Saturday, April 29, 2006

Saturday: another country heard from

Got a nice note from a distant land........
"I'm a high school senior from the International School Bangkok. In the end of the school year we are putting on a small production with my IB Theatre Arts class. We are all going to present monologues, duets and trios for parents, teacher, and students from school. I'm a dancer, and I really like your play "Snakes and Ladders." It would be great if you'd give me the permission to do it for the production. "

Worked on trying to recruit actors for my play reading a week from Sunday.
Posted -- is it my first? -- on the liberal religion blog, Philocrites.
The question was what writers/theologians influenced the blogg's reader's religious beliefs?
I replied:
1940s-50s: childhood through high school--
Unitarian Sunday School, The Bible and The World Bible, George Eliot, Shakespeare, Greek myths and Greek dramatists, Bertram Russell & Will Durant Theology a subset of philosophy/narrative.
1960s: college & desegregation with CORE and anti- Vietnam--
Plato, Aristotle, existentialists, Suzuki, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, ML King, Emerson, Huxley, Wm James, Wm Blake, Keats & Shelly, Buber, Niebuhr, A N Whitehead, S. Langer, Cox & Coffin
1970s-80s: MA in Feminist Spirituality from Goddard. Read all the relevant female theologians I could beg or borrow. Also studied with James Luther Adams at Arlington St. Church: Tillich, mostly. Re-connected with the Transcendentalists and wrote plays about the Spiritualists, E. C. Stanton, & W E Channing.
1990s-2000s: studied Islam, but without achieving the empathy I'd hoped for. Shocked and awed at the rise of the Fundamentalists. Also caught up in rise of the Internet and the consequent shortening and coarsening of my attention span. Martha Nussbaum, Sen, Said, Armstrong. Grateful for periodic dollops of Buddhism from James Ford, my minister.

David and I stayed up till about 2 am Sun watching the cspan re-run of the Bush- Colbert comedy clash at the Whitehouse Correspondents's dinner, which we discovered was on in the wee hours while destoying our minds by staying up way too late reading political blogs...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday: Hiding Behind Comets

Went with Will to see Hiding Behind Comets at Zeitgeist Theatre at the BCA Blackbox. The PR for it did not sound as if if would be my cup of tea, but Rick Park is in it and I admire him as an actor and like him as a person. He has taken over Boston Actor news and kept that important communication service alive for the community, so I guess I have to say that I admire him as a citizen, too.
But I hated the show.
Rick was fine. I almost believed his character's implausible lines and unfathomable motivations. But I felt as if I were trapped in a slasher movie.
Here's what Will Stackman wrote about it in the Mirror:

Brian Dykstra's post-modern grande guignol, "Hiding Behind Comets," just opening as Zeitgeist's final offering of the season, is one of those contemporary theatre pieces which pretend to explore hard-edged reality, but which confuse the sensational with the significant. If the script were subjected to the main character's test whether it should live or die, "HBC" would fail. But like a car wreck by the side of the road, this four actor, one set show will probably continue to lure in small theatres until the next example of this depressing trend in current script writing comes along.
Briefly, this brief two-acter takes place in a roadside bar somewhere boring in northern California. A thuggish stranger has shown up. The young bartender, Troy, played by Greg Raposa, seen in "The Fox" earlier this season, is arguing with his fraternal twin sister, Honey, played by Olivia Rizzo. She wants him to close early--it's around midnight--and come with her and his slutty girlfriend, Erin, played by Kelley Estes, to a party down the road. The older man, Cole, is Rick Park, veteran local actor. At the end of the first act, after a good deal of sexual innuendo involving a long ambivalent scene between Cole and Honey followed by a long confessional monologue from Cole, the girls leave. Cole and Troy face off, and the incipient mystery rears its head, resulting in a "significant" curtain line. There's a suspicion that a play might develop in the second act, but the first has the air of a padded one-act, and with editing, would play well as such, though probably not in ten minutes.
What develops in the second part, however, is a series of vaguely Absurdist confrontations between Troy and Cole which become increasingly violent. By the conclusion, the question becomes who will kill whom, with no clear reason why. We're in Shepard country without a map. "Hiding Behind Comets," which takes its title from an oblique reference to the suicidal Heaven's Gate cult, trades on the fading memory of Jonestown to create melodramatic frisson with no real purpose other than violence for its own sake. While "stuff happens" may be the message of the evening news--and the current political morass--more is expected of drama. Zeitgeist's David J. Miller has once again found a script with limited moral value, given it a realistic production, and invited an audience. With the other choices currently available around town, he shouldn't be surprised if they don't come. Like the set, which is very realistic, except for the main wall behind the action, which has the entrances and a window, but is merely one side of the black box, there's something missing in this show which can't be salvaged by Park's impressive acting skills. Raposa manages to keep up most of the time, but the two recent theatre grads playing the girls are left far behind. And the audience is left wondering if they've just watched a staged treatment for a low budget M or X rated film. Or whatever.
Seen in Preview "Hiding Behind Comets" by Brian Dykstra, April 30 - May 20
Zeitgeist Stage Company in Plaza Black Box

