Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking back at 2011; looking forward to 2012!

It's a nice tradition to take note of accomplishments at the end of the year, and make goals for the year ahead!  So on this first day of January, 2012, I'd like to do just that.

In 2010, I took a great leap into uncertainty when I quit my steady, reliable day job doing tech support at USC (which I'd held for nine years) to accept a year-long playwriting fellowship for the 2010-2011 academic year.  I was excited to be able to write full-time, and to live within a train ride of New York City for a while.  

"Song of Extinction" promo poster for the Guthrie production.
The timing was good.  "Song of Extinction" had done rather well, so 2011 became part follow-up on that success and part working on new projects, in good combination.  In February and March, 2011, "Song of Extinction" was produced at the Guthrie, in their Dowling black box theater, by Theater Latte Da.  It felt really lovely to have a production at a theater with so much history.  They brought me out for 24 very chilly hours in Minneapolis, so I got to see what they did with the play; I was very pleased!  Peter Rothstein did a wonderful job directing the play, and I loved seeing how they brought my little story to life.  This year also marked the first high school production of "Song," at Harmony High School in Florida.

"Song of Extinction" at the Guthrie, produced by Theater Latte Da.
I joined a playwriting workshop this year in Trenton, which has been lots of fun, and a weekly playwright/actor "workout" in New York City, where playwrights bring pages and the actors bring them to life.  I miss my old Los Angeles playwriting group, but it's great to be meeting some new folks to work with.  I do better when I have places to bring my pages on a regular basis.

I wrote a short play called "The War Museum" which was read in Flux Theater's "New World Iliads" show (supporting their mainstage production of Ellen McLaughlin's "Ajax in Iraq").  That was fun! I also had two readings of "Magellanica" at the Lark, both directed by my friend and fellow playwright David Hilder.  I'd like to continue to try to get to know New York theaters, and hopefully work with more of them in the new year.
"Strong Voice" premiered in Halcyon Theater's 2011 Alcyone Festival.
Questions of faith in "Strong Voice," directed by Margo Gray.
"Strong Voice," which I wrote for Halcyon Theater's Alcyone Festival in Chicago, had its premiere.  Ultimately, I felt like it was ready for a workshop production and some more rewriting, more than the festival production it received, but I was glad to have had the chance to try my hand at an adaptation for the first time.  It wasn't really an adaptation proper... but Halcyon had challenged five women writers, myself included, to either adapt or riff upon the themes of a woman playwright from 1850 or earlier.  I selected Hrosvitha of Gandersheim -- a woman who lived in a convent in the Dark Ages, and wrote some odd and interesting little plays and poems about Christian women who had their faith challenged.  My play was about a woman whose faith is challenged by the events of 9/11, and a murder investigation in her community which she and her neighbors are caught up in.  I hope to revisit the play at some point in the next few years, to see what it wants to become in its next iteration.

"Drop-Off Day" premiered in Moving Arts "The Car Plays" in the Radar Festival in Los Angeles.
My short play "Drop-Off Day" -- about a woman who is dropping her daughter off at the dorm, as her daughter leaves home for the first time to attend college -- was included in Moving Arts' "The Car Plays," which joined other fun and exciting productions from Los Angeles and around the world at this year's Radar Festival.  Moving Arts has been my Los Angeles theater home since I started writing plays, so it was great to have another project with them.  The Car Plays has been one of their most successful events.  (Short plays, produced inside actual cars, to an audience of two at a time!)  The Car Plays will be playing at two festivals in 2012, and I'm pleased to have a play in each -- "Bohemian. Like You." in the Off Center Festival at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA in January 2012and "Reveille" in the Without Walls Festival at San Diego Rep in La Jolla, CA in February 2012.
My wonderful actors and director for the SlamBOSTON production of "Partners."
Speaking of short plays, "Partners" was back at SlamBOSTON again, at Another Country Productions, and made the finals.  It's a comedy about a lesbian cop who brings her rednecked cop partner home to meet her life partner.  That play is headed to St. Louis next, for an appearance at Uppity Women Productions' "Briefs" Festival in February 2012.  Some ten minute plays just keep on giving!

I had two opportunities this year to mentor kids who were writing plays -- one with the Blank Theater's Young Playwrights Festival in Los Angeles, CA and one in Passage Theater's State Street Project in Trenton, NJ.  I love helping kids work on their plays!  I'm pleased that 2012 will bring a new chance to do so in an even more involved way: I'm going to be the Playwright-in-Residence at SPARC's New Voices for the Theater high school playwriting residency in Virginia in summer 2012.  A big thanks to my colleague Babs Lindsay for connecting me with this opportunity.

Ellen at Giverny.
The year has brought with it extraordinary opportunities for travel.  Over the summer, I made my first trip abroad and got the very first stamp in my little passport!  Through a friend of a theater friend, I was given the opportunity to stay in a flat in the middle of Paris for three weeks, with the only cost being the care of two cute French cats and the plane ticket.  It was an amazing trip!  Paris is so beautiful!  I walked everywhere, saw bridges and museums and monuments and gardens galore, and am absolutely sure that a play will come out of it at some point.  

