SCHEDULING IS A TETRIS GAME TRYING TO KILL YOU

March 21
Spring!

I would like you to know that being a playwright is 30% rewarding, 10% lying on the floor doing nothing, 38% worrying about money, 5% theater gossip, 25% conversations with interesting people over cocktails, 9% made up statistics, and 55% a constant scheduling nightmare.

9 out of 9 playwrights agree.

(When I say “you,” I confess I don’t actually know who you are. I know my mom reads this blog, and my fiancé, and Ellen the development director at Pig Iron, and some playwrights I have run into claim to have read it (MacArthur “Genius Grant” Award Winner Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, just as one example) BUT HAVE THEY READ THE WHOLE THING? DO THEY HANG ON EVERY WORD I SAY?)

Anyway.

Scheduling is frustrating and I would like to complain about it right now because unexpressed emotions can make you sad or anxious or neurotic or psychotic or a manic pixie dream girl.

I don’t enjoy scheduling.

There. I said it. Now I’m emotionally free.

When playwrights get together, we have illuminating late night conversations about mortality and politics and race, and we also complain about scheduling.

Currently, we are scheduling a May workshop at the Tilma (not its real name). There have been rocks, jagged rocks, negotiations, compromises, and actor conflicts – and director conflicts – and playwright conflicts – someone was going on vacation but then lo, miracle of miracles, changed his plans – one actor is available except for an entire rehearsal day – but we probably need that rehearsal day – hmm – if we move the workshop to August will it work? No? How about a different week in May? No? Ok how about back to the original date with a different cast? Ok now this other actor has been eaten by a dragon – wait but no but it’s just his leg – do we need the actors to have legs? Now two more actors have died, also from dragons. Ok, we’re all set, we have cast the dragons instead. Wait, now all the dragons in the American theater are unavailable, they’ve just been called in for a TV audition.

It’s just how it is, but it’s not ideal. Especially when your goal is to write something for a specific ensemble.

It’ll be great, I’m sure. But also, pray for us.

MY LIFESTYLE WITH MY SON

March 6, 2017

I recently learned by reading The Atlantic that I am doing this blog all wrong. Did you know top tier mommy bloggers can earn between 1 – 6 MILLION dollars a year?

In the hopes of gaining corporate sponsorship, I am going to refer to my play as my son in this post.

“Me” and “my son”

Being a mom, as you all know, can be tiring. I have been raising my son for at least a year now, and have pegged lots of hopes and dreams on his success. So I decided to go on vacation for a month, in foreign countries, with my loving partner, while leaving my son at home.

That’s my son, crying like a girl. But he soon got over it. I missed him at first, but soon I had so much fun swimming with a sea turtle and bathing in a river of hot springs that I stopped really thinking about it. I relaxed. Time apart can be really good for all relationships. When I come back to him in the next week or two, I’m sure I will look at him with fresh eyes and new love. I expect this distance will also grant me a greater awareness of his faults, which will help me to resume dispassionately but generously molding him into exactly what I want him to be.

SOME YELP REVIEWS OF HUMAN EMOTIONS

GRIEF – 1/27/17

Uncovered some grief after a visit to Brooklyn Open Acupuncture. They say life is a comedy to those who think, tragedy to those who feel. Certainly, joke-telling can keep painful feelings at bay, but I have some healing to do, so I let a nice woman put needles in my earlobes. Grief came to visit the next day, and for a full week thereafter. Pros: The despair was served with unexpected pairings of relief, calm, and joy. Cons: As far as feelings go, this one is a little overwhelming; not for beginners. Regardless, I’d call experiencing it a must for anyone else with trauma, tight shoulders, trump administration.

