Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cats and The Life

Joe, the wee beastie, is now ready to leap onto the plane with me and go to Oregon for Christmas. Early this morning, we made it out to a 7:40am vet appointment to get his health certificate. We fly out on Saturday. We can't wait. We are very tired.

I have many more things to do before I leave. Slowly, but surely, I'm getting them taken care of. Hopefully most of them will be finished by Saturday! It would help if I was sleeping better. I think I'm still wound up from the play.

I have multiple plays on the go, and am actually feeling pretty chipper about several of them. I need to drop by the USC libraries (yes, plural) before I leave and check out a few that would be fun to use for research over the holidays.

Oh, packing... Yes, I've got some packing to do. Well, that's what Saturday morning is probably going to be for...

Tonight, though, I'm going to see a play! As an Ovation voter, I'm seeing something called "The Life" over at the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood with my friend Peter (a most fabulous actor person). I think it's about singing prostitutes...

My friend Monica Bauer (the dancing playwright) is in town now, for a Monday reading of one of her plays over at the Blank Theater, in their Living Room Series. I am not sure it's going to work out for me to see her before I leave, I'm afraid. We were going to try for tonight, but... she's in Sherman Oaks, I'm at USC, and it's tough to get from there to here and here to there, especially during rush hour! I hope the reading is lots of fun for her, though. Los Angeles is not putting on a very good showing, though, as it hasn't stopped pouring all day and lacks any cohesive sort of public transportation...

My friend Lisa the Great comes back from Boston this week, where she's Post-Doccing. I get to see her on Friday, and can't wait!!! Missed her so much these last few months. But I think she's taking Brandeis by storm.

That's all the news that's fit to print, so I'm signing off now.

Word.

Or, as they say in Spanish,

Palabra.

Monday, December 15, 2008

more extinction


Michael, Lori, Will, Tristan

Trey, Darrell, Jackie

Aileen, Shannon, Vance and Sophea.

Everything goes...


Khim and Lily in the boat, with butterflies. Glimmer glimmer.













Hola!

Hola! Como esta?

Bien. Y usted?

Uh... perdido? Lost?

He calls it the Song of Extinction.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just a few more days...

Wowza.

One more weekend -- five more performances -- of Song of Extinction. How did we get here? How does a six-week run go so fast? I'm beginning to grieve it already. (Why do I always do this? Everything is temporary. Everything goes...) Luckily, this week is so busy, I won't have much time to be emotional.

Wednesday: 7-10pm at Moving Arts (Hyperion) is the readings of four new plays in progress from Lee Wochner's playwriting workshop that I'm producing -- new work by Terence Anthony, Ross Tedford Kendall, Ian McDonald and Bill Young.

Thursday: Registrar's Office Holiday Party at noon.
8-11pm -- Song of Extinction and the Song "Girls' Night" Party at [Inside] the Ford

Friday: SIS Holiday Party at noon.
Go home after work and prep for saturday workshop.

Saturday: 10am to 4pm -- Teach a Writing Workshop at [Inside] the Ford
5pm -- Gloog Party (Mill and Charles) in Topanga Canyon (don't think I can make this happen)
8pm -- Death & the Maiden at Sidewalk Studios in Burbank (ovation)
8pm -- Jennie Webb's Christmas Party in Eagle Rock (don't think I can make this happen, either)

Sunday: 3pm -- Song of Extinction
5pm -- panel discussion -- I've got all the panelists set for this!
7pm -- final performance of Song of Extinction
After... begin to take down set

Whew!

I'm going to be really, really ready for Christmas break...

The Cambodian Experience: Stories of Strength and Survival
Sunday, December 14th at 5pm

The central character in "Song of Extinction" is a man named Khim Phan, who survived the Cambodian genocide when he was a boy, came to the United States and made a life for himself here. Join us on Sunday, December 14th at 5pm at [Inside] the Ford for our final panel
discussion, with people who can talk about what that journey is really
like. Greg Mellen, a reporter for the Long Beach Press-Telegram whose beat includes Cambodia Town, will moderate. Panelists include survivors Gen Lee, Kreng Krich, Phansy Peang and Prach Ly, a young man Newsweek called "the first Cambodian rap star," whose work focuses on the Cambodian genocide and life in the Cambodian community. Also on the panel will be Jack Ong, director of the Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation, which develops programs fostering diversity and multicultural understanding through education, activism and the arts, and works to preserve the legacy of Dr. Haing S. Ngor and his human rights work in Cambodia and America, as well as the history of those who survived the genocidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). (www.haingngorfoundation.org)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thinking about Manifest Destiny

The last four plays I've seen have got me thinking about the concept of Manifest Destiny. Remember that? You might have learned about it in grade school, or high school history classes.
Or just from... you know... watching America at work, in general.

From the US History Encyclopedia:

In 1845 John L. O'Sullivan coined the term "manifest destiny" in reference to a growing conviction that the United States was preordained by God to expand throughout North America and exercise hegemony over its neighbors. In the United States Magazine and Democratic Review (July–August 1845, p. 5) he argued for "the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." Around the time of O'Sullivan's writing, the United States saw an extraordinary territorial growth of 1.2 million square miles, an enlargement of more than 60 percent. Most of this growth occurred at the expense of the newly independent Mexico and the Native American nations. The expansion happened at such an accelerated pace that people like O'Sullivan thought that even larger expansions were inevitable, necessary, and desirable—hence the origin of the concept of manifest destiny.

Manifest destiny was obviously a defense of what is now called Imperialism. It was a complex set of beliefs that incorporated a variety of ideas about race, religion, culture, and economic necessity. Some people, like the land speculators that settled in Florida, Texas, and Native American lands, wanted more land to get rich. Some fled poverty in Europe and eastern metropolitan centers. Some assumed that without spreading out to fresh lands the nation would languish. Some sought to perpetuate the institution of slavery by expanding it to new territories. Some believed that expansion into "uncivilized" regions would spread progress and democracy. It was convenient for all to think that they had the divine right to acquire and dominate because they had the proper economic system and the most developed culture and belonged to the most advanced race.

So... I saw a reading of my friend Stephanie Alison Walker's wonderful new play-in-progress about the current economic crisis as it pertains to home ownership. Then I saw Vince Melocchi's play Lions over at Pacific Resident Theater in Venice, which is about working class folks losing their jobs (and everything) in Detroit. Then I saw the sixth annual presentation of A Mulholland Christmas Carol at Sacred Fools (which puts water baron William Mulholland in the play of Scrooge in the old story). Then I went over to my own play, Song of Extinction, where we were holding a Mini Green Expo to accentuate the ecological concerns in my play. The War Plays Project that I began earlier this year seems to fit in as well.

All of us, every one, seemed to be grappling with the consequences of the doctrine and practice of Manifest Destiny -- ecological and economic. Acting as if we own the world and everything in it has caused us to become destroyers of that world, as opposed to the caretakers of it. We have been all about desire and a sense of entitlement, as opposed to stepping carefully through this garden-like world of ours, with the understanding that it's the only one we've got.

If we don't do better, we won't have anything left at all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Books and Music

Last night was lovely, in part thanks to my friend Kyle T. Wilson, who allowed me to join him at the Colburn Conservatory of Music downtown for a recital by the Calder Quartet. Thank you, Kyle!

It's been a while since I've seen a live music event. Or a movie, for that matter. (I'm determined to see Milk before it's out of theaters.) Theater is rather all-consuming for me right now. This was a perfect music event to attend. Ben Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook played violins, Jonathan Moerschel played the viola and Eric Byers played the cello. We had great seats in Zipper Hall -- a lovely mid-sized concert hall with a great, tall ceiling. The first piece they played was Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 ("Dissonance," 1785). It was a fabulous contrast for the second piece that they played (with pianist Gloria Cheng), Thomas Ades' Piano Quintet (2000).

Kyle is a fan of Thomas Ades, a young composer (if one can call someone who is exactly the same age as me, 37, "young") who has been in residence at the LA Philharmonic this year.
A small digression. I *do* think that Thomas Ades is a young composer. It seems to me that any classical composer who is alive and working today is a young composer, in a way. What a strange perception of time! If you are not dead (like Mozart and Beethoven and even Rachmaninoff), you are young to me, according to the strange clock in my head. Interesting. I should set my clock that way for playwrights. But maybe then I'd be giving myself too much time, and might waste it...
Ades' piece was violent and funny and existential and surprising, and I must e-mail Geoffrey Pope about him. I really liked it!

