Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Infinite Black Suitcase" interview featured in Samuel French's "Breaking Character"

I had a wonderful conversation earlier this year with David Roth, the director and theater teacher at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut.  He was planning to produce my play "Infinite Black Suitcase" with his fabulous troupe of student actors, the Staples Players.  He and his actors had some questions for me about the play, and our correspondence has ended up (with the permission of both parties) being featured on the Samuel French website, in their online magazine "Breaking Character."

Check out the feature article HERE.

I wish I could have seen the Staples Players production.  From all reports and photographs, these young actors did an amazing job with the play!

More about Staples Players and their production HERE.

To buy a copy of the play from the Samuel French website, or to make production inquiries, click here!

Song of Extinction at Lafayette College

"Song of Extinction" was presented on November 20, 2014 at Lafayette College. The play was part of a series of events at the Williams Center for the Arts called "Requiem, Ectopistes Migratorius" that marks the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon.

For more information about the performance, click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Finalist for the Shakespeare's Sister Fellowship from AROHO!

I am honored to be a finalist for the Shakespeare's Sister Fellowship from the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation, alongside Katie Bender from Austin, TX; Ellen K. Graham from Denver, CO; and Stefanie Zadravec from Brooklyn, NY. The award has been given to my talented colleague Dipika Guha, who receives a $10,000 prize as well as institutional support from three organizations that give tremendous support to playwrights in this country -- The Lark, Hedgebrook, and AROHO.  Congratulations, Dipika!  

Thank you, AROHO, for giving such practical support to women playwrights. For more information on the fellowship, visit the AROHO Foundation website.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Gun Show - west coast premiere opens Nov. 1

The west coast premiere of THE GUN SHOW opens tomorrow for a six week run in Los Angeles, at my old home theater company, Moving Arts.  The show is directed by Darin Anthony, and produced by Cece Tio.  It stars Chuma Gault.  Hope you can make it out to see the show, Los Angeles friends!

More information and tickets available at

ANPF 2014!

I was delighted to be back in beautiful Ashland in late October for my fifth year as host playwright at the Ashland New Plays Festival.  I saw lots of old friends, and was able to welcome the four winning playwrights to town, moderate their talk-backs with the smart and articulate ANPF audiences, and teach a playwriting workshop entitled "All Our Histories."  They've asked me to come back again next year, and I couldn't resist saying yes.  See you then, friends!  Submit a play to them, friends!  I love these folks, and they are fabulous at celebrating new plays and the people who write them.

ANPF 2014!  Artistic Director Doug Rowe, me, and our four winning playwrights: Bob Clyman, James Harmon Brown, Jack Karp, and Michael Edan.

I caught two plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival while I was in Ashland, and really enjoyed them both.  The Great Society (about Lyndon Johnson's second term as president of the USA) was fascinating, and made me sorry I'd missed the first installment, All the Way.  I'm hoping to go up to Seattle later this winter, where they're both going to be playing in rep.  The other play I saw was an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.  This is a favorite, favorite, favorite childhood book for me, so it would be impossible for them to live up to my expectations... but they did a pretty darn good job!  It was very theatrical, and used a lot of the simple theater magic that I love so much.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Now Playing in Santa Barbara, CA: Dance Me to the End of Love

A wonderful theater troupe in Santa Barbara, California is producing an evening of my short plays, entitled Dance Me to the End of Love.

I met Bonnie Lewis and Ken Gilbert a couple years ago, when we were all participating in the first annual PlayFest Santa Barbara.  They were delightful theater-makers!  So I was very pleased when Bonnie called me up and asked if her company, the DramaDogs, could read some of my short plays.  They were looking to put an evening together.  What they've ended up doing is far beyond what I could have imagined!  Not only did they select some of my very favorite short plays…  they have woven them together with live music and tango dancing, taking advantage of their movement-based company's fabulous physicality.  Several of the plays reference one of my favorite singer songwriters -- the inimitable Leonard Cohen -- so after a lot of thought, they ended up titling the evening after one of his songs.

The show runs from September 26 through October 5.  I hope you'll check it out if you're in the area!

