About Me

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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

WISH PLAY in NYC Sept. 16 at 1 PM

The Platform Group Ladder Series presents
Wish Play
Written by Kato McNickle
Directed by Lillian Meredith

SUNDAY, September 16 
@ 1 PM
The Creek and Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue 
Long Island City, NY 11101

Wish Play 
A Romantic Comedy about a book and its spell 
by Kato McNickle; directed by Lillian Meredith; Featuring: John DeSilvestri, Maggie Raymond, Louiza Collins, Elizabeth Seldin, Rivka Borek, Cameron Mason

The Ladder Series is The Platform Group's staged reading series, aimed at getting plays to the next rung. Over 100 new plays were submitted to us from playwrights all over the country. We are staging 10 of them July through October. There will be a talk back with the playwright and creative team after each reading. 
Wish Play begins with a promise made to a friend. Darla has given her word that should anything happen to Carol, she would retrieve her diary before anyone else can find it.  But this is no ordinary diary. It is a hand-made journal that Carol stole from a young man on an island a year earlier.  What neither Carol nor Darla realize is that this is a book that wants its readers to compose a wish, commit the wish to its pages, and then demands that the story of the fulfillment of the wish be written down within it.  Failure to relay the rest of the story leads people to a single, sleepless, omnipresent obsession: to find the book and write the story.  To what lengths will people go to possess the book and finish their stories?  The power of the written word and the needs of secret desire unravel this group mourning the loss of their friend.  Can the spell of the book be broken?

7 train to Vernon/Jackson (1 stop past Grand Central!)
G train to 21st/Ely Ave; 
or E/M train to 21st st./Court Sq. 

CLICK For $7 tickets
 *Day of tickets will be by standby 

The Ladder Series is an approved benefit by the theatre authority, and will employ both AEA and non-AEA actors. 
For more info and updates visit The Platform Group on the web, or Like on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Join the conversation #LadderSeries

Plays remaining in The Ladder Series: 

9/16 Wish Play by Kato McNickle (Clauder Award recipient and multiple-year O'Neill National Conference finalist) directed by Lillian Meredith (Lincoln C
enter Directors Lab) with John DeSilvestri,
Maggie Raymond, Louiza Collins, Elizabeth Seldin, Rivka Borek, Cameron Mason *A Romantic Comedy about a Book and its Spell

9/23 Donkey by John Patrick Bray (NEA and the Acadiana Center for the Arts Grant recipient) directed yb Dan Horrigan with Tony Curtis, Melisa Breiner Sanders, Simone Elizabeth Bart, Andrew Hariss, Alex Dagg and Sandra Williams*A Dark Comedy about a Cynical Coffee Shop Owner, Small Town Politics, and Corporate Take-over

9/30 Zombie Love by Laurence Klavan (Drama Desk nominee for Bed and Sofa) directed by Melissa Crespo (Assistant Director Second Stage’s Everyday Rapture, Some Men) *A Comedic look at Zombies, Movies and Love

10/7 Brilliant Rose by Carolyne Gallo (Last Night, The Basil Pot) directed by Tim Robinson *A Romantic Comedy about Acting and Food Trucks

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Push

There's all kinds of pushing going on. Push matched with shove is one; pushed to the brink, or pushed to  the limit; and there's the gentle push. Pushing entails that the push-ee is forward of the push-er, that the one being pushed is being thrust into the face of the oncoming obstacle, while the pusher is protected from immediate contact with whatever is being pushed toward. 
It's different than being pulled.  Being pulled means that you are caught up in some outside momentum that is always ahead of you, and always includes the danger that you might be pitched to the side or flung away from the pulling force, or that you stumble and get dragged behind.
 The Push to make something happen, to move forward, to be thrust ahead, implies that there is another hand involved, a force outside of ones self. You can also push yourself. This usually means that you summon up that thing inside you that goes beyond your limits. It is a refusal to stop now, to remain comfortable, or to remain still. 
Whatever the source of The Push is, it always provides movement, a momentum, and at least a little discomfort. The Push is not comfortable, at least not at first. The Push may never be comfortable, but that's not the point. You choose whether to welcome The Push or whether to allow it to piss you off. You can resist it. You can undo it. But know that The Push is essential to making change happen, to initiating a new movement, to getting it all rolling.

How are you seeking things that push? How are you pushing others? What's the last thing you really pushed? Could you push harder? And what's the last thing that really pushed you? Let that push get you going, and keep it going. Then be ready to push back.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Hard Talk

A week ago a theater colleague to whom I had sent a new work sent a response to the play of mine that she had just read.  She bagan her e-mail to me like this:

Okay, here goes.  I'm going to give you a totally honest response - we don't know each other that well, but I'm going to assume that what you want (if it's not delete the e-mail right now).

She was ready with a response that was all about "the hard talk" with the playwright about the work.  As far as the communication that followed, it was thoughtful, well composed, and on-the-money describing the strengths and weaknesses of the work she had read. I will be taking her comments with me to a meeting I am having about an upcoming workshop of this play.

When this e-mail arrived I had to take the big gulp, allow my mind to open,  double click the message, and read.

It is not easy to be on the receiving end of "the hard talk"; it is also not easy being the one who decides to deliver it.

As playwrights it is important to be choosy when asking people for their opinions and observations about our work, especially the work that is still actively being shaped.

During a playwright introduction at The O'Neill Theater Conference I heard a playwright describe the best way to give feedback as questions, "Your questions about my play are always welcome; your answers about how to solve the problems not so much."  This is a good starting point for learning to talk about the plays, becoming aware of the questions.

On the other side of the conversation is the playwright. As the playwright how willing are you to engage in the "hard talk"? It's an important thing to know about yourself and your attachment to the work. It means you have to be open to the double edge elation of it being liked (loved?), and of the warts and bumps being pointed toward.

Are you willing to grapple with the work once this new perspective has been revealed to you?

I have been on the reader end of the question as often as I have been on the playwright end. I know that if I am dealing with a knowledgable theater person that I will listen if they are willing to go to the place beyond polite response into the area of the "hard talk." I in turn will go to the "hard talk" if I believe the colleague with whom I am dealing seems ready for it.

Even in the response that I quoted above there is the note about deleting the message before treading further. At that point I ready myself, and read on.

PS - The graphic I am using in this post is my first foray into drawing my own computer graphics. It took me three days of experimenting to draw it using just the track-pad on my computer. I guess I'm gonna have to buy a tablet soon, or draw them on my iPad and transfer them to the MacBook for editing. Any thoughts? Let me know. - Kato

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Gunning for Womprats

“It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womprats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.”

