Tuesday, January 31, 2012


As I write this I am staring at a list that represents deadlines for five writing projects, six teaching projects, two reading projects, and the very forgettable exercise project that is not getting off the ground this month.

January is ending and very few of these projects have been completed. Instead they grow, evolve, multiply, go into another draft, ask for more, need more, want more, demand more.

Several years ago I decided I would approach my work in projects instead of jobs. So, in my teaching artist work I began to take on projects instead of classes and with writing I allowed each play to be its own project with its own workshop of sound, notebook, images and timeline.

I like this approach. I am more organized. My natural bent towards eclecticism and desire for letting things evolve organically is given the container of a project. I can schedule work so that even when there's not a lot of time for one thing, I can check in on it. Visit it.

I can imagine my desk is like my dad's workbench, tools and hardware at hand, shelves of power tools and raw materials. Imagine that hung up along the wall are images, in the little drawers lie characters dreaming away, in one area are a bunch of teaching ideas, and the power tools are actions, are big questions, are those books I carry with me through every move.


Now my workshop is looking like some shed from one of the families down the other street, where things accumulate but nothing is ever finished. It's looking like the yard with cars up on blocks and a fridge on the porch. A dog running back and forth till there's a patch of dirt that nothing will grow on ever again. There's half a pool dug, some kind of tree house that no kid would even want to play in and a flag pole leaning against the chimney. There are too many kittens and they are sleeping in a cracked aquarium.

So. It's time to clean up. Time to clear out. Time to call some things done and other things well - maybe the neighbors want them.

- Kristen Palmer

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


First, let me make one thing clear. What I’m about to say in no way applies to me. Everything I’ve ever written (this post included) is gold. Pure gold. I’ve never wasted a single word and, because of that, am actually dictating this post to my assistant while lounging in my penthouse’s hot tub half-crocked on Veuve…

But (and this is for everyone else, mind you … not me), I’ve been wondering at what point writers know to let a project go. We all (…I mean, you all) have the drawer or the binder or … um, the seldom-emptied waste basket filled with the papers covered with the words we used to love, only no longer do. We all (…okay, only for the sake of ease here, when I say “we” from now on, it’ll seem like I mean “we,” but actually I mean “you” - “we” means “you,” go it?) have the play that we couldn’t figure out – the one that has had several readings, but just never made it over the hump and really grabbed the right people’s attention – the one that we’ve revised and re-written and reconceived and regurgitated but we never got it to “Wow.”

Wow,” of course, is what gets people who aren’t you behind a particular piece of writing. We all know “Wow.” It’s what we feel. It’s why we bother. But, for something to have a life beyond ourselves, someone else (usually several people and usually the right several people) need to get “Wow” too. And some of us grind and grind away on the same script (because it did take a good deal of time, thought and concern … and we’re not exactly dripping with leisure time, are we? Since [what we often view as] the bulk of the work is done … this draft is done … this second, third or seventeenth revision of this draft is done … we might as well stick with it, right?). And some of us drop it and immediately pick up Shiny New Idea and get to work on that.

But what is that thought when the switch flips from “project in-process” to “yeah, not gonna be working on that again”? Is it a realization of some fundamental flaw in the piece (i.e. is it a learning moment?)? Is it a feeling of resignation that the piece has made it’s rounds without anything significant happening to it (i.e. the recognition that people don’t want to keep seeing your same piece over and over again)? Is it boredom (i.e. “I can’t think about these characters anymore!”)?

Of course, it’s these things – and many other things. There is no good conqueror who doesn’t leave a trail of dead bodies in his/her wake (… okay, no good conqueror that I know of).

I guess, for me (which means “me”), I keep projects going so long as there is interest – or some spark that still keeps the process fresh and alive for me. I have no interest in riding the same script through the development process for years and years. There is a point (again, for me) where the script feels dead – where I’ve killed it with my work on it. And, maybe it will live again one fine day. But, for that time, the best thing to do is cut the cord.

- Robert Attenweiler

Friday, January 20, 2012

We Are All Udmurts!

Lately I’ve been trying to imagine the life of a woman I’ve made up, from a place didn’t make up (…though sounds like I did).

The woman’s name is Mrs Huff, and she rents a room out in Queens. She is old, frightened, but has powers her new lodger - whom she is immediately convinced is a thief - isn’t quick to realize...

The place she’s from is Udmurtia – a semi-autonomous ethnic republic on the edge of European Russia. The Udmurts are a Finno-Ugric people related to other small groups of Finno-Ugric people near them …and also to a some larger populations to the West - the Finns, of course, the Estonians, and also the Hungarians – who maybe 1100 years ago were the Udmurts’ next door neighbors, until they took their horses and rode west.
I first learned about Udmurtia in a funny, excellent travelogue by self described anti-tourist Daniel Kalder called “Lost Cosmonaut” and I was immediately hooked.

Who were these crazy people?? I don’t know why they fascinated me so much, or what exactly I’m chasing writing about one now.

…Perhaps it’s something about the comic melancholy of coming from a people who almost none of us in America have ever heard of, or hear from. A people Russia has done an excellent job of nearly (culturally) destroying. What it might feel like to come from such a proud culture that is not only disappearing…. but whose name itself sounds ludicrous to our ears? who speak a language no one could study in college even if they wanted to?

