Monday, October 31, 2011

Cruel to be Kind and a Bald Soprano

“It’s all been done. It’s what you put in your particular stew.” – Nick Lowe
“The poet cannot invent new words every time, of course. He uses the words of the tribe. But the handling of the word, the accent, a new articulation, renew them.” - Eugene Ionesco
I love these quotes. Not sure what point to make about them, because it seems self-explanatory. Two quotes saying “there’s nothing new, it’s how you say it” in two totally different ways. And from two totally different artists, both pivotal and important in their respective genres. I’m not a geek about Nick Lowe or Ionesco, meaning, I’d be a bit out of my depth to go on about them. But the subjects of rock 'n' roll (or more specifically, rock 'n' roll theatre) and Absurdism are obsessive interests for me.  Plus, they tie into what I'm working on for the Coyote Commission Project.

This is from Wikipedia:
In philosophy, "The Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean "logically impossible," but rather "humanly impossible." The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.
More Wikipedia (sorry), from the entry on Albert Camus’ philosophical essay on Absurdism, The Myth of Sisyphus:
“Thus, Camus arrives at three consequences from the full acknowledging of the absurd: revolt, freedom and passion.”
And this is a video from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (need to view the whole clip for full effect): WATCH THIS

Just ingredients... for a particular stew... Ha!  How corny is THAT?  Couldn't resist, though.  But I do love that image, the act of culling ingredients/influences etc., and making something that's yours out of it. 

I have a great deal of excitement and fear around writing this play.  A director I worked with once said, and this was during a particularly tense part of the rehearsal process, that his motto was to breathe and remain flexible.  Not my forté.  And I feel particularly clamped down around this lately, stuck in the writing of it.  So perhaps I need to adopt his motto, let go and trust the process.

Right?  Right.

- Christine Whitley

Thursday, October 27, 2011

“Nothing gold can stay”

“Nothing gold can stay”
-Robert Frost
…or as my brother says: except gold, that is. Bury it for 5000 years, dump it in salt water… it stays gorgeous. No rust, no grime, no decay. Whatever else you can say about gold, that stuff lasts.
Ok so lately I’ve been distracted by some bright shiny things, and rather than get back to work, I‘ve been thinking about why the world over, most people seem distracted by bright shiny things.
Literally bright and shiny: like gold, like diamonds. Like iPhone screens. Like fire.
I’m wondering (as I avoid work) if it’s some misdirected evolutionary response – like we are born to be attracted to the glint of water, or the juice of a ripe fruit, or eyes or lips. So that it is really: Jewelry as Permanent Glint, as Permanent Ripe Glistening Fruit.
I’m thinking of this also because in my commissioned play, HUNTERS AND THIEVES, the golden fleece makes an entrance.
In the play, the fleece is a worn-out prop from the collection of an old actress who is an exile from her homeland in Central Russia. She once played Medea, who as legend famously has it, butchered her own brother and tossed the body parts into the water so that while Jason and the Argonauts could speed away with her and the fleece in tow, Medea’s father would be forced to pick up the pieces for a proper burial. (On a related note, whatever else we can say about what Medea did, we should at least be able to say: Jason should not have been surprised.)
The golden fleece still shimmers in my mind, all the more so for its weirdness – the skin of a flying golden ram? Kinda awesome, kinda ewwww. It’s hard even to actually picture it. And what would you do with it? Wear it? Sit on it? Have sex on it? Surely never melt it down. It seems perfectly useless; its power must simply be to captivate the mind.
So I sit here distracted and not working; but if I am to be distracted by a shiny bright thing, let it at least be something weird and beautiful, with a lineage.

- David Zellnik

Monday, October 24, 2011


Greetings and welcome to my introductory blog post! First and foremost, thank you to Blue Coyote Theater Group for the opportunity and honor to be one of the playwrights chosen for the inaugural Coyote Commission Project. I’m in excellent company. Also, I’d like to add that this is my very first blog post ever, of any kind, so there’s that too.

Now, a quote.
“I want to be ripped apart by music. I want it to be something that feeds and replenishes, or that totally sucks the life out of you. I want to be dashed against the rocks.” - Jeff Buckley
I was talking to my Mom about Jeff Buckley a couple of weeks ago. She is in her late sixties. And while she enjoys music, she's never really been crazy over it. She wasn't one to rush out and buy a new album when she was young or go to a lot of concerts (at least this is what I remember her telling me, maybe I have it all wrong...). She does like to sing though, and does so to all music - but only in a very high soprano.

