Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Boring Part

Tuesday I settled down to the really boring part of being a playwright: mailing out scripts. Deadlines end of or first of the month. The Submission Process. It does feel like submission, like crawling on your knees up to the throne of a distant faceless power, and placing a manila envelope with the manuscript at its feet, whimpering, "Choose mine, Great One! Choose mine!" I go through the lists, read the guidelines, decide if I have anything that is suitable, print and/or bind a copy, insert cover letter & resume, add postage-- gads, the postage has gone up again, but how much has it gone up? Then schlep the scripts to the post office because this is the Cruelly Changed World and you can't just drop a package in the mailbox because it might be a bomb. I look at my scribbled-on records. Should I really send a script to a contest that last year didn't even send out a rejection email with a list of winners? Maybe it doesn't really exist. Check web site-- it claims to exist, but the latest update is nearly a year ago, maybe... toss a coin. Heads I send, tails I skip. What if I won this contest.. no prize but a production. Could I afford to fly to see it? If not, what's the point? But what's the point of writing if you're not going to try to get produced...
I love my Stagepage web site. Unlike my mailed manuscript, if my posted play is read, there are tracks left behind to prove that someone was interested.
Tuesday night I called Larry Stark to see how his recovery is coming along. He told me a saga of medical miscommunication and accidental judgements, I said I might take notes and use him as a source for a comic monologue or two-- but nothing seemed to lend itself to shaping. Talked too long and got to bed in the wee hours-- a bad habit I'm trying to break.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Monday, Bluesday

Monday was recovery day. Cleaned and packed away my costume and accessories. Checked the weekend number on my web site-- there will be over 40,000 visitors by January 31st, I believe. A huge number. Wyn Snow, my web mistress, is installing a widget that supposedly will give us a better idea of where the visitors come from and whether they are stumbling in by mistake or actually come and find what they are looking for. If it really is the latter, then I am one of the most popular playwrights in America-- amongst Jr. high school actors???

Checked in by phone to see how Larry Stark's recovery is coming. He has medical horror stories, but minor ones. Basically the doctors did a good job with the important part-- the knee repair-- and he'll be fine once they've figured out what happened to his pain prescription and he gets the pills and can bear to work on his recovery exercises.

Went with Eliza to the New Rep reading of a play they are thinking about producing by the author of BEAST ON THE MOON, which I admired when they produced it some seasons back. I think that this play, THE CROOKED MAN, may be an early work, because although it has some of the virtues of BEAST the construction is clumsy naturalism compared to that play's theatricality, and unlike the complex relationships in BEAST here only the central character is vivid and interesting. The seven other characters seem to exist only as the means for the Armenian war hero to tell his story. The New Rep cast, Ken Baltin especially, gave it a great reading though-- filling in characterization and nuance. Eliza and I felt that we could predict what was going to happen in the second act-- and we were right-- but we stayed for the pleasure of the performances. I wonder if the author is interested in re-working it?

Wendy Wasserstein died today. I read all the obits as they appeared on line. I only met her briefly, and heard her speak on a couple of playwright panels, but the warmth and generosity everyone spoke of was evident to me even so. I've always felt mildly envious of her: she was enough younger than I that a few of the barriers to women writers in the theatre were beginning to crumble, and she had money, credentials, and connections that made it possible for her to nurture her talent. But the talent is real, she's a unique voice and a significant one. I came away from the Huntington's revival of SISTERS conscious of the deep sadness under the stoicism that's under the surface brightness; and that sadness runs unspoken through the tributes today.
NYTimes-- "In the play's bittersweet final scene, Heidi has become a single mother to a new infant — a path Ms. Wasserstein would herself choose to pursue many years later, (!) ultimately at great physical cost (!) , when she gave birth to her daughter, Lucy Jane, at age 48 in 1999."
"No matter how lonely you get or how many birth announcements you receive," a character says in "Isn't It Romantic," "the trick is not to get frightened. There's nothing wrong with being alone."
My bizarre and totally personal reaction is one of frustration and sorrow that Wasserstein sacrificed her health, her talent, an enormous quantity of medical and financial resources, and finally, her life, in order to give birth to a baby of her own on whom she could lavish love--- a baby who is now left an orphan.
I sympathize: my daughter is the great love of my life, raising her and enjoying her adult friendship my most rewarding experience. But I am very very sad that Wendy made the choice she did, and wish that she had adopted instead. In a sense, we are all Wendy's distant cousins -- enjoying her jokes and profiting from her insight and rejoicing in her success. Weren't we appreciative enough? Didn't we let her know her melancholy love wasn't going to waste? Thousands, maybe millions of us felt it, and returned it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Another Opening.. Sat & Sun

