Friday, January 16, 2009

Pictures, still and moving - Darwin - Morris

Four topics today.

Pictures, Moving: I'm netflixing Robert Downey, Jr. movies lately, because he's one of those actors who I find consistently mesmerizing. The other night, I saw him in a little movie called "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," which was about a guy going back to his old New York neighborhood and confronting his past. It resonated with me. What do writers do, after all, but this? Over and over again...

Pictures, Still: Went to World Press Photo '08 last night -- their opening reception and "Behind the Lens" presentation, as I have for the last several years. It's a wonderful event, hosted annually by the Annenberg School of Communication here at USC. World Press Photo is "the leading international press-photography" competition. Of the thousands (tens of thousands) of images submitted each year, they select one winning image, but also first second and third places in a variety of new photo categories, from sports to war to daily life. The pictures are on display in the lobby for a month or two (and free to look at). But the "Behind the Lens" presentation is where several of the photographers themselves are brought in to speak about their work. I've read some very good work by war correspondents (special note goes to one of my all-time favorite books, Dispatches, by Michael Herr). I got deeper into the heads of the people in this strange profession while writing Heads, once I decided to toss Michael Apres and Jack Velazquez, journalist and photojournalist respectively, into the second cell. So this event is right up my alley. Last night's speakers were the big winner, Tim Hetherington (lovely English accent) who had been embedded for a year with a group of American soldiers in Afghanistan. He was smart, well-spoken and did an excellent presentation and explanation of his work. The other photographers there included Erika Larsen (winner for a series on young hunters published in Field & Stream), Justin Maxon (winner for an image of a homeless Vietnamese woman and her child), and David Liitschwager (winner for images of microscopic sea creatures published in National Geographic). Tremendous variety in what they were trying to do, but storytellers all, in my opinion. I look forward to attending World Press Photo '09 next year.

Darwin: According to the Evilutionary Biologist, whose blog I frequent (since writing Song of Extinction got me thinking about biology and ecological concerns), 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of the author's birth. The two top science journals in the world, Science and Nature, are gearing up to provide a year's worth of content about him and his work. I look forward to reading the highlights, at the very least... interesting stuff!

Morris: Steven Leigh Morris, LA Weekly theater editor, has lost that position at the paper. Meaning that the position has been done away with, not that he's been replaced. Tough news for our town, which is full of theatrical productions clamoring for attention from critics and audience alike, and in need of smart and thoughtful people to give voice to the larger picture which we scribble in the corners of. But I really like how he puts things in his blog today. Both gracious and demanding that we take responsibility for our own theater-making. Worth a read, and all the best of luck to him as he continues to write and review here in LA.

Workshop tomorrow. Must go write pages now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Goodnight, Mr. Pinter

There are some playwrights whose work I can't help but read out loud, when I'm reading them. Something about the rhythm and realness of the words. Edward Albee. Lanford Wilson. Sam Shepard. And absolutely Harold Pinter, who died over the Christmas holiday.

I was thinking about Harold Pinter on my way into work this morning. There are many tools at the playwright's disposal when she or he is scribbling away. Dialogue is just one tool. Sometimes I think it's even more important what the character's don't say. And certainly, I'm a huge proponent of action. What are they doing? Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes more honestly...

Pinter was awesome at allowing the audience to figure out things, as opposed to telling them things. I saw a performance of "Old Times" last year, with my friend Dorinne, and it took my breath away. What wasn't said. What was circled around (like predators and prey). The large meaning in small pauses, before someone answered. How an answer can mean something completely different if there's a pause in front of it.

I'm not an actor, but I'd rather like to try acting in a Pinter play, because I think I'd learn an enormous amount from trying to live inside one for the 10 weeks or so that it takes to rehearse and perform a show.


Goodnight, Mr. Pinter. And thank you for the plays.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009!

The change of year encourages us to assess what we've done and make plans for the year to come, and that's what I've been up to lately.

Highlights of 2008:
  • winning the Primus Prize for Heads
  • receiving a host of readings for Song of Extinction (including finalling in the HotCity Theater's Greenhouse Festival in St. Louis, being one of four winners of the Ashland New Plays Festival in Ashland, participating once again in hotINK at NYU and receiving my first regional theater reading at the Atlantic in New York)
  • receiving a world premiere production of Song of Extinction by Moving Arts at [Inside] the Ford, through a special grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission
  • founding the War Plays Project (and keeping it going throughout the year)
  • teaching playwriting workshops for the first time
Coming soon in 2009:
  • A scene from Heads is scheduled to be published in a Smith & Kraus anthology
  • Song of Extinction is a finalist for the 2009 Eco Drama Festival in Eugene, OR
Goals for 2009:
  • A regional or off-Broadway theater production of Heads or Song of Extinction
  • Publication of a full-length play
  • A world premiere production of Catch, Reading to Vegetables or one of the other plays I know have in the works
  • More teaching of workshops -- and begin looking toward college-level positions teaching playwriting, preferably on the west coast (and possibly the Pacific Northwest)
  • Do better with my record-keeping
  • Work with good people
  • Work hard and have fun
  • Keep writing! Keep writing! Keep writing!