work-in-progress. But he says, in the comments, that he wouldn't have minded if the person identified themselves as an "actor/director/contest judge," though and I find that problematic. I mean, if someone just wanted to read his script because they thought it was interesting and couldn't make the reading would be told to take a hike, but someone with the appropriate credentials can get it, even if it's a work-in-progress? Who is the person of value here? And what are we telling that person?

Ian sees the new world of on-demand downloads as a problem for artists. I see it as an opportunity, a chance to connect directly with our audiences without intermediaries. And I do see it as an opportunity and possibility for revenue. I mean, no one is going to put my play on the internet if I don't do it. And if I do, and allow people to download it, who's to say I don't charge a little bit for it. Yeah, people are used to finding free things on the internet, but they're also used to paying a little bit for things. Lots of other artists are capitalizing on this, why not playwrights?

It seems foolhardy to slap away a hand being extended, especially since, for most playwrights, making money off someone just reading your play is so rare. Why not let this person read it, enjoy it and maybe pass it along to a theatre wherever they are (Ian, rightfully so, withheld the details, so I don't know if this person was local to him or not)? Why not just let them read it and maybe drive and come see your play when it's being performed? Having someone reach out to you is such a great compliment, take it! And let's try to live in the modern world.