I'm heading up a group of writers to write TWO shows for Wily West Productions this summer. We've been writing for the last five weeks, with one more to go!
It's been incredibly fun, scary, time-consuming, and rewarding, but now we have to look toward phase II: production.
Please take a look at our campaign and help us launch two shows in rep this summer! One will take us into Outer Space and the unknown territory of Mars. The other brings us back to Earth where a strange and catastrophic event has rocked a city. Are the problems for humanity the same on Mars as they are on Earth? This is one of the questions eight Bay Area Playwrights are asking with these two shows.
Writers include Bridgette Dutta Portman, Jaene Leonard, Melissa Keith, Laylah Muran de Assereto, Karl Schackne, Morgan Ludlow, Charles Lewis III, and Me! Both shows will be directed by Ariel Craft of The Breadbox.
Shows open July 17th through August 8 (with your help)
I’m back as Head Writer for Wily West Productions’ summer shows. As you may recall, we started a collective writing project last year called Collage Cabaret, which resulted in the TBA-nominated show, SUPERHEROES. This year, Artistic Director, Morgan Ludlow, has upped the ante, ordering two, new shows written in six weeksfollowing the collage format: 9 playwrights generate work on a broad topic over 6 weeks. Each week, I assign a sub-topic relating to the overall theme and we have six days to write as many short plays as we can.
Of the two shows we are writing simultaneously, one will be a series of monologues surrounding a tragedy that brings a city to its knees. I SAW IT.Did you? An anomalous event has occurred. A city in ruins. Some are saying it wasn’t an act of nature, but a creature, a shadow, a…something. Rumors run rampant, suspicions run high. The #ISawIt hashtag has gone viral. Unsubstantiated reports, conspiracy theories, panic! Does Isla have the answers everyone wants? The government thinks so. Inside an interrogation room, Isla is questioned while outside, a city tries to recover.
The other show, ZERO HOUR: The Mars Experiment, delves into human nature as the first Mars colonists arrive on the red planet and are filmed for a reality TV show. Would you leave everything behind, all the comforts of earthly life—friends, family, ice cream, sex—for the experiment? To live in isolation and the experience taped for a reality show for the people back home on Earth, so that you can be a pioneer, the first to colonize the planet Mars? These six humans did. They left their jobs. Some lost their families. They underwent physical and mental evaluations. They signed contracts. They trained. They made love for the last time. And at ZERO HOUR, they made peace with their decision. But that was six months and sixty-eight days ago.
Writing began Sunday. We are exploring the motivations behind why someone would want to take a one-way ticket to Mars and how fallible memory is, especially during and immediately after a disaster.
Other things I’m equally excited about: I’m writing a commission piece, ELEMENTS OF BEING A MASCOT, for All Terrain Theatre’s Women in Solodarity and a second commission for SF Olympians Festival, TO THE LIGHT ALIVE. I’m producing the next Repro Rights theater event to take place this summer. TBA. I’ll be writing for Seattle-based Pacific Play Company’s collage cabaret show in May. I’m actively writing BLISS POINT, a full-length play about women, war, and food.
As I dug through my calendar, ticket receipts, Facebook events and posts, and tweets, I knew I'd miss a few shows here and there that I saw, but didn't record. I'm kicking myself that I hadn't noted each and every show, but in my defense, last year was a whirlwind of activity, and I could I barely keep up.
I was helping to run The Playwrights' Center of San Francisco, including producing two 24-Hour Fests, the developmental reading series, master classes, and co-producing Sheherezade. I was head writing for Collage Cabaret, writing for Sheherezade, writing for SF Olympians, traveled to Ohio as a finalist for my play, The Killing Jar, adjudicating for Theatre Bay Area, sitting on a panel for Play Cafe, trying to launch a playwrights collective, and working a day job.
All of this is to say, I have the best life I could imagine. It's an embarrassment of riches. I'm surrounded by and work within the most supportive theater community in the world, in my opinion. The plays I've seen have ranged in scale, subject matter, and skill, but the one thing that they all had in common was Passion. Perhaps my least favorite show of the year exhibited the most passion of all the players in all the shows and, as tough as the performance was to sit through, I left with a smile. I could feel the dedication by the actors. I could tell they loved what they were doing and had worked hard at their craft. I respected them. I respected the company. And despite a script that would've made a better radio play, I left feeling that the long drive was worth it.
An embarrassment of riches.