I know I appreciated the piece more after having the experience of working with Geoffrey and the music he composed for Song of Extinction -- an original piece for the viola that he calls "Disembarking." He composed the first draft several years ago, while he was studying composition at USC, as an undergrad. It was lyrical and lovely -- he's a very talented young man. The notes I gave him had to do with making the piece a bit more violent and angry, to help track the journey of young Max through the play, as he struggles mightily with his mother's impending death. His new version, written in Rochester, New York, where he's now doing graduate work at Eastman, is all that in spades. I loved it.

Geoffrey and Mr. Ades were doing some similar things in their pieces of music. They're both more existential than comforting, more rough than lyrical. Things come apart more before they're put back together. They push the instruments to do more things. Plunking (my word for something that's really called pizzicata, where you pluck the strings), strange high sounds in the farthest registers of the instrument... Ades did some intriguing following/falling kinds of sounds in his piece, where the musicians played not in tandem, but just *off* tandem. Which made it all the more powerful when they played together.

I'm going to go buy the Calder Quartet's "Maurice Ravel-Thomas Ad├Ęs-W.A. Mozart" album on I-Tunes now. Apparently I'm a fan now, too.

That was a lot on music. Here's a little on books. Bought copies of Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" and Helene Hanff's "84, Charing Cross Road" at the used bookstore that's inside Santa Monica Library for 50 cents each. Love Lanford. And the other book is just delightful. Will share it with Mom at Christmas.

Friday, December 5, 2008

One more thing... SoE on KPCC

An interview with me (playwright) and Geoffrey Pope, who composed original music for Song of Extinction, will be aired on KPCC this weekend. Check it out!

Saturday, Dec. 6, from 12pm-1pm
Sunday, Dec. 7 8pm - 9pm (re-broadcast)

On 89.3 FM in Los Angeles, California. It will also be streamed and archived at www.kpcc.org.

Another good (busy) week.


GREEN MINI-EXPO AT [INSIDE] THE FORD ON SUNDAY
This Sunday, Moving Arts is hosting a Green Mini-Expo from 1-7:00 pm at [Inside] the Ford -- inspired by the ecological themes of my play "Song of Extinction." I hope you'll come! Food is for sale, offered by Large Marge. Parking is FREE, in the large lot below the theater! You can hang out in beautiful Edison Plaza -- chairs, tables, running water, trees and the occasion deer -- and enjoy the natural world! Stop at the booths. Listen to the panel discussion. And see a little theater on the side.

There will be a free panel discussion with a diverse group of local, green professionals. Among the panel participants will be Ian Garrett from The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, Jessica Aldridge, Zero Waste Event Coordinator/Consultant and Natalie Freidberg of All Shades of Green.

For tickets to Song of Extinction, go to the Ford Theatres website, or call 323-461-3673. For the Green Expo, just drop on by!

VENDORS:
The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts
All Shades of Green
Jenneration Fix

Earth Resource Foundation
Large Marge Sustainables
Smart Car


GREEN MINI-EXPO SCHEDULE
1pm-7pm Expo Open to Public
3pm-4:30pm Matinee Performance of Song of Extinction
5pm Moving Green - Panel Discussion on How to Live a Greener Life (45 minutes)
7pm Song of Extinction Pay-What-You-Can-Performance

OTHER COOL STUFF GOING ON
What else? Met with the always fabulous and talented Jeremy Gabriel yesterday to talk about the screenplay for Infinite Black Suitcase that we're working on together. Afterwards, I went over to the DVD release party for my super-talented playwright/animator Terence Anthony, whose "Orlando's Joint" just came out. So funny! Such good writing!

I've been busy with preparations for our workshop readings, which are on Wednesday, December 10th. Four readings, four playwrights, four directors -- yikes! But the work is great, and so are the people, so it's a labor of love.

Also, I've been working on preparations for the final Song Sunday Talk-Back on the 14th, which I'm coordinating. It's going to be on the Cambodian Experience, and I've already booked two panelists (a survivor of the genocide and a young rapper who talks about the genocide and life in Cambodia Town/Long Beach in his work) and a moderator, Greg Mellen, who writes for the Long Beach Press Telegram. I'm excited about this one! Should be good.

Tonight, I'm off to hear some music with (and thanks to) my friend and fellow playwright Kyle T. Wilson at the Colburn School downtown. Then it's off to the theater to hang out with the Moving Arts board members, who are seeing Song of Extinction tonight. Hope they like the show! (Hope they have gin martinis for sale...) (Well, perhaps I should wait until I get home.) (Damn LA, that you have to drive everywhere.) (Which reminds me that I must purchase another bottle of Bombay Sapphire...)

Looking at my calendar, I see that I'm attending Lions at Pacific Resident Theater on Saturday with my playwright pal Ross Kendall, seeing A Mulholland Christmas Carol at Sacred Fools on Sunday (which I've wanted to see for several years now and finally am going to). I'll probably pop in at Song on Sunday, too. This is our next to last weekend. Hard to believe... time goes so fast and so slow at the same time. Impossible to hold on to the moments which are so dear. Which, I guess, is what makes them so dear.

At any rate, tomorrow I am SLEEPING IN.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Baseball is Good. A Reading of "Catch" at the Blank

On Monday, November 24th, I had a reading of my "baseball" play, Catch over at the Blank, in their Living Room Series. It went really well. Surprisingly well! I was pleased.

The reason why baseball gets quotes, above, is because the play both is and isn't about baseball. It also is and isn't about child molestation. And swallows. (The bird, I mean.)

I finished writing a draft of this play a couple years ago. On my personal timeline, it was in progress around the same time as Heads. I think of it as my odd little play. It's short (for a full-length), and blows out all sense of space and time, as we follow an accountant named John through his present and past, after a breakdown that follows his testimony, as an adult, about having been molested as a child by a stranger. It's a memory play. It's got magical elements. And the large cast is never supposed to leave the stage. I started Catch in Trey Nichols' playwriting workshop, got some good help on it in Aaron Henne's playwriting workshop, then workshopped it myself at Moving Arts with a great group of actors, trying to figure out what this story wanted to be. It's the first play that I literally cut and pasted -- trying to re-create the fragmentation of PTSD.

The folks over at the Blank have been great about letting me come and play in their playground -- which they call The Living Room Series -- a developmental staged reading series that happens every single Monday night through the school year. Heads had a stage reading there (and was subsequently produced at the Blank -- yay!). They've also done readings of Song of Extinction and Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. It's nice to have a chance like this to not just hear the play, but also stage it out a little and see if the action of it works on a stage. See how it moves. See *if* it moves!

When the folks at the Blank said they'd like to include Catch in the LRS, they asked if I had any directors in mind. I have several "usual suspects" that I love to work with. But readings are always a good way to feel out a director who you haven't worked with before, to see how they cast, how they work, what kind of feedback they can give you, how they pull together a reading and whether or not you enjoy working with them. And, of course, they're doing the same sort of assessments on you. Is this playwright crazy or sane? Good or bad? Willing to work on her play, or not? Fun or boring?

I met Emilie Beck about a year ago, when Song of Extinction was a finalist for the Center Theater Group's Los Angeles-based Sherwood Awards. We corresponded, we met for coffee, and we've been trying to find a way to work together (or see if we'd like to try to work together). This seemed like a great opportunity to do so.

I was nervous about the play. The content is difficult in a different way than my usual fare. The structure is strange. There are magical characters and monologues.

Emilie pulled things together very, very nicely, though. She cast an incredible group of actors. She also asked Caitie Hannon to help out as her Assistant Director.
John: Matt McCray
Ann: Lanai Chapman
George: Jade Dornfeld
Pete: Tom Kiesche
Zach: Hugo Armstrong
Syd: Dinah Lenney
Ben: Jim Ortlieb
Sal: LeShay Tomlinson
Dale: Maia Danziger
Voice: Warren Davis

We had three rehearsals, and she managed to move my big cast around that small stage in a way that gave people a sense of the play without them running into each other. She was great with the actors and very helpful with the text (which she *got*).

I felt like the audience went with us. The actors certainly gave their all. I have a lot more faith in the play now than I did before the reading, and it was wonderful to get a director's eye on it. I was ready for that next step.

I hope I get to work with Emilie and these actors again some time!

