Friday, December 16, 2022

On Understudies & Swings

Roger Allam & Susan Fleetwood
"Much Ado About Nothing"
(Royal Shakespeare Company, 1990)
Ms. Fleetwood does not appear.
One of my favorite theater experiences was when our school group was in Stratford-Upon-Avon in late 1990. A blizzard socked the area, and the roads were impassable.

The plan for the morning was a matinee of Much Ado About Nothing starring Roger Allam and Susan Fleetwood. We were staying at an inn right in town, but anyone who was driving in from anywhere to see the show were out of luck. So few were in attendance they announced it would be general seating, so instead of the balcony some of us chose the third row.

The stage manager came on stage to address the audience, looking bemused. She explained it may be an RSC record, with no fewer than six actors assuming roles for those performers stranded in the outskirts, and several members of crew. But the show was going on!

And it was marvelous. We saw actors whispering dance choreography to each other during the party scene, and I noted one time someone said a line twice. Other than that, they stuck the landing, including the comparatively young woman who stood in for Ms. Fleetwood as Beatrice.

This was when I learned a very important lesson: Without the understudy, there is no show.

Once upon a time we said, “The show must go on!” And actors with fevers and vertigo would pump themselves up with antihistamines and pain relievers would muscle through. It was expected. COVID has changed all that, and rightly so.

This does mean that, unfortunately, smaller theaters may need to close a show due to illness, and this has happened many times. Last year, as the Omicron variant was rising, theaters right here in Cleveland closed their holiday shows early, one after another.

Today, our professional theaters make more time to prepare understudies and also budget for swings.
“While an understudy is usually a smaller or ensemble role within the main cast of a production, a swing is an offstage performer who only goes on if someone in the ensemble is unable to do so. A swing most often does not cover principal roles in a show.”
- Dramatics Magazine
Desmond Sean Ellington crushed it.
Attending a show and discovering that an understudy is going on has become more and more common. I myself have made pre-show announcements this season, more than once, that someone other than listed in the program will be going on.

Last Tuesday, the family went to see the touring production of Hamilton at the KeyBank State Theatre. That night Burr was played by Desmond Sean Ellington who usually plays Mulligan/Madison (that role assumed by John Devereaux) and this was exciting to know; that something different was happening that night, just for us. He delivered a beautiful rendition of “Wait For It” and ferociously stuck the landing in “The Room Where It Happens” which are absolutely my two favorite songs in the show.

Opening weekend of the world premiere of The Land of Oz at Dobama Theatre, my good friend Sarah Blubaugh went on as Mombi the Witch. It’s exciting when a friend goes on, and others show to support them. In the past, I have made understudy announcements at the Hanna and there are cheers from supporters who attended just to see them.

I myself decided to attend opening night of Oz, which I did not have on my calendar, when Sarah gave me the word that afternoon that she was going on. Unfortunately, the power went out ten minutes into the performance. If you live in Cleveland Heights, you know. I did, however, get to see the entire show, with her in it, that Sunday night.

It’s a delightful show, Sarah was delightful in it, and if they didn’t have her as a swing, the entire first weekend may not have been possible.

Next time you hear there is an understudy, give a cheer! Because otherwise, you just wasted all that money on the babysitter.  

Sunday, December 11, 2022

"A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest (2022)

Actor Lynn Robert Berg greets and awards a
writing contest school winner on stage
at the Mimi Ohio Theatre.
Since 1989, Great Lakes Theater has produced a writing contest for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, in association with the annual production of Gerald Freedman’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

This past season was my tenth year shepherding the program, which involves engaging English Language Arts teachers throughout the district to participate in the program, contracting the readers who will choose the most original and creative works from the written entries, and making arrangements for all participating students to attend one of two free student matinees of the production.

The past two holidays seasons have been disheartening, to say the least, as there was no stage production of A Christmas Carol in 2020 (though GLT did produce an excellent radio adaptation that year) and while the show went on in 2021, the fact that vaccinations were not yet available to students twelve and younger made student matinees untenable.