For tickets and more information:

A nice preview on Broadway World:  A Theatrical Mixtape

A nice review in the Santa Barbara Independent:  Short & Sweet!

Friday, July 25, 2014

WWEAD? (Thoughts on The Gun Show, continued)

There's a war going on inside me.

There are a hell of a lot of wars going on outside of me right now, too…  and I'm not sure what to do about those, either.  The whole world seems to be falling apart.  The center cannot hold.  (Why do I wind up back with TS Eliot so frequently?)

My small war is between humility and hubris, between agency and inaction, between process and product, between past-tense and present-tense.

"The Gun Show" is up, now, at 16th Street Theater in Chicago.  We are in our third week of performances, playing to strong houses and pleased about receiving good reviews.  We've extended.  What the hell do I have to feel conflicted about?  I have a show up!

Every full-length play I've written has been the creative expression of me grappling with a question I don't have an answer for, and desperately need to.  My plays are all very different from each other in form and subject, but like most writers, I tend to circle the same set of questions on a pretty regular basis.  "How do we go on?" is a favorite for me -- taken from both existential and practical angles.  "The Gun Show" asks (amongst other things) how we as a society are going to choose to deal with guns, these dealers of death or security (depending on who you ask) which seem to be intrinsic to our American identity in a way we're no longer entirely comfortable with.  How do we go on?  Philosophically?  Practically?  With them or without them?

"The Gun Show" isn't just about guns, though.  It's about me trying to figure out how to integrate a difficult, messy, violent piece of my past into my present self.  I've been dragging it behind for a long time -- separate, heavy, albatross-like.  But at a certain point, going forward in pieces is no longer a very successful defense mechanism, but rather an impediment to progress.  

Progress hurts a bit.

I knew that it would, going into this.  It's all right.  I'm tough as an old tree, really.  I can do this.  And for the most part, I'm staying in the game -- feeling all the feels, only occasionally breaking for a Law & Order marathon with a Ben & Jerry's and bourbon chaser.  Because what good is all this art crap if it's not going to get me anywhere?  

I want to get somewhere.

I want to get somewhere farther than I am.

Personally and professionally.

I keep see-sawing between thinking the play is good and thinking it's self-indulgent crap.  I keep remembering things from the past that this play is dredging up, while trying to navigate the present and BE present and let what comes up come in, not slam the door on it like I have before.  Because it's part of me.  It's part of me.  It's part of me.

The play is going well.  People are coming to see it.  Two more theaters want to produce it.  So it's time for me to work to promote it.  Now.  Right now.  Not in a few weeks or month, but now, while it's up and running and growing and becoming.  Some people are going to hate it -- disagree with it, be appalled at it.  I am actively grappling with it myself, still.  Art isn't about the easy questions, after all.  Right?  I'm not entirely sure what to do with the people who LIKE it.  

It's at times like this that I ask myself, "WWEAD?"

I don't know Mr. Albee.  I have heard him speak a few times, and am in love with his plays.  How do you do better than "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"  How could you be more difficult and provocative than "The Goat" or "The Lady from Dubuque" or "Zoo Story?"  He has written difficult plays his whole life, and he has stayed in the game for a long, long time.  The Mr. Albee in my imagination is a grappler with angels, like Jacob in the story, when everything is at stake.  So...

Stay in the game, Ellen.

Send out the play, to the theater and the agent and the director you want to work with.

Don't stop wrestling with the play until it's done wrestling with you.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Gun Show Is Now Up on Stage at 16th Street Theater

The Bottom of the Box. 15 JULY 2014

My second full-length play production occurred in 2007.  Darin Anthony directed the world premiere of my hostage drama "Heads" at the Blank Theater in Los Angeles, California.  It's a dark little story, about four civilian westerners who are taken hostage during the early years of the war in Iraq.  The play has had five or six more productions, but that first one came to mind the other day.  I remember having a discussion with Darin about the ending of the play.  Specifically, he was asking me about the final stage direction, in which (spoiler alert!) the two surviving hostages are thrown together into a single cell.  Both of them are grieving.  One approaches the other with a tin of food; he slaps it out of her hands.  She tries again.  My final stage direction read something like "she holds out the tin again - lights out - end of play."  And Darin asked me if I thought that Michael might reach out and take the tin from Caroline, the second time she offers it.  We talked about it a lot.  I think we might have tried the scene both ways, with the actors.  I ended up choosing to end the play with Michael accepting the tin from Caroline.  It was a small change that made all the difference.  How you end something is really important.