I must have done Something Saturday... but what? Mainly I prepared for the Sunday matinee to come. I also managed to write one more minute monologue and post it on Stagepage. I gathered my costume and make-up and rinsed out Martha's stockings and put everything together for the Sunday "idiot check".
My daughter and her husband hosted a Singing Party in their half of our duplex in the evening, and I went over to join in. Karen Welling presided at the electric piano, and she had brought the large print word sheets she uses when she entertains at retirement homes and the like.... this set was "jazz standards" such as Blue Skies, Fly Me To The Moon, You Made Me Love You... and I remember them all, giving myself away as the Oldest Person In the Room. Karen's keys were low, and singing with the group was a good relaxed work out to prepare for the songs in Martha I'll be singing on Sunday. Went to bed early, unsure of whether I should get up for choir or play hooky from church and save my energy for the solo performance later in the day. Decided to not set my alarm, and let my body decide. I slept through the start of church.

Sunday I was in a State: this is the 3rd performance of Martha, but with weeks between them each is another Opening. I set up my living room with props and furniture and did a complete run-through at full voice, early enough so that there would be time to rest and soothe my vocal apparatus before the 4 pm show. I had no idea what the space in Cambridge would be like, but we arrived early enough to try out some songs with the piano and check the room's acoustics and discover how loud I needed to be to make the lines intelligible to the last row. I don't remember ever being in such an impressive old house before, although I set my play GOOD BLOOD AND HIGH STANDARDS in my idea of one! Our hostess has a painting Studio as well as a greenhouse, and the public rooms are large enough that my entire apartment could be tucked into the smallest of them. The piano and Joan were in an adjoining room behind the performance space, so I couldn't really exchange looks with Joan if I expected the audience to see and hear me. Every chair in the room-- I didn't count, but I think there were upwards of sixty-- was filled. People were very attentive and responsive. Good thing, because performing in natural light one can see every pair of eyes! I picked out people to challenge or charm with individual lines, making them my scene partners. Afterwards there was a reception and buffet supper. I think I heard more praise for my acting in that hour and a half than I'd heard in the previous fifty years-- but I don't think I let it go to my head. It would be lovely, though, if some of the groups that people suggested ought to see me as Martha were indeed to invite us to perform.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sublime and Ridiculous, Mozart and filibuster..

Friday I slept a bit late, which cut into my morning yoga stretches. This week the classical music stations are celebrating Mozart, to my delight. In addition to old favorites I've heard some unfamiliar early pieces which are pleasant indeed. I also had the pleasure of reading on line an essay on Mozart published in Commentary -- which I didn't realize was by Terry Teachout-- the critic whose online blog, About Last Night, I very much enjoy-- until I reached the end and looked for the author's name. Today TT's blog pointed me to Kyle Gann's blog, where a poem of Auden's on The Magic Flute that I don't remember ever reading before was posted. It raised a tear of that exquisite melancholy joy that the opera itself elicits: a wonderful gift from the blogosphere.
June Lewin came over late morning to go through my fabric hoard to find something appropriate for next week's Martha performances in Gloucester, left with two bolts of upholstery cloth and a couple of folding tables to use on the set.
The political blogs, unlike the arts ones, are a slog through a slough of depression and outrage. I dutifully sign various petitions against this and for that, meanwhile intensely conscious that I have led a most fortunate life of freedom and curiosity and questioning and creativity unimaginable to the vast majority of the women who have lived on this planet-- and that the chances that my grandaughters or great-grandaughters-- if I ever have any-- will be similarly priviliged are not good, not good at all. I dash off a thank-you note to my Senator, who last night decided that he will lead a filibuster against Judge Alito: "Thank you for leading the fight against an unbalanced right-wing court. Nominees who are not acceptable to a significant minority of the citizens who must conform to their interpretations of the law ought to withdraw their own names for the good of the nation. A court out of line with what many people consider fair and just causes cruel divisions in the country which cannot be addressed politically through our election process. Civil strife is the inevitable result. A good clean fight now may spare our beloved country much evil in the future."
My husband and I walk the dogs together, then have our New Job Celebration postponed from yesterday. I rehearse Martha by myself in the living room, while he goes off to his weekly Game with his fellow role players, including his youngest son. I write one more Minute Monologue and post it on Stagepage-- and now to bed!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Domestic Doings and Preparing for Another Opening

