Saturday, December 3, 2022

Ten Theater Projects in 2022

"Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson" at Cleveland Public Theatre's Pandemonium
Sarah Blubaugh & James Alexander Rankin
Photo by Steve Wagner

Folks have asked, David! Why a degree in playwriting? Aren’t you already an accomplished, professional playwright?

No, the answer to that is no, I am not. I am a playwright with an obnoxious social media presence which might lead one to think I am successful, if they weren’t paying close attention.

The fact is, I have done lots of plays in the past, and they are good plays, but they are not great plays. One or two may be considered very good. And I have never had a production at a professional house. Apologies to all the theaters that have supported my work in the Cleveland area, no shade, but I would very much like to have a full production at an AEA house.

This year, however, I have had a large number of original pieces, generated through my graduate workshops and elsewhere, that have been workshopped or produced. It’s been a pretty remarkable year.

Hannah Woodside & Adam Harry
"The Ocean Breathes Salty"
(Convergence-Continuum, 2022)
1. The Ocean Breathes Salty (festival)

The year began with a ten minute play, as part of the NEOMFA Playwrights Festival, about miscommunication and loss, and that fucking bunny.

2. The Witches (workshop)

I learned so much through this process. Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew, and this was one of those moments. Let’s say my heart was in the right place, but I did learn to lean back a lot through this experience, and I like to think I managed it the best I could.

I like to think that it was this experience which was greatly influential on the very next script I would complete which brings us to:

3. Scenes From a Night’s Dream (reading)

Here’s the thing. I once wrote about what was important to me, personally. And I produced comic strips and short plays and full-length plays that told people what was important to a narrowly-focused straight, white man. These plays have always been, not surprisingly, more successful with straight white men than they were with people who do not identify that way.

Then, I chose to expand my point of view, and so began to write about people who were not like me. Some attempts were not successful, and in the case of The Witches (first drafted before the pandemic) I learned a great deal about that.

However, I have produced scripts in the past two years which I feel have worked because I do more listening than I used to. But I have failed, to date, to seek into myself for that which is within me that might be universal, relevant, and possibly dangerous. And where better to find what passes uncensored and honest than in a dream?

This will be my Masters thesis production at Convergence-Continuum in February, 2023.   

4. Falling (short film)

For my graduate level class in illness narratives, I created a short film that described the sudden decline of our mother, the text taken from my daily writings at that time. It’s not something I want to be made available for public viewing, but who knows? Maybe I’ll do something with the script one day.

5. Theater Camp

This summer we used my short plays as splash scenes for the middle and high school students to concentrate on, in addition to larger and longer pieces from Shakespeare. Some parents took offense to the “political” nature of some of the scenes, but if you think moral relativism humor is political, well, there’s not much I can do about that.

6. Forget About Me: The Breakfast Club Play (reading)

One of my recent works was tapped by the folks at Purple Rose Theatre for a Zoom reading, which was very exciting. People claim to be exhausted by Zoom but there were around one hundred fifty participants, which would be very impressive for a live reading! Their theater has a devoted following, and the company specializes in new works.

The cast, the director, the entire program was supportive, productive, and I hope I have the chance to work with them again some day in the future!

7. Here’s To You, Mrs. Robinson (Pandemonium)

It was a delight to return to Pandemonium, having previously provided a scene from The Witches, a work in progress at the time. I have a bad habit of submitting unhappy scenes to this event, which is supposed to be a party. I took great pleasure in presenting something which, while still entirely me, was funny, dirty, and transgressive.

Apparently the Dawson’s Creek joke went over like gangbusters during each of the three performances.

8. I Hate This: A Play Without the Baby (film)

This was a such a big deal. It had been a year and a half since principal photography, and to finally release the work to an audience was so important. It’s now being used by University Hospitals to educate teams of nurses and doctors about the effects of child loss on the parents, and I am so grateful for that.

After Roe
9. After Roe (reading)

The man said write a play that will change the world. I don’t know if I managed that, but I can say that so far this has been a remarkable experience, interviewing fifteen subjects and then braiding (there’s that word again) their stories together into what I believe is a compelling and important narrative. I will be submitting this piece far and wide in the coming weeks.