The writing contest continued, however. But with remote instruction and without the promise of matinees for students, participation was depressed, which is entirely understandable. For me, however, it was one more of a raft of disappointments during a very difficult period.



In order to revive interest in the contest this year, GLT offered writing workshops to any teachers interested in receiving them. This past fall I conducted twenty such hour-long workshops at schools across the city. While exhausting (and taxing on my voice) it was very inspiring to be able to make a direct connection with so many students – in person – and to engage them in the craft of creative writing.

Here’s the thing; I always wanted to write. When I was a child, I wrote. But my efforts were ever promoted. They were never fostered. Not by my parents, my efforts were outright derided by my brothers’ friends. There was always someone to tell me what I was doing wrong, no one took me aside to show me how to do it right. It took me a long time before I realized it was something I could do. Someone I could be.



In these workshops, there wasn’t a lot of time to cover structure, apart from the basics. What we did was brainstorm, create characters with motivations inspired by themes present in Dickens’ work. When a student offered up a character, I would ask questions about who they were, and where they were, and what they – the character – wanted. And then I asked them to write about that for a few minutes, then we would go further.

When all the entries were submitted, and six grand prize winners were chosen from over a thousand written entries, five of the six had participated in one of these writing workshops. But so many of the stories were so well written this year, whether they had received a workshop or not. Stories about love and acceptance, and grief and anger, about loss and doubt but also confidence and hope.



These kids, my kids, all of our kids, have been through so much these past years, and there is all this talk about how they are behind, in their education and in their socialization. But reading these stories, and hearing their voices as they reacted to a live performance at those student matinees of A Christmas Carol, I see so many strong, resilient, and thoughtful young people.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Ten Recommended Posts from 2022

Post-Operative
I can’t even determine what were my most visited posts of the past year, the amount of visits have inflated beyond anything I have previously experienced, which means that either a) my blog has suddenly gotten very popular or b) they’re all bots.

Even the most basic post about my ongoing experiences in grad school receive over two hundred notices a week and I am here to tell you, they really don’t.

However, I have posted some essays this year which I feel might warrant a second (or first) look, and here is a list of those.

1. Secret New Year’s Getaway (Parts One & Two)

A set of aging Gen Xers risk the Omicron variant for a romantic weekend in NYC during which everything went perfectly well except for the original reason for which they had planned the trip.

Bryce Evan Lewis, Adrionna Powell Lawrence,
Jaime Bouvier
"The Witches"
(Cleveland Public Theatre, 2022)
2. On Self-Control

While writing a new script, I delve into the darker elements of my childhood and how I evolved into the witty but restrained raconteur I am today.

3. On Social Anxiety

Picture says a thousand words, this one just says “loser” over and over again.

4. Phil Collins

He’s the only one who really knew me at all.

5. On Solo Performance

Notes on this particular form of performance and the best cheeseburger I ever ate.

6. The History of Western Civilization (play)

No, seriously. It’s all the guns. This year marked the thirtieth anniversary of Guerrilla Theater Company, and one of our members wrote a really great piece about the American gun epidemic.

7. On Abortion

In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade, a recollection of one heady summer of street protest.

8. On Sight (Pre-Operative, Post-Operative, Recovery

The vision in one eye was compromised by a detached retina. The operation and recovery took place while my family was out of town.

Guerrilla Theater Company, 1992
9. I Hate This (playlist)

Much of the fall centered around the premiere of the film adaptation of this solo performance on stillbirth. I provided this deep dive into the musical inspiration for the original stage production, which was also included in the film.

10. Leaving Twitter

Pretty self-explanatory. It is a decision which daily proves to have been the right one.

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.   

Falling
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

Process LXXVIII

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. đŸ§” #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.
  • I’M CAMILLA PARKER-BOWLES
  • 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 CrĂŒe’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.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Process LXXVI

So, I was feeling like I was getting seriously behind in my work and spent all of Sunday and Monday editing the new script for Oatman’s playwriting workshop and by class I had completed a first draft of what I am currently calling After Roe.

What’s crazy is that it actually works.

