Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boston snubbed by 365Days/365Plays?

The locals are all upset because Boston wasn't picked as one of the A-list cities in which Susan Lori Parks 365Days/365Play will be done. Big article in the New Yorker.
I read the NYer article. There was nothing in it to help me understand why staging 365 first draft fragments all over the country is a good idea, no matter how talented the writer. Not that first drafts and fragments aren't interesting-- I've heard 100s, probably 1000s, at Playwrights Platform and Write On and in
individual readings with colleagues. There we come together for a purpose: to help the writer discover what moves us-the-audience so that s/he can re-shape an individual vision so that it speaks to and for a community. I suppose that a coming together of theatres all over the US in a single project has value as bonding for the
participants, and it is a publicity "hook" for the theatres involved. But there is not much in anything I've read so far that supplies a compelling reason for doing these particular pieces at this moment in time-- and nothing at all to suggest that they are "necessary" to Boston in particular. Getting "on that list" would
only confirm position of Boston as a lagging follower of NYC trend-setters.

In the NYer Als calls Parks "that rarest of birds, the black female
playwright". But they aren't that rare: of the 1930-40 cohort
immediately before my own, plays by Childress, Hansbery, and Kennedy
have entered the repertoire: I have seen a play by each within the
last 5 years. I have not seen any recent productions of plays by
white American women born between 1930 and 1940-- though some of that
generation are still alive and still writing. There were 4000 women
writing plays in America in 1900-1930: the America into which
Childress, Hansbery, and Kennedy were born. Almost all those plays and
writers have disappeared, but they left a legacy which the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's empowered women of color to claim on behalf of silenced people.

We have talent HERE! How about organizing a city-wide festival for
our quintuple threat actor-director-playwright-producer-teacher
Jacqui Parker???

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Monday, October 30, 2006

good new playwrights? -- Guardian Opines

Guardian Unlimited: Arts Blog - theatre
Where are all the good new playwrights?
Lyn Gardner
October 30, 2006 04:46 PM

A decade ago this week British theatre was enjoying its greatest flowering of new\ writing since the Jacobeans. Mark Ravenhill had just opened at the Royal Court Upstairs at the Ambassadors, just one of an abundance of new plays written by emerging talents.... A decade on, all those writers are going strong, but where are the emerging talents of today? My guess is that they are clogged up somewhere in
Britain's burgeoning playwrighting schemes unable to find their way out. Over the last few years many theatres have put in place extensive play development programmes,yet despite these schemes there has been a tailing off in good new plays by great new writers since the heady days of the mid-90s.
While many new writing theatres and companies have seen an upturn in the number of plays they receive and generate through such schemes -in some cases more than 3,000 scripts a year - from where I'm sitting it often doesn't feel as if there has been a similar upturn in quality. Perhaps - perish the thought - all that play development schemes do is to encourage not particularly talented people to write more and more plays. The danger here is that genuine talent will be missed because with so many plays in development it gets increasingly hard to see the wood for the trees.
Theatres have always worked closely with writers. Very few plays - whether by new or established writers - pop through the letterbox in perfect shape. The relationship between writer and literary manager has historically been a crucial one. But in the past the plays that were developed were being developed to a purpose: the staging of that play. The meetings, the drafts, the workshop and the rehearsed reading were all part of a process that was leading towards production, not an end in themselves.
Over the last 10 years a new play development culture - based on American models - has taken root in British theatres and it is now so firmly embedded that it has become an industry in itself. These schemes are not always hungry for new talent and there is little evidence that they are producing better plays. Those who have jobs in this growing industry have a vested interest in the schemes continued growth, as do the theatres who have squeezed money from public or private sources to fund such schemes often in the name of access. But, if playwrighting schemes worked, every new play you saw would be outstanding. They are not.
Theatres are understandably keen to broaden their pool of writers. Most theatres still see a 30/70 ratio of women to male writers, and black and Asian writers are woefully under-represented. Access is important, but what's the point of providing access to schemes to develop plays but not to the stages themselves? It's like teaching people to swim but then denying them access to swimming pools. There is something cockeyed about a theatre culture that has put so many structures in place to develop plays and so few to stage them. The opportunities to get work staged--and it is only when a play is in front of an audience that a playwright really learns how their play works - are simply not keeping pace as the pool of writers.
Theatres know this, and yet still they hang onto plays trying to keep their options open. Play development should be about enabling writers, not tying up their talent in a queue of unproduced plays. It is often a mirage, a substitute for real action and commitment by a theatre to a writer and his or her play. It provides the theatres with an opportunity to tick all the right funding boxes while offering playwrights very little at all - except misplaced hope......
If playwrighting development programmes really worked wouldn't we be seeing
more emerging talent than we did a decade ago when such schemes were rare?

