It's rare that I get video footage of a performance or reading that I can post publicly. Weird rights issues that make no sense to me.
However, in my on-going search for funding, some grant applications request links to SEE your work, not read it. And so, these incredible artists have assisted me by recording a couple scenes from THE KILLING JAR, both for a grant app and for my portfolio, and gave permission to post the MARS ONE PROJECT reading from Octopus Lounge. These incredible artists are: Gary Thompson and Annie Pesch of Dayon, Ohio and Florinda Larkin, Nathanael Card, and Brian Vouglas of SF Bay Area.
Other generous artists include Jim Norrena and Laylah Muran de Assereto who, restrained by rights issues, were still able to edit production video to give me a private link for grant applications. You cannot see these videos (unless YOU want to give me MONEY!), but they're pretty awesome, too.
Note. This is unedited and upon second reading, I've decided to keep it that way. To me, what came out, digressive, at times not making a clear argument, tense shifts, grammar embarrassments, etc. are EXACTLY how my brain is working.
A while back I was commissioned to write a solo performance piece on the theme of “waking up.” Immediately I thought back to an idea I had sketched out last year. It was a monologue about a woman trying out to become a team mascot and how important wearing the mask was to her. When we put on masks, we can become different people. We purposefully hide our true selves. Oftentimes, this is a good thing.
For months, I struggled with the play. It wasn’t working in part because I hadn’t yet figured out what it was really about, and in part to my recent diagnosis: Major Depression. (I feel that deserves to be all caps). I wasn't shocked at the diagnosis; it'd been a long time coming. Meaning, it had been a long time coming for me to acknowledge it and get myself to a doctor and a long time coming to consider any kind of treatment. You see, I had been struggling for quite some time. Years. Stuggling, but handling. "I'm handling it," has been (still is?) my motto. That’s the PRIDE some of us with this disease feel when we decide to not treat our illness.
“I’m handling it," I said.
"I'll scream louder, then," said my Depression.
I noticed my inability to read more than a sentence or two without losing my concentration. Next, I struggled to comprehend ideas. Everything was confusing and tossed around in various places in my head like all the laundry I’d flung around my bedroom. Chaos.
Then, memory loss.
Besides the general and sometimes debilitating malaise, writing became my biggest struggle. Which sucks when you’re a writer.
Creating new ideas was somewhat easier (still, they were fewer and farther between) than engaging the real craft: revision. With a muddy mind, lack of concentration, and inability to comprehend simple concepts, there was no way I could revise my work. Writing became insurmountable. Logical script fixes confused and overwhelmed me. Outside of the malaise, losing my ability to craft story was the most frightening symptom of all. When it goes, you’re gone. And I was gone.
I handled lying on the couch for hours. I handled canceling plans and obligations. I handled crying or worse, lack of empathy. I handled the voice in my head saying stupid nonsensical things about my self worth.
But I couldn’t handle not writing. Well, at least not elegantly or with grace. I knew what I needed to do: give the fuck up. All of it. Writing, producing, going to theater, seeing friends…
As the deadline for the second draft of my play approached, my panic increased. I relived, over and over, the nightmare that was last year’s revision fiasco with another play I had been commissioned to write. For a year, I knew what wasn’t working in the play and for a year I kept going down a rabbit hole. I couldn’t save the play because I couldn’t make my mind work. I wanted to play with language and rhythm—I wanted the dialogue to dance on the page—but the rhythm in my head was an incoherent mess. of Noise. So much noise. It was the beat of my brain, thus became the beat of the play.
Here's how it kind of goes: 1. Open the play. 2. Read the play. 3. Close the play. 4. Call friends to read the play. 5. Beg friends to give you feedback on play. 6. Understand the feedback (my goodness, yes, that was SO simple, how did I not see it?). 7. Be excited that you think you know how to revise your play. 8. Open the play. 9. Stare at play. 10. Understand nothing. 10. Close the play.
It got bad enough I stopped opening up the play, anymore. I gave up.
Or rather, I failed.
Let’s pause here a moment and consider failing.
Is it such a terrible thing? No. I mean, I know this logically, and there’ve been many creative people who’ve been quoted on the virtues of failing, so obviously failure is good. Good for the soul. A lesson in there somewhere…
So, I tried to accept failure (and thought I had). But I’m learning now that I only wish I had.
Sure, sure. Lessons learned and all. But to someone with depression, failure is this little insidious blot that mixes in with disappointment you’re sure others have in you and colors everything around you a despondent, drab grey.
Speaking of despondent...
