Thursday, December 29, 2011

My First Time

A blog. Never before have I written a blog or on a blog or for a blog or whatever you say when you are talking about blogging….I have never blogged? Does that work? Okay, I have never blogged. This is my first blog. Today is the day I blog for the first time. I feel different, I must admit. I think I am radiating blogger vibes and it feels sexy…and sad. Sound familiar? Yeah, not to me either but I am sure someone out there has had an experience where those emotions co-exist (j.k., sexy/sad is my home address).

When I think of writing I immediately conjure up images of Hemingway at a typewriter in Key West with an open window, a ceiling fan rippling his already beaten up slips of paper. Or of Woolf, sequestered in her study, having trays of food brought to her door because she could not bear to break with words. A tea set is present, as is a wild bird in a cage hanging from the ceiling. And of course I think of Williams typing furiously, half-drunk in golden light with a lover sleeping in the bed next to his desk. Writers toiling, struggling privately; cocooned inside of their own imaginations for months and years until the completed (?) draft was ready to share. It took time. It took tears. It took drinks. It was where they lived. In short: I romanticize the act of writing like a motherfucker.

I don’t fashion my life to look like the inside of a precious snow globe, but I do like a bit of silk to be thrown over the lampshade: I don’t take the content of my writing or myself too seriously but there is something too quick, too easy, about a blog. It makes me uncomfortable.

But maybe it doesn’t. I’m sort of having a blast writing this (from my desk that is in a basement of a Tribeca bar. No wild bird. No ceiling fan. No lover. But I do have Diet Dr. Pepper, Swedish Fish, and Pandora is playing a solid playlist from my En Vogue station). Yeah, this is nice. When I think of people reading this and all of the inevitable grammatical errors, I’m sure I will get hot all over and my butt cheeks will clinch together really tightly. But that pretty much happens any time I share my work; whether it is a close friend reading a script for the first time, a fully rehearsed production in front of an audience on closing night, or during my rendition of Fancy by Reba McIntyre during Karaoke. So, it is no different, really. Sharing is sharing.

Okay, thanks everybody. I like blogging. I think I will do it again. Romanticizing things might work for a minute, but ultimately it is just another way to keep yourself right where you are. And baby: it’s time to move.

- Boo Killebrew

Monday, December 26, 2011

Man At Work

Take this with a grain of salt, if you'd like, because I am officially writing this post on my phone while working a busy pre-holiday shift at my East Village bar. So, raise a glass to multi-tasking and put a holly's worth of hope on my spell-checker and let's rattle off a few, quick holiday writing observations...

1.) People still go to the theater. Shocking, I know. But I just talked to a law student tonight who had seen BY FAR more theater than me in the last year. He saw everything I should have seen (but, in many ways, couldn't because I WORK NIGHTS). And he was raving about "Jerusalem." I want to be raving about "Jerusalem," but here we are...

2.) December is my official LEAST favorite time to get writing done. With gift buying, travel and a busier service industry (that behooves me to work as much as possible) I've relegated month 12 to a time to get things done that can be done in 45 minute increments (because that's all I seem to have...).

(Oh, I'm sorry. I just had to address the "Are all men assholes?" question while her oblivious friends - none, I think, the assholes in question - sang the "Gummy Bears" cartoon theme - loudly and with great relish. These are the days of our dreams, my people!)

3.) But it is a good time to keep conversations going. While it's been difficult to get substantive work done, I have had a good time the last six weeks talking to a potential writing partner about a potential project. We've been talking in fits and starts- which is exactly what my schedule allows now. So, keep the lines open...

4.) I get to talk to tourists. For better or worse, I get the pulse of the theater-going nation. They generally like what you'd expect them to like.

5.) The depressing reality of fundraising this time of year. Everyone's got their end-of-year pitches. Do any of them work?

6.) Don't write every day. It's great if you can, but follow your life.