(PS: The picture above is not from the reading. We had lots of actors on the stage, but no trained cats. That's Joe, with the softball and mitt that I bought when I was working on the play. Baseball is good.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Show is Open! The Reviews are In!


I've been too busy making theater to blog! But "Song of Extinction" is now up and running -- entering the 2nd weekend of a 6-week run at [Inside] the Ford. I went to the show last night, and was so proud of my actors. They are doing some beautiful work, and the show is finding its natural flow, I do believe! Technical elements are smoothing out, the actors are listening to each other and present with each other... I'm very pleased.

It's always scary, waiting for the reviews to come out. But we've received some lovely marks. Here are some highlights:

"After the actors had taken their bows and left the stage, the audience continued to sit in stunned silence. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. It takes a pretty powerful play to generate that kind of response. A silence so profound as to be understood as an overwhelming tribute to an extraordinary production." -- Cynthia Citron, CurtainUp

"Lewis' lyrical text explores inner psychological states with remarkable eloquence and clarity -- ably depicted by a first-rate Moving Arts cast." --Philip Brandes, LA Times

"GO! E.M. Lewis’ haunting drama unfolds on a set bracketed by shadowboxes filled with butterflies, bells, maps, plants and pictures of Cambodian refugees... [her] smart and honest script is one small push from collective transcendence.... Aided by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s fine set, director Heidi Helen Davis finds beauty in death, staging it as a boat ride into the jungle with showers of butterflies — a gorgeous counterpoint to Phan’s pronouncement that “extinction is a very messy business.”" -- Amy Nicholson, LA Weekly

"...Lewis has successfully folded one profound theme after another into an illuminating play on harsh, yet heartfelt, themes... great performances... exquisite new play." -- Asian Taco Chick, LATaco.com

"...the relationship built between Max and Khim over the course of [Song of Extinction] is dynamic, charming and vulnerable —truly notable.... Director Davis takes the audience on an ethereal ride through death, resentment, acceptance and, finally, some peace. Each piece of this puzzle is beautifully crafted.... Lewis’s writing has given the director so much to work with..." -- Edie Gramean, SoCal.com

"...Song Of Extinction is an exquisitely poetic and deeply moving new play.... the unforgettable work of its two leads and the visually stunning direction of Heidi Helen Davis make Lewis’ follow-up to her previous Infinite Black Suitcase and Heads a winner..... Scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz and lighting designer Ian P Garrett do striking work, as does composer Geoffrey Pope.... exquisite writing and the gut-wrenching work of Kunitomi and Faught make Moving Arts’ production of Song Of Extinction one that will haunt you long after the lights have fallen on a father and his son." -- Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA

"Lewis weaves a mesmerizing tale that gently plucks on the universal chords of the human condition, namely grief and acceptance and the wisdom it imparts from the experience that is both personal and shared. It is the journey then, brilliantly illuminated by director Heidi Helen Davis, and not the end, that strikes a resounding note as powerful and delicate as the beating effect of a butterfly’s wing." -- MR Hunter, StageHappenings.com

"Composer Geoffrey Pope's original viola composition, rendered by Renata van der Vyver, haunts the stage.... Turning in the production's finest performance, Darrell Kunitomi is remarkable as Phan. His understated subtlety is thoughtful and caring at times while dryly sardonic at others. Kunitomi's scene with Yeghiayan... is truly heart-wrenching." -- Dink O'Neal, BackStage West

We were a pick in Flavorpill, and Greg Mellon did a lovely article about the play for the Long Beach Press Telegram. There was an article about me in this month's LA Stage Magazine, and an article about the War Plays Project (with pictures) in this month's Dramatist Magazine. The KUSC interview I did about the play with Brian Lauritzen is podcast on their website. LA City View (TV channel 35) has a new pilot series called "LA Live" that focuses on cultural events in the city, and will be coming to interview a few of us and see the show on Saturday night. Jackson Musker from KPCC's Off Ramp saw the play last night and liked it, and is going to be talking with several of us on Sunday about the play for his radio show.

A huge thank you to LUCY POLLAK, who is our publicist (thanks to the wonderful Winter Partnership with [Inside] the Ford, through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission). She has been beating all the bushes, getting the word out about our little play, and I appreciate *enormously* all of her work and dedication.

I chatted with Michael, the Ford's house manager last night, who complimented our Moving Arts producers for the wonderful job they're doing. They're organized, on time, and professional. Everything at the theater looks beautiful -- the lobby decoration, the food presentation, the programs. They have rounded up volunteers from Moving Arts company members and beyond to hand out programs and serve cookies and coffee and such.

So many people work so hard to make a play happen. Director (thank you, Heidi!), designers, producers, actors, tech folk, stage managers, publicists, volunteer assistants... And then people come. Hoping to be told a good story.

I hope people are going to come and fill our seats! I hope they'll like the story that we are telling together.

Other weekend events:

Tonight -- dinner with Emilie Beck, who is directing my upcoming reading of Catch at the Blank. Then we're seeing Will Eno's play Tragedy: A Tragedy at Son of Semele.

Tomorrow -- be at [Inside] the Ford at 6 to talk to LA Live people, then go over to WriteAct Rep for opening night of the Freeway Series, which includes my short play The Edge of Ross Island.

Sunday -- meet work folks for lunch, see Song at 3 with them and Jan from San Diego, then participate in the Talk-Back with composer Geoffrey Pope at 5. After that, talk with KPCC's Mr. Musker.

Whew! Will I do dishes this weekend? I don't think so...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More publicity stuff...

Two big pieces of publicity for Song of Extinction came out this week.

My radio interview on KUSC can be found here:

Radio Interview

Also, there's an article about me in this month's LA Stage Magazine (picture above). Big thanks to Lee Melville, the editor, for letting me talk about my plays in his magazine!

Previews for Song of Extinction begin tonight...

So -- previews for Song of Extinction begin tonight. What an emotional rollercoaster this process of producing a play is! I'm usually a somewhat emotionally stable person, but not lately.

I had lunch with my playwright/professor friend Dorinne Kondo today. She asked how I was feeling, and I told her that there were so many emotions in me about the production itself -- excitement, delight, worry, nervousness, excitement, vulnerability, responsibility, fear, delight again. And on top of that, I'm filled with all the stuff that caused me to write the play in the first place.

There's a place in Song where Khim Phan talks about teaching.
Teaching is a strange thing, though. You learn in school to teach one subject, you are hired to teach one subject, the class is called by the name of that subject -- and you find, at some point, that you are teaching your self. Your whole self to them. My whole self to them, which includes biology but also funny stories about milking cows with my host family in Wisconsin, who were very nice Baptist people. And bad, expensive addiction to cigarettes, which I hope they do not learn. And Cambodia. Maybe I also teach them Cambodia. Because... I don’t know. Self-indulgence. Maybe. No. I do not talk about it all the time. I do not talk about it ever. But in this chapter on extinction, my country and history and family come up bitterly in my throat. And maybe I teach them about Cambodia without ever saying its name.
Playwriting is kind of the same. You write about one subject. You research about that one subject. You tell people the play is about that one subject. And then you find, at some point, that you've written about yourself. Everything you are, for good and ill, is in there.

It's a little daunting.

But I'm also excited.

And nervous.

And excited.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Posting

Some bits and pieces of things. Halloween 2008.


Ian Garrett hangs lights over the stage for Song of Extinction.

The Ford Theater sign, over the 101. Song of Extinction opens one week from today! Heading out to rehearsal soon.



Joe's Halloween picture.


Found poetry today:
___________________
Barn's burnt down,
now
I can see the moon.

-masahide
___________________

Found information today about a back-country wilderness residency in Oregon for writers. If I haven't entirely missed the deadline, I'd like to apply. It's two hours away from civilization along dirt roads... a cabin in the wilderness. Get away and write, like Thoreau. Doesn't that sound cool? My mother would freak out, but it sounds amazing to me. I think I'm getting oversaturated with city.

Here's a line from the application: "You may mention a specific writing project you would like to undertake at Dutch Henry, but you're not required to do so. It is assumed that you will write. What you write is between you and the river."

Doesn't that sound nice?

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Theater Full of Magic

Oh, what a week it's been! We are finally in the theater. A set has been built. Lights have been hung. Props and costumes have been gathered. And all day Saturday and Sunday, actors took their places upon the stage, as we brought all the elements together.

