...and then we came home!
I was in freakin' Dublin again, my home-away-from-home, representing NYC for Emerging Artists Theatre, with my play, "That's Her Way," at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (for the fourth time). And of course I blogged about it here:
...and then we came home!
“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.
Acting is HARD.
We'll all over in Ireland and shit, and I have been posting to the blog I created many moons ago (2009?) when we first played the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Read all about it here.
Back around 2007, I had a show in the Spring EATfest at Emerging Artists Theatre; I was very happy with the EAT production of “Some Are People,” directed by Mark Finley, and made it a point to see most of the performances. The play was bracketed by a pair of 10-minute pieces that I loved watching as well: Peter Snoad’s “My Name is Art” and Chris Widney’s “One of the Great Ones.”
And that’s how I met Andrea Alton; she played a loud, obnoxious patron in a modern art museum, and she had be giggling from the get go. Andrea kept working at EAT and elsewhere, and I loved seeing what she was going to do next. She invited me to the Fringe production of the play she wrote with Allen Warnock in the 2008 Fringe, and I got tickets right away. (NB: I call Allen Warnock my long-lost cousin because we HAVE to be related not too far back. There’s just not that many of us). So along with our friend Cheryl B., we went to the show, a two-hander, in which Andrea and Allen played all the parts, including the two eponymous best friends: poets and co-hosts of a public access cable show about poetry and crafts.
Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock in her play, "Pioneer Lovin'."
As veterans of many (many) an open mic, Cheryl & I recognized great bad poetry at the first syllable. We howled and guffawed and drooled so that (as sometimes happens), the actors started playing the show at us. One of the many characters Andrea played was Molly, a security guard/poet, who made only a brief appearance, but stole all our hearts with her homemade water ices and lesbian poetry.
Cheryl had already booked both Allen and Andrea at her Poetry vs. Comedy series, and I quickly shanghaied them for my series, Drunken! Careening! Writers! After the Fringe, Andrea and Allen kept working on the show, which had a strong spine: what happens to friends who are artists when one of them suddenly becomes successful? Can their relationship survive the sudden difference in their stature?
They eventually took it to a commercial run in NYC in 2010, in between doing other gigs, which for Andrea included appearances at more EATfests in plays by Staci Swedeen (as a hippie dog trainer) Jon Spano (a very angry nurse/ betrayed wife) and Mark Finley (a neglected teenage heiress/serial killer). She played a groupie/stalker in the reading of Meryl Cohn’s “Insatiable Hunger,” this past May, cracking up the object of her affections, Lea DeLaria (and everyone else).
Andrea as a lonely teenage heiress/murderer in Mark Finley's "The Chiselers."
She directed a piece by Emily Mitchell for an EATfest, and whenever I saw her, she was talking about writing, or taking a class, or doing standup somewhere, saying “yes” when people asked her to do a gig. Molly the lesbian security guard/poet from “Carl and Shelley” took on a life of her own: she started to turn up, complete with mullet and safety vest, and perform her poEMs (her pronunciation) around town, including at Drunken! Careening! Writers! She acquired a last name (Dykeman) and a middle name (“Equality,” at about the same time everyone else from Facebook was calling him/herself Equality or Hussein). An appearance by Molly soon became an event: from beauty pageants (the ironic, queer ones) to Butch Burlesque, benefits (including one for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival that I organized last year).
Andrea’s Molly became the go-to butch when you needed someone foulmouthed, funny, and totally fearless. Embraced by the butch community in particular (some of whom walk up to her and quote her poEMs), she did get some pushback from one queer artist, who thought it was inappropriate for Andrea to "appropriate" a butch persona. (When I heard about that, I thought: slippery slope…does that mean that gays shouldn’t play straight parts?)
And what exactly IS an artist supposed to do to get to work? If you're not a "type," if you're not the age/height/weight/style/color/haircut they're looking for, are you supposed to wait around for the rest of the world to catch up with you...or create your own scene and put yourself to work?
And the proof is in the pudding, or in the butches in this case, and the full houses and shrieks of laughter show me that a queer audience gets what Andrea’s doing with Molly, and because it is a beautiful characterization, well-crafted and truthful, they’ll shout along with Molly when she tells her F-Train Girl: “I WANNA STICK MY FACE IN YOUR VAGINA!”
(Really, don’t bring children to see Molly. Or your more sensitive adult friends).
Andrea had the idea that she could do a solo show with Molly, and she asked Mark Finley to direct, and he knows a good thing when he sees one, and said, OF COURSE. And, as always, Andrea worked her ass off: she presented a version of her long-form Molly show at One Woman Standing, as part of the New Works Series at EAT (a series she also curates). She applied to this year’s Fringe…and got in. And got a BIG theater to fill.
So she got to work again: raising money, surrounding herself with producing, creative and tech staff who bring their own talents to making Molly shine. Doing the publicity, making more appearances, and spreading the word among her growing community on her blog, on Facebook, Twitter, and the gay bars in Park Slope.
As soon as tickets went on sale, I got mine for Opening Night, and joined the large crowd for “The F*cking World According to Molly” at the Players Theater on MacDougal Street. She surfed the waves of laughter and will be even better when she gets off book (I kid!)
And she did go to the next level: the show is not an hour of standup, it’s a play, about a very specific woman, and how the hell she gets through life, and creates her art, and tries to get over/through/around a devastating loss to find the things that make her happy: ladies and chicken fingers (or nachos). And in the midst of this, she finds the time to tintervene when she sees injustice being done in the schoolyard where she works. That is, when she doesn’t call in sick or high.
There are 4 more performances of Andrea's show: Fri 19 @ 6 Sat 20 @ 9:15 Thu 25 @ 2 Sun 28 @ 4:15. You should go. Get tickets here.
Hanging out with Molly at Dixon Place.
I have been kicking around in New York City since the title of Orwell’s book. And I still look forward to the next show, the next interesting writer or actor or all-of-the-above (...except for clowns. Clowns make me nervous). And people sometimes ask me: how is it you’ve been able to hang in here so long, and not get bitter or mean or crazy? And I say: you haven’t seen me in the mornings. And also, I don’t put everything I say or think on the internet. However, AFTER my coffee and my editing skills, what gets me through the day (and night) is the considerable energy and talent of the people I call friends and colleagues. I feed off it, it inspires me, and makes me want to go home and create something.
So, as long as I have talented friends doing great new work, I’m good. Can’t wait to see what comes next. And play with the talent.
Like, tomorrow night (Aug. 18), I sure hope you’ll come see Drunken! Careening! Writers!, at KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St, 7pm FREE, with J. Stephen Brantley, Kevin Holohan and Thaddeus Rutkowski.
I met J. Stephen at an EATfest…and then we went to Ireland and ate some oatmeal...but that’s a story for another night.