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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

History isn't just a thing in a book

The following is from a handwritten note, sealed in plastic with newspaper clippings, given to me by my mother when I was an adult. She was twenty-years-old when she composed this.
Nov. 22, 1963

I was at home with Dick when I heard of the president being shot. My mother (your grandmother) called me on the telephone.

“Turn on the radio, the president’s been shot!”
“Was he killed?”
“I don’t know. Your father just told me. He had heard it on the car radio. I’ve got to go now and listen for more news.”

We hung up the phone. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I put on the television and almost immediately the news came over.

“Official news from Washington has just disclosed that at approximately 12:45 PM Dallas time President John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, died of a gunshot wound at a Dallas hospital. We will continue broadcasting as news comes in.”

I sat in our living-room – stunned.

I remember saying to your father, “Who could do such a terrible, ridiculous thing to such a man, what did it accomplish?”

“Some crackpot who didn’t know any better probably,” he said.

The hours that followed that night were spent clinging to our television set. Gradually we gathered the news and learned the story of what had happened and what was going to happen now.

President Johnson was sworn into office that evening as the world mourned.

As the days passed we watched the sad funeral and the widow in her grief and gradually we came to realize that this great man was no more.

I had been a Kennedy supporter since my high school days, when he was elected to office. My biggest regret is that I never had the privilege to vote for him as I surly would have done in the next election.

For three days after his death the television suspended all programing.  All stations carried continuous news and photography of the events of his death and funeral. The radio carried only religious music and news with all advertisements suspended. All stores were closed and business and industry came to a halt in grave mourning and respect. The whole country crowded churches for special services in his honor.

All through this period of mourning two thoughts constantly passed my mind. First was the horror of a wife, not unlike myself in many ways, seeing her husband shot down at her side and being left with nothing but memories. Second was this statement I heard on television the day of his death, “A final touch of morbid irony was that all presidents elected in a zero year, have died of natural or unnatural causes in office.”

It seemed to me that fate had a large role in this Tragic event after I heard that statement.

I have written this little note to you and for you, my child, to remind you that history is a living thing and not just names in a book. This tragedy you will learn of in school, but we lived it. And in a way so did you. You see, I was carrying you at this time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The saucer and the cup

Last weekend I traveled into Northeast Connecticut to check out the leaves. This year the color is glorious. We haven't had a hurricane like the two years past to either rip the leaves from the trees entirely, or coat them with a layer of salt off the sea to turn them all grey. Instead, we've had warm days, cool nights, and loads of color.

While up in the Quiet Corner, we found a tea shop - Mrs. Bridges Pantry. We sat down for some tea and house-made scones and a chicken-curry pasty or two.  The tea was served hot in a pot, and we shared the brew in proper small cups. With each cup was a saucer, perfectly fitted and matched to the delicate china pieces with impossibly small handles. You can't help but feel polite handling one of these.

Today, my thoughts are returning the the saucer.  The point of the saucer is to give the cup a place to land, but it is also there to catch any spillage from the cup. Perhaps I dribbled a bit of the milk, or stirred too vigorously with the spoon, or neglected to leave enough room when I plopped in a sugar cube?

Today, over a large go-cup of tea with a secure lid, I engaged in a discussion about directing work, teaching students theater, and working with new actors with a director and instructor from The National Theater Institute.  We each talked about coming to the work as a director, giving the actors or students as much as they can handle, and then giving them just that little bit more. That little extra that causes discomfort, and how to keep them focussed on the work to a good result.

Sometimes it's a good thing that there is a saucer, otherwise the spill would stain the lace cloth on the table.  Most times the saucer just adds to the experience: that little clink when you put the spoon on its lip or the way the cup and the saucer sing when they come together.

The saucer and the cup - quite the team.

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Hallmark of Democracy is Reason

Democracy is this crazy ancient Greek invention. Athenian, to be precise. It invites debate, and an involved citizenry in government. What it relies on to work (and this is another highly prized ancient attribute) is reason. It requires the participants to present reasonable arguments, and for the group to use their skills of reason to suss out the best possible solution. The point is, if you're coming to the debate with the purpose of a hardline unreasonable position, then you are undermining the structure at its foundation. You are more the Spartan oligarch than the Athenian democrat. I'm taking this minute to point this out. HEAR ME WASHINGTON? And thus ends my political rant for the day.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Bloated Plot Spoiled

Last night I watched the movie THE ISLAND about the beautiful clones with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

I had read that the first hour was really good, and then it devolves into a illy chase thriller action movie. That is absolutely true. So I watched the silly-chase-thriller parts at triple speed, only stopping when Doctor Exposition (played by Sean Bean - am I giving ANYTHING away by saying he dies?) would speak. I was able to follow the plot, accelerate thru 30-minutes of mind-numbing car and street and copter chases, stop for the McGregor on McGregor car chase, get it all done in an hour and three-quarters instead of the 136 running time, enjoyed it, and didn't miss a single plot point.

