Monday, October 17, 2005

Happy half birthday to me...

I probably shouldn't write this...I may hate myself for it in the morning... but hell, I'm gonna write it anyway. If you can't be honest in your blog, where can you be? Well, where? Exactly. And please don't post about how hard being an artist is and "look on the sunny side of life" or whatever and who said life was fair and all that crap, b/c I know, trust me, but today I'm feeling frustrated and discouraged and I need to share, and thanks for letting me.

There's an article in the Boston Globe today about the head writer for a local theatre. This 20-something woman has also published a novel (with another written and rarin' to go) and is in the cast of their Halloween show. Oh, and she probably has 100 boyfriends (and of course she's beautiful, and there's a picture to prove it). God, life's tough, isn't it? Now, I don't have anything against this woman personally. I'm sure she's very nice, she's clearly hard working (she holds down two part-time jobs as well), and I've no doubt she's talented. But come on, share the wealth a little, will ya? When I was involved with this particular company, I couldn't get cast for shows (even in a side sketch troupe!), my writing was barely used, and God knows no one wanted to publish my stories. Perhaps I wasn't a very good improviser and my sketches left something to be desired. And to be fair, I wasn't even trying to get my stories published at that point, nor was I working on plays--yet. But somehow things just never came together for me there, or at Emerson (where I got my MFA), or really, anywhere, at least not until recently, and it just eats at me sometimes. Why is everything so hard? Why does everything take so long?!

I know I'm lucky in a lot of ways. I have a family that loves me, the most wonderful nieces and nephew in the world, a small but safe (knock on wood) and comfortable apartment I rent that's close to the subway (But buy? Not likely in Boston anytime soon, if EVER), some close friends, a secure job that I enjoy, and the opportunity to write (and work out every day and listen to music, all things that I could not live without). But...but...but... I didn't even start figuring out I could write plays until I was 41 (why this didn't occur to me or or my instructors in grad school, when I've always loved theatre and I'm pretty adept with dialogue, is quite beyond me, as much as I try to understand it), and who knows if any of my current pieces will ever be accepted by anyone, the monologue and one-act notwithstanding? I really, really want to act, and yet I can't get cast to save my life (though I am, once again, putting my pride on the line and auditioning for a really solid company next week, knowing fully well that the chances of my being chosen are slim to none--there's positivity for ya!). I want a boyfriend, or a male companion, but I haven't the slightest idea how to get one. And I may never, ever get out of debt (though I'm trying really hard), never mind buy a condo (one-bed with a tiny study would be fine, and I HAVE worked hard for 20 years and work two part-time jobs, along with the full-time one, not to mention my master's degree, so it's not as if I'm looking for a handout).

I guess it just ate at me as I read the article (The writer even made the front page of the Globe! I couldn't get a blurb about my one-person show in the Go! section last year.) that it all came so very easily for her. How does this happen? Talent, yes, obviously, but also being in the right place at the right time (she met the theatre's Artistic Director when he was in Chicago at IO for the summer), and being lucky. LUCKY. LUCKINESS. LUCK. Those are things I know little of. I like to think of myself as personable, fairly intelligent, and a good writer (not great...yet...but I'm determined to get there), as well as a nice person, but I have never been particularly lucky. I'm still not. I have to scramble for anything I get, every little crumb, and I'm not sure this will change in the future. I did complete the playwrights binge, sending the plays out to theatre companies all over the country, but now I am having a crisis of faith, and fear that every company, every festival, every artistic director will say, Thanks, but no thanks. Yes, I DO think my work is worthy of being produced, but I don't have the final say, do I, unless I actually self-produce the plays, and I don't have the money, time, resources, or energy to do so. I did that with my one-woman show, "workin' progress," and by the end I was completely burnt out. I hated my monologues, hated the process, forgot why I'd written the bloody show in the first place (cause it was a funny way of exploring my experience as a very single woman at 40). Everything that could go wrong did and more and it was exhausting (I'm still proud of the show but wish it could have ended on a happier note, and not me running out the door, so to speak).

So yeah, I'm sad and a tiny bit bitter that it hasn't worked out for me the way it has for this theatre's head writer. It's not a competition, and if my plays get produced, well, hurrah, and it was worth it and this woman won't really concern me(not that she needs to now). Of course, the creative process is just that, a process, and the end product is very important but isn't the be-all, end-all, and if it is, you aren't an artist, that's for damned sure, but a shill (IMHO). Speaking of the writing process, I'd really love to be part of BU's playwright program next year or the year after, but it costs $30,000, and I can't accrue any more debt, nor can I leave my job for a year for the luxury of engaging in writing for a year ( lovely that would be). Since I already have a master's degree, it isn't urgent, but I'm at a far different place than I was 13 years ago, when I started my graduate program at Emerson, and I never took a playwrighting class there, as noted, so this would be an entirely different experience. Still, while it's disappointing, it's not the end of the world, by any means. I just want, need, MUST have some external validation, some outward success. I can say I don't care, but that's a blatant, bloody lie. I DO care. I DO want my plays to be produced and for people to see and enjoy or be affected by them (else, why write? that's what a journal's for). I want to be in a play, and enjoy the camaraderie and the highs a production affords. I want and need these things, and is it really asking so much, at 42 1/2 (exactly--today is my half-birthday, huzzah), to need and ask for them? I hope not.

