Thursday, December 30, 2021

Ten Creative Projects from 2021

"The Children Who Played at Slaughtering"
(Art: Chris Gleason)

I’m not horribly prolific, but considering it took forty years before I decided it was time to call myself a playwright (as opposed to an actor or a director) I am at least gratified to create one play a year. Sometimes they even get produced. 

Last year I wrote Forget About Me (The Breakfast Club Play) and over the course of one year had submitted that one to forty-five different places; theaters, competitions, and festivals. Beginning January 1, I expect to receive a number of rejections and also a lot of silence.

No matter. As the man said, “Move on.” I have already begun submitting my new play, No One Wants To Work Anymore. I have a job. I have my family and my health. The work continues, and move on.

These are ten artistic projects I have been involved with in some capacity during 2021.

Mrittika Chatterjee
"What Happened"
(Chennai Art Theatre)
Savory Taṇhā (sixteen short plays performed by a rotating ensemble)

The year began with fully-realized Zoom performances of this piece, produced by Cleveland Public Theatre and presented over three weekends with the company performing different roles for four different iterations of the script. If it was possible to have a live theatrical event during the shutdown, this was it.

What Happened produced by Chennai Art Theatre 

As things began to open up in other parts of the world, a postponed performance of I Hate This, re-titled What Happened for Indian audiences, opened in Chennai. For the first time, this monodrama was divided between two actors. Chennai Art Theatre remounted the work in Pondicherry in October!

All-Ohio Thespian Show: Time Capsule 

This year the All-Ohio Thespian Show was an online collection of short films called Time Capsule, chronicling the year 2020, season by season. It was all-original, written and produced by the students themselves, directed by Chennelle Bryant-Harris. I was tapped as dramaturge and New York-based artist SMJ was the movement coach.

The Children Who Played at Slaughtering

The NEOMFA Playwrights Festival went virtual in 2021, short films were adapted from short play scripts. My piece was an animation from my take on the Grimm’s Folk Tale, The Children Who Played at Slaughtering, directed by Dan Riordan, animation by Chris Gleason. It’s a seriously bent piece of work and I fear that if it is ever posted online it may ruin my career as the writer of children’s plays.

The Negative Zone (comic book)

My final project for a course in Comics Studies and Queer Theory was a book adapted from a short play scripts about comic book shops from the early 1980s. Every Saturday for ten weeks I spent the entire day (or longer) creating one page. I’m pretty pleased with the result, which you can read as a digital comic for only $1.99.

I Hate This produced by Playhouse Square

Last spring we recorded an amazing filmed version of our story, performed by James Rankin, and also directed by Chennelle. Ananias Dixon as videographer also played a major role in the shape the work has taken. We are still trying to decide the best way to present this piece, but I am grateful that it is done. It’s something I have fantasized about for over fifteen years.

"Sherlock Holmes Meets the
Bully of Baker Street"
(Jupiter Christian School)
The Great Lakes Theater School Residency Program

For (over) twenty years I have been working with actors to bring the residency program into area schools. This year is different, for too many reasons. But the people are so good.

Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street

Last Spring I was delighted to learn that not only was my Holmesian pastiche to be published by Pioneer Drama Service, but that the script had received the Shubert Fendrich Memorial Playwriting Award! 

Schools in the United States and Canada are now taking up their own productions of Sherlock and Vicky running down missing paintings and the bully of Baker Street (see photo from the Jupiter Christian School production, right). 

It is madness to think that only two years ago we were creating the original production for live performance in area schools.

School Residency Program
(Great Lakes Theater)
10 Minutes to Midnight: 9 Quirky Plays for the Holidays

There was a time when a major part of my creative output was shepherding writers to create short plays on a single theme, and I was very gratified to be one writer in such a project curated by someone else. Directed by Caitlin Lewins with Ananias, for Cleveland Public Theatre, this was a delightful way to end the year. 

NEOMFA Playwrights Festival 2022

The world is shutting down, again. Don’t act surprised. Last week there was a small gathering to read through those plays which (maybe, hopefully) will be presented at the NEOMFA Playwrights Festival at convergence-continuum in early 2022. I have a ten minute play which is (currently) titled The Ocean Breathes Salty. What’s crazy is that two of the four actors in this ten-minute piece attended Camp Theater! in years past.

