Monday, September 19, 2005

On Playwright Binging

And you ask to yourself, what the HELL is she talking about? Well, a playwright named Pat started a listserv called playwrightbinge for playwrights who have plays just DYING to be produced! :-) Basically, the participants are encouraged to submit one or more plays a day for 30 days (or 30 submissions altogether, whatever strikes one's fancy). As I haven't submitted anything for a while (no place to submit...or so I THOUGHT), I joined the group, and have been thrilled by the results. No, I haven't had any plays accepted yet (of course, the binge only started last Thursday, so it's bit premature to expect responses, though one binger did already), but I havesubmitted to at least 6 theatres (maybe more) via email and snail mail, with more on tap. In addition, I significantly revised my 10-minute play "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" on Friday, my first Friday off this semester (and as I have the rest of them off until January, barring the need for me to be in the office, I expect to get a lot more writing done over the next three months), and have sent that out as well. D. and A. read it, made helpful comments, and now I think it's in pretty decent shape. Whether it works or not will be up to the theatre companies, but I'm moving on to another play, hopefully...drum roll, please...a comedy this time! I typically write pretty dark plays and monologues, the way I write dark poetry and short stories, but I have been known to pen a witty poem on occasion, and I think it's time to try the same with a play. There are theatres that want comedy, and dammit, it would be healthy for me to try to serve that need!

One of the problems I've encountered with 10-minute plays (which is what I'm focusing on at this point; more opportunities for them to be produced and less stress for me) that try to be funny is that they try too hard or just...well...aren't funny. Or I don't think so. They're stupid or riddled with cliches but they aren't funny. There are notable exceptions, of course. Mark Harvey Levine's play "The Rental" is brilliant, as it shows us what happens when a woman receives a 24-hour-boyfriend for her 30th birthday. It's the type of play I've always wished I could write (so I need to try), since my boyfriend-related stories often turn bitter (though some of my monologues from "Workin' Progress" were farcical, rather than angry or frustrated). I've seen a few other amusing plays, particularly those of Rough and Tumble Theatre, but most struck me as condescending or painful (but certainly not all). I gravitate toward more serious plays (not obscure, mind you, but darker or more thoughtful).

I realize it's hard to get deep in a 10-minute play, but that's what I tend to write and what I tend to like. Still, as a former improviser who did enjoy playing on stage once in a while (despite the serious scenes that often developed), I do appreciate humor (read: The Daily Show), particularly smart humor. So I'll try this weekend to see what I can do. I also want to pluck some material from my short fiction, since much of it is dialogue-driven, but it's also pretty morose, so I'll wait until I've worked on something funny. I have to try, at least!

In the meantime, this binge has really gotten me pumped. I've started exchanging emails with fellow playwrights (which makes me feel more legit, and is just interesting and exciting, and heck, they ARE real people ;-)) and have learned about all kinds of opportunities I wouldn't know about otherwise. I don't have time to dwell on any one submission, b/c there are always more to focus on. Unlike auditioning, where the opportunities are few and far between, there are a multitude of theatres seeking 10-minute and one-act plays (as well as full-length ones, but I haven't written one yet), so there's no excuse for being lazy and complacent and discouraged. I was pretty discouraged when I got the "No thanks" email from Another Country regarding SlamBoston nights in September (next week, I guess) and November. I was equally, if not more, discouraged when I inquired about an audition that took place tonight and was told that there was really no point in trying out, as it was likely I wouldn't be cast. In fairness, I did want to know, because I'm trying to avoid rejection where possible, but I certainly hoped I'd be told to go, because I'd felt my audition for them (2 1/2 hours, only three of us in the hot seat) was strong this past spring. Apparently not.

I was about as low as I'd felt in months last week, and then...along comes playwrightbinge! I'm so grateful and want to take every opportunity. If you submit 30 times, the chances of your being successful are...well, somewhat decent, assuming the plays are production-worthy and the submissions are appropriate. (I am being attentive to guidelines and each theatre or festival's mission statement, if applicable.) I realize that if nothing comes of these submissions, I'll be pretty despondent, but I'd prefer to focus on submitting and writing and let the plays fall where they may. I'll keep you informed, of course. I am enjoying the process again, and that is what is most important. Additionally, I realize that auditioning is just not working out for me, and after I audition and am rejected, I no longer want to see the production from which I was rejected (understandable, I think). The more I audition, the less plays I'll go to see! This seems counterproductive, and since I like going to plays and do NOT like being rejected, I'll think I'll keep the auditioning to a bare minimum. My focus will be back on writing, where it once began, back in the day (or when I was six), and maybe this is the avenue where my creativity can be better utilized. I certainly like acting, but I know it's not my forte, and I can enjoy it and yet not feel like I need to do this but rather get the chance to on occasion. The less pressure I put on myself, the better I'll do.