Everyone was amazingly patient with one another for tech days. Tech days are very long and tedious for everyone. It's the time when the light cues and sound cues and the actors' entrances and exits, and all the props and costumes are put together and written down by the Stage Manager. Jackie Moses (yay, Jackie!) is our stage manager, and she inhabited the booth with our light designer, Ian Garrett, and our sound designer, Jason Duplissea. Our set designer went back and forth between the house and the booth. Heidi Helen Davis (the director) and I and Kim Glann and Cece Tio were out in the house, watching and participating. And the actors were directed to mark their way through the play inch by inch. Where do they enter from? And do they enter from a light cue or a sound cue or a visual cue? When does that music kick in? Who is carrying that desk off stage? Where are my hand props? Who took Michael's shoe? Is that set piece going to work, or do we need something more/different? How loud should the chopping sound be? These are the kinds of things that the audience will hopefully never think about, because we have. We are trying to make the story-telling seamless. Natural. Right.

I shall add more to this later, because it was a very full day. An actor was lost, then found. I went and ran a War Plays Project event, then came back for more tech. Butterflies were discussed thoroughly, and thrown from the rafters for test flights. I saw deer, hanging out right outside the Ford's fence. We all ate lunch together, and bonded. Everyone worked incredibly hard, and the hard work showed in the amazing things that were figured out.

Ten hours.

Ninety three pages.

One play, starting to come together.

I can't wait until Wednesday, when we go back and get to work on it some more!

(PS: Think good thoughts my way tomorrow -- I'm being interviewed for the RADIO. On Saturday morning, I had a great phone interview for the Long Beach paper -- hopefully this one will go all right as well. We need all the publicity we can get!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's the play about?

Talking about the play with the violist and recording technician the other night got me thinking about how you tell the story of your play to people. It's a tough thing. Flannery O'Connor once said that if she could tell you what her story was about, she wouldn't have needed to write it. And I totally get that. I certainly hope that the play will be bigger than any synopsis of it! But the world requires a playwright to say over and over again what their play is about, between the time when you start working on it (and maybe refuse to tell them) and when you finish it, when you start sending it out and when you get it produced.

Song of Extinction is particularly difficult to synopsize. It's about a musically gifted, troubled boy who is dealing with his present, and a solitary, haunted man who is dealing with his past. It's about death in three different layers (cancer, extinction, genocide), without trying to conflate the issues. It's about music and it's about science. Fathers and sons. Teachers and students. Bolivian wetlands and Cambodian fields.

Oy!

I told the musicians that it's about how music stands in the face of death.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Early to rise

Got up at 6am this morning and took an hour and a half long walk. My I-Pod is a handy exercise accessory, and I've noticed that Pod Casts are good for me to listen to in the morning -- get me perked up and awake. I only subscribe to free ones, and my favorites are offered by the BBC. I especially love "The Naked Scientists." It's a one-hour science show -- weekly, I think -- in which British people talk about funny, cool and important science stuff that's going on in the world today in a way that the average layperson/playwright can understand. As I get older, I've noticed that my reading tastes have changed dramatically. I used to read all fiction, and now I read almost all non-fiction. And everything becomes research for my plays... Writing Song of Extinction put me on a science kick that I'm still enjoying, and the Naked Scientists give a fun science "fix."

There is a lot that needs to be done this week for Song and everything else, so today I am officially giving over to ORGANIZATION. To-do lists will be written and prioritized, e-mails will be returned, events will be organized. I may even do dishes. Look out world, here I come!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back to Los Angeles!

I'm sitting here on Sunday morning with both cat and laptop on my lap, and a cup of coffee beside me. It's been a busy week, getting back to real life after Ashland, and catching up with everything here in Los Angeles.

Song of Extinction Rehearsal
On Wednesday, I attended a rehearsal for Song. I've missed a full week, and wanted to check back in and see how things were going, as well as give my director the new scene I wrote in Ashland. I saw lots of growth and depth in the actors, connecting with their characters and with each other. In less than a week, we have our first run-through in the theater itself -- [Inside] the Ford.

I've moved into fluttery, nervous playwright mode a little. In the writing, one can feel sure-footed, at least some of the time. In control of the world you are creating. But to make your play into theater, you have to give over to a whole bunch of other people -- director and actors, producers, designers, composers (in this case) and musicians and finally an audience. You have to demand things, but you also have to trust people. You should check in regularly, but can't back-seat drive. It feels a little bit like throwing a baby bird out of the nest, hoping it will fly.

I hope my play will fly.

The Edge of Ross Island
On Thursday, I had a great talk with Bennett Cohon. He's producing one of my short plays, called The Edge of Ross Island, over at Write Act Repertory Theater, here in Los Angeles, as part of an evening of short plays that he's calling "The Freeway Series." I'm delighted to have this chance to work with him!

Bennett and I had been playing phone tag a little, but finally connected and ended up talking for half an hour about my little ten minute play. It was a great conversation, though. I felt like we were very much on the same page about who the four characters in the play are, and what they're trying to do. I'm going to try to see a rehearsal at the end of the month. Write Act is practically across the street from [Inside] the Ford, and both plays will be running at the same time. Funny how these things happen! Several writer pals have plays in the same evening, including Richard Martin Hirsch, Herman Poppe and Hindi Brooks. I'm looking forward to the show!

And then there was music...
On Friday, I was torn. Heidi was doing an all-cast run-through of Song of Extinction, and I would have liked to have gone to that. But instead I walked over to the USC campus after work, to participate in the recording of the song of extinction. Geoffrey Pope, the composer I engaged so long ago now (2 and a half years? more?) to write a piece of music for the play had arranged a violist to learn and play the piece for us, and a sound guy to record it. Kim Glann (producer) and I attended, carrying notes from our sound designer, Jason Dupplissea.

What fun! Renata Van Der Vyver was our violist -- a masters student in USC's Thornton School of Music, who is originally from South Africa. She was fabulously talented, and the sound guy, Barry Werger, was smart and knew not only what he was doing, but how to draw the best from the musician he was working with. The new version of the music -- which Geoff calls "Disembarking" -- is dynamic and strong and demanding and existential. I love it!

It wasn't just a matter of recording the piece of music. If it was just that, Kim and I probably wouldn't have been needed at all. But the idea of Song of Extinction is that young Max Forrestal is composing this piece of music throughout the play -- bits and parts of it coming to him at different points. We needed Renata to give us those bits and parts too, and some pieces of Max practicing arpeggios and scales, and some of his frustration with how things are going in his life, that are coming out in his music. I told them the story of the play, and described it to them as music standing against death. They seemed to like that idea, and get what I meant.

One extra bit. I don't know if it will make it in, but at one point, when Renata was giving us "frustrated Max playing," she did something very cool with her viola. (She makes that baby sing like you wouldn't believe.) I heard something that was very insect-like -- a chittering sort of sound. Since there are several scenes in dream-Bolivia, with insects, and since we had a little time left, I asked her if she could make her viola do that on purpose. With Barry's guidance, she created a bunch of awesome incidental insect viola music that I found absolutely delightful. Who knew a viola could do that? What fun to be in a room with such talented, creative people! One more layer has now been folded into the mix...

Catch
On an entirely different note, an odd little baseball play I wrote -- a short full-length -- called Catch has been pulling at my mind lately, telling me that it thinks it wants to be an odd little musical. I saw a performance of This Beautiful City by the Civilians that used music wonderfully, and am reading a book called Writing the Broadway Musical. Hopefully I'll find my way, and see what my play wants.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ANPF, continued...

So... From my last post, you might get the idea that these theater festivals are all about wandering around town, seeing theater, going in shops and meeting nice people. There certainly was a good bit of all that on my visit to the Ashland New Plays Festival last week, but my main reason for being there was to WORK ON MY PLAY with SMART, CAPABLE PEOPLE. I did a good bit of that, too.

Each festival and/or workshopping/reading opportunity works in its own way. I've been lucky enough to be part of a number of great festivals, including:

  • hotINK International Festival of New Plays at NYU (New York, NY)
  • HotCity Theater Festival (St. Louis, MO)
  • Coe College New Works for the Stage - residency (Cedar Rapids, IA)
  • Last Frontier Theater Conference (Valdez, AK)
  • Great Plains Theater Conference (Omaha, NE)
  • UMBC IN10 at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore County, MD)
In the Ashland New Plays Festival, four playwrights were selected as winners, and all of us were required to attend the festival. We were given housing and a stipend to help allow us to do that, wherever we were coming from. Four directors were asked to read the eight finalist plays, and select which one they'd like to direct. The directors then selected actors from the Ashland area, both Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors and other local thespians, to be in our readings. Each of us had two readings of our plays, and at least one rehearsal with our director and actors. Each of us playwrights also led a writing workshop, on a topic of our choice.

