Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All My Heroes Are Women This Week

I like writing men.  Hard to say why.  Perhaps it's because their desire to take action and not talk about their feelings appeals to me, at least when I'm writing for the stage.  (Maybe not.  It's not like that describes all men, and no women.)  Perhaps it's because I prefer not to look into my own female psyche.  Or maybe it's like handedness, or sexual orientation -- we're all just built veering a certain way.

At any rate, I do veer that direction, and the character lists of my plays reflect that.  "Heads" is for three men and one woman.  "Song of Extinction" is for five men and one woman.  "Magellanica" has two women, and six men.  And I'm working on my first two-hander -- for two men.

Not equal at all.

It's not that I think I have to be egalitarian in this regard.  But there's something in me -- the part that took that writing workshop with Betty Friedan, or that counts "Alien" and "Aliens" as two of the best movies ever -- that wants to be.  Or at least thinks that any blind spots I see in myself ought to be rigorously rooted out.  I am a writer, after all.  Isn't that one of the things we're supposed to do?  Along with "never be boring," "tell a smashing good story" and "use strong verbs?"

So.  It's not that I've stopped working on "Magellanica," or that two-hander.  But I've been keeping Women Characters at the back of my mind, along with all the other things that lurk at the edges of my brain, ready to be thrust into plays when the time is right.
(An anecdote:  I don't know about other writers, but I usually write a play from inside one character, more than the others.  When I was writing "Heads," I remember thinking, with regularity and insistence, "I am Harold Wolfe."  He's the American engineer, who is being held hostage with British embassy worker Caroline Conway.  He had a particular way of thinking about things, and dealing with his situation, and Caroline's way of thinking about things and dealing with their situation bugged the hell out of him.  I was weeping and writing one of their last scenes of the play together, when I suddenly realized, "I am Caroline Conway."  It was frightening, actually.)
All that being a preface to what I'm actually blogging about today:  that I have three plays going up this month, and all of them feature women characters.  Or in the case of one, characters that can be played by women or men in any combination, as the director wishes.  I'm rather pleased about this!

Kelly Owens as Detective Constance Connolly with Jesse David Perez as Detective Mario Garza in "Strong Voice" by EM Lewis, directed by Margo Gray, in the 2011 Alcyone Festival, Chicago, IL.

"Strong Voice" opened on Sunday in Chicago, as part of Halcyon Theater's Alcyone Festival, directed by Margo Gray.  The festival is always a showcase for work by women playwrights; this year, Halcyon commissioned five of us to write new plays that either adapted or riffed upon the work of particular women playwrights from 1870 or earlier.  My play riffs upon the work of Hrosvitha -- the "strong voice" of Gandersheim.  It's about a pair of Chicago police detectives who are investigating the case of a missing nun and a vandalized mosque in the wake of 9/11.  It explores issues of faith and violence.  And the story is spearheaded by Detective Constance Connolly, who is trying to find the lost nun, and Lucy Wallingstone, who is trying to come to terms with all that she and her fiance lost in 9/11.

Porter Kelly and Vyvy Nguyen as mother and daughter in "Drop-Off Day," written by EM Lewis and directed by Michael Shutt, in Moving Arts' "The Car Plays" at the 2011 Radar Festival in Los Angeles, CA.
"Drop-Off Day" opens today in the Radar Festival, in Los Angeles, produced by Moving Arts, as part of a big, fabulous event called "The Car Plays."  And yes, it is exactly what the title suggests: plays performed inside cars!  To an audience of two people at a time!  Each play is approximately ten minutes long, and you buy a "boulevard" of five -- moving in and out of each car, guided by a car hop, as the actors perform the play over and over again.  This is the fourth year that Moving Arts has produced The Car Plays, and I've been part of them since their inception.  Paul Stein was our artistic director at that time, and came up with them as a project that would bring us all together -- writers, directors and actors -- and allow our "homeless" state not to stop us from performing.  They're great fun.  And we're all honored that we were asked to perform the show as part of the Radar Festival, alongside theater-makers from all over, and to a large audience that's gathered to participate in the TCG Festival, the Hollywood Fringe Festival and Radar, which are all happening NOW in Los Angeles.  (Which is, clearly, a theater town, wouldn't you say?)  "Drop-Off Day" is about a woman who has been helping her daughter move into the dorm at USC for her first day of college, but now is finding it hard to drive away.  It's directed by Michael Shutt, and features Porter Kelly as the mom and Vyvy Nguyen as the daughter.

A quote from the Imperial War Museum in London.  In the corridor leading to the World War I and World War II exhibits.

"The War Museum" is brand new.  Since I came to the east coast, for my playwriting fellowship, I've been looking for nice folks to make theater with.  And Flux Theater in New York City is one of the groups I've become acquainted with.  They have a mainstage show up right now called "Ajax in Iraq."  And they do something I think is rather wonderful -- asking their playwrights to write short plays that riff on the themes of their mainstage show, and then do readings of those plays each week during the run.  Even though I'm new, they asked me to play -- writing a short play for their "New World Iliads," ten to fifteen minutes long, that dealt with the war in Afghanistan as if it were seen from 2,000 years in the future, much as "Ajax in Iraq" deals with soldiers today and 2,000 years ago, simultaneously.  We had a piece of art we could work from in our writing as well.  An exciting challenge!  Especially since I was in Chicago when I got the call, getting ready to open "Strong Voice."  But I took an afternoon off, found a cafe that served good coffee, and scribbled fast.  "The War Museum" is for four players, in any gender configuration.  **2,000 years from now.  This is the moment when everything changes.  Vennah's looking for Meller.  Meller's looking for answers.  In the War Museum.**  It was read on Sunday evening, alongside plays by Mac Rogers, Isaiah Tannenbaum and Aja Houston, and directed by Jordana Williams.  Because I couldn't be there, I'm not sure which of the following actors were in it:  Carissa Cordes, Ken Glickfeld, Lynn Kenny, Rob Maitner, Debargo Sanyal, and Kathleen Wise.  But I'm sure some of them were women...

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