Sunday, June 26, 2016

Shakespeare's First Folio Preview Night

"Sneck up."
Friday night the company of Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio) presented a script-in-hand performance to an audience of donors and trustees for Cleveland Public Library and the several organizations partnering to present Shakespeare's First Folio in Cleveland.

'Twas a splendid evening, which also included a lecture and book signing with Andrea Mays, author of a The Millionaire and the Bard -- a history of Henry Folger and how he developed his obsession with the First Folio and became its greatest single collector -- as well as refreshments and chat.

The production doesn't officially open until July 8, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch of the CPL. The original plan was to just read my adaptation, with music stands and reading stage directions out loud. But at the this stage of the game, it made more sense to wear the costumes, use the few sound cues we have so far and play it.

I did have a certain trepidation about presenting this abridged version, as it strays from the complete Twelfth Night in several significant ways -- and I'm not talk about the 1980s teen romantic comedy vibe. The only characters are Malvolio, Viola, Olivia, and Orsino. There are no twins, for example. No Toby Belch, no Feste.

Great Lakes Theater Costume Display
Foreground: Othello
Background: Macbeth
Brett Hall, Cleveland Public Library
Having said that, there is still the letter prank, the central love triangle, and the best parts of Shakespeare's tremendous comedic wordplay. Add to that the fact that I took the liberty of incorporating some very popular passages from other plays to complete the emotional arc for both Olivia and Malvolio, ruminations on love and death, including text from As You Like It, Hamlet, Love's Labour's Lost, Measure for Measure, and Richard III, all verses which can be found in the First Folio.

By setting it during one day in high school. we are able to focus on these small sets of interconnected relationships. It's all a neat, swift forty-five minute celebration of one of the Bard's most beloved comedies, and it's even quite affecting. It's free, and the company consists of some of my favorite young actors.

We performed in the newly restored Brett Hall, where they have a lovely platform stage and somewhat challenging acoustics. We'll figure that out before the three lunchtime performances that will be presented there on July 14, 15 & 16. Sitting behind most of the audience, fiddling with my iPod for the sound and trying to keep an eye on my script. I was delighted to hear many great laughs. I hope we can attract a nice crowd to our neighborhood performances.

You can find a complete calendar of sites and times for Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio) here.

The star of the event, of course, is the book itself, Shakespeare's First Folio, which can be seen now on the third floor of the main building in the Special Collections section. It's actually smaller than I had imagined, because the facsimiles I own are actually larger. Imagine one volume of the Oxford English Dictionary. It will remain on display in Cleveland in until July 30, so don't wait.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Star (Dare To Dream)

The Star (Dare To Dream)
When I was in high school we formed an improv comedy troupe called The Sausage Works. As a burgeoning impresario I was fairly decent at booking gigs and even creating swag, like buttons. We even got airtime on a public access show, a program of which, not coincidentally, I was a co-producer.

What I spent much less time on was developing our craft, rehearsal, or being in any way amusing. Ours was a terrible improv comedy troupe. Good name, terrible improv. Should have put that on a shirt.

In college I was a member of the improv comedy troupe, Rupture, and by that time I had taken some classes and had at the very least the benefit of experience. (More on that here.) One of our crew suggested a wide variety of theater games we could play that would make for good comedy, including Party Quirks, Radio Dial and Singing The Blues.

Once during winter break in late 1988, this same friend suggested we all see the preeminent Cleveland troupe Giant Portions, which at that time included such notable performers as Lisa Lewis, Jeff Blanchard and Marc Moritz.

We all had a fun time, but I was taken aback and a little disappointed to discover that every single theater game we employed in our performance were from Giant Portions’ act. All of this original work I thought we were doing, and we were just copying off another company.

Now, I know that good improvisation is not about the structure you use but how you work with it. All games are merely tools to facilitate spontaneous, honest discovery and emotional reaction.

