“When I was a little girl, there was this wonderful show on TV.”
That’s the first line of my play, “The Adventures of…” As a playwright, it’s taken me downtown, midtown, Provincetown (3 times) and to Dublin, Ireland. It’s never had the same cast for more than one production, a streak that remains unbroken in 2013.
Last Wednesday, two days before the show was to open (again) in Provincetown, I got an email with the news that our leading lady had a family emergency. And I would be going on in her place.
After thinking about it for a few seconds, I realized it was the best solution. I wrote the play, I’ve seen it more than anyone else, and the character is essentially an adolescent and adult version of me. As Tina Howe says: “It’s all true, but none of it happened.”
My play had taken me back onstage.
Will Clark and Nick Lazzaro, in the EATfest production.
To begin well before the beginning, I came to New York to act. After a brief stint at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was not asked back. I kept up with acting classes, and made the odd appearance in a showcase or two, and in summer stock. I was determined to stay in New York, and find a place in the theater and started fumbling toward what’s become a body of work as a playwright.
Fast forward a number of years, and I’m doing my second 24-hour play festival at Wings Theatre. I liked the horror and excitement of it so much the first time that when they asked me back again, I said yes.
We followed a standard drill: you pull things like settings, and actors and director out of a hat, and have words or phrases you must incorporate into the text.
I ended up with: birthday cake, obstinate, and gymnastics; 3 actors, one of whom was my summer stock buddy, who’d since been in one of my full-lengths; a director I knew was quite good; and a setting: ATLANTIS, 1 MILLION YEARS, BC! (THANKS, Peter Bloch). Oh, and we also had to mention Clay Aiken.
I muttered to myself on the train, pulling up, then tossing aside, ideas for plots, characters, how the hell to show Atlantis…briefly considering setting the whole thing underwater…trusting that I would get the idea I needed by the time I got home.
Back when I was a sportswriter, I’d walk into the newsroom after a game, take a look at the clock, and know that by deadline, I’d have a story. It didn’t block me, rather it gave me the confidence to begin, because I knew I’d be done in time.
At a certain point on the walk to my apartment, just as my building came into sight, I got the first line, and where it fit, and the idea for the rest of the play, and for the characters in it. I got home, I wrote it. When you’re doing a 24-hour play, you have to write with your id, rather than anything above it. Go deep, go personal, go mad.
I finished it and had it at the theater by 10am (with mention of Clay Aiken in a totally organic way). I handed the scripts to my director and leading lady…but the other two guys in the cast were nowhere to be found. (Later we’d learn that…well, I forgot why they didn’t show up. What mattered is that they didn’t. I remember their names to this day).
We drafted an actor from another play, and everyone got on the phone to see if we could round up a third. We briefly discussed me going on in the third part, which I discouraged. I went to the church across the street and lit a candle. And when I came back, one of the producers had found a guy in Jackson Heights.
Jamie Heinlein, Jason Alan Griffin and Hunter Gilmore in the Dublin production.
The cast rehearsed all day, and I asked the director if we could go on last, so people would have more time to learn their lines.
And…they did it.
The audience loved it, and laughed so hard at the Clay Aiken reference that the actors had to hold. I knew I’d written a decent play, possibly one of the better things I’ve written. This unnerves me, because it was written in a blinding flash, in such a random manner. But I’ll take it. And hope to write something as good or better that’s…longer.
I did a little tweaking and submitted it to Emerging Artists Theatre and it was accepted for an EATfest…with two out of three new actors. I submitted it to the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in tandem with a piece by J. Stephen Brantley, in part because he had two men who could double in the male roles in my piece. We were accepted, and went to Dublin with two new actors, and the original leading lady.
Mark Finley, Jamie Heinlein and Lee Kaplan in the Women's Theater Festival production in Provincetown.
I applied to the Universal Theatre Festival in Provincetown, and we were accepted, but our leading man had moved away, so we picked up another new actor. We were asked to come back the next fall, and this time, we had to bring along a new juvenile. The play was picked up by a theatre in San Francisco, and a friend of mine who went to see it said it was done very well; it’s on YouTube now.
We were invited back to Provincetown for the final Universal Theatre Festival, a “best of,” and…we needed a new actor. I remembered the guy who came in from Jackson Heights for the first performance. He was available, and we were good to go.
And then…I was in the mix.