I get to see theater. I get to see a lot of it. I get to have coffee and drinks and talk with friends about theater. I get to read about theater in my community (check out SF Theater Pub) and in my Community (HowlRound). I get to pursue a life in theater. And whenever I get worn down by the calendar, I pull back and remember how lucky I am.
That said, the new year is bringing changes. I left the board at PCSF (though I've agreed to produce their monthly classes this year), and I've committed to a more manageable schedule of shows this season. I'm still adjudicating, but I'll be more judicious in how I plan when to see a show and when to say no. What I came to realize was, my life was out of balance. The imbalance affected my writing. I had no time for it.
If last year was about Supporting theater, this year is about Creating theater. I have a few writing projects and new plays in the works (some I can't talk about) which will be my primary focus. As well as planning the next Repro Rights evening of theater for charity and starting a salon where I can suck the brain juice out of some of the smartest people in the Bay Area. (first salon topic will be the book Art and Politics: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, Theatre by Walter A. Davis.)
What's not different about this year: Learning. The journey continues.
"When we started the theater, we decided to devote each play to a topic that is intentionally not discussed. The goal is simple: to create a genuine reaction to what is happening. But it is against the official ideology, and that means it’s dangerous.”
"It feels reductive to simply ask, can we only tell stories that directly reflect our own lived experience? Surely most of us recognize it would be the (final) death knell of theater if all stories must stem from the autobiographical. It is the particular pleasure of the art form to recognize your own reflection in another’s story. To cut across historical contexts and cultural cannons for an echo of your own innermost thoughts and needs. This connecting is an act of appropriation and it is at the very core of what we do as theater makers."
Anyway. Thinking deeply on what do *I* think the responsibility of being a playwright in our time is? Is there? If yes, what? If no, why? If yes AND no, how?
Performer/playwright, Annette Roman, was in attendance for Play Cafe's panel discussion last Ocotober on How To Get Your Work Produced. Read her summary.
Here's one section on self-producing.
How do I self produce?
• Roberts: Just do it! Somehow. Get a group of writers together and commit to putting on each other’s plays. Playwright collectives are popping up all over the country are great models to collective self-producing. Check out The Welders; The Orbiters; Boston Public Works; Lather, Rinse, Repeat; and San Francisco’s own, 6 New Plays. These are short-lived commitments, not a theater company. Plus, you’ll gain experience in a few other areas of theater, which is valuable for a playwright. Get funding. Check out Fractured Atlas, who has funded at least two of these collectives. Or, find a sight-specific location for one of your plays. Partner with the business there. Or charity. Say you’ll donate your proceeds to their charity and they can do the marketing, etc. So, yeah. Just do it! And send me an invite so I can come see it.
• Find a space (wayyyy in advance). Rent it. Book it. Borrow it. Bribe it. Consider unusual spaces: your Grandma’s living room? A street corner?
• Pitch the play to a sponsor: a charity, a university with a program related to your topic (bonus: academic institutions have theatre spaces!).
• Don’t be intimidated by Equity rules (new producers get breaks—for a little while at least).
• Don’t be shy about putting your work out there. You are a job creator for theatre people!
• An important PSA from all the panelists: playwriting isn’t for making money.
It’s the time of year when everyone is looking back on the previous one and musing on what they’ll do differently this year as opposed to last, what went wrong, what went right, what will the new year bring, how will they actively work to make it, or themselves, better? I’ve done this as well. Ruminating on how rough 2014 was mentally and creatively, making small promises to myself to work harder here, work less there.
I tallied up the number of theater performances I attended this year (seeing more theater was a promise to myself going into 2014), which led to how many plays I produced, the number of projects I worked on, the hours spent on social media for myself, PCSF, and my day job, until the list was overwhelming. I did a hell of a lot.
But what I didn’t do was write. Enough.
I knew I was exhausted and I knew I felt like I was constantly running, but I also knew that when I had a moment, I’d sit and do nothing. I couldn’t. I’d get really down. Takes naps. Beat myself up. So, I kept running, trying to avoid down time.
But I couldn’t keep it up.
The year started out promising: I wrote twenty-three short, new plays in January for a writing project with Wily West. But that was January. After that, I had a year of revising, readings, and more revising.
The other months were taken up with two 24-Hour Fests, Master Classes, being a board President, a company member of a theater, producing plays, revising plays, trying to organize and run a playwright collective, and seeing a ton of theater.