However the new year shapes up, we will create. It's what we do, right?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Smile (book)

Sarah Ruhl
(Sally Deng, New York Times)
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The book I chose to read over Christmas break, this year more like a three-day weekend, was Smile by Sarah Ruhl (Dead Man’s Cell Phone, In the Next Room) a memoir in which she recounts her struggles with Bell’s palsy, an affliction which left one side of her face partially paralyzed following the birth of twins in 2010.

It was not the easiest book for me to read, I found myself sighing and wincing often as I read it, prompting my wife to ask if I was all right. I have never or not yet experienced this kind of physical trauma, but Ruhl honestly describes feelings of both rage and helplessness toward certain members of the medical community who failed her, and I have felt that.

I have known helplessness, and I have known rage. She shares several incidents, in detail, as members of the medical community continue to disappoint her, and is unapologetic for her disgust with their personal as well as professional failings. It made me regret those times I have pulled my punches in my writing, the edits I have made over the years to soften certain tales.

Ruhl recounts an episode in which she was escalating a stairwell and her legs entirely failed to work, she just pitched forward, with her body’s momentum. It is fortunate she was not terribly hurt. I was reminded of that time two years ago, when my mother claimed she “missed a step” on her way downstairs in her home. She struck her head on a bannister, leaving a shiner and a nasty web of scabs on her brow through our final Thanksgiving together.

As the extent and effect of my mother’s illness became more apparent, it was clear to me that she had not missed a step, but that her brain was ceasing to send messages to the right side of her body. Shortly after the accident she could no longer write. My mother's ability to write did not degenerate over time, one day she could write with a pen, the next she could not.

It is hard not to see this as a betrayal, when our body, our own self, refuses to obey.

One of the great lessons of this book is that there is no one way to manage (to quote another playwright) the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Not one religion, not one philosophy, not one path of medicine, not one course of therapy. There are known and unknown palliatives and cures in their thousands to ease our imperfect selves and souls.

That her journey would lead to Buddhism appeared to me to be inevitable, though she has engaged with it deeper than I have, which is an inspiration and not a shame.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Ten Recommended Posts from 2021

The most-visited posts for the year generally surround events which prick an immediate interest, or address a pertinent subject. But all year I record what’s going on, professionally, personally (to a limited degree), stuff I’m inspired to comment on, books I’ve read.

The History of Underground Comix

Taking a graduate level course in Comics Studies and Queer Theory was an attempt to rectify an ancient wrong, and in the process I learned so much about where we have gone and where we are going with the artform.


People liked Diana, the Musical. A lot of people, I have seen them say so on Twitter. It will be remembered. There was once a musical about a controversial member of the British royal family which history has chosen to forget.

Twenty Years On

This blog entry. I can’t believe I wrote this. I am so glad I wrote this. I do not remember writing this, but I must have because it is entirely accurate and I want to re-read it every year until I die.

The Frantic Four

Regret is a useless thing (see below) and yet, there is nothing I regret so much as how little I wrote as a high school student. When I did attempt to write, my efforts were colossal failures, but I wish I had more of them. One thing I did do was to script a (highly derivative) superhero satire for a local comic book store.

Prom 2021

When the historic Cleveland Heights High School received a major and beautiful renovation several years back, we took pride in the fact that our eldest was a member of the first class to enter and to spend four years in our “new” building. But if the past five years (or five weeks) have taught us anything, it is not to project too far into the future.

Music Television: Forty Years On

Reading Annie Zaleski’s book Duran Duran’s Rio led to a musical reconsideration of that album, a masterpiece from a band which has generally been minimized to their image. Having said that, their image (and that of so many others represented on MTV) also made an indelible impression on the person I was to become and absolutely shaped the generation we call X.

To Maine By Canada (1996)

There was a period in my life when I was never entirely on vacation. Any road trip was not merely an occasion to take in the local theater scene, but to learn from it, to be inspired by it, maybe even to steal from it.

On Regret

Two roads diverged … Sorry, could I not travel both? Some thoughts on dreams deferred.


The memoir by Sinéad O'Connor was a reintroduction to an artist whose work I had always admired, and an opportunity to better understand her decisions, which have always seemed bizarre to the general public. The work has meaning, fame does not. Life is important, too. 