I have no control over whether anyone takes my plays, but I can continue writing and submitting them, and I can continue auditioning, and if I wish for any chance of success (however defined), I have to continue doing so. And I will. But really, I need a break, any kind of break, and I just don't know if I'm going to get one. And that.just.hurts. So if you're a producer reading this blog, or a fellow playwright, and you know someone who needs a 10-minute play, or a five-minute monologue, let me know. I'm at your beck and call.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Playwright Bingeing concludes

Today is the last day of the playwrights binge. I can't thank Pat Gabridge and cohorts enough for the opportunity to have been involved with this effort. I'm not sure if I had 30 submissions, but if you count up all the plays sent out and the places they were sent to, on an individual basis, I'm waaaaay past 30. Yay! This 30-day event inspired me to submit, write, edit existing pieces, and network with others. It was quite an experience. I have every intention of keeping up with this process, although it really helps to have a target and to be engaged with others. I even sent off my one-act, "Uncharted Territory," to two companies today that I don't think will be interested (I think they want full-length scripts only) but can only say no if that's the case. I wouldn't have even known about them without this listserv. I still have to send two 10-minute plays to Boston Theatre Marathon, the BIGGIE, and since the limit is two plays per playwright, I'm still deciding which two to send. When A. gets back from her trip to Reno, she will read "Peanut Butter Sandwiches," revised, and give me her thoughts. I have until November 15th postmarked, so a little, though not a lot of time. I know one of the plays I'm sending, but am not certain of the other. It's fun to have that to look forward to, however!

I am trying not to get hopeful, b/c it's such a competitive festival (only 50 plays chosen, and some are commissioned in advance, so it's probably more like 40, at most) and quite prestigious for New England playwrights, so it means a lot. I really have to steer myself for the rejection that has yet to occur (no one has said no--yet--but many deadlines haven't even occurred). The nice thing is that they aren't rejecting me based on ME, but on the work and their needs, and as I've mentioned in the past, this is much different than auditioning, when you can sometimes tell on the spot if they are interested or not, and when it IS based on you (or what they want, but they are looking at you, hearing and seeing you, and you can't say that it's not personal in any way, because of course it is). Writing is different--it's typically far more objective, in the sense that you aren't in the room, they've probably never seen or heard of you (at least when you're starting out), and it's based on the script, their needs, and their feelings about same. Of course, it helps to have an in, but I think many festivals read blind, and even if they don't, they are often willing to give new playwrights a chance, and that's not something that can be said of acting companies.

In any event, I've really started the writing process again and feel GOOD about it. My play "Accept This!" was one of seven plays read at the Write-On writers group on Monday, and the response was quite favorable (more than I thought it would be; much more, in fact). When I first brought "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" to the group in June, I think, it was met with lukewarm reactions (including my own), and I went back and made some significant revisions, with D.'s help. But this play seemed done to the group, after I removed one superfluous character (and took out a couple of lines), and so it seems like it's done (as much as a play is ever done). The plays were quite good on Monday (some were great), and it was nice to be part of such company. The listserv has given me a community of playwrights to connect with, and along with Write-On, I have a network, and I think that's really important (people share successes and rejections, make referrals, provide opportunities, and are just THERE for you). It's hard to think that the binge is ending--I think there will be another in the spring--but now I can focus on writing and know places to look for other writing opportunities. It's nice to tell students and co-workers that I'm writing and submitting; now I just need some theatres to express interest! :-)

I saw a new play last night. I don't want to get into specifics, as the playwright is local, but I will say that it was an interesting experience. I really watched it as a playwright, not as an actor or just an audience-goer, and that was a bit different and kind of nice. It's a fairly new piece, so I could focus on what worked in the text and what didn't (to the extent that you can do that when watching, not reading the script). I wished I had the script in hand, in fact! :-) I love reading and commenting, as I always have (my favorite part of grad school). I thought the play was good, but not fully realized. It's hard to tell, though, if that's because it was the first night or because it's still being reworked. There were times when the play seemed to say "LOOK AT ME! I'M A PLAY!" and other times when I was REALLY really drawn in (and the ending is quite touching). I would love to go again at the end of the run (can't afford it, though--I only paid $5, and it's normally $15) to see how things had changed, but I'll just have to imagine. ;-) I am seeing "Proof," the play, not the movie, for free tonight with a friend (thank goodness for stagesource and free/discounted offers), and then "Theatre District," a new play that has already had a two-week run, on Sunday (I'm ushering at the Boston Center for the Arts). I think the latter will be particularly interesting (I have to find a synonym for interesting!), b/c it's already played for a while and b/c the playwright has written for TV and the cast is Equity (or some are, anyway).