--------- Luke Skywalker, taking on a skeptic regarding the rebel’s chances of destroying the Death Star.

Sending out your play to a theater and getting a production out of it is a lot like the chances the Rebel Alliance had in destroying the Death Star, but they had to try. For them it was a life or death battle. For you and me it’s a matter of credibility and identity. Will my life as a playwright survive? Without that production coming along, the answer is “no.”

How do you get that production? First you have to bullseye a whole lotta womprats in your T-16 back home.

Gunning for womprats

Where are these elusive creatures? They take on a variety of forms, from reading books on playwriting, to taking a class, to going to the theater, to reading new plays, to local readings of your latest play, to 10-minute play festivals, to concert and staged-readings of your work. Womprats are everywhere. So why can they be so hard to see?

First, there’s the T-16. You gotta learn to fly that vehicle, take her out around the block, see what she can do. Then you take her for a spin in Beggar’s Canyon. Before long you're blasting at womprats as you tool along.

Learning to fly the T-16 is you sitting down and reading plays, going to local theater, and reading a few books on the craft of playwriting. It might also include taking a class, either through a university or an informal class through your local parks & rec. What’s available to you? Start at your local library. They will have a collection of drama and some instructional guides. They will also have information about local theater groups and classes.

By going to see plays you will not only learn about theatrical form and conventions, you also become acquainted with your local acting-talent pool. Keep the programs and mark the names of actors who might be able to help you read your play to you. Try volunteering with the theater groups that are doing work that interests you. Whether you’re helping build the set or handing out programs at the top of the show, the experience will help you understand the mechanics of theatrical production while it introduces you to the people who make theater happen in your community.

Write a short play and invite some of your new actor friends to come read it out loud. Take notes either during or after the read through, and do whatever rewrites are needed.

BLAM! You just blasted a womprat. Score one for you.

Now, you start looking for places to send your short play. There are many theaters that host short play festivals. A few minutes a day searching the web and you’ll have at least ten or more places that will be willing to read your work.

BLAM! Another womprat bites the dust.

Send out the play.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! More womprats.

You get a play into a festival! BLAMMO!

You're working on a few more short plays, having them read, rewriting, and sending them out.


You’re knocking off womprats left and right.

Try writing longer works. Get ‘em read. Send ‘em out. With your new and improved resume, and the theater experiencing you’re garnering with your group, you are starting to feel more like a pro. You are making a dent in the womprat population in your community.

See if there are other playwrights in your community and start organizing sessions where you bring in pieces of new work and read it out loud for each other. You can all share resource information, like where to send your plays. You can also begin organizing local reading series of your plays. See if a local theater, library, art gallery, church, or civic agency might be interested in donating some space for you guys to show your art.


You’re knocking off some impressive womprats.

Before long you’ll be ready for the big challenges, but they won’t seem so big anymore because you’ve been primed by taking out all of those womprats.

Death Star…Shmeath Star. You’ve been bullseyeing womprats in your T-16 back home, and they’re not much bigger than two meters. It’s not impossible at all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hand Writing

Nothing feels like writing as much as running a pen with some heft and smooth flowing ink over a well-toothed paper in a book that smells a little old world.  I am a keeper of notebooks. I've got loads of them - some fancy for nobler thoughts and outstanding quotes from other sources, some small enough to keep in my pocket, and a handful of those traditional spiral-bound 8x11" pads with glossy pictures of pop stars or Star Wars characters emblazoned across the front.

When I was attending Brown a couple of years ago (a Return to Undergrad program) I started carrying smaller books that were easy to transport in my day-bag and easy to leaf thru during my bus-rides to and from campus to prepare for class or review before a test. They were small enough to stow in a pocket, and didn't take up a lot of room on cafeteria counter tops.  I learned a lot about economy of note taking by keeping a smaller book.

Some courses (especially the cog-sci classes I was taking) required more notes than others. For these classes I got into the habit of transferring the most important material and formulas to a smaller notebook that would eventually become my bus-ride-study-journal as exams approached.

As a playwright I grab small notebooks as I head out the door almost everywhere I go. I can never tell when I'll need to write something down - an idea, a scrap of dialogue, a description, an important e-mail, a name...

Notebook carrying is an important habit to nurture. Of course, now a phone can house your notes too, or an ipad.  Anyway it works for you, make note-taking a habit.

A couple weeks ago I pulled out a notebook that I filled a half decade ago, just before my 3-year excursion returning to college. Without this record I never would have realized how much I had going on before I left for school. At the time I had no idea how much I was doing, or how some of the thoughts that I had jotted down all those years ago had grown into much larger ideas, or how the plays I had only imagined had been written, or how I had really gone back to school and earned a degree.

I rewrote some of those old notes into my new fancy book. Now they are revived, all thanks to scratching ink on some pages. Writing by hand. It's an exercise that feels great. And it turns out that sometimes some remarkable things fall out of the end of a pen.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Learning to talk-back

From JOAN'S VOICES by Kato McNickle, a play that
began at NTI Playwrights' Week.
Each semester at The National Theater Institute, a 14-week study-away conservatory level theater training program, there is a week devoted to putting forward new student-written work as staged readings.  Playwright's Week was the first place that I ever took a playwriting class, and the process had a deep effect on me and the methods I have developed as a person who reads and talks about plays to other playwrights and theater artists.

This was due in part to the way our kick-ass instructor Donna DiNovelli "taught" the class. What she taught wasn't play structure or protagonist/antagonist conflict or story arc or any of the lessons you could find in a book about playwriting. What she taught the group was how to hear, understand, and talk to each other about the work they had just heard presented to the class that week.

She guides each class to becoming a self-mentoring group that understands how to share individual responses to the play. This development of intuiting your personal response and framing that response into an intelligible and useful statement is the core of the process.  This philosophy carries over to Playwright's Week where, besides the fellow classmates responding to the plays, one or two invited guests sit -in as "responders" to the week of work.

While the invited responders have loads of experience and earned their chops, they don't sit as experts or speak like teachers. What they have practiced, and the reason they were hand-picked for this process, is the ability to quickly assess their personal experience of the work they have seen.  Alongside that they also know where to point the new playwrights to begin to enlarge their new work, usually by recommending other plays and playwrights to investigate.

I found myself so in awe of these responses that I began attending the readings each semester in order to take note (with a notebook in hand) of how these excellent responders organized their thoughts into helpful statements about the work.

I wanted to learn to be a good responder too, and as with anything, getting good at something requires practice.  I started attending local readings of new work. As it happens a friend of mine was teaching an evening playwriting course through a Parks & Rec program and would offer selections of the works in a public showing.  These "Finales" were a perfect place for me to practice responding to new work in public.  Nothing ups your game like sharing it in a public venue.  You have to learn to be clear, precise, and succinct all at the same time.