- Robert Attenweiler

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Young Loves

I've been looking back at early influences. Things I encountered in those years when the synapses are on overload, when sleep is un-necessary, when a trip to the Fas-Mart is an adventure (that might be another post)

Anyways. This has led me to re-read Orpheus Descending and re-view Twin Peaks. These are two works of art that I love. and still love, but what I didn't know is how much I steal from them. In so many permutations. An image here, a name here, a moment of tension there, a turn of phrase - and how there are things from these works that I turn over and over in my unconscious, maybe these things were turning over before I saw them, and then, like an unstable molecule they attached and grew and grew until they became structures and works on their own.

Do you have these early loves? What are they? How do they sneak into your work? What are the things you cannot forget?

- Kristen Palmer

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Praise of Francis Ford Coppola

The ways in which this country is fucked up are too manifold to go in to in this humble little blog. But I would like to take up, for a moment, the issue of this country’s relationship to art and artists.

“Uh oh,” you’re thinking. “Another plaintive whine from an artist who feels he’s unappreciated. THIS is gonna be fun to read!” Fear not. Though a life in the arts is difficult, it is also a choice. No one put a gun to my head to make me a playwright. When I decided to do this, I more or less (well, actually less – but that’s another story) knew what I was in for. I don’t want to talk not about myself here. I want to talk about Francis Ford Coppola.

My level of accomplishment is open to debate. Francis Ford Coppola’s is not. The Godfather is, to my mind, the greatest American film. It is one of those select few works of art that has permeated our entire culture. Our understanding of ourselves as Americans, of our history, is profoundly influenced by that film. The Godfather also performs that rarest of feats – great art that is also greatly popular. For several years, in fact, The Godfather was not just our greatest film. It was also our most popular. This is a staggering accomplishment.

If Coppola did nothing else in his entire career, he would worthy of the highest possible praise. Instead, he was just getting started.  In the six years following The Godfather, Coppola wrote and directed The Godfather Part II (thought by many to be even better than the original), The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. All 4 of those films were on the American Film Institute top 100 films. And he did it in a single decade, the 1970s.

 (A fun parlor game – name an artist in any art, at any time, who had a greater decade than Coppola in the 1970s. Dickens in the 1850s? Picasso in the 1920s? Shakespeare in 1600-1610?)

 Recently I heard Coppola interviewed. In this interview he was asked the same embarrassing questions he always is - about how he lost his money, how his studio went bankrupt, how many less-than-great films he’s made. People seem to put this air of unfulfilled promise on him, like he’s some sort of enfant terrible who never quite panned out.

If Coppola is a failure, God help the rest of us.

Why do people continue to harp on every unseemly detail of Coppola’s career? He is a giant. The world is full of people who lost their money, or who have made bad films. Only one person has made Apocalypse Now. Which of these facts is more salient, more relevant, more interesting?

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the greatest artists this country has ever produced. He could make shitty movies for the rest of his life and it would not change that fact. He could foolishly squander his money a thousand times and it would not affect change that fact. A culture that believed in art, that was grateful for all the beauty that great art can bring into our lives, would understand that.

Some cultures revere artists. There was a national day of mourning when Victor Hugo died. Tolstoy was considered the second most powerful person in Russia after the Czar.

There should be statues of Coppola in public squares. There never will be.

It is our loss.

- John Yearley

Friday, December 16, 2011

Regarding the Impossible or It's All in the Specifics

My first play, The Goatwoman of Corvis County, was produced in 2008. I was a complete basketcase weirdo during the whole thing. It was excruciating for me, and probably pretty challenging for everybody else. As we neared opening, I was no longer sleeping, reduced to choking down food, and above all, I had lost all perspective. Here was this thing that had only existed for me, that was now up and walking around, with lots of other people involved. Amazing people! And they were all working really hard. On the very first play I had ever written.

