Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sue B's interview with Sue B

Edd's contest for September on the Playwrights Forum was to write an interview with/about oneself regarding the reason we write. Below is the text of the interview.

INTERVIEWER (IN): Hello, Sue. Welcome to the forum.

SUE B (SB): Thank you for having me.

IN: So, today's topic is what inspired you to write.

SB: That's a great question!

IN: We thought so. Please, begin.

SB: Okay, well, I first started writing when I was seven or eight years old, as soon as I could. I was a voracious reader--

IN: Meaning...

SB: That I read every book in the children's section of the Haverhill, MA public library. The Librarian and I were good friends. After I finished, I moved onto the teen section. I even took books to birthday parties, sitting in the corner and reading, while the others were playing pin the tail on the donkey and throwing cake at each other.

IN: So what you're saying is that you were a nerd.

SB: I prefer the term "book worm." Anyway, I started keeping a journal when I was seven or eight. I still have one of my earliest ones: pink, with a little lock on it. I used to write things like, 'I had a good day. School was fun, and then we went to Friendlys for dinner.'

IN: Sounds captivating.

SB: Well, it was a start. In fourth grade, I wrote a play for my Sunday school class, based on T'bishvat (sp?), about the spring and the birth of trees. It was a huge success. Well, the parents liked it, anyway. I don't have a copy of it anymore, unfortunately, but it was fun to write. I felt such a thrill seeing it performed.

IN: So you need at an early age that you wanted to be a playwright.

SB: No, but I knew that I wanted to be a *writer.* When I was 10, we wrote short stories in class. Mine were usually not that short--sometimes as long as 30 pages, though handwritten, and I wrote in LARGE LETTERS--and I finished each one off by having the characters each die, since I couldn't figure out how to finish the story, and I got tired of it.

IN: Do you still engage in that practice?

SB: No, but I still have difficulty finding endings, like a lot of writers.

IN: Did you continue writing into your teens?

SB: Yes. I wrote to a newspaper column called Confidential Chat in the Boston Globe, where I posted as "10 Going on 40" and then "11 Going on 40," and discussing the travails of growing up. There was not a term called 'tween' then, but that's what I would have been called. I continued keeping a journal into my early 20s, but I began to find that all I did was complain, so eventually I gave it up. Today, I have a blog, but I try to keep it as upbeat as possible, though that's not always so easy.

IN: Did you write plays in your teens and 20s?

SB: No, for some reason, I just wrote short stories and poetry. I found poetry very cathartic, though most of my poems were pretty bad, I have to admit. The best ones were comic, and I wrote a lot of them when I was in a terrible job at a publishing job in Boston, and had to keep myself amused. I had terrible writer's block in college, though I was an English major, so I wrote as little as possible. I finally rid myself of it just before I went to grad school, b/c I knew I had to be able to write. I took a class called "Freeing the Writer Within," which allowed me to be human, to make mistakes, to work through difficulties without self-judgement. You can't edit until you have something on the page to edit, and when I got a word processor, now an antiquated piece of technology, I always had something to work with, something tangible on the page. I thought I would go to law school--well, my parents wanted me to--but I had written quite a few poems and very short stories at that point, along with some essays, and that's what I showed to the admissions director at Emerson College. I was accepted into their MFA in Creative Writing program in 1991.

IN: But still no playwrighting.

SB: That's right, and to this day I still find that odd. I acted in elementary and junior high school, until I became too self-conscious to do so, thanks to Lanford Wilson's "The Rimers of Eldridge" at Phillips Exeter Academy's summer school and my role as an old biddy (never cast me as an old biddy; I already have a great fear of mortality).

IN: You really need to get over this.

SB (sighing): I know.