During my interviews I was asking everyone the same few questions and I was concerned that all the subjects would end up sounding the same. Not only did that not happen (and why was I concerned that it might) but as a result there were several places where they dovetail nicely together, creating what almost sounds like a conversation.

The man thinks I need more hard-edged voices. I’m not sure I can do that. The thing I have decided is that this is not journalism. This is advocacy. And presenting strong voices of opposition, well, first of all, fuck those people, but also, I should inevitably make them sound like assholes and I have enough integrity not to do that.

Am I preaching to the choir with this endeavor? No, I am not. If anything, I am providing an education to those who may not have a broad understanding of the subject, including those who already support the issue.

Which is to say, I spoke with a lot of very intelligent and thoughtful people. It’s their words. I just put it together into an entertaining evening.

Monday I also received certified documents from the state of Ohio which I sent right back out to Jackson County, Missouri. The question now is whether or not I get what I am requesting before the end of the semester. It’s kind of a big deal.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Response to "I Hate This: A Play Without the Baby"

Photo by Cody York
Over the past two weeks, over six hundred people visited the Playhouse Square website to view the film adaptation of I Hate This: A Play Without the Baby, performed by James Rankin, directed by Chennelle Bryant-Harris and filmed by Ananias J. Dixon.

Here are some heartfelt responses the film received, shared with permission.

Via Instagram:
Paul: Your play was powerful. At times I struggled watching it because I could so closely connect to it. Our experiences with stillbirth were almost identical. 

My son Noah was born still 2/2/18 and every detail of that day is burned into my memory, & it forever will be. You experience a wave of every emotion imaginable, and it's difficult to talk to others about those emotions if they haven't experience the same trauma. 

Everything you detailed in your play, from the shock of them telling you they can't find a heart beat, to the memorial service you held, to trying to remove your wife from any trigger (like formula fliers coming in the mail) are the same things I experienced as a husband & father. 

It's been a challenging 4.5 years without Noah. I have his name tattooed on my forearm because I can't physically see him every day but never want to forget. That's all I want from others is to never forget our boy. I appreciate your willingness to share your own experience so beautifully.
Via Facebook:
Lynna: I have seen David perform it years ago and heard the radio version, but it is such a heartbreakingly beautiful play and so worth watching this iteration, performed so wonderfully by James Rankin.

Sarah: This play is such an important play. It's a deep and raw story that David found a way to shape and share with us. 

In this particular point in time of the reversal of Roe vs Wade, this play is even more important. This play, now a film, I cannot emphasize enough that folks should see it if they are able to.
Via email:
Bronwynn: A sensitive, real, multi-dimensional performance ... I love the play's theatricality mixed with realism. By getting glimpses of the couple moving forward for a year beyond their loss, it makes it possible for the audience to endure the experience of their loss. Bravo.

I am so grateful to have had this experience this month, and the to have chance once again tell our story. Many thanks to everyone involved.

Today is the final day of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, and tomorrow the link will no longer be available through the Playhouse Square site. Please reach out to me directly if you would like to arrange a viewing for your hospital, clinic or bereavement support group.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Process LXXV

We voted. OKAY?
I was telling someone the other day that my stress level had dropped considerably since we had last communicated a few weeks ago. Then, thinking about it, I realized that is not true.

Just because I do not feel fucking insane does not mean I am not anxious. And there is a lot to be anxious about. We voted on Wednesday, which was cool, that we can still do that. Vote early, I mean. As a white man in America my ability to vote has always been guaranteed.

See? And like that, I am in a spiral of insecurity and doubt about the state of the nation. I weighed the pros and cons of leaving Twitter and it’s not even close. I am hoping that will bring down my stress level, which is, I realize, actually high.

We are negotiating issues regarding my thesis production.

I am waiting by the mail for certified copies of vital certificates.

Yesterday was the deadline for the A Christmas Carol Writing Contest and so I had a lot of data to process and deliver.

"The Thin Place"
by Lucas Hnath
(Dobama Theatre, 2022)
I have this crazy idea that I might have a draft of my Roe/Dobbs play prepared by the end of the weekend.

(If we were still living in the aughts I would name that play Roe/Dobbs, didn’t all plays have a slash mark in their title for a while?)