Thursday another catch-up day. Eliza came over with the last of the items I'd loaned to FLOWERS OF RED, and I helped her cart left-over stuff to Goodwill or recycling. The big excitment of the day is that my husband's spell of unemployment is ending-- his interview produced a job offer, and he went downtown to fill out paperwork. We planned to go out to eat to celebrate, but he missed one train and the second was behind schedule so there wasn't really enough time to go out between his homecoming and my scheduled MARTHA rehearsal. Had salads at home, postponing celebration until tomorrow. Gloucester News called to do a phone interview in connection with a feature on MARTHA to run next week. Lord only knows what I said-- bad enough with a play I've written, but talking about a friend's play that I'm acting in is the perfect invitation to open mouth, insert foot! Evening rehearsal was loosey-goosey, tried a few new things that felt good and director and author decided that some of them are worth keeping.

Wednesday was not very productive either, art-wise. Wrote a new one-minute monologue, is all. Otherwise, a read, write, and think day, punctuated by household chores.
I did run lines for MARTHA, and made a copy of my new headshot-- thank you, Jeff Brewer, technical director, guru and Best Guy for the MARTHA production!-- on a cd for the Sugan to use in publicity for their upcoming TALKING TO TERRORISTS production. I will attach my headshot to my blog profile here as soon as I figure out how to do so.
Got a nice email from The Last Frontier Theatre Conference inviting me to apply this year to attend as an actor. Which I'd seriously consider doing, if -- as last year with THE 11:04 BRIGHTON: THE OLDEST ESTABLISHED PERMANENT ROLLING CAST PARTY-- a play of mine was selected for development. Deadline's coming up soon, so I should send off my latest long one act meditation on mortality, AND THIS GIVES LIFE TO THEE.
I also spent a little time going over the music for the choir's March Music Sunday concert (Brahms and Jean Berger) before the 7:30 choir rehearsal. I'm glad I won't be out of town for the concert this year. Last year I was in Kansas City with my short multimedia (paddle puppets and sound scape) political piece UNDER COVER for the Mid-America Theatre Conference Music Sunday weekend, so though I practiced with the choir I didn't sing the concert.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Writer Commiserates With Writer

to Writer X
You say this editor said she loved your writing and your proposal? Said she was touched and moved and she “knows the piece will be an inspiration to our readers”? Then asked for five substantial rewrites, which "involved suggestions to restructure and to fudge information"?

I don't understand this at all. Why would the publisher put in that kind of time and effort = dollars unless they were training someone for future use? (like your Harlequin friend. PS-- that explains why I and many others have stopped reading romances: they are DOA. ) Why start with your own writing unless they intend to use it? Why not do what most ghostwriters/factory mags/newspaper feature writers do-- tape phone interviews and then distort the answers to fit their pre-established formula?

It seems to me that a truthful account of this experience would make a great expose in a competing magazine or scholarly journal-- or at least make a big splash on relevant blogs. Truth is not optional in a field that claims to be science. If distortion and fudging is the practice -- to be "inspirational", in the Oprah/Frey way-- that is despicable. Psychology as con game.

to Writer B
I think we can safely assume that what is meant by "conservative" eliminates plays like AWAKE AND SING or GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS-- the ones we are thinking of as "about business' but which are really about greed and hypocrisy. A conservative business play assumes that business embodies positive values, and that success in business is the reward of fair practice, innovation, and hard work, and that through business people of good character contribute to the community in numerous positive ways, both material and spiritual.