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jeremy's birthday

Monica, Beverly, and I do not manage to coordinate to go to the Shiva for Miriam. Jeremy arrives home from school and enlists me to help him get ready for the family birthday party at 5:30. Earlier this week he told me that he couldn't think of any present he wants-- he has everything: a pet bunny, a family dog, friends, a scooter, a bike, a computer, a playstation... he can't even think of a game he doesn't have yet that he wants. My mother sent him money, and maybe that's what I'll have to give him on official Kids Party and Present Day, Sunday.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sex and Seniors

Fellow writer asks: "In senior's sex taboo? I've written a short play for seniors, and not even a whisper of a comment. Is it just not done?"
My opinion:
It is done discretely, according to my 88 year old mom who has subscriptions to two local Tampa area theatres where the audiences -- and many of the actors-- are post-retirement age. She served for years on the script-selection committee. Her generation still objects mightily to "language" -- doesn't want to hear "that stuff" on stage. But geriatric love affairs and salty old folks are appreciated, and they like to see sympathetic young people get together.
another quotes Bonnie L. Vorenberg, Senior Theatre Expert, on the subject:
"Sex, drugs and rock and roll are still alive in seniors’ lives. It seems that audiences of all ages enjoy hints of sexuality, but might be turned off with explicit sexuality."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

friend and colleague Miriam D'Amato

My friend and colleague Miriam D'Amato has died. Here's the email announcement that went out to Playwright's Platform members:
"It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Platform member Miriam D'Amato. A member of the Platform since 1998, Miriam was along-time writer seeking to broaden her abilities into playwriting. She was an active participant in our community and a regular at our Sunday meetings, with several of her plays performed at the Platform's annual Summer Festivals, and many of them produced in the wider theater world. More importantly, she was a dear friend to many of us in the Platform. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family as we hold her in our thoughts and prayers. Miriam will be sorely missed."
Patrick Brennan, president
Tribute from Monica Raymond:
"I still remember her play "A Noodle Kugel for Company," about the difficult and hilarious first date of a couple of senior singles, as read by Annette Miller and Ted Kazanoff, at the 2003 Boston HER-RAH. I think that play also won or placed in the senior theater contest you run, Alan. Miriam published an article in ICWP's SEASONS, and when I went on-line to
try to find information about when her funeral is/was, I pulled it up. .. along with a picture of her. This is really all I know. I didn't know Miriam well, but it's sad and a little bit shocking to realize that she, who seemed a forever presence in the local playwriting scene, is now gone."
From Alan Woods at Ohio State:
"Deeply saddened to learn of Miriam's passing. Noodle Kugel was indeed a winner in the first Heckart Drama for Seniors competition in 2003, and our local performers, Harold and Anita Eisenstein (both in their upper 80s), have performed it frequently in and around Columbus ever since. She'll be missed."

I directed Noodle Kugel at the Playwrights Platform festival, where it won the first of several prizes, and then again for the ICWP Her-Rah! presentation. Miriam was lovely to work with, and I also enjoyed playing her characters in Platform readings over the years.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Theatre Economics and Audiences

In discussion, Lelia said:
" Pricing shows beyond the range of most folks - at $20-$30 a ticket 'round here, I don't go to shows at all, much less 2 or 3 a week, and it's just me & my husband to feed and shelter. This price is regardless of shoestring or extravaganza production values."
my reply:
This is true and important! I see tons of theatre because I get comps-- to the press openings through my connections as an ex-critic, or to previews through Boston's StageSource org. which "papers the house" with actor-member freebies when one of the producing theatres has a slow advance sale. Or I usher. Otherwise theatre going just wouldn't be within my budget. "Talking To Terrorists", which is a play with a left/labor POV, had to charge $40 for tickets. That's almost an 8 hour day's work at the $5.15 federal minimun wage. The Royal Court, where the play sold out its run in London last year, has tickets that cost only slightly more than a movie-- (I no longer go to movies-- they are too expensive for a person living on 10k of Social Security) plus a pay-what-you-can day each week and special rush seats for not just students but also for the unemployed.
But! The "theatre community" can't cure this price problem-- the "theatre community" is always broke. Artists subsidize their art-- and the art of their colleagues. We are all part of the segment of the economy that is losing ground. When I moved to Boston in 1967, I was able to support myself through teaching Creative Dramatics for kids at $10-$15 for an hour or an hour and a half class. Rent was $50 per month. A loaf of bread cost $0.15. Prices are more than 10 times what they were 40 years ago-- but community programs around here still advertise for people with college degrees in theatre to teach for $10-$15 per class! And they have plenty of applicants to choose from-- many of them with Master's degrees that cost $100,000 or more and left the graduates seriously in debt! (My education was essentially free-- as were museums and concerts and city-supported truck stage traveling shows...) The current small theatre contract pays actors $120 per week for 6 shows-- a 21 + hour work week at less than $7 per hour. Who can afford do do theatre? Who can afford to go to theatre? What can be addressed in a theatre that is practiced by and patronized by such rarified subgroups-- starving artists and those with plenty of disposable income and a taste for live entertainment?