Christopher Acebo was my director, and I felt lucky to have him at the helm of my readings. He is the Associate Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a top-notch designer.

On Monday the 6th, I was able to meet Christopher for the first time, at the opening festival party. We'd exchanged e-mails, but it was great to actually sit down and talk about the play a little, and about my goals for our time working together. I was in a slightly different place in the process than a person usually is when at a festival -- leaving rehearsals for my production, and coming to work on the play some more. But I assured him that I wanted to take this opportunity to take one more really hard look at the script, and that changes in the script could still be put into the production, and happily so. I told him about a couple problem areas I was planning to look at particularly.

On Tuesday afternoon, I attended our big rehearsal. The cast had already met once with Christopher before I arrived in Ashland, and did a table reading of the play, but this was my chance to meet everybody, and to give thoughts, feedback and suggestions about how they were doing the parts. (Those are given to the director, who then talks to the actors.) They could also ask me questions about things, if they wanted. What a wonderful cast Christopher had selected for me! I can't say enough about the actors. They were smart, bold and wonderful to watch. I felt like my "baby" was in good hands.

Cristofer Jean (left, in a picture from his role in the OSF play "The Clay Cart") played the role of Khim Phan -- the biology teacher who is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide.

Tasso Feldman (right) played the role of Max Forrestal -- the musically talented, but emotionally devastated high school student who Khim Phan reaches out to.

Rounding out the cast were Brad Whitmore and Liisa Ivary as Ellery and Lilly Forrestal, Max's parents, Jeffrey King as Gill Morris, the evil land developer, and Neil Shah, as the young doctor, Joshua. What a great group! I definitely hope I have the chance to work with each and every one of them again someday.

The rehearsal went great -- four hours of concentrated work on the script, and making the seating arrangements and the entrances and exits, and playing with the lights and sound -- all those details that make a reading look professional for the audience.

There were talk-backs after each reading -- an opportunity for the audience to respond to what they just heard. For both readings, response was mostly fabulous and positive and excited, which is... you know... good. There were two guys in the audience for the first talk-back who doubted that the play could work without someone reading the stage directions. This is a fair question, I'd say -- the play glides from hospital rooms into Bolivian jungles, from real bus stops and classrooms to dream boats on magical rivers. It combines music and science, story and existential debate, and three levels of engagement with the question of death -- cancer, the extinction of a species, and genocide (without any intention of collapsing the issues). That's a lot! But I have a strong belief in the power of theater to do magic. It's not just about the words. Action and music and light and sound can do amazing things to transport us from one place to another. The play is in the process of being tested now -- that's the beauty of production, is you get the chance to see what works and what doesn't. But I believe in the magic.

In all, the Ashland New Plays Festival was a wonderful experience. I loved spending time with my fellow playwrights, whose work I respected and whose company I enjoyed. I loved the AWE folks who put on the festival and hosted us, and the OSF folks who I got to work with on my reading. I appreciated enormously the fact that a bunch of my family members came to see my reading. Mom and Dad and Jason, Uncle Harold and Aunt Lori, and Aunt Donna all made the journey to Ashland to see my reading. What a gift of a family I have! I love them dearly, and it was very special to share my most intimate self -- my writing -- with them. Scary, but awesome. I was really glad to have them there.

Now -- back to work in Los Angeles on the production!

Monday, October 13, 2008

ANPF - the rest of the story!

Back I am, from beautiful Ashland, Oregon, where I've been participating in the Ashland New Plays Festival. What an amazing time I've had!

On Sunday, October 5th, I flew from Los Angeles into Medford to begin my adventure as one of the four playwrights selected as "winners" of this year's ANPF. Check out my last post for a review of day one -- which began with meeting and greeting the wonderful folks who made the ANPF happen (including Art Works Enterprises president John Lee) and culminated in attending a performance of "The Clay Cart" -- an Oregon Shakespeare Festival show that was designed by my ANPF director, Christopher Acebo. It was fabulous -- a 2,000 year old tale from India, well-told, with singing, dancing and lots of fun.

I intended to keep up with this blog throughout the week... but I was having too much fun to have any time to write about it! Here are a few highlights from the week.

ASHLAND

Just walking through the town of Ashland made me feel better about life. It's a beautiful small town that is infused through and through with theater. And deer. Herds of wild, roaming deer and actors. Is that cool or what?

Living in Los Angeles has made me very tired of driving, so I told John that if my lodgings (with the most generous Hollis and Mary Pat) were anywhere near town, he didn't need to rent me a car -- I'd prefer to walk. They live at the top of a good old hill, and I really got a work out going up and down. Which was good -- because the food in Ashland is awesome. I have to give a special shout out to Pangea, which has the best soup in the world, and Mix, which is in the running for the best coffee...

The ANPF folks had given us coupons to a number of the local eateries -- a free sandwich here, a $5 gift certificate there. It was a great perk, and encouraged us to visit a variety of places during our stay.

The town is full of fun shops, restaurants, bookstores and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters -- the Elizabethan Stage, the Bowmer (where I saw "The Clay Cart," named after Angus Bowmer, festival founder) and the New Theater, where I was lucky enough to see "Coriolanus."

I especially liked their local independent bookstore, called Bloomsbury Books. I contributed to the local economy by buying a photo book on Antarctica (research for a new play) and a book called "River of Doubt" -- an utter astounding find -- about Teddy Roosevelt's voyage down the Rio da Duvida, which I talk about in "Song of Extinction." It has pictures and everything! I am so geeky and delighted... I found out about his Amazon expedition when I visited the Natural History Museum in New York.

Lithia Park is yet another reason to love this town. The park (and its walking paths) run along Lithia Creek, and it is a very peaceful, beautiful place.


I'll add more to this post later, because I haven't even gotten to the theater bits yet! But in the meantime, here's a picture of the four of us playwrights: Steve Lyons, me, Babs Lindsay and Tony Pasqualini. Do we look writerly to you?

Monday, October 6, 2008

ANPF Day 1 - In which I arrive and do a lot of cool stuff on very little sleep...


ANPF Day 1 -- Sunday, October 5

On Sunday morning at 8:55am, I flew north out of LAX, bound for Oregon and the Ashland New Plays Festival. My full-length play "Song of Extinction was selected as one of the four winners of the festival this year.

I hadn't really slept the night before -- a combination of lots to do before I left, and being too excited about the trip to quiet my mind. Also, I really, really, really didn't want to miss my flight. I get to be in Oregon for a whole week, and don't want to miss a minute of it.

Michael, one of the Art Works Enterprises folks, picked me and Los Angeles playwright/actor Tony Pasqualini up at Medford Airport. On our way to Ashland, he talked about how he and his wife love this area. He took us by John Lee's house; John is the president of AWE, and awfully nice. He and his partner, Steve, welcomed Tony and I to Ashland, and stocked us up with maps of the town, festival posters, ANPF t-shirts and gift bags that included gift certificates to half a dozen local eateries. It was great to meet John. Everything about the festival has seemed so well-organized and he's been great about communicating with us playwrights every step of the way.

Michael then took Tony and I to the places we'll be staying this week. Each of us is being hosted by local theater patrons, many of whom seem to have extra rooms or apartments in their homes, probably for renting out during the high theater season when Ashland fills with Oregon Shakespeare Festival lovers from all over the world. We got Tony situated in his place, near Lithia Park. Then we headed over to meet Hollis and Mary Pat, my kind hosts. They've been going to, and then participating, in the Ashland New Plays Festival for fifteen years, almost since its inception. Michael carried my suitcases in, and Mary Pat welcomed me to the guest apartment in their lovely home -- within walking distance of the theaters, the park and everything.

I unpacked and rested a little after that, but not for long. Hollis and Mary Pat had invited Tony and I and John and Steve to dinner, and Hollis had also arranged tickets for Tony and I to see "The Clay Cart" at OSF. It was a great evening, talking theater with a bunch of other people who love theater, then seeing a delightful show.

