Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
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
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
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
Friday, September 12, 2008
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.
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.
and later said:
But enough of this writing about writing. It's time to WRITE. See you soon.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
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
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.
Monday, September 8, 2008
On Saturday morning, I got up early and wrote. The reason for this madness (getting up early!!!) was that I had workshop at 10am, and wanted to have pages to share. I'd written a little through the week, long hand, on the new play I'm working on, but hadn't put it all together yet. So! Made some coffee, fed the cat, typed fast, printed, and dashed over to Silver Lake to attend Lee Wochner's consistently awesome "Words That Speak" playwriting workshop. We have a good group again this round (the workshop is eight sessions -- 3 hours per week for 8 weeks). Dorinne Kondo was there, and Terence Anthony, Steve Lozier, Ross Kendall, and Bill and Stacy, the newbies. Ian was absent -- he's putting up a play and had an actor drop out, so he's ended up being cast in the role himself, as there wasn't time to recast. We all understand. Small theater has these kinds of challenges! You often find yourself taking out the garbage, sweeping the floor, answering the mail, acting in your own play, and fixing the toilet, as well as writing the play.
Reading to Vegetables at Theatricum Botanicum
I left workshop early (bad me) to head up the 101 and into the hills of Topanga Canyon to Theatricum Botanicum, where I was having a table reading of an older play of mine, called Reading to Vegetables. A big thank you to the fabulous Jennie Webb, who heads up the theater's "Seedlings" program for organizing the reading, and to the wonderful actors who gave their time to the process. RtV is a play that I wrote after Infinite Black Suitcase, but before Heads. It's kind of tricky and fun -- a morality play wrapped up in a medical mystery, as a hospital administrator tries to get the truth out of a college student who was involved in a psychological experiment that has caused someone to be badly hurt. I think it needs some work before anybody's going to want to do it -- but I think it's worth working on. This reading was a great kick in the pants to get me going. We sat around and read the play, then talked about what people thought it did well, and what they thought it still needed. I took lots of notes. Great stuff! And I got to see my old friends Ronnie Clark and Christel Joy Johnson (of Ghost Road), who played Tom Linkowski and Beth Mills, respectively, and DJ Harner, who I know a bit from her work with my playwright friend Richard Hirsch. Small world, theater!
Agamemnon at the Getty Villa
I *did* say it was a busy day... My friend Dorinne Kondo invited me to see Agamemnon on Saturday night at the Getty Villa in Malibu. Tyne Daly played the hell out of the role of Clytemnestra, and her real daughter played her character's daughter Iphegenia (very well), the one whose death must be revenged. Delroy Lindo plays Agamemnon, who returns this day from ten years away at the war (over his brother's stolen bride, Helen), only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, in revenge for his "sacrifice" of their daughter Iphegenia. He killed her so the gods would give his beached army a good wind, for going across the sea to fight the war. I think he had it coming, myself. Go, C! But really, the play seems to be about the unending cycle of revenge that we get into, and are unable to escape from. It's really very cool to see Greek theater in the Getty's outdoor amphitheater, with the dark sky above and cool winds coming in over the Pacific. Dorinne knows the director, Stephen Wadsworth, and it was great hearing her stories that he'd shared about the process of bringing this play to life.
The War Plays Project and Sissystrata
On Sunday (a day I usually try to save for myself, scheduling nothing), I had the September War Plays Project event. It turned out to be well worth the time and energy we put into it, though! I slept in a bit, then put together the programs, printed them at Kinkos, and stopped by the store to pick up wine, cups and cookies. I made it to the Celebration Theater in time for their 3pm matinee of Sissystrata -- a modern gay adaptation of the greek play Lysistrata, which is about women holding a sex strike to stop their men from making war. This adaptation is set in West Hollywood, five years from now, when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been repealed, the butches have all gone off to war, and the "bottom boys" left behind decide that something has got to be done to stop all the fighting -- led by the inimitable Seymour "Sissy" Strata. I thought it was a hoot -- funny, fast, and with lots of food for thought in the end, both about the war and about how we see ourselves. Good stuff! Our War Plays Project event followed the show. We invited the writer of Sissystrata, Allain Rochelle, to be on our panel for a discussion of the particular challenges of gays in the military. Joining us were Julie Sohn, a Marine Iraq war veteran and activist for equality in the armed services, and Steve Gratwick, who is in the process of making a documentary film about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" called Patriots. Most of the cast of the show sat on stage with us, and it ended up being a great conversation. Steve Lozier, Managing Director of Moving Arts had booked our panelists, and was there, and so were our associate producers Danny Lynch, Elizabeth Gomez and Meropi Peponides. We're excited about the next three months of programming we have scheduled -- Religion & War in October, Genocide in November and Vietnam/Iraq in December. Stay tuned!