The ability to provide helpful and supportive feedback immediately after seeing a performance is a learned skill, not a natural one.  Learning to be effective at it can help you build a thoughtful, involved, and articulate arts community in your area.  If you want to be involved with a more vibrant arts community, lead the way by introducing ways to have these conversations about the work.  You grow your art by nurturing the work of others.

It's always about being generous and honest.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shaping Wood: The Jake Project

This is a paper that I wrote in 2007 for my ethnomusicology class at Brown. I followed New London harpsichord maker Jake Kaeser around for a few Sundays, and this is what I observed...
From a modest basement-level shop sandwiched between Bank Street and the train tracks that follow the shoreline, works F. Jacob Kaeser, a maker of hand-made stringed instruments.  He squeaks out a living as the proprietor and the sole fulltime employee of Kaeser Instruments in New London, Connecticut.  An artist entrepreneur, Mr. Kaeser, known as Jake, has made his living for several decades as an independent craftsman. 

Jake has found a niche market. Many popular instruments are better suited to mass production in a factory, or require many hands to produce, like Steinway employing 425 manufacturing workers for its pianos[i].  What Jake has sought is work that is better suited to being wrought by a single craftsman.  To pay the bills Jake makes harpsichords, about nine a year, because these are high-ticket items that go to a clientele that can pay.

Look at photographs of prominent musicians, or take a quick tour of music profiles on iTunes.  You will see images of music makers in contact with their instruments.  Musicians are defined by the instruments that they play.  If you are a classical instrumentalist or a purveyor of a specialized music style then you may require instruments that are not produced in a factory.  You would seek out instruments made by craftspeople like Jake.  

Jake seeks to create new instruments authentic to the originals.  Authenticity is a highly desirable commodity in the marketplace.  In a an article in a recent issue of FastCompany Magazine, Bill Breen states, “Authenticity is a priceless commodity.”[iii]  It is a brand’s values that make the emotional connection to its buyers.  He cites four ingredients that promote a sense of authenticity: a sense of place, where the products come from; a strong point of view, coming from people with a deep passion for their work; serving a larger purpose, a purpose-driven brand over profit-driven; and integrity, a product that is what it says it is.[iv]

Jake and his products drip authenticity.  He describes his development as a builder of harpsichords as a “backwards evolution.”  It was backwards in that he looked to the instruments of the past for inspiration and instruction.  He realized that the harpsichord had reached perfection in the nineteenth century both for musical expression and design.  Since that time many so-called improvements have been instituted, such as foot pedals instead of hand stops, heavier stringing which requires the casework and frames to be heavier to accommodate the greater string tension, and more durable but less resonate strings that often require electrical amplification.[v]

Dissatisfied with the cumbersome newer models, Jake obtained permission from Yale University to examine their collection of harpsichords.  He took measurements and notes regarding materials and construction.  What he learned was that the eighteenth and nineteenth century harpsichord builders utilized economy in framing with slender boards, and fitted glued joints that did not require screws or bolts.  They were much lighter in construction than their modern counterparts.  This meant that a lone craftsman, like Jake, could move the frames and parts without assistance in his workshop.  This was an advantage because Jake could not afford to pay additional employees.  Here Jake describes his study of these instruments and the how he works in his shop:

The way they put the framing in it was so simple in comparison to what modern makers were trying to do.  They were trying to make huge frames with bolts and screws.  I went, “Hey, they had three times the frame and it was just glued, huh.”  And they’re still around, while I’m already repairing these ones that were made in the fifties.

The tradition in Europe was that an instrument maker, a master, once you were a master you had a master’s shop which meant you could employ two journeymen, and one apprentice.  When the logs came in the wood was picked out by the master or by the journeymen.  The apprentices were the guys who were in the sawpit and did all of the cutting down to size of the pieces, so that the journeymen could work them, and the master, when he could take care of business and wasn’t with customers or schmoozing, could come in and do his touches.  That’s how the instruments were made in great number.  The guild system was very strictly regulated.  After serving a certain amount of time as an apprentice you could become a journeyman and after an extensive length of time as a journeyman you could become a master, by getting approval of the guild.  Then you could open your own shop as a master.

My apprentices are the planer, the band saw, and to some extent the table saw. The journeymen, they’d be the table saw the milling of the little table saws, the drill press, and the work benches for the gluing up of the parts. Then the master can put all of the parts together.  So the system has sort of remained the same, it’s just that we sort of went to machinery instead of people.  People come to me requesting apprenticeships.  I can’t really offer them much because that system doesn’t exist in this country.  You get thrown into the production mill.  You either make it or you don’t.

A brief history of the harpsichord:

Plucked keyboard instruments were first recorded in the second half of the fourteenth century[vi].  They were made in three forms, the grand, the upright grand, and the square, and go by several names including harpsichord, virginal, and spinet.[vii]  The virginals and spinets are rectangular or square in shape offering relatively simple mechanisms with one string per key and no other assisting devices.[viii]  The term harpsichord is generally reserved for the wing-shaped instruments, more in the style of a grand piano.[ix]  Over several centuries the harpsichord developed a complex system of multiple string plucking systems controlled by hand operated stops.  The sixteenth century innovation of multiple strings with contrasting timbres being plucked with the same keystroke was a means to vary the limited sound dynamics of the instrument.[x]  The introduction of the piano in the eighteenth century led to further attempts to improve the sound dynamics, but by the nineteenth century the piano, with its versatile playing options, had surpassed the harpsichord.[xi]

A tour of a “Fremish” (a hybrid French and Flemish styles) harpsichord:

In his shop Jake has one nearly finished piece.  Its resonator board is elaborately painted with vines, birds, and flowers.  In the sound hole is an Orpheus Rose made of pewter that is Jake’s signature disc.  Inscribed in the design is his chop-mark, “J. K.”.  He carved the design out of sculpting clay and had it cast by a pewter smith.  The total man-hours invested this piece, discounting the time his partner Laura took to paint the cover, is about five hundred hours.  An instrument like this will fetch anywhere between $12,000 and $16,000 when it is sold.  A portion of that will be split with his agent, of which he has several, depending on which part of the world the harpsichord is bound.  Jake removes the cover and takes me on a tour of the instrument, including a demonstration of its sound:
See how it plucks this string first, and then the other string.  What’s tricky about these things is when it is plucked it has to deliver enough energy, but you also have to able to play it, and then at the same time that plectra has to flip back under the string, without making any sound, and reset.  So in order to do that there’s a little tiny spring and an axel. They’re (the pieces that pluck the string) carved.  They’re probably eight to ten strokes with a knife to carve that plectra so it has exactly the right voice.  So it doesn’t stick out in the crowd, it blends in to give what the string can give.  So with a new instrument, with all rough quills, you’re a choirmaster who’s been given a hundred and eighty-nine singers and they all know how to sing but they don’t know how to sing together. My job is to make them all sing together. If I push this stop back, it’s only the front one, if I pull this out – (he demonstrates) then I put in that octave.  No matter how hard I pluck this, it’s going to give me the same levels.  It’s not going to change the dynamics at all.  That was the downfall of the instrument.  You can’t change the dynamics.  It was great to hear what composer for the harpsichord did to create an illusion of dynamics, the grouping of the notes and the changing of the stops, so that there was an illusion, and it was so masterful.  To hear a harpsichordist play today, who really knows the music, you can swear you hear the dynamics, huge shifts in dynamics. There was limitations but through those limitations, it allowed for something much greater.
Jake seeks to reclaim the heritage of the instrument makers of old.  He has taken great time and pains to study the originals, and to recreate them for modern players who wish to have an authentic playing experience.  The harpsichord itself is an anachronism.  Very few new compositions have been created for the instrument.[xii]  To want to play this instrument is to want to play the work of the old master composers.  Its traditions are kept alive by enthusiasts of that earlier style.  Jake’s instruments enable these enthusiasts to recreate that style.

Jake is himself an anachronism.  Sporting rounded glasses, a bearded chin, a ponytail, and a muffin shaped hat, he makes the most of his eccentric habits.  As he indulges in a hand-rolled cigarette, he tells me the story about how he began making instruments, and how eccentricity led directly to his becoming an instrument maker for hire:
I wanted to learn how to play guitar, but I just started college and I couldn’t afford a guitar, but I could afford to go to the library and check out a book on guitar making, and my landlord really didn’t need that door anyway.  So I built it from my bedroom door.  The amazing thing is, the sound of it, it was great.  It sounded like a door.  But that’s what my start was.  Then I was in my third year of college, I was fired from the job at the hospital for being a wee bit eccentric, don’t you know, in my dress, they didn’t like that.  So I supported myself for the final year making dulcimers and a couple of guitar commissions.  Living in a house with four others going to college, we managed to scrape by. I was working with myself, which had its good points, but also had a real strong downside that came later when I was working at Zuckerman Harpsichords in Stonington. It’s awful hard to make a living making guitars.  I could have never raised a family making guitars, even if I’d have accepted a position at Guild Guitar it wouldn’t have been enough.  Harpsichords, they’re big ticket items, and I was able to raise a family being an instrument maker which was, it was sort of, in defiance of my father that I was bound and determined to be an instrument maker and raise a family.  He said, “You fool, no one can make instruments and raise a family.  What are you crazy?  Damn fool kid.”  That just gave me all the punch I ever needed to succeed or die trying.  My father now is very, very proud of my success.
Jake in his New London Shop

 Here is a master harpsichord builder whose instruments are sold to musicians all over the world, working alone in his basement shop in New London.  But Jake’s shop is more than a work place.  Spend more than an hour there and you will be visited by prospective customers, passersby, and a local artist or two looking for scraps of wood for a project, or a word or two with Jake about the local arts scene.  Walk down the street with Jake and you will be stopped every block or so by people saying hello or catching up on arts activities.  “It’s like being the mayor,” Jake chuckles as we try to make our way to a coffee shop a few blocks away, after we are stopped for the third time.

Jake is a hub for the local arts community.  Hygienic Art, one of the alternative art galleries in New London, will be hosting some of Jake’s work in an exhibit scheduled to open in March 2008.  Just Wood will highlight artists and artisans working in wood.  Says show organizer James Stidfole, “Since Jake is, according to a number of people to whom I have talked, ‘the premiere independent harpsichord maker in the country,’ this makes his work a natural to be in the Hygienic Galleries.”

On Sundays Jake and his family gather at his shop to prepare for the show.  His partner Laura is working on a dulcimer that she has designed, and his two sons are completing projects as well.  The show will feature instruments, drawings, tools, and some of the elaborate and strange-looking jigs that are used to create some of the instrument shapes.

Jake’s youngest son Noah has become a professional instrument maker and restorer working for a shop in Mystic, CT.  He is preparing a journeyman project, a violin that is still in the design phase.  For Christmas he presented his father with a double bass that he had made himself.  The instrument features unique scrollwork that is Noah’s original design, and is distinctive enough to warrant a patent.  With Noah’s interest in the work, Jake imagines a time when their two companies might merge.  He beams as he describes Noah’s innate talent for the work, “He’s taught me things, which is so cool.”

The story of a ukulele

Throughout my visits with Jake over the course of March and April, he has been working on a baritone ukulele.  During my first visit he had assembled the body, and had tape covering the seams.  On subsequent visits the instrument came together bit by bit.  As we talked, he would work the wood, shaving a sliver off here, adding a strip of inlay there.  He showed me how to listen to the wood, to hear its resonance as it was tapped, to listen for the sound of loose parts, and told me the names of the various woods involved in its construction.  The names of the wood are like a poem, the neck and the body are mahogany, the fretboard is rosewood, and the pegboard is Carpathian elm.  While he continued to shape the contours, he recited a poem he has composed that he calls Wood:

Splendid flesh of forest kings
Once you shed your autumn cloak for me
And now I shape your flash
your vein, not unlike my own
To sing

He is constructing the ukulele for a young acquaintance who happens to come by the shop during my second visit to check on the progress of the commission.  The ukulele is being built to the specifications of a sample instrument, one that had been accidentally smashed and sits in a box in several crushed pieces. Jake takes the young man and his father on a tour of the growing instrument.  They spend just shy of half an hour going over the different parts, naming the wood, and discussing where to have a case made for it so that it will not suffer the same fate as the instrument it has been commissioned to replace.

When I arrive for my last visit, Jake is stringing the ukulele.  He has the two strings on either side in place and is trying to get them to hold their tune.  He continues to tinker with the pegs, and works his hand along the neck and over the body.  He loves this thing that he has made, and his hands tell him secrets about the wood that his eyes cannot.  When the two end strings are able to hold their tune, he strings the middle two, starting by roughing up a string end with sand paper.  He explains, “These are really difficult to tie off (the nylon strings), they’ve been driving me crazy all morning.  I can see them slipping.  Gut never does that, but nylon does.  So I rough up the ends with sand paper.”  He shows me the procedure.  I ask him where he learned to do that.  He responds laughing, “I just learned it.”