"The Clay Cart" is a 2,000 year old Indian classic which (according to the OSF website) is "bursting with music and dance, color, action, and romance... Jewels are stolen. A Brahmin faces execution. A beautiful courtesan is at the mercy of the King’s bad-boy brother. Journey through a world where gamblers, holy men, political fugitives and royal scoundrels intersect and good people triumph." It was directed by the OSF's new artistic director, Bill Rausch, and designed by Christopher Acebo -- who is directing my reading of "Song of Extinction." I thought it was just delightful -- like sitting on the floor when I was little, being told a wonderful story -- but with lights and costumes and singing and dancing and tons of fun.

After the play, Tony and I walked over to the little bar that all the actors go to after their shows to meet John and Steve. One of the actors who is going to be in my reading, Neil Shah, happened in and sat down to talk a while -- we'd just seen him in "The Clay Cart," and there we were having a drink together.

By the time the fellows dropped me off back at my apartment, I was well and truly exhausted -- but very happy. What a wonderful beginning to the ANPF! Do I really get to be here all week long? I'm a very lucky playwright.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ashland New Plays Festival! And how I got there...

I leave on Sunday, ready or not, for a week in Oregon at the Ashland New Plays Festival. I am very excited about this opportunity to go do theater in my home state. (I live in southern California now, but I'll always be an Oregonian...)

So... how am I lucky enough to have my little play be part of this event? Many steps make up the journey. Here's what I did:

1. Write the play. It took me a good year and a half, minimum, to write Song of Extinction. The folks in Lee's workshop, which I've been taking on Saturday mornings, can attest to my hard work and inching along. It was a challenging 90 pages to write -- full of music and magic and ideas that occasionally felt like I was trying to push through peanut butter to figure out. The voice of Khim Phan, (the chain-smoking Cambodia-born biology teacher who narrates the play), was the only part that came easily. His monologues just flowed. The folks in my workshop were amazing help, keeping me honest all the way.

2. Send out the play. After I finished a draft of the play (July 2007 -- right when Heads was about to open at the Blank), I started sending it out. This is a very important part of the process. No one is going to come knocking on my door, asking if I happen to have written a play that they can produce. This is unfortunate, but true. So! For the last year, I've been sending the play out, primarily targeting the larger competitions. It's done pretty well for itself in the competitions -- which gives the play a bit of panache and history, which then helps to get it produced. (It's tough for theater companies to produce new plays. Would you rather see a play by someone you know, or someone you've never heard of? More people know Neil Simon than know me. A LOT more.)

Each opportunity required me to put together a submission package, often sent by mail, sometimes consisting of just the script, but often including biographical information on me, synopsis and character description for the play, cover letter, sample dialogue, and sometimes a personal statement of some kind. It's a time-consuming challenge -- but made easier with internet groups like The Binge List yahoogroup, which is kind of a marketing support group for playwrights who hate to send out their stuff, but know they have to. Which is, like, all of us...

So! Here's the history of Song of Extinction so far.
  • WORLD PREMIERE PRODUCTION -- Moving Arts at [Inside] the Ford, through a special Winter Partnership Program with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission (November 7-December 14th, 2008!)
  • Winner - 2008 Ashland New Plays Festival -- Ashland, OR (October 2008)
  • Reading - Atlantic Theater's Next Page Reading Series - New York, NY (June 2008)
  • Finalist - 2008 Sundance Institute Theater Lab
  • Finalist/Reading - HotCity Theater's 2008 Greenhouse Festival - St. Louis, MO (June 2008)
  • Reading – NYU’s 2008 hotINK International Festival of New Plays (sponsored by Atlantic Theater) – New York, NY (January 2008)
  • Staged Reading in the 2007 Living Room Series at the Blank - Los Angeles, CA
  • Reading at Moving Arts 2007 - Los Angeles, CA
3. Re-write the play. Each of the readings above (all but Sundance involved a reading and/or workshopping process) allowed me the opportunity to work with a director and actors on my play. I got to hear my work out loud, listen to a director working on it with actors, get notes from the director, the actors and sometimes from the audience. From all that, I changed lines, deleted lines, added lines, reworked portions of the play, tried to make confusing bits less confusing. The playwright OWNS his or her play, so all revisions were things that I thought could be made better, found through the generosity of all parties.

4. Get the play produced. Hopefully, steps 1, 2 and 3 are leading to this step 4: PRODUCTION. It's easy to find yourself on a merry-go-round of sending out and getting readings. I think a year of this, after finishing a play, is helpful. Much more than that, and you're treading water (to mix my metaphors). I'm feeling very positive about the fact that Moving Arts is producing my play just a little over a year since I finished writing it.


Okay... taking a half-step back, how did Song of Extinction get into the ANPF? Well, I finished the play, saw their submission opportunity on one of my playwrights lists, and sent it in -- and they began their assessment of my script and all the others they received. According to their website, the Ashland New Plays Festival has been running since 1992. It benefits, I'm sure, from the theater-friendly atmosphere of Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for many decades now.

The 2008 ANPF Readers Committee began its work in mid-February with scripts from 180 playwrights, (a 5% increase over 2007). The committee guarantees a minimum of three readings and evaluations per script, meaning that they will finish the selection process with more than 100,000 pages read during three rounds and more than than 1,000 feedback evaluations written. The second round of reading started in April and included about 50 of the original 180 scripts. These were evaluated by an additional eight readers. In the third round, about 15 remaining scripts were read by nearly 30 people, resulting in the final six selections. As a last step, a group of professional directors read and selected the four winners, which became the scripts for the October festival. The final four "winners" are Barbara Lindsay with A Death Defying Act (Seattle, WA), Tony Pasqualini with Loyalties (Los Angeles, CA), Steven Lyons with Mystery Spot (Berkely, CA) and EM Lewis with Song of Extinction (Santa Monica, CA).

What do the four of us who were chosen as this year's winners receive? (Again, according to the website)
  • $500 honorarium
  • One week of lodging at an Ashland bed-and-breakfast inn (this year, hosting by local theater patrons instead)
  • A reception
  • Professional director
  • Professional cast (as available)
  • At least eight hours of rehearsal
  • Two public readings
  • Feedback and written critique

Frequently they also provide:

  • Complimentary tickets to local theaters
  • One or two hosted dinners
  • Coupons for local restaurants and shops
  • A nifty AWE t-shirt
  • Good conversation and excellent coffee
My reading is going to be directed by Christopher Acebo, who is the Associate Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My cast includes a bunch of folks from the OSF: Brad Whitmore, Liisa Ivary, Tasso Feldman, Cristofer Jean, Jeffrey King and Neil Shah. I'm looking forward to meeting them at our rehearsals, and to working with them.

It looks like I'm going to be able to meet up for coffee with two "sister listers" from the International Center for Women Playwrights while I'm in Ashland. Organizations like this one have made the world a warmer place, travel more fun, and friends and fellow playwrights everywhere.

From Sunday the 5th through Sunday the 12th, I'm going to be happily immersed in the world of playwriting in Ashland, Oregon. I couldn't be more pleased, and appreciate all the people who have made my trip possible.

Now I just have to figure out who's going to feed my cat while I'm gone...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

End of September

Today is the last day of September, and there's lots to do in the month to come.

Over the weekend, I caught up with some necessary chores, theater-going and sanity. I washed some dishes, did laundry, cleaned up and watered my poor, neglected garden. I saw a couple plays, both great! Speech & Debate was at the Blank -- an absolutely delightful play about three teenagers in Salem, Oregon who begin a speech and debate team, which helps them deal with their problems. Did I love it because it was a great play, or because it was an exact re-creation of my own geeky teenage years? Hard to say. But I think it was pretty awesome, and well-directed by Daniel Henning and well-acted by his troupe of actors. In a total change of pace, I saw Long Day's Journey into Night at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon on Saturday night with Michael S., Stephanie and Cece. We picnicked beforehand, then sat outside with the crickets and a big audience for the show. It's an amazing play about a family that loves each other and tears each other apart in equal measures. It was directed by Heidi Helen Davis, who is directing Song of Extinction, and I appreciated seeing her great work with a great play. Saturday morning, I hit the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and the used bookstore run by the Friends of the Santa Monica Library. Melons and books and coffee! A lovely way to spend a morning.