Creative nonfiction workshop went well, only now that the season has turned I am driving home in the dark and I hate that. The vision in my left eye is blurry and night driving has become fraught.

Friday night I watched a play. The Thin Place at Dobama Theatre. It reminded me that the best thing I can contribute to the art of theater is my attendance.

And that's it, for the week. Okay? Okay.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Leaving Twitter

So I decided to delete my Twitter account. 

I have taken this step not without a little anxiety. I have gotten used to communicating with a wide variety of wonderful people I have never met in person, in some cases may never meet, on a daily basis.

I have also offended a great many people that I didn’t even mean to. Because of Twitter.

Thirteen years of my life are chronicled on Twitter.

But are they? It’s mostly trivia, promotions and shitposting. My children’s photos aren’t there, my plays aren’t there.

My more complicated thoughts aren’t there — some of those are here, though, on this blog. I'm keeping this blog.

Have I made a single dime from Twitter? Advanced my career? Has anyone produced my work because I posted about it on Twitter? I don’t think so.

Lin-Manuel Miranda liked this one.
Twitter aggravates me. Unwelcome posts by horrible people aggravate me. I don’t need to be made aware of their daily nonsense. Their power to irk me lowers my resolve. It makes me lose hope. Tell me what else Twitter does for me can possibly balance that out.

Now that an authoritarian-curious cartoon villain billionaire dingbat has purchased the company, what can I do but absent myself, and hope that others follow.

Let you in on a secret. I bought stock when it went public. To see what might happen. Nothing did. Hung onto it until I might dump it at an appropriate moment, and that moment was yesterday. Made a little cash, but not much.

Anyway, I’m nervous. And excited. It’s like kicking a bad habit. It is kicking a bad habit.

You can find me here.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Hamlet by Jack Kerouac - or - You Crazy Dane

Professor Street Theater
Guerrilla Theater Company opened the doors at the Professor Street Theater thirty years ago today, on Friday, October 23, 1992. Our production was called You Have the Right to Remain Silent! which was fashioned as a game show, with the audience playing games to select from a list of titles which of twenty-one short plays we would perform next.

If that sounds like the Neo-Futurists, you're not wrong. Anyone performing short plays in a random order could be accused of the same, but the plays were original, and so were we.

That night we actually recorded the show on cassette tape. The performance sounds a bit rough, but it was opening night and I am still amazed we got through it. We were so young, and callow.

The show started with two plays, back-to-back, about toxic masculinity. Like, they both feature men shouting horrible things at women. Makes me wonder if some members of the audience were concerned about what they’d gotten themselves into.

Then there’s Hamlet by Jack Kerouac, which some might have heard before, even if they’d never been to Guerrilla, as I cannibalized the entire piece for These Are the Times. It’s one of two pieces I had written which were in the half of the performance that was recorded. It’s just the kind of cerebral drollery you might expect from a theatrical hipster.


The less said about the other piece I had written, the better. Let’s just say the propensity for young Cleveland actors to complain about their being shut out of local professional theater companies is nothing recent.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Process LXXIV

Before/After
Good news! The screening was a success, and Playhouse Square and University Hospitals also have made streaming I Hate This: A Play Without the Baby available for free through the end of the month. Over four hundred viewers have seen it in just five days, and I hope to make it available to others in the future.

Interviews for workshop are winding down, which is good. I never intended the play to be just a series of individual monologues, I want to find common themes and even similar phrasing to braid them together into a chorus.

“Braided narrative.” That’s a term I learned in craft and theory last week. I Hate This is a braided narrative. It always has been.

And I need to continue plotting my adaptation. Let me rephrase that, I need to begin plotting my narrative.

This week I also enrolled for next semester, my last semester of grad school. What a remarkable feeling. Four months from now my thesis production will be in the rearview and really, that’s it. I don’t want to get too maudlin about this, but it truly has been enjoyable. How would I have survived the shutdown without it?

I have a little under three weeks to complete the first draft of my creative writing essay. I could expand that thing into a book. Or better yet, a play. Really. I like writing plays.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Process LXXIII

Read all the way to the bottom for a special video announcement.