Having said that, there is spontaneous after thirty years of Party Quirks. I saw Cabaret Dada three times, almost five years apart each time, and though the faces had changed, each time they played Party Quirks and I gotta tell ya, Tourette’s Syndrome wasn’t actually funny the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy improvisation, and improv comedy, and have actively sought out long-form improv, when it is available. No one has made a run at it in Cleveland since Dobama’s Night Kitchen.

In my own way, I militantly keep working to push young people into the form at our annual summer theater camp. My journey to Alaska meant missing the second week of our annual Camp Theater (for which I am extremely grateful to my employer) but two weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead a team of middle and high schoolers through a series of basic storytelling exercises, the goal being to be able to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end using monologue, two person scenes and a conclusion incorporating an entire team of four.

This year it was much more like a competition, as each of four teams watched each other work and one was declared “winner” by acclamation. They also squared off performing “Jump” improv (competing to see how many different scenarios could they begin within two minutes) and then volunteers played First Line, Last Line with surprising success. It was a very focused group this year, they took the work very seriously. We created our little nightclub, this time called The Star (Dare To Dream) and had a great morning, just performing improv for each other before moving onto the Shakespearean splash scenes for their families that afternoon.

The Star (Dare To Dream). That was the name they chose for their nightclub. One suggested we call it The Star, another added, "No, no -- call it The Star ... dare to dream!"  That's the crew we had this year. They were awesome.

Scared Scriptless: Weekend at Bernie's Sketch
Last Wednesday at Last Frontier, there was a party following Valerie’s performance, and so no Fringe performance was scheduled to take place in the Mariner’s Room. Instead, three guys from the Anchorage improv troupe Scared Scriptless -- John, Warren and Will -- staged an impromptu show, and many went along to see that.

We only caught the last twenty minutes or so, but I really enjoyed the style of sketch they were employing. The physical Weekend at Bernie’s scenario notwithstanding (though that is certainly hysterical the first time you see it) most of the work was cerebral, much of it steeped in argument and counter-argument and the kind of insult humor which works best among aggressively competitive friends.

These were very different games to me, just stepping out to interrupt each other (what we called Give & Take in The Realistic World) to riff on a subject offered by the audience. Objection is a game I will certainly be stealing for use in the future. I had the chance to walk and talk with John my last night in town and he said it’s rare for Scared Scriptless to perform with a skeleton troupe of three.

My fictional improv comedy team The Times (from This Is The Times) is also a three-person company, and I have dithered about whether to rewrite the entire thing with additional company members, but there is a magic in three, especially when you are trying to keep your story neat and compact. Watching three guys ping back and forth like that was particularly inspiring.

One of the things which is most challenging in coaching teenagers to improv is encouraging them to trust their brains, to speak without fear, and most of all to trust each other. We are conditioned from birth basically to be assholes. Every tweener program on the Disney Channel conditions our kids to point and laugh at others, to mock and dismiss. This is not unique to that network, but when my daughter began to watch their programs she immediately began to model the behavior.

The family mutually agreed she had to stop watching Jessie if she wanted to remain a good person.

Yes, we have the opportunity to play fools on stage, but the players need to be there for each other for it all to work. This year the program at The Star (Dare To Dream) included a great many scenarios where people were helping each other to achieve some bizarre goal, and those scenes worked best. It was the scenarios where campers couldn’t separate their personal feelings from the characters they were playing, and engaged in direct conflict that the scenes fell apart.

Our improv guru at Ohio University was the head of the Masters in Directing program, George Sherman. He had been a member of The Compass in St. Louis. You could count on him to attend every single Bobcats basketball game, the man was fanatic about basketball. Because basketball is the sport most aligned with the skills necessary for improvisation.

Come get your Love.
He put it this way; football is like rehearsing a play. You get to experiment and play around in practice, developing a rigid set of scenes or plays which you then perform pretty much the way you rehearsed them on game day. In basketball the practice is drilling the structure of the game in rehearsal, but on the day you trust your instincts and your teammates and anything goes. That’s improv.