In the fall, I took three theater trips in quick succession.

Here are the four winning playwrights from ANPF 2011, along with artistic director Doug Rowe and me.  This photo, taken by Elizabeth von Radics, was featured in American Theater Magazine.
I was host playwright for the Ashland New Plays Festival again, in Oregon (great fun!).  I love Ashland so much!  We had a very strong line up of challenging plays this year, and the readers did an extraordinary job in bringing them to life.  As always, I was able to sneak in a few shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a quick trip to the farm while I was in my home state.

Our bold gang of theater makers, sitting out on the front porch in Independence, Kansas, after a wonderful week of hard work, good eats, and lots of fun.  Peter Ellenstein, who made it all happen, at the top, representing the Inge Center for the Arts.  Director Stephen Brackett and his playwright, Ken Urban.  Chuma Gault, Ben Corbett, and yours truly.  Heather Alicia Simms, Mark Pinter, Mina Kim, and my director, Laura Savia.
I flew from there to Independence, Kansas, where I stayed for two and a half weeks at a writing residency in William Inge's childhood home (along with my colleague Ken Urban).  I worked on and had a reading of "Magellanica" (parts one and two), and taught some playwriting classes at the local high schools and community college.  It was a wonderful experience, and I got some good writing done on the play.  I felt like William Inge's ghost was encouraging me along.
"Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday" was a finalist for the HotCity Greenhouse Festival in 2011, and will have its world premiere with them in St. Louis in September 2012.
HotCity Greenhouse Festival 2011 playwrights:  Christopher Wall (Shake and Be Saved), EM Lewis (Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday), and Gino Dilorio (Release Point).
I flew from Independence to St. Louis, Missouri -- changing gears to work on "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday" -- a comedy about a woman who decides to leave her life behind to become a commercial fisher in Alaska, but whose family refuses to let her go.  This was really the first play I ever wrote, and I've been hoping to figure out a way to revisit, rework and fix it up.  The play was a finalist in HotCity Theater's Greenhouse Festival, and they brought me and two other playwrights -- Gino Dilorio and Christopher Wall -- out for a week of work on our plays.  I felt really good about the rewrites I was able to do with the help and support of my director, dramaturg and cast.  The reading went great!  And HotCity has selected "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday" to have its world premiere on their stage in September 2012.  I'm absolutely delighted!  It's nice to have another full-length play finding its first staging to look forward to.

"Infinite Black Suitcase" is now available for purchase from Samuel French!
The year was capped by Samuel French's publication of my first produced play, "Infinite Black Suitcase."  It's now available for purchase from their website, and I hope you'll buy a copy!  It's also available from Amazon.com.  Only $8.95!  According to the website, "it's the story of one day in a small Oregon town and three families who are trying, in the most loving and human ways, to deal with death and dying."  I feel like I first became a playwright when this play was put up by Moving Arts in a workshop production at the Los Angeles Theater Center in 2005.  It had its premiere when it was produced by TheSpyAnts in 2007.  I'm so glad that it is moving forward into a new life in publication!

My fellowship ended in May of this year, but by living somewhat frugally and eating lots of homemade soup, I've been able to extend my happily jobless full-time writing for a bit longer.  It took me a little while to get into the rhythm, but now I'm really starting to get some good work done.  So I guess one of my main goals for 2012 is going to be to try to figure out a way to continue to live simply and happily while writing full-time, if I can swing it.  I would also like to finish the two full-length plays I'm working on now -- "If I Did This" (a sort of murder-mystery/psychological thriller) and "Magellanica" (my epic Antarctica play).  In February, I'm going to be workshopping "If I Did This" at Passage Theater in Trenton, NJ.  I'm hoping to have a reading of a bigger chunk (if not a completed draft) of "Magellanica" this spring.
In France, amongst the flowers.  May the coming year be as full of joyful adventures as the last one was!
A big thank you to all the theater companies, directors, dramaturgs, playwrights, actors, tech folks and other theater people who I was lucky enough to work with in 2011.  May 2012 bring peace, prosperity and great projects to your lives!  

5 comments:

Claudia said...

I love this - you sent me Infinite Black Suitcase years ago and I devoured it - glad to see it published and hope it gets many, many productions with people as moved as I was. Playwrighting takes you on so many journeys and you are a playwright who embraces it all. May 2012 bring you many joys!

Isabel said...

Read it all! Happy for you.

Sandra de Helen said...

Thank you for posting your accomplishments and goals, Ellen! AND the pictures! I share in your joy and I support you in continuing to do everything to make writing full time your life. Going now to buy your book to put my money where my mouth is. :)

Midge Guerrera said...

How exciting to share in this year's writing adventure. Thank you for letting us peek in at your world.

Shirley said...

Ellen, as always you are amazing and inspiring. I love SONG OF EXTINCTION. I think it should be on everyone's "MUST READ"list.

My very best wishes,

Shirley