Is transcribing an interview writing? Is editing a transcribed interview creative writing? Is it not simply reiterating what was said? To date I have conducted fifteen interviews on the subject of women’s reproductive rights, spoken to a variety of women on the subject. 

And now I, one not born with a uterus, will edit these conversations into a play for performance on a stage.

Is this writing? And do I have the right to do this? Is it appropriate for me to compose a work on the subject of abortion when it does not affect me directly.

Of course, it does affect me directly. It affects members of my family and so it affects me. But it does not affect my physical person. Me, I am not threatened by this particular violation of civil rights, the right to bodily autonomy.

However, if I put forth the words of those who are – not my words, theirs – am I not doing right by them?

Workshop met in person on Monday night at a local tavern and before class started we spent about a half-hour, the three of us shooting the shit about David Mamet and August Wilson and ill-fated adaptations and whether or not a playwright should give any consideration at all to how some future director interprets their script I realized, “Oh! This is the class!”

We did read and received comments on the monologues we have created, and it does appear that progress is being made.

Also this week, I began to dig into the attic for my creative nonfiction project, reading letters my grandparents sent to each other during the early thirties, when my grandfather was a commercial sailor on the Great Lakes. Grandmother reported the several miscarriages she suffered during that time while he waxed poetic about the lakes and the many cities where they made port: Lorain, Detroit, Chicago, Duluth.

Reading my grandmother describe in details the physical manifestations of her losses, the week I Hate This premieres at Playhouse Square, and also conducting these many interviews about pregnancy and abortion have been overwhelming.

For example, before class on Thursday I was on my way across town and decided to stop in at an abandoned cemetery, seeking the grave of a child who lived an hour. Yes, I did.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

I Hate This (playlist)

When the time came to create the original music for the original 2003 stage production of I Hate This, I gave composer Dennis Yurich a CD with everything I had going on in my head. These are songs that just made sense at the time, some that have associations that pre-date Calvin's birth, and some that don't.

Perhaps I should explain. "CD" stands for "compact disc" an easily-damaged cache for digitally recorded music. 

You're welcome.

The themes Dennis created have been incorporated into the film adaptation that will screen on Saturday, October 15 at Playhouse Square. Here is a playlist of the songs included on that CD I shared with him.



Hospital Themes

For all themes taking place in the hospital, I wanted electronic music. Something suggesting a fast heartbeat.

1. Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead - "Kid A"
2. Idioteque by Radiohead - "Kid A"
3. Blame by Everything But the Girl - "Temperamental"
4. Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box by Radiohead - Amnesiac"

Released in 2000, I listened to Kid A a lot when driving back and forth from Tri-C during Bad Epitaph's production of Cloud 9. That was when Toni was first pregnant.

"Blame" is included for obvious reasons. Temperamental was released in 1999.

During FringeNYC 2001 there was a coffee house in Harris's neighborhood that I visited every morning. It seemed like all they played were Radiohead albums, each day a different Radiohead album. The Amnesiac track was also on a mix that a co-worker played for me in New Knoxville that fall.

Kid A is also the pre-show music I prefer when I perform I Hate This on stage. It brings me back to that time.

Brazilian Guitar Themes

5. August Day Song Bebel Gilberto - "Tanto Tempo"
6. August Day Song (King Britt remix) Bebel Gilberto - "Tanto Tempo Remixes"
7. Fragile Sting - "Nothing Like the Sun"
8. Fragil Sting - "Nada Como El Sol ..."

Photo by Cody York
I was washing dishes on a night in December, 2001 at the aforementioned housing in West Central Ohio, listening to that guy's mix CD, and was caught off-guard by King Britt remix of Bebel Gilberto's "August Day Song." 

I knew the tune, but couldn't place it. Toni had actually gotten me the original Tanto Tempo disc when it was released in 2000, but I hadn't listened to it that much at the time.

The Sting tracks were played at the memorial we held in late May. I like the Portuguese version because sometimes it's good not to hear certain things in English.