Don’t get me wrong. It was also thrilling. But I couldn’t quite tell where my voice as a playwright fit in the rehearsal process. This was a large source of anxiety for me. The director and I had worked out the basic boundaries but, what things did I let go of and what things did I fight for? So I began to learn, albeit very ungracefully, how to get a grip amidst all the other voices present during production, and fight for how the story gets told on the stage.

There are many ingredients for great theater, how it all comes together, the stars aligning, etc.  But I think the most important aspect of making great theater is the specificity of the storytelling. Bad theater is vague theater. I’m not referring to purposeful ambiguities or questions posed by a play that go left unanswered. I mean muddy intention and action – a lack of specificity on how the story moves from point A to point B. Since my job in rehearsal is the script, it’s the specifics I fight to draw out, which are laid into the play very carefully. If there ends up being a hole in the writing, which there always is (you know, but only very tiny holes...), I fix it.

So, in regards to the question posed by Kyle on fighting for the impossible… If a theater doesn't think my play is a good fit for their season, there’s nothing I can do about that. No fight there. But if I’m fortunate enough to have a theater produce my play as a world premiere or as a "still new" play, I fight for the specifics.

 ***A note about the word “fight”. This makes everything sound very antagonistic! Like it's come to blows or something! While there have certainly been tense moments, my production experiences as a playwright have been amazing and collaborative.  Most of the time, the fight is only between my ears.

- Christine Whitley

Monday, December 12, 2011

John Yearley's CLEAR HISTORY -- First Read

On the evening of Sunday, December 4th, The Dramatists Guild graciously hosted John Yearley and Blue Coyote Theater Group for an early reading of his Coyote Commission Project play, CLEAR HISTORY.
Frank Anderson, P.J. Sosko, Sarah Kate Jackson,
Carter Jackson, Liz Pepe, and Mark Boyett
We read more than fifty pages of polished scenes and intriguing experiments. John is exploring a delicate space between genial social comedy (verging on farce, as he explained) and stark visions of loneliness and despair.
John Yearley, the playwright
(in the pose of a playwright)
The reading was a giant success and all in attendance were well pleased.  Also, there were snacks.

Veggie Bootie, Kettle Corn, and Tostitos Hint of Lime
Progress!  Sincerest gratitude to our readers: Frank Anderson, P.J. Sosko, Sarah Kate Jackson, Carter Jackson, Liz Pepe, and Mark Boyett.  Stay tuned!

- Kyle Ancowitz

Friday, December 9, 2011

"We Have Suggestions..."

Been a few weeks since I posted – shameful – as my life for the past 2 months went into a YANK!-related vortex. (YANK! is a musical I wrote with my brother that has, after its 2010 off-Broadway run, gone on a pre-Broadway Development Odyssey. Exhausting but really, there’s no downside.)

So… hi!

First off, for them’s who care, the workshop went great. Now as machinations happen far from my sphere of influence, I go back to the computer, to the legal pad, to write new work, to write this work for Blue Coyote.

Onto the question asked:

Won’t you please tell us about a time when your "challenging" and "unconventional" experiment never made it to the stage because some director or producer shut you down?

Most theatre people worship at the altar of free expression and innovation, so ripping down an offensive mural with a jackhammer (see: “Cradle Will Rock”) is not, in my experience, how it rolls.

That is, things don’t usually get as far as where you’re in a situation where you get shut down. You just… don’t get picked. You get a long absence of “yes” and apologetic emails saying “get back to you soon!”. And it’s understandable, but almost definitionally crazy making: you don’t know whether people are genuinely busy, whether what is wrong is your writing, or your talent has evaporated, or someone reading it was having a bad day.

…Or if the structure or tone or content is simply outside the blinders that many well-meaning people wear.
You go down a wormhole of wondering.

Sometimes (you think) these good, overworked people who run theatres and theatre companies don’t realize their biases. So you press. In my own case, I am confident some scenes that have read as “too dirty” when between men would have been seen as “refreshingly intimate” had they been between a man or a woman. I am confident that politics about American poverty or racism or homophobia (marketed by theatres a “dangerous” but really, who in the audience disagrees on these issues?) are given a pass whereas politics about, say, Israel freak people the fuck out.

