Saturday, November 28, 2020

Dobama '96 Trading Cards

Twenty-five years ago I was working as the public relations director at Dobama Theatre. This was an accident. That summer I had been tapped to create the Night Kitchen, a series of late night theater programs for “the kids.” It wasn’t a salaried position, so when the recently-hired p.r. director suddenly quit, the artistic director looked to me and asked if I wanted a job.

I have been into marketing my entire life. When I was a kid I made greeting cards, and designed boxes of cereal. During the Guerrilla years I was responsible for contacting the media and read up to learn how to properly create a press release, where to find contact information for the papers and stations, who to call and when and what to say and how to say it.

My first big assignment was the holiday ask. You know how every non-profit contacts you around this time of year to hit you up for the annual fund. It’s a time of giving, it’s all the last month you can get those tax-deductible donations in.

"City of Terror" Trading Cards
Mark Beyer
(Raw #2 1980)
This year, my first in this new position, I had a brilliant idea -- brilliant in that I stole it from Françoise Mouly, Art Spiegeman and the crew at RAW Magazine. An alternative comics anthology from the 1980s, in one edition they included “City of Terror” baseball-type trading cards, complete with bubble gum. Each copy of the magazine included only one card, artist Mark Beyer had only created eight different cards but they were numbered as high as #76 to give the impression there were many more.

I proposed we include Dobama Trading Cards with the annual fund request. I would design a sheet of nine cards (“Collect all 60! Trade with your friends!”) each would feature one production photo from the theater’s history on the front, with data about that production on the back, even including a small note about what was featured on the next card, a card which did not actually exist.

Clever me, I even made one of the cards an ad for our upcoming show in the Night Kitchen, the improvised Realistic World.

This was my first big mailing job, and the most intricate use of Photoshop I had attempted to date (that’s PhotoShop 2.0) Our technology was very basic in those days, we only had PCs in the office, so I was designing this on my Mac at home, then driving to the Kinko’s in University Circle to use their laser printers. When I messed something up I would have to go home to edit it, then drive back out to Kinko’s to see if I had gotten it right. 

These things weren't even in color. It was a nightmare. I had a nervous breakdown. Joyce was extremely supportive. She also had to press me to complete the job on time because it was only the single most important mailing of the year. And we did, we got it out. 

I never proposed anything as irresponsibly clever for the rest of my tenure.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Process XI

What has ever come out of Luxembourg? - from “Synchronicity”

Also, painted that lamppost.
Last weekend I banged out my second "dark fiction" short story. Most of my assignments for the semester are complete, except for the big one. It is good that I can spend the next week largely concentrating only on that. 

Also, we watched a few streaming theater pieces. “Is it theater?” they ask. You know what? Who cares. First, we saw the Baldwin-Wallace Musical Theater Program production of Spring Awakening which was neither live theater nor a movie, and yet, it was entertainment unto itself, even incorporating the pandemic into its concept.

So, too, Irish Repertory Theatre’s On Beckett/In Screen, an adaptation of his solo rumination and interpretation of the works of Samuel Beckett created and performed by legendary clown Bill Irwin, also including a nod to the current moment.

I would not or could not have seen either of these without their having been presented online, and I would have missed out on a larger discussion. The productions were not live. But I, as an audience member. I was live.

Monday my playwriting workshop will read a version of my new script that is slightly different from the one I shared with friends last month. First I need to read the thing again, I don’t know.

"On Beckett/In Screen"
(Irish Repertory Theatre, 2020)
And we decorate. A couple years ago I began putting our artificial tree outside, and getting a real tree to put inside. Setting up the outdoor tree on Tuesday, I thought that must be the earliest I had ever put up a tree. But then I remembered that I put up that tree the Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year because my entire family was in town because mom was not doing well and we thought this might be our last holiday with her.

We had Thanksgiving at her house last year, but everyone came here the night before. This year it was just the four of us. My first Thanksgiving dinner in my own house.

Odd. I told myself that on Thanksgiving I should do nothing that was not related to spending time with the wife and kids. No writing, no running, no additional housework. And yet by the end of a day spent playing trivia games and watching movies, I was entirely run down.

But the big good news is that the wife has completed the manuscript for a novel which is now making the rounds among her colleagues, and that includes me.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Process X

In the room.
This week I ran out of writing prompts.

On a whim last fall I looked up “writing prompts” and found 365 Creative Writing Prompts at They weren’t super involved, many of them focusing on one or two words. “Dancing” or “First Kiss”.

I found these to be much more liberating and inspiring. Many prompt books or online lists are too detailed. “Write about a time you disappointed someone.” Well, that makes it specifically about me, doesn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t have to be, but that’s where the mind first goes.