I sent her a couple of favorite Jeff Buckley songs, or rather, YouTube videos, because I really like to subject my Mother to things she probably won't like and then bug her endlessly about it. But she called the next day to say that she had been incredibly moved by watching the video of Hallelujah, but in a way that had unnerved her, which was surprising to both of us. She was excited and emotional in telling me about it, trying to "figure out" the beauty of the thing - what exactly it was about the video, the song, the singer himself that moved her so. We talked for a while and concluded that maybe she just got dashed against the rocks a little by Jeff Buckley.

The quote above has stuck with me ever since reading it several years ago. It's something I agree with, strongly. And while it's said about music, it resonates with me as something for theatre as well. In discussions about playwriting, storytelling and the theatrical experience, I eventually truck out this quote to sum up exactly how I feel.

So there it is.

Looking forward to all the blogging...

- Christine Whitley

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What I Have In Common With 6'7" New York Knicks Forward, Landry Fields

I’m sorry, New York, but I’m really sick of watching baseball this year. I’m done. Tapped. If it were up to me, I’d just concede the Yankees the World Series title (even though, with Bartolo Colon pushing upwards of 548 pounds this year, I’ll hold out a glimmer that it will all come crashing down for the Yankees at some point … I do like to hold out that glimmer … always) just so I don’t have to watch any more baseball. Part of this is that my Cleveland Indians took a lot out of me this season, their strong start making me care when I still thought I had a couple more baseball seasons before I had to start paying close attention again. I’d banked on those couple more baseball seasons to get an awful lot of things done. Now those seasons are gone and I’ll never get them back.

But it’s more than that. Seeing baseball going into its post-season reminds me what would normally be absorbing all of my attention this time of year: basketball. Basketball, basketball, basketball. And as you may or may not know (or, quite possibly, may not care, as you’ve come here to read thoughts on theater and writing and … I’ll get to all of that … well, some of that … I promise I will say a good sentence or two on that matter) the National Basketball Association – or, more accurately, the owners of the teams that make up the National Basketball Association – have locked out their players until a new labor agreement between the owners and the players’ union is reached – and the prognosis is not good.

And who cares? Well, not as many people as care about baseball and that’s why I’m over baseball for the foreseeable future (which is to say: until I’m not).

We learned from the writer’s strike of 2007-08, that writers – and artists in general – have a spotty history thinking of ourselves as labor and that’s done little to collectively raise the general perception of what we do. The result for the writers in ’08 was them taking a deal that many consider worse for them than the one that was in place before the strike (the perception that the writers were easily replaceable parts in a machine was disproven, in as much as the parts already in the machine proved overly eager to ensure that there was not the opportunity for them to be replaced … lest it prove easily done). The results for the rest of us plays out more in terms of the arts general failure to quantify their value to, if not our immediate communities, then certainly our state and national one(s).

Professional basketball players are going to be fine (even if, as the owners hope, they will start to feel the financial pressures once games begin to get canceled and then take the money that’s there over the no money that isn’t) … well, most of them will be anyway. But there’s just something about the labor dispute of a sports league that does not have the cumulative public will that, say, professional football does, that makes me think a little more about what many of us working artists are up against when we actually think of ourselves as working … as labor. Cue the Woody Guthrie…

- Robert Attenweiler

Monday, October 17, 2011

Killing Characters

I have this play, THE MELTING POINT. And when it started it had like 9 characters. Then I wrote and re-wrote and cut and revised and then there were 6. Two were dead. They were named Joanie and Mike. I liked them though, they were kindof sad late-20 somethings in dead-end jobs, dancing around getting together for a date, by the end they did. But, their short story didn't get kept as the play's story came into the fore.

Then there was Imogene. A 50 something friend of two other 50 something ladies. The school social worker, coincidentally. Lonely for her sons who moved away and never called. She was a master at making nice. As the structure of the play took over, she receded further out of the picture, she became extraneous. In the beginning she was the third witch, this chorus of mothers raging against their abandonment in the suburbs - but, really, the play's about one family's estrangement - not three, so she - well - she left in the last draft. Theater is a brutal form.

And now there are Five. And they all have to be there. Even the one who you could argue with me about cause he's not in the family and really, does he change? Nope. But he's not going anywhere. Cause he's part of scaffolding that got permanently attached to the building. The others? They got dismantled once the play was built.


Now I'm writing this play, part of the Commissioning project. Thank you so much Blue Coyote, the kick in the ass is helpful, always.