This was borne out during my "Autumn Premieres" audition (and came up during a discussion with Rich, the executive producer, last week) when I felt stiff during my monologue and Marlene reading, and yet felt loose and comfortable during the reading for the waitress, since I thought I had no chance. How interesting! And yet not surprising, because what typically gets in one's way is being in one's head, and that's clearly where I often and where I wasn't when the stakes seemed far less great. I don't want to overstate this--there's a lot of serious shit going on in the world right now, with the continuing war in Iraq (still there, people, and Americans and Iraqis are still dying) and the fallout from Katrina (I am only grateful that I didn't know anyone personally, but I read everything I can about it on and in the Boston Globe, b/c I feel as if I need to know, to understand, and it's my way of caring and of being humane, I suppose, as I hope there's a fundraiser I can participate in soon, since I don't have any money to donate). But my life has been about disappointment and about feeling deprived and not good enough, and maybe I'm at a crossroads where I start to experience success and feel good and able to validate myself both with and WITHOUT external approval.

I realize that this burst of energy and enthusiasm won't last forever, but I'm going to ride the train as long as I can, and I hope I'm securing a permanent seat for myself. Yoga is useful, exercise is important, work is satisfying (usually, as well as stressful at times), but I HAVE TO BE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS. Music and writing sustain me, and this is where my energy needs to be directed. I have also decided that, if possible, I would like to get a guitar for my birthday in April and begin writing songs (I mentioned this in an earlier post). Whether or not this happens depends, in part, on my financial situation (Norbert the accountant and I met on Saturday and he thinks I'm doing better but have a long way to go, and I agree), but writing is free (well, fairly free) and a lot more healthy than real bingeing (which I've been pretty good at avoiding over the past couple of months), so let the writing fest continue!

One last thing I wanted to note: I saw "Urinetown: The Musical" at the Lyric Stage w/ A. yesterday and we were both somewhat disappointed by it. The singing and acting were fine (though the actors should have been better miked, and we were eight rows back, not 18 or 80) and the choreography in particular was very strong, but the play itself just didn't do it for us. D. and her husband saw the play on Broadway and thought it was really entertaining; A and I thought it needed to be more over-the-top and I fault the writing, particularly the lyrics, more than anything else. Good conceit, not so wonderfully executed. The second half worked better than the first, with a Fosse parody especially fun, but the ending was as dour as the beginning, and I felt as if the play was schizophrenic. I'm nothing but an amateur critic, but I wonder why this play has garnered so much attention and praise and if I'm just too critical.

A. and I weren't enthralled with Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at the Huntington Theatre last Wednesday, either (the fact that we couldn't hear a third of the lines from the balcony, when so much depends on Stoppard's wordplay, could have been a factor), so I'm starting to wonder what it will take for me to get charged by live theatre again (we've seen two other plays in the past month, and we liked but didn't love one of them and really disliked the other). Of course, if I go to a play with little or no expectations, I'll be less disappointed, just the way I need to approach writing submissions and any future auditions I attend. But it's not always that easy, though I think it's a worthy goal. What is most important is to remember that this is supposed to be fun. If I can approach this as a worthwhile diversion and keep it in perspective, I think we'll all be better off.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tonight is September 10th...

and not September 11th. While I didn't consciously think about writing tonight versus tomorrow, once I sat down, I realized (once again) what tomorrow's anniversary was. I don't think I could have written on 9/11. It's filled with too much pain and sadness. I still can't wrap my head around Hurricane Katrina and here we are, four years later, and are we better off? Well, many/most of the residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas sure as hell aren't. It's just been such a horrific century so far many, and REM's song "It's the end of the world as I know it" comes to mind (except for the "and I feel fine" tagline, b/c I don't, and I know a lot of other people don't).

I won't get all moribund on here. I know I tend to become pretty pessimistic, and I think enough has been written about the horrors of war and Bush's tragically inept and uncaring administration. I don't really need to chime in any more than I already have. (But feel free to think those anti-Bush/FEMA/Homeland Security thoughts, cause I'm right there with ya.) Instead, I'll return to my narcissistic self, b/c that's what blogs are all about, right? ;-) Seriously, I have become somewhat more grateful and even calmer since Katrina, and I think it was yet another wake-up call, as 9/11 was (the war is a different story; the problem is that the administration WON'T wake up). I don't live in a particularly decked-out apartment, my car is average, at best, and my earnings are barely adequate. But I have a warm, safe (knock on wood) abode (especially meaningful, as my last apartment was broken into twice, and it's just around the corner from this one, but it was also on a main street in a crappy apartment complex and on the first floor) and I have friends and a steady job and an mp3 player that lets me listen to my favorite music on demand (though if I continue to drop my Micro Zen at the gym every day, the latter may not be the case for long, which is why I just PURCHASED a case for it, since Creative finally makes them).