Annie suggests:
"If you are union - SAG or Equity - please visit your union websites
and take advantage of the free and ultra discount entertainment offered to you."
to which I reply:
I'm not union. Perhaps I've never been good enough. But I tell myself that it is because my particular calling as an actor is simply not economically viable. From time to time I do audition for some irresistible role-- Bessie Burger, say; or Mdm Arcati-- open to non-Equity actors in a shoestring production. But my main mission as an actor is to serve the process of bringing new plays to life-- in cold and staged readings, workshops or productions. I don't expect to be paid-- though I'm grateful for the rare instance when there's a grant or something and I am paid. But I do it for love, and to "pay forward" all the actors who have graciously helped me by taking roles in my plays. Unfortunately, most of my actor friends are Equity, and though they are allowed to volunteer to do readings for me or other writers they are forbidden to do workshops or a performance. But unless there are non-Equity actors-- esp in the 40-60 range-- willing to work for nothing, only writers with money will be able to learn the lessons that only working with actors can teach.

We do have a wonderful org, Boston StageSource, that holds networking events, arranges comps and two-fers, produces an annual cattle-call for local theatres' season's casting, maintains headshot files, sends email op notices, publishes a Resource Guide listing every theatre group and artist member...!

But That's Writers, or Actors-- the bigger issue is Audiences, who it is we're talking to and what interests we address.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Falling Apart at either End, Martha in the Middle

Skipped choir and church this am. I got to bed late and didn't sleep well so when the alarm went off I squelched it and slept another couple of hours. Got up and put my head in the steamer to clear my sinuses, drank lemon-ginger tea for my throat.
When I did my Idiot Check for everything I needed to do the show, I discovered a bag of stuff had gone missing-- mostly jewelry which I will be able to substitute for. But I'm late picking up Joan, and I have waves of insecruity. If I can't remember what I did with a prop bag, how can I expct to remember all the other things-- like words and notes and feelings-- I need to perform?
At 4 I performed Martha at a beautiful old house in honor of the 80 year old artist/activist whose idea it was to revive the show. The audience, mostly in the 60-80 range, came up afterwards to express dismay that the painful lessons of Watergate had gone for naught-- the Same Dirty Tricks are loose in the land, and some of the tricksters are the same men who nearly ended our rule of law in 1971! I snag a few canapes-- by now I'm starving-- but must leave before dinner. Joan and Rosanna leave early, too. Rosanna has a recurring bout of the vertigo that has been troubling her, and Joan's son has a health emergency. June stays as stand in for the whole troupe. A better trooper couldn't be found.

On to the Hovey Players in Waltham, where Playwrights Platform is having auditions for the summer short play festival, my "Christmas At Grandma's" among the scripts being matched with actors. My director arrived at 3pm, and apparently was successful because when I arrive at 6 pm the auditions are over. I stay for the first of the evening's Platform script readings, a clever comedy during which I fall asleep. I consider apologizing to the author, but decide that it's possible that he didn't notice and that I'd better just go home and go to bed. But David has taped "The West Wing" for me, so we watch that first.

Happy Shakespeare's Birthday!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I saw 3 pieces of theatre this week

1 At Bosten Theatre works I saw Rebecca Gilman's "The Sweetest Swing In Baseball", which some people I respect admire. I thought it was unsatisfactory-- a play of ideas with 2 dimensional characters in which the ideas were third rate. Every human has worth, smart people and not so smart people grow and love and work and feel pain-- drama doesn't need to be about smart. But a play of ideas where the ideas are dim and characters cardboard? What use is that? Plus the artist's "comeback" chicken pictures belonged on a refrigerator -- if she were 8 years old and her proud mother put them up with magnets.

2 At The Actor's Shakepeare Project I saw a nicely directed (Benjamin Evett) well acted production of "All's Well That Ends Well" that was also unsatisfactory. Helena and Bertram were -- IMHO--grossly miscast, so there was no romantic pull to the piece, no communal reconciliation to celebrate. The company's comments indicate that they think the play a failure and that Bertram is not just a cad but a dispicable one. I actually like "All's Well", and I've seen some good productions of it. It seems to me that Bertram has to be very spoiled but attractive; naive and redeemable so that we will want him to grow up and stop making bad choices. I especially liked the old Boston Shakespeare Co. Edwardian version-- Helena as a Shavian heroine-- 30some years ago. That production, like most of BSC's, was panned by the local critics; but after 3 decades of Shakespeare it's one of the ones I remember in detail, and with pleasure.