I can certainly be in front of people; I host a reading series, and appear on panels, and read my own work at the drop of a hat. But I haven’t set foot onstage as someone else since Ed Valentine’s “Women Behind the Bush,” in which I was a homicidal society matron (with one line), that we did all over town one summer.
I printed out the script and highlighted it and started trying to learn it on the subway home. And in the car on the way up.
I got a wonderful note from one of the other actors going up (who was taking the other part played by the actor who had the emergency). It was sweet and supportive, and she said she’d sit in for me at tech and not to worry, everyone had my back.
About halfway to Provincetown, my wife realized that we were opening that night (she’d thought it was Saturday, and wondered why I was so frantic). We got there midafternoon and I rehearsed with the guys for about an hour, then went to find something to eat (not an easy thing in Provincetown on a January afternoon). I’d bought a couple pieces to wear as my costume, and accessorized a bit.
I had the cut-down sides in my notebook (a handy prop I’d thoughtfully written in the original script for just such a purpose), but I didn’t need to refer to it.
There was no way I could, or would, imitate Jamie Heinlein, the real Maggie. Instead, I took a deep breath, and looked at the audience, and just tried to live for a few moments, truthfully and loud enough to be heard, on the stage, with my own words. If I did it right, it would be enough.
Memo, me, and Mark Finley at the Universal Theater Festival, Provincetown, Jan. 2013
I was very tired when it was over…and remembered I had to do it two more times. I was surprised how quickly the routine of going to theater early, putting on costume and makeup, and getting ready came back. Waiting backstage with the other actors, warming up and listening to the other plays, and eating fudge. I think I might have said “yes” to the whole thing because of the large pan of fudge I knew was backstage.
Then it was over, and I could take off the red hi-tops I’d bought for the character, and put them on as myself when the weather gets warmer.
The festival evaporates quickly…the out-of-towners have to drive a long way that night. There's no lingering over good-byes, or marveling over what we’d done. We were all on our way within minutes of the final bow.
My wife and I stayed over one more night in Provincetown, and drove back the next day, still tired, relaxed, and tearing up as we listened to the President’s inaugural address on the radio.
I have always thought that play could be longer. Whenever we rehearse it, I think of the ways it could be expanded, maybe even into a full-length. And having played it, I learned new things about it (and the writer). It hit me harder than ever that I want to expand this one. I know where I’d put the new scenes and what should happen when.
If I do this, as I suspect I might, I promise, I will never, ever, go onstage in it.
First the important question: does being an artist in residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia involve actually staying in the two 1865 townhouses where the collection resides? Because that would be very cool.
Joseph Hallman agrees. When he was chosen to be Composer-in-Residence at the Rosenbach, Hallman says he thought: “if only this were a residency residency! They told me they were considering it for the future.” And he told them he’d come back for that.
Hallman didn’t get to stay overnight, but he did have complete access and help from the archivist and librarian to delve into the documents of Mercedes de Acosta, poet, playwright…lover. The result is the song cycle “Raving Beauty,” inspired by de Acosta, which will have its world premiere through the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts this Saturday, April 9 at 2pm at the Rosenbach. Tickets are $5-$10.
Hallman, a Philadelphia born and educated composer, has worked with some of today's most talented musicians and artists. His recently completed series of chamber concerti were composed for members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra. Hallman has also worked in the downtown New York music scene with the improv/experimental group ThingNY. He’s an adjunct faculty member at Drexel University, and Composer-in-Residence and Assistant Director of Festivals for the Traverse Arts Project.
'Raving Beauty' composer Joseph Hallman.
“The Rosenbachs chose the archive,” Hallman said. “I think they wanted to highlight the archive, since a few years ago they got the Garbo estate documents. She is a really interesting historical figure. They picked it, and then I was totally into it; it’s a great story, a sad story, but it’s a good story.”
De Acosta’s life and times were shaped by the theme of the festival: the artistic experimentation and uninhibited creativity of Paris in the early part of the 20th century. She was a lover of women at a time when such things were not spoken of, and she had an eye for talented artists and women of great beauty: her lovers included Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Eva le Gallienne, Isadora Duncan, among many others.
As he went to work, Hallman spent about 4 months in the archives, working with the research librarian and archivist, going through documents: de Acosta’s letters, her books, her plays, and sort of ephemera that she had collected and sold to the Rosenbachs before she died.