The thing that was especially cool about last night's play is that the writer is young and not yet seasoned, and so I could relate, in a way I can't to, say, Mamet or Pinter (who just received the Nobel Prize) or Shepard or Albee or any other established writer. I could imagine this playwright's thinking process (apparently, the play had been three hours last week, and was trimmed to two hours for production--amazing!!!), although I've yet to write a full-length play (my one-act is only about 20 pages, although the monologue brings it closer to a 25-30 minute play, I imagine, when staged). I do have a specific idea in mind, one I've been ruminating on for 11 years (I kid you not), and feel ready to tackle. I may not begin it til December vacation, however, b/c once I start writing it, I may want to keep going, and I don't have time now. I'm just lucky to have Fridays off!!! :) I really want to write a holiday play today, but I don't have any ideas! :-( There is one festival (I missed the deadline for the other) that is seeking holiday plays, and D. wrote one, as did M. in LA, and I would like to contribute one as well (a funny one, if possible; it's good to write comic as well as dramtic pieces).

Speaking of M., the listserv introduced us to one another, and it's become a nice cyberspace relationship. He is a writer on the West Coast, is gay, and very personable. I am on the East Coast, straight, and hopefully personable as well. ;-) Tomorrow we are planning our first telephone conversation (a big step! j/k), and it's nice to have a friend with similar interests. D. and I are both writers, of course, but it's great to have a male perspective (and we know how well I do with, let's not go there). I still feel, honestly, inadequate, as if I were 10 years old and were constantly being judged by what I'm wearing, how unattractive I am, etc. In my mind, I still have giant orange glasses (mine are tiny wireframe ones), braces (nope), kinky hair (nope), acne (very little, if any), am chubby (normal, but fit and not chubby, though I still see myself that way), and socially inept. I think I'm still surprised when people talk to me and want to be my friend unless I'm HELPING them, and yet I know that's not the case, b/c former students, male and female, often come by to just to say hi and catch up on stuff. They wouldn't do that if they found me undesirable, of course. It''s something I need to get over, that's all. (Thank you, cognitive behavioral therapist! ;-))

So, I've mostly focused on writing, as usual, and that's because it's where my head is at. I still long to be part of a theatrical production as an actor, but I'm trying to reconcile the fact that it might not happen again, or not for a long time. I do have the Arlington Players production coming up in March or June, in Boston (yay!), and I am still a candidate for a role in Monica Raymond's one-act "Toast," but can't get my hopes up. (At least my play is included!) We had our first production meeting with Rich on Wednesday night. Alas, only D. and I showed up, but it was nice to talk to him and discuss forthcoming plays. It's going to happen, and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. I just want each of my plays to get one production (for now--I'm trying to not be too greedy ;-)), and that would make me feel supremely satisfied. Some people on the listserv have been steadily writing for eight or more years, and I've only been doing so for a year, really, so I need to be patient. Happily, I have a lot of material, including my master's thesis and my own life-experience (it really is easier to write at 42 than 22). I have to get past feeling old, and I do feel old far too much of the time (can't explain why; I thought once I hit 41 that feeling would dissipate, but it hasn't, and yes, my CBT and I can discuss this at the next meeting :-)). But the important thing is that I'm writing, exercising, and am doing well at work (just got a very nice raise, 13.6 percent, which was unexpected and extremely timely), so things are ticking along. If acting roles are meant to happen, they will, but writing is something within my control, so I will continue to explore that side. I'll keep you posted if/when I get any acceptances. :-)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Playwright Bingeing, Part Two

Well, the binge is in full swing, and I'm happy to say that I'm swinging along with it. :-) Not only have I submitted to at least 10 theatres (probably more like 15), BUT I also wrote a new 10-minute play called "Not A Competition" yesterday morning. It was rather weird, b/c I wrote it in about 2 1/2 hours, but I'm not complaining! The theme of one of the festival's is "20 years," so I thought, how can I come up with a play that is about some sort of reunion but isn't cliche-ridden? I considered writing about a company hosting a 20th reunion for dismissed employees, but I wasn't sure I could make it funny and then it would just be depressing. ;-) (I might still try at some point, however.) So I went the usual 20-year high school reunion, but it's a lot different than you'd expect (or so I hope). If anyone wants to see a copy of it, let me know, but I'd rather not post about it, b/c you never know who's reading. :-)