3) At Nora I saw a very well done local production of "The Man Who..." Peter Brooks' illustration/exploration of Oliver Sacks "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat". 80 minutes, 4 actors--Steve Barkhimer, Robert Bonotto, Owen Doyle, Jim Spencer-- playing at least 20 characters under Wesley Savick's sharp direction. NO RELATIONSHIPS-- but that's sort of the point, isn't it? We have relationships when our personal narratives intersect and we react to each other-- these men were each locked inside their own data fields, the patients by their brain damage, the doctors by their research protocols. There were moments of pity and fear, but only brief ones--- except for the pleasure of being able to admire the actors' skill at portraying the nearly unimaginable states of mis-perception, being there felt much like being at home alone reading Sack's book.

But who knows what people consider worth the time trouble and money to see? I just closed in a production of Robin "Talking To Terrorists". I admired the script, the director, the company, and my fellow actors; and was intensely proud to be acting in a beautiful and important production. The reviews ranged from respectful to enthusiastic-- and the audiences were very small. I felt semi-suicidal for about a week afterwards..... if people are not willing to engage complex and challenging material in the safe space of a theatre, what chance is there that we can attain the wisdom and will to find political solutions?

Friday, April 21, 2006

A cheerful email

Of course I replied "yes!" to it:
"I am a drama teacher in New Zealand who has been looking for some short plays to use with my Fifth form (year 11) class for a creating character unit. I would like to print off a number of your plays to add to the pile in which students can pick from. May I have permission to do so? May I have permission to perform the plays if they are chosen?
It has been great reading through them; I particularly like how many of them do not require great scenery or props – which will make it easier to perform in my small classroom.
I look forward to hearing from you..."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

On Self-direcing by Actors

a Theatre discussion...
I think that an acting ensemble with "interior" direction could be fine. Some musicians who play chamber music have a conductor, some don't. I have seen some good no-director plays -- I just can't remember where or when at the moment. OTOH-- I hardly ever remember the directors-- do you? It's only after seeing 4 or 5 productions of the same play that you begin to be able to sort out the difference a director makes.

I didn't say "an"actor-- rather actors. "An" would be like appointing the 1st violin to make all the decisions a conductor would. Interior means that the direction comes from inside the ensemble as a whole. I have worked this way myself, though not recently. In a 5 person ensemble, 1 or more of the actors give feedback on scenes in which they do not appear and can therefore see from the audience POV. In scenes in which everyone appears, actors take turns stepping out and either delivering their lines from out front or watching a stand in walk through reading for the character whose actor is out. The actors take notes, the group discusses the perceived problems and works together on ways to fix them. Ideas do not flow from the top down, but circulate. Another technique common to self-directed groups is role-passing. Actors switch roles in rehearsal to develop a group understanding of the actions and inter-realtionships.

The director is a very recent addition to the process. Some few troupes or theatres had directors as early as 150 years ago, but even as late as the 1920's most were organized differently, around either an actor-manager or a producer. For thousands of years, we've had actors, with or without playwrights. Actors passed on the traditional "business" that was customary in famous roles, like Hamlet or Lady M. Even when designers ruled and painted elaborate sets the actors stood in front of the decor and did what they were used to doing.... stars down stage center, supporters framing them, bit players "dressing the stage". The idea of a "director's interpretation" carried out by a cast chosen for their suitability to his vision appeared only the generation before mine. My grandparents generation would have been baffled by the idea. I'm writing about the famous actress Ellen Terry c. 1840-1910. Lots of attention to details of costume and manner, many different "bosses", usually the leading actor-- but hardly ever a director as such.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Wednesday: Martha rehearsal

In the am at Joan's. Discovered scattered small word changes in the script, must consult Rosanna when she gets back in town to see if they are accidental reversions to an earlier draft (I hope!) or intentional. She only mentioned 3 bits of new material, these aren't those. Also, one change I know is intentional, a two line addition near the end, just doen't seem to work..... perhaps it would work a page earlier? Singing went a little better, but there are still notes that are unreliable. Must get more herbal tea and continue treating sore throat.