10. Metropolis (in progress)

Still in its formative stages, this is what I am currently working on. Using both the film and the novel as source material, to create a stage adaptation of the most inspirational science fiction film in history. If it makes any difference, H.G. Wells hated the movie, which relieves a certain amount of pressure.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Process LXXIX

The week before Thanksgiving, always brief and yet fully-lacked, consisted of playing Emcee for the annual writing contest (our first writing contest matinees since 2019) and preparing for a train ride to Minnesota which unfortunately did not come to pass. Our eldest arrived in town with a terrible stomach bug, and so they and my wife remained at home while the boy and I caught an impromptu flight to the Twin Cities, to spend the holiday with my brother and his family.

I also took in-between moments an opportunity to further edit After Roe, and think a lot about my final revision for creative non-fiction. To that end, my brother and I drove to Vermillion, the birthplace and final resting place of the woman we believe is our grandmother. It was a poignant, instructive and also inspirational visit. That night I also had the opportunity to meet some new relatives, which is to say they were new to us.

We also toured Paisley Park, and later, we paid our respects at George Floyd Square. It was a full weekend, thoughtful and productive.

And it brings us to the final week of classes for the semester, and for my degree. Like, really. That’s it. Monday night my playwriting workshop professor and I met at a local joint to have wings, talk about new pages, and plans for the future.

Thursday I turned in the final draft of my creative nonfiction essay, sticking the landing this afternoon around one p.m. That’s right, with four hours to go I had finally figured out how to end.

After class we headed to Lockview on Main Street to eat a lot of cheese and to unwind a little – not that the class had been stressful. A classmate asked if it felt anticlimactic and I said quite the opposite, I was very happy with my paper, and the entire class. It feels good to go out on top.

What’s next?

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Twenty Twenty-Three

I have notes.
Fifty-five was once the age of retirement and isn’t that just fucking hilarious.

The second half of this year has been one of health issues. In July my retina detached. In September I got Covid. In November I developed a bout of vertigo. At the same time I continue to run, to exercise. I try to keep moving.

Barring any last-minute surprises, in this new year I will receive my Masters Degree in Creative Writing. One of the benefits of no longer being on Twitter is that I don’t have to read snarky comments about creative writing programs. I will have a Masters degree and I like to think I earned it.

This winter my thesis production will be part of the NEOMFA Playwrights Festival held at Convergence-Continuum. The play is Scenes From a Night’s Dream, one of the deepest dives into my own subconscious that I have ever attempted to get on stage.

Apart from that, who knows? It’s all in my hands. Not only to promote existing work, but to keep creating. I will be working on a one-hour version of After Roe which absolutely deserves a stage in the new year.

We have a film adaptation of I Hate This, the fulfillment of a twenty-year wish, and I owe it to everyone involved to promote that, to get into before the eyes and ears of doctors and nurses and midwives not only across the country but around the world.

There are other opportunities in the air, and I look forward to sharing them if they come to fruition.

With age, and practice, my appreciation for my own work, and for the place it takes in the community of theater creators, is in what I believe is a very good, realistic, acceptable place. I am grateful to no longer be jealous, anxious, embittered. Did you know I felt those things? Perhaps you did. If so, I am sorry you had to see that.

Which is all to say that, in spite of the horrors of the present age (or my present age) I am determined to remain optimistic. I am further than I ever have been from being concerned about what my career as a writer will amount to. I always wanted to write. And writing is what I do.

Saturday, November 19, 2022


Actor-Teachers at Theodore Roosevelt High School
Suddenly, pages! I wrote ten pages of a new script in time for workshop on Monday. When I adapted those two Christie novels, I drew dialogue pretty much directly from the books. There is another way, of course. You can be inspired by the work and make the dialogue up entirely.

This is what Coble did with his adaptation of The Machine Stops (among several others) which we produced into a radio drama that premiered fifteen years ago this week, if you can imagine that. He created his own idea of the characters and what they might say.

True, Metropolis is a silent movie and the title cards do not offer much in the form of spoken word. But the novel does, though as it is a translation from German, it has a quality that is not quite like natural English speaking. First of all, because it’s German, it’s all verbs.

That’s a joke.

This week I also had the opportunity to make a few school visits, which was nice, traveling far afield, to Kent and also my high school alma mater. I have been so engaged with the "Christmas Carol" writing contest, I haven't seen as much of the actor-teachers as I would like.  

Always on my God damn phone.
Thursday night was our penultimate regular class for creative nonfiction – and the evening I had my essay critiqued, which was really special. The comments were generously positive, my professor called me "master of the walk-off line" for how I closed each section, and a few commented on how seamlessly I included dialogue, as though I were some kind of playwright or something. At the same time everyone provided me with so many critical observations and opportunities for revision.