Anyway, it was remarkably easy to compose--I'd be thinking about the theme a bit, and it also integrates ideas of interest (like 38-year old single women, which I was, not long ago, and their male co-horts), so it wasn't like it was this out-of-the-blue topic. I rarely am able to just sit and write and like the results--"Peanut Butter Sandwiches," for example, another 10-minute play, was about 20x harder to write (and I'm still not sure if it works, though I think it's a lot stronger than it once was after a lot of rewrites)--but this one really did just come out, and with a bit of tweaking, I think it's pretty much done, and I've already submitted it to the Savage Tree Festival and plan to send it out to Heartland Theatre Company, the theatre hosting the "20 years" theme, tonight or tomorrow (I think the play is done, but I'm not 100 percent sure). I realize that I'll probably make changes to it over time, as I've done with my other plays, so I should just get it over with and send it out.

This binge has been incredibly motivating, and I couldn't be more grateful to Patrick, the Founder, and to Kathleen, who manages the En Avant playwrighting site, and the other wonderful playwrights on the listserv. I am really inspired to write, edit, and submit, and I can't say this has always been the case. And the more I get out there, the better my chances, of course. I'm VERY anti-playwrighting fees, for the record, and have only paid twice to submit, one to Perishable Theatre in R.I., for an inexplicable reason (they like women-driven plays, and now I have another one, and I can't send it without paying again...oh, well), and one to another company that took the first submission for free and the second for $3.00 (I can swing $3.00). I won't pay $10, $15, or $20, however, no matter how prestigious the company or festival and matter the prize money (assuming there is some, and there generally isn't), b/c I really can't afford AND b/c I don't think I should have to! The actors don't pay to play, nor do the directors pay to do their thing, so why should the playwrights? Are we wealthier than the other participants? I think not.

I find it frustrating and unfair and I'm also not confident enough that my work is strong enough (so much of this is out of the writer's hands, anyway, and has nothing to do with the play but more with the company's needs, as is the case with acting and directing). But there are enough places that don't require submission fees that I've had plenty of opportunities to send or (preferably) email my work, and it's forced me to revisit the plays (except "Uncharted Territory," which is done, for better or worse, for the time being), make some changes (e.g., I set "Accept This!" in a bar, b/c two places wanted a play set in a bar, and it worked just fine, I think), and then get the plays out the door. I'm not sitting still--hence writing a play yesterday--but I'm also able to move on (though keeping each submission in a folder, so I don't send multiple submissions to the same place).

I had the biggest high yesterday after finishing the new play. I went to the gym and had more energy on the elliptical than I've had in a long time. I just felt USEFUL or something akin to that, and rather proud of myself, too. I hope some theatre likes it, but I am pleased with the results, and I actually enjoyed the process, which is just as if not more important. Having Fridays off this semester is making such a difference. I can do errands the first day and write the second or vice versa, but I don't feel rushed or too tired to write, and I also feel like I'm actually getting a weekend in, and so I can also read, pay bills, clean (a little ;-)), see a friend, watch the Patriots or Red Sox (who are now in the playoffs, yay), and not dread going back to work on Monday. Along with the 90-minute yoga class on Sundays, regular exercise the other days, and (hopefully) the cognitive behavioral therapy sessions (next one this Thursday, before I head off to Florida to see my niece, nephew, and sister), I hope to really keep my emotions in check and get through the change from summer to fall to winter without as much anxiety and depression as usual (though I do feel some effects of SAD already, since the earlier dusk and the sometime-brisk weather is bothering me, and it's only the second day of October after a pretty mild September).

I don't know when I'll audition again, and I can't say I don't think about it (probably more than is healthy), but writing is such a buzz, and getting produced will feel MARVELOUS. I'm also getting to make some great contacts with listserv members, which is fun and interesting (I've read a few new plays, for example, and had others read mine). It's time very well spent, and I do feel as if I can say "I'm a writer" with some degree of confidence and authenticity, b/c I'm actually WRITING. The idea of doing improv now seems impossible, but I don't miss it anymore, and maybe in time I won't really miss acting, either (or I'll be able to do it, b/c I won't put so much pressure on myself during auditions). I can also go to plays, b/c I haven't tried out for them, so there's no residual bitterness. :-) It's all win-win, and I only wonder why it took so long for me to seriously pursue writing again. But as Shannon, my yoga instructor, says, You can't change the past and you can't control the future, so you live in the present moment. It might sound trite, but it couldn't be more accurate.