So! That was my weekend. What were you up to?
Friday, September 5, 2008
Last night we had a third session of auditions and first session of call-backs for "Song of Extinction." We started around 7pm, over at the Howard Fine Studio, just off Sunset, where Heidi teaches. We finished at 11:30pm. (Coffee and ibuprofen are my friends this morning, at the office.)
Casting is a mysterious sort of alchemy. Who will become these characters I made up in my head, and bring them into full life for the first time? How well do they work, both alone and in tandem with each other?
Who was in the room? Me (playwright), Heidi Helen Davis (director), Kim Glann, Cece Tio and Steve Lozier (producers). A gal named Kat was helping Heidi, and some of Heidi's acting students sat in on some of the auditions, to learn how they work.
We saw some wonderful actors. We'll be seeing more next week. But we're closing in on our final selections. Very exciting. Cece said I was sitting there smiling all night -- and I don't deny it.
I e-mailed Geoffrey Pope today. He is a talented young composer who wrote a piece of music called "Disembarking" for "Song of Extinction." We need to work together to do some final touches, getting his music ready to put into the play.
That was a whole adventure, there -- finding a composer. Early on, before I'd really written much of the play, I knew I wanted there to be music in it. It was called "Song of Extinction," after all! So I decided to find myself a composer. Working at USC helped -- I called over to the Thornton School of Music and asked them to post my "call" to their composition students. I also put a notice on the "Big Cheap Theater" list -- a Los Angeles yahoogroup for theater-makers who are trying to make big theater on a small budget. I had about a dozen responses, and collected resumes and music samples from all of them. Then I did interviews. Geoffrey stood out -- and not just because he's tall! I felt like he really got the character of Max Forrestal, a kid who composes and plays the viola and is falling off the edge of the world. It's several years later, now. I researched and wrote the play, and started sending it out, and had readings, and finally this production. Geoffrey finished his bachelors degree here at USC, and has just started working on his masters degree at Eastman, in New York. But we've kept in contact throughout. It's going to be very exciting to put the final touches on the viola piece he wrote for my play, and to hear it as part of our final, full production.
Getting the Word Out
Here are a couple important links. Feel free to pass them along to friends, and even theater-going enemies!
The Brochure for [Inside] the Ford's 2008-2009 Season
A press release went out the other day, announcing the plays that were selected for the 2008-2009 [Inside] the Ford Season: "Song of Extinction" (Moving Arts), "Battle Hymn" (Circle X) and "Home Siege Home" (Ghost Road). Various places are starting to pick it up -- see the links below. This is good. We're doing a six-week run, five performances per week, in an 87-seat theater. If you do the math, you'll find that this is... a heck of a lot of seats to fill. Luckily, we have an amazing marketing team. Moving Arts is producing my play at [Inside] the Ford through a special "Winter Partnership" with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. All three groups are working with all three theater companies to help our productions to succeed and find an audience. A big thank you to all of them!
From the press release:
The Ford Theatres complex, operated by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, is best known for the May to October summer season of music, dance, theater, film and family events in its 1,245-seat outdoor amphitheater. The majority of the 100 plus performances in the Ford Amphitheatre are produced through the Summer Partnership Program; Los Angeles County-based producers and performing arts organizations, chosen through a competitive application process, receive significant promotional and technical support to present their events and keep the lion's share of the box office. Now, for the first time, this successful formula is being applied to presentations at [Inside] the Ford, the 87-seat indoor space that is one of L.A.'s most surprising small theaters. Embedded within a 1929 historic structure, [Inside] the Ford boasts 21st Century lights and sound, comfortable seats, and a decades-long history of nurturing new theater. "This program addresses the dearth of affordable spaces for small theatre companies. It makes it possible for three theater companies without permanent performance spaces to present in a state-of-the-art venue," said Adam Davis, Managing Director of the John Anson Ford Theatres. "The productions that are premiering are theatrically compelling and timely. We are proud to help bring new challenging work to the public in our first [Inside] the Ford Winter Partnership Season."
Broadway World http://broadwayworld.com/viewcolumn.cfm?colid=31928
Theater Mania http://www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm/story/15170
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The Ford Amphitheater & [Inside] the Ford.