Who’s right? Who’s to say. No one knows anything for sure (see: crazy making). I will say that good theatre can push buttons, even if the work is not intended to anger, merely be truthful as the writer sees it. I have had individuals walk out of my musical during a gay kiss (never gay sex; gay romance is the problem).

But my role is to be on the side of truth as I see it. How much honesty can I get into a play? How much scary fun delicious writing? There will always be a creative tension between the two sides - theatres which are businesses and creators who are not. But when in doubt, I would encourage theatres to push more, push harder. That said, running a theatre in this culture, in this economy, is hard. Artistic Directors aren’t the enemy.

Lastly, on a related note:
No one sets out to write a boring play. And no good writer accepts terrible notes. The great challenge as I see it is smart people listening to too many good notes. If you make dozens of minor shavings, all the weird nubbliness of the original work is gone. But this way lies Mitt Romney, no? In theatre I have yet to se the perfect play. Hamlet? Midsummer? Streetcar? Death of Salesman? Masterpieces. But the producing world would “have suggestions”.

I treasure development. But there is a sweet spot of time and feedback that we should aim for, which varies play to play, musical to musical.

- David Zellnik

Friday, December 2, 2011


As writers we are trained (or convinced or cajoled – and with reason) to be creative (ummm… obviously). We’re pushed by nearly everyone with any say in the formation of our craft to think of things that have never been seen (or heard – or read – or read aloud – or, maybe, thought) before. The need to be innovative can be that voice inside our heads when we sit down with our projects: What makes this story different? What am I giving the audience that they haven’t seen before? How will I be amazing today?

And that’s great. That’s what, often, we look to art and artists to give us: a vision of the world that is in some way new or unfamiliar to us. That’s what we want.

Except when it’s not.

I met with Kyle Ancowitz a couple weeks ago to discuss the draft of my commission play, “I Heart Rock N Roll.” Kyle was great to talk to (cue Kyle blush…) as I was definitely at a point where, while I could rattle off a list of 10 or 20 things I knew I still needed to get back in and work on, what I really needed was to get some of these ideas out of my own head and into someone else's for a while. Kyle and I were pretty much in agreement about many of the things I felt were primary concerns when approaching revision including the main one: the boy-meets-girl relationship that is, if not the center of the play then, at least, a very large cog in it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t only not working it was pretty blatantly not working. As we talked through it, an idea was raised: there was plenty about the play that was unexpected and playful and ambitious (you’ll forgive me the superlatives … they are less necessarily true than they will help illustrate a point), maybe the relationship between Jerry Lane and Heather “Hell’s” Belles (I’ll refer you back to the play’s title now…) needed to be more conventional, more what we expect, if it’s going to ultimately be more effective.

Now, writers of screenplays and television know this (and, if pressed, playwrights will nod along as well): audience expectation is one of a writer’s greatest assets. We like to use it in terms of surprising an audience – of playing off their expectation. But it’s equally important to play to what an audience wants and expects at certain points of a story – it can be just as powerful to do what is expected as to do what has never been thought of before and it’s the balance between these two things that makes for really powerful writing. Sometimes the answer may be to do what everyone thinks is coming. Maybe…

Maybe that’s not the solution to Jerry and Hell’s (again, remember the title of the play…). Maybe everyone will call their part of the story “expected” or “lacking imagination.” But maybe not. Maybe their part is conventional, as every romantic comedy is, essentially, conventional and that what joy their relationship brings to an audience (“See, there, he promised us joy!”) is by allowing to happen what we all know will happen and let other parts of the story do the surprising (did I mention that another of the play’s storylines follows Charon, ferryman of the River Styx, and a character based on Bret Michaels of Poison and VH1’s “Rock of Love”?).

It’s possible.

- Robert Attenweiler