Big parade today downtown for the greatest improv troupe in America. #AllIn216 #GoCAVS

Monday, June 20, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: The Final

Heading back.
George Michael reference. Bonus points if you get it.

The Last Frontier Theatre Conference is closed for 2016. Hundreds of theater artists have spread out from this port town, flowing to points south, west, east and yes, even north, returning to their points of origin.

If they are anything like myself they departed with a touch of melancholy, sad to have to say goodbye to newly made colleagues (or in many cases, dear friends they only see in Valdez) but also energized by positive memories, thrilled by wisdom and guidance, sated by stories.

Excuse me for waxing poetic (or indulging in cliché) I am just trying to spell it all out. And I’ve had about six hours of sleep over the past three nights so, you know. Give me a break.

Many of us were not attending the Gala Saturday night. Had I done so I might still be in transit, and I need to be at my desk tomorrow.

Also, I would have deeply regretted missing Game Seven here at home with my family. Yes, indeed.

Rihannon performs an excerpt from "Thou Hadst One Job"
But it was bittersweet to know we would be missing a big party, the group photo, et cetera. Joe Barnes was tactfully dismissive. “Nah,” he said. “You aren’t missing anything. The boat ride’s really the end of the conference.” Joe’s very good at making you feel like whatever decision you made was the right one.

It is true, I never went on any long hikes, nor did I run on any of the paths. I was, quite honestly, fretful of bears. I was quite happy to take a three mile run most days, get my fresh air and aerobic activity in to begin each day, and you cannot suggest that the 360° mountain view from the streets of Valdez is any small shakes.

Rising early, I made a point of getting out, skulking into the conference center each morning, to see who I might encounter there. It was always different. Good God, I met a lot of people. I have never friended so many people on Facebook all at once in my life.

So many asked, “Will we see you next year? Will you be back next year?” I dearly wish, I truly do. Such an intensive learning experience, and so well organized and facilitated. Never a dull moment, I almost burned myself out, which was exactly what I wanted. And it is true, I always need and can use professional development. Whether the calendar or our account can accommodate is a question for the future.

But Dawson Moore and his team have created an extremely well organized event, featuring a diverse assemblage of featured artists and instructor, and excellent and varied professional productions in the evening. Doesn’t hurt to be concentrated in the most interested locale I have yet enjoyed a communal theatrical experience.

Valdez? Yeah, I’d like to be back. I’ll try to send Toni first.

"We close. We do not end."
The journey home was not painful as the one to the conference had been but it was still disorienting, first wandering in circles around Valdez, waiting a couple hours for the shuttle, then the constant movement in what seemed to me a straight line for home. Even then I had the opportunity to meet with and talk to new people on the brief flight from Valdez to Anchorage.

An old college girlfriend met me at the airport and we had a leisurely dinner before I got all panicky about making my connecting flight. We rushed back to her home so I could meet with the rest of the family and made the plane now laden with several pounds of vacuum-packed, frozen salmon.

The rest of the journey was brief, and I actually slept. There were moments where I actually lost time, which is to say fell asleep, and was actually surprised when I woke up. It was all so new. The wife, the kids picked me up in Cleveland. On our way home we stopped by to visit my dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

Next Up: Shakespeare's First Folio

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Seven


Today I raised the white flag. By this afternoon I couldn’t even sit through a seminar on adapting plays from history without straining to keep my eyes from crossing. Don’t get me wrong, I was fascinated, I wasn’t falling asleep, I took great notes. I’m just fucking tired, man.

This morning I slept until my alarm went off (that was a first) and had an awesome run around town … but I was tired. I attended two Play Labs this morning … but I was tired, very tired.

Photo: Rand Higbee
And also, there is a certain wistful pre-melancholy I get the day before I know I have to leave a place, and that’s hitting me very hard right now. It’s been a stellar week, I have met many wonderful, creative people … and it’s almost over. And that’s no fun.

So I blew off the last two Play Labs and I was grateful that Whitney allowed me to tag along while she took photos of the harbor, because while I knew I couldn’t take another reading without nodding off, I was too jittery to take a nap and too unsure to be alone.