I kept thinking, "Man, with a lot less budget this could've been an interesting movie."

That's probably how I'm gonna watch the new Superman on bluray in a couple of months. Same thing when I rewatch THE HOBBIT someday. With a thumb on the Fast Forward button.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Chicago

Last week i was in Chicago, mostly for the Dramatist Guild of America conference, but a little for seeing Chicago. It turned into a whole lot of exploring the Chicago Art Institute. Two days worth in the museum. We even bought a membership we loved it so much. More on all that later. For now, this is me getting in the way of a famous Pollock. That's love and art for ya.

Monday, August 12, 2013

First Get Up

I've always been a little envious of those writers who get up and write first thing in the morning. Morning is that time of day for them.

I am not a morning person. I don't think well in the morning, heck, I don't walk well in the morning. It takes me forever to wake up. I don't schedule meetings before 10 AM because I don't talk well before 10 AM. I can listen before 10 AM, but if you want me talking or contributing to the convo in the room, then it's gotta be later.

Knowing this, I have tried an experiment the past couple weeks.  I've been reading some books on writing, so the part about writing first thing has come up a few times. Here's what I have learned about me and early morning writing.

I don't write much or well before midday. This is still true.


If I sit down before the water comes to a boil in the kettle and write a sentence or two in the the thing I am working on then the thing I am working on sticks in my head. Then, after the tea, and reading for an hour and taking the dogs down the point and back, the needle of thing that I am working on has been working in my brain. Then when I get back with the dogs and it's not time for lunch I sit down and get more done.

That is what I have learned about writing first thing* in the morning.

*First thing for me is about 9:04, FYI

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In the Weeds

I want to contribute regularly to this blog like I want to get the hedges trimmed around my house. And just like this blog, those hedges are trimmed sporadically and poking out at some unseemly angles.

As many bloggers have found, the best blogs aren't really diaries, they are commentaries. Sometimes it's commentary about what you just did today, but it is shaped and filtered to make a coherent experience for the reader.

Like this blog and my unevenly trimmed hedges, my writing life in general has been sporadic and unsatisfying.

That is, until last week. Last week I clicked a link posted by a colleague about writing, or more precisely, not writing. It was funny, glib, and true.  Partway down the list I started recognizing myself. It began by mentioning half-hearted blogging. Hmmmm. Lookit that. Hmmmm. I kept reading and recognized some more.

It's not that I hadn't read similar lists, funny jabs, even spoken many of these things myself. But it was the right list at the right moment with just enough punch and sparkle to leave a mark and knock me back into DOING the thing I haven't been doing.

For the second half of last week and the first half of this week I took the writing challenge to heart. I got up and started writing, everyday. It was a slog. I wasn't writing anything phenomenal. I was sussing thru an idea I've had for a while, an idea I don't feel qualified to write, an idea that I have started two other times over the past two years. But then, after a week of slog, and figuring out how to activate a writing schedule, things started clicking. Plot points began revealing themselves, not just in the big arc kind of way (this story, and most of my stories, have the big arc from the get-go), but the small things that deepen character and add texture to the world while supporting the larger plot.

There it was, is, right now, swimming around in my brain, and some of it is on paper, or in pixels.

I'm writing again, but I'm also seeing the plot and the story with sharp, precise vision. It's exciting to get back to work on it everyday. It's hard not to think about it. It's hard not to work on it.

My hedges are still a mess. Oh well. I can do that later. Right now I'm busy (wait for it) -- writing.

Check out 20 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing by Chris Brecheen

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Wise Ostrich

Crash and Burn

Everybody complains when they're on a plane on the tarmac, and then 45 minutes later the plane wheels back to the terminal and everybody has to deplane, grab their stuff, wait in a long slow line, book a different flight, argue with the desk clerks, and on and on and on. But what really sucks is being on a burning aircraft 10,000 feet up, when it splits in half and the air pressure rips the smoldering flesh from your bones.  But while you're yelling at the clerk that can't rebook you fast enough to meet your connection in Dallas, it's hard to measure the disaster diverted.

So it is in this Season of Rejections. Because a bad first production of your new play will probably kill it forever. Or having a director work on it that hates it and changes it without telling you, or miscasts it, or can't really pull it off, or doesn't understand it - SUCKS.

