Saturday, March 26, 2022

Process LIX

Back in class and it feels so good! Except my back, my back does not feel good. I hope this does not become a thing.

I am on track to finish the first draft of my new “dream play”. There’s been a lot of buzz on social media about outlines, and whether or not you are a moron not to have created one. This play has no outline, though things do seem to be progressing towards a final resolution. I do not know if it is going to be victorious, tragic, or a mystery. I don’t think I’d know that yet, outline or no.

The wife suggested a second scene, and I played around with that. A waking scene. I may be able to come to a resolution in this way, but I am leery of tying things up too neatly.

Meanwhile, I have been receiving plentiful and supportive feedback on my new illness narrative. I have let that go for a few weeks, writing more than what was necessary for the initial assignment, but holding back on continuing until I received a green light from the professor.

My proposal reads like it is its own scene, and I need to find the right place to include that. At the same time, there are so many thoughts that, while interesting or even poignant, do not belong. They do not fit. They will not be included. You get me? You do.

Also, I led a discussion on Tuesday about Lily Hoang’s book, A Bestiary. I have read several personal narratives this semester, in different classes, written by women, and describing in part their relationships with manipulative, abusive, dishonest men. They also let the reader in on their feelings of complicity, putting the reader in an uncomfortable position of judgment.

I think I’m taking the summer off. The poetry course I took last summer was a bit overwhelming. This year has been exciting, but also taxing. I need more time to focus on the family.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Last Ship to Proxima Centauri (revisited)

Kennedy Kanagawa, Marcy McGuigan, Tom Ford
(Portland Stage, 2022)
Photo by Mical Hutson
For five years, I read a full-length play each day in April, selected from those available at New Play Exchange. This year I have too many other obligations to make that commitment. I am drafting two new pieces for school and will be re-drafting an existing script for End of Play, a writing initiative created by the Dramatists Guild.

Reading one hundred and fifty new full-length plays, though … and during the Trump years? It was inspiring, and in no small part stimulated me in my own craft. Rarely, however, have I had the chance to see any of these works on stage, in development or in production.

So, I was thrilled when playwright Greg Lam posted photos of the set for his play Last Ship to Proxima Centauri being constructed at Portland Stage, and when it was announced that the piece would be available for streaming near the end of its initial run!

In brief, Proxima Centauri is about that time in the not-too-distant future when Earth has become uninhabitable and hundreds of ships set out on a two thousand year voyage to reach a potential new home planet. That this last ship is the only one to arrive that launched from the United States, arriving over a century after everyone else, complicates their arrival.

The concept works very well as a play (as opposed to a film or any other media) as it has one set – the deck of an interplanetary vessel – and only five characters.

Spoilers Ahead

Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Jamal James
(Portland Stage, 2022)
Photo by Mical Hutson
The inhabitants of this new world, descendants of those who arrived from nations historically oppressed by the American empire, are not happy about being inundated by 100,000 largely white newcomers. Having survived and created a thriving system of shared sacrifice, what would it mean to admit a vast number of new residents who would no doubt insist on things to be the way they were back on Earth?

The philosophy behind this saga is a nightmare for many white Americans, what they might deride online as “the future that liberals want.” And it points up the errors in the logic of American exceptionalism. Freedom to do or say whatever you choose is a decadence that can only be afforded the powerful, and being white in America is power.

Our so-called freedoms, of speech, of religion, of guns, these freedoms exist so long as there is a power structure to defend it. Without that, no one would survive. Civilization defines humanity, and without that white Americans are just animals; screaming, crying, angry animals.

The performance is available online through Sunday, April 3. For those in the Cleveland area, you might be excited to learn the acting company includes Tom Ford, who has been a much-beloved player on the stage at Great Lakes Theater, where he played Sweeney Todd, Henry Higgins, Monsieur Thénardier, and so many others memorable roles.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

On Social Anxiety

Has anyone ever taken a picture of you, a candid photo, and you realize it is at once the most accurate and the most horrifying picture of you ever taken? A photograph that both captures and destroys your soul? This is that photograph (above) at the Valdez (formerly Last Frontier) Theatre Conference in 2016.

We’re at the Wheelhouse. The place is packed following a performance. I have gotten a beer. And there is nowhere for me to sit. And I do not know who to talk to. Everyone else is engaged in conversation, they look relaxed and content, and there I am. Caught, framed in the near-center of the photo, deer in headlights, unsmiling, lost. I may as well be naked.

This is the most upsetting picture of me that has ever been taken, because I know how small I feel in that moment and I feel everyone else knows it, too. That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight. 

I want to make it clear that I had a marvelous time in Valdez, received invaluable criticism and playwriting advice, and made friends and colleagues with whom I have kept and stayed in touch with for the nearly six years since.

But on that night I felt awkward, homesick, out of place, and if I hadn’t already bought that beer, I would have ghosted. I was shocked a week or so later to see this moment captured in such vivid detail among the dozens of happy images posted after the conference.