IN: Moving on--

SB: Well, I started acting again in my 20s, just for fun. I wasn't particularly good, though I tried very hard, but it reawakened my love of theatre. I was still acting while I was in grad school, and yet the idea of playwrighting still hadn't occurred to me, and I don't know why. I was a short fiction major, but my stories had a great deal of dialogue--I developed an ear for it--and little narrative, and yet I hadn't made the connection. From there, I entered the world of improvisational theatre, but again, found it difficult and wasn't successful, if you determine success by improvement and fun. I had neither. I pushed myself in a genre that wasn't natural to me. I'm not a visual/spatial thinker, I need time to ponder and to edit, and I have trouble staying in the moment, and all of those skills are necessary for strong improv. However, I had begun writing sketches during this time, and that was the beginning of my playwrighting career, if you will. They were often heavy, and not so much sketches as play excerpts (I tried but was rarely funny, a problem if you're involved with most sketch writing), but they felt natural, and that's what I wrote. From there, I moved onto monologues, and that's where I really began to find my niche.

IN: What was the first monologue you wrote?

SB: If I remember correctly, it was about a woman who was trying to find a date, and was willing to convert to Catholicism if that would help. It was actually pretty funny, and the woman playing it did a great job. I felt so alive when I saw it performed; I understood the connection between my feelings and my ability to convey them onto paper and then have them performed, thus forming a connection with the audience. I continued writing monologues, first for a graduate show at Improv Asylum, and then in another acting class at Mass College of Art, where I conceived a one-woman show called "workin' progress.' The show didn't morph well, but I knew that I could write about topics that effected others, and from there it was a fairly natural progression onto playwrighting. I took a class from Kirsten Greenridge on playwrighting, and in the class I developed my first play, a 10-minute piece called "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" that is my most popular work to date, having been accepted by four festivals thus far.

IN: What makes this play successful, if you will?

SB: Well, I think it speaks to a popular issue--the troublesome relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters. Though it is not based on me and my mother, there is certainly a theme of alienation and disconnection that I remember and that others do as well. It is a serious play, which is not that common with 10-minute pieces, but it is truthful, without being overly heavy (there are moments of levity), and I think the audience recognizes the humanity. I'm not trying to overstate this--it's not Mamet or Pinter, by any means--but I'm not trying to be preachy, and yet I do want to have the audience feel for the characters and relate to them. That's what makes a piece work, I think--its truthfulness.

IN: Are you continuing to write?

SB: Yes, and continuing to submit. I currently have several 10-minute pieces, along with a three-minute play, five one-minute plays, a few monologues, and a one-act. Edd Crosby Wells is pushing me (in a good way) to begin a full-length or longer one act piece this fall, and when I have 10 days off in October, I plan to begin doing so.

IN: What is the biggest challenge you encounter as a writer?

SB: Being willing to accept rejection. I want to be accepted into every festival I submit to. I feel personally slighted when my work is not accepted, instead of accepting that the factors are out of my control, and that it is not a reflection of me or my work when I am not accepted. I realize that I write because I want to and need to, and not because I want to brag to the world that I am a playwright (though I have no qualms about sharing my happiness when I am accepted into a festival) or because I want to write flashy or superficial pieces that I hope will be popular with festival producers/readers. I need to write from the heart, and when I have, I know it. I think I have something to say, and I want to share my experiences with others. I've always felt this way--even in high school, my yearbook statement says that I would be a writer when I 'grew up' (and a lawyer, though that wasn't a profession I chose to pursue)--and I am following my dream and my passion. I won't make a living as a writer, but I will allow my creativity to express itself.

IN: Well, we here at the Playwrights Forum wish you the greatest success in your quest to write the best plays you can and to enjoy the process.

SB: Thank you. That's my goal.

So there you go.

I will add two current pieces of news:

1) I have two infected toes, and am still on antibiotics. Let me caution you all against popping blisters. Very bad. Refrain. I am finally on the full road to recovery, but haven't been able to work out for over a week, aside from walking and yoga, and that does not make me very happy. I am also lucky that the infection did not spread. I will never take blisters lightly again.