It's interesting, I think, that I've been listening to a lot of folk and roots music lately, far more than I have in the past. It started with my trip to the Newport Folk Festival with A. in August...

Sadness...I just lost 2/3 of my post! :-( And I'm dead tired and not up to rewriting it all. Despite my fatigue, here is pretty much what I covered:

--I attended the Campire at Club Passim in Harvard Square over the Labor Day weekend with A. (lots of rounds with various singer/songwriters doing original work and improvisationally gigging with others; it's a little like "Behind the Music" on VH-1). It was exciting to see so many creative artists writing, playing, singing, and gigging with each other. I was particularly taken with Jake Armading from Jamaica Plain (very cute and talented) and Brooks Williams (of the Club Passim faculty). I've pretty much decided to ask for a guitar from my family for my birthday and try again with a Berklee College of Music student (I did this several years ago and gave up after two weeks with a brand new guitar and a "beginning" class at the BCAE or similar that was anything but). I want the music to inspire the writing, not vice versa, but I have a decent ear, though no hand/eye coordination and can't read music very well (barely at all). Still, think I could make it work. I have been listening to Nickel Creek's new CD (excellent, people) every night before bed, air guitaring the chords, and am more interested in roots and folk than I've been in a while. It's just so honest and pure, I guess. I'm also a big fan of Joss Stone's first CD, the latest Sufjian Stevens (check out "Come on Feel the Illinoise!" if you haven't, because it's brilliant), the lastest CD by Death Cab for Cutie, Jack Johnson's first and third CDs, and Keane's debut. They may not be folksy-in fact, they are more bluesy or mellow indie--but they each have a sincerety to them that I think I need to cling to these days. I need heartfelt songs, and books, and articles (there are as many as you'd like to read on, and TV shows (okay, so besides the Daily Show, that's not likely, but...) to make me feel connected. Superficiality is not working for me now, despite my happiness to escape into the Red Sox pennant race and the Patriots' quest for a three-peat (starting with a win on Thursday night).

--I have not received an invitation to be part of Another Country's SlamBoston programs in September OR November, so it's unlikely, though still possible I'll be asked, acc'd to Amy of AC casting coordination. While I do feel as if I had a strong audition, I realize so much is dependent upon factors that have NOTHING to do with me, and I just have to live with the decision and not get too depressed about it. (We did discuss this in my first real cognitive behavioral therapy session on Tuesday. I think CBT will be tough, b/c you must be focused, completely present, and repsonsible for all of your thoughts, feelings and actions. You can't slide, and I guess I'm using to sliding, at least a bit.) I also wrote another director about his upcoming auditions this Monday. Since I auditioned for this troupe in the Spring, and was one of only three at the 2 1/2 hour auditi9on, I think the director knows me well enough to be honest about my chances (come by, your choice, or don't bother). It's just better to have some sense, IMHO.

--I taught my first Year One/Freshman Seminar on Wednesday from 5-7pm and it reminded me of how much I love teaching. The class ranges in age from 25-46 (the 56 year old student withdrew from the class, which worked out better for a number of reasons), and all are mature adults who "get it." They ask intelligent, probing questions, and I finished an entire Venti Green Tea Frappucino (a mistake, so free, and tres, tres tasty) during the session, as I relayed all I know about the BAC. ;-) This week is an IT and Resume Writing seminar, so it shouldn't be too taxing on me. Afterwards, A. and I will attend a free showing of "The Real Thing" by Tom Stoppard at the Huntington Theatre, thanks to stagesource. We also plan to see "Urinetown" with half-priced tickets soon at the Lyric (both just opened). We're excited about the season getting underway.

--My workouts are going well. I burned over 650 calories on the elliptical cross-trainer today, followed by a mile on the treadmill and floor work. Maybe that's why I'm so tired, or maybe it's the cooler weather (only 56 degrees out right now, down from 70 a week ago). I'm glad I have a 90 minute yoga class and not just cardio tomorrow, to give my body a bit (a tiny bit!) of a rest. I can feel the beginning stages of SAD creeping in, and I'm a bit concerned. Besides the workout, all I did today was food shopping, and watching Andre Agassi win the men's semi-finals at the U.S. Open (so sweet) and the Red Sox defeat the Yankees (payback for last night's loss). I bought a lot of food on sale (soup, peanut butter, Diet Coke, crackers, kudos-type bars), so I'm stocked up for a while. I will...ahem...admit going to the Gap today to procure a desperately-needed pair of black pants (as much as a pair of pants can be desperately needed, of course). I promise to wear them 1-2 times a week and make the purchase worthwhile, and they do look VERy nice on (hug the waist but just enough, don't flare out in the leg). I am meeting with Norbert the Financial Planner next week for more help. It's still not pretty, but a bit better...