Interesting comments posted in the blog...

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Underpaid? Join the downwardly mobile caste

Playwrights are underpaid????
I just saw almost exactly the same complaint on FLX, A freelance writers bulletin board, about the $1 word rate which hasn't changed (at top mags) in 25 years...
When I began reviewing in small weeklies 20 years ago, the going rate was $50 per. When I stopped after 15 years, the weeklies were paying $15 per review. Now they're stopped running reviews at all, and most small theatres are only being reviewed by web sites or blogs-- which pay zilch.
When just out of college I taught acting/improv for kids in after school programs in this area, I was paid $10-$12 per class, and 3-4 classes per week paid the rent on my 2 bedroom apartment. The same apartment now rents for more than $1000 per month, and the same kinds of kids' classes still advertise for acting/improv teachers and pay them $10-$12 per class.
My friend who teaches as an adjunct at a local college makes less per section today than I was paid for a similar job in 1986.
My "computer guy" husband is unemployed. The only offer he's had in the last 6 months is for a low-level operations job of the sort that he worked 25 years ago-- at a lower rate of pay than the skill set commanded back then. Not lower when adjusted for inflation-- the job that paid $16 in 1985 is paying $12.70 now.

It's not a just writers' problem. The entire lower level of the intellectual work force has been radically devalued --in a single generation.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Going Bonkers

Today, instead of working on the libretto, I composed a rant on Hillary and sent it to a polical blog:

I have no enthusiasm for Mrs. Clinton. I cannot help but hold her personally responsible for the triumph of the right-wing conspiracy and the present distress and disgrace of this nation. Whether considered from the POV of principle or of pragmatism, it was Hillary's patriotic duty as First Lady to protect the office of the presidency and the constitution her husband took the oath to serve. She wasn't able to persuade Bill either to abstain from hanky-pank during his term of office or to conduct his affairs with a discreet, mature, and loyal mistress. Everyone--except Bill, apparently--knew that his enemies were poised to take him and the Democratic party down if he slipped from the straight and narrow. If she could not avoid this predictable train wreck, how can we trust her to steer the nation?
Once Bill was caught, there were two courses open to true patriots: her husband must resign and apologize, or-- better-- make the ultimate sacrifice: quickly court assassination or a fatal accident. A martyred president, killed while trying to serve in spite of the harassment of a gang of power-mad hypocrites, would have been followed by a successful Gore presidency, with moderates or even liberals appointed to the Supreme Court. Republicans in congress would have served as watchdogs against Democratic corruption, instead going on a spree of greed, warmongering, and corruption. As a tragic widow Hilary might well have been appointed Vice President, and after her excellent service in that position (or as senator) she could easily have won the 2008 election. Our beloved country would have been spared the impotent last years of the Clinton administration and whole Bush II disaster-- a disaster which may well spell the end of not only the America we know and love, but of the habitable planet itself. Mrs. Clinton and her husband chose to hang on to the office and put the country though the humiliating ordeal of impeachment, to the detriment of everything we elected Bill Clinton to preserve and protect. For the good of the nation, she must step aside and throw her support to the Democratic candidate who best represents the values she might once have represented herself.