Be glad you didn't have to cling to your seat as it crashed and burned.  Find the right place for your play. While you're doing that, write the next one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

That very first page

I read a lot of new plays from a lot of hopeful playwrights. As a reader for a literary department I sometimes work thru 3, 4, sometimes 5 plays a day at the height of the selection process.  What I've noticed is that the most interesting plays begin before the first word of dialogue, before the first scene description, before the words "lights up on..."  The play begins on the first turn with the character page.  Every play that gets my heart going starts the anticipation of the event right here.

How you name, describe, and choose to order your characters on the page -- matters. A lot.

There's minimal info:
Howard, Male, 35
Kent, Male, 29
Miriam, Female, 25
The Face, Male, any age

a pretty girl
the face

The way it is in Shakespeare, or O'Neill, or Shaw:
Howard, the CEO
Kent, his number two
Miriam, Howard's wife, Kent's mistress
The Face, a man trapped in a mirror, hangs in Kent's office

The way a control freak might do it:
HOWARD: M - 35 - handsome, in shape, a little grey on the side, devil-may-care and charming. CEO of the most powerful company in Thisizit, MO. Gets all of his suits made in USA, tailored to show his physique. He is a carefully constructed man, and this is his Achilles heel.
KENT: M - 29 - ambitious, rogue, a yes-man when it's needed. Went to Princeton, but lies about graduation. His suits are from European designers. He wears slippers in his office. He collects rare books and old wine, he drinks older whiskey.
MIRIAM: F - 25 - beautiful but vapid.
THE FACE: M - 102 but looks 41, trapped in a mirror sailing in the Bermuda Triangle during a hurricane. Can be played by a puppet or a video screen. Should never appear worried. Is Italian on his mother's side.

You are building anticipation on this page. Please don't just copy the format from a 75 year old published play (yes - Williams and Miller are that old.) Instead, create a page that is true to this particular work.

 This first page is the threshold of your play world.  Don't waste a single word of it.  Make me want to understand more of this world, make me want to turn the page.

Monday, January 28, 2013

33 Ways to Stay Creative

Stolen from the internet, reposted.

An Interview from 2009

This is an e-interview from about 4 years ago that I just uncovered. The interviewer was a student at Wake Forest University and I was his "playwright assignment."  I thought I'd post it here, cuz hey, why not?

When did you first become interested in writing?

I became interested in writing for the stage when I got a job working for a touring sketch comedy troupe in Connecticut called The Second Step Players.  There were three of us who worked full-time for the theater company.  I was hired as the technical director because I had a background in stage management and stage design.  But because we were small, everybody had to do a little of everything.  To write the comedy we brainstormed ideas and then divvied up the narratives and wrote.  Then we read them together and would pitch joke ideas.  That started my interest, because it was my job.

What was the first play that you ever saw/read, and what, if anything, do you remember about it?

My first full-fledged-play-going experience was a community theater production of SHOWBOAT by the Pfizer Players performed at New London High School.  I was eight years old and I went because my father had a pair of tickets and my mother had the flu.  My father wore a yellow blazer with steamships printed on the lining, which is a weird thing to remember so vividly, but there it is.  I remember the size of the cast, how bright the costumes were, and I was very impressed when the ship actually appeared from stage left and docked.  I also remember the song WE COULD MAKEBELIEVE and thought that it was beautiful.  What a painful love story.  The scene where Gay pricks Julie’s finger and drinks a drop of her blood so that he’ll have her blood in him has stayed with me.

Where do you derive most of your inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere, which is why I always try to have a pad and pen with me.

What effect does your background (hometown, friends, family, childhood) have on your playwriting?

I still live near the place where I grew up, so it is the place where I make theater.  I’m very community based, and I’m committed to bringing the world of the community and the world of the professional theater in the area into the same room together.

What is your favorite play that is not your own? Why? Who is your favorite playwright?

I find it much easier to have a favorite movie than a favorite play.  maybe that’s because you can have a terrible production of a great play, or an inspired production of less than thrilling material. 

For stunning beauty on the page, I love A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN – it is haunting to me – perhaps in part because I’ve been to O’Neill’s boyhood home so many times and feel a kinship, and understand the landscape and the people that he’s describing so well in that play.

I cry everytime I see WEST SIDE STORY.  It was also one of the first plays that I ever read alongside ROMEO AND JULIET in a flip edition I had of the plays when I was 13.

As for playwrights, Thornton Wilder is one of my great inspirations.  Both OUR TOWN and THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH are brilliant plays on the page and have inspired striking productions when I’ve seen them performed.

What are you currently studying at Brown? Do you plan on applying this to your writing in any way?

I am an Ancient Studies concentrator at Brown, which is a cross-departmental course of study that operates under the umbrella of the Classics department.  My focus is on ancient performance styles, including plays, epic poetry, and music of Greco-Roman and Indian Sanskrit traditions.  I guess I’ll have to see what effect it has on my playwriting.  It has already had a profound effect on my play-reading skills. 