4 out of 5 stars (due to overwhelm)

GRATITUDE – 1/25/17

Brought in my commission play to my writer’s group at Ars Nova and was various shades of grateful. The other writers said smart things; they did not derail my process; some of them had acting backgrounds; there was pizza. Pros: This emotion is straightforward. It can be easily handled by small children. Cons: This emotion is self-satisfied and will not actually write the next draft of your play. It can also easily annoy others when put on public display. Are you over 30 and on the internet? Then I strongly caution against expressing gratitude. FYI, I am not bragging right now by publicly sharing. I am just trying to write an honest review. – Kate, age 6

3 out of 5 stars (due to tricky handling requirements for adults)

DELIGHT – 1/31/17

I am writing this review from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. I will soon also be visiting the Yucatan, Mexico City, and a butterfly sanctuary. This creates anticipatory delight, e.g: I am delighted I will not have to visit the butterfly sanctuary by horseback because I am deathly allergic to horses and do not wish to die. This past weekend I visited the famous indigenous church in San Juan Chamula, with its floor covered in pine needles, rows of saints, and rainbow candles. I was delighted by the scent, the glow, and the beautiful unfamiliarity of rituals witnessed, such as a healer passing a chicken over a young boy’s body. I quietly asked the space to help lift some of my pain. Con: I don’t think there are any real cons to this emotion. Delight is fleeting. Catch it while you can.

5 out of 5 stars

DISSONANCE

January 25

What a weekend.

I marched on Saturday, in New York.
So many people marched on Saturday.
It was beautiful. This city. Manhattan was empty and full at once. Long corridors of hushed streets and quiet office buildings. Fog pressing down against the architecture. Hundreds of thousands of voices, cresting at intersections. The mood was safe, joyous, electric, and alive.

There are two kinds of people in America: People who marched on Saturday, and people who watched TV on Friday.

(And other people.)

This morning in America is brought to you by the word dissonance, and the letter F.

Cognitive dissonance. I have it every time I read the news. If our nation were a person with a psyche this inconsistent I don’t know how she’d make it past puberty.

Cultural dissonance. Did you know there’s an actual term for what we’re experiencing?

Dissonance, in music: the opposite of consonance. If our daily bread is harshness, unpleasantness, and unacceptability, I need to hear some of that reflected honestly in our cultural output. Please dear music industry, novel writing industry, yogurt packaging design industry: Record this pain. Especially the music industry. Music crosses state lines with greater ease than novels and yogurts.

I’m gonna marry this man. Together we’ll fight our way through.

HOW TO KNOW WHEN A PLAY IS DONE

January 10th                                                                                               baby, it’s cold outside

Draft two.

People sometimes often ask me how I know when a play is done.

I ask Kenneth Koch. He wrote a poem about it (The Art of Poetry).

I swear by the first rule:

            ask 1) Is it astonishing?

If you can answer that, you probably don’t need all the other questions, but they are good too.

            7) Is there any unwanted awkwardness, cheap effects, asking illegitimately for attention,
Show-offiness, cuteness, pseudo-profundity, old hat checks,
Unassimilated dream fragments, or other “literary,” “kiss-me-I’m-poetical” junk?
Is my poem free of this? 8) Does it move smoothly and swiftly
From excitement to dream and then come flooding reason
With purity and soundness and joy? 9) Is this the kind of poem
I would envy in another if he could write? 10)
Would I be happy to go to Heaven with this pinned on to my
Angelic jacket as an entrance show? Oh, would I?

If you are thinking, don’t you have to sort through more analytical stuff about your play, too?
The answer is yes, but I only do a good job of it when I’m feeling like a poet.

the new york school of poets (painters welcome)

A WALTER IN A PEAR TREE

December 23

I recently came across imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg), nestled between two branches of a holiday tree in a hotel lobby. Tiny Walter was perched on a bulbous red ornament and fixing a defective Christmas light.

PLAYWRIGHT
Here we are.

TINY WALTER
The end of the year.

PLAYWRIGHT
Cheers, to 2017.

TINY WALTER
What a terrible year this has been.

PLAYWRIGHT
It has also been a great year.
I got engaged, for example.
The world has many narratives.

TINY WALTER
You wrote our play.

PLAYWRIGHT
I did! First draft.

TINY WALTER
How do you feel?

PLAYWRIGHT
Proud. Happy. Tired. Baffled.

TINY WALTER
Baffled?

PLAYWRIGHT
At the end of a draft, I often don’t feel like I wrote the play.

TINY WALTER
Did you manage to forget yourself, while writing?

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes, despite endless hours of conscious effort and revision.

I know of a poet who doesn’t look in mirrors on days when he’s writing, that’s how urgent the need is, to forget the self.

Walter plugs in the Christmas lights.

PLAYWRIGHT
Sometimes I think we would be a much kinder and wiser species if we just got rid of mirrors.