There are some pretty good plays like this--- really, there are. I've just repressed the memory of them..... I'm a small-c communist, myself.

My own PARTNERS, on my web site, buys into the notion that business is a fit use of talent and effort, and that for a woman to devote herself to it can be a positive choice. but it's a metaphor!

Shaw's Major Barbara is ostensibly pro-business. Of course it also endorses war as Social Darwinism......

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Dull Day

Tuesday I am awakened at 7am by a phone call from Larry Stark, of the Theater Mirror web site. This is preposterous-- Larry goes to shows every night, stays up writing and working on his site til the wee hours and sleeps past noon. How can he be calling me? turns out he is in the hospital, has had a successful repair of his worn-out replacement knee, and has lost all sense of time. Wants to let me know he's ok, tell me to pass his phone number on to others-- as I will. Larry is central to the Independent Reviewers of New England theatre Awards-- the IRNEs. I helped get the awards process started some years back, but have been disconnected since I stopped reviewing regularly.
Went back to bed for an hour or so, then settled in front of the computer. After email I worked on completing 2 of the 3 monologues I started yesterday, alternating with short breaks where I took down and packed away our Christmas decorations. Hey-- it's not February yet, there's no hurry.....
Very quiet day. Finished the blog entry about FROZEN, finished the 2 one minute monologues and posted them on Stagepage. 1600 plus visitors to Stagepage today, and the new section with the minute monologues has moved to the near the top in page view stats. On the other hand, no sign yet of any interest in StageBlog. Watched the PBS News by myself, Commander In Chief with my husband and daughter.
I'll go over the Martha lines before going to sleep.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday: White, blue, Read & seen

Woke up Monday to a Winter Wonderland -- woe is me! Not that I have to grab a snow shovel and do battle-- the Home Front at the moment is allowing me to shirk that duty-- but just looking at all that white stuff and adding up the days and realizing that it is merely MidWinter in New England is depressing enough to make me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Wake me when it's spring!
Then I read the depressing News. And the depressing Blogs about the News. And the emails from Noble Causes asking me to send them money so that they can defend All That I Hold Dear from the greedy and power-drunk forces bent upon the destruction of the global environment and our constitutional democracy. That's the most depressing of all! Is there some innovative-- or miraculous-- way to use "good" money that doesn't buy into and reinforce the bad "one dollar one vote" system that is the problem??? The Regime currently has 39% approval and 70% of the political contributions. No way to run a representative government.....

Back to My Life in Art. Monday I did a little blogging, and had a lesson from experienced blogger Will Stackman on how to add links to StageBlog. I worked on but didn't complete a couple of monologues for the One Minute Mouth-Off audition pieces I'm posting on Stagepage. I puttered around putting away various items from my rehearsals and prop and costume stuff loaned to FLOWERS OF RED.
Monday night Will and I went to the opening of Bryony Lavery's FROZEN at the New Rep, in their impressive new theatre at the recently opened modernist Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA. (Will's review of FROZEN is on his On The Aisle web site. I haven't read Will's review yet, so any comments I make about the play aren't related to his opinion.) I went reluctantly: I'm alternately tender-hearted and strong-minded and a play about a serial killer of children is not something I approach lightly. But the play's history -- it won prizes, and it was attacked as plagiarism because the main character is based on the work and life of a living American psychologist, recognizable to her friends and followers-- as well as its challenging subject-- make it a "must see" for me, and I would guess for any woman playwright. Lavery, who is English, has been writing plays since the 1970s, and although I've read descriptions of her work this is the first opportunity I've had to see any of it. The New Rep's production seems to me to be an excellent one: I can only say "thank you". FROZEN is a three character play about "hot button" issues, and I can imagine it in an up-close-and-personal production that is awash in sensationalism and sentimentality. But director Adam Zahler takes the title seriously. The set is a wide expanse of white, sand standing in for snow and ice. The characters are distant on the dwarfing stage, isolated and frozen, with no warmth flowing between them or to the audience. They are in such pain that they are numb between eruptions. Though the precision of the play's observation does evoke empathetic pain in the audience, and like quite a few other spectators I found myself weeping when Nancy Carroll described her reaction to seeing her murdered daughter's bones, the appeal of Lavery's script is almost entirely to intelligence: this is how the animals we call humans function, and this how damage happens, and what damage may do. Given what we are, and what we know, how can we live? The answers implied are not comfortable, but Lavery's lines have the ring of truth to them.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