It felt good to be outside, the air is cooler than it has been the past several days, and we were able to kind of debrief on all the work we have seen this week, especially that which really impressed us.

The plays this week have been far better than I expected. But so, I was surprised to learn, is mine.

Yes, I took a nap. A number of us gathered at The Totem for dinner (Stacy, you were precious) before heading off to catch FleshEatingTiger presented by The Owl and Cat Theatre, AU.

This evening was the annual glacier cruise, which was truly something special. I have had the opportunity to tell pretty much everyone I have met here that the wife and I took an Alaskan cruise for our Honeymoon - that I’d even technically been to Valdez before.

I remember how she didn’t like to spend time inside the boat, every chance she got, with or without me Toni would spend time on the bow of the ship, looking at the world outside. The sea, the forests, the wildlife, the glaciers.

This night I moved around a lot. I spent a lot of the time on the bow of the ship, though it got cold. I would go up top, too. I was sitting or standing with as many folks as I could, those I’d know for days. Those I’d just met today. I know I will miss them.

The evening concluded, at long last, at The Boardroom, shortly after midnight. I listened to the karaoke, watched the people dance. I met even more folks. I’ve been pretty good at the social thing, awkward as I can be. It’s so much more important to connect.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Six

Mark & Glyka in "Nothing But Flowers"
Never make fun of Bernie Sanders in front of an audience of Alaskan theater people.

Brief notes on another amazing and very full day. No nap.

Yoga this morning, outdoors, let by the amazing Meg. I missed the last outdoor session, which was reportedly troubled by mosquitoes. This time, Meg brought the Deep Woods OFF and we were all extremely grateful.

Attended a reading of Warm Milk Mamas, a brief play by Lisa on the subject of (modern) breastfeeding, followed by Sean’s Faculty Portrait, a troubling and sincere look at the effects of a shooting at an independent high school.

Following that I had my one-on-one with Kevin. I truly admire him, and his artistic sensibility. There were some comments about clarity regarding Sean’s piece, which moves back and forth in time, featuring scenes that take place the day of the shooting and one year later. Kevin was unconcerned about the possibility of being a little confused, and going with a story until it becomes clear. This is also something I approve of.

We had lunch at the Best Western where, in a relatively brief time had the opportunity to really look at each scene with greater detail, and hash out what I intended, what I need, and where to move next. Following that I stepped into a monologue workshop in the Mariner’s Room where Laura Gardner led a young woman in that monologue I wrote about a messenger from Macbeth. Laura totally got where the humor is in my piece though we did need to choose a shorter excerpt from it for the sake of time. There may be a follow-up rehearsal tomorrow, I still need to find out when that is.

That afternoon I saw two more readings before heading with Valerie and Scott, and meeting up with Ivan, at The Roadside Potatohead on the waterfront where I enjoyed a poutine-esque concoction, basically a basket of fries covered in sausage gravy. Fuck yes.

Also, the Cavs won. Game seven, you can suck on that.

Following the evening performance of Perseverance Theatre’s production of Annapurna, we headed back to the Mariner’s Room for the final Fringe of the week, which included my apocalyptic comedy Nothing But Flowers. Too much sun is mutating the laborers around Valdez, making them lazy and unproductive, and what I had one of the characters say was, “They’ll start demanding higher wages for doing absolutely nothing! It will be worse than what happened during the Sanders Administration!”

After a beat, the audience let out the longest, lowest “boo” I had yet heard at the conference this week. It was a thing of beauty.

Then we all went into the bar and drank. This is the latest I have yet stayed up in Valdez, and I have yet to hit the Boardroom for karaoke.