The lights turns on.

TINY WALTER
Aaah! It’s like looking at the sun!

He turns the lights back off.

TINY WALTER
I am blind.

PLAYWRIGHT
I’m sorry.

TINY WALTER
Contemplating the self is like looking at the sun.

They drink tea and think about that for hours.

PLAYWRIGHT
All I know is, we are most alive when we are inflamed with passions that draw us out of ourselves.

TINY WALTER
The self is greater than the self.

PLAYWRIGHT
The self is greater than the selfie.

TINY WALTER
May we discuss sleep and creativity. You sent me this draft at 3 am.

PLAYWRIGHT
I don’t keep banker’s hours.

TINY WALTER
No regular writing schedule?

PLAYWRIGHT
It’s never the same. Last week, I took a two-hour nap in the evening, then woke up and had five new insights about the play. A few days later, I implemented some of those intuitions from 5 am to 9:30 am. Another day later, I wrote down the rest of it from 10pm until 3 am.

TINY WALTER
I hope some day you are blessed with a regular writing schedule.

PLAYWRIGHT
Me too.

TINY WALTER
Do you want to talk about dreams.

PLAYWRIGHT
No.

TINY WALTER
Let’s talk about dreams.

PLAYWRIGHT
Let’s talk about Picasso. He said something true about process. He said (I paraphrase): The first brushstroke is always a mistake. The rest of the work is trying to correct it.

TINY WALTER
Have you had dreams about Picasso?

PLAYWRIGHT
I used to have one recurring dream. I would dream he was trying to seduce me, in his studio. He wouldn’t recognize me as an artist.

TINY WALTER
Picasso looms large in your personal mythology.

PLAYWRIGHT
I think these dreams had something to do with giving up painting.

TINY WALTER
To me, Pablo embodies that collective modernist dream of the male artist as a tempestuous, lecherous, drunken man-child.

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes! He represents this enormous life force. Unapologetic, enormous drive… the walking id… the seducer who does not worry about social norms or expectations. In my commission play, there is a character named Polybus. I drew him partly from the ribs of Silenius and Picasso. Both are handmaidens of Dionysus.

Walter?

Walter?

Walter is asleep on the branch, dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

PLAYWRIGHT
See you in the new year, Walter.

Alex Katz, Winter Branch, 1993.

RELEVANCE

December 4
How is the weather relevant?

In the light of America’s regime change, playwrights and theaters are inevitably asking themselves,  “How is what I am doing relevant?”

How is this play relevant?
How is this season programming relevant?
How is buying holiday gifts relevant?
How is taking a bath relevant?
How is this toothbrush relevant?
This chair. Relevant, or not?
How is going about my day relevant?

Awareness of The Thing is, naturally, already finding its way into my post-election writing, and I’m sure it will continue to do so in many guises.

I am thinking about it constantly and yet, I do not believe every second in our heads should become about The Thing. I also will get bored if every American theater programs Rhinoceros. Although then I suppose I can write a play called “100 Productions of Rhinoceros,” satirizing our times.

The Thing is so intrusive. The Thing is a constantly blundering fool. The Thing is a master of distraction. How to address The Thing without letting it shrink the landscape of our minds?

An offering:

In Victorian and Edwardian days, the theatre had curtain raisers. Programming would include short pieces at the beginning of the evening, or sometimes after pieces following the main event.

Why not bring this back?

It would allow theaters and writers the ability to respond swiftly to our political situation in the face of ever-shifting circumstances.
It would expand civil discourse.
It could spark debate and engagement.
It might even lead to greater understanding.
It could get your patrons talking to each other.
You could program voices you don’t necessarily agree with.
Even if you have already programmed your entire season, you could still make this change.

It could be a way to celebrate the voices of emerging playwrights whom you’re not quite ready to program but whom you fanatically adore.
Emerging directors, too.
It could spark ideas for plays to commission and develop in depth over the next season.

You could program international writers, because what is happening to us is happening in a larger context and it is easy to miss that fact. One of the weaknesses of American theatre is our paucity of exchange with other countries.

It could be a way to expand the breadth of voices that get heard in the theater.
It could be a way to defend artistic freedom and freedom of dissent.
It could be really fun.

I have programmed a sum total of zero seasons in my life. I speak only as a concerned citizen and writer.