Portrait of Rita Lydig by Boldini Giovanni.
“The way I approached it, was that I would I wanted the pieces not to be entirely specific. I wanted them to be representative of a more of an ambient or emotive kind of quality: first with Greta; then with her sister, Rita Lydig; and the third with Isadora Duncan.”
de Acosta’s older sister was famous in her own right for her beauty and influence on fashion and design, as well as her several marriages.
“Her sister was old enough that Mercedes looked up to her a lot, and wanted to be like her,” Hallman said. “She was a fashion icon; she was famous in her own way for being a socialite and they had a falling out, and it’s a sad thing, you can tell she aspired to be much like her sister.”
Hallman describes de Acosta’s relationship with Garbo as “the puppydog relationship, where Mercedes was sort of hounding her, and Garbo reciprocated at times, but not all the time, and not publicly.”
Hallman also noted that de Acosta “had her own way of telling things…you never know what the truth was. I think she had a way of accentuating the things that would make her look good, or make a situation look more dramatic. She was hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing, and I think that affected a lot of what she put out.”
This, of course, can be a boon to a biographer or adapter, as larger-than-life characters can leap most readily to artistic life.
Hallman finished with three songs, each with a different emotional theme.
“There’s the unrequited lover, that one was the hardest to write,” he said. “It’s got a series of episodes, and each of the episodes represents an emotional state that one might be in, frustrated longing, one where you’re the supplicant, submissive to the person’s will and whim, and no matter what, you’ll sing their praise. The second one is the one with the relationship with the sister; and the third is more stable relationship with Isadora Duncan. I wanted to create universal emotional tropes, more than a specific moment or person. Of course it’s about her, and you know these are based on her life, but I wanted to create these universal emotional themes I think anybody who’s ever been in love can relate to, can see or feel these things.”
As Hallman collected his research on the three central relationships, he decided that there would be a representative voice of Mercedes, sung by one singer. He passed along his research to his collaborator, Jessica Hornik, who created poems that Hallman would set to music.
“Most of the poems are in first person, and they’re not specific to any situation,” he explained. “They’re nostalgic and memory-laden, and they’re really beautiful on their own. Jessica is really a wonderful, wonderful poet. She’s done every vocal piece I’ve done except one. She’s a muse of mine. I’d send her recordings, clippings, pictures, all kinds of things, and she would send me stuff back.”
Hallman said that Hornik told him the last poem was the hardest for her. It was meant to be a love poem from a woman to a woman, and his collaborator said she wasn’t sure if she could write a lesbian love poem. Hallman, who is gay, said he didn’t know if he could either, but he wanted the piece to focus on a love relationship.
“The lesbian element is so there,” he said. “You have to think about these relationships happening at this time. And they had to be so secretive. You think of these things as being taboo, and not at all feasible, but they had them of course, and they happened under different guises, and it’s just amazing to see. It’s a great part of gay history to know about this. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to be ghettoized as a gay project alone. I wanted people to feel: these are two women in love, but it was bigger than them being two women. I wanted to do both of those things, be celebratory of gay history, but universal so that anybody could feel like: wow, I feel that, or I can understand those emotions.”
Hallman composed the pieces for the flute, cello, and harp of the Dolce Suono ensemble (flautist Mimi Stillman, cellist Yumi Kendall, and harpist Coline-Marie Orliac. Soprano Abigail Haynes Lennox will sing the songs.
Hallman says in composing the music, he was “influenced by music of that time, of the ‘20s, the sort of impressionist chanson and French art songs.”
In terms of the emotional qualities, Hallman described what he was going for: “The first movement has got so much in it, it is full of pathos and every conceivable emotion when you love someone more than you could ever love you. There’s unbridled joy at moments, unbearable depression at others.”
Hallman’s time in the archive will spark other work, he knows. “I had such a great time working in the archive: it’s like overload. You don’t know how to process it. I wrote a 20 minute piece and tried to talk about 60 years of a woman’s life and her love. It’s funny to think of these things and that was what was cool about it for me, seeing the people as living, breathing things, rather than someone sort of having written about them. Seeing their lives through their eyes was phenomenal.”
He hopes for the piece to continue to be performed and developed after its PIFA premiere.
“Every composer’s dream and desire is to have their piece performed more than once,” he said. “It’s frustrating to realize you may only get one performance; I don’t think that will be the case with this piece. It’s a strong piece and a strong group, and I think it has a good message.”