Those 70s Themes

9. Three Is a Magic Number by Bob Dorough - "Schoolhouse Rock"
10. Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold - "What's Wrong With This Picture"
11. Cat's In The Cradle by Harry Chapin - "Verities and Balderdash"

Thoughtless hold-music from a certain baby food company. A gag employed often on The Simpsons. We used them in the stage version, but not in the film. Theses ditties in particular were chosen because of their resonance with someone who may have been a small boy between the years of 1974 and 1976.

Music for Crying Out Loud

12. Gymnopedie No 1/Var.1 by Jacques Loussier Trio - "Satie: GymnopĂ©dies Gnossiennes"
13. Gymnopedie No 1/Var.3 by Jacques Loussier Trio - "Satie: GymnopĂ©dies Gnossiennes"
14. Gnossienne No 6 by Jacques Loussier Trio - "Satie: GymnopĂ©dies Gnossiennes"
15. Tales from the Far Side by Bill Frisell - "Bill Frisell Quartet"
16. Gutaris Breeze (6000km To Amsterdam) by John Beltram - "Late Night Beats: the Post-Club Sound of Britain"

Discovered in a shower around 4 am in late 1998 (yes, I heard it on NPR) the Loussier themes were among those that carried me through that bizarre depression I had in early 1999. Odd, that, because 1999 was one of the most fruitful and adventurous years of my life. The other pieces are also discoveries I made that year.

The Frisell track figured heavily on the Last Words episode of This American Life, which remains my favorite episode ever.

The Jacques Loussier album was used as pre-show music for the original staged reading at Dobama in August, 2002. Though no more depressing than listening to Kid A before a show (how many people hear the pre-show music, think "uh-oh" and leave?) the Satie themes are too gentle. I wanted a sense of unease to hit people as they came in, not the sense they were about to see a staged performance of something soft and sentimental.

-- Happy Families XTC - "She's Having a Baby"

Have you got Miss Carriage? 
She's the girl who wants a baby that she cannot find. 
Strange, the ones who want to win the race 
Are usually the ones who fall behind.

A British card game for kids. Sometimes you don't even care what the lyrics of certain songs mean until they start making sense. Currently unavailable on Spotify, you can listen to it here.


17. Kang Mandor by Degung Orchestra - "Putumayo Presents: Music From the Tea Lands"

Finally, there is Kang Mandor. I make reference to it in the scene "the Dream" and the very first time I heard it, in April, 2001, I just wept. It so entirely captured my imaginary summer of 2001, the summer I was going to have with my first-born child, the one I had not allowed myself to daydream about, and yet, it was captured in that recording. I have shared this with very few people until today.

Playhouse Square presents the premiere of the video adaptation of "I Hate This (A Play Without the Baby)" by David Hansen, directed by Chennelle Bryant-Harris and performed by James Alexander Rankin, in the Westfield Studio Theatre on Saturday, October 15, 2022. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Process LXXII

Read all the way to the bottom for a special video announcement.

This past week has been pretty incredible, actually. I am stressed by the wide variety of dishes I am carrying at one time … but here I am, carrying them.

To date I have conducted eight interviews for my “interview play” but by the end of the weekend I will have four more in the bag, a grand total of twelve. And they’re good, too.

Actually, now that I think of it, I have already conducted nine interviews. The ninth one is me, telling my story to someone I was speaking to. While taking a run yesterday I realized what I had said, spontaneously, without thinking about it, might make a better framing device than anything I could have written off the top of my head.

Meanwhile, I have conducted eleven writing workshops in the past two weeks, with another six scheduled for next week. They're fun! They're exhausting.  

It is with a certain amount of relief and trepidation I can report I have completed the first major essay for my creative nonfiction class. To be frank, I was intimated by the work of my colleagues and it made bringing this home a much greater challenge than it should have been. But there it is, completed. My hands were literally shaking during my presentation.

The big work for that class is well underway, too. I’m sorry to be so vague about what the subject of these works actually are, it will all come out one way or another, eventually. I will say this; I am investigating unknown elements of my family history. The main lesson I have taken from this class is to follow the research where it leads you. And it has already led me into places I had not realized I could go.