lister asks:
re-writing AGAIN my play about my grandma..... is set in the 40's and 50's and I don't use any F-bombs. The characters say Goddamn and bitch....what about bitch? Do you think that was used in the 50's....What could be used instead of bitch?
I reply:
Where, when, by whom? I was alive and listening then. I overheard grownups swearing and talking raunchy while playing poker when they thought we kids were asleep, but it was 1957 before I ever heard the F-word said aloud. "Damn" and "hell" were not respectable, esp. in "mixed company". Goddam was worse. "Bitch" the verb, for complaining, was more common than the female dog insult--- SOB was daring, Son of a Gun borderline. People really did say things like "I do not allow such language in my house", and warn young ladies to stay away from young men who were known to use disrespectful terms like "bitch". Respectable parents really did wash kids mouths out with soap for using "Bad Language". Non-respectable people did cuss and blaspheme far beyond what is preserved in movies and plays and even novels of the era-- censorship was strong--- but you could only "get away" with this if you were financially independent of the dominant culture or in a "special" space--- cockfights, poker games, tough blue collar work sites-- places where "good" women were not allowed to go. OTOH, ethnic slurs were more common and less likely to be chided.
My mother, born 1917, still objects to hearing on stage words she knows very well are said by the sorts of characters portrayed in the situations shown. She just doesn't think they belong in a public auditorium! And like many community theatres, the groups she patronizes habitually change or cut the "bad words" in the scripts they produce.
My play "Intercourse Ohio" is set in 1959, and characters talk about "bad" words...
I also recommend Marge Piercy's "Gone For Soldiers".

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tuesday, dentist and passivity

This is a beautiful day, spring at its most attractive, but I can't seem to pull myself out of my funk and the trip to the dentist didn't help. I didn't hear any additional bad news, but the prospect of either getting dauntingly expensive implants or losing my ability to sing and to articulate clearly is not something I'm willing to face, even when the sun is shining and the trees and bulbs are all abloom.
Procrastinating via email and blogs, catch myself thinking things like: "Why get my teeth fixed when Bush is determined to launch WWIII?..."

joining a trivial pursuit... writer asks if anyone can shed light on 1930's manners:
"There is a line in a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery novel about how 'one doesn't shake hands at Oxford.' The only thing I have found is that at one time, a lady never put out her hand for a man to shake - the man had to lead, as it were."
I speculate...
Are you sure? I'm kind of old, but I was taught "way back when" that if the introduction is made by a reliable party-- one's chaperone or cousin, for instance-- the lady puts her hand out first, and that the way she extends it determines whether she it expects it to be kissed or shaken. It would be presumptuous for a man to assume that a lady was willing to shake his hand-- and if she were to refuse, that's a cut direct!-- An insult no gentleman would be likely to risk. OTOH, he would probably recover from her insult-- but if she extends her hand and he looks it it as if it is a snake, "Everyone" will assume that she has some dreadful secret and is ruined beyond redemption! So I'd suppose that she takes a greater risk by offering, and is safer not to do so. A civil nod suffices....
Now that I think about it--- isn't this because there are merchant class and even lower class scholarship boys at Oxford, with whom no gentleman and particularly no nobleman really "ought" to "lower" himself to shake hands? But therefore it is only polite to shake hands with no one and spare the inferiors from social embarrassment? For similar reasons everyone was expected to wear the scholar's gown, so that wealth and rank differences were minimized?

Mo Mowlam, the Sec. of State for N. Ireland whom I played in "Talking To..." said that she was able to negotiate the Good Friday peace because she she treated the working class militants as human beings. She-- from the working class herself-- was the first S of S who ever shook hands with them.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday: Sugan's shutdown -- alas, alas

Questions surround Sugan's split from BCA By Ed Siegel, Globe Staff | April 8, 2006
Tonight's performance of ''Talking to Terrorists" will mark the end of what seemed like a great relationship. Over the past 14 years the Sugan Theatre Company, specializing in contemporary Irish and Celtic plays, has become one of the most interesting and important companies in Boston, ....... Sugan's decision to leave the BCA after the ''Terrorists" run -- without having found another home -- shows that it's still a struggle for small theater companies to make a go of it in Boston. What does it say that the Sugan, one of this city's strongest small or midsize groups, might not be producing anything for the next year or two?..... Carmel O'Reilly is the company's only paid staffer, so when you consider all its artistic successes over the past decade or so -- from Conor McPherson's ''St. Nicholas" and Martin McDonagh's ''The Lonesome West" to any number of recent productions -- it is really amazing how far it has come. After all, this is a company that can hold its own artistically with bigger-staffed counterparts.....
(T)he theater community (is) speculating about whether the BCA did enough to keep Sugan. Harvard theater professor Robert Scanlan, who directed the company's ''Women on the Verge of HRT" at the BCA this season, says the departure points to the city's lack of support for the arts in general and the BCA's lack of support for the Sugan specifically. ......
O'Reilly's responses are more cryptic. Did the move have anything to do with the BCA? ''I don't think I want to comment." Could the BCA have done more? ''Not at this point." Others in the theater community, who didn't want to be quoted, gripe that resident companies at the BCA are forced to spend too much time on outreach programs....
The Sugan's aesthetic tends to be darker. Its work has won critical accolades, but recent pieces like Tom Murphy's ''The Sanctuary Lamp," about three lost souls finding one another in a church, and Gregory Burke's ''Gagarin Way," a bloody (albeit humorous) contemplation of terror, were not huge crowd pleasers. The Sugan has also seen the work of marquee writers it has championed, like McDonagh and McPherson, migrate to the larger New Repertory Theatre, which has staged McPherson's ''The Weir" and McDonagh's ''A Skull in Connemara." McDonagh's latest Broadway sensation, ''The Pillowman," opens New Rep's next season. So whither the Sugan? .... The lesson, though, is that neither audiences nor the theater community should take anything for granted in the arts. It's still a struggle, even for a company as good as Sugan. © Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Saturday -- the End

I do very little during the day, saving my energy for the matinee and evening performances.