Ed note: Kathleen Warnock received financial compensation for this post from PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts).
When I am frittering around on the Internet, trying to avoid writing, I sometimes come upon articles or discussions that get me…at least thinking about writing something.
On one of the boards I frequent, there was a discussion of cursive writing, or “joined up” writing, as Gilderoy Lockhart called it. I went to a Catholic school as a child, where the nuns and other teachers (who were, contrary to stereotype, very kind and never would have raised a hand to a child) made sure we learned the Palmer Method of Penmanship.
I noted that I still write in cursive (which is apparently becoming a lost art), especially when I send “thank you” notes. I had to go to the store yesterday to buy more when I ran out, and have noted (ha!) that it’s getting harder and harder to find them, with the exception of small pre-printed packets that pertain to babies or weddings.
Since I have had/am planning neither, I have to take whatever too-small glossy pink or green thing in a barely-suitable font is hanging in a packet of 8 on the endcap at the drugstore. Condoms come in more sizes. I’m also sorry to see that there are fewer beautiful blank cards. (Well, except for things with kittens on them, and I’m just not sending a card with a kitten on it. Shades of Dolores Umbridge!)
But getting back to both penmanship and thank you notes, I’ve dropped a steady pile of hand-addressed envelopes in the mailbox across the street in the last few days. If no one dumps snow or a suspicious package in the blue box, the cards will be headed to their destinations Monday. It’s not instantaneous, it’s not convenient, but it’s nice. People appreciate hand-written notes, usually with a level of positive response that more than covers the minimal effort to write them.
It’s a personal style that makes sense to carry over into a professional style: everyone appreciates a thank you, an apology, a “nice job,” whether the person who’s getting it is your sister or the director of your new play.
I’ve been working on a book about marketing for playwrights with Patrick Gabridge, a guy who knows a lot about these things, and as we put together the outline, I suggested we include a section on the importance of saying “thank you.” Each morning, when I’m planning my day, I make a note of anyone who needs to be thanked. Did a colleague create a really cool map on deadline? Did a fellow writer give good critique at Playwrights Circle? Did someone read a beautiful piece at Drunken! Careening! Writers!? (interrobang!)
So a line or two of thanks is in order, more if it was a big project. Detail is always appropriate: as in “your comments helped me figure out the first act” or “the character in your short story is someone I will think about for a long time,” or “I really, really liked the chocolate-covered bacon.”
And at the end of the year, along with totting up things like how many books I’ve edited, how many plays and stories I’ve submitted, how many readings I’ve curated, how many manuscripts I’ve screened, how many plays and novels I have unfinished, and how many birthdays I’ve forgotten, I try to remember if I’ve thanked everyone. (That’s one of the things that keeps me up at night, or wakes me up, along with scary dreams of giant animals attacking my pets. No, I don’t know what that means.)
There were many people to thank in 2010, especially because there some unpleasant surprises where people stepped up and stepped in, both personally and professionally.
As a playwright, I have to thank the folks at Upstart Productions in Colorado, the Universal Theatre in Provincetown, PlaySlam in Boston, Twenty Percent Theatre in Minneapolis, and The Women’s International Theatre Festival (also in Provincetown), Working Theatre Collecective in Portland (OR), Playwrights for Pets in NYC, and Vanguard Rep in Los Angeles, along with my alma mater, UMBC, for putting on/giving staged readings of my plays (and thank you, Dramatists Guild for representing my interests!)
Thank you Smith & Kraus, Applause, Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing and United Stages for publishing and keeping many of my plays, scenes and monologues in print. And of course, I must thank my home theaters EAT and TOSOS for making it possible for me to help put on a benefit for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival last March (and all the artists who gave of their time and donated to the raffle), and for giving me a platform to hear my work read, and presenting staged readings by playwrights whose work I LOVE and often producing it.
Team Wombat (aka the team that put on the TOSOS production of The Five Lesbian Brothers’ “The Secretaries” at the NY Fringe and Fringe Extension) deserve “not over yet” thanks for one of the productions I’m most proud to have been part of in my career.
Thanks to all the talented writers who participated in Drunken! Careening! Writers!, and to KGB Bar, which continues to host the series for an eighth consecutive year. And thanks also to the hot writers (and guest judge Lea DeLaria) who made editing Best Lesbian Erotica a sweaty joy (and all the people at Cleis, who continue to back this series!)
