Friday, March 30, 2012

A Riff on the Play I'm Writing

My Coyote Commission play is a spring play. I know it's a spring play because spring is here and I can't stop thinking about it. Spring is a minefield - the smell of mud, the feel of air chilled by the water and warmed by the sun, the giddiness of forsythias - everything pulls me down the rabbit hole.

My thoughts get jumbled and pile up. Things are difficult to sift through, they just accumulate in drifts. I don't want to let anything go and really all I want to do is to skip out before the bell rings, sneak to my car and drive off to the river with some bean burritos.

But this isn't high school, I don't have a car anymore and taco bell makes me sick.

My play is also a memory play. But I don't want anyone to know that. So don't tell anyone.

At the moment my play is a pile of fits and starts. It's laying there under the mulch - sprouting some early blooms, but those don't last long. I'm waiting for the annuals. Waiting for the leaves that can last a season, sniffing out the roots to ground it all.

Till then. I'm gathering all I can.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I’m back.

I’m back in rehearsal.

I’m never back in rehearsal.

I’m always just in rehearsal (except when I’m not) for the next project that I’m going to speed along to the stage – the producer-version of the father at a shotgun wedding – carefully keeping the script between my two barrels…

But, as of late last week, I’m back in rehearsal for my play “Our Greatest Year” (with S. Henkle) about one couple’s relationship and the 2007 Cleveland professional sports year.

I’m back because in late-March we’re taking the show, fittingly, to Cleveland for a limited run hosted by John Carroll University at the fantastic Dobama Theatre.

Woo-hoo, right? (not to be confused with Wahoo which is a troubling Cleveland thing in its own right…)

I wrote this play in 3 weeks. We rehearsed it for 2 and put it up for 4 performances last June.

Now, I’ve been living with it for nearly a year. We’ll have more rehearsal time than we did originally, as well as a comparable run.

We’re back.

My director, Anna Brenner, started the actors – and, consequently, me – by asking how their thoughts on the play, the characters, etc. had changed since our first foray.

As a writer – and I’ll just speak for myself – you always think you can tear down the whole script – or not.

So, I’m aware that the play’s got its flaws (…yeah, like if supreme awesomeness is a flaw…) but the nature of the play – it’s a blend of live stage action and projected motion comics – makes it a difficult revision (as the words can be changed and changed or not infinitely easier than the images).

With the writing, we can nip and tuck and tweak and recontextualize, but we pretty much need to go to war with the ammo we got. Returning to the show is, then, more complicated for me as the producer. In four weeks I’m taking two writers, two actors and a director to a city where I haven’t lived in fifteen years, know relatively few people and have (relatively) no clue who the theater-going community is or how to reach them (relatively).

So, I’m back in rehearsal thinking about audience. Not in the way that a writer thinks about an audience as the theoretical people who will be receiving this work, but the practical audience – the people who will be in the practical seats – my least favorite thing to think about when producing a show in NYC. I’m thinking about audience. Audience, audience, audience.

And it’s actually kinda fun…

In NY, I often have the feeling that I know every one of the 200-or-so people I have a fighting chance of getting to see my show. In fact, the fact that I know them is the primary reason I have a fighting chance to get them. That’s how independent stuff works here.

Cleveland – and this may be the single most shocking statement I will ever write – has certain advantages over NY. It has family, friends and family friends, many of whom have never had the chance to see the work we’ve been doing out here. There are the 200-or-so JCU students who will be encouraged/required to attend. But, beyond that, the audience question is wide-open.

There is no one yet who has refused to attend. There is no marketing strategy (yet) that has blown up in my face. There have yet to be modestly attended shows or lukewarm receptions (clearly the fault of them and not us) or thousands and thousands of dollars thrown with gusto from the nearest open window… Not. Just. Yet.

So, I’m back in rehearsal feeling, I guess, what one hopes one feels when one is back: I’m excited and hopeful … however suspiciously. I love the show and the cast and think we have a fighter’s chance of performing this for actual people. Hopefully many of them. Now, if only Bernie Kosar would return my emails requesting his attendance…

Hey – ho – way to go – Ohio.

You can learn more about this production at

- Robert Attenweiler

Monday, March 19, 2012


“Failure” is such a dirty word.

People in the arts talk a lot about bravery, about having the courage to follow your impulse no matter where it leads. What this means, in practical terms, is that you have to give yourself the right to fail. You have to accept failure, make friends with it.

Still, people don’t really talk much about failure. It’s considered rude, unsupportive.

I failed recently. I failed as a part of the project for which I am writing now. I failed in my first attempt at my Blue Coyote commission.

In December I brought 50 pages of a new play to be read for an invited group at the Dramatists Guild. We spent a very pleasant hour there hearing what I had written. There were good parts and bad, some laughs, some moving moments. When it was all over I heard many nice things, and soon after received many supportive emails and calls.

But it was a failure. Make no mistake about it. I failed.

No one said that to me, of course. I don’t think they were just being polite. I think they didn't say anything because the only person who could really know that I failed was me. Everyone who came to the reading saw the same mixed bag up there that I did, but only I knew the dispiriting truth – I had reached a dead end.

Others could easily have seen this likable mishmash as a promising start. I knew that it was over.

I kinda knew before the reading. I had been running out of gas for a while. I was hoping that something would happen in the reading to prove me wrong, or would appear that would show me the way I needed to go.

It didn’t.

is one to do in the face of failure? My first response was “Abandon ship!” I would call the Coyotes and tell them that I appreciated their support but my experiment was a failure and it was time to move on. I thought about that a lot in the first few weeks after the reading. The thought gave me great comfort.

I never did make that call, though. I wonder why. Was it stubbornness? Gratitude to the Coyotes? A sneaking suspicion that there actually was a play in all that mishegoss if I could just see my way clear to finding it?

Silently, without ever acknowledging it, I accepted that I would try again. Once decided, I had an impulse to jump right in. Pop open the hood and get to work. Fix everything! Save what I liked and toss the rest!

I didn’t do that. Some other impulse, a deeper impulse, told me that anything I tried to do right away would be Band Aids on a hemorrhage. So I suppressed that impulse. Instead I did…nothing.

Actually, that’s not true. I did do something. I thought. I daydreamed.

The first thing to appear was a monologue. Then a new opening scene. Then an idea for a closing scene. Then a new twist on one of the original characters that would make her much more interesting. And before I knew it, my brain was firing again.

Since then, the ideas have flowed freely. I have ideas for new scenes involving libertarians, ventriloquists, and sodomy (have I stumbled on a new title?). I don’t know if any of them will work, but we’re about to find out.

I cannot promise success. I haven’t the faintest idea if any of it will work. But what I have now is the one thing I absolutely cannot write without.

I’m a little excited.

- John Yearley