There were also a lot of great things happening for me: finalist for FutureFest; writing for Superheroes and Sheherezade, (both of which had TBA nominations); writing for SF Olympians; reading at Theater MadCap…
Yet, the more ‘success’ I had, the more anxious and worried I became. Disappointments were expected, deserved, even. Successes were surprises. They were also suspicious.
The impostor syndrome (also spelled imposter syndrome), sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Then I was asked by my alma mater to fly in for a mini-conference at the college and speak on Literary Citizenship, and The Joys and Responsibilities of Being a Writer, and Present Some Of Your Work. As if I might know something about these things.
(perhaps I should also put the definition for “self-fulfilling prophecy” here, as well. All of the “they’re-going-to-find-me-out” bullshit had taken its toll, and I found myself unable to save a play I’d been working on for a year. I knew it was going to bomb. I saw the problems, but I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t comprehend. Simple ideas became muddled and overly complex in my head. What seemed like an easy task, became insurmountable.)
What I did know, was to keep busy. Even when I was admonishing myself for not taking a break, I knew what would happen if I did: complete paralyzation.
I couldn’t write. I couldn’t revise with any skill and was dangerously close to ruining a play that was already stage-ready.
I couldn’t read. At all. Not even articles on Facebook. I couldn’t participate in intelligent debate, being only able to post angrily and say “fuck” a lot.
Being diagnosed with major depression wasn’t surprising and it certainly wasn’t a relief. Sure, maybe now I could say “I’m not lazy, I’m depressed,” or “I’m not a terrible writer, I’m a depressed writer,” but knowing that doesn’t instantly remove all the doubt or the sadness.
I left the board, said goodbye to my beloved 24-hour fest, and pulled out of the collective. All of this was devastating. I don’t like not finishing things. I start things. I’d like to believe I make them happen. Only this time, they couldn’t happen (or, if they did, they wouldn’t have had the quality I’d want).
I recognized I needed to tend to my health. I got blood work done, started medication for my thyroid (even my thyroid was depressed!), and then sat down to look at where I was in my life and career.
I think writing a resume is remarkably telling. By writing one, you find out what you’ve actually done. You may even be surprised, a bit nostalgic, and, if you can keep the imposter phenomenon at bay for a few minutes or hours, even proud.
Things seem to be aligning, again. Slowly.
After tackling the resume, I focused on my list, again—the shows I’ve seen; the plays I’ve produced; the playwrights and their work I’ve supported; the plays I’ve had in front of audiences; the artists I’ve worked with; the projects I’ve funded; the new connections and friends I’ve made; and the things I’ve learned—and realized, yes, I do know what it means to be a good literary citizen and how it translates to theater, but mostly I know the joys (and lows) and the responsibilities of being a writer.
UPDATE: I found out this morning that Mars One Project was give a STUEY as BEST SHORT PLAY by SF Theater Pub's Stuart Bousel. The IMPOSTER is taking the day off and I, in her place, shall gladly accept the recognition. It's a play I love, and I'm thrilled a peer does as well.
Tomorrow afternoon is the first readthrough of the plays commissioned by All Terrain Theater for their Women in Solodarity event.
Women in Solodarity is All Terrain Theater’s annual showcase of solo performances by women. The showcase was developed in 2012 as an attempt to challenge the lack of representation of female voices and characters in theatrical productions. Women in Solodarity provides Bay Area women with the opportunity to experiment with solo storytelling, monologues, and solo performances featuring multiple characters all played by the same actor.
I will be writing a short play on Admetus, argonaut and king of Pherae in Thessaly. Admetus was well-loved by the Gods, especialy Apollo who helped Admetus win the hand of Alcestis by harnesinng a boar and lion to a chariot, an impossible human task set by Alcestis' father, Pelias.
This year has been a huge, learning experience for me. I've grown, both in my writing and my attitude towards my writing. I kinda like my work a lot more. Even the work that isn't so great.
I've also learned to embrace critiques from others, especially if they are not about how to write my play (a rarity).
Actually, no. I've always embraced critiques, but for the wrong reasons. Mostly I took them all in because I lacked a certain level of confidence in my abilities. Everyone else knew what they were talking about and I'm just a dumb idiot no matter how many small successes I've had.
But that has also changed this year. I recognize and acknowledge (to myself and others) when I'm doing good work and thus can can parse out helpful critiques as opposed to taking it all in because, "they probably know better than I do." No. They don't, always. Sometimes, I know.