Huge, great thanks to all the bloggers (and the Extra Criticum blog, where I endeavor to blog on occasion!), journalists, photographers, editors, artistic directors, directors of marketing and publicity, and fellow travelers who list the events I host and plays I have produced, and books I edit, and give of their time, talent, knowledge and wisdom.
Thanks as always to mentors and friends from Tina Howe to Kaylie Jones to Doric Wilson, Mark Finley, Paul Adams, Carol Rosenfeld, PENolan and so many others. And if I haven’t thanked you this particular time, expect to hear from me soon & often.
I’ve just ordered some new thank you notes from Vistaprint, which are much nicer than the ones at the drugstore.
Oh, and before I close, I should tell that you can say “thank you” in an infinite variety of ways. The only constant is that when you say it, you have to mean it.
I’m very busy figuring out ways to market and publicize Best Lesbian Erotica2011, of which I’m the series editor. The part I like best about being editor is sending word to the people whose stories have been chosen that they are in the book…particularly if I know the person who wrote the story.
What’s not as much fun, but is also necessary, is to notify the people who didn’t get in this year.
I don’t like doing it, and I don’t like getting those notes myself (particularly if I know the person sending it).
The first time I sent out a short story, I was 14 or 15, and I think the magazine was American Girl. I typed up my cover letter, and put my story in the envelope. (I believe it was called “The President’s Papergirl.”) I debated with myself on whether to send a return envelope: I hated to waste the postage, because I was sure I’d be getting an acceptance by return mail. Surprisingly, American Girl did not publish my story! I think it was eventually published in a newspaper carriers’ newsletter. (I delivered the evening paper, The Columbia Record, which I later wrote for. Now it’s gone to newspaper heaven).
The lesson I learned early is that even if one publication has the temerity not to accept your work, surely there’s another one out there that will like it, if you keep sending it out.
Before the internet, when phones still plugged into walls and postal carriers delivered “letters,” it required a bit more effort to find submission opportunities and you had to wait a lot longer to get word of your rejection. Prose writers combed “Writer’s Market” for magazines, contests and anthologies, and playwrights picked up The Dramatists Sourcebook. When I sent out my first full-length play, every time I got a rejection letter, I put it in a folder, and vowed not to look at them until I got a production…and when the fine folks at Trustus finally produced my play, I looked: 35 rejections. These days, that’s minuscule. Now we can Google our way to instant rejection hundreds more times! This is progress?
I don’t know that you have to be a better writer than people were in decades past to get your work published or produced these days, but you certainly have to have a stronger stomach for it. (And in a weird corollary to the instant contact of the ‘net, I’ve noticed that the percentage of people who don’t reply has gone up. I used to be able to count on a letter after a certain number of months or even years; now, I’d say at least one-third of my submissions, which are mostly done by email these days, go unanswered).
I did get a response last night from a festival I was hoping to get into; my play was not selected for production this year. And for a moment, I was 15 again: what do you MEAN my perfectly lovely work didn’t get in? Well that just sucks. I’m going to sulk about it for awhile…awhile being about five minutes. At most. (And, well, maybe a little bit today.)
By admitting that, I’m actually breaking a self-imposed rule that I have never to mention rejections in public. I might grouse to a fellow writer about them (after checking to make sure the fellow-writer didn’t have anything to do with the rejection). But other than that, nada. It goes on the spreadsheet, in the “responses received” email folder, and it’s on to the next thing.
As a writer, I’m sure this has saved my sanity many times over. I think, over the years, about some writers I know who are very good, but who have essentially dropped out of it, or haven’t been able to share their great talent with the world because of rejection, or fear of it, more than anything else. Other people I know who are not geniuses, but solid, focused pros (or maybe their genius lies in stubbornness), have made careers for themselves because they can steel themselves to go on to the next submission, the next production, the next CHANCE for acceptance (though more likely rejection).
How do they do it? The hell if I know…
In my case, I stay active in writers’ workshops or peer groups. There’s nothing like a deadline to make me produce pages (a habit I picked up working in newspapers). And as for submitting…well, I started the En Avant board out of enlightened self-interest: if I could find and catalog the opportunities to submit my work, then I might actually do it myself. I’m also part of the regular Playwrights Binge Yahoo group, founded by Pat Gabridge, who has honed his submission process to a (quantifiable) science, and from whom I’ve borrowed some of his techniques to track my own submissions.