I was thinking about the end of "Heads" because I've been thinking about the end of "The Gun Show."  It's my seventh or eighth full-length play to be produced, and as always, I have found myself having intense conversations with my director about the play as we work together to bring it to the stage.  The original ending (before the last 20 or 30 rewrites) had the actor abandoning the audience after the last story.  He leaves the stage.  Leaves the audience to think what they think and feel what they feel.  And the play still kind of ends that way, but my director, Kevin Fox, asked me if I thought that a conversation with the audience about the rather intense subject matter of the play -- guns and gun violence and gun control -- might be a natural follow up to our performances here at 16th Street Theater in Chicago, especially since the play explicitly asks, at one point, "Can we have this conversation?"  We talked about it a lot.  I was nervous about the idea, but Kevin had a carefully thought-out plan.  I ended up choosing to let him try it.  It was a small change that has made all the difference.  People have been sharing their own gun stories, and listening to each other, really listening to each other.  I have felt both humbled and supported by their willingness to take part.  How you end something is really important.

And I realized that maybe what both of these directors were asking me to do, with these dark little plays of mine, was not to step back from the darkness, but to keep reaching inside until I got to the furthest point that the plays were trying to take me to.  The bottom of the box.  

Don't close it until you let the hope out, Ellen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rehearsals continue for THE GUN SHOW, here in Chicago

Through the Looking Glass.  04 JULY 2014
“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”   (Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass)
My guts hurt. They've hurt for days now, a low ache that makes me want to curl up under the covers. 

It's not appendicitis.  It's not cramps. It's not that I've been drinking too much coffee during the day and booze at night (though, you know, maybe that, too.) It's that I've been clenching those muscles tight since rehearsals began on Monday afternoon.

This play cuts a little close to the bone.

It's a strange thing to work on.  Kevin Christopher Fox is my director, for this first ever production of the play.  Juan Francisco Villa is my actor.  (Don't they have wonderful names?)  They've been troupers.  This is a public story -- THE GUN SHOW -- but it's also a private story, and they are hanging in there with me for this oddly intimate exploration of what guns mean to us here in America and what guns mean to the three of us there in that room and what guns mean to me.

Juan is playing me.  Sometimes, during the show, he talks to me, where I'm sitting out in the audience.  (I love the theater, where the most complicated things can be magicked into the most simple things.)

Kevin said something to Juan the other day, in rehearsal.  He said that when Juan looks at me, for him to think of it as looking in a mirror, since we are the same person for the duration of each performance.  That felt both surprising and deeply right to me.  It's been so strange to watch Juan wrestle with my demons.

I am a relatively emotionally contained person, generally speaking.  Carefully bottled up, one might say.  But this play is pushing me to let go a bit.  A lot.

Some moments I want to flee the theater, and some moments I want to cling to the guys, and some moments I don't want to be touched.

I'm trying to sit in my chair and not be distracting.  Because we are there to work on the play.  It is my job to be the playwright in the room, to take notes and give notes, to support and encourage and guide, to let Kevin work with Juan, as they bring my little play to life up on the stage, working all their own magic.  To be professional.

So the clenching.

It'll pass.
“The time has come," the walrus said, "to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships - and sealing wax - of cabbages and kings.”  (Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

THE GUN SHOW begins rehearsals at 16th Street Theater in Chicago

28 JUNE 2014

I arrived in Chicago late last night, and Ann picked me up at the airport -- Ann Filmer, artistic director of 16th Street Theater in Berwyn. I'm here because I wrote a play, and because Ann is producing it. The play is called THE GUN SHOW.

I will be here all month, participating in not only the rehearsals, with my director and actor, but also in the show itself. It's a "one-man, two-person show," in its current iteration at least. That's how I've been describing it, anyway. The actor plays me, and once in a while he talks to me. I'm all over this one. Part of the story in a way that I've never been part of the story before. Tangled up in blue, to borrow a phrase.