My husband agrees to pick me up at 11pm to make it easy for me to carry home all my show stuff-- besides the ordinary, I have a couple or three lamps on loan to the set to retrieve.

I thought both last shows would be packed with all the people who understood how important the play is but put off going until the last minute: wrong. Small houses again. It is so sad to be part of this beautiful painful thing and realize that hardly anybody wants to experience it.

The cast goes to the Butcher Shop across the street for a brief get -together. At some point I hear that tehre is a story in today's Globe that the Sugan is resigning from its residency at the BCA and may or may not be able to reorganize and find a new home. Peter and the crew aren't talking about it-- they have words of comfort for the distressed, but my distress is not likely to be eased. As far as I am concerned, Sugan is the Little Theatre That Does Everything Right. If it is not sufficiently supported by the community to survive, than the art is in very deep and perhaps irreparable difficulty.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday: on the home stretch

Still plagued by a stuffed up head and raspy throat, and dosing and steaming myself.

Indulging curmudgeonly opinions, first on submission fees as the accepted costs of doing business for a playwright, to be paid out of income and deducted against taxes:

IF you take your play writing seriously, the Day Jobs you get, the ones you can write or do theatre around, are not the serious "career" kind, but hourly stuff that pays the rent on your humble flat. No vacation. No health insurance. This is the part of the economy that has been losing ground year by year as the rich get richer and the poor poorer. This is also why I get enraged at reading fees, and "benefit" receptions where playwrights can "Network" for $75 -- "less than dinner and a show, and it's tax deductable!" As if I or people like me ever HAVE "dinner and a show", or ever make enough money to be able to take anything other than the standard deduction: for anyone in the lower levels of the income distribution, charity comes
out of pocket, not out of taxes. The average professional published writer -- and damn few of those are playwrights-- makes $4000 a year! For heavens sakes, people, a $25 reading fee is four hours of labor at minimum wage. $75 is more than a week's groceries.
Did anyone read the profile in last week's New Yorker? Martin McDonough is a high school dropout from a working class family who wrote 9 brilliant plays by age 20, holed up jobless and living on the dole. He figured it was too hard to try to break into filmmaking, so he walked into a theatre with of couple of his scripts. I saw the Druid production of his first trilogy-- an astonishing production, thrillingly acted and directed-- in Galway in I guess
1997. Can anyone imagine this happening in the USA? Where? How? Why not? Set aside "fairness" to writers-- what does it mean for the art's ability to hold the mirror up to nature if credentials and connections and financial resources act as gatekeepers for what material is considered? Must our theatre be limited to being by for and about the upper middle class and its discontents?

So tonight I am a few minutes late driving in and the "secret" free parking spaces in the area around the theatre are all full. For a while it looks as if I will have to park in an indoor garage-- that and the cost of turnpike tolls will wipe out my entire paycheck from the show. But: a miracle! As I drive around I find a single empty space, only 6 blocks from the theatre, and my budget is out of the red!

And then on a theatre list member's complaint that there aren't enough right-wing playwrights....
"Has anyone seen a play affirming the right to spy on U.S. citizens without warrants? Or affirming the reasonableness of torture?

Both these positions are standard fare on TV shows. In police
procedurals warrant-getting is considered a hindrance that good cops
are forced to work around-- and of course the shows never dwell on
the harm caused to the suspects who turn out to be innocent, because
the plot follows the nailing of the bad guys by the hard working cops
and dedicated lawyers. Threats, lying, trading immunity or a
reduced sentence for testimony against another suspect-- are SOP.

Spy shows glorify torture or the threat of torture, and the "ticking bomb" justification is common. The most popular figures are those with the "guts" to break the law in the cause of a higher justice..... The names of playwrights whose work is humane and who have been listed as supporters of bleeding-heart causes show up in the writing credits for such shows. I assume that the threat plots are "the opium of the people" that reconciles the ordinary tired wage worker to the conditions under which we live, and have proven to be most compatible with the parallel narratives of the advertisements that underwrite their production.
(In fact a pro-torture play was read in my writer's group some months back. I was shocked and disapproving, but the other members were only interested in whether the details were arranged most effectively and the good-guy killer's triumph was plausible.)