All of which leads to, the occasional production or publication…and more rejection.
From a writer’s point of view, I’m not sure which is worse: the form rejection which tells you how many submissions there were (with the occasional attached personal comment, like: “keep trying!” or “almost!”; the personal rejection from someone you know, or from an especially kind editor/screener, which says you ALMOST made it; or that special hell: getting accepted to a festival, anthology, or magazine, and having them go bust before they can publish or produce your work.
From an editor’s point of view, I can tell you that a followup note from the writer can be a good thing, or more likely a bad thing.When I receive a note thanking me for my time and attention, I am grateful that the person understands how it went down; that’s a good note to send, building relationships with artistic directors, literary managers and editors is part of our job as writers.
On the other hand…I’ve been, and friends of mine who screen, edit and judge, have been the recipients of vicious tongue-lashings from writers who are very, very angry that their work was not selected. We are clearly stupid, idiotic, lying hacks and cheats, who do not know our jobs, are log-rolling for our friends, and deserve to be sued or publicly chastised, lose our funding, and have mean things posted about us on the Internet.
If you want to burn a bridge, go right ahead. Sometimes you have to, if a group, producer, or editor is just an idiot. But mostly they aren’t, and a poisonous screed, or even a long, public, moan of self-pity just identifies you as someone NOT to work with. And while it might feel very good (for a moment) to get all that off your chest, in the long run, it’s bad for you, because if you really begin to believe that everyone is Out to Get You, and No One Understands You & Your Genius, that’s a train of thought that can lead to all kinds of bad endings.
Rejection is personal, because it’s YOUR work that’s being rejected. Depending on how you handle it, you can keep it from ruining your vision, and let it focus that vision on how to get your work to people who just might get you.
Or, and I recommend this to all the writers who have the stamina for it, you can take your vision and make it happen yourself: produce your own work, publish your own prose, create a scene when you can’t find one that has room for you. It’s a HUGE amount of work, but it can be done.
Even if you only do it once, it’ll teach you things you might never have learned if you’d left the power to publish or produce you in others’ hands. Or, you might find that you’re actually good at it, and like doing it, and the rest of us have one more place that might accept our work.
If you do end up editing an anthology, starting a magazine, or a theater festival, please let me know, and I’ll send you something. And I promise not to yell at you if you don’t take my work.
While I meant to blog more frequently than this, the kinds of things I could blog about are also the kind of things that keep me too damn busy to blog. (And the rent is too damn high).
By “the kind of things I do,” I mean: writing plays, producing plays, helping develop other peoples’ plays, attending plays, curating a reading series, keeping up an online bulletin board with opportunities for playwrights, editing an annual fiction anthology, and by day, editing books that make your domestic and international trips more interesting and easier. (Not to mention supporting six guinea pigs, four turtles and a dragon.)
But this weekend’s Internet storm about the Wendy Wasserstein Prize (or more specifically, the choice NOT to give a Wasserstein Prize this year) reminded me that sometimes I blog.
From Michael Lew’s eloquent letter about the lack of a winner this year, to the pollination of the post across the rest of the ‘net, the start of a petition to TDF (which administers the award), to arts bloggers and journalists checking in, I’d bet the majority of the folks who work in the American theater (particularly the playwrights) know about this issue.
“Huh…that’s dumb,” was my initial thought about the committee’s decision (because I am an eloquent writer person).
And as I am also an editor, I queried the writer as to why she thought it was dumb, and who the decision would affect, how my playwright colleagues might react and if it would make any difference at all in the way business is done with this particular award.
I knew the award was out there, but didn’t pay much attention to it. When I’m looking for productions or applying for awards, I categorize opportunities as “open” and “closed.” The Wasserstein is closed: you can’t apply for it. You have to hope someone you know nominates you (if you are a woman playwright under 32, which is long past for me, so yeah, this one disappeared in my rear view mirror ages ago). It’s like the Whiting and Kesselring awards: it’s a nice chunk o’change and some good publicity if you get it, but those who do move in circles that don’t often overlap with mine in the Venn diagram of the theater, so I try not to be bitter and move along.
(I said “try,” I didn’t say “succeed.”)