One of the most satisfying and inspiring element of this conference are the large number of strong and interesting roles for women, in the Play Lab and on the main stage. I would like to take what I have learned from my Play Lab to make sure that my play could be counted as one of them.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Five

Good company.
Random thoughts and a very busy day:

  • Took a three-mile run about Valdez.
  • On my run I conceived of my entire ten-minute Fringe play.
  • Took laptop to conference center, started writing.
  • Performed in the reading company for Deer Haunting: A Far Side Cartoon.
  • Attended the reading for The Way I Danced With You.
There were eighteen in attendance, which was good. Following the read each of the panelists gave me extremely valuable feedback, their comments provided clues as how to best proceed. In addition, those in attendance also made many comments, it was as though almost everyone had something to say. With the exception of two or three who were confused and simply did not understand much of it, most were very supportive, many remarking specifically as to how much they enjoyed these characters.

My man Joe Barnes says I am a fucking romantic. He means this as a compliment. He also praised my writing, saying, "It is hard to write a compelling play about two characters who are basically decent."

I have over five pages of handwritten notes which I need to transcribe and ruminate upon. But first, I will meet with my lead panelist, Kevin Armento, who already reflected back to me many interesting ideas this during the discussion. We're having lunch tomorrow.

  • Did laundry, and while I waited continued to write the 10-minute play.
  • Attended the Play Lab for Julia Lederer's The Best Plan For Living Happily. It put me in mind of the work of Paul Auster.
  • Skipped the feedback session for Julia's play to complete the 10-minute play.
  • Attended a potluck in the women's dorm.
  • Took a brief nap.
  • Edited, sent the 10-minute play.
  • Attended Valerie Hager's Naked In Alaska. She is fucking amazing and I adore her.
  • Reception at the Valdez Museum! Dessert and beer!
  • Attended Scared Scriptless improv comedy show at the Mariner's Room. And it was actually funny.
Also, Tyler reminds me of Henrik.

Okay, the biggest day is behind me. Still so much to do!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Four

Twilight in Valdez
The weather has become absurd.

Today picked up from where yesterday left off, with clear skies, sunny and eighty degrees. Lunch was enjoyed outdoors. So, too, was morning yoga, though this day I decided on a run instead, because I had a rehearsal beginning just as the session was scheduled to end.

Yes, I am also an actor here at the conference, tomorrow I will be performing in Deer Haunting: A Far Side Cartoon by Andréa J. Onstad right before the reading of my play. What this means is I will have something to occupy my attention tomorrow morning and won’t have time to freak out.

Also, we rehearsed Deer Haunting this morning, right before The Way I Danced With You. This was also fortuitous as I could be a participant, and learn from others how best to proceed during my (one) rehearsal. There isn’t time to micromanage your actors, or to do a lot of deep directing, and besides that’s frowned upon. Dawson says trust your actors, and that was good enough for me.

And besides, Tyler Browning and Chloe Cotton are simply ideal and I feel extremely fortunate they were chosen to read this work, I just fell in love with both of them. As it turned out we had plenty of time not only to read the entire piece, but to stop here and there to make the adjustments I felt were most necessary to make, and even sit around and talk about it for fifteen minutes or so after.

Rehearsal.
I even took the opportunity to strike an entire page (an entire page) of dialogue that for the life of me I could not justify keeping. Our stage direction reader, Keriann, pointed out that that was the one place I lost her and I was so glad, because it lost me, too. It felt wonderful to feel entirely justified just jettisoning an entire page like that.

What this all means, of course, is that tomorrow’s reading will be all about the words. This is the first time the piece has been heard in its three-scene version for a critical audience. What they have to say will be instrumental as to how I choose to proceed with this work, or even if I proceed with it.

And I’m acting in another piece.

And on Thursday afternoon someone is workshopping the monologue I wrote, I will attend that rehearsal.

And I have to write a ten-minute play for the Thursday night Fringe, and I have to have it turned in by midnight tomorrow, which really means I need to turn it in by eight o’clock tomorrow because there’s a show and a party tomorrow night. So I have less than twenty hours to write a ten-minute play relating to the phrase: What hath science wrought?

So I am delightfully busy.