How do you develop the ideas behind each play? Do you sit and wait for them to come to you? Do you just write ideas down when they hit you? or do you inspiration from life experiences?

All of the above.  Sometimes the idea comes fast and complete so I sit and write it.  Some ideas take years to find all of the pieces.

Do you write plays to satisfy your own need to write? To please your audience? To persuade critical thinking? To get published? To win awards?

I write what I would like to see, or what I would like to perform.  Sometimes I write specifically for actors I love.  Then we get to work together on it.  I write because I want to watch actors have something fun and compelling to work on, and I want a director who loves solving he problem to figure it out and make things happen in ways that I never imagined.  I want my play to inspire create people to have to act them. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

It was actually a very small thing – but when I was on a playwright retreat as part of my fellowship from Ensemble Studio Theater at their workshop space in the Catskills the director of the company Kurt Dempster (who has since passed away) came up from the city to visit with us.  He wanted to meet with us and run some of the workshop.  When he got there it was lunch time and the group of five playwrights was seated at a table.  Kurt came by with his tray and said, “Here’s the playwrights,” and sat down with us.  I dug the fact that I was at the table with the “playwrights” at that center.  That was pretty cool.

Who has been your biggest influence? not only in writing, but in life.

The Dalai Lama as a public and spiritual figure.  As far as someone from my life, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Pier who taught me the rules of sportsmanship and love of the underdog.

What do all good plays have in common?

Enthusiasm and great passion.

Do you have a preferable work environment? Do you feel more comfortable
writing at home? outdoors? Shut off from distractions, etc.?

I can write just about anywhere.

How would you define creativity? Are you born with it or is it something that one developes over time and how?

Growing up I was a visual artist.  I majored in art in high school, and it was going to be my career, until I got diverted by theater (where I began as an actor).  Because I’ve been in the “artist” category from the age of six, creativity was always expected and was cultivated by my parents and by my teachers.  What I had as a young person was a lot of talent.  I could draw, paint, write, sing, act – just about anything in the arts field came naturally for me.  What I lacked was understanding how to really make things happen beyond what was easy. That took many years and lots of trial and error mixed with failure.  Creativity is easy.  Turning it into something substantial and satisfying is what takes skill and discipline.

What do you still want to achieve as a playwright? Once you do will you continue to write?

I’m what is categorized as an “emerging playwright” – so I still have a long way to go with playwriting as a career.  What I want to achieve is creating a theater company in my hometown that workshops new plays – mine and the work of local colleagues.  I want to make sure I get a chance to see my plays.  After that, if other places do them great, if they don’t – then “oh well”.  I want to do the work for myself.  Everything else is cool if it happens, but not essential.

What advice would you give beginning playwrights?

Read plays, go to plays.  Find an up and coming playwright or two like yourself whose plays you really dig and be their champion.  Champion the work of others because it’ll raise you up with it.  Love what you do, make things that you love.

zzzzzzzzz to Z

I needed that scratch to awaken me. -Zorro, 1940 

The greatest influence on my becoming a playwright is the person who told me I had to face the fact that I wasn’t a writer.

We had co-written a full-length work as a team and had just come back from an out-of-state staged-reading of the piece.  At the staged reading I saw a scene performed that I had never seen on the page.  No one had consulted me about it, no one had told me it would replace one of my scenes.  I addressed the issue upon our return.  That’s when my writing partner told me that I had to face the fact that I wasn’t writer. What-the-what? Oh.

I set out that summer to see if it was true.  Could I write plays?  

I read every book about playwriting that I could lay my hands on; attended every staged reading that summer at the O’Neill Theater Center (the place where I worked); lurked around the playwrights table at lunch time; went to every lecture given; and bought more than a few drinks for playwrights and directors in order to sit in their company well into the night.  Gathering my courage, I asked the new director of the National Theater Institute if I could take their playwriting course, although I had no money for tuition.  He granted me a space and waived the fee.

The classes were held on Sundays throughout the fall semester.  Three hours of reading each week’s assignment and learning to discuss the plays.  Before the first several sessions I would become physically ill.  I learned not eat before the class.  You see, I was going to find out once and for all if I could write plays.  I wanted to write for theater, but I didn’t want to be a purveyor of schlock.

I consider that fall, the fall of ’98, the time when I became a determined playwright.

A friend of mine who is also a writer has heard me tell this story, and he tells me about watching Zorro with Tyrone Power, how Zorro receives a scratch from the sword of the villain, and Zorro’s response, “I needed that scratch to awaken me.”

I got scratched.  I woke up.  Now I write like mad.  Z.