Once all of the strings are on Jake pulls a pitch pipe from his pocket and tunes his latest creation.  He will not be compensated monetarily the total worth of his hours on this instrument.  He took it on because it had been a few years since he had made one, and welcomed the opportunity to get back into practice, to relearn the skills.  Strumming for fifteen minutes or so, we dance around the shop and we talk about happenings in the local arts scene:
There’s this great synergy.  Like with the Westerly arts community, the fine arts have a huge community, and there’s a lot of synergy created with they’re work with each other.  Pushing the envelope of excellence continually.  It’s really great because it really keeps me stupid.
 Building the instruments for the community, and then the fine arts, I’ll build things for artists, and sit for portraits.  There’s a lot of communication about our arts and what is similar and what is different.  That’s what I mean about the synergy.  What you’re doing currently will dovetail into what they’re doing and perhaps answer a question that they don’t even know they’re asking.  It’s like a university here, all the time.

The strings hold their tune reasonably well.  The ukulele is done, but Jake will continue to tweak it until it is out the door.

More people visit the shop, including one fellow who is new to the area and met Jake at the coffee shop the day before.  Of course he was invited to come by the shop.  Again, Jake is an arts hub.  James Stidfole from the Hygienic Art Gallery describes Jake’s role in the arts community, “In many ways Jake does not ‘fit into the arts community,’ rather the arts community evolves around the presence of Jake.”

To know Jake in one of his other multiple community arts capacities does not hint at his skill or world-class reputation as a maker of highly valued rare instruments.  I have known Jake for a number of years as and actor and a playwright, but it was not until I began work on this project that I began to understand what a Kaeser harpsichord means within the music world.

He is an integral part of the New London arts community, serving it in multiple capacities, as a contributing artist, as a communicator, and as a supplier of instruments that are used by other local musicians.  A self-made man, he has cobbled together a skill-set through self-tutoring, an inquisitive nature, and the necessity to support a family.  Like  Don César Muquinch, who for a time was both a harpist and a hat maker until his health dictated a choice,[xiii] Jake works in many worlds, and like an Ecuadorian harpist, he is in demand around his community. 

Jake and his son Noah examine the uke.
Now Jake is working with his family in his shop as they prepare for next year’s art show.  His son Noah has gone a step further, and is now himself an instrument maker.  Jake’s skills as a craftsman are being handed down, and in fact, are being surpassed by his son’s natural talent for working with wood.  When Jake plays the double bass that Noah built for him, he dances with it, “I hold it like this, like a cello, so I can dance with it.  Drives the other bass players crazy.”  He has been sitting-in with several local bands this spring, toting his double bass.

He creates instruments for others to make their art.  He sums up that experience, “The art is your imagination, what you can do with the possibilities in front of you, involving all of your senses in the creation of them (the instruments), which then, like a play, are passed off to someone else to perform.”  Jake is an authentic presence in both the larger world, where his harpsichords and other instruments are important additions to the ancient and classical music traditions, and in his community where he serves as a local touchstone for arts involvement.  

[i] J. Barron, Piano (Times Books, 2006), p. 56.
[ii] J. Schechter, J. Titon, ed., Worlds of Music 4th Edition (Wadsworth Group, 2002), p. 404.
[iii] B. Breen, ‘Who Do You Love? The Appeal and Risks of Authenticity’, FastCompany, issue no. 115 (May, 2007), p. 82.
[iv] Ibid., pp. 86-7.
[v] A. Baines, Musical Instruments Through the Ages, New Edition (Penguin Books, 1975), p. 81
[vi] C. Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1940), p. 336.
[vii] Ibid. pp. 334-5
[viii] Baines, op. cit., p. 72.
[ix] Ibid., loc. cit.
[x] Sachs, op. cit., p. 341.
[xi] Ibid., p. 378.
[xii] Baines, op. cit., p. 82.
[xiii] Titon, op. cit., p. 437.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Press SEND: a brief e-submission guide

Many theaters are accepting online submissions – and this is a good thing.  Here are some tips to make your online e-submission a success.

It’s about ease of communication. 

Send your play as a single document, preferably a PDF, but many theaters also accept plays as a Microsoft Word Document.  While many improvements have been made to Word – don’t count on the theater that is reading your e-play having the latest versions of the software or a new computer system.  Try to keep your document title one word without breaks:
Even if your MacBook Pro will open a document without this older method of naming documents without breaks, the theater intern opening it on the other end might not have the same shiny equipment.  This is part of the reason why submitting your work as a PDF is preferable.

If you are writing in Word then it is easy to turn your document into a PDF file – if you know where to look.  If you go to the “Print” menu, you will see am option in the bottom of the printer control box with an option to convert the document to a PDF.  Select “Save as a PDF” in the pull down menu and voila – you have a PDF document ready to hurtle into cyber-space. Watch this tutorialon YouTube if you still need help converting that .doc to a PDF.

But hang-on a minute. Before you go PDFing that thing, make sure all of the information you intend to send as a complete script is there.  I’m talking about the title page, the character information and requirements page, followed by the play text.

Send a single document that is your play. It’s best to start the page numbers after the title page and cast requirements, but if formatting the page numbers is not something you have mastered yet, just let the numbers start on the title page. Everything will be fine – just be sure to include those page numbers – whether they are perfect or not.

Remember – with e-submissions – your document is unlikely to be printed on the other end. Your play is going to be sent to the readers’ laptops, iPads, Droids, Kindles – and other devices to be scrolled thru and read. Refrain from paper-saving strategies like orienting the play horizontally on the page and in two columns. This will only bung-up the reader. Yes, I once had a play submitted to me this way and it was a pain-in-the-ass to read. Having to pan back and forth to read the text interrupted the flow of the reading.

Remember – simple always wins – ease of use wins – because the easier it is to read your play text the better experience the reader will have with it.

Just as your stage directions are tools for communicating the world of your play – your layout and presentation on the page are communication tools too.  With e-submissions you need to make sure you are sending a document that can be read on many devices quickly and easily. Your play is one out of 300 or 1,000 in the reader pool – and your reader is probably reading at least 10 plays this week. 

Keep it clean, easy, and interesting to read by making sure that some technical oversight isn’t the thing keeping your play from making the cut.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Something Solid

I suspect that writing plays has more to do with being a designer than being a writer.  A plot is design -- existing in time and space -- like a building.  You can add on, light the rooms, change the paint, but it is a formal structure.  The words are architecture, not literature.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


I think a well-crafted play requires…RETHINKING!


We’re not making tiny ships to fit in glass bottles, we’re not making fine wine (again, made to fit in glass bottles), we’re not creating anything that can be weighed or measured or quantified. Not really.