2) Six friends and I travelled to Providence, RI to see my 10-minute play "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" performed as part of StudioRep's "Insert Title Here Part Deux." Though the attendance was fairly sparse (25 or so people, so we made up about 1/3 of the audience) and the lighting and acoustics were not terrific, the actors were extremely enthusiastic, and the actors in my play were very talented. I got to meet the the woman and teenager playing mother and daughter after the festival, and the woman playing the mother, a drama teacher at Salve Regina, hugged me, insisted I autograph both her program and her script (very embarrassing but also extremely flattering), and have a picture taken with me, Sarah (the daughter), and her. We had great vegetarian food before the show and hung out in Providence afterwards on a very pleasant September evening (despite my painful toes). All in all, it was a really fun evening, and I'm looking forward to future activities as I continue to actively submit my plays and write (I've begin work on a new play with the theme being "one shoe," the theme of Heartland Theatre's next festival).

How can it almost be October so soon?! September went by far too quickly this year! I do not look forward to the onset of chilly weather and *shuddering* snow. C'est la vie.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy Fall

Hi, all. I haven't written for a while because, well, there hasn't been that much to write about, but I wanted to check in on the first day of fall (which is sort of hard to believe, but here it is). Work was insane for a while, b/c classes started, so we had a great deal of add/drop activity (along with quite a few new registrants) and busy drop-in advising nights. Thankfully, that's ended and things have slowed down quite a bit. (The students were fine, for the most part, but it's just so hectic.) The weather got cool, then warm, then cool, then warmer, and today is rainy and raw. Unfortunately (just because of the weather), tonight is also the night I go to Providence, RI to see StudioRep's production of my play, PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES, and 13 (!) other works. Shannon, the producer of the festival and director of my play, assured me that all of the pieces are not 10 minutes (some are shorter), but it still seems like a long night. A fun one, though, I hope! I am going to drive there, but one of my friends will drive us back (8 of us going! Road trip!), b/c my vision is bad at night (clouding--I am going to see another eye doctor in about a week) and I also hate to drive in the rain (but glare is the primary concern). We'll all meet up beforehand at a highly recommended vegetarian restaurant, and I'll let you know how it goes. This is the first production of mine I've seen since June--June seems so far away now, but I am not complaining--and I'm looking forward to it. It could be a while till I see anything else of mine produced (not whining, just being realistic), so I want to really enjoy this.

Alas, I have an infected toe (possible two, baby toes). My stupid fault: I got blisters from walking to work in sandals (wonderful walk, 30 minutes or so on sunny, warmish days), and I popped the blisters (I learned to NEVER do that!), and now they are in rather bad shape. I never go to the doctor, but I went yesterday morning, and I'm now on antibiotics for seven days and am using Neosporin and keeping them bandaged. The left toe still hurts, and they both itch like crazy, but I guess that's the beginning of the healing process, and I think I caught this just in time, so I'm relieved. I couldn't walk or work out yesterday and it's too nasty out today to do it, anyway, but I still plan to go to yoga tomorrow, since it's barefoot and I'll have my toes bandaged. Then I'm going to usher for I AM MY OWN WIFE by Boston Theatre Works, with a cast/director talkback (well, one cast member and the director), and those are always very interesting.

I started out the month with possibly my first migrane headache ever, ruining the Labor Day weekend (I saw live music, but it wasn't much fun with a poundiing headache). It's hard enough for me to get through the seasonal changes as it is (summer is typically my favorite season, then spring, but not this past summer, given its tumultuous nature), and the headache didn't help, though the weather was pretty decent, 60s and mostly sunny. This past week, my left wrist ached, and i worried about carpel tunnel syndrome, but the achiness has disappeared for the most part, so I must have just strained it while I entered in a lot of student transfer credits on Friday. I am relieved, b/c it really hurt and it really worried me. (I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, though I definitely wasn't in regards to the toe.) No, I'm not fond of medical ailments--they make me feel so old (the blisters were just stupidity, however)--but I guess they are inevitable. On the creative front, I sent out several plays over the past two weeks to many different festivals; fall is a big time for that, since they happen in the winter and spring. Now I just have to forget about them and move on (and I am).