Another very busy day, in which I attended a seminar on sound design, and even scurried back to the dorm (ten minutes’ walk) to take a fifteen minute nap before returning to the conference center (another ten minutes) for the reading of a Waylaid by Michael Ross Albert followed by dinner at Oldtown Burgers.

The Teriyaki Burger at Oldtown Burgers was by itself worth my flight from Chicago to Anchorage.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Three

Poor night’s sleep without medication, I got a little over five hours and then my body was craving caffeine. Fearing a headache, I went to get my morning coffee and ideally close my eyes for another hour. But rest and caffeine, they don’t go well together.

I decided not to take a run, however, Instead, I took Meg up on her suggestion and joined her yoga class at 9:00 am. I haven’t been received instructor-led yoga for a very long time. Since before the kids were born, perhaps? No idea. And yet, I fared very well. It was a crowded room, however, and I can only imagine Room C will be even more popular tomorrow, when word gets around. The other rooms are larger … but they do not have exterior windows facing the mountains.

If the weather continues to pick up, perhaps it will be held outside. Ooh.

Regardless, it was an excellent way to begin the day, and in the morning I was happy to experience to script readings before lunch.

I thought, perhaps, I would take a break some time during the afternoon. There are up to four events happening throughout the day that you might attend. Writing seminars, improvisation workshops and Play Labs. But really, no one is under no obligation to be occupied every moment of the day.

Maybe I would skip Arthur Jolly’s screenwriting seminar. But you know, I know nothing about screenwriting. It was very interesting, instructive and Arthur happens to be entertaining as hell. So that was a good decision. So I planned to skip the next Play Lab … but it was only forty-five minutes long, what else was I going to do? It takes ten minutes to walk back to the dorm, I might as well sit and listen.

Events for the afternoon concluded around four-thirty, plenty of time to relax, maybe take a nap, have dinner. I hadn’t spotted the actors for my play yet, and so on my way out of the conference center I stopped by the front desk to ask Dawson if they had checked in yet … and there they were, walking through the front door.

Chloe & Tyler
So, you know. Let’s meet the actors!

Chloe and Tyler had driven in from Anchorage, where they each live. By this time in the afternoon the weather here was the best it’s been, a beautiful spring day, sixty degree, clear and sunny. Just amazing.

We walked around the harbor, waiting for some of their colleagues who were also on the their way to the conference before enjoying dinner at Ernesto’s and ice cream at Northern Treats.

Because, you know? This is not just a professional retreat. This is daddy’s personal summer camp, okay?

Anyway, eventually I was (happily) resigned to a full day. The featured performance of the evening was the TossPot Production of Kevin Armento’s Good Men Wanted, I sat with Barclay Kopchak. Kevin is on the panel for my Play Lab. So is Barclay. I have met my actors. The reading closes near.

Following the performance, however, I still could not retire I have put my name in for an Overnight, which is where a playwright receives a topic (in this case, tomorrow evening) and must compose a ten-minute play for Fringe within twenty-four hours. I wanted to attend Fringe again -- third night in a row -- as, you know, research. And beer.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day Two

We come to the end of the first full day of the conference, and surprisingly, I am more exhausted than I was last night at this time. Of course, last night at this time I was already asleep.

And I’d had a nap.

My goal today was to meet far more people than I had met yesterday, and that was very successful. Most of the day was spent right there at the conference center.

I arrived much earlier than necessary. I rose early, but not too early, which afforded time to relax, get a special coffee, take a run, and reflect upon the horrors made evident when I checked the news feed. I do not know what to say about that at the moment. I am not sure I have anything meaningful to add which has not already been said by others.

Ironically or tragically, during our conversation last night Joe and I were speculating upon the impact of a terrorist attack on the presidential race. As remote as we currently are, the distances between us are no longer so vast.

I tried to do a little free writing and chose a perch upon a pier but the gnats were a problem. The bug spray I chose does not impress them much, so I retreated to the conference center to charge my phone and spy on all the featured artists arriving for their orientation.