--I am also taking Fridays off for the rest of the semester, to cut down my 4 1/2 weeks of vacation, six days of which MUST be taken by December 30th. It will feel strange but good to have 3-day weekends, and as long as I'm productive and don't feel guilty about having the time off, I should be fine. If I can write for just 2 or 3 hours on Friday or Saturday, the time will have been well spent. I also got the note from Rich that Autumn Premieres is still slated to go on in March, but possibly at the Devanaughn Theatre in the South End, which is a far more convenient location (and seats fewer people, so there is less pressure to fill the house with 100 seats a night, when there aren't as many as that!). I do hope to get cast in "Toast," but just having a play receive a full production, when none of my plays are being chosen for ANYTHING these days, is really prize enough.

I think those were the major points. I wish so much I didn't care about being cast in SlamBoston, but I also know I HAVE TO LET IT GO. (A. has, and is none the worse for wear!) At least it's theatre season, so there will be plenty of plays to educate, infuriate, and provocate during the season (like my rhyming?! ;-)). While the one A. and I saw last night was not very good, in either of our opinions, it was probably worht seeing, just so we could figure out why it didn't work (writing was both heightened/stylized and naturalistic, which is hard to pull off, and didn't work, and one of the main characters was completely one-dimensional, and we needed to know why or he needed to have more complexity).

Let me conclude by giving thanks for the safety and health of my family and friends, my comfortable, safe (knock on wood) apartment, a steady job, music, and a life outside of the office. I am eternally grateful. And I get to see my niece, nephew, and sister in Florida in 3 1/2 weeks, which makes me smile and smile even more. :-)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Au revoir, August (and not a minute too soon!)

God, August was an awful, awful month. Things were incredibly stressful for all kinds of reasons at work, which I won't get into. Suffice to say, I am actually looking FORWARD to classes starting, so that I won't have to deal with portfolio review and registration issues. I am sad that the month is over because summer didn't start until the third week of June (literally, not just theoretically or chronologically), and's pretty much done with. OTOH, I can hope that September is more pleasant. In August, I stopped seeing my therapist of four years, wasn't able to begin seeing my new therapist except for two intake/informational sessions, suffered through my first OB/GYN appointment in four years, had my first mammogram and discovered that I have the beginning of cataracts (does the fun ever stop?!), endured the wrath of a particularly difficult (and ungrateful) student and his parents at work, saw my favorite yoga teacher leave and another arrive who so good (and the lack of participants in the class indicate this), had a terribly stressful three-hour appointment with a financial planner (very nice, but the news was no good), learned that my play would NOT be put on in September, due to a lack of cast and crew members (though March 06 is the new scheduled date), and went to an audition on Tuesday night that I had high hopes for that will probably result in ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. And these are just personal items. What about the out-of-control gas prices ($3.19 a gallon? I may never be able to fill my lowly Kia gas tank again!), increasing numbers of dead troops in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina's ravaging of Louisiana and Mississippi? I'm trying to see the light in the August tunnel, and aside from the fact that, thankfully, my appointments didn't turn up anything terrible, there ain't much to rejoice over. Or, frankly, anything.

Maybe this month will bring some much-needed good news. Maybe all the relief efforts will help the hurricane-ravished south and no more soldiers will die in Iraq. (I can't see the latter happening, but one can dream) Maybe my sister in Florida's move into her new home will go more smoothly than it has to date (closing is tomorrow and they can't move in for at least another two weeks). Maybe her husband will finally feel better (he's been sick for two months) and my other brother-in-law's medical issues will end. Maybe my parents will find lots of substitute teaching positions, and I'll get the five percent raise I asked for. Maybe I will feel motivated to write a new play and someone, somewhere, will take one of the plays I've already submitted it and accept it into a festival. Maybe I will even get cast in one of the November SlamBoston plays. Maybe my new therapist and I will have some productive CBT time and I'll feel as if I've made good progress on my anger management issues and anxiety. Maybe I won't feel compelled to spend money as often as I do, and I'll continue to make positive strides on the eating front. Maybe I'll even get a date...naah, I've asked for enough already. It's clear that August was full of pain for far too many people; please let September bring some comfort, contentment, and success. And just maybe the Red Sox will clinch the pennant (they are currently 3 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees) and Red Sox nation will rejoice.

I'll keep you posted...