I'm heading to bed now. Must get up early for work, as our entire division is having our quarterly breakfast meeting together. Being there between 8am when they start serving and 9am when they start talking is my goal. Oy vey. Mornings have not been easy lately, and I've been feeling a little under the weather, which makes it tougher to rise up and charge into the day.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. There's a ton of stuff to do this week, before I leave on Sunday for a week in Ashland for the Ashland New Plays Festival. I am really, really looking forward to that -- a week to concentrate on my play (Song of Extinction), hang out with other playwrights, and have the added bonus of seeing my whole, wonderful family, who are all (it looks like) going to be there. How lucky am I? Perhaps while the Powers That Be are talking in the morning, I can work on my to-do list under the table...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pictures, violas, rehearsals -- oh, my!

Oh, what a busy week it is, when you're making theater! Here's an update on recent events.

Rehearsals are well underway, now, for Song of Extinction. Relationships are being explored, characters are being investigated, and I'm sitting in when I can, watching my little play come to life. What a delight!

My cast consists of the following outstanding souls:

Darrell Kunitomi as Khim Phan, the biology teacher
Will Faught as Max Forrestal, the boy composer
Michael Shutt as Ellery Forrestal, a biologist and Max's father
Lori Yeghiayan as Lily Forrestal, a writer of science text books and Max's mother
Tristan Wright as Joshua Dorsey, a young doctor
Trey Nichols as Gill Morris, a land developer

The first set of publicity photos was taken this last week. Some were of Khim and Max in the classroom where most of their battles take place. The rest were of the Forrestal family, taken out in Griffith Park (standing in for Bolivia!).

I had my own publicity photos taken on Tuesday evening, after work. Tom Sanders was hired by LA Stage Magazine to take my picture, so it can go along with a little upcoming article about me and the play and such. He was very nice. I was very nervous. I felt the need to get new clothes, lipstick and unmentionables the night before, and to wear boots, for courage. I always feel more courageous in boots. Perhaps I should become a biker... Whether or not he was able to do anything with ME remains to be seen. But I like the photos on his website -- particularly the series on WWII vets.

Hmm... what else? I had lunch this week with Darin Anthony, who directed HEADS last year at the Blank. Another night, I had dinner with Jeremy Gabriel, who starred in HEADS last year at the Blank, and was also in INFINITE BLACK SUITCASE at Moving Arts. Great to see both of them, and catch up. Darin has been directing in Santa Cruz, and now is working on US DRAG for Furious Theater Company in Pasadena, and is about to have his first kid. Jeremy got married! I'm very happy for them both. They are good guys.

Tomorrow, I am meeting with Jack the violist (as opposed to Jack the Ripper, Geoffrey the composer told me on the phone, laughing). I'm very excited about this, because Geoffrey has written an entirely new draft of "Disembarking," the piece of music he wrote for Song of Extinction. Now I get to hear it! If I have notes, Jack will interpret them back to Geoffrey in musician-speak and rewrite. Then we plan to record the piece, so it can be used in the production. There's been all the requisite back and forth, trying to coordinate schedules and details and needs. It will be lovely to spend time listening to the music and thinking of it in terms of my character, young Max, who "composes" this piece through the course of the play.

Two more random bits:

Go check out my talented friend Johnna Adams' myspace blog, and read Herb Gardner's "On Playwriting" missive. I really, really liked it. It felt appallingly true.

I got one of Those Letters yesterday in the mail. One of Those Letters, that's from a theater. I did my usual mojo -- "It's a rejection, it's a rejection, everybody hates me" so it wouldn't bother me so much when I open it and it IS a rejection. But it wasn't! Well, it wasn't an acceptance either. But Stage Left in Chicago wants to hold HEADS for consideration for their upcoming season. So I e-mailed them back today, and told them by all means to consider it, and sent them all our nice reviews from the LA production. They look like they'd be a good fit for the play, from their website. Fingers crossed! I think somebody should put Heads up again, and soon. It's going to have a reading in Detroit in November, too, which could lead to something. We shall see.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday, thursday...

Just a quick update today.

Had a nice lunch with Darin Anthony (who directed my play Heads last year at the Blank). Great to catch up with him and all the fun stuff he's been up to -- including directing in Santa Cruz during the summer and his upcoming show in Pasadena -- US Drag, produced by those passionate, fabulous folks at Furious Theater Company. (I've been wondering if the Furious folks in Pasadena know the Gangbusters folks in NoHo. They should. I like their theater-making in similar ways.)

Tonight, I'm off to Write Act, attending their company auditions for my play The Edge of Ross Island, which will be part of their Freeway Series of one-act plays this fall. Bennett Cohon have tried for a while now to find a project to work on together. I'm glad this is happening, and appreciate him making it go forward!

Rehearsal for Song of Extinction went well last night. Heidi worked with Darrell Kunitomi, who will be playing Khim Phan, and Will Faught, who will be playing Max. It's fun having the chance to dig into these characters at a deeper level, at last.

One more thing... Gold star for the day. I did my yoga tape this morning.

Now, off to Write Act, if I can find it. If I remember correctly, this is the theater that's off a parking lot, near the 101, behind a church... Ah, the joys of small theater! Oh, the places you'll go!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Wednesday Update

The last few days have been busy, but very fruitful. Preparations for Song of Extinction are moving boldly forward!

The First Read-Through
On Sunday, September 14th, we had the first read through of the play. Our producers and director and design team and I and the actors all sat around a table. We introduced ourselves and talked with each other. We read the play out loud. The designers talked a little bit about their ideas for set and lights and sound. Measurements of actors were gathered by our costumer. It was a good afternoon. These are the people who will be working to make my little play happen.

I was reminded of a story that Edward Albee told, when I saw him speak at the Great Plains Theater Conference. It went something like this. When Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was slated to open on Broadway, Mr. Albee went to the first read through -- and there were 43 people in the room. He went over to his director and asked him what all these people were doing there -- and if they realized that there were only four characters in the play. But the actors were there, and the actors' agents, and the producers and the producers' assistants, and people from the theater, and designers, and... Well. It takes a lot of people to make a play happen.

The Post Cards
Falling under of "things that you didn't realize you would have to think about," I've spent a good bit of time this week going back and forth about the postcard that Moving Arts is going to be sending out for the show.

Brochuers have already gone out -- more than 40,000 of them, amazingly -- sent by the Ford Theaters to all of their mailing lists, plus the mailing lists of Moving Arts, Circle X and Ghost Road, who are represented in this 2008-2009 [Inside] the Ford Winter Partnership Season. Those were season brochures, though... we also wanted to create a postcard/image/design that spoke specifically about our show. The three winter partnership theaters decided to go in together with the design money that is part of our grant and hire a designer who would be able to do postcards for all three groups. This will be great -- creating a consistency in the look of the pieces that will be good for all of us. Josh Worth was selected as our designer.

Josh designed a beautiful card around an image of a viola -- distressing it, so it looked appropriately battered, but still beautiful and rich in color and tone. Talking it over with Heidi and Kim, we all felt like there needed to be something more added to speak to the other layers of the play. It's definitely about music, and young Max's journey -- but it's also about Khim, and how he survived a childhood that was ravaged by the Cambodian genocide. And the play is also about hope, and survival, and transformation, and how you make it through. Which is maybe a lot of ideas to try to cram into a little postcard.

After a whole lot of discussion (how? how do we get all this across?), and with a deadline looming from the Ford folks for turning in our design, we decided to keep the viola, but have Josh change the background from the butterfly/jungle to bones.

If you've read anything about the Cambodian genocide, you know that the "killing fields" were quite literal. There are still places there where bones are scattered, whole fields of the dead. To me, this play is very much about the struggle between death and life. When do you let go? How do you hold on? In fact, I remember at one point (when I was struggling in the writing) making a chart about who was on the side of death and who was on the side of life.

Josh revised the postcard design for us, and I'm very excited. It's much darker. You can feel the conflict of death (bones) and life (music). As soon as it's finalized, I'll post it here.

The Viola
Young Max Forrestal is fifteen years old, composes music, and plays the viola. For the play, then, we must procure an actual viola. Another thing I did this week was help with the search for a viola that would fall within our budget. I asked over at USC's Thornton School of Music. (It's handy sometimes, working here, as I can usually figure out who to talk to about things.) They couldn't loan a viola to someone who wasn't actually taking viola lessons at USC (go figure!), but when I told Mr. Huffman why I was looking for a viola, he had some great recommendations of other places we could look. I wrote them all down and sent them to Kim Glann, our producer, who started making phone calls. She was able to rent a viola from a fellow who fixes them in his workshop for a very reasonable rate! The actor playing Max is supposed to go over there on Friday morning to be "fitted" for his viola. Apparently they come in different sizes for different people. The things you learn!