Each featured artist will be attended a few of the Play Labs, three will attend mine, I will make an appointment with one of them to spend additional time to discuss the script after the reading. I met several today, mingling and also as they led seminars across the afternoon I even had a delightful conversation with one of my own panelists, though I did not appreciate that she was one at that time. I am assuming she did. I know I did not saying anything stupid.

Wait, scratch that. I told her about my colonoscopy.

Mealtimes were the best for meeting new people, lunch was brought in and enjoyed in one of the meetings rooms, dinner a delicious fish fry and we took our plates and at on the grass overlooking Port Valdez, the mountains.

We spent four and a half hours in three seminars, but the time did not seem nearly that long. The first was on tools for revision, the second on poor plotting (or “Why does my play suck?”) and the third on writing work that appeals to an international market.

When detailing the various obvious and often employed pitfalls in writing a play, I was put in mind of the old advice that one must never read a text on mental illness, due to the inevitable compulsion to self-diagnose, and invariably discover you have a host of terrible, encroaching disorders.

Characters shouldn’t about people who aren’t there? That’s all the characters in my play ever do!

I exaggerate. But that’s only one example.

By the end of the afternoon, I had stimulated by each experience and each provided valuable and practical insight. And honestly, while I actually came away more confident in my work than I was this morning, I am also developed a heightened awareness for what may or may not be clear during the reading itself.

The evening was rounded out with presentations by each of the featured artists, reading their work or the personal favorite of another, and four short plays at the Fringe at Best Western which was hilarious. The writing satisfies, but even better the high energy the actors put into these pieces in ridiculous great fun.

And I finally met Valerie Hager!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Notes on Last Frontier: Day One

Facing forward.
FWith almost sixteen hours a travel ahead of me, the plan was to relax and enjoy my solitude. Observe. Read. Write. Drowse. Unfortunately, my three hour layover at O’Hare was marred by two things; the Cavs game (just don’t) and the fact that my connecting flight had no gate announcement. It would, certainly, eventually but until it did, I kept glancing at the board in no-man’s land.

As this happened, I was getting more tired. I no longer like to stay up late, it does not agree with me, but though I had an hour - and an alarm set - I could not fall asleep in my chair without opening my eyes every few moments to check the board and fret over Draymond Green.

Eventually I wandered around Terminal 3 until I located an Alaska Airlines jet outside the window and a crowd preparing to board. So, lucky me, I guess (wtf?) The plane was no full, which was weird, I did have the chance to lay across three seats and attempt to sleep, and I must have but not well. I was headachy and cold.

However, I did get a cheap sleep mask at Walgreen’s and that is my new best friend, forever.

The short flight from Anchorage to Valdez was where my real journey truly began. An intimate Dash-8 I only had to eavesdrop on certain conversations to realize, hey, of the two dozen people in this plane at least a quarter of us are headed for the conference. The flight itself had filled me with a bit of trepidation, but it was not only a smooth ride, but hosted by an utterly charming flight attendant who looked a bit like either Bob Balaban or Fred Sternfeld.

I was not expecting drink service on a thirty minute flight. I did not expect a locally-sourced cookie. Mad props to Ravn Airlines.

As we landed I noticed my headache had finally subsided, and several of us got acquainted at bag check. I am looking forward to the kind of person who attends this event, the many different or even unique ways for a person to look at theater as a profession.

Then I checked into my dorm, which will eventually house ten men. (I paid extra for an actual bed.) I took an hour-long disco nap -- the wife’s phrase -- and then I took a run. This past week has been so busy, from theater camp to rehearsals for Twelfth Night, I haven’t run since last weekend. After all the stiffness, exhaustion and discomfort of the previous night, it was heavenly to run in the light rain, surrounded by snow-swept mountains, every way I turned.

There weren’t any scheduled events until the event, so the afternoon was much more leisurely and what I was in the mood for. A young actor from Anchorage and one of my roommates for the week, Skyler, joined me as we headed over the the conference center to check-in for the week and just kind of poke around the facility where all of the regular events will take place.