We are making stories that look, at first glance, like writing. But that’s an illusion. The play is not the ink laid out on dead leaves. The play needs to be taken from the page, played on the tongue, worked through the body, and made alive on the air. The play is alive, moment to moment, whether in the rehearsal room or in the theater. The play goes on living in the imagination. The imagination of the director, the actor, the patron, even the playwright. The work of the play is to keep the mind occupied long enough to steal the heart of the viewer.

Well-crafted? Perhaps. But not always, and to my taste, rarely.

Look at the work of Sara Kane. Raw talent that squishes your lungs out in broad, clumsy mashing and scratches. reading her work changed the way I write, and it also changed the way I look at the world.

What about early Tony Kushner? The man grabbed on to big themes and big problems and organized them around the notion of angels, going as far as having one break through a ceiling. Who doesn’t recognize that moment now? At the time it was crazy. What guts to actually lay it on the page so that we could someday be in the room with it.

Plays are flawed creations. They have problems. It’s not the work of the playwright to smooth out things and make them tidy, palatable. The work of the playwright is to make the world of the play so compelling, to make the problems so interesting, that some director picks up the play and says, “I want to solve this problem.” It’s the problems, the grit, the contradictions, the impossibility contained within the play that makes it exciting, immediate, and interesting.

Craft? I heard Romulus Linney say that, “The craft of writing plays is applying the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.” That’s craft.

A great play? It comes out of craft, but goes beyond that into something truer. And we know truth when it’s in the room with us because it will allow itself to be messy and flawed while in our presence. Good manners are for Sundays. Theater is a Saturday night occupation.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letter Rip!

by Kato McNickle
originally posted on Playwright Zoo

When you send an unsolicited query package to a theater you are an unknown quantity. Within the multitude of other packages that arrive each week you are nearly invisible. Invisible in this business means unremarkable.

In a market flush with unknown and undiscovered playwrights, how do you set yourself apart?

First off, it's not really "yourself" sitting in that pile of queries; or is it?

How have you put "yourself" in that great big pile o' manila that's sitting in the literary manager's office? Did you follow the submission instructions? Things like: did you include the requested number of pages; did you include your resume; did you bind or staple or leave free the pages as per request? Did you check the website to make sure you have the most up-to-date information for your package? Did you?

Did you spend time composing your query letter? Is your letter just a functional, nondescript front piece that says here's a list of my plays and phone number, or did you take the time to create a one-page sheet that puts you in the room with the reader.

With the exception of the play itself, the letter you send is the most important piece of paper. Your letter sets the tone, it represents you, it is the first act in an important drama; the struggle for you to get your play read and considered by a real-live-professional-theater-company. Without a strong letter, your play may not be considered.

Does your letter represent you and your play? Does it express why you write for the theater, why you have written this play, and why you have sent it to these kind, passionate people? If it doesn't, or if it does other things - like presenting your credentials or other details that are not pertinent to "this play - this theater - right this minute" then you have some work to do on writing your cover letter.

Your letter is the gateway to your play. It is also the first tool you have to state why you wrote this play for the theater. Don't waste that opportunity. Communicate your passion through that letter-- why is it important right here right now to this theater? That's the work of the letter.  Put it in there.

Organizing your cover letter

You’re sending your play or a query to a theater. What should your letter say?

Here is what your letter is not:
  • Your letter is NOT your resume or bio.
  • Your letter is NOT a synopsis of your play.
  • Your letter is NOT just a place for you to list your contact information.
Starting your letter with, “I am a playwright whose work has been produced all over the world and has received rave reviews in Cleveland…” and continues for a whole paragraph before even mentioning the title of the play is a turn-off. No one cares at this point if you’ve won the Pulitzer Prize. Okay -- maybe if you've got a Pulitzer you can put that at the top. Besides, if you've got a Pulitzer, then you've probably got an agent and the agent sends the letter, and so on. But our story is about an unrepresented playwright who needs to get a play in the door. That's you, BTW.

You have sent a PLAY – put the play – and not your bio – front and center in this letter. Your bio and resume should be included on separate pieces of paper in the package. If they like your letter they’ll continue on and read your bio and resume. If your letter has turned them off right from the get-go, how much attention do you think they’re gonna pay to anything else you’ve sent them?

Let this organizing principle guide you: Every word in this letter should be related to this particular play being sent to this particular theater by you.

Begin simply, with the basics:
"Enclosed is the new one-act play Blah Blah Blah for consideration in your Best of Blah Festival. After deciding that her life is totally blah, a woman finds herself on a beach in the South-Seas and must cast off her shell of blah or die trying. It requires two women, two men, lots of sailor hats and a beach ball."
See? That could be your opening – it can be that simple. Whoever is reading your letter knows immediately whether this play fits their requirements – a one-act with a cast of four – no set – lots of sailor hats. It also includes a one-sentence description – not to be confused with a synopsis – more like a log-line that grounds the reader in time/place/and genre. “Perfect, so far,” says the reader, so they continue on.

What’s next? Remember the organizing principle –
The next paragraph is about the play, but not about the play’s action – it’s about why this play? Why was it written? What is the play’s history?
"This play began as a real-life trip that I took to the South-Seas. After a  life-time in New York working in various art venues including many Off-Broadway, Off-Brodway, and Off-Off-So-far-off-You’re-In-Jersey-Broadway, I needed a vacation. Having a chance to breathe, I began to write…"
"This play began as an exercise for a class at the Best Ever School or University in Existence…"
"This play was written for your festival. When I read about the theme I immediately thought about the impact of Blah on society and how it extinguishes any hope of a fulfilling life. In my many years of playwriting I have always wanted to write a piece exploring Blah, and your festival gave me the perfect platform."
In each example there’s a way to bring who you are into the letter, connected to why you wrote this play. It’s better than a bio, or listing your experience, because it brings you – the human-being – into the room with the human-being reading your letter.

What is unique about you writing this play? If there’s a story to it, put it in the letter. You are, after all, a storyteller. Write the story of why you wrote this play. Why was it important? What did it mark for you as a writer?

Find that thing and put it in your letter.

Why this play/this theater/this writer right now?

That’s the question your letter needs to answer.

Do that, and the folks at the other end will want to read the rest of your play, or they at least will know that your play is not right for them and you will not have wasted their time. Either way, your letter has done its job. It has worked.


For another great FREE resource for writing great query letters, check out Write a Great Query Letter available as a downloadable book by literary agent Noah Lukeman. http://www.writeagreatquery.com/

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Window is now OPEN

Not every playwright is in the New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, or any of the major theater-hubs connecting artists, work and ideas.  Hell, no one is in all of these places at the same time either. What we need is a magic window to connect us to the worlds outside of our local spheres. And happy for us there is one.