Recently, I went to a theater event with a friend. It was a terrific site-specific play where we had to traverse paths, stairs, and the Sutro baths ruins. It was a remarkably clear day, but punctuated by the typical cold San Francisco winds coming off Ocean Beach. I'd been looking forward to it. I'd been looking forward to spending time with my friend, a beautiful, funny man, who appears to have boundless energy (his mask?) and enthusiasm.
Anyway, we go. It's beautiful. The sets, the costumes, the environment, my friend. But it's also three hours. Three hours of being out in public. Three hours (five if you count the drive there and back) where I'd have to engage. Where I'd have to put on my mask.
My bandwidth for being engaged has shortened dramatically in the last year. Within an hour or two, I zone out. I disengage. I can no longer make small talk or laugh sincerely at jokes. I can't answer questions (and if you start asking me questions, I experience them as if their being delivered by a machine gun.) I get mentally tired. I get physically tired. I close down and get quiet.
After the show my friend turned to me and yelled (depression brain magnifies sound), "Did you LVOE it?!"
I replied, "Yeah. I liked it." And I really did. I really liked it, but all I could muster was a bland, "yeah." I couldn't level up to any amount of enthusiasm. I had disengaged.
Later, on the drive home he asked what was up and I told him. And I felt bad because he'd been looking forward to this day, and my blankness, my dullness, had to have taken the joy out of it for him.
GUILT. That's the point I was getting to with this digression. Guilt of letting people down. FEAR of their DISAPPOINTMENT in you.
Let's rewind back to the play: . "[T]o someone with depression, failure is this little insidious blot that mixes in with disappointment you’re sure others have in you and colors everything around you a despondent, drab grey. "
Normally, this would cause me enough anxiety to get shit done. I hate letting people down. It’s THE WORST. But this time, I was beginning to feel something new: not giving two fucks about anyone else (but, like, not in a good way).
I wanted to GIVE UP. All of it. And to do that, I had to convince myself there was no hope.
I told myself I was washed up. I would never write another play. Ever. Hell, I didn’t even want to walk my dog. I was/am the worst.
Oh. And to hell with everyone (not really) who keeps saying “you can do it.”
Can we talk about how destructive it is to hear “You can do it!” No, Walt. No, I can’t. And sometimes, that’s the truth of it. And when I see my limits and you’re still saying, “you can do it,” all I feel is pressure and inadequacy. I don’t feel heard. Sometimes I can’t do it. Sometimes I don’t want to do it. And I resent being expected to do it.
Which leads us to OBLIGATIONS. We all have them. They're necessary. (I mean, I can't back that up with science, but it seemed like the thing to say).
Obligations. Clearly not giving two fucks about letting other people down doesn’t last long for people like me. So, I land back at the screen, staring at this new play about mascots and masks and crying and admitting I’d have to pull out of the project. For the first time ever. I’d have to send a humiliating email to the theater and tell them I couldn’t fulfill my obligation. I’m an asshole.
Quitting. Sometimes, it’s the right thing. Sometimes walking away is the better choice. Right?
One perceptive and kind friend asked me recently, “Maybe you’re doing too much?” Yeah. He gets me. Sometimes it’s okay to say no. Learning to say no is as important as saying yes, taking risks, and challenging yourself. It’s a balance I’m struggling to learn, but felt more comfortable exploring considering the alternatives (churning out a crap play, disappointing people, and being a blight on the theater’s reputation).
So I sent the email.
But. I wouldn’t be me if I had fully embraced letting go. Instead, I asked for an extension. One last shot before pulling out, before disappointing everybody I’ve ever known (these peopleà, “you can do it”) and having them think I’m an unreliable boob and who will never want to work with me ever, ever, again.
Anyway, this other thing happens. I have “up” moments. I get shit done. I have ideas, I want to do all the things, and yeah, I over-commit.
Fortunately, the second deadline was nearer to one of these episodes, in that I had the energy to sit up straight for a prolonged period of time. The concentration was still shit, but this other half of me wouldn’t acknowledge it.
I opened the play and felt the same wave of despair. How do I fix this? What is this play about? Why is she auditioning and not already in the role? It was that last question that did it for me. She’s already wearing the mask. She’s already performing. I started typing, and as I did, I realized the play I had been writing was not about “normal” people wearing their “normal” public masks, blah, I was writing an exploration of identity through depression, and the performance of mental illness!
I had a breakthrough. Not only as a writer, but as someone with clinical depression. Through this play, and now this post, I’m able to acknowledge what I had been avoiding.
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.
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.