last performance of FLOWERS OF RED

Sunday at four was the closing matinee of my friend Eliza Wyatt's play FLOWERS OF RED at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. I also saw the opening performance-- the closing was more assured and focused,and had an extra measure of melancholy because it was the last-- at least in this incarnation. The play is about a young American peace activist who is acting as a human shield between an Israeli bulldozer and a Palestinian's house marked for demolishment -- based, of course, on the life and death of Rachel Corrie. The other characters are Samia, who is living in the house and is about the same age as the American college student, and Jim, a somewhat older American who says he came to the area as a student film maker and for mysterious reasons decided to stay. The life of the play is in the fragile web of trust and understanding across cultural divides.

I had read the script both before and after it was produced at the Edinburgh Fringe last August, and liked it very much. I offered to do what ever I could to help with the production-- which turned out to be scrounging costumes and sending a few emails. I wish I could have been more helpful, but I just don't know how one gets people to come to a new play. FLOWERS OF RED was in a reputable venue, had a good script, fine acting, praise in a Boston Globe review, listings in the main local papers and on the web. There was an interview with Eliza in The Jewish Advocate. Yet FLOWERS played to half houses in its 99 seat space throughout its run. At least there were many more young people than usual in the audience at this play about young people on the front lines of the tragic confrontation that affects the lives of people all around the world-- even people who never give a thought to it.

There was a little reception after the show, with congratulations and farewells. Afterwards I had intended to go to Playwrights Platform http://www.playwrightsplatform.org in Waltham to see readings of 2 new scripts by writers I know and like -- one by Kelly DuMar, the other by Jon Myers, who played Jim in FLOWERS OF RED. But I'd been up late the night before, exhausted after Saturday's rehearsal, and then up early for choir rehearsal and church Sunday morning. I ran out of steam and went home -- to watch Bleak House on PBS.

Friday, January 20, 2006



Today was not a good day. I guess it started last night, with my disappointment with Aquila's HAMLET. I had been reading about the company on the Net for a number of years, and had the impression that their work would resemble that of Shakespeare & Co. of Lenox MA. I've been a fan of Tina Packer and her S&C ensemble for more than 20 years-- particularly of her Bare Bones approach, with minimal set, simple costumes, full-out physical expression, and virtuoso doubling. There were some similarities at Aquila, but even what was well done seemed mis-applied. Laughs in the wrong places! There were odd cuts in the text, and the cast fluffed a few famous lines-- ones that appear in Bartlett's Quotations. I found it somewhat interesting that the production included a Bad Quarto scene with the Queen and Horatio. I'm pleased to have seen it: but it was Bad Bad Bad, and I don't ever want to see it again! Got home around midnight, and tried to blog then, but couldn't remember how to get started....

This morning I slept too late. Obsessed over the political blogs. Read my email. Then when I finally got out of the house, I hit a pot hole or a curb and destroyed one tire and damaged another. Recovering from that and getting new tires used up the rest of the day, and now all I want to do is crawl into bed with an amusing book. I'll just blog a little bit, and then go over my lines like a good actor before going to sleep. I probably won't blog at all tomorrow, or even read email. I must be on the road early for the trip to the MARTHA MITCHELL rehearsal in Gloucester.

One good thing: Stagepage.info had another 1,500 visitor day! I hope a reasonable percentage of those visitors found a play they wanted to read...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rehearsing MARTHA

Today I'm rehearsing MARTHA MITCHELL with the author, Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro. This will just be a line-through: our next gig is a private party in Cambridge. Saturday we'll drive up to West Gloucester MA to do a dress rehearsal for our Blackburn Tavern run the first weekend in February.

The Martha Mitchell Musical website is

Tonight I'll see Aquila Theatre's HAMLET at Emerson Majestic.