The play is about guns.

This is its first production. I've been working on it for about a year and a half, and it's new and raw. Part conversation about guns and gun control and part stories about guns, pulled from my own experiences.

I grew up in rural Oregon, on a farm, and we had guns. Not a lot, not a stockpile, not for show, not for machismo. They were a tool, to be used to kill creatures that were preying on the chickens, if creatures happened to be preying on the chickens, or to defend ourselves if we needed to. Because we were far from things like civilization and law enforcement. Not super far. But far enough. Everybody had guns, and dogs, and fences. Most everybody out there still does.

I didn't stay in the country, and I didn't stay a kid. As I moved out into the world, my thoughts about guns became more complicated. My experiences with guns became more complicated.

I've waited a long time to tell this story. Which is the wrong way to put it, because I never thought I'd ever tell this story.

Why now?

Things collide. That's part of it. It's impossible to NOT think about guns right now. Right? There's one story after another in the newspaper lately, and the debate is hot and emotional and immediate. All this public story crashed against my own personal stories, and when you're a writer, there really are moments when you HAVE TO write. Fish or cut bait. Grow or die.

I saw a friend recently, who I hadn't seen for a while, and she asked how I was, and how the play was going… the usual questions. I would usually say "fine, how are you?" automatically, automatically, automatically. Like a math equation that I knew the correct answer to. But this time, I didn't say fine. "Good," I said. "Strange. Like a snake shedding its skin. Ugly and patchy and vulnerable."

She's a writer too, so I think she understood. She patted my arm reassuringly.

I don't know how this is going to go.

Rehearsals begin tomorrow. We'll see.

It begins.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Amazing Summer of New Work!

I've been too busy to breathe, much less blog, the last few months.  And this summer is exploding with new work and fun in four different cities.  Hope to see you at one of these upcoming events!

MAY - Magellanica and The Gun Show in Los Angeles / Infinite Black Suitcase in Westport

I'll be back in Los Angeles for ten days, workshopping "The Gun Show" and having a reading of my epic Antarctica play "Magellanica" at Moving Arts.  It will be so nice to be back in my old stomping grounds, and to be working with director Darin Anthony again.  My most intimate and my most epic theatrical undertakings, both in the same week!  Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut is producing "Infinite Black Suitcase" at the end of May.  I've had a wonderful time corresponding with the director, and wish the cast and crew all the best.

JUNE - The Resurrection Engine and Magellanica in New York City

I'll be spending ten days in New York City in June.  From June 11-18, I'll be enjoying the company of my fellow residents in American Lyric Theater's 2013-2014 Composer Librettist Development Program.  We are completing our year of study in how to write opera, and sharing our final projects -- four brand new chamber operas -- with the public.  I've been working on a Gothic/Victorian/Steampunk chamber opera entitled "The Resurrection Engine" with composer Evan Meier, and we can't wait to hear it played and sung!  Here are the details:

June 16 at 7pm OPERA IN EDEN at Symphony Space, produced by American Lyric Theater
Four operatic fantasies on temptation from the resident artists in American Lyric Theater's Composer Librettist Development Program: ENCHANTRESS by composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Rob Handel; ARRANGEMENT by composer Elizabeth Lim and librettist Jerome A. Parker; THE DISINHERITED by composer Clarice Assad and librettist Niloufar Talebi and THE RESURRECTION ENGINE by composer Evan Meier and Librettist EM Lewis. Composer/librettist Mark Adamo will moderate the event.

June 22 at 7pm
Reading of Magellanica at Project Y
On June 22, Project Y will present a reading of my epic Antarctic adventure story "Magellanica," as part of their reading series of science and technology related plays.

JULY - The Gun Show in Chicago
The centerpiece of the summer is the world premiere of "The Gun Show" at 16th Street Theater in Chicago.  It's about guns and gun control -- written from the perspective of someone who grew up with guns in rural Oregon, but whose experiences with guns has changed through time and experience.  It will be directed by Kevin Christopher Fox and performed by Juan Francisco Villa.  I will be there for the whole run.