I may be going bonkers

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Monday, October 16, 2006

To Much To Do, Hamster on a Wheel

I am really down, mostly exhaustion.
I feel that I SHOULD go to the NYC Woman Playwrights event at Merrymont, but my vitality is at a low ebb. Sunday was busy, choir in the O My Goodness 8am, Playwrights Platform till 10 pm; today I slept till almost 11 am and am now behind on today's to-do's. Wednesday is a Big Event: my successful old friend from Playwrights Platform, Teresa Rebeck, has a new play opening at the Huntington, and there's a pre-show dinner next door at Uno's and possibly a reception after. I have a comp ticket, and am expected to attend.
Thursday I'm rehearsing and Saturday performing "Awake and Sing" -- that played to 7 or fewer people each night of its massively depressing two weekend run, will be at temple Beth El in Quincy, MA, where there is presumably a captive if not necessarily uncritical audience.
There was just a NYTimes article about the young Emerson College actress's murder's conviction-- That's the young woman for whom this "Awake" was supposedly a "benefit"-- she played my daughter in the production 7 years ago. Suppose they gave a "benefit" and nobody came.....????
I promised a 10 min opera libretto to a composer. It's half-done and time's running out. Tonight, tomorrow, or forget it and spoil a promising partnership....

At this point I just wish somebody would go and take notes. Any ideas about how to make women's voices heard in this hell-in-a-handbasket era would go immediately onto my to-do list. Except "give money". That seems to be the only idea my Good Causes have, judging from my mail and email.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Meta-discussion about a Dig blog

Meta-discussion about a Dig blog review

The same phrase (e.g. "Whispered opera") that repels people who want the on stage equivalent of car chases and explosions will attract the people who want an in-depth contemplation of material that they personally consider important. It's not "bad publicity"-- it's truth in advertising. It isn't a (small) theatre's job to be all things to all people. An honest essay at some aspect of the human condition, a little truth or beauty: that's more than we get from the Mass Distraction Industry that serves up the car chases.
The basic qualification for a critic is the widest possible range of interest and empathy-- or at some sense of his or her own limitations, and a willingness to experience and describe without prejudice things that are-- though nothing human should be-- alien.
Why are we discussing the sensibility/ethics of someone who spray-paints "sucks" in our neighborhood?

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Solo Shows

I perform a solo show written by Rosanna Alfaro-- Martha Mitchell: somebody book me, please!-- and I've written a couple (one on commission, Unbinding Our Lives, about Chinese-American immigrant women, which I enjoyed researching and writing very much; and one about a teen who loves Shakespeare). But I, too, dislike them, and as much as I love to perform, I can't bring myself to construct one for my actor self. What I love most about theatre is the unique and godlike ability it provides the spectator to understand the communal implications of an action instantly and intimately; to be in everybody's shoes at the same time. I love to watch the faces and bodies of the actors in the scene who aren't talking. I swear that (if they are really acting) they communicate telepathically! Unlike life, where one's attention is drawn by one's own interest, or by the loudest or most powerful person in the room, good theatre creates empathy that encompasses everything on stage, and by implication everything in life. It frees us from the prison of our own egos. Too often, the solo show traps us in somebody else's ego-- the author's, the character's, or the virtuoso performer's.

On Oct 12, 2006,A wrote:
solo performers are kind of the elite special forces of the theatrical army.
They bravely step out in front of an audience, look them in the eye and say, "It's just me, nobody else, and I am going to hold your attention for next hour or so."

Yeah. I run into people like that all the time in real life-- and run away as soon as I can.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Opening.. Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun

I'm performing Bessie Berger in the Actor's Playhouse production of Odets' 1934 "Awake and Sing" at the Peabody House Theatre on Broadway in Somerville the next two week ends.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ranting about the O'Neill

On Oct 8, in reply to my rant about the absence of women in this year's O'Neill line-up, Jeff Sweet wrote: They usually have a much better average than that for women. Much better.
I protested:
No, they do not. Check through the records. Historically, less than 25% of the attendees are female-- and many of those are "two-fers". I'm not in a snit because I'm a female writer. Most people, and the gender-assigning computer program that's based on subtle grammatical differences and is supposed to be 85% accurate, mistake my unidentified work for that of a man. The Humana is very female- friendly, and I don't ever expect to be picked to go there-- I don't write "Humana-type" plays. But I still send in my annual 10 minute, because it costs nothing and who knows? -- some year my stuff might interest them. There, I take your advice to"Don't give up on a place just because the panel for one given year was too stupid to choose you! The panel the next year will be different."