Interview
Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewed by Laura Hitchcock for an article in the LA Stage Magazine. She was very nice. Hopefully I sounded moderately articulate, and as passionate as I feel about this project!

Music
Tonight, I'm going to try to put together a playlist for Song of Extinction for our sound designer, and the rest of the team. This play is full of music -- the song of extinction itself, written by Geoffrey Pope specifically for this play, but also classical music, sounds of the jungle and the hospital, Cambodian music... There were a few pieces that I listened to while I was writing, and several that I discovered as I went along, like the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme. I-Tunes makes this a much easier task. I have to say, I really love my little I-Pod. Finding music, purchasing music and enjoying music are much easier with this tiny little machine that fits in my purse or hooks on my belt.

Health and Fitness
Yesterday, I did Power Yoga with Rodney Yee before work. Today, I walked around campus, briskly and with I-Pod, during my lunch hour. Two gold stars. I'll try to earn another tomorrow. Every hour cannot be spent making plays. Oh, balance! You are hard to achieve. But I'm trying.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Butterflies and Promotion

Last night, Steve Lozier (Moving Arts' managing director) and I went up to the Ford theaters to pass out season brochures and flyers that I designed, Cece reworked and printed up, and Steve brought over to the theater, promoting our play. The folks at the Ford had suggested we come and offered us a table, because they were having a big event -- a Phillipine music concert -- that was sold out in the big 1,241 seat outdoor amphitheater. They thought, and we agreed, that it would be a great place to hand out flyers and promote our show. Not only does the play have a lot to do with music, it also has a main character who is Asian American (which doesn't equal Filipino, but isn't too far away geographically). Steve and I passed out flyers right and left. I think that most people took them because they thought they were getting programs for the evening's event -- but I hoped that once they got back to their seats and were waiting for the music to start, they'd read it anyway, and think that it might be an interesting play to see. Fingers crossed!

I'm drinking coffee this morning, and trying to quiet the butterflies in my stomach. We're having the first read-through of the play today, which is a rather formal event -- playwright, director, actors, producers and tech people all attend, if they can. Everyone introduces themselves and meets each other, often for the first time. The play is read out loud. Maybe the director and maybe the playwright say a little something. I'm nervous, but I'm excited. This is the real beginning of the work we're going to do on my play.

Onward!

Friday, September 12, 2008

We are cast! I am writing!

Song of Extinction has a cast. Yay!!! They are being informed of their selection today, and we're going to try to have the first read-through of the play on Sunday (people are being called, schedules are being checked). I am delighted to have the play cast, and am excited to be moving forward into rehearsals with a great group of people. As soon as I can, I'll let you know their names. But I think they're going to ROCK.

I'm changing gears now, temporarily, and working today on writing new pages for the new full-length play I'm working on. I have workshop tomorrow morning at 10am, and would like to have something to bring in. I've been thinking about the play, and doing a bit of research -- reading a rather dry book on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's not great, so I've begun to skim. I've pulled out two other books to re-read that I know will be a better help to me -- one is called Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman, and the other is An Evil Cradling, by Brian Keenan. T&R is an excellent book on the psychology of trauma, how it affects people and how they work to find themselves again afterwards, very accessible for a layperson like myself and great for character work. An Evil Cradling is Keenan's story of his five years as a hostage in Beirut in the 80's. It was a book I found and read when I was doing research for Heads, and it feels appropriate to return to it now. Not only is it a wonderful, powerful book -- but what I'm working on is a sequel to Heads, the further adventures of Michael Apres, who is trying to come to terms, so it seems right to read this book again, which is about being a hostage, but also about trying to become human again after. He begins the preface this way:

I think it was DH Lawrence, speaking about the act of writing, who said that writers throw up their sickness in books. So it is with this work.

and later said:

During my captivity I, like my fellow hostages, was forced to confront the man I thought I was.... Ultimately, not everything can be told. Each man experienced his imprisonment in his own way. Each man selected and chose his own truths.

But enough of this writing about writing. It's time to WRITE. See you soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Auditions tonight, and a few other things today

Tonight, we have the last set of auditions for Song of Extinction from 7:30-10:30pm over at Howard Fine Studios. We have to move into auditions (not to mention making the postcards), so we have to finalize our cast. Not an easy thing -- finding just the right people to bring a play to life for the first time. Not to mention, people who it will be a pleasure to spend an awful lot of time with over the next four months! I know we can do it. We have some amazing people selected, some amazing people in the running, and a few new faces that we'll be seeing for the first time tonight. I'll be bringing all my decisiveness to Hollywood with me when I go.

Throughout the day, e-mails jet back and forth between me and the producers. Today, I've talked with Kim about my fee. I've talked with everybody about dates for the talk-backs, which we'll be doing every Sunday at 5pm, between the 3 o'clock matinee and the 7pm evening performance throughout the run. I made a flyer for the play that emphasizes the Cambodian character, Khim Phan, and the journey he takes in the play, because the Ford Theater e-mailed us about a Philippine musical event on Saturday that usually gets a large Cambodian audience among its sold-out crowd. They told us we could have a table there to tell people about the play (and try to get them to buy tickets), so it looks like Steve and I will be doing that from 6-8pm on Saturday evening. I e-mailed a Cambodian associate in Long Beach, to see if our producers can meet with him about bringing groups from there to see the play, as there is a very large Cambodian community in Long Beach. And I e-mailed a man about a viola -- we're going to need to take a picture of one for the postcard, I hear, and also will need to use one for the whole run of the play. I'm trying to see if we might be able to rent one from USC's Thornton School of Music.

The playwright doesn't usually do all this. But... my home theater company, Moving Arts, is producing the play. So I'm acting not only as a playwright, but also as a member of the company. I'm also very invested in making this production a success.

It becomes clearer and clearer to me as time goes on that I absolutely cannot wait for things to happen, but must MAKE THEM HAPPEN, when it comes to my writing. I need to work as hard as I can, not only to make the play the best it can be, but to make the production the best it can be, to help with marketing, to roust up audience, and whatever else is needed. It takes many, many people working very, very hard to produce a play. I want to hold up my end of the deal, doing everything I can to make this a success. I owe it to the people who are working so hard, I owe it to the company who is investing so much time and effort into producing my play, and I owe it to myself.

Now... Off to auditions!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Catching up with the Necessities

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have ended up being catch up days-- trying to get all the little life necessities taken care of so I can concentrate on THEATER.

On Monday, my kind co-worker Holly schlepped down to Lawndale (yes! Lawndale!) with me, so I could leave my little Toyota Tercel with her mechanic during the work day. After twice failing its smog check, I decided that going all the way down there to her long-time, trusted mechanic would be worth the time. It was! Not only did he get my car up to passing, he also replaced some burned out brake lights -- which might be vaguely important. Not too expensive, straight-talking -- I liked him. On Tuesday, I zipped over to AAA on my lunch hour and got my registration tags. (Uncle Harold -- I'm street legal now!! No more red tag on the back window. Yay!) Getting this done is a big weight off my mind.

On Tuesday night, I washed dishes, and did laundry with a little help from Joe. We watched "Law & Order: SVU" while we worked. Joe and I think that Christopher Meloni is a splendidly brooding hunk who makes the dishwashing go much faster.

Tonight, I plan to drop books off at the Santa Monica Library, before they become overdue, then go home and water my garden. The poor plants have been very neglected lately.

A couple other little things on my to-do list for the rest of the week:
  • Contact potential participants for October, November and December War Plays Project events
  • Update War Plays Project website and facebook pages with WPP7 pictures. We got some good ones! Always include actors in your pictures. They are fabulously photogenic.
  • Send WPP pictures to LA Stage Magazine, for possible inclusion in their inside spread of local theater events. Thanks to our associate producer Meropi Peponides for letting me know about this opportunity!
  • Update my web page with upcoming events
  • Send out a fall bulletin to my entire e-mail list about upcoming events
  • Buy ticket to Ashland, for my October trip to the Ashland New Plays Festival
  • Do some submissions that are long overdue
  • Clean out my work satchel(s). I'm starting to look like a bag lady, with everything I carry around.
Well! That's a lot. Enough blogging for now, I've got to get back to work.