Maybe it’s the only recently discarded pagan heritage (their closely-related neighbors, the Mari El, never converted to Christianity, and so are considered Europe’s last fully pagan culture). Maybe it’s that Tchaikovsky is from Udmurtia (though ethnically Ukrainian) or that Kalashnikov – born in 1919! still alive! inventor of world most popular gun! – lives there now and there is a museum in the capital celebrating him.

Or maybe it’s: we who write in English have a notion that we have the potential to write for a huge audience, if we are lucky, millions. (100s of millions if we write a hit movie... or "The Phantom of the Opera".) We think “if my play is published, in a hundred years, in 500 years, people may still read it!”

What would it be to write a play in Udmurt? What courage. What humility. For what you write will most probably evaporate.

And yet we, the children of victorious linguistic groups, will evaporate too. Most all our work will fade away. 

And someday, maybe in 500 or 1000 years, even our language may change past recognition.

So perhaps: We are all Udmurts. Or will be.

- David Zellnik

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Boy Who Really, Really Liked His Horse

So…War Horse.

It’s a juggernaut. It won six Oliviers. It won five Tonys. It won Best Play on both sides of the pond. It has been made into a giganto new movie by Steven Spielberg that was nominated for two Golden Globes. It didn’t win any, but hey, you can’t have everything.


Those who have seen War Horse know the origin of that plaintive cry, which is tattooed on my brain for what I can only presume to be the rest of my life. It is the most oft-repeated line in War Horse, and more or less describes the entire action of the play.

In little more detail, the story is as follows:

Joey is a horse. He is thought to be wild, damaged, unfit for work or the company of humans. Albert is a boy. Albert tames Joey through boundless attention and selfless love. All seems happy and well until Albert’s drunken father loses Joey in a bet, and Joey gets sent off to help the troops in World War I. Albert enlists so he can go rescue his beloved horse on the Western front. I’ll let you guess whether or not he succeeds.

Here’s what War Horse is – visually dazzling, continually inventive, a magnificent succession of images.

Here’s what War Horse isn’t – a good play.

There’s no question that War Horse is extraordinary to look at. It is filled with the kind of moments that evoke a childlike sense of awe and wonder. But is there no one else who walked out after three endless hours of a boy wailing about his horse and thought the whole thing was kind of, maybe, just a little bit…stupid?

I will be accused of being callous, but as anyone who knows me will attest to, I’m a sap. I cry all the time, and it doesn’t have to be great art that calls forth those tears (cell phone commercials will often do it). And I was with War Horse for a while. The beauty of the images made me happy, almost tingly.

As the evening stretched on (and ON), however, my interest began to seriously flag.* I started to have questions of the mental well-being of our young Albert, whose single minded determination began to seem less like boundless, childlike love than an autistic fixation. More to the point, as an audience member I started to feel manipulated. Jerked around.

I turned on War Horse for good after a scene when Albert and his friend have been cut off from their unit. They are walking through that World War I patch of hell known as No Man’s Land when Albert’s friend basically gets his head blown off. Albert is discomfited by this for a moment, then brushes himself off and returns to looking for his horse.


I confess I have an issue with people placing what I consider an inappropriate amount of emotion onto animals, so perhaps I’m more sensitive to this than most. But wasn’t anyone else disquieted by the Albert’s casual shrugging off his friend’s violent death? Was there no one who thought that maybe the friend’s death would be an event of an equal (or even – GOD FORBID – greater) import than the fate of that horse?

This thought brought others in its wake. I started to wonder at the propriety of using the historical event of World War I to tell this story. The Great War, as it was called then, was one of the great cataclysms of world history. Millions upon millions of people died in a conflict whose origins were murky and results almost non-existent. It was epic slaughter for absolutely no reason. I find it a little off-putting that against the backdrop of this ocean of blood, where an entire generation of men died, the thing I’m supposed to be concerned about is the fate of a single horse. What’s next? A heartwarming tale of a girl’s love for her cat against the backdrop of the Holocaust?

I have no bone to pick with anyone who liked War Horse (a group that includes just about everyone I know). I get it. It’s beautiful. It’s an experience. But I cannot join the hosannas. For all its grandeur, for all its success, War Horse traffics in a kind of smug, ahistorical sentimentalism that makes me a little nauseous.

- John Yearley

*My wife says that everything she loves about me is encapsulated by the moment in Act III when I turned to her and muttered, “Boy, that kid REALLY likes that horse.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy New Year and Good News!

Hello Internet!

We hope you all had happy holidays -- however many you enjoyed -- and have already embarked on a Happy New Year!  (If you got left behind, we wish you the best of luck.)

We're all back to work on upcoming projects, but we wanted to take a minute to crow about the Dramatist's Guild grant we recently received in support of our "efforts to promote the work and wellbeing of writers for the theater."  Chief among those are our Coyote Commission Project and the upcoming production of David Johnston's Coney.  

We just got the news -- what a great way to start 2012!  That's all!  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog...

All the best,
Bob, Kyle, Gary, and Stephen