But I'm outraged as a citizen and as an audience member by the O'Neill's gross disparity in gender selection. I simply won't support them in any way any longer, and I urge my male colleagues to consider doing the same thing, and for the same reason. Calling for women to boycott programs that have a blatant male bias is counterproductive: it gives the excluders the excuse that "women just don't apply". But where are the men? Why don't they notice when women aren't in the room, and feel outraged, too? Because their audiences, their families, the world, are made of females as well as males. The theatre is the place where we come together to examine our lives. I don't speak for women. But women as half of humanity speak for a
range of experience that men often leave out, and their voices are vital to our joint project of mutual understanding.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What Can Women Write?

forward of a forwarded blog: maybe MoJo?
What Can Women Write? The Byline Divide -- Over at WomenTK.com, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, who’s also an editor at Glamour, has analyzed a year’s worth of bylines at general interest magazines—namely Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair—and found that overall the ratio of male writers to female is 3 to 1. (TK, by the way, is reporter/editor shorthand for "to come," as in haven't yet nailed this fact/gotten this quote.)The breakdown is as follows:
The Atlantic: 3.6 to 1
Harper’s: 7 to 1
The New Yorker: 4 to 1
New York Times Magazine: 2 to 1
Vanity Fair: 2.7 to 1
As Ruth notes, the numbers speak volumes, but they’re not the whole story. As a former editor at The New Yorker wrote me in an e-mail, “in addition to counting bylines, you should look at what women are allowed to write about. I’ve been struck by a pattern, at The Atlantic in particular, where women only seem to write about marriage, motherhood and nannies, obsessively so. If you count the number of women’s bylines there that weren’t about hearth and home, the number would approach zero.” And a current student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism also noted, “At The New Yorker, it seems as though many of the female bylines aren’t for hard-news-type stories. Women write about dance, or they write the short story, or a poem, or a profile of a fashion designer, or something. But the ‘heavy’ stories are left to the guys.”
At a panel I was recently at with editors of all these magazines, the EIC of the NYT Mag, Gerry Marzorati, rightly noted that part of the issue is that the punditocracy is dominated by men, in part because (warning: gross generalizations apply) they are more likely to believe that the world is just waiting to hear what they have to say.But another part of it is, as Ruth quotes, Ursula K. Le Guin’s observation that “there is solid evidence for the fact that when women speak more than 30 percent of the time, men perceive them as dominating the conversation.”These numbers are particularly surprising considering how many women read these magazines. The New Yorker, for example, has an audience of 1,799,000 women and 1,710,000 men, according to a 2006 report by Mediamark Research Inc. The Atlantic’s current audience, Mediamark Research estimates, is 609,000 women and 747,000 men. At Vanity Fair, there are almost three times as many female readers as male readers. When asked to describe the typical reader of The New York Times Magazine, editor Gerald Marzorati replied, “I imagine my reader is a late-thirties-something woman, a lawyer or educator or businesswoman. She’s busy with work, and also with family matters, but Sunday morning is a time she’ll allow herself to read something that is not work related, or kids’ homework related. She wants to lose herself in a story, one big story—8,000, 9,000 words. My hunch is she wants to read not something escapist but something substantive—something that holds a mirror up to her own life or opens a window onto a pretty troubled world.” (NYT, 10/9/05) What’s more, research conducted by Time Inc. in 2005 showed a decline in the number of men reading magazines, while female readership held steady. (BusinessWeek Online, 11/07/05)

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