So, should I care about this, since it involves a class within the American theater of which I’m not a member (the “Usual Suspects” in my not-bitter shorthand)? Should I care about this on more than a theoretical basis, because I have plays to write and sometimes produce myself? Should I just worry about that rather than what’s going on up on Mt. Olympus? Maybe sacrifice a sheep or two? (I like lamb).
OF COURSE I should, and do, care! Can’t even try NOT to. What a fucking bullshit shoot-yourself-in-the-foot decision. And in the name of Wendy Wasserstein, no less…I grew up in the theater loving her work, reading her plays over and over. Once, a friend played me a long answering machine message to her from Wendy, who sent love, sang a song, and told a story about her mother, just like “Isn’t It Romantic!” From every account, Wendy was someone who represented the best of reaching out and encouraging others to make and love the theater. She gave of her time, money, and opened doors for people, made connections, gave a leg up.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some people who did that for me (Tina Howe! Doric Wilson! Sabra Jones! among many others), and most importantly, they taught me it’s my obligation to do the same. In fact, when I’m yelling “CHARGE!” in the face of sexism, racism, homophobia, saying “send your work to so-and-so,” or pulling someone aside and saying “you ought to know this person…” it’s much easier not to be bitter. (And better for the soul.)
So if I could address the committee, sitting like a dragon (not my kind of dragon…the MEAN kind of dragon) on its gold/award, I’d say something like: “Way to go, ya morons (well, maybe I wouldn’t call them morons). Way to keep the perception that WOMEN AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH PLAYWRIGHTS going! Way to reinforce the belief that if women were just GOOD ENOUGH there’d be parity in the number of plays produced by women. Way not to HELP the people you’ve been charged to support by someone who spent her life doing just that.” (Sound of playwright spinning in her grave).
This is a fight that must still be fought (and won). Damn straight I take it personally, because it is personal. I recently ended a friendship with someone who expressed the opinion that there really doesn’t NEED to be gay theater, because if the writers are good enough, their work will get produced; that gay theater was kind of a ghetto for the not-good-enough. The Wasserstein Prize decision implies the same thing about women playwrights.
I have no doubt that the Women’s Kick-Ass Committee (as I call the members of the Dramatists Guild Council who spring into action at times like these) will take up the challenge, as will the 50/50 in 2020 group, and other people who speak up for women in theater, and there will be some kind of positive change. They’ve got my back, and I’ve got theirs. I’ll show up. I’ll celebrate women playwrights. I’ll write good plays.
I have no doubt their actions will change the way the Wasserstein Award is given. In the mean time, I have plays to write and read, helpful and specific critique to give, some Drunken! Careening! Writers! to curate (Thursday, Nov. 18, 7pm, KGB Bar! This month’s readers: three women playwrights), and during the day, I must speak French to restaurants and hotels. (And there are those guinea pigs to be kept in timothy hay).
I want the women playwrights who were not recognized to keep the faith in their own work, and will encourage them any way I can. I believe that my colleagues and I, who sweat blood onto our computer screens each day, will continue to find and make our own opportunities to keep making a difference.
Look at the menu on the left. I keep busy. I've been contemplating blogging for awhile. I feel like the truly interesting blogs have a topic (or two).
Then again, I have several topics: plays and playwriting, my reading series, my dayjob, editing Best Lesbian Erotica, and the various other writing and producing jobs I do in the theater, on the 'net, and just bothering people on the street sometimes.
I've always sold myself and my projects via one-to-one marketing: that is, calling or emailing a friend, acquaintance, or someone I'd like to work with. I'm still not sure I get the energy of Twitter. I love Constant Contact.
I have a friend, a wonderful musician, who once said to me: after my first couple years touring, I realized I couldn't just count on my friends showing up to fill the houses, I had to build a real fanbase with my WORK.
So I consider this the next step in reaching out, saying "here I am, this is what I do." For someone who has been on the internet since the early 90s, when it was all boys and AOL didn't have a browser, I'm being awfully Luddite, don't you think?
So I'll post about specific tasks and projects, both to publicize them, and maybe some thoughts on how I think a process is going, how it should be done, and commentary on how I work.
And if it looks as though it's the kind of thing that will take off, then I might get over to blogspot or wordpress (where I've already done a couple of project-specific blogs).
So welcome to my too-busy, overcrowded, but still fun world, and if you like it, stick around.