Largest audience ever for "Talking To..' on Friday-- but a few did walk out after act I.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Thursday: Cold Interferes...

.... with ordinary life and with the 5 different voices I do in the course of "Talking To...". I'm raw and raspy, and some of my speech has missing or distorted notes, places wher ethe voice just isn't working properly, like a piano where jam's been spilled on some of the keys.... I'm downing various "natural remedies" like vitamin C & zinc and even the discredited ecaenasia, and steaming my nose and throat in a mini-sauna device. Yuk.

Some of the people coming to the show apparently thought it started at 8 instead of 7:30. They entered very noisily, at one point walking directly between me and the person in the audience I was directly talking to-- a disruption that had everybody in the audience focus on that event rather than on what I was saying. I felt strongly that Secretary of State Mo Mowlam would not have let rudeness pass unacknowledged, and the impulse to ad lib something like... "We'll all wait while you find your seat, darling".. was very strong. I didn't, because we'd never discussed quite this in rehearsal-- we had discussed incorporating an individual verbalized response to one of our in-character questions-- but never ad libbing through distracting movement. I took a small silent pause and soldiered on-- but I still feel an ad libb was called for. Director Carmel is in Ireland, where she'll be starring in a Dublin production of Mari Jones' "Women On The Verge of HRT"-- so I won't get a chance to ask her opinion of what the "right" reposnse would have been....

Playwrights' Platform has selected my short play "Christmas At Grandma's: What Big Teeth You Have" for the summer festival, and I've asked Lau Lapides if she will direct it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wednesday -- last week of "Talking To.."

My sore throat is not worse today. I hope that means I'm getting better. Rosanna is coming to the play tonight and since she "got me into this.." I want to make her glad she did. A healthy vocal mechanism will help.

Big News in Mass. today is the "universal" -- well not quite, it aims for 95% eventually-- "health care"-- not quite again, it is mandated individual coverage. Fines for those who fail to buy in-- is it really a secret plan to force all the semi-employed to leave the state because they --we-- won't be able to affford either coverage OR the fine? Anyway, I commented on the American Prospect's blog, "Tapped":

I am afraid that this bill is a big step backwards. It adds extra layers of red tape to a failing system that already eats up a disproportionate % of our GNP. That's without factoring in the lost time and psychic damage that ordinary people-- like me!-- suffer from any time they are rejected, misinformed, erroneously billed or arbitrarily cut off from treatment-- or forced to shift from a doctor/patient relationship that works to an iffy new one that is "covered". "Coverage" or "Insurance" does not insure care-- it is a business, and it can only stay in business by taking in more money and paying out less than its competitors. Medicare D is what happens when government and business lobbyists "cooperate" -- a dysfunctional nightmare.
If state resources were pored into real community-based clinics with strict standards of Public Health based care, with no frills and no expensive end-of-life heroic measures, Massachusetts could prove that a Canadian-type system could work in the US. This one is bound to fail, and further "prove" the alienating proposition that governmental good intentions are the problem, not the solution.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tuesday-- some pics, thanks to Sugan

Here I am as a mucky-muck from the FCO reminding the Ambassador with the inconvenient conscience that he needs to act "in accordance with the policies of Ministers".

Today such a person -- The Hammer, Tom Delay-- fell from power in Washington. I wish I could feel that it was the policy and not the person that was forced out.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Monday: the Nasty Cold has me in its clutches

But I have a picture from the Sugan "Talking To..." production to add to the blog. This is me as Lady Caroline, a Conservative politician's wife who narrowly escaped death when an IRA bomber -- that's Dafydd Rees playing the bomber ot the other end of the table-- planted expolsives at the Grand Hotel in Brighton where the leaders of the Conserevative Party were gatered for their annual Conference.

More news from the Sugan Theatre

We have scheduled -- at fairly short notice -- a discussion after the performance on Thursday evening (April 6) with 2 people who have extensive experience in talking to terrorists, albeit under very different circumstances -- Raymond Helmick SJ of Boston College and Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe. Brief bios are below.

Please forward this email to anyone who might be interested as we'd like a good turnout.

Raymond Helmick S.J. is Professor of Conflict Resolution in the Department of Theology at Boston College, and is co-founder and Senior Associate in the Conflict Analysis Center, Washington, D.C. For over thirty years he has worked as a mediator in various conflicts, including Northern Ireland, the Lebanon, Kurds of Iraq and Turkey, East Timor, the countries of the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. He mediated negotiations between the IRA and the Northern Ireland Office during the hunger strike of 1981, and has conducted unofficial diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for decades. He was Associate Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Responsibilities in London, co-founder of the Centre of Concern for Human Dignity (a joint project of the English and Irish Jesuit Provinces). His most recent book is Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed.