Writing is rewriting, so they say. Good lord, how many times did I repeat that during the workshops I provided for the writing contest last month? The wife assures me one of my best attributes (as a writer, I am awesome in so many ways) is how I receive criticism and incorporate it into my work. 

This was not always the case, and like an actor who insists on explaining why they made the choice they are being asked to reconsider, I would also defend that what I had written the first time was absolutely correct.

It’s the most important lesson I ever learned in undergrad: “Take the note.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Diana: The Musical

So, I finally watched the ill-fated musical Diana: The Musical and left comments on Facebook.

Thursday night:

I’m going in. 🧵 #dianathemusical
  • “Underestimated“ is not so much and “I want” song, it’s more like a threat. I am eager to find out what terrible things she is going to do.
  • The Queen looks like Olivia Coleman and Imelda Staunton, merged.
  • Oh, dear. “The Worst Song in England.”
  • Black sheep symbolism.
  • I wish there was an audience.
  • In spite of the dozen early 1980s pop bands mentioned in twenty seconds, I don’t really believe this takes place in the early 1980s because all of the dresses look rather nice.
  • Extra points for “Hot Lunch Jam” reference in “This Is How Your People Dance.”
  • Alas, I can already state that “Always” holds its place the worst musical about doomed Windsor romances.
  • “Snap, Click” … so far every other song is really bad. But every other song is also pretty nice.
  • “Most of all — read other books.” Well done.
  • When I was nineteen, I was very stupid. I don’t know what I world do if the Prince of Wales proposed to me.
  • So far, Camilla is the smartest character in this play. Do you suppose it’s also true in real life?
  • “I Will” slaps. Yes, it does, too.
  • Oh! Trick wedding dress.
  • DID YOU KNOW ..? Charles was the first Prince of Wales to learn how to speak Welsh. I learned that on “The Crown.“
  • I’ve learned a lot about Wales from watching “Welcome to Wrexham.“
  • I honestly do not understand how this show closed. I’m serious.
  • “Happiness/Breathe” is SO CLOSE to being Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home”!
  • … sung by Bonnie Tyler.
  • Harry: I will not be for one more second second!
  • “Ay, madam. It is … COMMON.”
  • I have had “Diana (The Rage)” in my head for the past six months, and I am in heaven here.
  • “I Miss You Most on Sundays” is the second best song defending adultery in any musical.
  • I think this is intermission. Act II … tomorrow.

Friday night:

… and we’re back. #dianathemusical
  • Well. If that wasn’t the most spectacular second act opening in theater history. #IYKYK
  • Wait. Only that dialogue was made up?
  • By the way, season five of “The Crown” just dropped. It’s just like this but not as catchy.
  • The timeline in this musical supports the fact that Harry is not the son of James Hewitt, so we can all stop talking about it.
  • The thing about the musical “Always” was it tried to make Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson seem like sympathetic, nice people. I like the fact that there’s almost no sympathetic people in this entire play.
  • Yeah! Fuck Thatcher!
  • Ooh. Mother Teresa reference. Bad omen.
  • I like “Secrets & Lies.” That was sweet.
  • Rather than “put up with this shit” I would’ve preferred “put up with this twit.”
  • Who is the protagonist in this thing?
  • Andrew Morton was a very lucky journalist!
  • Book choreography!
  • Here’s the thing … having decided to produce a musical called “Diana, the Musical” This is absolutely the only way it could have turned out. I say that with all due respect. There wasn’t some “better” musical of this story that might have been made, by anyone.
  • … and with “The Dress” this is once again the greatest musical of the ‘20s.
  • Oh, dear. The Queen makes a decapitation joke. (I took this photo last October.)
  • I’m just thinking how every character in “Hamilton” had, like, only three costumes.
  • Just clocked the Union Jack in the floor. Nice.
  • “The people who will change the world are not the ones you think will change the world.” Cool.
  • and scene

Friday, November 11, 2022

Process LXXVII

This time two months ago, I was entirely at sea. Overwhelmed by my schedule, my assignments and suffering a bout of Covid. Now I am a writing machine, on top of my game, and I even had time to fold laundry and watch a movie.

Why did no one tell me Eyes Wide Shut is fucking brilliant? So 1999, though. What a time to be alive (unless you’re Kubrick.)