I was pretty sad this past week when I found out that two close friends had one-page plays selected by Harvest Theatre (Debbie might get hers taped!) and I did not have any of my five plays chosen. I was frustrated b/c I thought a couple of the plays were REALLY good (others who read them agreed) and couldn't understand why I had been rejected. Of course, no one ever wants to be rejected, but it's harder when you know writers who got in, and in this case 40 (!) plays were accepted (of course, 200 or so were rejected, so I'm firmly in that category but not alone). I am over it, but it took a few days, and sapped some energy it really shouldn't have. I got so sad and depressed about such things, but it is a bloody ONE PAGE festival, and there was no royalty money attached, so it's just silly to get upset at all about it. I know the festival producer liked my work (he read all of my plays and was very encouraging, and a bit surprised that I'd been rejected), and really, that's all the matters, b/c he'd like to see me submit in the future. I know, I know, if you can't handle rejection, don't submit. You don't know how many times I've said that to myself, believe me. I also saw Edd's play at the Devanaughn Theatre twice, and found it very moving. He and Braden at AYTB (where Edd's play was produced) keep encouraging me to write a full-length, or at least a long one-act, and that's what I plan to do in October, when I have my week off (no moving to worry about this time, I hope!!!). I can spend 3-4 hours working a day, and then can spend the rest of the time walking, working out, reading, and watching movies and TV.

I got a DVR (like TiVO) from Comcast, b/c my VCR finally died, and it's very cool. I love taping shows like Grey's Anatomy, even while they're on, and pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding, and even switching back to live TV after I've caught up. I don't have to worry about what channel I have the TV on (since DVR chooses it for you), and now I can watch The Daily Show and Colbert report the next night, instead of staying up till 11pm (and thereby going to bed at midnight), or rushing home at 8pm to see them both. It's just a nice thing to have for $9.95/month. I also subscribed to NetFlix, which many of my friends have, and it's extremely cool. I have watched a lot of movies and TV shows since the subscription started, including CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, L'Auberge Espangnole (not great, IMHO, but quirky, very 20-something'esh), FREAKS AND GEEKS (which just stirred up too many unhappy memories), and a couple of documentaries, and today ENTOURAGE is due, which I'm looking forward to seeing. I'm trying to figure out the configuration of the DVD and DVR players--not so easy, as I found out after a half hour on the phone to Comcast (fortunately, the technician was VERY patient)--but I think I have it straight, and since I love the still-new apartment, I do not mind staying home and reading or watching movies, etc. I used to dread being home all day, but no longer (not that I've become a wallflower, I just don't feel as anxious when I'm home, since I can find things to do, and the apartment is so comfortable to be in). My parents came by yesterday (THIRD time in two months--incredible :-)) to try to put up curtains (wrong size), and they are really helping me decorate the place. It's going to be pretty cozy in the winter, and it's nice and bright during the day, b/c of all the windows.

And this weekend, since I have time and haven't really written much since June, I have started work on a new 10-minute play based on the theme "One Shoe" for the Heartland Theatre festival (Debbie got in last year with a great play based on their 20-year theme, and it inspired my play NOT A COMPETITION, so though I didn't win, I did write a new play as a result). It's turning out to be a bit too realistic about my family, so I'm not sure where to go with it, but I have time--no deadlines for this one, since I've sent out my other plays to all the festivals I've known about--and so can relax and just work on it. I'll send it to Edd at some point for his comments, which are always astute, but for now I'll just do more rewriting. And that's about it for me. I need to stop eating so much (it's really out of control), and I need my toes to get better (which I'm sure they will, though I can't work out except for yoga until they're healed, which bothers me), but otherwise I have some downtime (aside from Providence) to chill this weekend, and that's just fine with me. Should I get any acceptances anytime soon, I'll be sure to check in, along with a report from the StudioRep festival. Let's hope it doesn't get too cold too fast. Winter is such an unpleasant season for me, though I won't have to worry about digging about my car every few days this year! Thank goodness for seemingly small but relevant things.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The whirlwood ends and September arrives