Which means I can also hear criticism and not be completely devestated about it or think I suck or should never write again because someone pointed out a flaw.
Our panel represents decades of experience from Bay Area artistic directors who are committed to working with local and emerging playwrights as well as playwrights who have had their work produced locally and nationally and have experience writing pieces on commission or self-production. (Bios are available at http://www.playcafe.org.)
We will open the discussion with moderated questions to the entire panel, and then we will continue the discussion with an audience-led Q&A. The afternoon will conclude with social time and refreshments.
Our panel will be held at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre at 2071 Addison Street. We will be in the Bakery Room on the first floor (wheelchair accessible). There is paid parking across the street and our venue is one and a half blocks from Downtown Berkeley BART.
Pre-purchased tickets are $30.00 general admission and $25.00 member (to become a member, visit http://playcafe.org/memberships/). Door sales are $35.00 general admission and $25.00 for members.
For more information, contact Tracy Held Potter, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I've been working hard on two, short play commissions. "Death Of A River in 3/4 Time," commissioned last year for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, goes into rehearsals tonight! The festival opens November 5th.
I'm writing about NAIADS. Naiads are freshwater nymphs. They provide life-sustaining water and care for infant Gods. Potameides are Naiads that preside over rivers; they are nymphs who live extraordinarily long lives, but yet, are mortal. If the river dies, so does the Naiad.
I had been reading a lot about toxic spills and poisoning rivers and thought it would be perfect to set my Naiad in modern day America in the Catawba-Wateree river, which flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina through South Carolina. It's listed as one of America’s top endangered rivers.
On its banks sits Duke Energy, one of the largest corporate producers of pollution in the country and whose coal ash ponds are seeping toxins into the Catawba-Wateree. The combination of toxic waste spills, severe drought, and multiple dams have taken their toll on the river, bringing it to the brink. Fish are going extinct. Geese have disappeared from their waters. Cancer rates are on the rise among the communities who depend on the river as their main source of drinking water. And so it is here I set my play and my Naiad, on the banks of the Catawba-Wateree, where a battle for survival is waged.
I've also been working on my first one-woman monologue commission for Women in Solodarity. It's been a lot of fun. A lot of crowing (<---that's a clue). The theme is "Waking Up." I've been investigating identity and masks and performance and...mascots. Yep. Loads of fun. First draft is due tomorrow!
Women in Solodarity is All Terrain Theater's annual showcase of solo performances by women. "The showcase was developed in 2012 as an attempt to challenge the lack of representation of female voices and characters in theatrical productions."
Women in Solodarity began in 2012 and has quickly become a popular evening of theater. In fact, their first show, Cat Ladies, was so popular, some pieces have been revived for the Cat Town Cabaret, a benefit for the Cat Town Café and Adoption Center.
Oh, hey. If you want to commission me, hit me up. I'd be happy to write something for you. Let's talk.
Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre Gritty City Repertory is an Oakland-based theatre company that nurtures, stimulates and transforms. Our unique space inspires young adults to risk and explore, developing leadership, confidence, and compassion for their human family through the production of powerful theatre.
The Flight Deck The Flight Deck is a collaborative arts space and performance venue that opened on June 6, 2014 in Downtown Oakland, where artists of all kinds and ages can work, play, collaborate, learn and thrive.
New Conservatory Theatre Center The mission of New Conservatory Theatre Center is to champion innovative, high quality productions & educational theatre experiences for youth, artists, and the queer & allied communities to effect personal & societal growth, enlightenment and change.
Impact Theatre Since 1996 Impact Theatre has spoken to a new generation of theatre goers and longtime enthusiasts alike who want to see something fresh and fearless on stage.
Custom Made Theatre Co The Custom Made Theatre Co. is committed to producing plays that awaken our social conscience, focusing on the strength of the ensemble and creating an intimate theatrical experience.
3 Girls Theatre 3Girls Theatre is a company of women playwrights in the truest sense of the word: co-conspirators, partners, enthusiastic supporters of one another’s work.
Wily West Productions Wily West Productions formed in 2008 to provide a locally run, locally cast, locally produced outlet for new plays by Bay Area playwrights.
foolsFury Theater The mission of foolsFURY Theater Company is to revitalize the American theater by Creating ground-breaking visceral performances that inspire audiences and artists to reconsider and reconnect with the world around them, Emphasizing qualities of the theater that can only be experienced live, and
Advancing artistic dialogue through training, research and presentation.