The first draft of my “Willows” essay has been turned in, we will workshop that next week. And we read After Roe in my backyard last week. Still need to work on that, but as far as class goes, it is complete. Focusing now on Metropolis. I have a structure, which is easier, I guess, when you know the entire plot. And yet. Anyway. Writing all day on Saturday.

Monday, November 7, 2022

After Roe (reading)

The summer of 1993 was challenging. I was pretending to be an edgy, underground theater producer in downtown Cleveland, at the same time negotiating the purchase of a home in suburban Cleveland Heights.

In the shadow of the nationwide Operation Rescue protests that threatened abortion clinics here and elsewhere we staged a feminist production of The Taming of the Shrew.

I know. Anyway.

The company was about to embark on our second season of late night political short plays, which involved not only moving to a new location up the street, but also renegotiating the commitment of our company members.

A few of our original members had gone, others chose this moment to depart. One person in particular, we sat down to discuss elements of production and just exactly how we decided what pieces would be in and which would not.

This guy asked, “What if I wrote a pro-life play? Would that be voted on?”

We said no. Our company, the company we founded, would never allow a message that stands against a woman’s right to reproductive choice to be expressed on our stage.

The guy said, “That answers my question.” And we all shook hands and he left the company.

Later that year I would write a play called, RU-486? Yes, I am! about the abortifacient which would later be known as mifepristone. The national debate was whether or not such a drug may legally be administered and I wrote a monologue for a woman who was grateful that it was now available for others even as it arrived too late for her.

I created those words for a person with a uterus to read. On this subject, however, I think it is time to listen. I have written a new play, for which I have not created a single word. They were all spoken by women, and I wrote them down.

Sunday night we had a reading around a fire bowl in the backyard of that same house I bought twenty-nine years ago. Fourteen different voices (this time) shared the piece which we are currently calling After Roe.

Our discussion afterward was very promising. They liked “hearing from women who are on the periphery” and that it goes to show that every abortion is a case-by-case situation, just like everything else in life.

As I was editing the piece I “braided” the dialogue (braided, that’s my new word this semester) so that there was a flow to the piece which involved common themes and events. Most agreed they wanted more of that, for longer passages to be broken up even more, that the strongest moments were when women appeared to be responding to each other, even as the source material consists of individual interviews.

Comparisons were made to The Exonerated, Fefu & Her Friends and the Punchdrunk production of The Burnt City. When the discussion came to staging I said I’d like to see a nice living room, and that each “character” has a drink and stands (or, who knows, sits) to tell their story – which invited a comparison to the first scene of Top Girls. Extra points for a Churchill reference!

We had taken a break around the forty-five minute mark (the reading was 75 minutes) to set and light a fire. While I was getting things together, the readers were all actively talking and laughing. In spite of the relative brevity of the piece, I’m thinking having a break at that point, when things are just ramping up, might be a very effective way to spur discussion.

That’s what we call an intermission, but still.

During the second season of Guerrilla Theater, one of our members wrote a wistful piece about lost potential. It was a monologue written from the point of view of, I don’t know. A soul? A potential life which was unrealized due to an abortion.

The playwright Wendy McLeod wrote a full-length play called The Water Children that included a similar premise. A woman who had an abortion is haunted by a potential son she did not have, named Chance.

I know. Anyway.

However, MacLeod was addressing the thoughts that women do have when they choose abortion. And she is a woman. It is apparent that Chance represents feelings of doubt or regret, and not an actual spirit.

I pointed out to our playwright, who was a man, that his monologue, as thoughtfully written as it was, was a pro-life argument. It gives agency to an embryo, complex thought, self-determination. He said he hadn’t seen it that way, that he just was trying to look at the argument from a different perspective. I said I wouldn’t permit it. The piece was withdrawn from consideration.

There was a lot of active listening to After Roe Sunday night, as so many stories and details were being thrown about by the legal and medical experts, and individuals who were sharing their stories.
“At times I was confused, but also excited to be informed.”

“This information is not something we are taught.”

“We do all know this, saying it out loud is the new part.”
One very important question regarded what happens after the play has concluded. “What do we do with this?” Having a post-show talk seemed inadequate. What would be provided, in the form of contact, right there in the theater, following a potential reading? “You want to become an activist, a doula, a counselor? Here’s how.

The piece is still rough, there were details I missed, some stories can be tightened, others need to be expanded. And there is one more interview I need to conduct, and I am looking forward to that.