I'm really sorry I haven't written for nearly two months (I had no idea it had been that long). It's been such a busy July and August that I didn't have time to get my head together long enough to sit down and write here (though I did a little writing, but not much). Anyway, I'm back at the computer, and this time in my new apartment. This is the place I've dreamed of for so long. I'm looking out FIVE bay windows, where there is a fair amount of traffic and apartment buildings (it's a well-traveled road, on the way to several hospitals). But there are also trees and so much sunlight! It's wonderful. I'm sure it will be beautiful in the fall when the trees change colors, though I would prefer to have them be green and full. I am a big fan of summer, and not so much of fall, because I know that the daylight will continue to fade and the temperatures will continue to drop and the snow and bitter cold are on their way. But for now, I can enjoy the end-of-summer weather (low 70s, comfortable) while I write. Although moving in the middle of August was extremely stressful, given that it was Registration at my college, it also meant that I didn't have to compete with all of the students returning (and they are, in great numbers) and others moving out September. I'm completely settled in, completely unpacked (I've been here less than three weeks, but I needed to do it in order to focus on other things and get comfortable and acclimated here), and ready to just relax this weekend.

So, the moving process was tough. I always get obsessive when I have things to do, and of course there are so many things to take care of when you move: changes of address (and there were some problems in that ares), working with movers after packing and getting rid of items you don't need (and deciding what to take and what to lose), and naturally, just finding the apartment in the first place! When I found out I had to move, because the condo I was living in was being sold, I naturally panicked (well, natural for me) and got to apartment hunting right away. When the first one that I put a deposit on fell through, I was pretty despondent, but just a day later, this apartment opened up and I took it on the spot. I am out a lot of money, b/c this place is $250 (!) more a month, and I also had to put down a deposit to the realtor I will never get back, alas, as well as last month's rent, but I knew right away that this was the place I wanted to live in (you always go with your gut), and the rents have gone up a LOT in the Boston area in the past eight years, so I had little choice if I wanted to live around here, and I dearly did/do. My sister in Florida graciously leant me $1000 for the move, which saved me (though my accountant was none-too-pleased, let me just say). But this place is just amazing, the nicest place I've ever lived in by myself (or with any roommates, actually, except maybe the apartment in Watertown 20 years ago, but that wasn't my own and one of the roomies was horrible).

I have a really large kitchen with a normal refrigerator (It even defrosts! It's been a long time since I had that *luxury*) and a great deal of cabinet space. I threw out my old table and chairs (dark wood, 21 years old, and quite ugly) and hope to get two light wood, bar stools and a matching table. There's even a walk-in pantry! The living room has the bay windows and a lot of wall space (I fit both couches in very comfortably, with space to spare), not to mention the mantle and non-working fireplace. And then there is a small hallway (there are actually two, one by the kitchen) with BUILT-IN BOOKSHELVES, which I have already begun to fill. The bedroom is huge (one mover said I could use it as a dance floor :-)) with three windows and two closets, including a walk-in, and the bathroom is small but completely renovated (nicer than my last one, b/c it's brand-new), and the linen closet is very large. In addition, there is a washer/dryer in the basement (imagine that: not having to go outside to do my laundry anymore!), and I park right behind the building, so I don't have to move the car twice a week, or once a week onto the street for garbage pickup. I mention all of this b/c I want to emphasize how happy I am to be in what my sister calls "an adult apartment." It only takes three minutes to walk to the subway and five to Coolidge Corner, which is a nice area with good restaurants, an indie movie theatre, a great bookstore along with Walden Books, my bank, Trader Joes's (so I'm eating a lot better already), two CVS's, a GAP (though I won't go in there much, hard as that is), and a great deli. It's very suburban and yet very active, and I've dreamed of living here for a very long time. No more Boston College students drinking and smoking and partying on my way home and right across the street from my apartment. There are families here; imagine that! And my commute to work is only about 8 minutes, or 35 to walk. Yes it has everything I could want (except maybe an extra room, but that's okay, and of course it isn't mine ;-)), and a very attentive landlord. I feel very fortunate to have found it (not that it just fell into my lap; I had to work hard at the realtor game, but it was worth it) and plan to stay here until I buy my own condo (and that could be many years from now).