And I did a draft...and there're some characters who I don't know what to do with...I don't know if they belong. In fact one of them gets shot in the middle of the play. In a play that is not about shooting people. I'll tell more about what it's about as this blog goes on - but it is NOT about shooting people. So, maybe I had him get shot - suicide by cop actually - because I knew he had to go... or maybe in the next draft I'm going to need to find the way to get him to stay. I think I want him to stay. His name's Mike too, a much more screwed up guy than the first Mike, and he brings things out from my head... I know I won't get there without him, but I don't know if he'll be discarded scaffolding, or if he'll move in as a cross beam. It's early in the writing, the best time, I don't need to decide.

- Kristen Palmer

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting Lost

It’s a little scary. At the very least it’s disorienting. You don’t know what time it is. You don’t know where you are.
It passes quickly, of course. The last time it happened to me, I found myself on NJ Transit. I was somewhere between Secaucus and Newark. It was around 5:30. I was on my way home.

Though it happens fairly frequently, it always catches me by surprise. That day, I had just settled into my seat on the train at the end of the day. I was pulling my book from my bag when I saw a copy of the play I am working on for Blue Coyote. An idea for the scene I was currently writing had been
kicking around in my head all day. Impulsively, I grabbed the script and set to work.

That’s the last thing I remember.

What does it mean to “lose yourself”? Why is it considered desirable? It is the stated goal of every ecstatic experience, from revivalism to raves. But why do we want it?

My guess is it’s not a matter of losing your self so much as it is losing your self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is like the booby prize of sentience. Without self-consciousness, you’re just an animal. With it, however, you are dogged forever by a self that hovers just outside of you; it is often a judging self, a critical self.

The only time I lose self-consciousness is when I write. There’s nothing ecstatic about it. My eyes don’t roll back in my head. I see no visions. I just become completely and totally involved in the thing I’m doing, namely writing.

It doesn’t last long. For me, it rarely goes longer than a half hour at any one time. And it doesn’t feel like much. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t feel like anything. When I write the part of me that is usually records experience for future memories is writing, too. So there is no trace. The process of writing is forgotten the
second it happens.

Why then does this experience, which couldn’t be more ephemeral, lately feel like the single most important part of the life’s work that I’ve chosen?

Immersion is what’s about, I suppose. It is that totality of immersion that makes you lose your self-consciousness. There are many things to lose yourself in (just pick an addiction), but the pleasures tend to be short lived and have nasty side effects. The difficulty is in finding something worthy, or even capable, of such a deep immersion.

Most jobs do not provide this. My job certainly doesn't. My job does not want my whole self. It wants a self from me that accomplishes certain tasks while acting a certain way. It is an easy self for me to put on. I wear it like clothes. My job wants that part of me and that part of me only.

I don't mind that my job wants only a fraction of me. I don’t need every moment of my life to be spent in the pursuit of deep personal fulfillment. But I am able to not care about this parceling out of myself because I have this other thing, this writing.

Sometimes I see people in my office, good and smart people, and I feel like I can see them looking for something.  They have a desire to do something more, to pour their passion for life into something that can hold it. Their failure to find this thing for themselves can leave them looking distracted. Sometimes, they look scared.

Most days, being a writer feels like a very poor career choice. Most days, it all feels impossible. It is impossible that the scene will come out the way you want it to, or that it will work into your idea for the play, or that the play will come together, or that anyone will want to read your play if it even does, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In most writing careers, indeed in most careers in the arts, five disappointing things happen for every encouragement. It can, and often does, feel like a ridiculous way to spend your life.

Yet lately I'm feeling very lucky for my chosen profession.

Once or twice a week, I get to get lost. Like falling asleep, I can never pinpoint the moment it happens. I only know it’s happened when I wake up, be it on NJ Transit, my writing space in my basement, or at some coffee shop around town. When the fear dissipates, and I am grounded again in the here and
now, I feel another emotion very strongly.


- John Yearley

It Used to Be Easy...

It used to be easy.

Well, that’s not true. It was never easy. But it was simple.
I used to write plays sequentially, in order. Start at the beginning, end at the end. Discover the play in the writing. Refine it in rewrites. End of story.

Then my son was born.

To be able to write a play in the way that I used to requires a lot of brain space. It’s not that I kept the whole play in my head (I could never do that), but I did keep the totality of the world I was creating and the characters I was inhabiting simmering all the time. I didn’t know it then, having never lived any other way, but writing like that requires a lot of free space in the brain.

Children eat that brain space. And then they come back for more.

I needed another way.

Like most opportunities, it first appeared as a problem.