On Submissions

“Suit the play to the submission, the submission to the play, with this special observance that you closely read the application.” - HAM III.ii

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Ten Most Visited Posts from 2021

Since beginning this blog in 2010, I have used it as a repositority for research, to report on works-in-progress, to flog productions and publications, promote the work of others, file book reports, to keep track of my progress pursuing my MFA, and to opine about matters pertaining to the world of theater.

Some posts go viral, most do not. I have a dedicated following of about two dozen folks (hello.) Every now and then something catches everyody's attention, and that's nice.

For some odd reason, the most popular posts of the year were written in the past couple months. You'd think I would have accumulated more views for stuff from the beginning of the year. I think I have had a lot to say this season. Might have something to do with going the fuck outside. 

Here now, my most visited posts from the year 2021.

10. On Execution
You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger.
Be heard.
9. “Hadestown” at the Walter Kerr Theatre

Having the opportunity to take my sixteen year-old to New York to attend a Broadway show was a highlight of the year. My own excitement to be back in the city was leavened by how much I learned about him during our brief stay.

Brian Pedaci
"Savory Taṇhā"
8. On Clichés

When does it become all right not to tell the entire fable, but just to reference it? You know what story I’m talking about. It’s in your nature.

7. “Savory Taṇhā” at Cleveland Public Theatre

As the shutdown lifted (for better or for worse) and live, in-performance resumed, I realized I was not as overwhelmed by the experience of re-engaging in theatrical performance as so many others, and much of this is due to the opportunity afforded my by Cleveland Public Theatre, presenting Savory Taṇhā live via Zoom, first as a weekend of workshops in summer 2020, and then as a full three-week run early this year.

Sylka Edmondson
Katie Wells
"10 Minutes to Midnight"
6. 10 Minutes to Midnight: 9 Quirky Plays for the Holidays

This is still playing and you should see it!

5. 2021 Shubert Fendrich Memorial Playwriting Award

This was a delightful surprise, receiving this award, and since the announcement, Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street has been licensed for production in schools in the United States and Canada.

4. On Trigger Warnings

Things have changed. Things have absolutely changed, and the world is divided into those who have the agency to say we must do things differently and those who say no, I want to do things the same way we always have. I find that those who oppose content warnings do not present compelling arguments for why they shouldn’t exist. 

3. Juke Box Hero

Part of my rock and roll fantasy (I mean – it’s all part of my rock and roll fantasy) has been to be able to play drums successfully with a band, and one night this fall I had my shot and I took it.

2. The “I Hate This” Series

When our video recording of I Hate This (performed by James Rankin) is released some time in the new year it will have been worth the wait. Several posts documenting the process of creating this work would individually take several places on this list, so in the interest of variety I added them up to represent one single entry. I am grateful this story has attracted so much attention.

James Alexander Rankin
"I Hate This"
Photo by Cody York
1. Philip Johnson (Revisited)

Upon the announcement that the Cleveland Clinic plans to bulldoze the edifice which former housed the Cleveland Play House (which should have come as a surprise to absolutely no one) there were a few days of outrage express not only by those who have strong memories of their time in the space, but also many who have no personal interest in Cleveland theater history but felt it necessary to malign the Clinic on principle.

Many argued that the space should be kept and maintained as an arts facility (though none would volunteer to shepherd such a project) and were unimpressed when I suggested that if the largest performing arts organization in the region found the place financially untenable, Lord knows some coalition of small arts organizations would also.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Process XLIX

Fall 2021 draws to a close. Turned in my “final first draft” of No One Wants to Work Anymore. I did not do any major restructuring, only spent hours embroidering the dialogue to address issues of clarity and intention suggested by our professor.

Also, a reflection on the second half of the semester in Dramatic Structure, pulling together the work of several 20th century playwrights and how they have influenced and continue to influence my own work.

I have returned to rehearsals at work, training one new team. This is exhausting, as I am focusing all of my attention on only two people for eight hours a day. It is enjoyable, emotionally fulfilling work, but by the end of the day I am not merely exhausted, but feel ill. That is how exhausted I get.