Photo: Mark Muro
Evening events, like the Fringe Festival, will be at the Best Western, about two-tenths of a mile from the conference center. Nothing is very far from anything else here, the grocery store is right across the street from the dorm which totally rocks.

Dawson Moore, conference coordinator, was great enough to meet and greet us at the airport when we first arrived (he was also shuttling featured artists to their housing) and we had a chance to chat for a bit at registration, which was very nice as soon the place is going to be bustling with around 250 artists and participants. I am glad I got his ear for a nice, relaxed moment. I spent most of that time asking him questions he will no doubt be addressing at orientation but he genially thanked me for the rehearsal.

I also took a quiet walk around the water’s edge, and checked out some beach shops. There is a narrow waterfall coming down the mountain near the dorms, and I went to check that out but could not longer spot them from the base of the mountain. Also, I did not wish to be attacked by bears, so I headed back.

First Night Fringe
For dinner, roommate and playwright Rand suggested the Alaska Halibut House, where I was introduced to Joe, another playwright and political science professor, and after a bit of hedging and weaving, plunged head-deep into a rousing discussion of the American political situation as we each consumed a basket of fried cod and french fries, before heading to the early conference arrivals’ pre-conference mixer and pre-Fringe Fringe Festival performance.

The sun is deceptive, and by ten pm I was fully prepared to join some of my new acquaintances at the karaoke bar only really, it’s 2 am in my blood and last night I barely slept. Tomorrow we roll into the festivities and if my sleep mask and this Benadryl I am about to take is effective, I may even be something like my normal, laid-back and entirely relaxed self.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Looking forward.

Challenging to conceive that in just a few days I will be in Valdez. I am an easy traveler, I know how to pack simply, wisely. A week long journey with plans to visit the laundry exactly once. First, a day long flight to Anchorage.

Yes, I will have my phone, an iPod, the laptop, and also my notepad and pen, and a novel. That’s something I need to find, I am currently without one. Generally I prefer non-fiction, but not on journeys. What to read? Suggestions welcome.

The program for this year’s Last Frontier Theatre Conference is available online. I have perused the workshops and seminars that are being offered, and the evening performances. Valerie Hager will be presenting her solo work, Naked In Alaska, which was a must-see production at the New York Fringe in 2013, which was also the year we produced Double Heart at the Connelly.

However, I could not get a seat, because performances kept selling out … but now I can! I am reminded of when Weeping Spoon brought Alvin Sputnik to the International Children’s Theatre Festival. That was another sold-out hit at the NY Fringe (2009) that I was provided another opportunity to catch.

This morning the wife and I were looking over the agenda, on any given day there are two or three Play Labs to attend, and seminars are divided between performance- and writing-based concentrations. It’s interesting; several deal with genre I have attempted before (Personal History Writing or From Newspaper to Stage) but never received any instruction in. I am very interested in receiving such instruction.

The program was also how I learned who will be my acting company for the new work I wrote. Taking place over two time periods, ten years apart, I was hoping for actors who could realistically play both 18 and 28 years of age. With no idea what kind of acting pool might be available in the “last frontier” imagine my delight and surprise when I found the producers had contracted two experienced performers in their mid-20s.

I have had a few reading with colleagues. This will be a first with artists whose work I don't know -- and who don't know me from anybody.

This new work, which I have formerly referred to as The George Michael Play, is a romantic, ninety-minute two-hander, or I hope it will eventually be ninety minutes, at the moment I have no idea. It is ninety pages, which may or may not amount to a minute per page. Regardless, after many adaptations, histories, sequels and parodies, this is the first truly original work I have composed in some time. It's new to me, it's different. And it's very exciting.

In addition, playwrights in the Play Lab were invited to submit 10 minute plays and also monologues for a series of workshops which will culminate in performances at the end of the conference. I took advantage of each of those and was very pleased to not only have an original monologue accepted, but that an actor has already chosen it as their subject for their workshops. If they stick with it, I may even see that performed just a few hours before I board my flight for home.

You may read this monologue here.