“Write about your virtual plans for the Thanksgiving holiday.” I mean, that’s a journal entry. I guess it’s aspirational, but not really.

Maybe I should start again from the beginning though I would like to try something new. So many of these prompts resulted in short plays, and many of those were turned into videos last Spring, at the beginning of the pandemic. Looking them over, I think of those. Gotta try something new.

This past week, James and I visited labor and delivery at University Hospitals. Next year is the twentieth anniversary of the events which inspired I Hate This (a play without the baby) and plans are afoot to bring that show to a wider audience.

James has never experienced childbirth, not from the outside, anyway, so this was a wonderful opportunity to know the space and to work with the text.

Okay, this is a big weekend. I have two weeks to finish two big assignments, fortunately there are no assignments for either of those specific classes this holiday week. And my full-length (which is not, I feel, full-length, but) is in good shape to be read the following week.

In fact, there were a few notes my advisor gave me that I was able to incorporate. "Breadcrumbs." Moments to keep the audience on their toes, even as the protagonists go on about 1980s teen movies, life ... everything, really.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Process IX

Here’s a thing: if everything were normal, I would be getting up every morning at 5:30 AM. So there’s that. We're all getting more sleep.

Thursday night Chennelle came over, she’d signed up for a playwriting workshop sponsored by The Playwrights Realm in NYC: Writing Impossible Plays In Impossible Times. To remain socially distant, I lit the fire bowl and we had Christmas ale and made smores and collaborated with some fifty or more other theater artists from my laptop, set on a small table.

This is now. Interacting with artists around the country. Spending more time than usual out of doors. The Zoom phenomenon is wearying, but it has made us do, by necessity, things we may have chosen to do before, but did not.

We used to be so tightly focused on here. Without the pandemic I may not have been offered the opportunity in this manner with writers far and wide. Having been offered the opportunity, I may have passed on it. Would I prefer to be delivering a curtain speech at the Hanna, attending a concert at the high school, going out to dinner and a show with my wife? Of course, no question. But it is worth noting what is here, and what we have, and what we have chosen to do in this situation, with this situation.

Asking Julie to participate in my reading, two weeks ago, was dreamlike. I haven’t seen her perform since 1990. Thirty years. It was like a joyful moment from the past, made real. Like no time had passed. So that is something that would not have happened otherwise.

There was a high school which obtained the rights to perform one of my plays. It’s always fun to see the sets and costumes for high school productions of my plays, so I do a little creeping. It’s a school in the Midwest and so I checked out their website and sure enough, they have by all accounts done little to protect their students. Lots of photos of students in class, at social events, holding parades. I think I saw one mask below a student’s chin, like a neck-warmer.

A notice was posted a week ago suggesting the fall play may or may not be live-streamed. It was supposed to open last night, and there was a new notice that it has been postponed. Cases are spiking there. They are spiking everywhere.

Okay homework. I must facilitate a roundtable discussion on an essay by Ralph Ellison. And I will be mapping out my next horror story. As usual, there is too much I want to say with it. I think the challenge is to compose a brief jump scare. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Process VIII

Every country has a monster
They're afraid of in their nation.
No, I haven’t done any writing this week. Has anyone?

What I have been doing, what has helped me cope with stress while we all waited for the votes to roll in, was a return to live, interactive arts education. In addition to the asynchronous work we have been creating, the education team conducted multi-day residencies in Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet with home school students from the new “Studio 1062”.

This cannot be overstated. I haven’t even been a full-time actor-teacher for over fifteen years, I just train them. But having the opportunity to interact in real time with even a half-dozen students, guiding them through classic works, was a tremendously edifying experience.

For “dark fiction” class I will need to write another short story, and this week I realized what the subject of that story would be. I’d like to try an outright monster story, inspired by the land of my ancestors. Not England, not Norway -- no, we discovered shortly after my father died that his family originated in Luxembourg.

He was adopted as a child, and never expressed much interest in his birth parents. But he did relent and provide DNA for a test shortly before he passed, and so I learned that my history is Luxembourgian. Which is interesting because, well. It’s not. There’s nothing interesting about Luxembourg, a tiny, landlocked country that makes Belgium look positively intimidating.

But they do have a monster, as we learned a few years ago on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in the "Kaiju Rap (Every Country has a Monster)":
Kropermann is a monster from Luxembourg
Who's actually the size of Luxembourg
He crushed the whole country of Luxembourg
Because he is the size of Luxembourg
Kropermann does not actually crush people, Jonah and the bots are simply making a little joke about the relatively diminutive size of Luxembourg, which is really small. The population of the entire country is a little over half a million people. You can spit across Luxembourg.

See? I am allowed to make fun of Luxembourg. But you can’t.

Kropermann is a pretty scary monster, though. And I have an idea for how to bring it to life.