I was writing my newest play, Another Girl. It’s a story of a woman, Aidan, coming back home after 20 years to see her sister, Hannah, and her dying mother. The problem was this – I had created the character of Aidan, and several other subsidiary characters, but I didn’t yet have Hannah. It was very clear that the first scene of the play had to be between Hannah and Aidan. But since I didn’t yet know who Hannah was, how could I write that scene?

And I had all this other stuff in the play I wanted to write! Scenes, monologues, stories. I was stuck. I couldn’t start.

So I cheated.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I actually felt that way at first. As if writing out of sequence was a sin. I wrote the bits that were popping out of my head (they had been trapped so long they BURST out). It was a blast. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if writing is fun, you’re probably doing something right.

Soon enough, with the space to let her grow organically, Hannah came to life. Scenes I wrote bled into other scenes. Soon enough there were whole sequences. There were some ugly stretches tying it all together- character, plot, theme. But there are always ugly stretches in writing. In the end, I had not only what is perhaps my best play, but a new way of writing.

I am using that new way of writing for the play I have been commissioned by Blue Coyote to write, currently titled Clear History. It’s a story of the way in which the decision to have children saves and ruins your life, and of the time and place – now, New York – in which that decision is being made. Allowing myself to write in this way has made writing this play a joy. I often sit down at the desk with an anticipation that borders on giddiness.

I could not be more grateful for Blue Coyote asking me to write this for them. I hope it lives up to every expectation they have for it.

- John Yearley

Monday, October 10, 2011

Introducing Me. Hi.

Thanks for reading. And thank you Blue Coyote Theatre Company for picking to be one of your commissioned writers :)
Just to be clear: I am doing this for the money.
...But if I weren’t doing this for the money, I’d be doing it cause I’m a fan of BCTC, the work they do, what they stand for, the talent they have assembled on and off stage.
My association with Blue Coyote came about because 15 years ago (!) I met Stephen Speights while we were both marathon dancing in Anne Bogart’s MARATHON DANCING. We were… glorified stagehands? Extras? Except at the end we all danced, so we were performers too. We were fast friends. I possibly had a mini crush on Stephen, as one does, but I might be making this up. He was and is crushworthy so I think this reflects well on me either way.
Years have gone by and I’ve seen a lot of BCTC shows and have always been impressed by the integrity, the passion, the humor, the naughty language. Some of my favorite theatrical experiences of the past 10 years have been at the Access: the plays of David Foley, David Johnston; the work of Vince Gatton and Gary Shrader...
Stephen and Gary have always been supportive of my work, which has meant a great deal, and so let me introduce myself:
I tend to write plays about scared people who discover their strength, people awake to history but who try and navigate their own small lives within in, to find happy endings (heartbroken happy endings?) in a world that often has no use for them.
Also I hope to be funny. And joyous. That’s the goal at least, in works as disparate as the musical I wrote with my brother about 2 soldiers in love during WW2 (YANK!) and in the plays I write alone like my angry heartbroken meditation on 120 years of Zionism (ARIEL SHARON STANDS AT THE TEMPLE MOUNT AND DREAMS OF THEODOR HERZL).
Here is the play Blue Coyote commissioned:
HUNTERS AND THIEVES takes place in a ramshackle Queens apartment owned by Mrs. Huff. She is an old woman from a (real) small autonomous region in Russia called Udmurtia. She is mysterious, an actress, an exile. She rents the main room in her apartment to Nate, a scared 18 year old who goes to NYU and may or may not be a thief in order to earn money to live. When he and his friend Clem suspect she has a treasure in her apartment, they plan to rob her. But when she wakes and discovers the plot, they become prey to her wrath…
The play is barely begun. But I aim to fill it with as much integrity, passion, humor, and naughty language as an audience at Blue Coyote has the right to expect.
- David Zellnik

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Welcome to the Coyote Commission Project Blog!

Hello fans! 
Blue Coyote's Commission Playwrights

Earlier this year, Blue Coyote Theater Group invited a group of our favorite playwrights to be a part of our first-ever playwrighting commission.  In order to invite you, our audience and our community, to learn more about to the process, this week we're launching the Coyote Commission Project Blog. 

We will post semi-weekly updates from our commission playwrights in order to share more about their progress with the project, the adventure of playwriting, and anything else they all think is interesting to write or read about.   We hope you learn more lots about our playwrights, their work, and their commissions as they develop. 

We want your attention and your feedback!  Please have your say by leaving comments and asking questions!

With affection,
Kyle Ancowitz
Producing Director