During this period of moving and change (I HATE change), I had to get through course registration, which meant very long hours more than anything else, especially with the beginning of on-line registration (though it went smoothly). The movers were expensive ($900, though I didn't realize it would be nearly that pricey till theh day before, and then I was stuck) but were also great, the cable/phone/internet went fine the day after (though my VCR no longer tapes, and no one can figure out why it isn't wired correctly anymore), the mail issues seem to be resolved, and I can finally relax. My grandfather also died during this time, and though he was 96, it was very hard on my dad and mom (he was in a coma for two weeks, and my parents were in Florida for part of it). The funeral and graveside burial was relatively short but naturally painful, and my dad is still suffering the after effects. Fortunately, the money issues seem to be going well (my grandfather was quite wealthy), and I hope my step-grandmother is on her way to recovery, as she has been very weak (she is 88, I believe) and in pain due to one of her legs. I hadn't been to a funeral since my grandmother, with whom I was extremely close, died when I was 14. I was trying to remember the funeral, but I actually don't know if I went. I do remember afterwards that were little cups of custard everywhere in the condo afterwards, and that it was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry (he was very close to her). I think he cried again when he had to have back surgery that could have paralyzed and again when he had his triple bypass surgery (I was in my late 30s for the latter, a teenager, I think, for the former, or maybe in college). He is pretty stoic that way. I didn't see him cry during the funeral or thereafter; he just seemed sad and very tired. I was rather freaked out, I have to say, and though I wasn't extremely close to my grandfather, he was very kind to me financially and also cared a great deal about me, perhaps because of my grandmother. I hope he and Grammy are looking down on us all and are happy. My grandmother was also a writer, and I think she would be proud of the early success I've achieved, with more to come.

Speaking of which, I got into another festival! My play "Peanut Butter Sandwiches," the one that seems to resonate with a lot of people, was chosen for StudioRep's festival in Providence, RI in late September. I am so excited b/c it was very competitive and b/c I can go to it! Right now, four or friends plan to come along, and Providence is a really fun city (I've been going there since I was six, since my dad went to Brown and we've seen at least one football game at the stadium every year). It's about an hour away, and we'll go on a Saturday night and have dinner and maybe walk around beforehand, depending on the weather. It should be a fun evening, and I'll get a program, unlike some festivals (sigh) and see if there are any reviews (though I don't get Providence newspapers, of course, so I'll have to check online). I've been rejected from all of the other festivals (maybe three or four rejections in the past six weeks), though I'm waiting on the one-page festival (it was really fun to write short plays, thanks to my friend Edd's lines that have inspired me; I've done the same for him). I am also a finalist for SABEL's festival in Malibu, CA, 22/145 or so submissions, so I'm hopeful as Dona, one of the producers, really liked "The Satchel." I've also revised "Not A Competition" with Edd's help, so I can send that out, and plan to revise "The Satchel" this weekend. Then I'll have five plays (including "PB Sandwiches," "Out for the Holidays," and "A Genetic Trait," the funny one) to send out,and that's pretty good. I would like to try to write a new one this weekend, or at least get started, but we'll see. Anna and I want to go to Club Passim to see lots of acoustic music this weekend (it goes from Friday night-Monday night, and it's an intimate space, plus they have great, organic food), and tonight Edd's play opens at AYTB, so Anna and I will go to it, after eating at Bob the Chef's. My mom is also coming by to bring me a rug for the bedroom and have lunch (she and my dad LOVED the new place; they raved about the parquet floors, the space, and the location, which is so safe and so much nicer than Cleveland Circle, a rather grimy area), and I want to work out. So I have a good weekend planned, along with a "Ghost World" party at one of the bookclub members' apartments in Boston.

So...phew. That pretty much sums up the past six weeks. Lots of stress with moving (and my back hurt horribly, b/c it's weak and doesn't appreciate my bending over or picking up any kind of item) and with work, along with some fun, like seeing movies with the bookclub set. But the worst of it is over (knock on wood), and now I can sit back and not think about the Red Sox but think about the Patriots and enjoy the rest of the summer and the fall. It's about time.