Last weekend, I attended a poetry reading at Superelectric in Gordon Square. I showed up twenty minutes before it was supposed to start, and yet I was the first person to arrive. I sat at the bar, I got a drink, and watched as folks walked in. I didn’t know any of them, except for two professors I recognized and I did eventually speak with them. But again, I felt like a complete outsider. Everyone there seemed to know someone, or at least not be anxious about meeting someone new, and mingling was happening. I had nowhere to go. I felt I had no “in” to any of these conversations.

The reading was good. I left as soon as it was over. One of my professors encouraged me to stay, telling me the party would continue at a bar across the street. I thanked them and begged off. 

I do like being social. Except when I absolutely do not.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Process LVIII

Art: Winsor McCay
Folks like to get a lot of responses on social media by throwing out questions. What was the last movie that made you cry? Who was the most important teacher you ever had? Sometimes I respond to them if I have something worth reporting.

What I never answer is “What is your greatest fear?” That’s straight up 1984 shit. You can just imagine some government apparatchik taking notes and using your own fears against you in a torture room somewhere after the revolution comes.

My fears, my pre-adolescent fears, are the subject of a new script I am working on. It’s inspired by Little Nemo in Slumberland, only he never leaves his room. And there’s nothing particularly fantastical, no giant nymphs nor goblins playing only sexual anxiety, and the idea that someone will abduct you and you will never been seen again.

So, I was nervous about this. Or, if not nervous, then at least curious as to whether or not it would hold interest. Having it read aloud by the entire class, I was reminded of how upsetting it is. I have been amusing myself, writing about these terrible thoughts from my past. Because it is absurd. But it doesn’t play as absurd. It’s sinister. That’s a word that was used, it was called sinister.

I mean, duh. Of course it is. How could I trick myself out of knowing that?

Anyway, that’s one piece I’m writing for class. Before spring break I will turn in a proposal for Illness Narratives, for that I am investigating the writing notebooks I kept every single day throughout my mother’s decline. No idea what I’ll find there but I plan to start by writing a short piece about Thanksgiving 2019.

Yes. These are notebooks I have not yet burned. See you in two weeks!

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Witches (performance)

In the cemetery.
The first week of Test Flight has closed. After over two years, my play The Witches has been seen by an audience, three nights of well-attended performances at Cleveland Public Theatre. 

I sat in the back with a clipboard taking notes, and also talking to people after. If you saw it and have any feedback, I would be grateful to receive it.

One thing I liked hearing about were the layers, the many story layers in the piece. I have been sweating the details that I could not see nor comprehend how it might all come together to be perceived by others.
“The interwoven threads of whose stories we believe, how complicit women may be in exploiting/blaming other women, and mixing stories of the distant past with up-to-the-moment storytelling technologies – pretty heady stuff which also made me chuckle repeatedly.” - fellow playwright
Much work on the script during the rehearsal process was in answering the question "why." Why does Moxie stay when she has been treated so poorly? Why does Rachael surrender her book when she wishes to remain anonymous?

Like Bradbury itself, these shirts are fictional.
Friday night, my son wanted to know why the women in 1692 turned against each other. Or, if not why, thn how -- under what circumstances. I thought that was clear. Maybe even to the actors it was clear. To the audience, perhaps it was not, and I can see how that might be the case. The fact that it was important to him means it is important to me.

He also offered that the rambling Baby Boomer monologue was on point. He didn't understand all of it, but it was definitely the kind of thing he thought someone that age might go on about. Saturday evening we had an older audience, and Marie's speech even got a hand.

Some nights they were all over the TikTok jokes, on others they hooted at all that great not-for-profit humor. I appeal to all ages.

The piece has rough edges, and I have pages of notes and these generous, critical responses which will help me continue to shape the script. Thankfully, it was a strong production, and people were taken by the characters and the story. I hope to revisit Bradbury soon.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Process LVII

Tonight: Last chance to see.
My playwriting advisor encourages us to write so much we stop caring so hard about what we’re writing, and I have found this helpful. The last several plays I have written, those that have been created in my playwriting workshop classes, to start with an idea, and some characters and I just bounce them off each other to see where we end up. 

This wasn’t always the case, as I’ve spent most of my life desiring to write the Great American Play but actually not writing anything at all.

The least self-censored I have been (for better or for worse) was during the Guerrilla years.

I produced a one-act in the 1980s. 

One full-length in the 1990s. 

Two solo performances in the 2000s. 

Then I had ten plays produced in the 2010s (though many were adaptations.)

The original work has been few and far-between, but at least I have picked up speed.

I made a list of plays maybe ten years ago that I thought I might want to write, and I’ve exhausted that list. I need another list.

Last week I said I had a breakthrough and I have moved forward on that. It’s about fear. I have always avoided writing my fears. But I think I have found a way in, one that I can work through. Since then I've written thirty pages. 

I think it's a play I couldn't write while my parents were alive.