WE NEED WORDS THAT SING

November 20, 2016
Salt Lake City
sun and shadow

I had a workshop of the commission play during election week, in Minneapolis, at the Playwrights’ Center. Dominique Serrand directed (despite his protests: “I am not going to direct. I am just a first responder.”). Walter came out to join us. We had some of the funniest and loveliest Minneapolis actors in the room. I didn’t have a public reading, which freed us up to play and explore the entire time. We switched actors into different roles endlessly, casting against age and type. The first act is in a solid place.

I was in a hotel room on election night. Lulled into the sleep of confidence by polls, I thought I’d write all evening, checking the internet once an hour and then go out for a drink when Hillary won. Instead, I couldn’t look away from the news until 3 am.  Then I wrote. In a daze of pain.

What now?

I come from a large Pennsylvania family that is part of the “white working class.” They are not liberal. That is an understatement.

What does that mean, “white working class.”

What does that mean, “white.”

For that matter, what meaning do any words hold, when the word of the year in America and Britain is “post-truth”?

They still hold immense meaning, but it is the meaning of prosody. If content is dead, form is everything. Words are king. Rhetoric, you’re our last hope and savior.

Make America Great Again. In content, that is meaningless. In form, it is supreme.

Stronger Together. Two words ending with weak, unstressed syllables. It pains me that prosody calls those “feminine endings.” That other slogan too has a feminine ending, but only after three hard punch hard stresses, and the energetic iambs of am – ER- i  -CA.

Then, there’s this (which has already been pointed out by another writer):

I’m With Her
vs.
She’s With Us

Uneducated voters chose Trump. I am reflecting on my speech, our speech, and our need to find words that sing.

Our language of tolerance is extremely educated. Academic language speaks to academic people. It does not speak to people outside of that realm. Can we come up with another compendium?  Racist. To me, that word hits like a bomb. To them, it hits like a bomb in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them. They don’t spend all their time dissecting racism and why it’s problematic. So just calling them that isn’t enough.

Besides, my family calls each other names all the time. “You’re an ass.” “That man is an animal.” What’s another insult to people who trade in insults? They also trade in God. “I will pray for you.” They speak God and we speak academic. They speak crass and we speak carefully vetted internet. I have started speaking God back.

We need to go high and low. Humanity is both high and low. I have been trying out words like bully. Sin. Compassion.

I know we can do better. The City of San Francisco issued the most eloquent and inspiring manifesto for its status as a sanctuary city. Yes We Can, We Still Can.

Call your representatives, call your relatives, see you over hard conversations and in the streets.

Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)
Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)

 

 

 

 

LIST OF LISTS

November 1st
Partly cloudy & alarmingly warm

A list of things I’d like to see more of onstage

silence
representatives of the animal kingdom
uncontrollable laughter
existential confusion
soundscapes – intricately composed sonic worlds
things that go on too long
to-do lists
slapping flights
physical games
bull fights
food fights
skillful debate
There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
freedom of speech, thought, movement
a completely fearless world
solving problems through collective action (note for the future)
children in Halloween costumes (note for the future)

A list of things I’d like to see less of onstage

furniture
projections
Horatio’s philosophy

A list of things I don’t know how to address without replicating trauma

rape

A list of formal elements that I am chewing on

socratic dialogue
confessions
character as the expression of a philosophical idea, to be put through tests
testing of an idea and its carrier by means of temptations (and maybe martyrdom)
going to extremes
going to heaven
going to hell
going on an adventure without going anywhere
making your own reality
diatribes
symposiums
praise
mock crowning and decrowning of the carnival king
people who get everything wrong

A list of human emotions of interest to me

self-pity
indomitable optimism

A human behavior of interest to me

propensity toward self-destruction

A list of ideas I want to test

We can move to a new country and build a utopian society
Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die
Love is all you need
Be good
Everything in moderation
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so
Productivity destroys the world
Laziness is a virtue
Life is a party
Life might be better if everyone just drank beer all day instead of coffee

To illustrate the last question:

A SHORT POLEMIC AGAINST COFFEE

They are sitting around.
They are bored.
They drink coffee.

HUMANS
Wheeeee!

They have a lot of energy. They destroy the world.
They look at each other.

HUMANS
(sobbing)

They drink beer.

 

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