Localized theater-makers – meet  HowlRound.

From the HowlRound website:
The condition, resulting in a howling noise, when sound from a loudspeader is fed back into the microphone:

Feedback and noise, voices and discourse on the state of new work. Making new plays is a noisy business. HowlRound encourages theater makers to get loud and share the shouting with the field. We invite you to join the conversation as we bring together interviews, opinions, ideas, and innovations.

HowlRound welcomes feedback at any volume.
That window is open NOW. And not only through the online journal and tweets at #newplay – but access to conference talks around the USA via NewPlayTV. Yeah, that’s right, an actual moving-picture window streaming to you from New York, DC, LA and beyond.

What are you waiting for? Open the window.

PS: to hear more about the notion of a theater of the commons, check out this radio interview with HowlRound founder and editor Polly Carl. (The interview starts past the half-way point on the soundbar, after the story about the Wooly Mammoth)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Growing Up Greek: a survival guide for the progeny of heroes

Trouble is brewing.  All around you are signs that things are about to change for the worse.  Your life is being threatened by the new king of Thebes; or your life is being threatened by strangers proposing marriage to your mother while your father is away; or your life is being threatened because your father is proposing marriage to a younger princess; or your life is being threatened because your mother has remarried after she murdered your father; or worst of all—an oracle has placed your family at the top of the cursed list.  If any of these happen to you, and if you are the son or daughter of a famous hero, there are options available to help ensure your living through the crisis, but it is not easy.  With the survival average less than 50% for the progeny of famous persons, how can a youngster defy the odds and grow into adulthood in the household of a hero?

Let us compare several of the sons and daughters of heroes who managed to reach adulthood with several groups who perished as a result of some anger/curse/madness that inundated their parents.  Many of the heroes’ children who outlived their parents did so because their fathers were away for a very long time at Troy.  Nearly all of the surviving progeny included in this survey fall into this group.  As for the ones who did not survive, perhaps escape could have been possible if only they had realized their special peril as the progeny of heroes.


Most famous for surviving his childhood and returning to avenge the murder of his father is Orestes.  This youth managed to survive his childhood because he was stolen away to grow up in a remote location.  He returns at the prompting of an oracle to avenge his father’s murder as described by Sophocles in the opening passages of Electra:
When I went to the god’s oracle at Delphi
To learn how to avenge my father’s murder,

Apollo gave me this advice, “Go alone,

Unaided by arms or soldiers, and snatch by stealth

The lawful vengeance that is yours.”
(Sophocles, Electra, 35-9)
 Orestes has grown into manhood apart from his family, but his return home is in disguise.

When Odysseus visits the spirits of the underworld in The Odyssey he encounters a melancholy Agamemnon who mulls over the events of his premature end:
But my wife—she nevereven let me feast my eyes on my own son:
she killed me first, his father!
(Homer, The Odyssey, XI 512-4)
 While Agamemnon bemoans never seeing his son before his death, had he not died would Orestes have suffered some other fate at the hands of his father?  Agamemnon does have a track record for murdering his children having previously sacrificed one in order to set sail for Troy.  Who knows if Orestes could have survived growing up in the same house with his father?

The story of the feisty return of Orestes is used by a crafty Athene to spur Telemachus toward action to seek his father in The Odyssey:
You must not cling to your boyhood any longer—
It’s time you were a man.  Haven’t you heard
what glory Prince Orestes won throughout the world
when he killed the cunning, murderous Aegisthus,
who’d killed his famous father?And you, my friend—how tall and handsome I see you now—be brave, you too,so men to come will sing your praises down the years.
 (The Odyssey, I 341-7)
 Telemachus thanks the disguised Athene for counseling him “like a father” and decides to depart on his quest to discover the fate of his long missing real father.  Between the campaign at Troy and the decade lost at sea, twenty years have past since Telemachus shared lodging with his father.  While the presence of the suitors has forced him to keep a low profile, he has had the time to grow into manhood, as Athene reminded him.

By the time both Odysseus and Telemachus return to Ithaca the son is within a second or two of proving himself a match for his father when he nearly strings Odysseus’ bow:
…three times his power flagged—but his hopes ran high
he’d string his fathers bow and shoot through every iron
and now struggling with all his might for the fourth time,
he would have strung the bow, but Odysseus shook his head

and stopped him short despite his tense zeal.
(The Odyssey, XXI 145-8)
 Of course, had Telemachus strung the bow it would have ruined Odysseus’ plan.  But had he done it anyway, what peril would Telemachus have been in, not just from the suitors, but from his own father?

A third surviving son of a hero was able to grow up because his father was fated to die young.  Neoptolemus, the son of Achilleus, also carries a destiny, as he describes the prophecy to Philoktetes:
That now my father is dead, I alone—
Or so say the gods—can win the war at Troy.
(Sophocles, Philoktetes)
 He is compared to his father when he arrives at Troy:
As I walk ashore, the entire army crowds round me,
Shouting greetings and words like: “Achilleus is back!

Achilleus is back from the dead!”

But no, Achilleus is dead, laid out for burial.
 Because his father is dead and because he was able to mature to early manhood separated from his father, Neoptolemus is able to successfully fill the void.  Had Neoptolemus been present at Troy earlier in the saga, would he perhaps have met a fate similar to Patroclus?


A longer list of heroes’ children belongs to those who perished at the hands of their parents.  While the body count is higher than those of the survivors there is a twist in that many of these murdered children are unnamed. 

The most famous slain brothers are the children of Medea.  Their identities are so immersed in the tragic story that their names do not survive.  They are known by the name of their murderer: their mother.  So completely has she taken the story that the name of their famous sire is not what marks them.  History has not call them ‘the boy’s of Jason’ or ‘the children of Jason and Medea’, but only Medea.  Not that there were not plenty of signs that things were going terribly wrong.  First there was the forceful lamentation of their mother:
Accursed children of a hateful mother!Perish with your father!
The whole house be damned!
(Euripides, Medea, 112-4)
 Before long she is sending the boys on a mission to deliver a dress to the new bride of their father.  A faux peace offering that is infused with poisons.  The boys have been goaded into acting as destructive ministers of doom to the young princess.  The dress does its work, the bride and her father die.  All Jason has left are his sons.  By now the boys should realize that they are in grave peril.  Too young to strike out on their own, are caught in this crisis by their proximity to their father, because their mother’s anger is about to strike as close to Jason as possible without actually hitting him.  The boys are a convenient and handy target:
FIRST BOY: (from within) O, what should I do? Where run from mother’s attack?
SECOND BOY: I don’t know dearest brother.  We’re slain!