I also can’t seem to sleep past four in the morning. The holiday break cannot come soon enough. I am almost grateful not to be traveling to Britain. Almost, not quite.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

10 Minutes to Midnight (In Performance)

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
Opening night of 10 Minutes to Midnight at Cleveland Public Theatre was sold out. I was stunned. And so pleased. Given the wide selection of holiday offerings, either already playing or opening this weekend, why attend a new show, one that’s description is vague enough to suggest it could be absolutely anything:
This holiday season, CPT shares humor, heart, and a party-like celebration, wrapped in a montage of short holiday (or non-holiday) plays. Part variety show, part cabaret, and part 10-minute play festival, "10 Minutes to Midnight" celebrates the breadth of holiday happenings (or non-happenings) in this seasonal extravaganza dosed with live music, fun-sized scenes, hilarity, and humanity.
There’s a lot of promises in there. Is it a party? I believe it is, from the jump there was a lot of enthusiastic answering back from the crowd. It’s certainly a 10-minute play festival, running the gamut from a fictional 90s sitcom Christmas episode, Millennials discussing the perils of possible procreation, and one particularly inspiring piece about the greatest love of all (and no, it’s not that.)

The great thing about a short play festival is that if you’re not into one piece, it won’t last long and then you get something else, brand new! Taken together, however, these scenes do communicate a shared humanity, and also a shared anxiety, but ultimately a communal joy.

I was reminded, somewhat, of the “vaudevilles” the company would present back in their early years, some thirty years ago. This show isn’t the same as those, the vaudevilles were like an open mic night for theater, and the content could be wide-ranging in its theme and polish. But the democracy of the CPT stage is something which continues. It is a very inclusive show, which is to say we are all included.

Andrew Aaron Valdez & Cait Butler
I sat in the back, in the middle, watching the house fill to capacity around me, chatting with a surprise old friend, like me unencumbered this particular evening by either a partner or child. How to describe the feeling, the mood among the assembled, recognizable supporters of CPT, coming together, in this space, for the first time in nearly two years.

After the show, many people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed my play. I was never sure which one they meant. I have this strange, internal conflict regarding opening night post-show events. Seeing as how I work for a theater company I need to attend several of these a year and while I love to meet and greet and catch up with the folks involved in the production, those who have no time to socialize at all for the previous month or so, I also have a degree of social anxiety that makes me just want to ghost.

And yet, I felt this warm compulsion to reach out to as many members of the ensemble and creative team as I could to thank them for their work. As I was leaving, I said to a colleague. “Okay, I have to ghost,” which was a stupid thing to say because announcing you are ghosting is antithetical to doing it. Also, most of the crowd had already gone, which meant it was time for us all to go, anyway.

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "Ten Minutes to Midnight: 9 Quirky Plays for the Holidays" directed by Cailtin Lewins, continues through Sunday, December 18, 2021.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Process XLVIII

Joseph Beuys
Technology was not my friend this week. Not only for my Thursday night in-class presentation on Joseph Beuys, but also my Friday morning Styles seminar for seniors. Just to remember, never incorporate YouTube into my PowerPoint, it creates a variety of confusion.

It’s not that I was reliant on the app, but how long do you try to figure it out before flying without it? It’s frustrating. It makes me look unprofessional, and I hate that.

We were to choose an artist to present and our professor had presented us with a list but I was stuck. Choose someone I was already familiar with? That didn’t seem like learning, so I asked him to suggest someone, and he chose Beuys.

I’m not going to recap what I learned here, suffice to say there is a world of art out there with which I am shockingly ignorant. How could someone be so enigmatic and significant and yet I had never heard of him?

Last night 10 Minutes to Midnight: 9 Quirky Plays for the Holidays opened at Cleveland Public Theatre to a sold out house. I think my experience deserves its own post, for now I just wish to point up the program’s content warning on the website:
Content Warning: 10 Minutes to Midnight includes adult language, and themes of domestic violence, religion, sickness, and drug use.
My two, two-minute plays alone include adult language, sickness and (egads) religion.

Holidays and holiday shows can be fraught. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Christie’s “World War One” story, and so to close my session with the seniors at Vitalia yesterday morning, I shared the animated short "December 25, 1914" from Simple Gifts. It brought women my mother’s age to tears. But they said it was beautiful.