Kevin Cullen has been a reporter for The Boston Globe since 1985 and has covered the conflict in Northern Ireland for almost 20 years. He opened the Globe's Dublin bureau in 1997 and was the only staff reporter for an American newspaper to cover the Irish peace process full-time in the year leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. In 1998 he was appointed the Globe's London bureau chief and European correspondent, and spent much of the next three years in the Balkans, covering the war in the former Yugoslavia. Since returning from London, he has covered the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks, and was a member of the Globe team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Kevin was also part of the Spotlight Team that first exposed the relationship between the Boston FBI and James "Whitey" Bulger.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday --"Talking To.." run is 3/4 over

I've been feeling a little neglected, because although I had friends and family in the audience opening night, ever since I've not seen a familiar face when I talk directly to the audience. However, a couple from church did come, finally, and I felt a rush of what I'd have to call "communality" when I saw my friend's face out there!

She posted this to our church's mailing list afterwards:
"Get Thee To The Theatre
Well, it's not exactly light entertainment..... But it's important theater!!
I strongly urge you to try to go see "Talking to Terrorists" before it closes next Saturday. The fact that our own Geralyn Horton plays 4 roles and does it beautifully, is only one of several good reasons to go. (if you scroll down on the "Current Season" page, you'll see a picture of Geralyn as she opens the play.) ......
The whole thing is incredibly well acted and directed, AND it has important things to say about terrorism and what motivates terrorists. And, while there are some disturbing things discussed, it's not as gut-wrenching or gory as I'd worried when I read the reviews.
But VERY well done. You owe it to yourself to go see it!"

Another Good Thing was waiting for me when I got home: an email from Ghana:
On Apr 2, 2006, at 7:24 PM, magnificent kelvin wrote:
Geralyn, thanks for the play "Pregnant Pause". I am doing a lot with it in Ghana. This Tuesday 14th April, 2006, 6pm GMT at the ETS Drama Studio I will stage the play "Pregnant Pause".

For a surprise and your information, I have pictures and videos of this play which I think would be perfect for your site, I would send them to you tomorrow, but do you have any interesting Full length plays that I can direct next semester? Please reply.
Thanks for being the author of this play..............It's so magnificent!

I wrote back...Congratulations!
Thank you! I'd love to have pictures for my blog -- and videos!
I have written 14 or 15 full length plays. Some of them are on my website complete, and some are represented by a synopsis and a few scenes. I'd be happy to send you an email version of the script -- or scripts-- if there is one that you would like to direct. Some have only four actors in the cast, some have dozens...
However, "tomorrow" is here, and no sign of the pictures so far....

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Saturday: 2 shows, writer stuff, time change

A couple of high school kids are going to perform my slightly risque"Thingjimmy" in an oral interp contest. Good luck!
I had to tell my church's choir director that I don't think I'll be able to cope with the time change. Sat I get home very late after matinee and evening, and rather too exhausted to sleep well. I've been coping by taking a quick nap 45 min between the end of church and Sun matinee, but that won't be enough to make up for Daylight Saving..... one less 2nd soprano tomorow-- apologies.

Got an emailed request from a screen writer for help with a political play that seems to have potential but which doesn't "feel" like a work written specifically for the stage yet. I wrote back:
I'm flattered that you think I could be of help. You are much more successful than I.
It's true that I have been thinking about what works on stage and the conventions of making that happen for a long time, and I'd be happy to take a look at your script and see if there's anything obviously awkward or inefficient I can spot. Gratis. I think it highly unlikely that I could contribute on anything resembling a "partnership" level, but I'm willing to do what I can. I fervently want the art I love to make a difference in the country I love. It seems to me that America badly needs what the theatre can do: look objectively at emotionally complex actions where disastrous consequences are predictable but are being ignored or rationalized or misrepresented. But one symptom of willful blindness is that audiences just don't want to face such things. I'm currently performing in the American premiere of Robin Soans' much-lauded "Talking To Terrorists". The production has had great press: the best I've ever seen for a small-theatre production in the Boston area. And audiences are painfully small-- the theatre is going to lose a lot of money. In a subsidized theatre like the Royal Court, this wouldn't matter-- the great reviews and prizes and "concession" tickets at five pounds for the working class and unemployed work well enough for such a play to be a "success". But here? People have to be willing to pay to be moved and enlightened-- and if they're like my own "theatre-loving" mother, they aren't. I sent her two fat envelopes of the advance articles and rave reviews, and she said to me: "Forty dollars a ticket? For something painful? I want entertainment! I wouldn't pay more than $10 for a title like that!" Another local theatre is performing an excellent and timely revival of Amlin Gray's Vietnam "How I Got That Story"-- to nearly empty houses.
I would think that if you could write a TV movie or a miniseries that came into people's houses for free rather than requiring people to get out, get a sitter, and pay 7-12 times the minimum hourly wage to see, that would be a major contribution. I wish I could!-- but I know nothing about TV writing.
However, what I do know is at your service it you think it might be helpful.