(Medea, 1271-2)
 The only thing these boys could have done to prevent their deaths would have been to foresee the trouble on the horizon back when dad started fawning over the new princess and then requested to go to private school elsewhere.  There are some very good schools in Athens, after all.

The children of Heracles were also led to slaughter, but in their case they were already prepared and dressed for death, as their execution date had been set. In the play by Euripides, Lycus had usurped power in Thebes while the children’s famous father has been engaged completing his numerous labors, the last of which had him descending into Hades.  Because he suspects Heracles may never return, Lycus intends to eradicate opposition to his rule by liquidating the entire Herculean household. 

The family of Heracles prepares for imminent death as they hope beyond hope for the return of their patriarch in time to save them.  He does return just before the appointed moment of death, saving his family.  But in an ironic turn the goddesses Iris and Lyssa appear on a mission from Hera to initiate a ‘madness’ to overpower Heracles:
…against this man drive, stir upfits of madness, disturbances of mind to kill his children…
his crown of beautiful children, killed in familial murder,

he may recognize what sort Hera’s anger against him

and learn mine.  Otherwise the gods are nowhere

and mortal things will be great, if he doesn’t pay the penalty.
(Euripides, Heracles, 835-42)
 While Hera has imposed this penalty to admonish Heracles, it is his nameless children that will pay with their blood:
…he, thinking it was Eurystheus’
father trembling as suppliant to touch his hand
pushed him away, and prepared his ready quiver
and arrows for his own children…
…Their mother cried out,
“You begot them, what are you doing?
Are you killing your own children? 
(Heracles, 467-75)
 Once again the children become an instrument of vengeance while in the vicinity of their hero father. 

The house of Laius had more than its share of problems.  Cursed before birth, young Oedipus manages to survive the attempt made on his life by his father, much to the chagrin of the entire royal line, not to mention the kingdom of Thebes.  Of course at the time it seemed like a good thing to save the poor exposed babe, but o the woe that it would bring.  Oedipus went on to win fame and fortune by unwittingly murdering his father and marrying his mother.  Along the way he solved an important riddle saving Thebes, but o the woe once his crimes were revealed in the light of day.  The moment that happened he spoke the first part of the curse that will dog his children:
Such disgrace, and you must bare it all!
Who will marry you then?  Not a man on earth.

Your doom is clear: you’ll wither away to nothing,

single, without a child. 
(Sophocles, Oedipus the King, 1642-5)
 Of course, in the next passage he arranges for care of the ‘doomed’ children by their uncle Creon, but the curse has been spoken; no taking it back now.

After a time the girls Antigone and Ismene go off helping their father while the two boys Eteocles and Polynices remain in Thebes to work out a shared kingship.  The boys are occupied with their own affairs, estranged from their self-blinded, shameful father.  It is not until Polynices, the older of the male brace, requires his father’s blessing in order to regain the throne, that he seeks out his wandering father.  He finds him near Thebes at the altar of the Furies.  His impassioned pleas glean only malice from the bitter and timeworn Oedipus:
And so the eyes of fate look down upon you now,
but not yet with the lightning that will strike
if those armies are really marching hard on Thebes.
Impossible—you’ll never tear that city down.  No,

you’ll fall first, red with your brother’s blood

and he stained with yours—equals, twins in blood.

Such were the curses I hurled against you long ago

and now, again, I call them up to fight beside me!
(Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1551-8)
 The great irony of this curse is that it not only dooms his sons, it binds his dear Antigone to their fate as well.  She tries to get her brother to see reason:
Don’t you see?
You carry out our father’s prophecies to the finish!
Didn’t he cry aloud you’d kill each other,

fighting hand-in-hand?
(Oedipus at Colonus, 1614-7)
 As much as Oedipus was known for his reason, as when he solved the riddle of the sphinx, much of his family’s history plays out the way it does because they are so unreasonable.

Soon after the death of Oedipus at Colonus the fulfillment of his curse is realized; Eteocles and Polynices kill each other outside of the gates of Thebes.  Both Antigone and Ismene have returned to their home city after declining an invitation from Theseus to remain in Athens.  Antigone is bound by the shared family fate, and so she defies Creon’s order by determining to bury her brother Polynices, even though he has been declared a traitor for deploying an attack upon the city.  Antigone’s ties to her brother are strong, and reasoning by neither her sister Ismene or her uncle Creon will dissuade her from her actions.  She recounts the family traumas before she is led to her sentence is imposed:
…the worst pain
the worst anguish!  Raking up the grief for father
three times over, for all the doomthat’s struck us down, the brilliant house of Laius.
O mother, your marriage-bed

the coiling horrors, the coupling there—

with your own son, my father—doom
struck mother!
Such, such were my parents, and I their wretched child.
I go to them now, cursed, unwed, to share their home—

I am a stranger!  O dear brother doomed

in your marriage—your marriage murders mine,

your dying drags me down to death alive! 
(Sophocles, Antigone, 947-58)
 What is unclear from this passage is whether she is evoking her slain brother Polynices in lines 56-7 or her ‘brother’ Oedipus—or both.  The ambiguity of the text reflects the tangled nature of the familial relationships in the house of Laius.  Either way she has sealed her doom and will be taken to be walled-up in a cave where she will take her own life by hanging herself rather than lingering in the dark with meager provisions;  thus ending her life the same way queen Jocasta, her mother, had ended her own at the beginning of the revelations of disasters. 

But what if Antigone had never returned to Thebes?  What if she had stayed in Athens or gone to live with the Amazons or something equally fantastic?  And what of Ismene?  At the end of the great saga she is not mentioned, her whereabouts unknown, her story a mystery. 

Oimoi!  What to do?

Living at home seems problematic for all of these sons and daughters of heroes.  While it offers security and access to fine clothes, food, and education, it also leaves one vulnerable to attack.  Most successful progeny of heroes survive because they spend a great deal of their formative years far away from home, or at least far away from their fathers.  If only the children of Medea had gone to school in Athens, maybe we’d know their names?  If only Antigone had run off to learn martial arts from the Amazons, she could have been a classic-day Boudicca taking Thebes by force and restoring honor to her fallen brothers. Or maybe they would have all slipped into obscurity and their names would not still live with us; as was the choice Achilleus made to live a short life, but full of glory for the ages.  Not that Orestes, Telemachus, or Neoptolemus had it easy.  They lived their lives in peril, chased by furies, murderous gentry, and waging war.  But, they lived their lives.  Danger is always waiting for the sons and daughters of the heroes, whether they live or die they are going to get bloodied.  Oimoi!